There is a character in the Harry Potter books called Gilderoy Lockhart. This Lockhart – at one point a teacher at Hogwarts – thought of himself as a handsome genius. He believed his talents to be exceptional and his looks particularly striking. He craved the limelight and liked nothing better than for people to make way for him wherever he went and to see his name and photo plastered everywhere. He was very hollow, cowardly and happy to use his wizarding charms to gain power, money and recognition at the expense of others.
I thought of Lockhart this week because, somehow, in my mind, my fictional image of him has blurred with that of Anġlu Farrugia, the Speaker of the Parliament of Malta.
Like Lockhart, Farrugia is a man who is clearly very much in love with himself. I’m sure that, back in his moustache days, he’d gasp and do a double take each time he looked in the mirror: “Ostra! X’ċuċ hu Magnum PI?!” These days with his facial hair shaved off, he walks by with a ‘look-at-me-I’m-famous’ stride and he drives by with equally ‘look-at-me-I’m-famous’ flashing blue lights.
So, who is this man who, in a week, refused to issue a stern reprimand to the corrupt MP Rosianne Cutajar (as he was duty bound to do by the Public Standards Committee) and, instead, wrote her a little school note? Who is this man who got his lawyer to reply to a letter written to him by Matthew Caruana Galizia because, as Mr Speaker, it’s beneath him to answer a letter from the man in the street?
Let’s take a look at the past of this man who now holds one of the most prestigious constitutional role posts of the country. He was a police inspector in 1984, when Malta was in its first round of the dark days of Labour, when street violence was the norm and when some policemen acted in the interest of labour thugs and not the people. Farrugia was the one who kept Daphne Caruana Galizia, then still a teenager, under 27-hour detention and interrogation, when she was protesting, together with others, against the government’s spiteful closure of private schools.
Daphne testified that she was forced to sign a false confession which Farrugia himself had written, telling her that if she did not do so, “she would be returned to the pitch-black cell, with faeces-smeared walls and a metal bucket for a lavatory, where she had been kept for the past 27 hours”. Farrugia denies wrongdoing – of course, he would.
In 1987, with a new PN government, university stopped its pro-Arabic, pro-Gaddafi entry system and Farrugia, suddenly, became pro-education and joined the law course as a mature student. By the time he graduated as a lawyer, he was contesting elections as Labour Party candidate and was elected to parliament in 1996, in 1998 and in 2003.
The most pathetic and ridiculous speaker in the history of the Maltese islands- Kristina Chetcuti
Farrugia ran for deputy leadership in 2008 and we all remember the new leader Joseph Muscat grimacing and cringing as he was sandwiched between his elected deputies, Farrugia and Toni Abela. They were not the ones Muscat wanted by his side – they were the image of old Labour, which he wanted everyone to obliterate from memory.
Five years on, Muscat somehow managed to twist Farrugia’s arm and he did not contest the 2013 election. It was a blow to Farrugia’s vanity, which made him go straight to Times of Malta to tell all about Muscat and the “businessman [Keith Schembri] who had taken over the kwartieri’s fourth floor”.
After that outburst, though, he went weirdly silent. Soon, we learnt the possible reason: lo and behold, he was appointed as Speaker of the House and, soon after that, his daughter was nominated as a magistrate. Muscat, who had sold us the mantra of meritocracy, was buying people’s silence from day one.
Of course, this would make Farrugia an unscrupulous politician happy to be rewarded with public posts in return for his silence. His own vanity makes him believe that he deserved this constitutional role even though he is inarticulate, has a tendency not to finish a sentence when he starts one and has to engage a lawyer to reply to citizens on his behalf. His cowardice makes him willing to stay mum: all throughout his tenure as a speaker, he has been the government’s de facto representative in parliament, instead of representing the collective voice of parliament with dignity and integrity.
Farrugia is the very essence of the worst of the Maltese character – conniving, uncultured and with no sense of the bigger picture. In 2018, he turned down a request by the opposition to name a parliament hall after Daphne Caruana Galizia, giving the ignorant reason that “the move could be perceived as eroding the impartiality of the House”.
Yes, Farrugia is unfit for purpose and will go down as the most pathetic and ridiculous speaker in the history of the Maltese islands. But he is simply yet another rotten fruit sown by Muscat whose only concern was not the country but to clear the path for his mates’ orchestrated corruption. It’s all one linked web.
In the meantime, as all this unfolds, we can perhaps look at the story of vain Lockhart and the headmaster’s reaction to his corruption: “There is plenty to be learned even from a bad teacher: what not to do, how not to be.”
This piece was written in memory of Sandro Spiteri, a fellow columnist, and a kind and principled man who believed in justice and true meritocracy. His departure leaves a huge, sad void in Maltese society.