Just before I graduated from the law course and set off to the College of Europe to harden my bones and extend my experience in the arcane arts of European Law I finally managed to get linked to a law firm. Such link included a promise of employment, particularly a promise of employment in the very arcane art that was still not guaranteed a future in the Maltese law environment. It so happened that the university lecturer who had spotted my ‘talent’ (or let’s say potential) was a certain Dr Patrick Spiteri – at the time Malta’s number one reference point for tax law.
Back from Bruges (the odd fourteen years ago) I settled down for what would turn out to be a rather short period of employment. I had barely had the time to settle when storm clouds began to surround Spiteri’s practices and the man who had seemed to be a visionary turned out to be unable to keep his hands off his client’s money – and this not by way of bills. Luckily for me I managed to change firm and kick off my career properly and Patrick Spiteri quickly became a sad and unfortunate episode in the past.
Over the years I would hear stories of a more and more “deranged” Spiteri hanging around the halls and corridors of our hallowed courts. Fraud, misappropriation and more where the order of the day as reports had it that the man became a sad shadow of his former self. The word on anybody’s mouth who would mention him would be “Spicca Patrick” (Patrick’s finished). I was surprised therefore that the Sunday Times of Malta’s latest self-patting on the back exercise involved a sprightly Spiteri still up to his shenanigans. A bit of journalistic sleuthery had uncovered Spiteri in some mansion in the UK – the Times having taken it upon itself to verify whether his excuses of infirmity that were keeping him away from the court contained any ounce of truth.
Bravo le Times. Our citizens are best served by this journalistic fervor. I wonder though how do the people at The Times get to pick which fakery and effrontery to uncover? As the poetess once said: “What kind of fuckery is this?” We all remember the story of a former EU Commissioner who stayed away from the lights of investigation and examination in Malta by producing certificate after certificate of invalidity that kept him “imprisoned” in Brussels. Where was Mark Micallef and the Times at the time? Did they hound aforesaid ex-Commissioner to verify whether there was any truth in the claims? If not, why not?
Seven Brides for Seven Lovers
Which brings me to another section of the press that seems to assume a self-appointed role of gatekeeper to the truth. MaltaToday’s Balzan is having trouble digesting the sudden wave of information regarding alleged extra-marital trysts that are engaged into by persons holding a public position of power. Two Ministers to boot are currently in the eye of a press storm having had their alleged escapades and infidelities paraded before all.
Ho da far un dramma buffo,
E non trovo l’argomento!
Questo ha troppo sentimento,
Quello insipido mi par.
(Prosdocimo – Il Turco in Italia)
What may seem to be material for an opera libretto (or your average issue of HELLO! magazine) has an important constitutional slant that cannot be ignored. Notwithstanding the eagerness of people like Balzan (or the Times) to be the sole gatekeepers of information in this day and age, it must be said that the “relationship status” of two ministers of government (to put it in facebook style that is best understood) ceases quickly to be a personal and private matter. In the first place even a “simple” liaison that outside the marital circle can be problematic constitutionally for reasons that should be obvious to all. The potential for blackmail (which blackmail would effect the use of his ministerial powers) is already great at that point.
When the allegations then move on to include the possibility of public monies being used to assuage an uncomfortable domestic situation (vide employing wives, ex-wives or lovers) then the constitutional problem is not simply event but unavoidable. This is not about social judgement on the marital status of individuals : a malaise that is strong in persons of all classes in Malta who are quick to judge the unmarried, the separated, the remarried for all kinds of reasons. That kind of ridiculous calculation is hors question.
The real issue is the peril that is brought upon a public position to the extent that such public position becomes untenable. That a minister resorts to the use of the Department of Information to emit imperial decrees proclaiming the happy status of his marriage is clear evidence that the government machinery has lost its plot as to the separation of powers and issues. Ministers have been expected to resign for issues involving mere suspicion until their name is cleared. It is not just Caesar’s wife who has to be above suspicion but also – and above all – Caesar himself.
This is not about speculation and gossip for the sake of speculation and gossip. It is about serious allegations that the performance of a minister in his public role has been placed in serious jeopardy by his behaviour. No amount of faffing and pointing fingers elsewhere should diminish the gravity of the situation. It is also not, strictly speaking, about moral judgement. Mired as we are in a cesspit of moral iniquity it would have not been a problem adding another wart to the already heavily prejudiced situation. As it is though, this is about the lay rules of the land that require of the ministers of government the kind of commitment that is not such as to potentially jeopardise their performance. They also require that the money from the public purse is not used to in any way entertain domestic problems (or their add-ons).
There are larges swathes of the press who are clueless about the goings on. Their twisted set of priorities coupled with the illusion that the private affairs of a public person would remain private no matter what the public consequences will not permit a clear approach to the current issue. Sure a person is free in our society to marry, not to marry, to be faithful, to be unfaithful, to be openly gay, to be a closet gay … the list goes on. These freedoms though are not a carte blanche particularly for persons who are in positions of power and who might prejudice their performance within that position of power by those very freedoms.
As for Balzan’s hilarious disquisitions about who should be the gatekeeper of the news there is an age old system that allows you to publish and be damned, leaving it to the courts to right any wrong if somebody oversteps the line. That really is what libel, slander and defamation laws are all about. But aside from his little libel fund and persecution mania I doubt whether Balzan, once again, has a clue.