GUEST POST: Alea iacta est/The die is cast

Published: June 3, 2017 at 11:48pm

By Manuel Delia

The people have spoken. Now we must wait to find out what they said. I reject the romantic notion that the people are always right. Of course they are not. The people were not right when they chose Donald Trump and scuppered the worldwide climate change initiative. They were not right to vote for Brexit. They were not right to elect Adolf Hitler. They are not right to shore up Erdogan in Turkey. And the people of Malta are still people and they can get it wrong.

I’m not an election candidate or a party official, so I am immune to accusations of arrogance. If the people of Malta have returned Joseph Muscat to power, they have made the wrong choice. But there’ll be time to reflect on that yet.

Whatever the outcome, the fact that things panned out the way they have up to this point is an indictment of our society. The fact that Mizzi and Schembri survived the first shocking news of their Panama entanglements; the fact they survived being caught lying when the original news broken by this website was confirmed by the actual documents in the Panama Papers; the fact that the Prime Minister survived the scandal of keeping them in office for a year beyond that; the fact that the Police Commissioner who could and should have arrested them resigned and allowed himself to be replaced by a stooge; the fact that until now we did not step into elections with a certainty that Labour would be served a crushing, unprecedented and humiliating defeat at the polls – all these facts are a terrible indictment of the failures of Maltese society.

It is a failure of even the most basic ethical standards. Journalists and others in Malta have had to explain to people, unsuccessfully most of the time, why it is wrong for a cabinet minister and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff to set up off shore accounts in tax havens, with their ownership hidden behind nominees.

We had to explain that when a Prime Minister covers up the crimes of his underlings he assumes their guilt. Again, we had to go through the 1980s fascistic argument that when the crimes of politicians are revealed, the criminals are the ones who uncover their crimes. We had to explain that there is no such thing as a victimless crime, and that bribery, money-laundering, corruption, kickbacks and graft are not excusable simply because there is no blood on the floor.

It is a failure of our educational tradition, environment and system that teaches every day of a school-child’s life about the tumbling walls of Jericho but has clearly produced a community without a sense of citizenship, duty, belonging and ethics.

It is a failure of our largest religious organisation – the Roman Catholic Church – that still mobilises impressive church-going congregations but has completely failed to sow any sense of right or wrong in our community. We have a Catholic community that obsesses about controlling the bodies of women and denying the terminally infirm choices about how to end their lives but which ignores its core business: how we live our lives and how we organise ourselves as a community, and how we distinguish between right and wrong.

What we have experienced in the last several months is not merely a failure of our institutions but a failure of the individuals who led them.

The Police Commissioner who resigned – saying it was for health reasons – 24 hours after receiving the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit reports which meant he would have to investigate and prosecute Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, failed himself and the rest of us.

What is the point of being a policeman all your life if you run away from the case of the century, the one that can make you go down in police history? Michael Cassar let Malta down. He let himself down.

This was a failure of the Attorney General, Peter Grech, who allowed fear or favour to condition his decisions when he swore an oath to do the opposite. That the Attorney General is both the government’s defence lawyer and the chief prosecutor of crimes, gave him an alibi. How can the Attorney General prosecute his own client?

But again, this is an excuse. The intent of the law is clear: that justice is equal for all and must be seen to be done. The mechanics are secondary and are not intended to prop up the occupants of constitutional positions, giving them reasons not to act, even if acting means no more than speaking out.

Manfred Galdes’s resignation from the position of director, Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, was a principled one – he is the one who conducted the investigations into a cabinet minister and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff. He appears to have been frustrated by the refusal of the police to act, when he could go no further. But I think he should have spoken out clearly about the reasons for his resignation, and to hell with his obligations under the official secrets laws.

That secrecy is designed to protect the presumption of innocence of a financial services operator, and not to protect corrupt politicians. I believe Dr Galdes should have spoken out because it is clear that the law is designed to protect us from evil-doing politicians not to protect evil-doing politicians from the rest of us.

This has been a failure of our Parliament, too. When Muscat first refused to go, his colleagues should have ganged up on him and given him the choice to resign or be fired. Louis Grech, Evarist Bartolo, Chris Fearne – even Anglu Farrugia from the Speaker’s chair – had the moral obligation to lead a party rebellion.

The Maltese Constitution empowers Parliament to keep the government in check, and parliament did not. But this was not merely a failure of our institutions. Institutions are things. They are not sentient. Therefore they are not moral. They do not act on their own. It is the occupants of those institutions who fail to make the right moral choice. And in not removing Muscat, those MPs who were in a position to do so failed their country – and their party, because look at the mess now.

With the unmasking of Adrian Hillman as a stooge of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, from whom he received hundreds of thousands of euros through undeclared companies they both had in the British Virgin Islands, the Times of Malta and The Sunday Times came back to life, standing up to Muscat with the courage and conviction we have a right to expect from the independent press. The Malta Independent has been just as strong. The internal rebellion within Malta Today restrained, to some extent, the obsessive vehemence of Saviour Balzan’s support for Muscat.

The real heroes of this story are Daphne Caruana Galizia and Matthew Caruana Galizia, who stood up to Muscat and his corrupt government at great personal risk and no personal profit, at times alone against the evil forces that crashed down on the country with the ballast of incumbency.

In fulfilling their roles to an exemplary degree, they put to shame all those who failed in theirs over the last several months. The Constitution protects free speech not to give people the right to inflict their stupidities and idiotic notions and personal obsessions on talk-radio and Facebook. That is actually the unfortunate price the rest of us have to pay so as not to compromise the much more important function of the free press: that of keeping power in check and revealing what the powerful would want to cover up.

In this respect at least, in poorly paid or even unpaid occupants of the Constitutional role of the free press, we found people who were willing to fulfill their role indeed without fear or favour.

The other hero of the story is Simon Busuttil, who has demonstrated a clear and sharp understanding of his Constitutional role of Leader of the Opposition. That he took the job when it was possibly the most poisoned chalice since Socrates is admirable in itself. Dealing with the financial and political bankruptcy of the Nationalist Party when he took it over, and in the face of the fascist homogenisation and social terrorism of the Labour regime, he grew in stature even as Muscat shrank and crumbled in a sea of corruption and scandal.

It does not matter if Busuttil wins or loses this election. He showed up, and he taught a lesson on how to do your job, to all those duty-dodgers in the rest of our institutional pantheon.

Then there is the inquiring magistrate, who had to contend with the enormous pressure Muscat put him under to cobble together an unfinished inquiry report which he could then use to his electoral advantage. He even said on television that he would hold him responsible in the courts of the mob should he lose the general election. So there is hope yet.

Or maybe not. When the result is known in a few hours we must take into account that an enormous minority of our community, perhaps even a majority – we shall see – voted for Muscat and his corrupt henchmen in spite of knowing all that they know about them. It is a dereliction of duty to elect a criminal to office when one is perfectly aware of his crimes, even when those crimes are merely suspected, because you cannot take the risk.

Should Muscat be returned to power, this would not be a popular acquittal or even an absolution, as he and his supporters hope and say, but a national conspiracy to commit a crime.

Every right comes with a concomitant duty, and the right to vote comes with the duty to choose the best people for the job.

And so, when the dust settles, when the flag-waving and national-anthem-screeching is over, we have two paths ahead of us. By far the preferred path would be for Labour to have lost this election and for the machines of state to kick into gear for justice to be done and to be seen to be done.

For it must be done. Because, it must be said: after blaming the Roman Catholic Church, the schools, the Constitution and the occupants of the institutional positions, some blame must also go to the Nationalist Party: those great heroes who transformed this country from a Third World Iron Curtain slum to the modern European democracy we expect it to be.

But in 1987, when the incoming Nationalist government chose national reconciliation, it skipped the crucial stage: investigation and prosecution, and publication of the facts so that there would be a permanent record of them. And that meant that the politicians who survived are still haunting us in Muscat’s party today.

This time, if the Busuttil is elected Prime Minister, it has to be different. The crimes of the last four years must be investigated and prosecuted diligently and expeditiously. Then, when justice is done and seen to be done, we can go for reconciliation. Reconciliation without justice is the dangerous way out.