Going further down the gutter

Are we rendering George Orwell obsolete by introducing Maltesespeak instead of doublespeak? The possibility that the Government will fall this evening centres on a simple, age-old fact. A vote will be taken on a motion of confidence – that for the House to go into committee to consider the Finance Minister’s Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure.

Of all the procedural motions the Government can put forward that are motions of confidence, this evening’s money bill is the major one. In every assembly based on the Westminster model, the opposition votes against the government on a motion of confidence. If that were not the case there would be no opposition but a de facto coalition government.

We do not have that, not between the Nationalist and Labour side. We have rarely had it, in fact. The Nationalists know that well enough. They have always, but invariably, voted against the government on a motion of confidence.

It beats the imagination, therefore, why they are suggesting that the Labour Opposition has some sort of obligation to support the Government this evening. It is even more surprising that an old institution like the Chamber of Commerce should implicitly come up with the same argument.

Government, Chamber and others are taking this extraordinary wrong stance because if the Government is defeated this evening the Budget motion will not pass and will have to await the outcome of a general election. In that scenario the Government can do – and be exhorted by the likes of the Chamber to do – a simple thing: call an election within the shortest legally possible time, which is five weeks. Instead the Government signals it is planning to take the full allowable stretch – almost three months. If it does that it would be for purely partisan reasons, to give itself time to recover lost ground.

It would behove the Chamber and others to come out strongly against that. Will it, will they? It would also behove the Chamber to tell its members and other employers to pay the statutory wages increase from January 1.They have to accrue for it, in any case. Will it?

The political game is once again dividing across class lines. Labour is being brought into the confidence motion insanely and unnecessarily. It is precedence and the voting numbers that will count. If there is a voting majority against the Government, it would fall. Full stop. If Franco Debono makes it to the House and keeps his word, if all Opposition MPs make it to the House and none is prevented by sickness, the Government will be as dead as the dodo.

It will become a caretaker government until the election is held. It will publish a legal notice which will allow government spending to be carried out on the same basis as last year. Government revenue will also be kept at that relative level, so the excise duty tax increases will have to be reversed.

It will not be the end of the world, the end of Malta. Five weeks – the minimum – will pass; three months, if Lawrence Gonzi chooses to be partisan to the end, will also pass. No Maltese enterprise will close. Very simply, Malta will live a few weeks of unusual history, being governed by a defeated government which anyhow lost its majority and its moral authority months ago.

What will remain, the general election aside, will be lessons to be learnt.

Could the Prime Minister have behaved differently towards not just Debono but also those of his ministers who have brought the Government into administrative disrepute? Was he weak not to sack one or two ministers and reshuffle out of logical leadership choice, and not because he was forced to do so by the stubbornness of a junior MP, who after all was right on a number of issues?

Was there need for so much bloodletting and for the creation of Maltesespeak as a new form of doublespeak which shoves Maltese politics further down the gutter?

Was there, really?


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