Aqra dan l-artiklu bil-Malti
Our government was caught lying again. Not once, not twice, but three times in a row.
It’s been condemned by the Information and Data Commissioner, the Appeals Tribunal, and the Courts for lying. Labour has made lying to its people an art form. Caught lying once, it lies again. Caught lying again, it lies some more.
In 2021, the Shift asked various ministries and government entities a simple question: How much money was Saviour Balzan paid from state coffers, directly or through his media companies? Answers to that question were vital. They were of national public interest because Balzan was posing as an ‘independent journalist’ and ‘media owner’ while being paid huge sums of taxpayer funds to act as Labour’s spin doctor and public relations consultant.
The answers to that question became far more critical when Balzan, while receiving huge financial remuneration from the State, was put on the so-called ‘Committee of Experts‘ tasked to propose measures and legislation to protect journalists.
The Caruana Galizia inquiry recommended that one of the roles of that expert committee was to ensure that journalists are able to perform their work in the interests of democracy. Transparency is the main pillar of democracy. Anonymity and secrecy are its enemies. Deception and lies, its death sentence.
Asked how much money Balzan was paid, ministries and other entities replied that they had no such information. When the Data Commissioner was called to investigate, he found that Labour had lied. He insisted that the various ministries and government departments had that information and must provide it to The Shift. The law demanded it.
Instead of complying, Labour dug its heels in and refused to divulge the information. In its appeals, Labour lied again. “The documentation requested by the Shift does not exist”. The Tribunal wasn’t taken in by Labour’s lies. It ruled in favour of The Shift.
Labour stubbornly refused to accept the Tribunal’s decision and took the cases to court. This time, they changed their tune and shot themselves in the foot, admitting that they actually had the information all along.
‘It’s not that we don’t have the information. We have it, but it would be too costly to look for it,’ Labour’s ministries and departments then said.
The court sent them packing. The government “besides not providing evidence of the costs, clearly already has all the information requested,” Judge Lawrence Mintoff ruled.
To date, the Shift has won all 18 cases filed in court after winning 40 appeals at the Tribunal. The court has now ordered Labour to provide the information requested.
Did it have to come to this? Did it have to take a two-and-a-half-year-long arduous, and costly struggle for Labour to provide its people with the basic information it has every right to?
Why is Labour so desperate to conceal the massive amounts of money handed over to Saviour Balzan? Why is Labour ready to lie repeatedly to protect him?
It is no secret that while paying lip service to the protection of journalists, Labour harasses, intimidates and hounds those working assiduously to expose the truth.
Labour has shown clearly it has no interest in protecting journalists. More than two years after the Caruana Galizia inquiry report was published, Labour has implemented none of its recommendations. But it has gone several steps further.
Labour doggedly concealed basic information that the public has every right to know. It lied brazenly to avoid revealing information. When The Shift resorted to Freedom of Information requests, Labour still resisted.
When the Information and Data Protection Commissioner ruled repeatedly that Labour should reveal that information, Labour still refused, coming up with more lies as a pretext for withholding information.
When the Appeals Tribunal upheld the decisions of the Commissioner, Labour went on the offensive. Determined to destroy The Shift, Labour vindictively lodged court cases to avoid disclosure.
Labour used state funds, taxpayer money, and long hours of state-funded armies of lawyers to inflict the maximum possible financial hit on a small media outlet.
Labour was even ready to face the condemnations of several international organisations.
It even defied Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic. She accused the government of being “ready to vigorously counter efforts to place official information under public scrutiny”.
She wrote to Prime Minister Robert Abela, warning him that his government’s spiteful appeals sent “a chilling message to media actors and the Maltese people at large”. She challenged him about “the continued difficulties journalists face in accessing information of public interest” and chastised him for resorting to SLAPPs in response to freedom of information requests.
This is what smears Malta’s name Mr President – a prime minister who has to be publicly rebuked by the European Commissioner for Human Rights for depriving his people of those rights.
“I call on you and all Maltese authorities to ensure that journalists and the public have access to accurate and timely information,” the Commissioner told Abela.
Abela ignored her. For him, protecting Labour and its spin doctor Saviour Balzan, is far more important than bolstering our democracy.
For him, ensuring Labour’s dominance of the media landscape justifies every attempt to crush truly independent media outlets.
Entrenching himself in the seat of power demands ruthlessness with his critics. Transparency and openness can only demolish his falsehoods, deceptions and double-dealing and expose Saviour Balzan for the double agent he truly is.
May the new year shine the brightest of lights into the darkest of Labour’s secrets – for the nation’s benefit.