Karen Gravano, the daughter of a mafia boss, noticed her family was different when, at the age of six, she found a gun hidden under her dad’s bed. Her dad explained to her that “What goes on in our family stays behind these walls – we don’t ever talk about it to anyone else”.
The six-year-old Gravano wondered why everything was such a big secret but understood her father was ‘important’. When he entered a room people would rush over to shake his hand and kiss his cheek. But what struck her most was her own mother.
She married her dad on her 18th birthday and steadfastly stood by him ever since and never asked questions – the perfect Mafia wife. Realistically she had little choice. She knew what asking questions would lead to.
Mafia bosses don’t like questions – not even from their wives for one simple reason. They have too much to hide.
Their secrets are shockingly horrifying. Questions pose a real threat to their power and their very freedom. No questions are ever tolerated, not even from their own family.
Robert Abela’s army of lawyers is taking the same approach. One of those lawyers representing the Planning Authority suggested in court that if the Shift did not want to battle a barrage of lawsuits filed by Robert Abela’s government, it should stop asking questions.
Lawyer Melanie Sammut argued in court that the Shift should stop filing Freedom of Information requests if it didn’t want to be financially crippled by Abela’s lawsuits.
Forty identical appeals have been filed by 40 different public entities against FOI requests made by The Shift and against the rulings of the Information Commissioner and the Appeals Tribunal.
Robert Abela is determined to crush The Shift. The Information Commissioner ruled in favour of the Shift in 40 separate FOI requests.
Abela’s government appealed all 40 before the Appeals Tribunal. That Tribunal has so far ruled in favour of the Shift in 27 of those cases.
But Abela is digging his heels in. He has instructed those government entities to make a second appeal against the Tribunal’s ruling in court.
All of Abela’s appeals are filed against one woman – Caroline Muscat. Those appeals are fronted by over 80 lawyers paid by taxpayers, with one objective – to conceal information from the public.
What is Robert Abela so desperately concealing? Why is he targeting one woman with crippling lawsuits for simply trying to do her job?
Those FOI requests are about payments by public entities and ministries made to Media Today’s Saviour Balzan. It seems slightly odd that Abela would put such massive efforts and resources into concealing something as petty as Balzan’s remuneration.
But then The Shift has already revealed that Balzan had received at least €1 million in government contracts. And that’s before the 40 separate FOI requests have been answered.
Abela has plenty to hide. He’s determined to stop anybody from asking questions. This is not just about Saviour Balzan. This is far bigger.
In his relentless battle against The Shift, Abela is making it crystal clear to anybody who dares ask uncomfortable questions that they will pay the price for their insolence.
Abela’s letting everybody know he will go to the earth’s end to destroy those who cross him.
But he’s sending another message to those who collaborate with him. ‘I will defend you till the end,’ is what he’s telling them.
‘I will not abandon you, I will not ditch you, I will stick by you, and I will use and abuse my power to crush anybody daring to ask questions about you. Nothing will stop me from throttling the very life out of journalists.’
Robert Abela expects nobody to ask questions. And for those who insist on persevering with their inquiries, he’ll mete out the cruellest punishment.
For a country that witnessed the barbaric murder of another intrepid woman, Abela’s open hostility towards Caroline Muscat is deeply disturbing. There is something obsessive about it.
And while he instructs the various ministries and government entities to fight The Shift’s FOI requests tooth and nail, his justice minister mouths platitudes about Labour’s commitment to the EU SLAPP directive.
Minister Jonathan Attard told EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders that Malta is strongly in favour of adequate safeguards for journalists “from judicial proceedings that are manifestly unfounded or abusive”.
Abela’s government issued a press release through the DOI with the comical title: “Malta remains committed to the European anti-SLAPP directive”.
In July 1968, Jeremy Boissevain delivered a short talk titled, ‘Why do the Maltese ask so few questions?’.
One reason, Boissevain argued, was Malta’s colonial heritage and the big stick colonisers wielded. He cited the inequality of power between coloniser and colonised that made discussion between the two very one-sided.
The status quo had to be preserved. The powerful monopolised the right and ability to ask and answer questions. The colonial powers used their supreme power to quash all questioning.
Questioning was considered insubordination – and insubordination was punished viciously.
Boissevain’s talk was published in ‘Ferment’, a university students’ magazine set up by six or seven students. One of them was Alfred Sant.
In 1990, 22 years after Boissevain’s talk, Sant insisted that Boissevain was right and that little had changed.
“Questions were not allowed unless they can be manipulated for public relations purposes”. “We are still fully in the territory first charted by Boissevain,” Alfred Sant said.
Thirty-two years later, Sant’s successor as party leader and prime minister has taken over the mantle of the privileged oppressor of his own people.
In Sant’s words, Robert Abela must “inhibit critical thinking and has the means to do so”.
But Abela won’t tolerate any questions. He’s got too much to hide.