This column first appeared in Malta Today
I am always bemused by those who defend politicians to the hilt, no matter how shamelessly they have acted. What really leaves me gobsmacked, however, is when someone who has resigned for wrongdoing is then given “something else” behind the scenes, to keeps those paycheques coming in…and, unbelievably, people still defend this behaviour.
The 80k package to Konrad Mizzi is a case in point. He was finally made to resign from his post as Tourism Minister (although he is still receiving an income as a backbencher). But instead of doing like most of us and forging his own path, what happens? He is given a sweet pay-off to act as a consultant with the Malta Tourism Authority. The contract with the MTA was signed a mere two weeks after his forced resignation. I don’t know what is more galling: the amount of money involved (our money if you please), the underhandedness of it all, or the blatant attempt to take us all for fools (you see he resigned, happy now?). It’s probably a mixture of all three.
I’m sure there are many ordinary people reading this who have lost their jobs at one point or another, but I doubt many of you got a friendly pat on the back, and a winked reassurance not to worry because something even more lucrative was coming your way. That doesn’t even happen with redundancy, which is not the employee’s fault, let alone when someone is fired, which is what a forced resignation basically is. Usually, people who have been fired find it very difficult to get another job because they can forget about getting a good reference. The audacity of whoever offered him the consultancy (Muscat, by any chance?) is breathtaking. But the recipient of the consultancy is equally brazen. I mean seriously, Konrad, don’t you feel the least bit of guilt for the damage you caused to the nation’s reputation? Did it not occur to you that maybe, just maybe, you should simply Exit, Stage Left, and go back into private industry rather than try to sponge off the public payroll by hook or by crook?
Despite what many might believe, Konrad is not indispensable. No one is that amazing that they cannot be replaced. There are many qualified, intelligent people in this country who can give an important, valid contribution as consultants to the tourism sector. And yet, some of the comments underneath the story which exposed the contract make it seem like Mizzi was a rare species who needs to be protected because he was propping tourism up single-handedly.
As if the public was not outraged enough by this news, Mizzi was also nominated by Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne to head the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) delegation. The Opposition rightly objected and Robert Abela found that he had to do some fancy footwork as he back-pedalled on both these decisions, revoking first the tourism consultancy and then withdrawing the OSCE nomination. It is mind-boggling that after what seemed like a good fresh start, Abela was already going to flounder and revert back to the unethical practices of his predecessor. Sure we can be somewhat relieved that he made a couple of U-turns, but it is disquieting that it has not yet sunk in just how wrong and unacceptable it is to appoint Konrad to any post.
For a brief moment the country was breathing somewhat easier when Abela took over the reins and took certain decisive moves which went a long way to defuse the national tension. In quick succession he did what had to be done to show everyone he meant business: making several important changes to his Cabinet and asking for important resignations, namely that of Neville Gafa, the Police Commissioner and of Justyne Caruana after the scandal broke out involving her husband Silvio Valletta’s relationship with murder suspect Yorgen Fenech.
But it says a lot about how jaded and cynical the national psyche is that, after the shenanigans we have witnessed over these last few years, so many people were not surprised about the re-emergence of Konrad Mizzi. It shows just how very difficult or next to impossible it has become to take anything at face value and that we are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. The erosion of trust is 100% complete. Those who had high hopes that this time, things would be different had a bucket of ice cold water thrown on them as they realised that no, it will never be different and we cannot stop being vigilant for one minute because if we are lulled into a false sense of security, our own Government will always try to pull a fast one on us.
As if to confirm this, we also learned this week that the Wild Birds Regulation Unit has been taken away from the Environment Ministry (where it belongs by law) and placed under the Gozo Ministry. And, surprise, surprise, the Gozo Ministry is now in the hands of Clint Camilleri, yes that’s right, the politician who happens to be a hunter himself. In presenting its judicial protest on Wednesday, Birdlife pointed out that, “this is a vote-catching decision taken for no other reason than to appease the hunting and trapping lobby.”
Meanwhile, to shoot our stress levels even higher, the Central Link Project goes on unabated, destroying protected trees and eradicating farmland forever. Wied Qirda is virtually being destroyed giving a twisted irony to its name (Qirda means devastation) with the construction of a totally unnecessary bridge for which no permit has been issued.
It feels like a never-ending battle, and it is almost impossible to relax in the face of all this.
Does our new PM appreciate the importance of preserving nature at all? Does he and all those politicians, including Mr “I hate trees” himself Ian Borg, even care that their own young children will be facing a Malta in the near future which is lined with concrete, tarmac and wide roads, but scarcely any greenery? I find it unfathomable that those with young families who are making such decisions do not think about what kind of legacy they are leaving behind.
I wonder what they plan to tell their kids when they ask to go on a Sunday picnic. “Uhm sorry, not sure there are any patches left for a picnic. But look! Isn’t that a beautiful flyover?”.