The wrong sort of talisman

talisman_akkuza

Steel at the Orpheum

That night at the Orpheum Joseph Muscat had gathered the party diehards into a mental and physical fortress. The theatre named after a Greek mythical figure who had ended up dealing with the god of the underworld had a talismanic hold on the hardcore labourites. This was Macina-style territory where the sun of the dear departed leader Dom Mintoff had shone many a time in order to rally the troops with the feel good invincible rays factor.

All this was sorely needed after Labour had taken a not so metaphorical bashing with the forced dismissal of Michael Falzon – the latest in a series of cabinet casualties. The whole Labour philosophy – an elaborate web of promises about meritocracy, transparency and collective wealth – was once again in danger of being uncovered as being the web of lies that it really is turning out to be.

So Muscat needed to rally the troops. Morale would inevitably have been down. Even the most blinkered of diehards and flag-waving troopers could have sniffed the new bombs of insecurity that were beginning to weaken the bastions of blind faith that had been so patiently constructed throughout the Taghna Lkoll election campaign. During that campaign Michael Falzon had famously (and weirdly for that campaign we could also say incongruously) let out his “Fejn huma l-iljuni?” (Where are the Lions?) speech. Montekristo they all answered – not really. This time Falzon was part of the problem. How best to solve it?

Well. Magritte came to the rescue. Muscat chose to inject a botox-cannon of talismanic fervour to the flaying bastions of belief. Ceci n’est pas un politicien corrompu! (This is not a corrupt politician). He brought down the stage by hailing the very politicians who have until now borne the brunt of the effects of the fading make-up of Labour politics. Take one good look at Euridyce, Muscat yelled, here is Manuel Mallia, here is Michael Falzon, these are men above men, these are your soldiers of steel.

Astounding really. Mallia and Falzon were dragged from the muddy pits of political incompetence and limbo to the dizzy heights of Feigned Olympic Glory there to meet that other great soldier of steel – Cyrus Engerer, yes, the very one who was found guilty of crimes that Minister Owen Bonnici would later in the week describe as heinous and disgusting – revenge porn.

While the net effects of his blatant ignoring of any kind of good governance are still to hit Muscat and his band of high flying rhetoricians, the Supreme Leader of Spin (sorry, the Salesman) prefers to hang on to the old trick of rhetoric that is probably only good for the red-eyed accolytes who actually bother to go to the Orpheum. Holding up disgraced politicians as soldiers of steel is nothing other than a retrenching in the unconstitutional ways of hapless governance. The lack of institutional respect, the disdain for a proper system of rule of law, the incredible ability to ignore all semblance of separation of powers – they are all part of the death ride on which this Labour government  is taking the nation.

Having struck a pact with the lords of the underworld Muscat is hoping to get away quickly but is still unable to resist glancing back over his shoulders and taking one look at Euridyce. At this rate he will have little hope of success.

Silk in Pieta’

Speaking of the wrong sort of talisman. While Muscat was engrossed in selling his talismanic soldiers of steel at the Orpheum, PN’s Busuttil had a golden opportunity to sit back and watch Muscat’s party choke on its own doings. Which is why I was surprised and dismayed to see the clip of Busuttil waving some old party ‘kerchief claiming that it was of a historical value and that he would keep it in his office to remind him of the party’s history and his supporters’ fervour.

Now I must admit that to me political party memorabilia – whichever party it is – is tantamount to anathema. At most I can appreciate it in a kitsch collector’s sort of way or in the sort of artistic and historic interest I may take in blasons, symbols and mottos. I cannot stand, abide, tolerate, stomach, suffer or put up with any form of memorabilia waving that represents the blind fervor that I mentioned earlier. Flag waving and flag touting party supporters are the worst kind of demographic when it comes to assessing politics. There is no processing going on in their minds other than “we have to win, the others have to lose” – victory being the ultimate purpose itself.

There is no nobility, no value, no reason behind fanatic affiliation of political parties. That we have developed a large core of party-blind voters in this country is no boon. That party politics is full of the kind of fanaticism that should only find its place on terraces in sporting grounds (and hopefully with a sporting behaviour that goes along) has long been part of the problem of our local political scenario. “Blue till I die” makes little sense outside Manchester or Cardiff (when the oriental bosses are away).

It is for this reason that I cannot imagine what went through Busuttil’s head when he chose to sing the praises of the (purported to be) 100-year old handkerchief/flag  and laud the fanatic fervour of the supporter who had donated this talisman to him. I would see no problem with Busuttil having had a quiet word in private with this supporter, thanking him or her for his/her donation and promising to hold it in his travelbag as a good luck charm of sorts. In private though.

This is not a crime of the calling Mallia, Falzon and Engerer Soldiers of Steel levels. It is still a faux pas on some levels.

Given the state of the government, Busuttil and his party have a duty towards the electorate : that of concentrating on the construction and development of the new form of politics that has until now eluded us as a nation. It is a politics that is based on a pact of trust, on governance, on institutional respect and on rational debate. There is no place for the maduma, the silk handkerchief and the glorifying of the fanatical supporter in that equation.

Shed those talismans Simon, before it is too late. Otherwise you might paint yourself into a corner and find yourself having an Orpheum moment too.

Trust me, that cannot be good. No matter how much he smiles.

 

(Illustration: Ancient Roman talisman found in Germany. Not sure if they’d call it a soldier of steel… but it’s pretty close).


Saving Daphne’s Privates

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Gaffarena Gate has been the black hole of news and information over the past week or so. Anything else newsworthy was sucked into the vortex of the spinning black hole of Falzon’s resignation, Muscat’s double-speak on governance and the n-th celebration of disgraced politicians by a Labour mass meeting. Patriots and pork only just made it past the all-enveloping scandal and this was probably due more  to the ridiculous stunts performed by the defenders of bigilla and zalzett than to any real newsworthiness. Even the Times descended into silly land asking the haplessly controversial question whether persons of a particular religion should be allowed to congregate and play.

Meanwhile in a law court not so far, far away a very important bit of jurisprudence was in the making. In the court presided by the impeccable Magistrate Depasquale, Minister Konrad Mizzi was desperate to prove that he had cause for grievance against blogger (for ’tis in this vest that she hath been summonsed)  Daphne Caruana Galizia. Such cause for grievance had been filed under Malta’s much maligned, misused and abused libel laws – those that have criminal consequences, so to speak. Caruana Galizia had written about some supposed/alleged fling between Minister Conrad Mizzi and one of his minions involving, among other allegations, an exchange of kisses in public. Minister Mizzi could only but cry “lie” at this serious allegation that would, if proven true,  amount to an extra-marital flirtation by said Minister. Hence the law-suit. So far so good.

We were informed, through the medium of the press, that in the sitting of January 18th, the line taken by Mizzi’s lawyers was a rather unorthodox one. Messers Mifsud Bonnici (Aaron) and Lia (Pawlu) were insisting that Caruana Galizia reveal the source of the libellous information. And here lies the problem. Not just for Mme Caruana Galizia but for every single citizen of the island of pork-guzzling patriots and martyred ex-Parliamentary Secretaries. You see, Caruana Galizia was sticking to the age old  universal protection afforded to journalists with regard to their sources. She was not obliged at law, she argued, to reveal her sources for her journalistic work. True. Very true.

The only problem was that the legal team for Minister Mizzi of the government that championed the protection of whistleblowers among many other things decided to become incredibly narrow and literal minded in their application of the law. Shylock was after his pound of flesh. The reasoning put forward by the lawyer who has been touted as the next Chief Justice of the land (pray note that this also means that he would chair the Constitutional Court, guardian of all things holy) was that since the blog in which Daphne writes can not be registered under the Press Act then surely Daphne Caruana Galizia is not acting as a journalist whenever she writes in her blog. Which would mean of course that her sources – who she has called moles, spies and other names through the lifespan of her blog – would be afforded no protection.

Which is a load of hogwash of course. A load of hogwash that would only find place in Kafka’s novels or in the best of Soviet theatres and kangaroo courts. But this is Malta in the time of Joseph Muscat and a very very weird interpretation of the law and legal rights (The government has just gone and sued itself in a case so don’t even dare challenging this assertion).

Let’s go step by step.

1. She is not a journalist

You may not agree with the woman. You may find her blog to be the result of a particularly efficient network that collates information and disseminates it in a selective Wikileaks manner. You may, like me, find her automatic negative reaction to anything Gozitan particularly distasteful. You may think all these things and more but to insist that Daphne Caruana Galizia – even when restricted to the blogging hat of Daphne Caruana Galizia – is not a journalist is complete and utter hogwash. In the year 2000, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe drafted a recommendation signed by most of its member states with regard to the protection of journalists from disclosing their sources. (Full name – Recommendation No. R (2000) 7  of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the right of journalists not to disclose their sources of information). Here’s the definition section of the Recommendation:

Definitions

For the purposes of this Recommendation:

a. the term “journalist” means any natural or legal person who is regularly or professionally engaged in the collection and dissemination of information to the public via any means of mass communication;

b. the term “information” means any statement of fact, opinion or idea in the form of text, sound and/or picture;

c. the term “source” means any person who provides information to a journalist;

d. the term “information identifying a source” means, as far as this is likely to lead to the identification of a source:

i. the name and personal data as well as voice and image of a source,

ii. the factual circumstances of acquiring information from a source by a journalist,

iii. the unpublished content of the information provided by a source to a journalist, and

iv. personal data of journalists and their employers related to their professional work.

It fits nicely does it not? We have not even begun to look at the jurisprudence of the Strasbourg Court (Goodwin anyone?) or the European Charter of Rights. The recommendation is already clear enough about how far the protection should go. It is not restricted to some state defined numerus clausus such as a list of “approved journalists” under the Press Act. Any natural or legal person. Regularly engaged in the collection and dissemination of information. To the public. Via any means of mass communication. I don’t know about you but it is pretty clear to me that Daphne’s blog falls fair and square within this definition and that would make Daphne a journalist even when she is limited to blogging on the Running Commentary.

2. She has to disclose the source

What is this obsession about the source anyway? It is in fact the most dangerous part of the case being built by Mifsud Bonnici and Lia. Don’t be mistaken because there are no scruples here. We all know that Daphne Caruana Galizia is prepared to go all the way to defend her right to publish information in blog form. Blog and be damned she will. Aaron Mifsud Bonnici knows it, Pawlu Lia knows it and most of all Konrad Mizzi knows it. The very public obnoxious shake up here is not directed at Caruana Galizia but at any potential source. What after all is the use of getting the accused in the libel case to give up the source of the information? Very little really. Except that Mizzi and his team do not care about anything other than putting the fear of god into anyone who might in the future be made to think twice about whether or not to send one of those quickly snapped photos of yet another politicians’ misdemeanors.

Whether a Minister chooses to have an extra-marital fling is a debatable piece of news that can be used in various ways. As any Monica Lewinsky, Lord Boothby or John Profumo might vouch, sexual affairs and politicians rarely are just that. More often than not they have repercussions of a constitutional nature and any self-respecting journalist in his right mind would want to investigate and report.

Sources are paramount for Daphne’s kind of blog that is less pundit and more reportage thanks to a long list of willing suppliers of information that end up being a very informal but well-connected network. Muscat’s men know that the effects of this network can be lethal. Which is why in this case they are not really going for the journalist and editor of the blog. They want to get to the source. They want to put an end to the network of informants and to do so they are prepared to attempt to get the courts of the land to apply a very dangerous and literal-minded precedent.

To conclude. The journalistic profession has not had a good last two decades. When more than two-thirds of the people who get their bread and butter from some form of journalistic work are inextricably linked with the major political parties you tend to get a withering of the power of the fourth estate – one of the important pillars of a democratic society. The lack of respect towards the profession was never more blatant than in moments when journalist credentials were handed out to anybody that the parties needed for a particular stunt. Remember JPO bearing a PN press card in order to harass Alfred Sant in his crocodile tears phase?

The profession needs to win back respect and it can only do so by performing its duty of investigating and monitoring the powers of the nation without letting them interfere. It also deserves all forms of protection from any institutional assault such as this one being orchestrated by Konrad Mizzi.

It is not Daphne Caruana Galizia who is in danger. It is an important cog in the machinery of a democracy and it is the citizens of the democracy who have a right to access all forms of information and weigh it on their own account. For all our sake and for all that we stand for, Daphne’s privates must be saved.

“They’re talking about things of which they don’t have the slightest understanding, anyway. It’s only because of their stupidity that they’re able to be so sure of themselves.”
― Franz Kafka, The Trial


The Arab Mosque of Msida

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Somehow it does not have the same appeal as the “American University of Malta” does it? It’s Arab, not American, it’s a Mosque, not a University, and its Msida… as in, since when does Msida have more appeal other than being a huge roundabout adorned by a garish monument and kiosks?  There still seems to be a more tangible and realistic demand for the Arab Mosque of Msida than for the ultra-fictitious American University of Malta. It may be because the latter is neither American nor a University and is only sited in Malta because the great salesman of Castille was conned into prostituting virgin land to a construction specialist from the Emirates. The former is required because there are quite a number of practicing muslims who have no place to gather for prayer.

When Germany started to feel the weight of the large influx of refugees from Syria and around, questions started to be asked of the neighbouring Gulf states and whether they too would be prepared to take some of the millions of displaced people. Saudi Arabia’s reply was curious. They would not take the refugees themselves but offered to help Germany integrate the muslims. By building mosques. In Germany.

Of course this was before the nightmare situation of the New Years’ Eve groping sessions from Cologne to Bielfeld to Hamburg. Even so, the Saudi proposal was met with disdain as it brought to life themonstrous menace  of a cultural invasion. Mosques are not exactly the top priority for building projects in Europe right now. Which is probably why France’s mosques held an open day on Saturday in order to allow non-muslims to see how they were really places meant for prayer and peace. Islam, the religion of submission  to the will of God (inshallah) is all about peace (salaam), they said.

Back to Malta. Some nutter with no idea of PR decided that the best thing for the muslim community to do in these times of high sensistivity and sensibility where cliches are shot as rapidly as a kalashnikov in the wrong hands was to organise an open air prayer meeting – of the kind Angelik does – in full view. The idea was to show how the muslims in Malta did not have enough places of prayer – the Paola mosque was not enough and using a garage to congregate is considered illegal.

Some questions do need to be asked though. The muslim community has grown considerably and there is probably a justified demand for a new place of prayer. Our constitution safeguards and respects the right of other religions and the freedom to worship is one of the fundamental rights that are recognised. The question of whether a new mosque is needed should be examined in this light – outside of the panic and fear-mongering linked with recent international events. It is not about us and them either. We are either a nation that is selling passports by the hundreds (and it has been made abundantly clear what creed and nationality are the major targets for this campaign) or we are not. These are Maltese citizens who happen to be muslim that need catering for.

Much fuss was made when it was suggested that the new Sadeen Not-So American and not so University of ODZonqor might require a mosque of its own given its target of 3,500 students. It’s not so funny now is it? The Slovaks have questionably closed their borders to anybody who is muslim – no muslim refugees. This questionable decision is not an option here. We are dutibound to look hard into our constitution and our core values and understand that a new mosque is necessary in order to guarantee worshiping rights to some of our citizens.

What is funny, or interesting, is that neither the developers of this land nor some new shady business partner from the Gulf have made contact with this government of plentiful opportunity in order to market a new deal. As I said in the beginning the Arab Mosque of Msida (or wherever the government might decide to sell land) is never going to be an attractive option. Which is a pity really, because at the end of the day the building of a mosque as a place for congregation for the muslim citizens of the land would actually be a clear sign that Malta’s constitutional values are strong and alive – that in this country you are free to worship so long as you respect others and respect the core values of the community.


Pardon their Frenċ

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The Għarb Local Council have gone all hot under the collar about what they call “allegations” made by Katie Holmes, mother of convicted Welshman Daniel Holmes. In yet another appeal to have Daniel’s punishment shortened from the draconian 10 years, Katie Holmes mentioned the fact that the man considered by many to be holy and known as Frenċ tal-Għarb had also used cannabis to cure people. Well, it turns out that hell knows no fury like a Local Council who deems that its Holy Man hath been scorned. The representatives of the tiny (and beautiful) Gozitan village whose name means “The West” resort to threatening Katie Holmes with a case of defamation/libel. In their mind it was the most they could do short of issuing a challenge in the village pjazza at the stroke of the midday bell.

A little aside here. By some twist of cosmic fate all this happened on the first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo killings. You know the ones that I am talking about – the ones where the whole world asked itself whether a bunch of lame satirists had gone a step too far into “provoking” a bloody response from the fanatical and the ignorant. On a much lesser scale of cosmic importance I had also just blogged about the irrational and disproportionate reaction in Kyrgyzstan to a facebook post about a national dish.

Back to the West. The dramatis personae of this little farce makes raw material for a magical novel of the Garcia Marquez kind. We have the beleaguered mother of a man condemned by a hypocritical society to rot away in its prisons while former drug traffickers and conspirators hobnob with the leaders of the land. She could be pictured like the desperate Magdalene and Mary at the foot of the cross, heart torn apart by all the suffering caused to her son. Katie Holmes was hoping to inspire empathy with her story about the Gozitan faith healer and expert herbalist. Cannabis, she was saying, should not be seen in such a bad light in this country after all when it is so plain that some good can come out of it.

What of Frenċ? Well, I can tell you a bit about Frenċ the man and quasi-scientist. I have people in my family who, years before internet turned the world into a global village, had benefited from his healing “powers’. No marijuana was harmed in that particular feat since the stories I am told seem to have involved much more the power of conviction than anything else. Frenċ is known to have used herbs and plants endemic to the islands in order to help ailing visitors. That and a dose of Hail Marys and Our Fathers to be fair, but the latter part of the healing process are of little use in this story. We live in a world where we are oblivious to the fact that the ingredients in every medicinal we take find their origin in herbs.

You’d have to be an idiot though not to have heard of the medicinal effects of cannabis. It would be no surprise then were Frenċ to have prescribed its use to a suffering patient (that and a dose of Hail Marys of course). Cannabis just goes to be added to the long list of herbs and plants with beneficial properties such as chamomile (weariness, bowel inflammation), poppy (asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough), rosemary (headaches, epilepsy, circulation), sage (headaches, cough), primrose (rest, sedative) and lavender (fainting and nausea). Around Frenċ’s time on this earth, in London in 1916, Harrods were selling a kit described as “A Welcome Present for Friends at the Front” containing cocaine, morphine, syringes and needles. Also, heroin was sent to the soldiers in the trenches since it had the reputation of being particularly effective against tuberculosis and pneumonia.

So would Frenċ the man and herbalist (as against Frenċ the icon) have been so out of line had he really used cannabis as is alleged by Ms Holmes? Not really. At most he would have been a visionary and far ahead of his time.

Which brings me to the final actor in this dramatis personae. The Local Council. I cannot help but picture them as the Jewison portrayed the Sanhedrin in Jesus Christ Superstar. Standing on the scaffolding bare chested they pound their fists on the metal angry at the allegations and shit-stirring as they perceive it. “Must die must die this Jesus must die.

There is no amount of WTFs that can be plastered outside their council door in order to emphasise the base stupidity of their actions. How on earth do they represent Frenċ in court anyway? Is this a class action? Did they ask themselves whether this is what Frenċ would have wanted? Again, from what I hear about the man he was blessed with an incredible amount of practicality and logic – which is probably what made him stand out so much in the first place. That such logic and intelligence was imbued with a heavy dose of humility must have been a great asset to the man. Such assets are alas lacking among the egregious members of the Gharb Local Council. They want their pound of flesh and they want it fast – all because it is alleged that Frenċ used the right herb to do the right thing.

Frenċ is Gozitan (ok, Maltese too) for Francis. Just like the Pope. You know, that man in Rome who is taking great strides in reconciling the church with the man in the street. He once said that a little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. If the councillors cannot find it in themselves to recognise the ridiculous nature of their actions and if they cannot realise that their quest is akin to that of any fanatic eager to exact his revenge upon anyone who they deem has insulted them, then and only then should they at least resort to being merciful and retract their pompous threats of libel and defamation action.

 


Europe, Gender, Demographics & Shakespeare

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Sex. There’s much talking about sex these days. For starters the immigration agenda has taken a bizarre sexual twist ever since the New Year’s Eve events in Cologne when males of an Arab/Middle Easten complexion assaulted a large number of women taking advantage of the cover afforded by the holiday celebration confusion. As if the immigration issue were not a problem on its own, the further twist in the tale has meant that new warning signs have been flagged as to the huge gender imbalance when it comes to the influx of refugees to Europe.

Most refugees, about one in four, are male and the prediction doing the rounds is that this will cause a huge demographic shift in Europe with an even worse male to female ratio than already exists. We were used to hearing how the new wave of immigrants were beneficial for the economy in the long run, how they would plug the holes caused by the low birth rate in Europe and how they could be part of a long-term solution to solve the pension time-bomb. The worry now is that there are too many men among them. The danger in this sense is sociological since it turns out that social scientists have long been telling us that violence is linked not to poverty or religion but to the failure to provide a critical mass of young men with something constructive to do.

Which is ironic really since Europe with its crisis-driven unemployment rate had already a large mass of bored young men who could have been easily attracted to violence. Little wonder really that the perpetrators of the Paris attacks were homegrown Europeans and not refugees from the latest Syrian conflicts. The warnings do not stop there. Skewed sex ratios in immigration flux means not only new dangerous masses in Europe but also the neutering of the countries of origin. Those left behind will never be able to recover and reconstruct. The Single Male Refugee risks becoming a new problem.

Funny then that the new director (Emma Rice, the first female artistic director) of the Globe theatre – the spiritual home of Shakespearean drama – has chosen her debut season to skewer the figures of acting on stage. She believes that more females should take up the male roles in theatre and has set a 50/50 numerus clausus for performances. It is not only Lady Macbeth who will be calling to be “unsexed” in the future – this banal effort at ultra-feminism threatens the foundations of Shakespearean drama but is set to mirror the absurd results we are now used to seeing when it comes to promoting feminist extremes.

It is dangerous to define the issue of immigration on the basis of gender. A refugee’s nature should not be determined by gender but by nature of his or her plight. While the perils of massing large numbers of unemployed men in Europe are understandable the solution should lie beyond a banalisation of some kind of gender driven numerus clausus. All the world may be a stage, but emulating the Globe’s new artistic director’s trends would be quite a comedy of errors.


The Pastizzi of Kyrgyzstan

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Michael McFeat is a Scot gold miner in Kyrgyzstan. A couple of days ago, during the holiday celebrations, he posted a photo on Facebook showing his mates at the mine queuing up to eat a Kyrgyz delicacy called chuchuk that is apparently a sausage made up of parts of horse. In his caption to the photo McFeat described the national dish as resembling a horse’s penis. Which is when all hell broke lose. His fellow miners threatened to strike and began a petition for his arrest. Indeed, his arrest followed promptly and he is now accused under Kyrgyz law of inciting racial hatred and risks five years in prison. All this for comparing a national dish to a horse’s penis.

It’s one of those comic bits of news that tend to lighten up the New Years’ roll-call – comic that is, unless you are Michael McFeat. He’s unlucky this Michael. If luck had its way he would have been in Malta instead and snapped a photo of a queue outside one of our many pastizzeriji. He would then have been quite free to post it on facebook with a caption stating that Maltese tend to form queues in order to get their hands on a dish that resembles a womans’ private parts. It’s no secret either. There are parts of the country where pastizz is slang for vagina – and these tend to be parts of the country that tend to have a more real “feel” of the language.

McFeat would never have ended up in prison. Well. We cannot say that with absolute certainty can we? Not with the amount of crazy that goes into applying the law on the island of developers and salesmen. You can see it kicking off with a petition while the online barrage of attacks of “Go back to your country” and “Don’t touch my pastizzi” kick off.

The President of the Republic might deem it decorous to step in and defend the plate of the poor people launching a Pastizzi Telethon featuring all the VIP’s of the land in defence of the pastizz. Meanwhile the Prime Minister will immediately negotiate 25 pastizzi kiosk concessions along the islands shore (on ODZ land of course) dubbing it the Wignacourt Circle of Pastizzi. In a speech on National Television Muscat will stand on a custom made pastizz-shaped lectern and grind his teeth menacingly at anyone who threatens to instil the fear of the pastizz among the population. Anyone who criticises the pastizz is negative, and anyone who is negative has no point in living.

Is this too fantastical? Is it too far-fetched? Are you sure? As 2016 stepped in with an Alice in Wonderland message by Joseph Muscat framed in lie upon lie upon lie we would do well to ask more questions of whatever is fed into our heads – particularly whatever is fed into our heads about what it means to be Maltese. The danger is that the few values that are left that distinguish us as a nation risk making pastizzi out of all us.

Happy 2016. May it bring a heavy dose of critical-mindedness, may it whisk away any traces of gullibility and may it signify a return to the discovery of a set of values that define us properly as a nation within Europe.

It’s either that or pastizzi.

 


More fool the law

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An evil soul producing holy witness is like a villain with a smiling cheek, quoth the bard. In matters legal we are often confronted with devils citing scriptures for their purpose and recently there seems to have been quite an upping of the scripture-quoting ante, if you get my drift. The Ian Borg planning permit saga drags on without so much as a whiff of a preventive suspension of duties. PM Muscat was quite clear, in his usual style used whenever clarity and convenience collide, that it was up to Borg to do what he should do. Borg, having adamantly proclaimed his innocence and shown that he does not give two hoots about whatever investigations may result declared firstly that he would proceed with his development. It was only after a sobering comment by Muscat that Borg retracted – on facebook of course.

Muscat’s comments were the most worrying in fact. He was definitely not satisfied with Ombudsman Report on Case no EP 0032 and did not hesitate to openly allege that it was beset with inaccuracies. In fact, not only does the modern day leader of steel not agree with the Ombudsman’s conclusions but also promised to set straight certain “mistakes” that are apparently contained therein. It really does beg the question of why bother listening to the Ombudsman in the first place if you are not going to give any weight to anything he has to say. Well, probably Muscat has been listening to a few scripture-quoting devils who have opted to dabble in the arcane arts of legal interpretation within their self-declared hobby/profession of all that is to do with planning.

What really sticks out whenever you read any of these apologia pro Ian Borg in the press is a quasi-autistic literal-mindedness that belies any knowledge of constitutional responsibility. You see a literal approach to the law can provide some very interesting and confusing results. The Ian Borg Saga is not about any old pesky MEPA application but about the “incorrect application of policies and procedures in processing and determining” a particular  application in Rabat.

Legally (and by this I mean also to include the literal application of the law)  there is the issue of sticking to the procedural minutiae of an application and whether what might seem to be ridiculous situations – such as a non-owner making an application- are actually allowed by law. There is also a second legal question and that is whether the permit application as filled led to MEPA wrongly acquiescing to the request.

Outside the box of literal-minded application there is an important constitutional element. A member of parliament – a parliamentary secretary to boot – is involved in this application. I say involved but ultimately we can say committed in the same way that in an English breakfast the chicken is involved but the pig is committed. The property that is the subject of this controversy is owned by Ian Borg. He is not denying it. Nobody is. The problem lies that if it should result that Borg, a government secretary, abused of MEPA procedure in order to obtain a go-ahead for this development in a property owned by him he has constitutional obligations that go beyond the mere examination of whose name appears on the application and whether that is legit.

Reading through the Ombudsman’s Report (that could admittedly have been a bit more clear) we find two important issues that tie to the constitutional responsibility of Ian Borg.

  1. The issue is not whether or not it is permissible for someone to apply on behalf of a third party. The issue is whether, when doing so, it was clear that whoever the applicant was, if he was not the sole owner (or not an owner) then he indicated that he notified the owner of his intention to apply. This is provided for in Section 15 of the application form (under article 68(3) of the Planning Act). The point that the Ombudsman makes in page 6 of his report is that in this particular application the applicants who were not the owners did not indicate as much – they actually “incorrectly stated that they were owners”. This is when the Ombudsman opts for the words “it is strange that Dr Borg chose a somewhat devious method to file the application”. The application contains an untruth. While it is true that you can still apply if you are not the owner, you are meant to do so while declaring that you are not the owner and indicating that the owner has granted his consent. This is what results from the Ombudsman’s description of the case. Given Ian Borg’s parliamentary position the omission assumes constitutional importance.
  2. The second important point made by the Ombudsman is, to put it simply, that the description given in a previous application that ended up being refused by MEPA was altered in this new application. The result is that notwithstanding that “there was no change in policy in the intervening period between the refusal of PA 1637/12 and the submission of PA 2708/14”, MEPA seems to have requalified the new application in order to get the green light for the application made by somebody for the development on Ian Borg’s property. One defence being made here is that a literal application of the planning policy  would lead to the green light being given because the former application had a built up area of less than 50 metres squared while the new application being for a 100 metres squared building would qualify. Now bear with me for a moment but what we are effectively stating is that when a plan for development was for less than 50 metres squared MEPA would object to such development tooth and nail BUT by exploiting a loophole in the law if we present a larger development plan that transforms magically “fresh land” into a backyard in the building suddenly everything is fine and dandy.

Quite frankly the combination of the two issues listed above put Ian Borg in dangerous waters. Even with all the goodwill he may claim to have had there is still definitely more to this than meets the eye and it does the PL no good to hang on behind its young soldier. We’ll have to wait for the Commission against Corruption whose remit is closer to the constitutional factors that I mentioned than the Ombudsman’s.

 


Timing Anglu’s comedy secret

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The secret of comedy, they say, is timing. There is nothing funny about the making public of a launch of a magisterial inquiry into the amount of fuel consumed by the Leader of Opposition’s car. It is not funny at all. In actual fact it is rather worrying because it has all the makings of a perfectly-timed smear attempt. It would not be the first time in the history of this country that the machinery of one of the arms of the state is put into motion in an incredibly advantageous manner that serves the party in government. Those who are not prone to lapses of amnesia still remember the sudden summons of Alternattiva Demokratika’s Harry Vassallo when some long forgotten tax case suddenly became very very pertinent in the eyes of some police officers in Sliema.

The magisterial inquiry falls within the same lines of harassment by officialdom. It is important to keep a sense of perspective here. The investigation is about a discrepancy in fuel allowances – the kind of discrepancy that would not warrant half the attention it is getting since, assuming that it is an allowance, what one assumes happens is that if you exceed the allowance then you are not refunded the difference. In any case the irony of the matter is that this is the fuel allowance used for an official car in its official capacity. Apparently too much money is being spent on fuel. One would hope that the inquiry concludes what everyone who has not been blinded by Joseph has been telling the government over the past year or so – that fuel prices are bloody expensive when compared to international market prices.

But back to Simon’s driver. Busuttil got to know that the investigation was going on and this strangely coincided with the document full of proposals on proper governance (that this blog is still to review). Muscat was quick to confuse matters by claiming that by Busuttil’s yardstick Busuttil should resign. It turns out that the Good Governance proposals have instilled the fear of God in Muscat – this is the first time that he would rather see the back of his opponent rather than continue with the playground jibes of “ma tifhmx fl-ekonomija, ma tafx taqra” &c &c.

Speaking of math and economics it is incredible that in this democracy we have importuned a magistrate to draft a pennies inquiry as to the fuel consumption of a car when our Prime Minister still to this day rents his own private car to his office at the rate of €7,000 a year. Incredible isn’t it? The apologistas of this world will tell you that this is perfectly legal – sure, but what they do not tell you is that  this way Muscat gets to double his perk. The money the government is paying for what is supposed to be a bargain deal goes to Muscat’s pockets at a rate far above the net worth of his car. It’s as though a lawyer would charge his clients extra for having used his laptop and printer to draft his legal documents.

The whole farce of the magisterial inquiry only goes to show the urgency with which the PN proposals on Good Governance must be treated. We have long embarked on the slippery slope that ignored the important tenets that underly civic society in a liberal democracy and much time has been lost using the measure of partisan fairness instead of the rightful rule of law. Instances such as Farrugia’s comic foray into the land of inquiries are a clear indication of the tragic situation of our current political state. That so many voters are still prepared to swallow this bull if only to spite the imaginary nationalist monster that was designed in their head by Muscat’s propaganda machine is even more worrying for that means that many are still prepared to defend the indefensible.

Is-sewwa jirbah zgur they used to tell us. These are definitely tough times for the truth and for justice. Only time will tell.


We are all an accident waiting to happen

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Insofar as national tragedies go we had a couple of headline filling “incidents” over the last month that led to discussions on safety in different environments that are normally linked to entertainment. First there was the Paqpaqli incident where a supercar mowed into a crowd of bystanders causing injuries upward of three score and a mini-emergency crisis in our establishments of health and cure. A little later, and almost in parallel with the return of the ugly face of terrorism in Paris, we had an unhappy incident in an entertainment establishment in Paceville where a sudden stampede was once again the cause of much mayhem, much trauma and much panic. Finally we had a tiger on walkabout (in an estate dotted with planning illegalities) being provoked into attacking a little boy – said provocation consisting in said little boy running in the general direction of the tiger who did not appreciate this sudden rush of adrenalin. Still. Damage there was, pain even, and this was caused by a tiger in what is for all intents and purposes an establishment tainted with various illegalities.

This being the age of social media and the hashtag it is rather a surprise that the hashtags #jesuisPaqpaqli, #jesuisPaceville and #jesuislenfantdeMontekristo were not trending in yet another demonstration of pointless Pharisaical empathy that will be forgotten come the next hashtag – be it #goDestinyforEurovision, #lowunemployment or #CHOGMrocks. What should be trending in fact is a hashtag made out of those words used by the lawyer who lends his signature to Mr. Polidano for affairs legal when he said that most times these are “accidents waiting to happen”.

In fact, given the general institutional and public reaction to the sum of these tragedies we can safely say that the hashtag #weareallanaccidentwaitingtohappen should become part of the Maltese heritage. It fits nicely not just in the case of Paqpaqli, Paceville and Montekristo but also whenever your average fireworks factory explosion occurs, whenever there is the latest cowboy accident on the place of work, whenever political requirements bow to the avarice and greed of the building industry … should I continue?

Paqpaqli was one mess short of a babylon of cock-ups. It proved incontrovertibly that our nation is nowhere near being equipped for that kind of messy patchwork excuse for running powerful engines over short distances. Did we learn anything? Hell no. Prime Minister Muscat has announced that part of his panem et circenses programme in the coming year is the holding of the World Drag Racing Championships in Malta. Why? Our idea of what is and what is not suitable for an island slightly smaller than Manhattan is twisted beyond belief. I would expect us to hold the World Igloo Building Championships in Malta next August. It would be as stupid a decision as holding a World Cup in Qatar in summer. Only an administration as corrupt to the neck as Blatter’s FIFA could come up with that. Wait a minute…

Paceville. Poor old Paceville. Always the den of iniquity that has become synonymous with Malta’s Hell. Over the years it has been obvious that those who ever try to come up with some form of “regulation” for the place are really people who have a plan of transforming a brothel into some kind of centre for social rehabilitation. If we fail to accept that Malta has its own version of Las Vegas strip of entertainment and that it is of itself a possible touristic attraction then we will fail into obtaining some sort of sense of order. The distinction between imposing martial law and understanding that the entertainment must and can go on but for the instilling of a sense of responsibility when it comes to dishing it out.

The starting point of proposals about Paceville must be how to improve the value of entertainment there, not how to kill it completely. I have always advocated as a starting point that the transformation of the old enemalta building into a centre for civil coordination would be a brilliant way to kick off the games. Think a permanent V18 for Paceville – P2K as in Paceville for the third millennium. Policing and health needs would be centred around the entertainment zone that would be detached from the St Julian’s and Swieqi dependency it has suffered until now. Public-private charters and standards could be established – from common safety regulations, to common security training and common evacuation strategies in collaboration with civic defence. Campaigns on drink driving could be co-ordinated with the different modes of transport that get to the city. Those obnoxious white taxi drivers could be relegated into oblivion. Cleaning times, projects and promotions could be coordinated by all the stakeholders. Above all this should be done in a liberal manner and not with the approach of complete and utter sanitisation. There is no point in transforming Paceville into what it is not. Will the politicians move on this? Highly unlikely. Not when the powerful stakeholders in the area have them by their short and curlies.

Montekristo. Which brings me to Montekristo. The place should be shut. The animals should be exported to the closest zoos. Malta is no place for tigers and lions. No cage should be but their time in captivity might require gradual reintegration. Animal rights apart (Where was Marlene Bonnici by the way? Or are animal rights only useful to justify the Euro Parliament presence?) the whole Montekristo story is a clear example of how the authorities will continue to pay lip service to cowboys such as Polidano. Not only will they bark a few words about the animals (Muscat tried the Ali G trick with vegetarians – “you either eat a chicken or I will  kill another one” became “we would have to kill the animals if we closed the place”) but they will continue to patronise the place for their political activities. We are all an accident waiting to happen but who gives a flying feck?

There you go. That is what your politicians would do on average when it comes to accidents. They will tell you they are sorry to have seen it happen, they will tweet their condolences and support, but in the long run, we were, we are and we will remain an accident that is waiting to happen.

 


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