The long road to redemption
The spate of arraignments made recently in connection with two magisterial inquiries into allegations of kickbacks involving people at the highest echelons of power, businessmen and professionals is just the last in a series of chapters of what is fast becoming the biggest tragedy hitting the Maltese Islands since the turn of the century. Politicians seem to be edging closer to the eye of the storm, to the surprise of some but not many. The thick black clouds obfuscating people’s trust in the institutions appeared on the horizon years ago, but the majority were caught up in the frenzy of making hay while the sun shone.
Labour’s victory in the 2013 general election was supposed to herald a fresh impetus for the country after 25 years of nearly uninterrupted Nationalist-led administrations, whose final years were characterised by apathy, arrogance and corruption scandals.
Eight years down the line, however, Malta’s level of governance has gone down to the worse levels since Independence. One after the other all of the country’s institutions have been rocked by huge scandals. It started off with the Café Premier and Gaffarena scandal which had prompted a root and branch reform of the defunct Lands Department. Though at the time the government could have been given the benefit of the doubt for being naïve, what followed left little doubt that this was just a taste of what lay in store. The Panama Papers revelations, the political interference in the police force and the army, and the manner in which State watchdogs like the anti-money laundering agency (FIAU) were muzzled were just the start. The Planning Authority, the Malta Financial Services Authority as well as the gaming watchdog were also in the news for the wrong reasons, with allegation surrounding the top brass. Even the judiciary was under a dark cloud in the wake of the blatant way in which Labour-leaning and in certain case party officials were handpicked for magistrates and judges. We have now reached a stage whereby even the independent media has been rocked by scandal, following the arraignment of two former managing directors of the publishers of Times of Malta.
Indeed, this is a textbook case of State capture. What is even more baffling is that such coup happened in an EU member state by a perverse coalition of corrupt politicians, businessmen and public officials whose common denominator was personal illicit gain, greed and a complete disregard to the rule of law.
Unfortunately, it was only after the brutal assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 that many were brought to their senses. As months roll by the focus is inching closer to the political establishment, with allegations that members of Cabinet have been involving in serious crime. Though the Prime Minister has time and time again taken solace by saying that these arraignments are testament to fully fledged functioning institutions, we beg to differ. Were it not for the brutal murder of a journalist, the perseverance of former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil to trigger two magisterial inquiries in the faced of ridicule from the government side, and the determination of civil society, none of this would have happened. Another worrying indicator is that investigations seem to be drawing blanks, to the point that the police are increasingly becoming reliable on presidential pardons. Such option should be a last resort as it is tantamount to an admission of failure by the law and enforcement agencies and a means to appease and let criminals off the hook.
Now more than ever, Malta faces an uphill struggle to restore its reputation locally and abroad. Oscar Wilde’s famous quote – “we know the price of everything but the value of nothing” perfectly fits the prevalent mentality which brought us down this slippery slope. But that is an issue which deserves a separate editorial on its own.