I have a genuine question to put to all political party activists in Malta. In the light of recent developments directly linked to political party funding I believe that there is a fundamental question that must be cleared even before we start to ask other ancillary questions such as how, when, who and what. It’s about funding really – we are currently, and have been for some time, engaged in extreme scrutiny of the movement of monies in power circles. From the unmeritocratic engagement of personnel by government (which is in itself a way of moving monies and funding) to the awarding of public contracts, public permits and the like (also movement of monies and value for consideration) to the direct “investment” of monies into political parties, the whole business of funding is intricately related to questions of power and influence.
Ideally and hypothetically speaking of course the role of political parties is to represent given sets of values that are then elected to power in the form of representatives who in turn will “govern” the nation (or scrutinise the government) in the name of the people and using the measure of such values. Arguably, the whole matter of funding should be intricately linked to the issue of keeping such entities as are political parties afloat for the very purpose of achieving their goals of representation. Arguably.
Broadly speaking funding should fall into two large categories. Firstly there is the ensuring of the day to day existence of the political party so that it can achieve its aims. Secondly, it is universally acknowledged and accepted that a Campaign Fund during election periods is needed in order for said parties to forward their cause and “sell” their ideas to the people. Beyond that though, there is no reason why parties should evolve into behemoths running costs in the millions and needing constant injection of funds. That our two major parties in Malta have evolved into such behemoths is proving to be a running disaster. The more the monster needs funds to feed its existence the more the fine line between interests, power and funding is broken. The defence that “donations are there to ensure representation” comes crumbling down when you see how the parties have also evolved to depend on periods in “power” in order to enable “investors” to cash in their cheque.
By investors I do not only mean the order of businessmen who seem to think that they can buy their way into power (mostly, incidentally, contractors) but also providers of services who will expect the party to repay them if not in cash then in kind. The classic example is how a large part of any party’s apparatus is shifted onto the public purse once that party gets elected into power. Whether it is as persons of trust or as employees of para-statal entities such as the public broadcasting this has been a natural consequence of the party power and money broking methodology.
The question I want to ask (I am not holding my breath of course) is the following:
Why do our parties need funding? What is the justification for funding on a daily basis (outside campaign mode of course)? What is the real cost for a party to do what a party is meant to do i.e. formulate policy and develop it?
Occasionally a landmark speech turns up in the House of Commons. Ken Clarke’s speech during the Brexit debate on the 31st of January is one of those. A lesson in democracy, representation and history it is a breath of fresh air in a world of fake news and alternative facts. Sadly it seems like politicians like Clarke are a dying breed.
The self-imposed hiatus is still on for akkuza.com. I managed to go through December resisting the temptation to type many a post. 2017 promises to be an even harder time for blogs of this type that exist in the limbo of old-fashioned punditry resisting all types of clickbait-inspired metamorphoses. In this limbo we look around at the newly formed constellation made up of “fake truths”, “hyperreal information overload”, leaks and counterleaks, big brother propaganda and social media madness. Like the italian songwriter we are constantly in search of a permanent center of gravity – deceiving ourselves with the notion that change only happens to others.
Maltese politics is still firmly planted in the parroting phase – wherever you look – there is nothing that has not been done somewhere else before. Opportunism is disguised as cynical realism as the last bastion of democracy seems to have abdicated his role. In case you are wondering who that is then stop doing so. Just look at the mirror. It is you. You can sense the general feeling of resignation that has overwhelmed the public in general. No podemos. No we can not. Obama is gone, the British are fleeing the ship that we don’t understand and the alternatives to government seem hopelessly in disarray. In the land of the one-eyed men that is mired in scandals, shit and hypocrisy the self-appointed “influencers” toy with their amateur analysis and play around with leak and counterleaks provided by that part of the population who are only to happy to feed the circus animals more fodder.
There is no plan though. No big idea to step out of this zombie producing mediocrity. This blog had long warned that we were heading to the bottom. We are now living the life at the bottom of the barrel. Everything stinks. No matter where you look and no matter who you turn to.
I spent December and part of January binge watching Romanzo Criminale and Gomorra (series in both cases, not the movie). Romanzo Criminale is an ideal place where to begin looking at and understanding the complex web of dependencies between the “powers” that run this earth – from politicians, to spiritual leaders, to the police and secret services, to the sports world, to speculators and businessmen. All through our lifetimes we lived the illusion that we were building a free world – an open society of liberal democracies based on the rule of law. Fiction based partially on fact shows us that instead we were living an illusion. The powers that be will not let go of their stranglehold easily – and we can cry about the environment, about poverty, about social and economic rights till we turn blue. The truth is that somewhere out there there is someone plotting the next coup, the next “roadmap” that will line the pockets of the few and will con the eternally duped for another few years.
“Tutti l’agnelli se fanno lupi quanno vedono du quatrini”
The Authorities (capital A) have decided that the status known as Temporary Humanitarian Protection N(ew) – THPn in short – will no longer be renewed for what seems to be hundreds of migrants living in Malta. You may have seen stories in the press by now about Malta-born kids to Eritrean families who face imminent deportation thanks to such a decision. It does not matter whether these families are gainfully occupied, whether they are fully-paid up on their taxes and whether they have somehow integrated into our way of living – none of the above matters – they will not have their THPn renewed and this will mean their being sent back wherever they came from (if possible).
Prime Minister Muscat is quoted as having said that “We would have no credibility with the EU if, after we have been insisting so much on the country not being able to take in immigrants, we fail to repatriate immigrants who have been found to be here illegally.” It’s a matter of credibility then. There is already a bit of a fallacy there since the issue of legality had been dealt with pretty superbly under national sovereign law with the creation of this TPHn system – it is now, and only now, that the labour government has decided to change this state of affairs in line of the winds of change propelling the likes of Trump to the seat of power. Also, after all, the nation holding the rotating presidency of the EU must lead by example no?
There is a deeper issue at play here though. This is not your normal immigrant/refugee situation that falls under the black and white category of whether a nation is willing to take on the “burden” of life saving. The deeper issue is the value that we attach to humans – the human value – in our political field. If these were just souls wandering in on a dinghy and waiting the cynical sorting that goes on in such situations it would be a “simple” immigration issue. Instead we have discovered that these carriers of THPn permits might run into the hundreds (a very conservative estimate would be around 600). Most of them have settled in one way or another and are earning their bread in gainful employment
Suddenly the mass deportation of a substantial figure of Malta’s working population has direct consequences on the economic market. The more cynical among us might not have batted an eyelid when it came to deporting individuals straight off their dinghies of death. Instead we saw genuine concern by employers of these people who are set to live in a short limbo of uncertainty that will culminate in a loss of employees. This is not some trumped up figure of record unemployment thanks to an incucio between the GWU and government magicking thousands off the record books. These are real employments that risk being wiped off the fragile Maltese markets – and funnily enough it might finally give Maltese society as a whole a reason to care.
This news comes at a time when the Nationalist Party is trying hard to attract what we used to call SME’s to the fold with new taxation incentives – for those who behave a 10% tax. Numbers and money all seem nice as the PN and the PL vie for the title of champion of the businessman. With the party in government selling off anything they can get their hands on, the PN opted to champion the middle ground in business terms and good for it.
What happens now though when the two parties notice that this move of cutting out completely the holders of the THPn will end up with a huge gap in the employment market that will not and cannot be easily replaced? Will we finally see some value in the humans that they are because they can be quantified as real contributors to the economy? Will we be cynical enough to take a step back (in the case of government) or champion their cause (in the case of the opposition)? Or are the winds of Le Pen, Trump and Geert Wilders too strong for comfort?
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On the day that Labour’s former deputy leader Toni Abela and former Gozo party president Grazio Mercieca joined the judiciary, Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri warned against bashing and ridiculing judges and magistrates. There is no doubt that the judiciary is not a sector of society that should be basking in permanent ridicule or “bashing”, if anything the judiciary should be deserving of the utmost respect what with its being one of the main pillars of a modern liberal democracy. That the Chief Justice would parry any bashing and ridiculing in advance goes a long way to show the state of the judiciary today notwithstanding the much vaunted reforms that, according to the claims of many paladins of democracy, are supposed to have made judicial appointments a much more transparent and balanced exercise.
The problem though is that one cannot expect from a government that has not got the least respect for the concept of meritocracy to suddenly change its tune when it comes to a particular branch of appointments. Worse still these appointments might be asked to hold that very government accountable in the near future and we all know the allergy that this government has for accountability. Maybe, just maybe, the Chief Justice’s appeal not to further ridicule the judiciary was a subtle plea to the government itself to stop the tomfoolery of blatantly biased appointments.
Franco Debono may end up copy pasting endless links to his Quixotic exercise of “pushing in a reform against all odds” but the sad truth is that the patchwork set of changes have not in any way changed the way such appointments are made and the interests that are underwritten in this sense.
“Ridiculing” and “bashing” the courts is one way of putting it. Another would have been to ask the press to renege on its duty to highlight the anomalies and conflicts of interest that are being served here. It would take a Donald Trump to ask a drama troupe to refrain from “offending” a vice-President with their opinion… I am quite sure that Chief Justice Camilleri would have none of that.
Donald Trump is set to revolutionize the balance in the US Supreme Court thanks to the next nominations. It is part of the way the US Constitution is set and a consequence of the liberal vs conservative divide. The “jerrymandering” of the judicial balance in Malta is not a constitutional requirement but rather the abuse of an anomaly that has not been corrected. In fact it goes against the very spirit of the constitution.
Asked to comment on Trump’s recent victory, comedian John Stewart made a fair point when he stated that one point that struck him during the election was that no one had asked Trump what was needed to “Make America Great” again. We don’t have the “metrics” to measure how Trump will achieve this greatness because we were never told what was missing for the “Greatness” to be there. It’s not just a question of metrics it is also a matter of not knowing what to aspire for. Make America Great sounds like a great project and to participate in that project would be an inspiration for every citizen ideally. Is it though?
Back in Malta I noticed a post on facebook by a professional graphic designer named Corinne Cutajar. Here is what she had to say about the logo adopted by Malta for its period of EU Presidency:
Waking up to this… don’t know whether to feel amused or pissed off for having my logo (right) copied. Last year I got hardly any exposure for my work and yesterday this student’s copy was blown out of proportion! #goodriddance
Yep. It’s quite a blatant rip-off. This from the government that is supposedly all about artists and their freedoms and development. Let us not forget the high rise tax that is supposed to be channeled to a fund for artists or something of the sort. Malta’s government and its Minister of Culture who is somehow obsessed with fantasy novels are desperate to Make Artists Great again. If you want to get a finger on the pulse of what people really are bred to think about artists and compensating their efforts then look no further than this article on Illum where a hairdresser complains about the annual fee that he has to pay to the Performing Rights Society in order to play music in his salon.
The Hamilton business was also an interesting turn in the first days post-Trump’s election. By now we have all heard of the drama troupe that decided to take advantage of the presence of Trump’s VP-elect in the auditorium to read out a sort of liberal declaration reminding Pence of the diversity of the electorate and of the hope that no body will be left behind when making America great again. I must admit that I do find it ironic that the message in the theatre piece is not enough and that a troupe has to hijack the audience after the curtain falls in order to add a bit of its own drama full of bourgeois menace. At the same time the reaction by Trump and his supporters is outright ludicrous – surely VP Pence is made of sturdier stuff than one that wilts when confronted with a different message than his own.
Only this morning we got reports that Trump has backed out of an interview with the New York Times because he does not like the way they report him. Very un-presidential. Our very own Trump-at-home and his minions are making it a habit of engineering press conferences and tailor-made Q&A’s in order to be in a position of answering only the questions he/they like/s. The difference is that the veil on Making Malta Great has long fallen. We are now in the phase where the masks are thrown and the only inspiration left is the jobs for the boys, the few lies that still fall on fertile ground and the ever-widening ‘establishment’ that is none other than the circles of beneficiaries of the decisions of a government that is the antithesis of greatness, of meritocracy and of decency.