We begin 2024 very much where we left the last year. The opening day of the 365 gave us earthquakes in Japan and murder and violence in Malta. After the expected two-day hiatus, the headlines are again replete with stories of financial mismanagement and corruption.
There is little to be jubilant about at home and abroad, but let’s look ahead anyway.
Expect many launderings- of reputations mostly. The protracted trial of the most corrupt government in recent history occurs in a surreal background where the main protagonists feel almost safe trying to reinvent their image.
The disgraced ex-prime minister Joseph Muscat had more than a few sweaty moments in court in 2023 and must be feeling the heat turning up very close to his derriere. Yet, he has been thrown a lifeline by the footballing world, where he has taken his constructed messianic aura.
Laundered reputations require distractions, mostly from the institutions that should be holding them in check. Two such institutions of paramount importance, the police and the prosecutor general’s office are still far from proving that they have been released from the grip of fear and favour.
Parliamentary checks and balances, the auditor general, the ombudsman – these are a few instances that could make a difference.
2024 will be a bumper year for democracies – real and on paper. Fifty nations are expected to hold elections throughout the year, meaning one in four persons worldwide (two billion people) will be voting.
In June, it is the turn of the European Parliament to refresh itself, with 400 million citizens across the EU called to the ballot. Nine member states of the EU have their elections to deal with – that includes Belgium, notorious for protracted dealings when forming governments.
The big test for Western-style democracy will happen in the US. The big question mark is, of course, the performance of Donald Trump. The current spate of state cases that have resurfaced an ancient law preventing anyone who participated in insurrection from being on the presidential ballot is already an interesting testing ground. We will be remembering the 5th of November. Speaking of which, the UK is also due an election, according to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Will the Tory reign end? What will Keir Starmer’s Labour mean for the EU and its members?
As the effects of corruption and financial fraud continue to unravel, expect an increased anger among the Maltese exacerbated by the pinch in the quality of life. The electorate has proven to be impervious to technical arguments on the backsliding of the rule of law. It is less indifferent when the effects of such backsliding begin to be felt.
Overpopulation, excessive construction, and lack of future-proofing – a combination of these factors set against the backdrop of the effects of climate change- are a ticking bomb. Problems of governance are best seen when its failures produce undesired effects and essential infrastructures, and services feel the punch. Crucial areas like health and education cannot, and will not, afford the delays of finger-pointing and hedging of responsibility.
Whether this newfound anger translates into calls for accountability remains the big question. Last year, we saw a rise in calls for inquiries, a magnificent step towards the return of checks. What happens after inquiries, though, is equally important.
The whole purpose of justice should be the preservation of the common good. When inquiries are not followed up, justice is denied. The current governors of the nation are proving obstinate in their determination to defy change, to whitewash their sins and to retain the stranglehold of the corrupt on the workings of the state.
2024 hasn’t properly started yet, but it is already clear that it will need an angry, determined opposition with great resolve.