Presidencies and other P-words

Photo: Kevin Abela, DOI

Photo: Kevin Abela, DOI

As the long-awaited Malta EU presidency has turned Valletta into a hive of police activity right as I type this – to a ridiculous degree, with many of the few parking areas available cordoned off, traffic jams galore and pedestrians shepherded along as they go about their business, for all the world as though we were in some state of emergency – the world’s press is busy crying foul, with reports calling us out on our tax exemption schemes, long a source of contention for other EU members. 

Tax havens are sexy – well, for a particular type of people, anyway. And reports outing said havens tend to generate more clicks. But, now that we have the collective eye of the international press on us, it is worth reminding visiting journos that there are numerous other ethical reasons why, perhaps, Malta’s presidency needs to be looked at with a fine toothcomb during the upcoming six months.

Because yes, something is rotten in this “smallest island state” that will be in a position to influence EU agenda at a particularly delicate time, when issues like Brexit and migration are expected to take the forefront.

This is the same country where the buck never stops with the Prime Minister. Remember Panamagate anyone? The international scandal that brought so many powers-that-be to their knees? Abroad, that is, because in Malta such scandals are tweeted to oblivion by a government that clearly never got the hang of concepts such as ‘honorouble resignations’ back in secondary school.

In Malta, our government took to a Twitter-based PR campaign to fight the fall-out, studiously avoided the ‘R’ word and promptly gave out bonuses to those implicated

It’s been months since a worrying amount of key government people were implicated in the Panama revelations. In the rest of the world, we had resignations from Spanish minister Jose Manuel Soria; the Prime Minister of Iceland; a FIFA committee member; the editor of one of Hong Kong’s leading media houses; the CEO of an Austrian bank. The list continues. In Malta, our government took to a Twitter-based PR campaign to fight the fall-out, studiously avoided the ‘R’ word and promptly gave out bonuses to those implicated. Ok, not quite – but that’s what retaining Konrad Mizzi as a ‘minister within the OPM’ felt like.

Which brings us neatly to the corruption issue. This is also the same country where resigned shrugs have replaced the cries of indignation that occur over the rest of the EU whenever some fresh case of corruption is uncovered. That is how much we’ve gotten used to kickbacks and nepotism being part of the status quo. The appointment of too many key professional personnel within the country can be traced back to a series of questionable connections. Conflict of interest is something that only applies to others, and no-one bats much of an eyelid nowadays. It doesn’t take too long for voters to become jaded.

Malta is also that place where secularism is nothing but a political tool, a taste of which is doled out to us plebs every so often depending on voting needs. Where we’ve made beautiful strides in same sex civil rights – happy that someone in Castille figured out that this is an important voter base, and I don’t care much about the motivation behind said civil rights, as long as they happen – and yet women’s rights remain very much on the backburner, just in case the Church shakes its head and vetoes a PL heaven. Just look at the way the whole morning after pill farce was handled. Suffice it to say that it’s no thanks to the (majority male) members of parliament that, today, Maltese women can actually buy the blessed thing with no hassle.

Oh yeah, and forget achieving anything without galvanising at least 70% of the island into a protest. Vide the morning after pill example, the Manoel Island access debate and so boringly forth. It’s only when government can actually see the amount of votes a particular issue is likely to lose him that getting off its metaphorical butt and actually governing becomes an option.

And, finally, Malta is also that same country where everyone closes an eye to poverty, as long as it’s not the lives of the white locals – and I use the descriptor advisedly – that are on the line. We closed off 2016 with the death of a homeless Somali migrant who had made the area under the Marsa bridge his ‘home’. Everyday, we continue exploiting the labour of migrants for a ridiculously low wage, without any compunction. And we still don’t have the faintest how to humanely deal with the migrant issue longterm (hint – treat them like people, as opposed to numbers).

Given this dismal track record in our own country, it is anyone’s guess as to what kind of pig’s meal we’ll be serving when it comes to shaping EU policies across the board. So, by all means, do remind everyone that our tax laws are not quite in the spirit of ‘economic harmony’ that forms the basis of the EU. But please, let’s not forget the other, less sexy, stuff that’s plaguing this island. It tends to affect more human lives on a daily basis. 


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