This will not be an analysis of the underlying reasons for Jason Azzopardi’s departure from the political party of his life. As with any acrimonious divorce, what he knows, and the party knows, nobody can know. It takes two to tango and it takes two to push each other apart.
As they walked away from each other we heard accusations and denials that relatives of Yorgen Fenech – the man charged with complicity in the murder of a journalist – perhaps even leaders of the Tumas Group of which Yorgen had been the CEO – donated money to the party in opposition some time since Yorgen was charged with complicity in murder. The party in opposition denies it, though it spent an uncomfortable 24 hours checking its records before it could give that answer with any confidence.
Short of independent witnesses or hard evidence, the question as to whether it is true that the Tumas Group donated money to the PN while its CEO was waiting trial for complicity in murder cannot be answered.
During those long 24 hours while the PN checked its facts, some asked: “And what if it did happen? Why should it matter?” This is not necessarily superficial and morally compromised indifference to wrongdoing. The argument of those who ask why it matters is threefold.
Firstly, in our system, political parties need money and, since business owners have most of it, politicians can’t very well refuse their donations. OK, perhaps a donation from someone behind bars should be turned away. But, after that, where do you draw the line? Why refuse a donation from his uncle or his cousin?
Secondly, this is never fair on the PN because the country holds them to a different standard to Labour. Labour gets more money and the broke Nationalists lose all the time. Shouldn’t we cut the PN some slack?
Thirdly, the allegation was that the donation (if it existed) amounted to less than €25,000. Surely nobody believes this is enough to divert policy. Shouldn’t there be a de minimis rule that tolerates small donations no matter their source?
To address this, I submit that we should stop conflating two issues. The first issue is the grotesque influence rich people have on our democratic process.
The principle of universal suffrage is that a poor man’s vote is worth just as much as a rich man’s. There are aspects of our democratic life that reflect this principle.
The country holds the PN to a different standard to Labour- Manuel Delia
Take the courts: Judges and the entire judicial infrastructure are paid for by the state and, although people who use the courts need to pay court fees, the rates are meant to be low enough to ensure anyone can afford them and get a fair chance.
We would hate to see rich people win all the time against poor people because they can afford to pay judges more. We don’t allow it. But we allow richer people a better chance of choosing which party gets elected to government and which candidates get elected to parliament. It may be annoying that Joseph Portelli is rich enough to have a disproportionate say on who gets to win the football league. It is unconscionable that he gets a disproportionate say on who gets to win elections.
But this is the system today. Political parties must fund their own cost and the rich man’s money talks. Even as we complain about the system, we cannot reasonably expect the PN to even try to win an election if we don’t allow it to solicit funds from donors.
A donation from the owners of the Tumas Group is problematic for altogether different reasons, at least since we discovered who owned 17 Black and saw the police charge its CEO with complicity in the murder of a journalist for exposing the corruption that they were (allegedly) involved in. It’s no longer a matter of complaining about the influence of business on politics. It’s a question of allowing criminals a disproportionate influence on politics; in other words, mafia infiltration.
Tumas Group still owns and operates Yorgen Fenech’s casinos. Tumas Group still owns and operates Electrogas, a public contract acquired through (alleged) corruption and (allegedly) protected by murder.
Tumas Group is run by Yorgen Fenech’s ‘Uncle Ray’, who instructed him on how to escape the country and avoid arrest. Even if the police haven’t said so, that’s obstruction of justice.
For the avoidance of doubt, all concerned deny any wrongdoing.
Where do you draw the line? Even if they deny any wrongdoing, you draw the line well short of dealing with criminals (even if not convicted) and taking a share of the proceeds of their crimes (even if our complicit state, which they largely control anyway, has made no move to take it away from them).
Second issue: different standards for Labour. Indeed. I asked the Labour Party if they had received money from the Tumas Group since Yorgen Fenech was charged and they wouldn’t even answer the question. The fact is we’ve known for a long time that elements of the Labour Party have been involved in the local crime world. It is to the credit of the PN that we’d be shocked to learn it has allowed itself to be compromised at all. The PN has no business chasing the PL in the slime and the mud.
Which takes me to the third objection. No, there should not be a de minimis rule for money coming from (alleged) criminals. The PN shouldn’t let Ray Fenech pay them a coffee. Instead, they should be warning him from the rooftops that once justice rules again in Malta his business is going down.
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