“Vote for me, I’m not responsible for anything” should be Michael Falzon’s election slogan, but he’s come up with one far better. “We’re both Christians. If one of us kills someone, should the Pope resign?”
That single statement demonstrates the utter deficiency in Falzon’s basic comprehension of the responsibilities of high office and explains why the man should never have been appointed to Cabinet.
Of course, Falzon’s Pope metaphor is as flawed as it is tasteless. It wasn’t one Christian committing murder in Falzon’s case. Several Cardinals abused the most vulnerable in our society, with the Pope being aware of it and covering it up for years, never once speaking to the faithful to inform them.
With the crime exposed, the Pope attempted to minimise its severity. Besides, the Church is hardly a democracy. The Pope isn’t elected by all the faithful, and he’s infallible on matters of doctrine.
Maybe that’s why Falzon chose to compare himself to the Pope.
“If there was political responsibility to assume, it was assumed by Silvio Grixti”, Falzon insisted.
No, it wasn’t.
Grixti wasn’t the Minister responsible for ensuring that severe disability funds were only disbursed to deserving citizens. He wasn’t responsible for ensuring that systems for processing applicants were robust and secure. He wasn’t responsible for appropriate verification of claims submitted and authentication of documents. He wasn’t the one appointing members to medical boards or scrutinising their performance.
No, Silvio Grixti wasn’t any of those – Michael Falzon was.
In October 2015, a fire broke out at Collectiv, a Bucharest nightclub. It triggered a stampede, killing 64 people. Victor Ponta, Romania’s then-prime minister, was “not involved”, to paraphrase Michael Falzon. He didn’t start the fire, he didn’t own the nightclub, but within one week, Ponta resigned.
Outraged Romanians took to the streets. Their slogan was Corruptia ucide (Corruption kills). They demanded resignations, prosecutions and new anti-corruption laws. A banner at University Square, a hotspot of the 1989 anti-Caucescu revolution, read, “In 1989, we fought for liberty, today we fight for justice”.
That banner could well apply to Malta, just change 1989 to 1987.
Ponta initially ignored the protests, but soon, he was gone. That disaster epitomised many of the features that held Romania back – irresponsibility (use of fireworks in a basement with polystyrene soundproofing), incompetence (ill-prepared emergency services) and corruption (the building wasn’t inspected to avoid annoying friendly businessmen).
Falzon’s disability benefits disaster epitomises what holds Malta back – irresponsibility, incompetence and corruption.
Falzon defended himself by shoving responsibility onto everybody else. He blamed Silvio Grixti, then he blamed the doctors he’d appointed onto medical boards: “The decision (to grant benefits) was a medical one”.
When Falzon was asked why those doctors were so easily fooled, he replied, “I cannot speak about medical aspects”.
These are not medical aspects, they’re administrative. Falzon was responsible for setting up appropriate systems to ensure fraudsters didn’t get through.
He had to get his Ministry to countercheck claims against drugs prescribed and administered through the government pharmaceutical service.
All he had to do was confirm with the licensing office whether claims about suspended licences were valid. All he had to do was check with Mater Dei Hospital for hospital clinic attendances, admissions, investigations and interventions of claimants. None of those involve medical expertise as they are just common sense.
Falzon has been minister for six years. During those years, he did nothing. He made no changes to disability claim processing, despite bragging that his department catches hundreds of fraudsters.
If he was so acutely aware of the risk to national coffers, why didn’t he strengthen disability benefit processing? It was either sheer incompetence or intentional collusion to enable Labour to continue buying votes.
Falzon has been here before, and the trademark of a fool is that he never learns.
In July 2015, after shocking revelations about the Gaffarena scandal, Falzon declared: “I wasn’t told to resign”. He denied being asked to step down by Joseph Muscat. “I am sure that there is nothing wrong about this expropriation, I say this with God as my witness”, he declared.
Of course, there was much wrong with that expropriation.
The NAO found “collusion between the Lands Department and Mark Gaffarena”. In the stinking deal, the government acquired part of a Valletta property worth €944,500, which it didn’t need.
Gaffarena got €3.4 million – some in cash, the rest in land the size of 10 football pitches that he chose himself. “Such collusive action was in clear breach of fundamental principles of good governance, transparency and fairness”, the NAO concluded.
The property was confiscated without discussion or analysis. There were no written records of meetings. Gaffarena had access to confidential, sensitive information. The superintendent of cultural heritage hadn’t even been consulted. The NAO found that negotiations with Gaffarena were only concluded through Falzon’s final authorisation.
Falzon was finally forced out, kicking and screaming and he categorically denied any responsibility in a letter to the prime minister.
Instead, he attacked the NAO for “inconsistencies and contradictions” in its report. “The NAO struggled (jitqanzah) to justify the contradicting conclusions it tried to reach”, he said.
Falzon didn’t jump, he had to be pushed: “I will submit to any decision you choose to take”, he told Joseph Muscat, “but I have always served with complete sincerity and honesty”.
That’s hardly enough to be a Minister – you need some basic competence, which Falzon lacks.
So what’s changed since 2016?
Falzon is still the same, bumbling incompetent. He’s still failing the country dismally and costing it millions, and he still hasn’t fathomed why he should pack his bags. The only thing that’s changed is the Prime Minister.
Now, we have one who is as clueless as the Minister he refuses to sack.