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What on Franco has Gonzi done?

Lunchtime last Wednesday, I was casually asked how I reckoned Franco Debono would vote later that evening. I haven’t spoken to Debono in weeks and whenever I do, it’s never about life on the backbench, so my answer I suppose was what you’d call a wild guess.

No one really got political mileage out of what happened last Wednesday – least of all Franco Debono
- Michela Spiteri

I told the people I was having lunch with that he’d vote for the motion and against the government. My reply was met with raised eyebrows and a general feeling of disbelief, so strong that if money was at stake and we were placing bets, I’d have probably lost my nerve and chickened out at the eleventh hour.

Reading the papers in the days that followed, I now think I may have been the only person who wasn’t surprised that Debono voted the way he did. And that is probably the most surprising and worrying part of this whole political crisis.

Not just how it was mishandled and mismanaged by the Prime Minister, but more signific-antly how it was misread and eventually misunderstood by the government, the media and most everyone it seems.

If we were to compare Debono to someone who has just committed suicide and perhaps the comparison is quite apt, apart from the timing (he did that a while ago), Debono would certainly not fall into the category of people who take their life silently, without forewarning and who leave nothing but a discreet note behind when it’s far too late. That’s hardly his style.

Quite the opposite. Debono, true to his boy-who-cried-wolf tendencies and tactics, had long been voicing his suicide plan. If it were written down, it would come as a power-point presentation, with extra large font and even be illustrated. Yes, the writing was on the wall, in Braille if you like. It was clear, even to a blind man.

If he’s said it once, he’s said it a thousand times. This was not a case of ‘Gonzi ought to have seen this coming’. This was most definitely a case of ‘Gonzi should have known better’.

Gonzi knew this would happen because Debono told him so, repeatedly, every chance he got. Which means one of three things – Gonzi couldn’t care less, Gonzi couldn’t care less, Gonzi couldn’t care less. Possibly because he wanted to play a game of political brinkmanship with Debono, for reasons he knows best.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the people were more interested in the assurance that the US government did not know about the attacks and could not have prevented them, than they were in the speeches and fancy rhetoric that followed. Assuring someone that you will do everything possible to prevent a future terrorist attack doesn’t really wash when it suddenly transpires that you had been forewarnedand so, technically, could have been forearmed.

The same applies here. You see, it’s all very well to say that Debono forced Carm Mifsud Bonnici to resign, but equally true is that Gonzi did that all by himself. Or didn’t care enough about theoutcome and consequenceseither way.

You may think of Debono as Ahmed the suicide bomber who has just delivered a fatal blow to the Nationalist Party, as Judas Iscariot who would sell his own mother down the river (I hardly think so), or a megalomaniac with an added bonus persecution mania who wants to be seen and heard at any cost.

Still the fact remains that what happened last week was not really about Debono. Everyone is so busy slagging Debono off and paying him lots of attention on Facebook, they’ve let the other, far more blameworthy miscreant, offthe hook.

Gonzi could easily have prevented Mifsud Bonnici’s resignation if he really wanted to. Naturally Debono is the most attractive scapegoat, the proverbial dog with the bad name, so he’s a much easier target than anyone else.

But had Gonzi taken heed of Debono and his government’s one-seat majority and asked Mifsud Bonnici to step down and assume a different portfolio and brief, Agriculture for instance, none of this might have happened and Mifsud Bonnici may still be standing today.

Would that have been tantamount to pandering to Debono’s whims and giving in to blackmail? Hardly. Even so, when you have a one-seat majority, you don’t really have the luxury of playing Russian roulette, of riding roughshod over your MP’s nilly willy. Debono’s biggest gripe was that ministers were never made accountable – that the transport and justice ministries had all but imploded and exploded in our faces and yet the Prime Minster seemed content to let the ministers responsible stay.

Too many things had gone wrong with the Justice and Home Affairs portfolio and keepingMifsud Bonnici there, elevating him to Leader of the House with a censure motion dangling over his head, while repeatedly ignoring Debono’s many valid contributions, became almost embarrassing and painful to watch.

It was becoming increasingly and glaringly obvious to all that Gonzi was content to smile for the camera and perpetuate the pathological political complacency that is rife. Equally obvious is that there are many more where Debono came from – other MPs who would like nothing more than to stick it to the man.

They do not, for the simple reason, that to do what Debono did, in actual fact, does not take balls. It takes complete political self-annihilation. No one really got political mileage out of what happened last Wednesday – least ofall Debono.

It was probably Mifsud Bonnici who got the most kudos in the end. He may henceforth be remembered as Malta’s political martyr and not for the gross negligence that was rampant under his watch.

Debono burned his immediate political bridges long ago. His mission this year has been one – political ministerial accountability. This may be the only time in the history of Maltese politics that a minister was held directly accountable.

But everyone is so used to back scratching, so concerned with party loyalty, they fail to appreciate that that shouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

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