I take the cue from the customary performance around this time of the year of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Only this year, the drama was played out on a real stage.
Labour ushered in the year 2013 with a big bang. After an almost uninterrupted 26 years, people were tired of the Nationalist Party.
The party had achieved its primary objectives of defeating violence, restoring peace and calm and, above all, Malta’s accession to the European Union and even the adoption of the common currency.
Then, suddenly, there seemed to be little inspiration for the PN.
The retirement of Eddie Fenech Adami and his replacement by Lawrence Gonzi did not go down too well, particularly because of his cynicism when playing down the rising cost of living and energy prices and pension reforms and also his arrogant stance in still voting against the introduction of divorce when it had been so amply approved by popular referendum.
Corruption and a not-inconsiderable level of elitism had crept in with time. People voted for what they believed would be a new Labour adhering to the mantra of accountability, transparency, meritocracy and good governance.
The pendulum effectively swung to Labour considerably more than anyone could imagine, with the party achieving an unparalleled majority.
In comes the Labour government and things immediately seemed awry – the prime minister would lease his personal vehicle to the State against payment. That was not exactly a good example.
With time, nepotism and a sense of entitlement started creeping in among the Labour ranks, irking many middle-of-the-road voters who had voted Labour for the first time, the author included.
The government, instead of opening opportunities for the business sector and regulating best practices, chose to become their partners, in particular the construction industry, but not only.
The occasional good governance scandal started occurring and becoming increasingly frequent. Instead of the Labour government fixing what was wrong before and replacing those that had abused their positions, the Party took the pragmatic view of perpetuating the abuse.
Bank of Valletta and the Malta Financial Services Authority come to mind, both of which were so much criticised before. Still, all those who criticised became Labour stalwarts… naturally in exchange for what Joseph Muscat wanted, assisted by the new Cardinal Richelieu, Keith Schembri.
Daphne Caruana Galizia, indefatigably investigating the even slightest aspect of corruption that caught her attention, revealed the mother of all scandals – the Panama Papers, which involved top Labour personalities.
An early election followed, and Labour was returned to government by an even larger majority. The famous expression, “It is the economy stupid!” says it all. It’s an expression coined by Bill Clinton’s advisors in his successful run for the White House, which explains that, first and foremost, voters vote on bread-and-butter issues and on how their lifestyles stand to be affected.
And there is no doubt that during Labour’s tenure, the large majority of the population enjoyed increased civil liberties, higher wages and pensions, and an increase in gross national product.
Banfield’s ‘The Moral Basis of a Backward Society’ and his theory of amoral familism says it all. Or, as aptly put by Edward Zammit Lewis, the Ġaħan effect.
Yet again, in a second term, the Labour Party, instead of taking stock of its lousy good governance track record, pressed the carpe diem accelerator hard: seize the day, enjoy the moment, and make hay while the sun shines. This became the motto, with the worst offenders being those at Cabinet level or those within their inner circles.
Contrary to what Labour apologists say, namely that the institutions are working, the institutions were emasculated and had lost sight of their fundamental objectives in the interests of the common good.
All this culminated in the political assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and in a whole trail of scandals like the Montenegro wind farm project, the ElectroGas power station, and so many others.
Joseph Muscat was unceremoniously replaced. A party leader elected twice with the largest majority ever had to cut his political career and EU aspirations short. He ignored the fact that he was in a position to engineer a modernisation of our society: the curtailment of nepotism and voter blackmail and the exchange of favours for votes.
Instead, he fell for the perennial ills of Maltese politics in which ‘the winner takes it all’.
In comes Robert Abela as the new prime minister with his cries of not wanting to trade his soul for diabolical favours – no part in a Faustian deal with the devil. He gave hope to so many that previous excesses would be curbed.
Perhaps the police force would be rid of so many who had caused the corps such dishonour and that they, together with the office of the Attorney General, would understand that their oath of loyalty is to the Constitution and the common good and not to ensuring impunity for Party boys’ white collar crimes.
Malta continued to hit international headlines for the wrong reasons until we realised with the Financial Action Task Force greylisting in June 2021 that the country had been placed in the same league as several rogue countries.
Scandals, bad governance and impunity continued unabated.
The island’s infrastructure is collapsing under the weight of the inevitable demands of a massive increase in population, a policy designed by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana when he was at the ETC (now Jobsplus) and who, now as minister, says he wants to change tack and pursue a different economic model.
This feat is easier said than done because reversing policy would result in enormous economic pain.
Law enforcement agencies continue to bungle investigations and prosecutions by design or through incompetence. And that’s when they’re not failing to investigate at all or focusing on investigating the victim rather than the perpetrator.
Meanwhile, we all feel the impact on our quality of life – traffic, construction, and severe shortcomings in energy supply. And although economic matters seem to have a higher priority than issues such as the rule of law, governance, quality of life and environmental issues, we learn with time that they are intrinsically connected.
Readers will have noted that the polls have suddenly started showing some dents and the ruling Labour Party does not have a majority of all the voting population, with the ‘biggest Party’ being that of those intent on not voting or on invalidating their vote.
The dulcis in fundo was the death of 20-year-old Jean Paul Sofia at a construction site. The construction sector in Malta has always been an unregulated Wild West. No need for licensing. No need for insurance coverage. No inspections.
In case of any trouble, contractors would have the sympathetic ear of the government for anything connected to the construction frenzy and property speculators of the raba’ sular.
Moreover, this particular case was mired in suspicious circumstances as to how the land was given to private individuals connected to high officials at the Lands Department and INDIS Malta and how the construction of the factory was supervised by an architect in charge of a state entity while working in private practice.
The government was dead set against having a public inquiry. The prime minister insisted that this would conflict with the magisterial inquiry. Of course, there is no truth in this as the objective and terms of reference of a public inquiry is the discovery of administrative malpractices and not that of determining the prima facie criminal culpability of an industrial fatality as in the case of the magisterial inquiry.
The Labour Party last week assembled all its deputies and ensured that all would vote against an Opposition Parliamentary motion calling for a public inquiry. Fast forward two or three days, and we come across the fastest volte-face in history: Government will order a public inquiry because Jean Paul Sofia’s family have a right to it, which is the opposite of what he had been saying for so long.
The prime minister must have suffered a similar fate to that of St Paul on his way to Damascus. Or, as is more probable, he must have realised – or been made to realise – that Jean Paul Sofia’s mother was a modern St Joan of Arc heroine who managed to gather around her a coalition of people with different views but who had had enough of the arrogance of power and the cover-up of the crimes of friends of friends.
Perhaps Robert Abela had a privileged peep of the publication of the following Sunday’s forthcoming electoral polls, courtesy of Saviour Balzan.
The announcement of the public inquiry on Monday did not deter Jean Paul Sofia’s mother from holding a vigil later the same day. After the vigil had more or less come to an end, but while Castille Square was still packed, Robert Abela walked into the crowd.
If Abela did this because he was advised to do so, he was very ill-advised.
It was probably his idea and initiative, and it shows that he has very little emotional intelligence if he thought he would receive a resounding round of applause. The video clearly shows him walking towards the centre of the crowd…until his surprise realisation that he was far from welcome.
This incident reminds me of a similar case. It was 24 December 1989, and after a week of protests in Timisoara and Bucharest, Nicolai Ceausescu insisted on addressing the crowd from his palace balcony, oblivious to the people’s anger, only to be booed as soon as he started delivering his speech. He had to stop and rush inside – like our prime minister had to do last Monday.
The saying ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ – a layman’s explanation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – is a primary influence in elections. However, people, especially the younger set, acquire higher aspirations in life besides daily bread and butter issues.
Panem et circenses yes, but ultimately man does not live on bread alone.