The present catastrophe should be an opportunity. There is no better argument for change than the complete failure of the realities we are used to, to meet the demands of a crisis. Our country’s structures proved woefully inept.
The conventional tribalism of political parties allowed a huge chunk of the population to block out of their consciousness stellar journalism that informed them of the swindling corruption of their politicians. Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri and Joseph Muscat survived in power for as long as they did because blind partisanship allowed their supporters to ignore the facts.
They were helped by a media apparatus in the hands of their party that converts lies and propaganda into something that looks like news.
Eventually, they were also helped by what the leadership of the opposing party thought would serve its partisan interests. The PN, for a while, dropped all discourse on corruption, representing it almost as a good thing and something to be admired.
In the face of rampant greed and corruption, our political parties failed in their job of keeping their candidates on the straight and narrow. That’s just the start. Parliament forgot itself. The majority of its members are directly employed by the government. An even larger majority includes people who make money from corrupt schemes like selling passports, meaning most MPs are disinclined to rock the boat.
The civil service is led by butlers who are grateful for having Joseph Muscat wipe his feet on their backs. The attorney general and the police chief are quivering, fawning puppets. The judiciary is stuffed and packed with partisan appointees. The press is underfunded, outnumbered by propagandists, sometimes compromised and often compromising.
When a journalist was assassinated by a car bomb, our community hit a collective moral low. But when two years later we find the very Office of the Prime Minister implicated in the assassination and the prime minister himself implicated, at least in its cover-up, all sadness turns to anger.
We think of all the occasions the country had to prevent the assassination from happening. If only we listened when the corruption was first revealed. If only we protested enough to demand action is taken. If only our tribalism as a nation did not galvanise the support the corrupt enjoyed. If it hadn’t, they would have been forced out before they could do worse.
Here we are thinking of all the missed opportunities. And yet today we are missing the greatest opportunity of all.
Even as we reel from the scale of the disaster, we wobble about looking forward to the day when things will fix themselves. Like exiles in Babylon we wait for a great messiah who will free us from bondage and take us back to the land of milk and honey. We pathetically cross fingers that Robert Abela or Adrian Delia or Chris Fearne might take us out of the disaster Joseph Muscat has driven us into.
There are many people out there – capable leaders with a sense of public good and an understanding of what needs to change
We do not realise then, that in hoping an all-powerful prime minister saves us from the disaster his all-powerful predecessor created, we show we have learnt nothing.
Switching one all-powerful prime minister with another is stupid. It is hoping that making the same mistake will somehow this time yield a different result. Like the followers of Konrad Mizzi who still applaud him as if that ever made sense, we display remarkable inability to learn from the errors of our own time.
True, all of Joseph Muscat’s predecessors were better than him. None of them dirtied their hands with murderers, and most had the decency to look away when their ministers were corrupt, which is slightly more dignified than actively supporting them and their corruption.
But now everything has changed. The Office of the Prime Minister has lost the dignity that made us respect it whoever was its occupant. In our eyes, government – not specifically this one, but government in and of itself – has lost the sheen that has us assume it is a force for good, acting in the interests of the community. Instead it has become a dark cave, a den of thieves, thugs and murderers.
You don’t outgrow that by replacing the prime minister with someone who has more pictures hugging and cavorting with Joseph Muscat than I have with my children.
Try to see this from the point of view of the rest of the world. For at least a generation, Malta’s representatives outside of here will not be trusted. No room will ever stop to listen to a Maltese minister arguing at the EU about Malta’s tax exceptionalism or its unilaterally claimed privileges in waters that are closer to the shores of other countries than ours.
No Maltese ambassador will be treated with respect. No Maltese banker will be taken seriously by other bankers. Any Maltese business partner will be presumed a crook until proven otherwise.
We will suffer the consequences of the past six years for an entire generation at least. Because we will not merely be held to account for Joseph Muscat’s actions while in office: his recklessness, his complicity, his greed and his callous use of the trappings of State for his personal ends. We will be held to account for having elected him, for not having removed him when he first got caught, for resoundingly re-electing him, and ultimately, when even he felt he could not stay any longer, for letting him step down in his own sweet time to resounding applause and the praise of his successors.
After this, we are not merely perceived as a nation who had a crook as a prime minister. That can happen. Now we are perceived as a nation of crooks.
It’s not that our system is diseased. It’s that we have a disease for a system.
By standing by in embarrassed idleness as we hope fortune favours the cowards we confirm the world’s perception and accept the fate of the infection that plagues us.
Now everyone says they regret Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri were not fired three years ago. It’s too late for that. But what we’re doing now is lining up for the regrets we’re going to express three years from now.
We will regret not reforming the partitocracy that rules over us, dismantling the duopoly and their dependence on private funding, and separating parties from journalism, and big business funding from TV news. We will regret not reducing the powers of our prime ministers and strengthening the checks and balances needed to restrain the executive.
We will regret not speaking out about our economy’s dependence on easy, dirty money, hoping that it will continue to trickle into our pockets without burning into our flesh.
We will regret not having stepped up. There are many people out there – capable leaders with a sense of public good and an understanding of what needs to change to shorten our time in this purgatory of national ill-repute – who are staying at home. They could be our next attorney general, our next police chief, our next civil service head, our next MP, our next minister or prime minister. But they’d rather stay home because if there was any time when the excuse that politics is dirty rings true, this is that time.
Or we’re still in time to cut down on our large stock of piled-up regrets. The time for revolution is now but it will not happen on its own.
Will you stand idly by as you’ve done the last three, nay six years, when you could have stopped the Panama swindle from taking us so far? Or will you step up and claim your country for your children?