Opinion: A sunny place for shady people

Malta has learned nothing from the brutal murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The public inquiry tabled its report nearly three years ago. Have any of its recommendations been implemented?

The only change that sparks Robert Abela’s interest is “media reform”, a term he’s quick to twist to his own advantage.

Sure, he’ll let the media become the fourth pillar of democracy, as he told journalists on Monday, but protection comes with a price: subjecting itself to regulatory checks and balances imposed by the very people that journalists are supposed to hold to account.

Protection rackets might be the norm for the sort of clients Robert Abela represented but unlike the other three pillars he cited — the legislative, executive and judiciary — the media isn’t part of the government outside North Korea or the People’s Republic of China.

I suppose the prime minister’s chosen option might help unclog the courts by removing the need to hammer independent media with lawsuits to hide massive payments to Party propagandists.

The government learned nothing from the assassination of its most prominent critic, an event that shocked Europe and the world.

The Maltese people, on the other hand, have learned a great deal from Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder.

They learned about the complicated world of tax avoidance using offshore companies hidden behind nominee directors when the Panama Papers caught Joseph Muscat’s inner circle with their hands in the cookie jar.

They learned about correspondent banking networks when Bank of Valletta lost theirs for exposing other financial institutions to the risk of complicity in financial crimes. 

They learned about financial crimes and terrorist financing when the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) greylisted Malta to isolate it like a monetary plague carrier alongside Haiti and South Sudan.

They bore witness to the utter uselessness of all those high-level appointees who admitted to the public inquiry that they did nothing to stop the wholesale looting of the country. 

Former Attorney General Peter Grech, Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar, Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia, Economy Minister Edward Scicluna – all did nothing.

Scicluna was busy awarding himself higher-paying jobs with pensions, and the rest were busy thinking up reasons for looking away. It wasn’t their job. No one told them to act. It was someone else’s responsibility. 

The Maltese people learned that their highest officials were greedy cowards. But you also learned the power of unity when you came together to drive Joseph Muscat out of office. The man once known for his arrogant smirk scuttled from Valletta through the ditch like a rat.

That’s what stood out for me most when correcting final proofs of my new book: the November 2019 protests. It really did feel like the end of a period of madness.

I was proud to know so many of the people who banged pots and pans in front of parliament and threw eggs at corrupt cabinet ministers day after day, and I was honoured to write about it for The Shift.

The title of my book, A Sunny Place for Shady People, refers to those who were drawn to Malta during the tenure of Joseph Muscat. The so-called Passport King and his “citizenship-by-investment” scheme.

The 34-year-old Iranian banker with no prior banking experience. The Indian-Canadian fraudster turned hospital director. Tuna launderers, human traffickers, fuel smugglers and Italian mafia-connected gaming companies.

And what of those who made the island’s name a byword for corruption? 

More than six years after Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed for her writing, the government is still led by Joseph Muscat’s former lawyer and hand-picked successor. 

The prime minister whose office was judged responsible for the murder of a journalist is still lurking around like a bad smell, enjoying office space at taxpayers’ expense, a personal assistant, a diplomatic passport, and two State-funded cars and drivers for him and his wife.

He’s built a lucrative consulting business for himself that has nothing to do with the corrupt hospital scam, even though the names involved are linked. 

There’s been little resembling justice for the 53-year-old mother of three whose life was ended on 16 October 2017.

The bottom-feeding trigger men are in jail, and others cut deals for full pardons or reduced time. The man accused of ordering the hit has been in custody for more than four years, spinning in pre-trial limbo.

Others have yet to be openly accused, perhaps because the alleged mastermind still isn’t sure which way the wind will blow.

Those who had the most to gain from Daphne’s silence are still making hay while the sun shines. 

Few of those rays manage to slip past the office towers and shoddy illegal buildings blocking the average person’s view.

Robert Abela’s idea of media reform will ensure they never make headline news.

A vigil for truth and justice in remembrance of Daphne Caruana Galizia will be held on Tuesday 16th, at 19.00 at Great Siege Square, Valletta.

                           

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