With the European Parliament elections approaching, all candidates are in the final days of their campaigns. The Maltese electorate has the duty, right and privilege to vote for those they believe will best represent their interests in the EP.

Campaign season can be nauseating for some. Candidates who scarcely surface in the five years prior to an election suddenly and vociferously take over social media and newspapers to convince us they deserve our vote.

The Maltese had trusted me with their vote for the first time in 2004. That they have continued to do so for 15 years speaks for itself, because I have striven to bring results for the benefit of every Maltese and Gozitan.

Through the Employment and Social Affairs Committee, I spearheaded work on the new Work-Life Balance Directive, which will grant more leave for parents. This kind of legislative change can only be brought about through cooperation, negotiation and compromise.

The relationships and contacts I have built over the last 15 years facilitate this.  So do my excellent working relationships with the Parliament’s and Commission’s leadership. With 15 years in the bag already, I am geared towards more successes with your help.

But my work was not limited to issues related to employment and social affairs. As a representative of the Maltese, I have withstood unrelenting attacks against me, from accusations to threats, simply for defending the fundamental rights that belong to each one of us. Perhaps the most ferocious occurred after the action I took against 17 Black’s interests in Dubai.

The Pilatus Bank saga embodies everything that we must work to avoid happening again. The bank’s owner, Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, embraced by Joseph Muscat and Keith Schembri, stands accused of money laundering in the US. His bank sent threatening letters to harass and intimidate our media houses the day after Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated.

It took a year of constant pressure until Pilatus Bank’s licence was withdrawn; a year for a criminal bank to be shut down; an entire year of our financial sector’s reputation being dragged through the mud.

This blatant corruption has tarnished our reputation and shone a harsh light on our financial services sector and taxation system, which my colleagues and I have been vehemently and consistently defending.

We cannot let lies, threats and intimidation become the new normal

In the fight against corruption, my colleagues and I in the European Parliament have agreed upon a new law that will protect whistle-blowers and journalists under threat for doing their job to expose crooks and criminals.

When it comes to journalists and whistle-blowers, legislation is not enough. It was unacceptable for Pilatus Bank whistle-blower Maria Efimova to have been chased around Europe. I travelled to Athens three times to support her. Eventually, the Greek court rejected Malta’s extradition request.

The judgment was both relieving and troubling. Maria was in a safer position but it was painful and disappointing that it had to come to this. Is this what we want our country to be known as, a haven for crooks but deadly for journalists?

The chilling murder of October 2017 must never be repeated. It would have been reassuring for the government take a positive stance on our rights. Instead, members of the government continued to vilify Caruana Galizia, discredit her work and bury her stories. For this reason, I have pursued her stories and endured the consequences.

Before the FIAU was hijacked by Labour, our own anti-money laundering institution had recommended a criminal investigation into government politicians at the highest levels. The report on Konrad Mizzi was buried before it could be published, and when I released it, I was threatened with legal action and incarceration… So much for whistle-blower protection.

All of this was necessary. While the powerful are literally getting away with murder, mere mortals are faced with vindictive prison – and death – sentences for doing their jobs and exposing them. Pelin Unker, a Turkish journalist, was sentenced to over a year in prison for reporting on the Paradise Papers. It was unacceptable. After months of pressure and continuous contact with her, her case was thrown out and Pelin is now free.

Tragically, the same cannot be said for Caruana Galizia. If we are to recover from her assassination, we must seek to honour her memory and persist in calling for justice. We cannot let lies, threats and intimidation become the new normal.

To this day, our journalists are still facing lawsuits in foreign jurisdictions to scare them into submission with enormous fines. The practice, SLAPP, is an afront to our right to accountability and free speech.

Disappointingly, the government has shot down legislative efforts in Malta to curtail this practice. But we have managed to put this on the European agenda. Journalists, activists and lawyers from around the globe are working hard to find a solution to this pressing issue. For the sake of our basic and most fundamental rights, their work cannot be in vain, which is why I will continue to press for new, up-to-date laws.

Malta is party to the European Convention of Human Rights, where principles of freedom, liberty and democracy are enshrined. To uphold them, we must react swiftly and fervently against infringements.

My record shows that before anything else, I have striven to uphold these principles and the interests of the Maltese people.

With your vote, we can achieve more concrete results that have a direct, positive impact on the lives of each and every one of us. And we will win more battles against corruption.

David Casa is a PN MEP and candidate for the European elections.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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