Harry Vassallo wants special treatment

Published: March 6, 2008 at 1:03pm

That’s the underlying argument to everything he is saying: that because he is the leader of a political party, he shouldn’t be treated like the rest of us. We have to fill in our VAT returns, we have to pay our fines if we don’t, but he doesn’t – because he’s Harry Vassallo, leader of AD. And since when is not having the money to pay your fine a valid excuse for not paying it? Try using that excuse the next time you get fined and see how far it will get you. Oh, but you’re not the leader of a political party that’s playing the victim, so you can’t call a press conference and make a fuss about it. You just have to ask your family to lend you the money and then hope you can pay them back.

I’m going to use the vernacular again here: sorry, ta – but isn’t this the political party that wants us to believe that it is a cut above the rest and ‘not like the MLPN’? Now here we have its leader, breaking the law and expecting special treatment because he is who he is. And when he doesn’t get that special treatment he calls a press conference, iziffen it-tfal fin-nofs, and tries to score brownie points (and avoid paying his dues) by playing the martyred victim. Why on earth isn’t his wife protecting her children from their father’s political opportunism? How indecent it is to expose those poor little children to the glare of public scrutiny and all that worry they must be feeling, just so that their father can play Poor Harry. It’s unforgivable. I would never have allowed my husband to do something like that – not that, thank God, he would ever have been so hellishly irresponsible, first mucking up his financial affairs and then using the children to pull in the sympathy vote.

Why should Harry Vassallo get away with not paying his fines when there are hundreds of ordinary people out there who have had to pay theirs? This is just too much. Lots of people default on their payments or get fined for not filling in returns. The reason they don’t go to jail is because they pay their dues, even if they have to reach an agreement with the VAT Department to pay their dues by instalments. There have been amnesties since then which Vassallo could have used – but he obviously thinks he is too much of a cut above the rest to have to deal with the problems that we ordinary mortals have to put up with all the time, like filling in forms and dealing with bureaucrats. Why should he have to bother with all that? After all, he’s Poor Harry.

If we have to pay our fines, then so does Harry Vassallo

Vassallo clearly expects to be treated differently because he is the leader of a political party. What he is saying, in effect, is that he doesn’t want to pay the fines but he doesn’t want to go to jail either. Try doing that if you are not the leader of a political party, and see how far it will get you.

Some people, or so I have heard, have succeeded in having their sentences waived through a presidential pardon. Vassallo thought he would try to take advantage of this system. It didn’t work. He shouldn’t have tried in the first place. As the leader of a political party – particularly a political party that prides itself on being purer than the driven snow and different to all the rest – he should realise that he is in a different position to the man-in-the-street. He is in a position of responsibility. He has to be even more careful than the rest.

So he broke the law (however unwittingly and however much we may sympathise with him for not putting his papers in order – we all know it’s a bloody bore) got fined, didn’t pay the fine, got a prison sentence, put in a plea for a presidential pardon, it didn’t work, and now he is kicking up a fuss and accusing the government of persecuting him. If he had got that presidential pardon, I imagine he wouldn’t have advertised the fact. And that’s where we realise that there’s nothing special or virginal about Harry Vassallo. He’s just another politician who’s looking after No. 1 and trying to get away with it.

And what about that presidential pardon?

Now here’s the thing that’s being overlooked. Pleas for presidential pardons go before the cabinet, or at least before the Minister of Justice, who must put in a recommendation to the president. This means that the cabinet knew about the AD leader’s problems with the law – but decently, they kept it quiet and didn’t leak the story to the press. They did so not because they had a hidden agenda but because decent men do not go about leaking stories about other politicians’ financial troubles. Vassallo himself is the one who leaked the story – and what’s more, he did so deliberately on the eve of an election when he thought it would serve the double purpose of helping him squirrel out of paying his dues while at the same time pulling in some ‘poor Harry’ votes.

Harry Vassallo has known about this for months. He lost one of those cases all the way back in 2005. Yes, he has had special treatment – very special treatment – because the authorities have bent over backwards to give him as much time as possible to pay what he owes. The police didn’t go to his home to arrest him. They went to his home to try to persuade him bil-kelma it-tajba that as the leader of AD and a public person, he should regularise his position. And Harry Vassallo seized on that and turned himself and his financial troubles into a public circus involving his poor, poor children. What a shame.

Just pay what you owe, Harry!

OK, so you can say that the bastard government could have recommended the AD leader’s plea for a pardon to the president, and didn’t do so for spiteful reasons. If you think this way, you’re not very imaginative and have poor knowledge of political strategy. If the government wanted to damn the AD leader once and for all, all it had to do was recommend him for a presidential pardon and then make it known that the AD leader’s fines for VAT irregularities had been pardoned by the president.

The immediate effect among the electorate would be ‘Iss hej, the leader of a political party gets special treatment and I have to pay my fines.’ It wouldn’t exactly have helped Vassallo climb in the popularity stakes, and would have exposed him for what he is – just another politician looking after No. 1 and hoping that others don’t find out. If the government wanted to be really mean, it would have approved Vassallo’s presidential pardon, said nothing, and created a situation where it had ‘one over on him’ – a blackmail situation, if you will. It’s precisely because the government is made up of decent people (love them or hate them) that this wasn’t done. But I wouldn’t put it past a Labour government to do something like that – they seem to adore that kind of ghastly behaviour.

Vassallo doesn’t have to go to prison, but he does have to pay his fines. If we have to pay ours, then he has to pay his. He’s got to cast around for the money, find it and pay it. That’s what you would have to do, and it’s what I would have to do. Vassallo has no right to expect special treatment or to cry foul if he doesn’t get treated better than the rest. Nobody wants him to go to prison, and the prison authorities have enough to cope with without finding room to house Harry Vassallo or the budget to keep him there for two years.

Enough of this drama already. Pay what you owe, Harry – it’s what the public expects of you.

12 Comments Comment

  1. John Schembri says:

    Let’s make a donation of One Euro on a mobile phone special number , to remove this smokescreen and pay HIS fine!

  2. Lulu says:

    John, what a jolly idea ! Once you’re at it will you please put up another number for me as I too have some Income Tax arrears, which I cannot find the cash for?

    Also, as a matter of curiosity, if Harry doesn’t practice as a lawyer, how exactly does he earn his family’s hobza ta’ kuljum?

  3. Charles Abela says:

    Dear Dr Vassallo

    We are humans. We are all marching on to the moment when our presence here on earth will no longer be needed.
    It’s not how we meet the end that counts, ultimately we are all dead men….but how our memory lives on: be a man Harry and ‘die’ with honour that you may live….I for one will respect you for this.

  4. Claude Calleja says:

    Are presidential pardons applicable to parking tickets? I sure would make use of that!

    [Moderator – they were until 2004, when a board was set to handle those particular requests.]

  5. David Buttigieg says:

    I suspect that it was AD themselves who started this on the eve of the elections. After all the will stoop to anything to get a seat.

  6. Mario Spiteri says:

    AD should be leading by example and match their words to their actions.

    Instead they have had another opportunity to present their case for their inalienable right to be treated differently from their fellow citizens.

    It’s their way of saying “don’t do as I do but do as I say”.

    Let’s not forget that in 2003, Arnold Cassola had requested similar preferential treatment for eligibility to vote in the EU referendum when the electoral law at that point in time said that you had to spend a certain number of days in Malta over the previous period to be eligible to do so.

    The point is not whether that law was right or wrong: the point was that if it was you and me, we would have had the rule book thrown at us and deprived of voting. But not Dr Cassola: he demands a right to be treated differently because he is a politician.

    And so does Harry today.

    And so do members of parliament vis-a-vis their pension entitlements which are not subject to any maximums as are yours and mine.

    And so do members of parliament who have no tax on fringe benefits slashed onto their official cars.

    So I guess Harry wants different treatment because being a politician makes you, in a way, more equal than others.

    I think that this charade has put paid to AD’s credibility in projecting itself as being on a higher moral ground from the other political groupings.

    Let’s face it: you will only criticise the other side of the fence until you remain on this side. Once you cross over, you’ll be all that you have been criticising, and possibly worse as well.

  7. Graham Crocker says:

    More than half of what you wrote is what I thought and blogged on Times of Malta.com.

    Seriously though, Harry Vassallo is the biggest loser in Malta, to have failed at being a lawyer and a Politician at the same time.

    I mean a lawyer of people to think that paper work is not important or to think he can get away with not paying what he owes the court.

    I also find it very disturbing that the laborites think that the PN set him up.

    If anything the MLP have the most to gain from this.

    Harry looks like a fool so he loses from this and Gonzi looks like Stalin if people somehow think he meddled with the case to “gain” political advantage so he loses from this too, but Dr Sant looks like the Virgin Mary outside of this mess.

    Any way to find out the political stance on whoever was in charge of this case? You know the one who timed it so perfectly.

    [Moderator – I tend to think it was the work some clodhopping policeman, rather than a conniving political instigator. The French are said to have conquered Algeria after a consul was hit in the face with a fan during an argument over a bill.]

  8. David Buttigieg says:

    Turns out I was right!!

  9. K Zammit says:

    But why has AD become a PN vote stealing propoganda machine? Why is it that Harry lied so blatantly or as Sant says “lampanti” to make a political gain from this?
    I hope that this will backfire at AD. After all not so saintly and clean as a party!

    Super one have a scoop? MEPA phone calls? Not so convincing I must say! We are only hearing parts of the phone calls and I cannot believe someone in power so stupid to risk these tactics on Election eve.

    Anyway what frightens me is the 6000 unclaimed votes and as Daphne says the disgrunted ones that have the memory of a goldfish.

  10. Joseph Micallef says:

    Why do I get the impression that the posters mounted on the Tower of Babel structures used by MLP are the only elements of truth in their otherwise dirty campaign:

    First we had a picture of which you never had a complete vision then we had a couple helplessly seeing Malta fading away in the background under a new MLP administration and the last one showing a young lady watching over her back wary of Sant’s self proclaimed right to accuse, prosecute and judge anyone without consenting the right of reply or defence

  11. Becky d'Ugo says:

    Dear Daphne,

    First of all I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your output, both in the newspapers and now online. I hope you keep this blog going even after the elections. I’ve been reading your articles since the beginning; I like your style, admire your guts, and find myself in agreement with you most of the time.

    You’re absolutely right about Dr. Vassallo. It irks me so much that he didn’t just pay up when he had to. This is not schadenfreude on my part. It’s just that the rest of us mere mortals pay up when we have to, even when we think the fine is unfair.

    Let me state my case as an example. I’m a single parent and when my daughter was born I began receiving Children’s Allowance, together with a benefit called S.U.P. (Single Unmarried Parent). Then when my daughter was 2 1/2 years old I decided to start working part time in order to live a tad more comfortably. I didn’t earn a great deal and was paying both tax and N.I. on my earnings, which I always declared. However, I kept receiving my monthly SUP cheques which led me to believe that I still qualified for aid, since my part time job wasn’t reaping huge amounts. Boy was I wrong… One fine day I’m summoned to the Social Security office where I was informed that I owed them around LM2,400 back in “overpayments”. I was floored and couldn’t think of how I could rustle up this amount on my piddly part time job. I protested and said that I had never hidden the fact that I was working, and everything was declared. If they had made a mistake and kept sending me my benefits, they should have been more careful. But they weren’t having any of that. Apparently I was meant to inform the nice people at Social Security to stop sending me my benefit cheques because I was living so comfortably off my part-time job. But I digress..

    The point is, unfair as it may or may not be, I managed to reach a settlement plan with Social Security, whereby I paid (and am still paying) X amount per month. Fair enough, you might think.. but is it really?

    I applaud the Government’s efforts to attract women to join the workforce, but I hear that women joining now can expect not to pay tax for a whole year for every child she has. And to use the vernacular.. “Eh tajjeb!” So I, a single mum, working full time now, paying my taxes and NI kif suppost, + paying back what I “owe”, + having around LM38 deducted from each children’s allowance payment (also to cover that overpayment)… while women starting work now get to not pay tax. Peachy. I applaud the incentive. I just don’t believe in different weights and measures.

    BUT that’s life Dr. Vassallo. I would have expected a lawyer and leader of a political party to put his house in order before exposing himself to the fray.

    Having said that, I urge those (especially Nationalists) who feel hard done by, by this present administration, not to cut their nose to spite their face and abstain from voting, or vote for another party. Please look at the bigger picture!! We’ve come such a long way since the Dark Ages of my youth (I was born in 1971 and hence spent the first 16 years of my life in an atmosphere which can only be compared to the one created by Lord Voldemort of Harry Potter fame.)

    Back then we had no sense of national pride. Now I can hold my head high and be proud of my status as Maltese and European. Our children have a future and we have peace of mind.

    If on the other hand, you think it’s time for a change, let me just leave you with this. If you had a child who has been attending the same school for a long time and was doing really well at this school, achieving great grades and reports, would you pluck him out of it and send him to a different school just because you think it’s high time for a change?? Bizarre….

    Sorry if I’ve written at length, but right now I am somewhat tense and can only hope that good sense will prevail on Saturday.

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