Spot the difference
Lawrence Gonzi tried to whip us up into a frenzy of indignation over Anġlu Farrugia’s comments about Labour being close to big business. This story was the ‘most serious’ news item of the electoral campaign, the Prime Minister thundered, before urging journalists to investigate further – in much the same way you would urge a dog to fetch a bone. Most of the people listening politely stifled a yawn and carried on playing Farmville on their smartphones or sharing Simon Busuttil memes on Facebook.
The fact that the Prime Minister’s declaration hardly caused a ripple or that it didn’t have journalists falling over their feet to look into it, is not due to a lack of journalistic zeal. It’s due to the fact that this intimate relationship of political parties with big business has (unfortunately) become no news.
We know that Labour is in bed with big business. It’s rather impossible to ignore the sound of mutual pleasuring coming our way from Mile End headquarters. Unless Joseph Muscat has discovered the oil reserves that Joe Mizzi was always going on about, or found a pot of gold buried under the geraniums in the garden at Labour headquarters, there is simply no way the Labour Party could fund such a spectacularly flawless electoral campaign, without massive donations.
The billboards that are changed more often than Rihanna changes hairstyles, the mega-events, the ads prominently placed in the print and online media (As an aside – I’m loving the ‘Focus’ ads PN-PL tit-for-tat) – all these things cost money, loads of it.
And we may all be suffering from an extreme bout of pre-electoral gullibility, but even if we had to carry out a casual back-of-the-envelope calculation, we’d figure out that the PL needs more funds than that coughed up by the thousands of party faithful at a million coffee mornings and dinner dances.
Even if the Labour Party has imposed extreme austerity measures for these past five years, it is highly unlikely that the party has amassed enough savings to be able to pay for this campaign spendorama. You only have to join the big old obvious donation dots to come to the conclusion that businesses are bankrolling Labour.
There is nothing wrong with offering financial support to the political party or cause one supports. However, if there is no transparency as to the origin and extent of donations, the public will not be in a position to assess if the donation was purely an expression of support or a way of securing favourable treatment from the party receiving the money.
Very simply put, if Mr Contractor donates a couple of million euros to a political party which is elected to government, that donation should be made known to the public. Then if we see that doors open magically for Mr Contractor, that his iffy development applications are all approved and that he wins several tenders despite placing inferior bids, we can all reach our own conclusions as to whether Mr Contractor was effectively ‘buying’ his favourable treatment.
Now the Prime Minister is having a fit of the vapours because the scenario described above is probably playing itself out within the Labour camp. He continues to be ‘shocked’ by the fact that people are more worked up about the Eurovision than Labour’s cosying up to big businesses.
Well, the blame for this (unfortunate) lack of indignation lies squarely on the Prime Minister’s shoulders. For years, it was the Nationalist Party which was cuddling up to certain contractors – the country still bears the environmental scars because of these special relationships.
When there were calls from Alternattiva Demokratika for his government to legislate to regulate the party financing, the Prime Minister ignored them.
When Franco Debono spoke out about legislation, the Prime Minister dismissed him as irrelevant.
When a Nationalist Party senior official cruised the Mediterranean with a prominent contractor, Gonzi didn’t seem to find anything wrong.
When PN secretary Paul Borg Olivier says the PN has ‘barter arrangements’ with certain businesses, the Prime Minister didn’t bat an eyelid.
So the Prime Minister will have to pardon us if we’re not exactly impressed with his newly-discovered zeal for transparency as to the Opposition’s finances (though never the PN’s). His inaction in this field has led the public to become nearly totally inured to Big Business being in bed with the PN and the PL.
Spare us the hysterical hand-wringing because it’s not the PN’s turn to be sponsored.