Zero tolerance for corruption

Published: March 2, 2008 at 2:02am

Whenever the leader of the Labour Party is asked questions about the more embarrassing aspects of his past, he says he’ll leave it to the historians to decide, because as far as he’s concerned it’s all water under the bridge and he has no regrets. And this when nobody has bothered to ask him yet what he thought of the Labour government’s corruption and terrible moral and physical violence in the days when he was president of the Labour Party. When Sant claims that he has zero tolerance for corruption now, the first thing that comes to my mind is how accommodating he was to corruption at all levels in the mid-1980s. And those were the days when you couldn’t report it to the Commissioner of Police, because not only was he a ‘paraventu’ for corruption in the real sense of the word, but his men were not to be trusted. Let’s say that this is some kind of act of redemption on Sant’s part – protesting too much now because he didn’t protest enough (or at all) then.

He doesn’t answer hypothetical questions

Herman Grech of The Sunday Times had a very trying interview with Alfred Sant a week ago. He refused to answer what he described as hypothetical questions. Maybe that’s why, throughout the entire four weeks of the electoral campaign so far, nobody has been able to elicit from Sant an answer to this question: What do you plan to do if you become prime minister?

Now we know why he doesn’t tell us his plans. He doesn’t deal in hypotheses. So he doesn’t answer questions about the future because they are hypothetical, and he doesn’t answer questions about the past because it’s all water under the bridge and for the historians to judge. That doesn’t leave much for an interviewer to be going on with, which is why Alfred Sant is every interviewer’s least favourite subject – except for the lovely Simone Cini, that is, because she isn’t exactly out to give him a good grilling.

Alfred and Sir Humphrey

Ah, but Sant broke his silence about the past when Herman asked him about his tussle with the redoubtable Joseph Grima, who was head of the civil service when Sant was prime minister. For those who don’t know him, this man was a civil servant in the classic British mould. He had – still has, but he is retired now – the inscrutability of a dowager duchess’s butler and the all-perceiving eyes of Sir Humphrey in Yes, Minister. A civil servant since colonial times, he did everything with perfect correctness. You can imagine just how well he got along with ‘bazwar ‘l hawn, bazwar ‘l hemm’ Sant. Let’s just say that it wasn’t love at first sight, or at second sight either.

So in a sea of turgid monosyllabic responses and refusals to answer questions about the past or future, Sant became animated when Herman asked him one particular question about his time as prime minister. Interestingly, Sant appeared to feel that this particular bit of his past wasn’t water under the bridge or something for the historians to judge. And so he gave Herman his version of the battle between the incoming prime minister and the inscrutable head of the civil service.

A few days later, Joseph Grima emerged briefly from retirement and, unshackled by the Estacode, spilt the beans on Sant in an article called – don’t you just love it – “Nothing but untruths”. I couldn’t have put it better myself. So I read on until I came to the last paragraph, which I’ll quote for you here to save you the trouble of looking it up (The Times, 29 February).

“I have seen and experienced Dr Sant as prime minister at close range. The foregoing is an illustration of how he operates. I shall not elaborate further in that regard. His self-declared bungling hallmark of ftit tbazwir ‘l hemm u ftit tbazwir ‘l hawn should be telling enough to me as a citizen, and to all others. It is self-evident that, with Dr Sant at the helm, Malta would have to face the Plan for a New Beginning of a Great Disaster. In contrast, Lawrence Gonzi’s outstanding achievements as prime minister are there for all to see. Malta deserves Dr Gonzi as prime minister.”

If Sant owned a television set (he famously does not) he would have been able to watch reruns of Yes, Minister and learn some useful lessons, the most useful of which is this: never cross Sir Humphrey.

A Harvard certificate from the days of the Sex Pistols

In what looks to be an attempt at convincing us that he is the best man to run the country, Alfred Sant has reproduced his 30-year-old Harvard DBA certificate in the book written by his friend Frans Sammut, who must be hoping for another position as adviser to the PM when Sant returns to the Auberge de Castille.

‘Alfred Sant – Il-Vizjoni ghall-Bidla’ is now being sold at mass meetings and possibly also flung out of the windows of the kowc tal-bidla at waiting hordes of admirers. I can’t imagine who might buy it, except people like me who want a good giggle, because it’s the most embarrassing sort of hagiography. Something similar has probably been written about Kim Il Sung – though of course, Kim Il Sung never went to Harvard and has no certificates to reproduce.

Beneath the Harvard DBA photograph are the words (translated from the Maltese): “After he finished his studies in Paris, he went to America to study at the best university, Harvard, where the finest minds and the best presidents of the United States also studied.” The English translation is deliberately clumsy, to reproduce the full effect of the original.

The first thing that occurred to me when I saw the date on the thing was this: why does Sant keep reminding us that he last trained in business administration when the Sex Pistols were screaming through the charts? A lot has happened since then in business administration and styles of management. But our hero is still stuck in the days of the immediate aftermath of the OPEC oil crisis, when girls wore the kind of clothes that have come round again twice since then.

No wonder he makes such a hash of things, because as far as I can discern from this hagiography, he never took a refresher course.

Ah, but the publicity press release that announced the book to the media is so beautifully devoid of irony that it is worth reproducing here in toto.

“Alfred Sant, Il-Vizjoni Ghall-Bidla, is the latest publication by Sensiela Kotba Socjalisti. Written by novelist Frans Sammut, it is an intimate portrait of a high-brow intellectual writer who turns into a politician and becomes the leader of a major political party with an agenda for change. The book covers the periods when Dr Sant made his mark on contemporary literature with novels of adolescence and Min Hu Evelyn Costa? That won the Broadcasting Authority’s TV drama award when Dr Sant was still a teenager. His literary development is treated with a great wealth of detail and Mr Sammut’s critical eye. The passage to the practical implementation of the theories expounded in his books is explained, perhaps for the first time. Dr Sant’s philosophy is spelt out in a racy style by a seasoned writer who has known the writer-politician since their youth and is unsparing in supplying previously unrevealed details.”

Those of you who have been led up the garden-path by the double promise of a racy style and revealing details will be disappointed. There is no sex in this book.

Labour loves the lira

The other day it occurred to me that not once have I heard the Labour Party speak about euros in this entire electoral campaign. To do this, they must have made a careful point of avoiding all talk about money in actual figures. Maybe that’s why the shadow finance minister has been left without a leg to stand on – for if he can’t blind us with facts and figures, what can he do? Oh, he can talk about DNA instead, or stare uncomprehendingly at a reporter who’s just asked him about the Gozo incinerator, while the classy Justyne Caruana shouts over his shoulder: “Mur xommu.”

On Super One the other day, Norman Hamilton, the shadow minister of finance, the would-be prime minister and the Lion of Change were talking up their promise of a ‘grant’ to first-time home-buyers. Except that it’s not a grant, of course, but a loan – because if and when you sell the property, you have to pay the government back with interest. Astonishingly, they didn’t mention the word ‘euros’ once, even though you’d think it would be a good idea to tell potential voters just how much they stand to borrow from Labour instead of doing the sensible thing and popping into the nearest branch of HSBC.

On the rare occasions that Sant has been forced to mention money, he speaks about liri, for all the world as though 1 January hadn’t come and gone. Labour’s electoral manifesto is even more revealing as to the party’s state of denial about the euro. The bit about subsidised loans to first-time home-buyers has fixed the price ceiling at Lm50,000, a nice round figure up until 31 December 2007, but which gives us the rather odd figure of €116,500 now. When explaining Labour’s house-loans to perplexed reporters who suggested that this might force up prices, Sant said: “Whoever sets the price at Lm56,000 would consider selling at Lm49,000 or Lm50,000 to qualify under the scheme.”

This was five weeks after Malta said goodbye to the lira for good. He isn’t trying very hard to embrace the euro, now, is he?

No respect

A front page headline in The Times read: ‘Labour will respect European Court’s ruling.’ The reaction from readers was supposed to be a sigh of relief, but some of us stopped to ask why that should be headline news in the first place. The trouble is that we have become accustomed to Labour not respecting things. The party has conditioned us to expect lower standards of behaviour from it than we would expect from the Nationalist Party. Our tolerance threshold for poor conduct is higher for Labour than it is for the Nationalists. We expect too little from Labour, and that’s precisely what we get.

Picking a fight with Europe

The leader of the Labour Party and his two deputies, the Lion of Change and Charlie ‘DNA’ Mangion, tell us that they will get the best out of Europe. Why do I feel a vague sense of nagging doubt, of dire trepidation? Maybe it’s because I’m a shallow person, but the whole shabby package bothers me with its lack of style and panache. I can’t imagine the Lion of Change, fresh from a hunting trip to Romania or a bout with the fireworks people at Stella Maris Parish Church, his lucky santa tal-Madonna safely in his pocket, heading for Brussels to talk shop with the Eurocrats.

Picture the same delegation that is now making pit-stop tours of villages on the kowc tal-bidla, piling onto the flight to Brussels, faces grimly and determinedly set, ready to tell those damned Europeans that nobody tells Malta what to do. Heading the delegation are Hofra Sant, Alla Hares Jitilghu l-Pagi Vella and the Lion of Change. Embarrassing doesn’t even begin to describe it.

I remember being in Brussels in the autumn of 1997, when Prime Minister Sant was torturing Malta on the rack of CET. He had already been in power for a year, and had wasted all that time trying to develop a new tax that was like VAT but not like VAT.

I found myself in the unusual position of soothing the nerves of a semi-hysterical public servant who had been landed with the dismaying job of dealing with Malta’s taxation problem (frozen application and all, they still had to deal with the EU). The minute he found out I was Maltese, and that I didn’t like the government, he launched into a scathing description of the delegation that Prime Minister Sant had dispatched to Europe to woo favour for his mad tax. It was spot on, and there I was, torn between the desire to be loyal to my country and the far more pressing need to honk out loud with laughter at his description of a delegation of misfits, one of whom read out a long-winded speech at the negotiating-table.

Bug-eyed on strong espressos, my coffee-bar acquaintance demanded of me: “Why is your prime minister insisting on creating a tax to replace VAT when VAT is used because it is the most efficient system?” I explained that it was because he had an electoral commitment to remove it, and a cunning plan to replace it instead. And out came the rejoinder: “Why did your people choose such a man?”

I didn’t know the answer to that one. I could hardly say that my people also chose Dom Mintoff and Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, and that in 1987, with all that killing, corruption, violence and fear, the Nationalist Party won the general election by the slimmest of majorities.

Enoch Lowell

Norman Lowell, who wears a lapel-button claiming that Enoch Powell was right, is adding to the carnivalesque atmosphere of this general election. So we have one party leader with a penchant for wearing yellow fleeces and pink shirts while shouting ‘nitnejku’ and ‘jiehduh f’ghajnhom’ in his speeches, another party leader in a wig (the most recent model displaying golden-grey streaks and highlights), yet another who compares himself to a Burmese dissident under house arrest, Emy of the Alpha Party, and now here comes Norman to add to the gaiety.

“I’m contesting so that when we’ve been completely invaded by immigrants, this cowardly people, even though sincere, will not have an excuse that there was nobody to defend them,” he explained. The awful Norman is not to be sniffed at. At least 1,600 people voted for him in the MEP elections.

Next to this lot of rival party leaders, Lawrence Gonzi looks reassuringly sane. I think I’ll vote for him.

They continue to bore on about coalitions

The Internet forums and blogs are rife with people demanding a coalition government and telling the rest of us what to do to get one, whether we want to or not. What makes these people imagine that their agenda is a common one is quite beyond me. Like the members of a cult, AD are working at persuading the gullible, through the use of jargon and emotive ideals, that (1) a coalition government is possible, and (2) it is desirable, rather than the kind of necessary evil that countries without strong parties must cope with.

Whenever I and others mention Italy as an example of why coalition governments are disastrous for the country, AD jumps out of the woodwork and says, but what about Germany? Yes, what indeed. Germany is now in a huge mess – as the New Left of post-GDR communists come to the fore, traditional coalitions are ruled out, leaving a swamp of uncertainty.

Coalitions make for extremely weak governments, and attempting to forge a coalition is a pointless exercise in a country like Malta, where there are two extremely strong political parties which between them command around 92% of the vote. There is simply no scope for coalition here, even if those parties wanted it (and Alfred Sant, as we know, doesn’t discuss hypothetical questions). Either one party or the other is going to get a relative or absolute majority.

The way the boundaries have been drawn up in the last reform favours the Labour Party. This means that Nationalist seats in the party’s traditional strongholds would have been at risk with these new boundaries even in 2003, when there was a strong vote for Europe, let alone now, with AD hammering away at the Nationalist vote and others still unable to make the decision between Gonzi and Sant. There is a real possibility that the Nationalist Party will get a majority of first preference votes but a minority of seats. In this case, a correcting mechanism comes into play which adjusts the number of seats in line with the first preference votes. This correcting mechanism only applies if there are two parties in parliament. If a third party gets a seat, it doesn’t. Things stay as they are. This means that a seat for AD throws the premiership into Sant’s lap, even if his party has fewer first preference votes than the Nationalist Party, and we will have a rerun of 1981.

Even if AD doesn’t gain a seat, it will still have eaten away at the traditionally Nationalist electorate, for all published surveys show that most of those who are planning to vote AD previously voted Nationalist. The reality is that they see AD not as a completely separate and different political party with an identity of its own, but as a sort of Junior PN – which is why they take it for granted that AD will hunker up with the PN in a coalition, while the PN sensibly wants nothing to do with them.

The result of a strong AD vote but no AD seat is pretty much the same: the premiership for Alfred Sant and the Labour Party in government. So I ask: if these people don’t mind a Labour government, why don’t they just vote for it in the first place? And if they want Gonzi to carry on as prime minister, because they prefer him to Sant, why aren’t they deploying common sense and voting for his party, instead of voting for somebody else and keeping their fingers crossed?

This kind of behaviour reminds me of those pro-EU Labour supporters who, in 2003, voted Yes in the referendum and then voted Labour in the general election and hoped against hope. It just doesn’t make sense.

You can’t take AD seriously in any case, not when its increasingly delusional leader says things like this: “From where I stand, having Dr Sant as prime minister in a single-party government is no more scary a prospect than having Dr Gonzi as prime minister of another single-party government” – Harry Vassallo

Maybe we should all explain to Harry just how scary we are beginning to find him.

Labour United

When the members of Alfred Sant’s shadow cabinet take to the stage to shout about their leader’s myriad qualities and his robust strength, what they convince us of (and probably also Sant himself) is not their loyalty but their fear. Harshly controlling leaders produce this reaction in those around them.

Throughout this election campaign, Sant has gone about as part of a huddle, not so much a football team called Labour United as an unappetising rugby scrum. Every time we see him in front of the television cameras at one of his press calls or photo opportunities, he is half-buried in would-be ministers, all pressing into the camera shot. They look absolutely ridiculous, as though they are propping Sant up because he is too weak and cowardly to face the press alone – just as he was too weak and cowardly to lie about Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando to his face.

Pullicino Orlando had spent the previous 36 hours chasing him from one press conference to another, having received word from a Labour mole that Sant planned great revelations about him. Each time, Sant was upset to see him, and fell back on some secondary subject. Giving him the slip after a media show in Gozo, Sant summoned the press to Mistra with 45 minutes notice. Safe in the knowledge that Pullicino Orlando was stuck on the Gozo ferry, he launched into a tirade against him. When a reporter asked him, on camera, why he had made these hurried and impromptu arrangements, he just smirked.

Bullies are cowards really, but we learned that at school. If Alfred Sant were telling the truth about Pullicino Orlando, he would have no problem staring him down while saying it. It is only when we lie about people, or lie to them, that we find it hard to look them in the eye or stand there and speak untruths about them while they are watching and listening. Sant doesn’t want his victims shouting ‘Liar!’ from the back of the crowd, so he avoids them. “Only journalists are invited to my press conferences,” he said. Oh really? I didn’t know you need permission from the Labour Party to stand about in a field at Mistra, or to approach the gates of the MEPA.

Sant does the same with the prime minister. This morning, seemingly half-cut on his podium in Gozo, though it was so early in the day, he told his admirers that Gonzi could ask for all the apologies in the world and he wouldn’t give a single one. He said this with the facial expression of a kid refusing his brother a turn on the Noddy-train. Sant repeats and repeats that Lawrence Gonzi is a corrupt liar, but he can’t say it to his face. He’s much too lily-livered and he knows it isn’t true. The frustrating thing for Sant is that even his supporters know it isn’t true. Even the simplest of people can instinctively pick up the signals of body language, the unspoken messages that come through delivery, posture and behaviour. And most of us know by now that people unwittingly touch their nose when they’re being liberal with the truth, and Sant did it more than once when being interviewed by Herman Grech on video for The Sunday Times portal.

The last Broadcasting Authority debate of the campaign is usually a dead heat between the two party leaders. I’d like to hear Sant call Gonzi a corrupt liar then. I would think that he doesn’t have what it takes. The trouble is that Sant can’t bear to know how Gonzi scores higher on the likeability and trustworthiness stakes than he does, even among people who are voting Labour.

He lost our trust a long time ago, and he’s not going to win it back by running round the islands in his kowc tal-bidla, flinging excrement at the fan.

10 Comments Comment

  1. Welcome to the blogging world Daphne… even for this short stay. I actually think it should be a permanent move – no matter how much we disagree an open debate like this can only be healthy.

    Speaking of disagreeing I wrote a comment to today’s article on the Independent (Be Vigilant) and since it is 2000 words long I think I better link it… my html is a bit hazy when there are no WISYWIG buttons so here is the address:

  2. James Cauchi says:

    Firstly congratulations on your venture into blogdom. ^_~

    For all the fanfare of the imminent election, I must point out that the two parties, including GonziPN (…), have spent a lot of energy flinging mud at each other in the hope that some will stick.

    On the other side of the spectrum you have independent candidates who participate within a public meeting which is then only reported to have had two speakers – such as the independent which I presume to be your source as regards Mr. Norman Lowell and Dr. Emmy Bezzina.

    Add to this an atmosphere of electoral treachery, not least manifested via the recent censorship of Mr. Norman Lowell’s only 5 minutes afforded for an entire campaign (5 – 5 = 0 minutes of air time) and you might be forgiven for wondering exactly ‘what’ is wrong with the country.

    My primary message remains the same – the one that was (intentionally?) censored by the media (short of the sacrifice I made to make it my message for my “5 minutes of glory”).

    Vote for change and vote for the minority parties.

    Don’t settle for 2s – The number 1s offer the best opportunity for change – and such is the consequence of the system that MLPN put into place as far as the electoral system is concerned – ensuring that minorities are locked out.

    So be the change and vote for change! This kind of opportunity only comes once every five years… so spread the word!

  3. E. Lapira says:

    Just to thank you for your courage.

  4. David Thake says:


    I’m glad that i can get to read even more of your work!

    It certainly seems like you have a mob that is hell bent on intimidating you and shutting you up.

    If, like myself, they knew what stuff you are made of, they would know that they are wasting their time.

    Tell your boy to keep his chin up. Been there, done that… welcome to the club kiddo!

  5. Patrick says:

    Good stuff Daphne. keep it coming.

  6. Like Jacques, I also hope that this blogging venture will go beyond the general election. Welcome to the blogosphere!

  7. Evelyn Grech says:

    I look forward to your articles and would like to thank you for your courage and determination to expose the true colours of labour!

  8. Stephanie says:

    These are the last few days into the election campaign. The most crucial. As the Prime Minister said, our duty this week is to be ambaassadors of our country – it is our duty to convince people of their duty to vote. We need to turn to all those potential voters who have not collected their vote and explain the consequences. We are talking of choosing the person at the helm in the next five years. This is not about getting a permit to build a new window, to develop a new project….Yes many of us are disgruntled about such related issues BUT this should not be the underlying rationale of choosing our future. If Sant gets elected as Prime Minister, we will all be much more disgruntled. The truth is that we will be disgruntled about much more serious matters. We have tried him, tested him but NO. WE DO NOT DESERVE HIM. Our country deserves much better and the option is up to us. Each and every one of us.

  9. Sue Micallef says:

    Thanks Daphne ! Keep it up !

  10. Tonio Farrugia says:

    Thank you

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