Malta seems to exist in a soap bubble. Children remember mixing soap suds and water and blowing the soap out in blue green and rose bubbles that flew in the wind. They looked so sweet and we loved it but we knew already then that each bubble, however beautiful and enticing, would suddenly burst and leave a wet stain on the floor.
Joseph Muscat, together with Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi and others, managed to create a mixture that they blew up to a bubble within which the inner circles and friends of the Labour Party could act with impunity.
Ten years for a country are as short as a minute for a four-year-old child. The bubble created was composed of deceit, secret bank accounts, fraudulent contracts secretly negotiated with crooked foreigners or dictator families to sell or give concessions to operate national services like health, energy, banking, citizenship and others, in order to milk the national purse.
Within this bubble, the regulatory authorities just closed their eyes and looked elsewhere, happily chewing their rabbits or receiving backhanders to keep quiet.
Anybody who was brave enough to try to prick this bubble, like Daphne Caruana Galizia through her sources, were summarily dealt with. Daphne was murdered and others were punished in different ways. Labour Party critics like Godfrey Farrugia or Desmond Zammit Marmarà were ostracised.
Others were just fired from their workplaces, like many at the FIAU or the Planning Authority. Their children were not given the sweet sugared contracts of jobs for the boys, nor were they allowed to participate in government contracts. Newspapers lost their advertising.
Those who took part directly or indirectly in the impunity system within the bubble received their share of the loot. Robert Abela just continued as before.
Big businessmen soon realised that if they joined in and played the game, they would benefit and amass fortunes in property deals, gas and power station deals, banking and money laundering for themselves and for foreigners. The activities within the bubble were in the great majority criminal or illegal but certainly immoral. The beneficiaries of these immune activities were the collaborators.
The helpers were the attorney general, police chiefs and regulatory body chairpersons who looked the other way. Even after 2019 the present cabinet continued to operate the impunity bubble and is equally responsible for today’s situation. They know they are living in a bubble because they believe they can just ignore all questions put to them by journalists, members of the opposition, the courts or the EU authorities.
They just smile and rush to their chauffeur-driven cars, knowing that no one will touch them. Many public inquiries have condemned the government, many European Parliament resolutions have condemned the government and many court judgments have condemned the government or particular ministers. All have been ignored.
Even if the bubble does burst and some sort of rule of law returns to Malta, the damage to our way of life cannot be undone- John Vassallo
Outside the bubble live the majority of Maltese suffering in silence or accepting the existence of the bubble, hoping that their lives can go on in the peace of their houses behind locked doors. They are surrounded by this pack of ministers, party insiders and friends and party financers who are robbing them daily and by an ever-increasing horde of foreigners. Criminal gangs from the eastern fringes of Europe have also found this country.
The Italian mafia has found Malta to be the best place to launder their money. Then we have the retirees and North European businessmen who gather in the ghettoes and borgos of Portomaso, Tigné Point and other rich men’s centres, being given special treatment by the Maltese tax authorities to the detriment of normal Maltese who have to pay their full share of taxes to fuel the greed of the businessmen and politicians within the bubble.
The Maltese, living in low-height houses within village cores in Sliema, Birkirkara and Paola, once elegant towns, or in the historic cities of Valletta, Mdina, Senglea, Vittoriosa and Rabat, see their traditions eroded by the MDA members and cowboy contractors who build ugly buildings flouting all regulations. As all bubbles reach a certain height and when the pressure inside the bubble is larger than the air pressure outside it, they burst.
This impunity bubble will burst too; it actually burst a couple of weeks ago when the pin prick that Daphne had made into the Vitals deal many years ago was enlarged by the court judgment. It is only a matter of a few more months before the Electrogas deal, the Montenegro deal and EU investigations into fraud with EU funds will exert pressure to punish the guilty.
Even if the bubble does burst and some sort of rule of law returns to Malta, the damage to our way of life cannot be undone. Our youngsters will continue to flock abroad. It is not enough to burst the bubble, there is need to punish the guilty, remove 75 per cent of the imported labour, stop the construction madness, respect the environment and improve public service salaries and education.
Maybe life can look a bit more normal sometime in the future. Let us hope so.
John Vassallo is a former ambassador to the EU.