Corruption: on losing one’s dignity

Without any doubt, at the point of writing this commentary, the most shocking story hitting us is the continuously developing story hinted at on Easter by journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and the subsequent developments.

The appalling allegations being made by Caruana Galizia, accompanied by a mine of detailed information given by a journalist to substantiate these allegations, are too well known to need repeating here. Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri are repeatedly and strongly denying all the allegations made by her and have instituted a number of libel suits. All of them asked that the libel cases be heard with urgency.

But given that there will probably be an election in July or November, it is very unlikely that before the election there will be a court decision on this case. Libel cases do not put people’s minds to rest. People’s minds would have been put to rest only if the Prime Minister had set up an independent inquiry headed by three judges. This is what government did when allegations were levelled at the offshore company Capital One. Since this is much more serious, why has the enquiry been left in the hands of one magistrate? The Prime Minister should also take the necessary legislative measures to publish the report of the FIAU, Malta’s institution fighting money laundering, on the Panama Papers scandal. It is also strange that the Prime Minister instructed the Police Commissioner (who was enjoying a fenkata in the midst of all developments) to involve an inquiring magistrate about two hours after Net TV showed the owner of Pilatus Bank leaving the premises late at night with two large suitcases.

One notes that since Caruana Galizia last year broke the story about the Panama companies, none of the basic elements of the story were proven wrong. On the other hand, Mizzi and Schembri have changed their version of the story several times. Schembri refused to appear before the PANA Committee. Following Mizzi’s participation, chairman Werner Langen said that the situation “looks like a textbook case of money laundering”. Moreover, no one believes that Brian Tonna owned Egrant.

The attitude of passive resignation plays into the hands of those who want to abuse Maltese society

A development of significance is last January’s request to the Council of Europe by Transparency International, the world’s largest anti-corruption group. It asked the Council to investigate the serious allegations reported by the European Stability Initiative (ESI) on corruption at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). ESI stated that Azerbaijan had transferred huge sums of money to key parliamentarians to unduly influence the Council of Europe votes on human rights issues.

By today there will possibly be other developments. So I reserve my comments on the substance of the case to a later date. However, I comment about some of the reactions I’ve heard about these reports.

One reaction is that of passive resignation. Some people, while accepting that at this stage one should not expect the level of proof demanded by a criminal court, added that, “even if solid proof is given nothing will change as those in power do not care.” People who reason out this way must have lost all hope in their abilities as well as in Maltese society.

This attitude of passive resignation plays into the hands of those who want to abuse Maltese society and its people. Things remain the same only if those who are on the side of what is right remain passive. If people fight for their rights, things will change.

Then there are the cynics. They say that “All politicians are corrupt.” This is not true. Most politicians on different sides of the political divide are honest people truly motivated by a sense of service. All are duty bound to show their mettle and prove their worth in these difficult times. It is their duty to discriminate between those who are in politics animus serviendi (to serve) and those who are in the job animus mangiandi (to benefit unlawfully).

Then there are Pilate’s disciples. They are experts in washing their hands. Time will tell who these are in the police corps, the Office of the Attorney General, MFSA, the Accountancy Board, FIAU and the Institute of Accountants, to name just a few institutions which one expects to pull their weight.

Then there are the evil Machiavellians. “U ijja, b’daqshekk (it does not matter). They get their commissions but we are making more money than we did before. Live and let live. A little corruption never hurt anyone.”

I borrow my final words from Pope Francis. In a homily in November 2013 he decried corruption. Francis said that the corrupt should be tied to a rock and thrown into the sea. He added that those who earned through bribes or corrupt practices had “lost their dignity”, and fed their children “unclean bread”. Francis said that the corrupt have lost their dignity by taking bribes.

In March of 2015 he visited Scampia, an impoverished neighbourhood close to Naples.

“How much corruption there is in the world! It is a word that if we study it a bit, is bad, no? Because corruption is a dirty thing! If we find a dead animal and it’s corrupted, it’s ugly. But it also ‘stinks’, corruption ‘stinks’! A corrupt society stinks! A Christian who allows corruption to enter is not Christian, they stink! Got It?”

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