Last week I highlighted the deep polarisation in Maltese politics and the country’s fixation on conspiracy theories. The assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia has been used by three Maltese members of the European Parliament and a small unrepresentative body of activists to generate international concern about corruption and the rule of law in Malta by “Europeanising” for partisan advantage what are essentially domestic issues.
With this tragedy – and let us be clear it was a major tragedy even though Daphne was reviled by so many in Malta – those who wanted to make political capital (with their protest banners, regular “anniversaries” and jabs at government allegations of corruption) have stirred division and peddled misinformation abroad about the state of Maltese governance.
It may be too late to roll back the tide. But I know there are many ordinary Maltese – not the privileged grouping that has split the Nationalist Party with their intransigent assertions of entitlement and magnified claims of victimhood – who will agree with me when I write that we are tired of their whingeing and their political stunts. By all means let us grieve, as we do, for Daphne’s family, but let us do so privately and not seek to use a tragic death for political advantage.
This pseudo-political grouping is made up, by and large, of the more articulate strata of Maltese society (educated privately or at the best Church schools), who are able to afford the time and have the financial means to pull off political stunts (for example, the disgraceful treatment of Joseph Calleja in London outside the Albert Hall a fortnight ago).
This pseudo-political grouping is made up, by and large, of the more articulate strata of Maltese society educated privately or at the best Church schools
Their efforts have been given international impetus by the weaponisation of Caruana Galizia’s death for narrow political reasons through the so-called “Daphne Project”, regardless of the consequences for Malta’s reputation or the possible effects on its economy and people’s livelihoods.
They have accused Labour politicians of being both heartless and hopeless after the tragedy of Caruana Galizia’s death, arguing that the inescapable truth is that her death would not have happened if Malta’s institutions had not been corrupt and inefficient. It is political opportunism of the most demeaning kind and it is time to call this unrepresentative pseudo-political grouping out on it.
Malta is not a perfectly governed country. It never has been. Readers of this column over the last seven years know that I have been critical of successive Maltese administrations, both Nationalist and Labour. Our system of democracy is flawed (but fixable). It has been ever thus under both parties. I shall return at a later date, like a bad penny, as to how we could fix our Constitution – which is the crux of Malta’s governance problems.
I shall comment fully on the rule of law next week. Today I focus on corruption.
Much has been made by this pseudo-political grouping of this government’s (alleged) corruption, but where were their voices when earlier corruption occurred? They claim to seek justice, but are selective about which crimes should be pursued.
The Prime Minister reminded Parliament recently about investigations by the Maltese tax authorities – which are still under way – into leaked data that the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists had exposed in 2015 concerning secret HSBC Geneva bank accounts, with over €600 million held by Maltese account holders contrary to Malta’s tax laws.
Among the more prominent names were people closely associated with the last Nationalist government. Former Enemalta chairman, Tancred Tabone ($10 million), petro-chemist Francis Sammut ($3.8 million), businessmen Anthony Cassar ($ 2.1 million) and Francis Portelli ($1.9 million). All have been charged, inter alia, with money laundering and corruption, which they deny. Former Nationalist minister Ninu Zammit was also exposed as holding $3.2 million in an undeclared account in Geneva.
These are people we know well. Some are friends. What I find unconscionable about the Prime Minister’s recent statement to Parliament is his reluctance to divulge all the other major tax avoidance miscreants who make up the outstanding balance of €600 million. We must assume that the majority consist of businessmen or politicians in Malta.
Yet their alleged misdeeds appear to have been airbrushed from history by the group of activists. They bay for the blood of Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi and of the Prime Minister’s wife, but are not prepared to await the outcome of evidence-based magisterial investigations which have been established to find the truth. They prefer a public lynching to the application of, and adherence to, the rule of law.
Why should the overriding majority of ordinary Maltese who pay their taxes in full bear the burden, while rich plutocrats with illegal Swiss bank accounts get away scot-free by settling with the Inland Revenue through a back-door deal? Fairness and justice demand they should be named and shamed. It is, I am convinced, what Caruana Galizia would have advocated were she still alive.
We should not be selectively uncritical of, or blind to, recent past misdeeds. This is the corruption – already clearly established by the reputable International Consortium of Investigative Journalists – the pseudo-political activists should be fighting.
As importantly, the investigative journalists involved in the Daphne Project should be alerted to this recent form of earlier corruption and asked to uncover the truth by exposing the names of those who cheated the Maltese exchequer in this way. If not, their attachment in practice to the principles which the Daphne Project and the pseudo-political activists ostensibly stand for will be seen as aimed simply at undermining Malta’s reputation and sowing domestic discord.
These activists weaken Maltese solidarity. They claim to be fighting for “truth and justice”. But in reality they are hypocrites who claim some great cause in the name of “justice” for Daphne’s death, but ignore through their misguided campaign the corruption committed, probably by people they and I know, in the years leading to 2013.
They have undermined people’s trust in well-founded institutions and the rule of law.
Moreover, through their hypocrisy and double standards they have damaged equality before the law and the right to a fair trial – values which not long ago even in Malta would have been considered sacrosanct.