Politics of the bizarre

The politics of small communities tend to have a Byzantine quality. Malta's bar-oque politics have much more than that. Besides being complicated, they are capable of defying comprehension. The more brazen politicians have no qualms in making truth stand on its head each time it suits them.

What is bizarre about all this is not that such politicians manage to keep a straight face. The astonishing thing is that they expect to be taken seriously when the audience is manifestly stupefied by their folly.

It is a fact of life that Malta's economy has fallen on bad times. For 20 consecutive years, the government has spent more than it raised in taxation. It made the difference by borrowing and by upstaging tax and tariff levels.

For a couple of months or so of every year, Malta has been living on credit; not to fund productive capital investment but to maintain an overmanned public sector, inclusive of a bevy of autonomous agencies, and to service its national debt. Under the Nationalist Administration, Malta became addicted to the money-no-problem drug.

Yet, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi has had no hesitation in making repeated claims that the economy was "on track" under the guidance of a safe pair of hands.

Malta is up to its eyes in debt, which is fast approximating _.5 billion, and flying in the face of the Maastricht criteria and the invigilators at the European Commission.

How can one sell this situation to businessmen who have been feeling the pinch and whose firms are up against the wall? How could one convince the numerous heads of household who have been pushed down to, or below, the poverty line, as the threat of loss of jobs, higher taxation and rising costs have continued to take their toll.

The situation is far grimmer than it appears at first sight. Since the Nationalist government won the last general election by a cat's whisker, it seems to have lost its bearings. There are those who think it is suffering from creeping paralysis. For reasons that defy explanation, it has shied away from taking the bull by the horns on repeated occasions when its duty was to lead from the front.

More than a year has frittered away since the last general election, yet the electorate is none the wiser about the dark mysteries of the Mistra affair, which continues to be under investigation. The festering sore that goes by the name of Mepa has continued to exhaust the Maltese social fabric until it struck the Ba?rija reef.

Malta's Parliament, as well as the media, are still in the dark about the malodorous discoveries at the VAT Department and at MIT, although investigations were launched many months ago. Much less do they know whether any culprits have been held to be accountable.

Harassed citizens are seeing with their own eyes the government's inability to meet in due time its commitments to medicine importers and other major contractors, running into millions of euros.

The health sector has fallen, in parts, on bad times and is not delivering up to the standards of which it was once proud.

To cap it all, we are now in a situation where the government has defaulted in its obligation to keep the Public Service Commission in being. The Constitution makes special provision for the PSC, yet the terms of appointment of the commission's members lapsed on June 12 of this year and their seats have been vacant ever since.

Is this a case of sleeping dogs letting sleeping dogs lie? If so, isn't it time for Parliament and the media to make a combined effort to save Malta from the grip of paralysis?


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