Five months ago to the day, Joseph Muscat went to Dubai to sell Maltese citizenship to people rich enough to buy it. A million dollars is a high price to most, and completely beyond the many economic migrants and asylum seekers who hand over their life savings to people smugglers and risk dying of thirst in the desert or drowning in the open seas. It is a VIP ticket to paradise they will not be able to afford in a hundred lives.

But the perspective of affordabi­lity is a poor assessment of value. If you consider what went into making that citizenship attractive, then it is being given away dirt cheap. It took the awakening of national awareness, the stoic suffering during the last great war, the campaigning for independence, outlasting socialist tyranny and obtaining European integration against all odds.

What has a Russian oligarch contributed to this country, to raise the status of this little rock to nationhood and give its people access to the top table of European decision makers? And yet money buys a European passport with the freedom to move around the world mainly unfettered by visa applications, courtesy of Malta’s hard won reputation. Vladimir Putin’s cronies can move their money, their business and themselves across the soft borders of Europe by right of conquest, brandishing the passport of a country with whom they have no relationship, a passport obtained as a result of a business transaction.

“But other countries do it,” the government whines. It is a feeble moral exculpation to what is tantamount to an insult to our forebears. If you discount the banana republics that should be no one’s development model, there is no other scheme anywhere else in the world that commodifies citizenship without requiring any participation in community life.

If ‘evil’ were relative and ‘wrong’ a matter of degrees, our citizenship scheme would still fall far beyond the several shades of grey to the blackest of the blacks. Its adoption has severely damaged our international reputation, because it is a scheme redolent of the greed and corruption that have become the hallmarks of this government.

The Prime Minister, who devised the sale of Maltese citizenship, enjoys cult hero status in this country. He has apparently found the final solution to pressures on public finances: a goose with an infinite supply of golden eggs that can pay for all the vices and inefficiencies of a country now bereft of any motivation to better itself.

Since no one born in Malta is required to pay for citizenship, no one cares to think about the cost of these trains east. After all, the streak of ore in the mine from which citizenship is extracted will never run out. We can always print more passports.

A prime minister who would devise such a final solution is unable or unwilling to anticipate the inevitable consequences. That callousness, that cynicism, that lack of foresight explains Muscat’s behaviour in so many respects.

They are traits of a master manip­ulator, a gaslighter, a calculating hunter unhindered by morality or illusions of conscience. They dismantle restraint and build contempt for rules. They secure a network of subjects recruited with seduction and charm and retained with gentle blackmail.

As long as the top man’s programme is fulfilled and his power preserved, all other rules are disposable

The abandonment of morality by the man on top makes cynical manipulation an act of faith trickled down a pecking order of downward fealty and upward loyalty. As long as the top man’s programme is fulfilled and his power preserved, all other rules are disposable.

The prime minister who designs a scheme to sell citizenship is a prime minister who can put a price on anything, is capable of lying about everything and will ignore all criticism.

That moral vacuity allows for the roll-out of a roadmap of corruption, sleaze and subterfuge in cooperation with the vassals who work in his office. It allows him to brush off objections when his secret roadmap is revealed by the press. It allows him to turn the tables on his critics to make them look like they are the ones who owe the public an apology. It allows him to mobilise frenzied support from a nation willing to clamour against its own manifest interests but in defence of the great leader’s.

This moral emptiness is an invitation to criminals to recognise their leader’s lair as a den of thieves, a hospice for criminals. They know when one of their own is open for business. People still like to think that a criminal can be spotted by the balaclava covering his face and the sack of loot slung over his shoulder. They don’t see the sharp-suited bankers and lawyers, investors and shareholders as criminals.

That moral vacuum abhors the persistent noise of criticism and sincerity. Whether it comes from politics, or from churches, from civil society or from journalists, no challenge to the painfully polite criminal hegemony can be tolerated.

The rules of democratic politics are changed to neutralise opposition and overwhelm institutions whose function it is to keep power in check. The ability of the religious to impart their moral teaching on the community is distracted by side-shows on abortion.

Civil society is mocked, isolated, exploited and intimidated.

Journalists are bought, absorb­ed, threatened. Even killed.

Some Marxist historians were exhausted by the effort it took to explain the rise of fascism as a product of social forces. The protagonists, the elites, the parties, the leaders and dictators played a big part in their own success. Their ability to harness their own contempt for their supporters gave them the power to climb to the top and bask in the glory of rapturous applause.

In explaining the rise and rise of Joseph Muscat, we try to understand the behaviour of the many who support him. An interesting endeavour to be sure, but one that fails to provide the full picture.

To understand the rise and rise of Joseph Muscat, we must first understand Joseph Muscat, our very own caudillo who sells citizenship for a price.

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