And now, boys and girls, it’s time for your weekly fairy tale. It was lunchtime in another melting August day. The shelf next to the executive paddling pool in the reserved part of the roof of the OPM carried a row of tired patent-leather shoes and one slinky pair of sandals. Under an awning, their aching feet in the cool and comforting water, lounged a klikka of Very Important Politicos.
“Mario, what shall I do about the St Vincent de Paul contract?” the Hon. Anthony Agius Decelis, Parliamentary Secretary for Super-Fast and Active Ageing, was complaining. Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar winked and tapped his nose: “Don’t worry Ton. Silvio tad-DB told me he is not expecting any serious resistance from the Nazzjonalisti.”
“I’m not worried about them,” whined Decelis as he clenched and unclenched his toes in the water. “It’s the bloody so-called independent media. They just won’t let up. First they wanted to see the contract…”
“But we told them they can’t see it because it has sensitive financial information,” assured him the OPM Communications head Kurt Farrugia.
“Yes, that worked wonders with the Vitals contract, didn’t it?” muttered Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia. That earned her a Mario Cutajar Grade A Black Look.
Tell them the Gazzetta tal-Gvern made a printing error on a €274m direct order notification? Int bis-serjeta?” blurted Julia Farrugia
“And now,” Decelis plunged on, “they keep asking about the direct order business. It’s been a month now, and I can’t keep on hiding in day centres to get away from the press. Mario, what shall I do?”
“Look Ton, get a grip. Remember, we followed all public procurement regulations. Repeat slowly after me: we followed all public procurement regulations.”
“We followed all public procurement regulations.”
“That’s it. Keep on telling them that until they get distracted by another boat-load of klandestini.”
“But what if it won’t be enough? What if they keep on pestering me?”
“Well,” cut in Kurt, “You could tell them it was a mistake. The, ah, the Government Gazette printed the direct order notification by mistake.”
“Tell them the Gazzetta tal-Gvern made a printing error on a €274 million direct order notification? Int bis-serjetà?” blurted Julia Farrugia. “Can you imagine the hit our credibility will take?”
“Julia,” snapped Mario with a tight smile, “you really have a lot to learn before you become ministerial material. Everyone has the right to make mistakes. We simply have to make sure that we pass on the consequences of the ones we need to make. They must be borne by those whose duty it is to ensure that we are rewarded for our daily sacrifices in leading this nation to prosperity. After all, Malta, which is Tagħna Lkoll, is l-Ewwel u Qabel Kollox.”
The mantra had been spoken, and the paddlers felt their tension drain away. As one, they turned to gaze at the munificent presence of Mintoff and his eternal flame below them across the piazza. The VIPs nodded and smiled to each other. They knew they had arrived, and that they would never go hungry again.
Summer in sanity
August in Malta has the reputation of being torrid in its weather and silly in its news. This year the heat was not particularly scorching, but the news certainly was. From the endless neighbourhood spat between Italy and Malta right out of Gużè Chetcuti’s L-Isqaq, to the helpless frustration of the NGO boats hindered from saving drowning migrants, to yet more obscene iterations of the endless litany of State capture and corruption, to multiple examples of State regulatory incapacity.
There comes a point where, even if you do not want to resign yourself to cynicism and despair at the state of the nation, you simply cannot take any more bad news. At that point, rather than suffer a permanent moral short circuit, it is better to switch off and take a break. To paraphrase Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, Labour still will be there without you. And, let’s face it, even some version of Malta.
I have one solution to help you switch off and regain your sanity. Get yourself to the Crystal Lagoon in Comino. If you don’t own a boat or cannot borrow your uncle’s, you can rent a small one from Ħondoq ir-Rummien. Putter along to the big central ‘cave’ in the lagoon, which is really a soaring archway to an open chamber whose roof caved in long ago.
Float on your back under this huge oval skylight, this living, changing canvas of cloud and sky. Listen to the murmured lapping of the waters, the occasional flapping of pigeons’ wings. Feast on the infinitely varied shades of rock yellow and black, sky blue and white.
It is as close as you will ever get to Hogwart’s dining hall ceiling. And in this magic mood you might hear the words: “All shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well.”