The papers report that the deadline for the gas power station will be shifted for a third time. The government that loves to speak in terms of “deliverables and receivables” and other marketing bluff once again fails change words into action. There is worrying news about the actual tanker that is being converted too since there seems to be the need to remove large amounts of asbestos from it before it becomes viable. Why, in the first place, is there asbestos on a tanker that is to be used for a new project? Much talk, too little real delivery – and this missed deadline is just the tip of the iceberg.
Another report tells us that Malta’s geological maps need updating since they are missing 50 metres of rock. So it turns out that our already not too great planning decisions are based on outdated and grossly inaccurate geological maps. Such bad planning includes decisions about tunnels and quarries. It really begs the question… can we get one thing straight nowadays?
Finally much fuss was made about the reporting in the gossip columns of Muscat’s lightning visit to Rome in the company of Glenn Bedingfield to watch Milan get robbed by Juventus of the Coppa Italia. Many seemed to agree that this visit formed part of Muscat’s private life and need not have had such exposure – whether Muscat chooses to eat at Burger King or in a Michelin joint on such trips is his business after all.
They may have a point. Then again the trip did have a few elements of public interest. First of all it was a very public endorsement of the government appointed poison-pen (as some columnists would describe him). Rather than keep it private, Bedingfield tweeted pictures of him and his rival buddy (Glenn is a Juve fan) at the stadium on his very public twitter stream. X’hemm hazin? Nothing. It is just a huge coincidence that Muscat chose this very public way of affectionate buddy-buddy tripping during the Panamagate crisis when Bedingfield is playing a crucial role to keep the diehards satisfied with government rhetoric. That Bedingfield has taken to using the same underhand tactics as the ones that are being criticised here is by the by.
And then there is the queue at Burger King. Again, possibly a private matter for a private citizen looking for some grub post-football match delirium (and in Muscat’s case post-football disappointment). Images of Muscat queuing with the much praised “middle-class” should have the effect that the Uruguayan former President had on his people. But Jose’ Muscat is no Mujica. His private trip to Rome comes shortly after a private trip to Dubai in five star hotel splendor.
The admittedly irritating invasion of privacy becomes a necessary insight into the spending habits of a PM. One minute he is hobnobbing in Dubai on a highly unaffordable family trip in five star hotels, the other he is queuing humbly in a Burger King joint waiting patiently for his whopper.
Today there are new reports on the latest crazy plan to build another tower in Malta. This time it seems that the Villa Rosa developers are intent on transforming Saint George’s Bay (bayside) into some sort of futuristic megapolis. The artist’s impressions show that most of the foreshore would be taken up by this megalith designed by recently deceased architect Zaha Hadid. Check out the link to see for yourself.
That is just Saint George’s Bay. Sliema Residents are up in arms and purportedly would love for their council to “sue the government” (sic) because of all the scarring building that is going on – towers mostly. Manoel Island is in danger of losing its status as last green patch in the harbour area and a historic house in Victoria is in danger of being pulled down to make way for a car park entrance. Architects may be putting their weight behind an appeal to conserve Maltese architecture but for very one of these there are five more who are ready to pander to the cheque-books of developers hungry for more construction.
There was an admirable action for awareness by those guys pitching tents outside Castille. It’s a sad fact though that the policy makers of this land don’t give a damn about our living environment. I don’t mean trees and plants and recycling and all that. I mean quality of living that is being put in grave danger every single day by idiotic decisions spurred on by money and greed. Is it a childish argument? Yes it is. It’s happening though and the wanton destruction of our prime living space goes on mainly because those at the top have figured that not too many people give a real toss about it.
In the end so long as the policy makers can claim that we are living an era of economic boom, high unemployment, money in the pockets of households, then they know they can get away with murder. From olive trees being brutally clipped at University to prime land being sold off at peanuts to Chinese Investors (guaranteed by Maltese investors’ money in banks) or fake university peddlers there seems to be no hope ahead.
The assault on the quality of life of the inhabitants of the islands of Gozo and Malta has long begun. I could bother you with the usual cliches such as the native American saying that goes “It is only when the last tree has been cut, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then we will realise that one cannot eat money.”
I could do that but it would be useless, wouldn’t it? So long as the money keeps us happy and there’s free childcare and randomly adopted social rights… then it’s a.o.k … we could probably walk on water.
We have moved from “misrepresentation” to “outright lie”. Minister Konrad Mizzi has become a specialist in libel law. It is a standard in the Maltese game of politics and carries with it the public assumption that “since X has resorted to the courts then X must be right”. It is not how it should be, it is not what the institutes of libel and slander were set up to protect but hey, no Maltese politician in recent history has shied away from abusing of the law in this manner so why should Mr. Konrad?
“Mr. Konrad”, now there is a curious way of referring to a Minister – or anyone for that matter unless you are a slave on a cotton plantation in pre-emancipation US. Yet that is how Karl Cini of Nexia BT refers to the Unportfoglioed Minister in his correspondence to Mossack Fonseca. Cini is speaking to Mossack Fonseca about Mizzi’s PEP status and is also endeavouring to explain the “How many?” and the “Wherefrom? of the funds that will be eventually subject to movements to companies that are set up by Mossack Fonseca.
It is here that Mr. Konrad’s speech of “outright lies” finds a huge banana skin on which to slip and fall. Without playing the special investigator one can see why Konrad Mizzi finds himself in an immense schizophrenic conundrum. Why? Well over the same period of time there had to be two Konrad Mizzi’s:
The first Konrad Mizzi is the one who delegates Cini to contact Mossack Fonseca and set up a structure that requires a considerable amount of funds in order to justify its continued existence. That Konrad Mizzi has an interest to explain that he has quite a considerable amount of personal funds and also has an interest to downplay his role as a PEP. That is why Karl Cini stresses that “our legislation openly allows PEPs to hold shareholdings in other businesses”. So whether he is lying or saying the truth to Mossack Fonseca, Mizzi (through his agents at Nexia) would like the truth to seem that he is loaded with money coming from ventures that are legal notwithstanding his status as a PEP.
The second Konrad Mizzi is the one who was made Minister by Joseph Muscat. That Konrad Mizzi was at first supposed to be a wunderkind who earned loads-a-money while abroad (fuelled by the myth that “studja barra u hadem barra ergo qed jimpala l-liri“) and owned property/properties abroad and has an international family. That was the early story to explain why he needed an international structure involving a tax haven even though his overall worth amounted to a pittance (by multimillionaire tax haven standards). The second Mizzi wanted us to believe that the whole set up cost a couple of tens of euros (was it 90?) and that it was all about family planning.
You can begin to see the dilemma facing Konrad Mizzi. The documentation that is trickling out of the ICIJ Panamaleaks is slowly but surely pointing towards the Konrad Mizzi that one would expect to exist – one who either has or claims to have the kind of funds that justify such operations. The second Mizzi – Minister Mizzi – can give us as facts his Ministerial declarations of worth that obviously clash with declarations done in his own name by the first Konrad Mizzi.
So you see. Speaking about “outright lies” is dangerous in these circumstances. In the not so halcyon days of studying criminal law I still remember now Chief Justice Camilleri lecturing us about fraud and forgery. A forged document is one that “tells a lie about itself”, he would tell us. I wonder what kind of fraud or forgery would be one that yells that it’s an “outright lie”.
I re-watched “All the President’s Men” yesterday. It’s a 1976 movie featuring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffmann and it chronicles the work of Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein that led to the uncovering of the Watergate Scandal and the eventual resignation of President Nixon. The facts surrounding Watergate happened in the early seventies – a time without the mass means of communication and information that we know of today. Journalistic investigation was painstakingly slow and when the main whistleblower “Deep Throat” speaks in riddles there is much digging for information to be done.
Watergate was all about a money trail. Nixon and his party were using huge slush funds from the GOP campaign to finance covert operations intended to sabotage the Democrat campaign. There was no sudden discovery of all the information. It all started with what seemed to be a simple burglary at the Watergate complex and it was only thanks to the dogged work of the two journalists against all odds that the whole extent of the scandal was uncovered.
When the Post decided to run with the first big title linking big heads in government to the corruption trail, the official response was big and could be summed up in one word: denial. Nixon’s spokesperson attacked the journalists and the entity they worked for and came up with the phrase “shoddy journalism” and “shabby journalism”. Nixon’s people implied that there was a misreading of facts and that the Post had an ulterior political motive for “fabricating” such information.
All Nixon’s men did was gain some more time. They used that time to abuse their positions in power to try to harass anybody who was on their trail and close to obtaining damning information. Astonishingly Nixon won an election when the scandal had only just broke – but not so astonishingly at that point the pieces of the puzzle were far from Nixon and it was hard for the man in the street to make the connection. As more evidence was compiled – mostly by “following the money trail” – Nixon’s position became untenable.
All through the scandal that dragged on for two years, Nixon’s behaviour smacked of abuse of power and disrespect of institutional authority. At one point Nixon ordered the Attorney General (Richardson) and his deputy (Ruckelshaus) to sack special prosecutor Cox. Neither of the two accepted such a blatant abuse and both resigned in protest. Nixon only managed to get what he wanted when he found an appeasing Attorney General in Bork. Responding to members of the press for this Nixon stated emphatically “I am not a crook”.
Walking on Water
Events closer to home are uncannily similar to what happened in the Nixon days. We have a musical chairs of police commissioners who hesitate to prosecute when it is blindingly obvious that there is matter sufficient for prosecution. We have a government machinery that functions on blanket, unfounded denial and that resorts to bullying tactics when it comes to investigative journalists doing their job. Yesterday we had a Minister without portfolio mimicking Nixon’s spokesperson accusing journalists of not knowing how to read and of being “malicious”.
Every day is bringing to light more damning information linking more and more dots in a scandal that knows no equal in Maltese history. The Prime Minister and the two persons directly involved in the story choose to bury their heads in the sand and cling onto power hoping for a miracle of the walk on water kind. Apparently these scandals are not enough because some still claim that Malta is “economically strong”. I seriously believe it is only a matter of time that this fabrication of statistics falls apart – especially in the light of the fact that the greatest supposed economic injections under this government are tainted and linked with the scandalous events of Panamagate.
Muscat prefers to drag Malta through scandal after scandal rather than bear the responsibility and act in the interests of the nation. Like Nixon he believes that he will not “resign a position that he was elected to fill”. Like Nixon he prefers to use his incumbency in his favour so long as it is possible – thus protracting the agony of an electorate in need of clarity and honest politics.
One day, in the not too distant future, Muscat might face a journalist like Frost who when asked by Nixon “what would you have done” replied:
One is: there was probably more than mistakes; there was wrongdoing, whether it was a crime or not; yes it may have been a crime too. Second: I did – and I’m saying this without questioning the motives – I did abuse the power I had as president, or not fulfil the totality of the oath of office. And third: I put the American people through two years of needless agony and I apologise for that.
Watermarks is a new series on J’accuse. The idea consists in having a morning “short” taking a quick look and reflection on current events in the news – what is trending and why.
Occam’s Laser is a long-time J’Accuse reader who works in the financial services sector. In this article Occam argues that Labour is willfully muddying the waters over Panamagate, exploiting the concerns of conscientious liberals to further its own agenda.
The Labour Party is desperate. For three months it has tried to brazen out Panamagate, but despite its survival of various protests, no confidence motions and other crises, the issue simply won’t go away. Now it is hoping that by tarring the whole Maltese professional class with the same brush, it will cause enough of a distraction for people to start talking about something, anything, but Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri’s egregious misdemeanors.
This is clear from the recent PL attacks on Tonio Fenech and the private sector companies he works for, the attacks on the law firm EMD and its consultant Richard Cachia Caruana, and its general bewildering aggression towards any PN leaning individual somehow involved in financial services. What PL is trying to do is obvious; they want to conflate public concern about the disparate issues of global tax avoidance and its own internal governance disasters in order to dissipate public outrage. This is yet another of the PL’s dirty tricks, and the public shouldn’t allow the PL to wave this red herring in its face with impunity.
To start off with, Malta’s strategic decision to become a financial services centre is one which enjoyed (and below the surface, still enjoys) broad cross-party consensus. So PL is being maliciously disingenuous when it feigns getting its knickers in a twist over this week’s various pseudo-revelations. Secondly, while there is no denying the inherent link between a world order that allows international corporate secrecy, and the exploitation of that secrecy by persons such as Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, the two problems require radically different solutions.
Regarding the problem of international tax avoidance, this is one which requires, at the international level, a global co-operation and a deep philosophical rethinking of the way the world works; and at the local level, a careful repositioning of Malta as a jurisdiction which adds value beyond its low tax base (this is already the case to some extent, but a truly well intentioned government could do much more to improve things). This is going to be a big, slow job.
The Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri situation, on the other hand, is a pressing governance catastrophe that requires urgent and immediate action. Every day they hold on to their position, they cause irreparable harm to our reputation, and indeed deprive us of the valuable time that we need to reposition and further diversify our economy.
Perhaps the most galling thing about this PL manouvre is the way it exploits the feelings and concerns of the country’s most conscientious individuals, those who genuinely worry about things like global inequality and corporate ethics, turning these noble concerns into tools to further its own ends. Worryingly, we’ve already seen PL try to exploit the concerns of the conscientious before, as with that other red herring about Joseph Muscat supporting gay marriage a few weeks ago. This is shockingly unscrupulous behaviour; the Maltese public deserves better, and PL shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.
***** Zolabytes is a rubrique on J’accuse – the name is a nod to the original J’accuser (Emile Zola) and a building block of the digital age (byte). Zolabytes is intended to be a collection of guest contributions in the spirit of discussion that has been promoted by J’accuse on the online Maltese political scene for 10 years. Opinions expressed in zolabyte contributions are those of the author in question. Opinions appearing on zolabytes do not necessarily reflect the editorial line of J’accuse the blog.
Yesterday evening’s cabinet reshuffle came out looking like some kind of blitz. Timing is crucial in the business of politics and rest assured that the “when” of this announcement is just as important to Muscat as the “how” of the reshuffle itself. After months of prevarication on a decision that should be part of the elementary package of any politician Muscat finally seemed to be deciding. There was, by the way, no sign of the infamous “audit” that was uselessly conjured up by Muscat as the ultimate delay tactic – as it were the audit turned out to be ‘not fit for purpose’ as the cliche goes.
I was reminded of the adage that “justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done”. In this case we should switch the ‘seen’ to a ‘seem’ and drop the doing completely. There is no doubt in the mind of anyone who is not an out and out labour sympathiser that the exercise was one of political prestidigitation – and a clumsy, almost ignorant, one at that.
Mizzi – the reason behind all the change – still sits in Cabinet and therefore still enjoys the full trust (excuse the pun) of the Prime Minister. Whatever portfolio he is or is not given is irrelevant. This is not a censure, this is not an admission of mistakes, this is quite simply an escamotage (read: piece of trickery) ad maiorem publicis perturbationem. Worse still the level of accountability (if ever there was any) of Konrad Mizzi has just dropped a couple of notches. What with having no defined task it will already be much harder than it already is for the opposition or fourth estate to get him to answer for whether he is delivering and whether he is delivering rightly.
Then there is the return of Manwel “Ok Siehbi” Mallia. This continues to reinforce the tradition of Muscat’s soldiers of steel politics – no matter how bad you slip, no matter how unfit for purpose you prove that you can be we will keep you close to the fold and find you a job among the “boys” (and gals). After Mallia’s impassioned defence of old style politics it was only a matter of time before he would return to the fray.
The key here is that Muscat’s set of cards is in short supply – there are no trumps, no more magic “supercandidates” who are relatively unknown that can be foisted on a fawning electorate. Whether it is because they are close lieutenants or because Muscat cannot afford to lose them, the same entourage is “doomed” to be rotated in the corridors of power as this government shifts from scandal to scandal.
“We can’t just drop everything, sir!”
“Mister Lipwig. Is there something in the word ‘tyrant’ you do not understand?”
― Terry Pratchett, Raising Steam
We could go on and examine how Brincat is the latest of recipient of the “kicked upstairs” mentality that has plagued Malta’s governmental policy towards the EU since the Dalli nomination. (Interestingly in that respect a recent Politico “power matrix” has shown our weak link in Europe to be Muscat the decision maker and our grace is only saved by Ambassador Marlene Bonnici’s perceived efficiency in Brussels. See the matrix here). We could also wonder out loud as to why Muscat holds the energy portfolio closer to his chest than ever before.
We could do all of that and more but there is an underlying issue that is now blatantly obvious and that deserves our attention. At a time when the track record of Labour in government is wrought with scandals we continue to see attempts by political pundits to analyse the political aspect of this government. One recent article that caught my attention was James Debono’s “A template for social democracy, but at whose expense?”
What I find intriguing is this continuing willingness to engage Labour on political terms when I feel that the mask has long fallen. It is a bit like discussing the magical capabilities of the Wizard of Oz right after Toto’s curiosity finally unveiled him as a hypocritical charlatan who only managed to create the illusion of power through a mixture of chance and circumstance.
You know how it goes. Most analysis will start off by listing the litany of “achievements” of the Labour government (I also find it intriguing that top of that list is always inevitably Free Childcare) and we get to run through the whole gamut of “social rights” before we end up quoting the massive achievements in economic terms and employment. Marlene Farrugia has already done much to dispel this idea that economic success is something that happened only under Labour’s watch but mine here is not an exercise in partisan comparison.
What I constantly fail to see from day 1 of Muscat’s reign of manipulation is one basic currency in terms of the political market: Sincerity. Try as I may I am hard put to find a real “roadmap” as he likes to call it let alone a genuine will to change the face of the Maltese social and political landscape for the better. We may battle in a quest for the truth but underlying the truth or untruth in most matters is usually a question of sincere intentions. Sincerity is what I associate with a politician like Barak Obama or Guy Verhofstadt.
Sincerity is accompanied by passion, humility and a strong will to improve. I am not speaking of the utopic world of perfect politicians representing the will of the people (and sometimes recognising that the will of the people could actually be harmful for them) but i am talking about a genuine dedication to a set of values that are implemented in a holistic policy.
Muscat’s politics could not be further from the politics of sincerity. They are built on the dangerous precepts of populistic opportunism, built on divisiveness disguised as togetherness, built on a quest of power for the few disguised as some sort of class revolution and built on an economy with the truth that belies belief. There is no sincerity in the “social gains” under this government – only blatant opportunism to appease vociferous lobbies who would be the first to tell you that they do not care why the government supports them so long as they get what they want.
Managing the needs of different lobbies was easy in the first three years of Muscat. By opening the legislative and monetary tap he could seem to be magnanimous and caring. The lack of sincerity was of no consequence to the beneficiaries of what was very evidently from day one a free for all run for the money and a lax approach to legal consistency. The few principles touted during an election campaign were lost on the wayside on the carcade to Castille in 2013. Meritocracy? Sure, yours sincerely, Joseph (Inhobbkom).
It may sound like a cliche’ but the other adage “you may fool some of the people some of the time but you will not fool all of the people all of the time” is becoming more and more of a basic truth as time goes by. Especially though, after the denouement of Muscat’s insincerity yesterday evening at his press conference in Castille.