The day Dalli resigned from the Commission (or was forced to resign if you prefer) I got a call from Malta. “They’ve just mentioned his resignation on RTK. Is he preparing for the election too?” You couldn’t fault this way of thinking if you wanted to. A man had just resigned from probably one of the highest posts within the European Union and the first thought that probably sprung to the mind of many Maltese was in relation to the forthcoming national elections. Will Dalli be back like a latter-day Schwarzenegger? Slowly, as events unfolded it became more and more clear that Dalli was out through no choice of his own but this did not assuage the thirst for Melito-centric interpretations of the goings-on.
Again, we were still in “hazy-fact” land when the tribal delineations began to take shape. It wasn’t hard to second-guess really though in some cases the conclusions drawn could be surprising. Dalli was the man kicked upstairs by the nationalist party to what he seemed to uncannily consider his “Siberia”. His rather frequent raids into the Maltese political scene were at best described as indecorous (for a Commissioner) and at worst clumsy. Three issues stick out like an ugly wart on a halloween mask: (1) first there was the questionable business in relation to energy and SARGAS (in apparent partnership with a future labour government), (2) then there was his intervention as a witness for Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando in the little farce court held at Dar Centrali, and finally, on a rather different (and perhaps more crucial level) was (3) his baffling intervention during the Libyan Spring that had Barroso fuming at the collar.
Dalli had definitely positioned himself firmly away from the “ungrateful” (in Franco Debono terminology) PN constellation and was busy cosying up to the rebels on the one hand and the opposition on the other. He could have let this all go by and concentrated on fulfilling a prosperous term as Commissioner. This would have done his CV a load of good, even in Melito-centric Malta, and who knows whether by the end of his term he would not have preferred pastures new far away from whatever counts for politics on the island these days. We won’t know though, and never will, and one of the reasons is that John Dalli has Silvio Zammit as an acquaintance, probably has him down as a business partner, more probably still as some form of confidant. I insist on the probably at this stage because I prefer to wait for the concrete proof to come out (as always).
So yes. We were saying. Dalli resigned and next thing we knew it was connected to charges of fraud and trading in influence. What happened next was very telling. I’ll try to summarise a few of the positions:
The Greater PN Benefit
I couldn’t really fathom this one, but that’s probably because I try to think in logical order and not through conspiracy theory smoke. Essentially there were varying degrees within this faction but the underlying theme seemed to be one: Dalli’s disgrace is PN’s gain. Funny that. No matter how much acrimony Dalli had shown to the PN in the past months, he remained a Commissioner nominated by the present Prime Minister. A disgraced commissioner is a disgraced nominee for the country. I had immediately blogged on that point (The Surreal Case of (ex) Commissioner Dalli) and pointed out what seemed to be the obvious, namely that not only was PN’s nominee disgraced but this was compounded by the fact that it was evident to many that this nomination was the result of the party putting its interests before the nation’s.
The We Told You So Brigade
Which brings me to the “we told you so” brigade that numbers among its ranks the heavyweight blogger on the Runs. Daphne was in a way proved right to have pointed out that Dalli was a problem that should never have been exported. With hindsight the nomination of a volatile figure such as Dalli seems counter-productive. The underlying reason for the nomination was very evidently the exportation of an inconvenience (best encapsulated in the phrase “kicked upstairs”) than the result of a search of the most suitable person for the Commission post. In macchiavellian, “The Thick of It” terms, Dalli had already turned into a sort of untouchable outcast politically speaking and by nominating him to the Commissioner’s post this problem would not simply vanish.
The Conspiracy Theory
Inevitably you had the usual suspects hanging on to John Dalli and praying and hoping that this was some weird conspiracy theory by those evil schemers at PN HQ who needed to rid themselves of this evil economist before the actual election run up. Needless to say that if the people in Pietà are really that stupid to hoist a petard under Malta’s reputation abroad simply to get John and his retinue out of the national election equation then really this country is in the pits. You did have what would become the MaltaToday line of journalism (coupled with ONE News and its corollaries) trying hard on the “entrapment” line – nothing to do with Paul Borg Olivier slyly laying an email trap on Silvio but rather the “Evil Tobacco Industry” pulling a smart one like, you know, they do in Hollywood movies. That case remains a weak case – two days on and is fast running dry of ideas. I still have one question in this respect though: What is John Dalli’s level of interest in MaltaToday? I’m not holding my breath for any answers.
So those were the main battle lines. Poor Dalli was doomed in most cases as a nation of sleuths set to work trying to delve deeper into Dalligate. Interestingly the Dalli bomb relegated many many issue to a secondary level. Parliament and its convoluted agenda were momentarily forgotten, no “iggranfat mas-siggu tal-poter” and no calls for early election. Even Joseph Muscat learnt his lesson and announced a “cautious approach” to the matter.
The first indication of the transmogrification of Dalligate into electoral spin came, unsurprisingly from the nationalist corner of the ring. It was inevitable because Labour were still reeling from the obvious problem of guilt by association. For too long now had they courted the disgruntled Dalli and, worse still, they had often hinted that part of their energy plan involved Mr Dalli and his Nordic contacts (oh sweet irony of ironies). The Nationalist party should have been reeling too. As I explained earlier they were the nominating party for BOTH persons involved in the scandal. A Nationalist Commissioner and a Nationalist Deputy Mayor hailing from that great college of upright councillors that is Sliema. So in the first place we got silence. A whole bloody wall of it.
Which left space for the usual noisy bunch. The first indication of a plan, a suggestion, for making use of Dalligate to PN’s advantage came from Daphne Caruana Galizia on her Thursday column. The plan was the tried and tested “guilt by association” and was built very much on what Labour probably feared the moment Dalli’s resignation came out. It was simple really – Dalli, thanks to his recent dealings and appearances was not really a nationalist Commissioner. No siree, Dalli was to be slammed with the worst label in the nationalist political book: he was “Labour”. It’s just like the Franco treatment of late. You know “he deserves to be with Joseph’s skip, dak Mintoffjan”. The equation worked out the logical leaps for you. Dalli is Labour. Dalli worked with Labour. Dalli’s plans for a future Labour government make him even more Labour. So Dalli’s resignation is tantamount to a full blown Labour loss.
Which is in part true and reasonable. From a Maltese point of view and if you were to ignore all the happenings at Commission level (and the fact that the offer, the bribe and the report relate to many things but to nothing Labour) the recent appearances by Commissioner Dalli made him in the least a “non-nationalist” and at the most someone who comfortably beds with Labour. The script was there for all to see and the Runs made sure that regular postings reminding us of Dalli’s recent supposed ills reinforced this theory. Little surprise therefore that after a trip to Brussels for the latest information Malta’s avant-garde investigative journalist returned to produce a programme sans-guests that seemed to have been ghost written by Daphne Caruana Galizia. I needed more than one ‘kerchief to stop the tears from flowing when Lou spoke of his “witnesses” who could place Dalli and Silvio at Peppis between March and May. Really Lou? Your “eyewitnesses”? Pity Daffers blogged about them first.
Slamming Dalli and slamming Labour might be convenient but it misses one major participant. It depends on Lawrence Gonzi admitting that his nominating John Dalli as Commissioner was with hindsight an error of judgement. You see, no matter how pro-Labour Dalli’s slant had begun there is no denying that he was in Brussels (with Silvio) thanks to the kicking upstairs by our PM. It would seem that the pitch by the DCG-Bondi duo was not to be taken up by Lawrence Gonzi:
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi vehemently refused to pass any comments on Commissioner John Dalli’s resignation but said he is not sorry he took the decision to appoint him Commissioner instead of Joe Borg in 2010. Asked to give his reaction on the negative impact on Malta’s image due to Mr Dalli’s resignation, the Prime Minister only said that he did not want to pass judgement. (…) Asked whether, with hindsight, it was a mistake to appoint John Dalli Commissioner, Dr Gonzi defended his decision and said he was not sorry for his decision. (Times)
There you go. No regrets. Which means that the prodigal son was not refuted. Once again I agree with Daphne and believe that this is a statement that Dr Gonzi might come to regret – even on a purely political level. Our Prime Minister has other pressing issues in mind though – first among which is the nomination of a new commissioner.
The New Commissioner
First of all let us simply agree that Labour’s calls for a “consensus commissioner” are ridiculous at this stage. They come from the same school of constitutional law as Franco Debono’s or Robert Musumeci’s. The interesting bit is that notwithstanding the fact that the PN might have learnt its lesson about putting the party’s interests before the nation it might find itself in the unenviable position of being unable to do otherwise.
Why? Simple. Whoever gets sent to Brussels is almost definitely out of the running for next election. Not to mention that whoever goes to Brussels is also out of campaign planning. The most suitable candidate has been tainted by the kangaroo court parliament show. Yes, I’m speaking of Ambassador (emeritus) Richard Cachia Caruana. Should Lawrence Gonzi nominate him as Commissioner (a post he is undoubtedly suited to perform) this would be the end of the nationalist campaign and the opening of an unassailable gap in the polls. Worse still, Cachia Caruana is a crucial behind the scenes participant in PN electoral planning and it would be hard to replace such a player at this stage.
Other suitable candidates from among the party giants could also be considered a “waste” in party terms. A Chris Said or a De Marco for example would be an unhappy wastage for the PN. You could consider an outgoing politician but do you really imagine Austin Gatt in Brussels? The good thing is that he would take Delia with him. Or maybe not. Michael Frendo? Tonio Borg? Possibly. Definitely not Simon Busuttil – too many votes to be lost with him away though again his would be a perfect fit. Which leaves us with the least controversial option. Louis Galea, currently sitting at the Court of Auditors, would slide into the job without so much as a whimper. He’s already been assessed for the suitability of holding a high profile EU post, is already up to date with EU institutional workings and hey, he’s a smart politician, which is not so common these days. In a way Galea’s nomination would lessen the impact of what would otherwise be a case of PN priorities trumping national priorities.
It’s a tough call and there’s much more to write but this post is already too long for my liking. (A call back to the days of my Indy columns). There’s much more to mull about but one thing is for certain… Dalligate is not short of repercussions on the Maltese side of the scandal.