Aqra din l-opinjoni bil-Malti.
“Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it”, wrote Jonathan Swift in a 17th-century essay. “When men come to be undeceived, it’s too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect”. Swift’s words have added resonance in Malta today, where Labour considers truth its mortal enemy.
Robert Abela’s government is in a perennial battle to conceal the truth and to maintain an aura of secrecy. It deploys every weapon to prevent the public finding out even the most basic facts, burning through tens of thousands of euros of taxpayers’ money in multiple frivolous court cases simply to prevent the truth being known.
Abela lost one case after the other, and he knows he’ll lose the rest,
EU Commissioner Vera Jourova publicly chastised Abela for doggedly maintaining secrecy using public funds, and multiple press freedom organisations condemned him for his stubborn insistence on pursuing those cases, but this was not enough for him to give up.
Why is Abela so scared of the truth? If Labour is so brilliant, why all the secrecy?
Despite international pressure, Abela’s government keeps dragging its feet over making vital changes to the Freedom of Information Act and Justice Minister Jonathan Attard refused to publish a report it commissioned about revamping the FOI Act. It’s now over two years since the report was concluded for €18,000 to the taxpayers.
Over a year ago, the Shift asked Minister Attard questions about that FOI report, but Attard refused to answer or publish the report.
The Shift lodged a FOI request to publish that report, but in January 2023, Jonathan Attard rejected the request, insisting “there is good reason for withholding the document”. We know exactly what that good reason is: The truth harms Labour’s interests.
Labour has turned journalists seeking the truth into their enemy. Those journalists who know they are targets are acutely aware of the risks they run when challenging Labour to reveal even the most innocuous information. After all, look what happened to their colleague Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Obtaining information from Labour has become an impossible struggle. Evidence for that is provided by the increasing list of rejected FOI requests and repeated outright refusals by ministers to answer basic questions.
In May 2023, Silvio Schembri refused to answer simple parliamentary questions about how he obtained use of a constituency office in a new block built by Paul Attard. Controversially, Attard had swallowed up open space in Luqa for that block.
He subsequently became the beneficiary of the sale of a huge tract of public green land in Mellieha, to which hundreds of residents objected but were conveniently ignored by the minister responsible – Silvio Schembri. More recently, when he was asked to name the policy consultants he appointed between October 2022 and 2023, he simply refused.
When his wife Deandra set up a private development company for speculation purposes, Schembri refused to answer questions despite owning half the company himself. His conflict of interest as Lands Minister couldn’t be starker until you realise that the minister’s wife is the senior legal officer at the Malta Business Registry, where she filed her company, DZF Ltd and registered it at the minister’s home address.
Silvio Schembri arrogantly refused to reply to questions on the business venture or his evident conflict of interest and declined to state whether he discussed the issue with or sought consent from the prime minister.
But Silvio Schembri isn’t alone in concealing information. Byron Camilleri, Clayton Bartolo, Clint Camilleri, Miriam Dalli, and Chris Fearne all refused to provide the names of their policy consultants.
Clyde Caruana refused to name the consultant at MedAir, earning €157,000 annually for just 27 hours per week, or how the former MFSA CEO Joseph Gavin was still paid €21,000 per month after his resignation.
Minister Michael Falzon failed to declare how many hours per week his newly appointed consultant, Robert Musumeci, will be working for his €35,000 salary.
But he’s not the worst offender. That dubious honour belongs to his prime minister, who has refused to publish the Quintano report after Miriam Pace’s death, only doing so months late and after unrelenting public pressure.
The media experts’ report was meant to be published within ten days of submission, but Abela published it months late, and only after refusing an FOI request and facing threats by the Institute of Journalists did they would publish it themselves if he didn’t.
He’s persistently turned down requests for interviews and refused to reply to fundamental questions about his luxury yacht and why it’s not on his declaration of assets, and he’s been evasive about his Zejtun illegality-ridden property, which he acquired for peanuts.
Labour fears the truth because the truth doesn’t set everyone free. For some, the truth hastens their inevitable downfall, while for others, it heralds prosecution, conviction and imprisonment.