There is so much to say about the global Panama Papers controversy. It is the talk of town everywhere you go around Malta. Really and truly, it seems to be part of the perfect storm of bad governance overshadowing the Labour government.
In a way this is a pity, when one considers that despite its situation, Labour does have a good number of decent politicians within its ranks. Some of them are standing up to be counted on Panamagate, others are probably working behind the scenes or are being conspicuous by their absence from the everyday spectacle of politics.
Arguably, the more Labour procrastinates in taking concrete action on the mess it is in, the deadlier will be the blow on its long-term electoral prospects. But the political context of Malta’s Panamagate is so fluid and volatile that things can change by the day, if not the hour.
There is another aspect of Panama Papers which I find so striking. And Malta fits in squarely within this framework.
Indeed, isn’t it ironic that while so much money is being hidden, laundered, recycled, what have you, and while so much tax is being avoided or evaded, Malta has a Third World infrastructure?
Take the state of Malta’s roads. Were it not for EU funding, most of Malta’s arterial roads would be in a terrible situation, as is the case with many residential roads. One main reason for this is that local councils simply do not have funds to cope with the requirements of proper road resurfacing and maintenance. Henceforth, we end up with roads which are carried out with inferior materials, or with roads which are partially resurfaced in their most damaged parts. And these are the lucky roads.
Isn’t it ironic that while so much money is being hidden, laundered, recycled… Malta has a Third World infrastructure?
The same can be said with pavements. Some pavements are simply not fit to walk on, courtesy of damages by contractors and heavy vehicles, sundry signage and obstacles, and do-it-yourself substandard works. Once again, local councils simply do not have the funds to fix all pavements, so yet again, some pavements end up being more equal than others.
Unfortunately, local councils – even those which are efficient in their management – end up bearing the brunt of residents who demand adequate infrastructure in their localities. Isn’t it paradoxical that local authorites are deprived of funds while millions of euros are hidden in the clouds?
A cursory look at the terrible state of various public sports facilities, from Marsa to Mtarfa, as well as their surroundings also confirms this trend.
What about the general shabbiness of the Maltese islands? Wires galore, abandoned buildings, cars fit for scrappage, and aesthetic incongruence. New mega pro-jects surrounded by substandard infrastructure, ramshackle practices, the odd brick here and there, and innovative methods to occupy parking spaces.
Not to mention the disparity of financial realities. Only last day, a friend of mine was speaking about the few euros extra costs incurred due to the new bus ticketing scheme. Another day, I overheard other parents speaking about costs and making ends meet. Not to mention pensioners who tell me that their pensions are simply too low.
I can also mention the precarious situation of patients who rely on television shows and voluntary organisations to collect donations. Or the exploitative situations of workers – from Ukraine to North Korea – in precarious employment or in modern-day slave labour courtesy of pseudo-massage parlours, gentlemen’s clubs and not-so-leisurely clothing.
All this is carried out in a global context of Panama Papers and other similar cases. Governments lose millions and billions in revenue, and common people lose out. Peanuts give you monkeys. In Malta it gives you Third World infrastructure and more.
And yet, Joseph Muscat boasts of Malta’s economic growth.
The Panama Paradox is therefore not only about politicians who should be responsible and resign from their posts, but also about a global context of huge inequalities which are played out in the everyday life of citizens in their respective societies. And while money flies freely out to tax havens, people cross borders, fleeing war and misery, in search of a better life. Only to find closed borders.
Michael Briguglio is a sociologist.