Civil society has been driven to protest by the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia. We have taken to the streets at least monthly in the 27 months since that outrage on our democratic and constitutional rights.
The right to freedom of expression is not some privilege given to journalists. Within it is the right of every citizen to be informed. If citizens are not informed, their voting and democratic decisions are not informed. Democracy does not function without journalists working freely to uncover wrongdoing.
A shift in the pace of protest occurred since Yorgen Fenech was arrested. More people understood that Caruana Galizia was killed for seeking to inform them of corruption in Joseph Muscat’s government. More civil society organisations, more people joined the protest.
Civil society does not merely aspire to make noise when things aren’t quite what they should be. Civil society aspires for change. We seek to build a better country.
The killing of Caruana Galizia exposed the crisis of more than just the state of free speech in Malta. It has exposed the vulnerability of our institutional make-up. The office of our prime minister is all-powerful and if a crook becomes prime minister, the laws of the land do not function anymore.
Our economy has grown dependant on dirty money that flows through here from the left pockets of Mafiosi, tax dodgers and embezzlers and flows back into their right pockets all cleaned up.
Organised crime has infiltrated Malta and, in some respects, we have been colonised to serve the interests of faceless lords of smuggling, slavery and violence. What little countryside we have left has become the playing field of money launderers. Unlike Pablo Escobar who buried his cash in plastic barrels in the fields around Medellin, our more sophisticated banditos turned the cash into concrete transforming our towns into cement pigeon lofts and spreading onto the countryside like a grey disease.
The phantom demand for property has inflated prices pushing home ownership out of the reach of more people and making tenancy unaffordable for some for whom an underground garage or even their car is now their home.
A huge chunk of the generation of electricity in Malta is now in private hands. Perhaps that would not be so bad if its owners had to submit to the pressures of the market. But the Electrogas deal was no liberal opening to market forces. It was a corrupt, corporatist arrangement that guarantees income to the cronies whatever their cost to produce.
A large portion of our national health service has been privatised with no significant investment in its improvement. Patients go to the same hospitals, expected to be grateful for a fresh lick of paint but getting a worse service as corners are cut to secure profits, except the official word for it is ‘efficiency’.
When the vision of political leaders is limited to their own vaulting ambition, it is up to the people to spell out where their country is to go next
The government tolerates no objection. Questions go unanswered and accountability is at an all-time low. Except in strictly controlled circumstances, ministers do not give the press any interviews. When they do get door stepped, they reply with disdain and mockery and leave out any hint of substance.
The parliamentary opposition, the press, civil society – all are contemptuously ignored. Sometimes it’s worse than that. Consider how the weight of the State in the shape of the over-employed culture czar Jason Micallef came down on a singer who is due on stage at a protest in Valletta this afternoon.
Why her in particular? Because she appears regularly on a TV show on the national TV station. It’s but another case of intimidation and the very real threat of retaliation for stepping out of the official line.
Protesting the assassination of Caruana Galizia, therefore, is protesting the assassination of our democratic life. It is about the threat to several freedoms, not just the right to speak and learn. It is about the threat to decent living: safe from the cross-fire of organised crime, with a safety net for the poorest, with excellent and free health service for everyone, with affordable housing for all, with a clean and sustained urban and rural environment for each one of us.
And it is also about protesting for an honest living for the country. A sustainable economy cleaned out of its current addictions, our desperate search for a fix of a quick, dirty buck.
It may come as a shock to the current political class that civil society wants to do more than honk on horns and wave flags. The Joseph Muscats, the Chris Fearnes and the Robert Abelas of this world may be used to their audiences waving and honking happily until they’re sent home to feed on what One TV dishes out for the night. We’re a different crowd. Annoyingly, we’re like Oliver. We’ll come back for more.
It is clear to us all that Muscat’s imminent resignation is a strategic retreat. His successors have spent the last weeks justifying the OCCRP 2019 Man of the Year for Corruption and his criminal government. Neither one of them even remotely touched the issues that brought about the killing of Caruana Galizia. Neither one of them sought to explain and help the country come to terms with how badly things have gone these past six years. None of them even tried to make empty promises about reform.
Instead, their campaigns can be summed up in the words of one of them: “For as long as I live the PN will never be in government”. I’m not holding the brief for the PN but we all know what that phrase means. ‘For as long as they can help it, they’ll hold on to power.’
Such a blatant, public confession of undying, undimming, uncompromising power-hunger by someone still seeking to achieve it would be callous at any time. It is so transparently ugly that it really has its place in Greek tragedy or Italian opera, not in the public campaign utterances of a Western democracy. And yet here we are.
It is especially chilling considering that the remark about eternal, unchanging monopoly on power is made right on the back of the exposure of sleaze, violence, greed and corruption never before experienced at the very top of the executive of this country.
They expect us now to walk away and stay home as they go on as if nothing ever happened. We’re not doing that. Our aspirations for a new Republic are clear and legitimate. We are not demanding the impossible. We are not anarchists. We believe in the State and we argue for law and its rule above anyone’s interests.
But the state of the State today is diseased and our political parties appear unable or unwilling to offer solutions to start healing it. When Chris Fearne said he was “joking” when he said he’ll bury political opposition before he’s buried himself, he showed just how dark his humour is. It would have had to be as he stood four-square behind Muscat for six years knowing full well what he was up to. And laughing.
When the vision of political leaders is limited to their own vaulting ambition, it is up to the people to spell out where their country is to go next.
Political parties now have a choice. They can get busy leading the new Republic, or they can get busy dying with the old one.
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