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Tonio Borg can walk tall

Whatever many people say and think about politicians, to be one you have at times to be a glutton for punishment. They are the butt of jokes, objects of derision and targets of suspicion.

Tonio Borg, like all honest men and women, should not lose much sleep about this sudden turn of events
- Lino Spiteri

The onslaught comes from three quarters – from sections of the public, from most of the opposition, and from within their own party. No, being in politics is not exactly like being a member of a perfumed garden. Dirt is all over the place.

Deputy Prime Minister Tonio Borg is the latest politician to discover this at first hand. Nominated by the Prime Minister to succeed John Dalli as Malta’s European Commissioner, this opened a can of worms for him.

His personal, social and religious beliefs and expression of them immediately came under scrutiny. In some regards he is not the most liberal of MPs.

Some of his social views raised a few eyebrows among those who forget that we are all entitled to stand by what we believe. It is forecast that a section of the Members of the European Parliament, who have to endorse Borg’s nomination, will grill him to near toast. It is being speculated that he might not be found to pass muster and will be rejected.

I doubt that a majority of MEPs could be as narrow in their views as to expect commissioners to be paragons of virtue according to their specific book. There might be some MEPs who do not back Borg, but the majority probably will. Presumably they will take into account the fact that his nomination has bi-partisan backing in Malta, a rare situation.

Now, out of the blue, a fresh charge has been levelled at Borg. It is being suggested that he may have been persuaded with a substantial monetary gift to give a residential permit to an alien considered to be undesirable.

Borg was shocked and hurt by the allegation. I do not blame him. I do not believe there is the slightest hint of truth in it.

Over the years I have known him in Parliament and since I left politics in 1998, I always felt he was as straight as can be. The only naughtiness about him is his acute sense of humour, which at one time was egging him on to produce a collection of parliamentary anecdotes.

Irrespective of what I think there is the fact that, in honesty terms, his ministerial career has always been beyond reproach. There was never the slightest whisper of doubt over his credentials, not even in the dirtiest part of the political track. I have little doubt that the allegation will be dropped.

And yet, such are the workings of our odorous garden that damage has been done. There are already those who repeat the allegation by word of mouth. I encountered that personally, and was called a fool to stand by my assessment of the Deputy Prime Minister. No matter how clean he is, some of the dirt thrown at him will stick. Such is the nature of politics.

It is difficult to conclude who spun the yarn in the first place, basing the allegation on a state of fact regarding a residency permit given in the context of the beneficiary being married to a citizen of the EU. Borg has suggested that it originated from those who do not want him to become a Commissioner. It is not easy to see who they might be. But every web has its spider.

I hope the non-issue will blow over and allow Borg the enjoyment of his untarnished dignity. But there are lessons to be learned from it. I suggest that our whole political class should introvert to see what its members have been doing wrong over the years and what they are doing wrong now.

That wrong lies in the readiness with which rumours are started and accusations made by politicians against each other. That happens across parties as well as from opposite ends.

At times it is a question of saying “God protect me from my friends”. At others it is a question of wondering how enemies could stoop so low. Those of us who have wended their way through politics know what I’m talking about.

There are decent men and women among our politicians. There always were. Yet, all too often, not decent enough to raise their voice to still raucous comrades or others who use the poison of the sibilant whisper to damage opponents, within or outside their parties.

Politics should be seen as a service. Those who use it for their own end expose themselves by their actions. Others who seek to make corrupt profit out of their position of trust and influence should be exposed. Not only by investigative journalists but also from within their own class.

Borg, like all honest men and women, should not lose much sleep about this sudden turn of events. His greatest relief lies in the fact that he can look himself in the eye in the mirror of his conscience and not be shamed.

The shame lies with the perpetrators of the allegations against him.

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