The Great Siege of 1565 has often been bandied about as a critical time during which noblemen, knights and the common folk and peasantry alike put aside their many differences and banded together to halt the expansionist scourge of the Ottoman Empire. Whether or not that is a correct analysis, I will leave to the historians among us. When framed as such, however, the Great Siege serves as an apt metaphor for the events in Malta of the past few years and months.

You may think that it is they who are besieged by us; the ruling government of the day besieged by civil society, pressure groups, the media, NGOs and professional bodies, the EU bodies who have all condemned this government’s actions and lack thereof.

You would be wrong.

It is we who are besieged.

The balance of power is firmly in their hands. By owning all the halls of power, from the executive to the courts, to the commissioner of police and all the way downward to you who do not show your face at protests for fear of retribution or because “they’re all corrupt”, they have encircled us and will continue to choke our liberty.

The enormous problems we now face go far further than petty party politics. No prime minister from any political party should be allowed to have unfettered powers in the selection of the Attorney General and police commissioner. No ruling party should have such a chokehold over the judiciary and the court system.

In honesty, whatever our political bent, we can all agree that the police should not be the enforcement arm of government.

We all agree that it is shameful that “24 out of 24 Maltese courts were humbled and trashed” in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

We agree that a minister found guilty of repeatedly breaching human rights by the highest court in the land should no longer be a minister, nor an MP, and should retire from public life immediately.

We agree that members of government who, with absolute certainty, planned to squirrel away bribe money in secretive jurisdictions cannot serve the public according to the oath they swore.

We agree that investigating officers should not be friends and should not even fraternise socially with those they are investigating.

They hold all the cards close to their chest already; unless we overturn the table, the game is already won by them

We agree that massive, opaque deals that benefit unknown quantities and are under investigation should be frozen, terminated and, if necessary, annulled.  We agree that we the citizenry are largely powerless to stop the PA, Infrastructure Malta and the cranes and bulldozers of big business, and we agree this is a highly undesirable state of affairs to be in. 

These are basics, and these basics go far beyond any political party, electoral majority or mandate to govern.

We have heard various members of this government, both in the open and anonymously, repeatedly say they feel used and betrayed. If they feel so and they inhabit the corridors of power, entrusted by us in the ballot boxes, how are we, the citizenry, supposed to feel?

We trusted them to manage the country, and all we wanted was to live in a state that is not ruled by corruption and mafia tactics. For years now we have said that the whole Panama affair is not normal and heads should roll, and for years they parroted the ‘business as usual, institutions working’ line.

Had we not stamped our feet, all of the criminal misdeeds would have been swept under the carpet. Had we not stamped our feet, no one would have resigned. And, to be clear, when one resigns under a cloud of suspicion and public anger and in a belated manner, one still hasn’t done the honourable thing, nor atoned for their actions.

Needless to say, one hasn’t yet paid for any wrongdoing either. A resignation is the absolute bare minimum. Many might say the opposite – that resignations absolve all sins, but they don’t, especially if a resignation in the face of wrongdoing or suspicion thereof is not coupled with investigation and punishment.

The groundswell must be acknowledged, even if cautiously, and encouraged.

Plainly put, if two years ago one had predicted that there would be massive protests in which NGOs, professional bodies, the independent media and international press, sceptics and people of no political beliefs, members of Graffitti, and Opposition MPs, alongside the nation and civil society, would march shoulder to shoulder on the basis of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s journalistic work, perhaps one would have been thought insane.

That we have got this far is positive. What should serve as a sobering warning is that in order for us to get this far, they had to kill one of us.

If we do not stamp our feet and continue to do so, loudly and with determination, there will be no pressing reason for them not to all be corrupt. There will be no incentive or incitement for them to do the decent thing, whatever the decent thing is in each particular case.

There will be no incentive for any of them to champion the changes we need to happen; massive structural and systemic changes that go beyond any partisan interest; changes in party financing, halting the choke hold of big business on the state, reinstating the impartiality of the police and the courts, true freedom of expression without stifling libel laws and SLAPP actions, transparency in mega-deals related to energy, our national airline, and many more.

They hold all the cards close to their chest already; unless we overturn the table, the game is already won by them.

Mark Debono is a civil society activist chronicling the protests with photography and commentary.

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