The Panama Papers scandal is the mother of all scandals. This is the opinion of Mark Anthony Sammut, a former Labour candidate who has just published L-Aqwa fl-Ewropa, a must-read for all those analysing Malta’s current political context.
Sammut, who also happens to be the son of one of Malta’s foremost novelists, the late Frans Sammut, writes in a very accessible way, with exceptional mastery in his use of the Maltese language.
He says the aim of the book is not to damage the current Labour government, but to provide a panoramic view of the Panama Papers in relation to Malta, to present facts and to interpret them.
The text gives concise explanations of terms which have featured prominently in the discussion on this scandal during the past months. These include offshore accounts, shell companies, intermediaries, nominee directors, trusts, and so forth.
As one would expect, the focus is on Minister Without Portfolio Konrad Mizzi and on the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri. Both are implied in Panama Papers and both have remained central figures in the Labour government’s power structure.
Sammut explains how Mizzi did his best to play with words on his involvement in the Panama Papers and on implications on his role as minister involved in various deals in the energy and health sectors. For example, Mizzi’s attempt to duck questions was very much the case in an interview with the Times of Malta journalist Jacob Borg.
Joseph Muscat is depicted as a magician who “grabs your attention through his left hand while performing a magic trick with his right”
As regards Schembri, Sammut interprets various potential and actual conflicts of interest, stating that these would be unacceptable in European democracies where good governance is taken seriously.
Indeed, Sammut refers to coincidences, deals, resignations and various facts which make it very difficult to ignore the political implications of Panama Papers. His text also reminds us how an audit – as promised by the Prime Minister and Mizzi - depends on an audit trail. So far so good, save for the fact that the audit was never delivered. Not to mention that an audit trail becomes problematic when one is dealing with secretive jurisdictions and transactions.
The book features many quotes from public figures – including from the Labour camp – which are very revealing. Among those quoted, one finds Jason Micallef, Evarist Bartolo, Glenn Bedingfield, Leo Brincat, Godfrey Farrugia, Alfred Sant, Edward Scicluna and Desmond Zammit Marmarà.
‘New’ Labour stalwarts such as Alfred Sant and Evarist Bartolo were pretty clear in their negative opinion of Mizzi’s situation. Some others were less straightforward, but nevertheless very pertinent.
For example, in his article in the Times of Malta of October 11, Zammit Marmarà wrote that “it is more than obvious that when your primary aim as a politician is to attain high public office and become rich at the same time, you are bound to start from day one with a conflict of interest”.
It would be very difficult to believe that Zammit Marmara was excluding Malta from the equation.
The final chapter of Sammut’s book is less factual and more speculative. Here, Sammut presents a philosophical argument that the Labour government has taken a neoliberal direction away from its social democratic roots. Joseph Muscat is depicted as a magician who “grabs your attention through his left hand while performing a magic trick with his right”.
Consequently, Sammut argues that post-liberalism is the way forward for socialism. The book’s appendix then includes a short essay by Adrian Pabst who advocates “a politics committed to family, decent work, a fair return for workers, contribution, duties linked to rights, and love of one’s country”, which “can be a majoritarian politics of the left”.
Perhaps the last chapter is the least convincing chapter in what otherwise is an excellent read. Not because of the Labour government’s deficit in good governance, but because in actual fact, good or bad governance are not monopolised by one political ideology.
For example Sweden, Germany and Britain are three European countries that have different political traditions, but all three are currently receive high scores in governance indicators.
Michael Briguglio is a sociologist.