Thursday 06 October 2022

There are much graver issues at stake than some damage to a Minister’s car

This column first appeared in Malta Today

The fuss being made by the Labour Party media about the damage to Justice Minister Owen Bonnici’s car is so absurd that it verges on another one of those satirical posts for which the Bis-serjeta website has made a name for itself.

Has anyone followed up and asked about the Police officer who was injured when the Ministerial car ran over her foot as it tried to drive off? Nope, not really. Who cares about an actual person, after all, who was there in the line of duty? No, it seems that all the PL media seems to care about is an inanimate object – the Minister’s car – as if this special, precious vehicle had actual feelings or could feel pain. I realise they were probably flailing around for a suitable pro-Government angle following the protest on Wednesday evening, but I honestly don’t know how they can publish such reports with a straight face.

“Niżvelaw il-ħsarat fuq il-karozza tal-Ministru Owen Bonnici” (“We reveal the damage caused to Minister Owen Bonnici’s car”) proclaimed iNews on Friday morning. Wow. Hold on to your seats folks. This is major. But then I saw the photos of the traumatised, injured vehicle and frankly, I’ve seen more damage caused by the numerous bumper-to-bumper accidents you see as you drive on our roads on a daily basis. Some additional fuss was made because the car is only three months old, because apparently this administration which is so cavalier with the way it spends our taxes on inaugurating half-finished flyovers, has suddenly developed a conscience about squandering money.

What is at stake here is not damage to a mere car, or the psychological state of mind of politicians who were reportedly shaken and “terrified” by the anger and a few swear words of those who were protesting (at this rate they will be claiming to be suffering from PTSD and require several years of counselling).

No, what is really at stake is Malta as a nation and the path that it intends to take in the future.

There have been so many updates, reports of new arrests, including some wrong information (hastily withdrawn) that at the time of writing this on Friday afternoon I will limit myself to what we know to date. And what we definitely know, what most people are feeling in their bones, is that this cannot go on. Something has got to give, and I’m not just talking about a breakthrough and resolution of the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder investigation. That is definitely crucial in order for justice to be served and to ensure that all those responsible are behind bars, no matter who they are. The very real possibility that whoever masterminded and financed the assassination has close connections to the powers-that-be, has settled on the country like a very dark cloud of disturbing unease and it will not be shaken off until we have some real answers. Beyond naming the murder suspects, however, we also need a breakthrough in other areas.

We need a different way of doing things when it comes to the uncomfortable and potentially dangerous connection which political parties have always had with powerful, ruthless businessmen whose number one priority has always been to cosy up to those in power in order to get what they want.

A cursory glance at the big names which have done so well under Labour will reveal that they are many of the same names which did pretty well, thank you very much, under successive PN Governments. Of course, some new kids on the block have also emerged, who have rocketed their way up to the top of the list, with their tentacles seemingly touching every major project. But business is business, and greedy entrepreneurs who see a new opportunity to make even more money, will always try to ingratiate themselves with politicians who, in turn, desperately need those magic Euros to finance their campaigns and get themselves elected. It is a mutually rewarding relationship, except for those who have next to nothing to gain from all this coziness, namely us, the little people. All we get out of it is towering building monstrosities which block out our air and light, shoddy workmanship which leads to our homes caving in, and roads built to accommodate major developments with little thought to pedestrians who might like to have a pavement to walk on, or perhaps even a culvert or two for when it rains.

When some people hear the word corruption it often remains lingering in the air like an abstract thought, and not everyone can actually pick it out of the air and pin it firmly to the ground, in order to be able to relate it to their own lives. “Everyone is corrupt” we tell ourselves consolingly, and resign ourselves to the fact that it is part and parcel of the political game; a game as old as time.

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. You need a favour? Let me see what I can do, and then I will call in that favour when the time comes. You keep me happy, I will ensure you are kept in power. “OK xbin, tajjeb? Mela irranġajna. Tieħux ħsieb, ħalli f’idejja, naħseb fik.” They are the phrases and it is the language of those who know, and have always known, how to slither around the system, how to make things work in their favour and how to bypass all that irritating red tape and bureaucracy of obtaining permits and doing things by the book.

Perhaps what has left people gasping is not so much that Labour has fallen into the same trap which the PN had fallen into, but that it has happened so quickly and that it so brazen and in your face. Maybe it is because the PN era came before the proliferation of social media, or maybe because the PN’s dirty dealings were not as heavily scrutinised as they should have been at the time. But what is sure is that even if we were to indulge in a spout of “what about-ism”, the sheer volume and speed with which the Muscat administration has whored itself out to big business has out-PN’d the PN Itself.

Finally, it goes without saying that not all businessmen are shady and corrupt; but those who are usually have murky associates willing to do just about anything to safeguard their hefty interests. Not all businessmen are dirty and are dabbling in illegal trade, but those that are, are dirty indeed. When they have close, easy access to politicians, it is not only unethical but downright risky, exposing our elected representatives and the country to the type of deplorable situation we are facing today.

In the light of all this, I would say that a few dents and scratches on a car and a Minister who was left shaken by the anger of protestors is chicken feed in comparison.

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