May a coxwain carp about the sea?
I am highly bemused by the apparently independent media consensus on addressing rather lightly some very serious issues. Such as when the Prime Minister's Office reported to the police, alleged bribes - with regard to the privatisation of the super yacht facilities - a good eight months after they were brought to the attention of Castille.
This while, at the same time, Lawrence Gonzi declares on national television that when a member of Parliament or minister receives such allegations on corruption they should be reported immediately to the police. The Prime Minister stated this with such command and moral confidence that you start wondering whether this is the same person leading a party in government sinking in a quagmire of bad governance. Words and deeds cannot be farther apart. But the government plods on as though it is normal to have the Prime Minister say one thing but practise another.
As rightly pointed out in the leader of this newspaper on June 4 "...the number of cases brought up this year is enough to justify a fully-fledged national discussion on ways to, first, raise greater alertness to possibilities of corruption at all levels of public administration and, second, to strengthen the mechanisms already in place to check it in time".
But, the editorial went on, "it is somewhat surprising that the Labour Party's set of proposals to fight corruption has generated so little national interest and so little analysis... such lack of interest is glaring when considering that national perception of corruption has increased, not decreased". I am not so stunned. All this brings me to the question on how the national debate agenda is set. Who decides what should be given prominence and what should be ignored. And, most importantly, in whose interest is this done?
Is the independent media aware that a lot of people are in a strop with politics as it is done? That many want an end to the current political state of play: this kind of adversarial politics, where the government is only spurred to take some form of action when the opposition alleges corruption? Or that the government hides and fudges issues so as not to prove the opposition right when it points out at wrongdoing? It is happening all the time. It is a childish albeit expensive game and the Nationalist Party keeps showing that there will be no going back from it.
The government has had this insouciant attitude towards bad governance for years on end; it has become a way of life for some. And, yet, a big fuss is made about some declaration made by a Labour MP or other expressing a personal opinion, transgressing the party line. It makes the front pages - and we are speaking here about the line of a party in opposition - while the big fouls committed by ministers are regarded rather flippantly. Even though as taxpayers we are funding the wrong-doing of the latter and certainly not the statements made by a member of the opposition. It is up to the electorate to vote in or vote out MPs with whom one agrees or disagrees but that same electorate has no choice on whether to pay or not for the bad governance of ministers and their hangers on.
For many years and until last October, the Greek government played this game too. When sociologist Jean Ziegler was asked how he interprets the Greek crisis, he replied that the previous "Karamanlis right-wing government... was a machine for systematically pillaging the country's resources... the scandalous end-result of all this is that the onus of paying heavily for the state's quasi-bankruptcy now falls on the Greek people, on Greek workers..."
In an interview with the BBC last December, new Prime Minister George Papandreou said that "systematic corruption and clientelism - paying money for political favours - had created a sense of a lack of rule of law in Greece... we hope to halve bureaucracy costs by cutting corruption and red tape".
Ordinary people are now made to repay the debts run by the powerful and, at the same time, see the dismantling of certain public services and social welfare.
That's not very different from where we are. But how often do we hear and read signs of warning other than from the Labour side? Then again, may we complain about this? As Enoch Powell famously wrote, "for a politician to complain about the press is like a ship's captain complaining about the sea". But, at least, could someone elucidate on how certain stories could be considered unimportant? And it is not just about reporting to the police a full eight months after accusations of corruption reached the Prime Minister's Office. It is also about, for instance, the opposition's concern about the swelling of the public debt, which is met with press releases and reports on anything but explanations on the dire fiscal situation.
When will an effort be made to speak up in the name of the citizens footing the national bill for bad governance? I won't hold my breath.
Dr Dalli is a Labour member of Parliament.