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A long shadow has been cast - Petra Caruana Dingli

The year began with yet another report on Malta by a major international current affairs programme, BBC’s Newsnight. The show was aired on mainstream British television last week, with millions of viewers.

Unfortunately, Malta looked bad. As it did last Thursday in a discussion programme on Italy’s RAI and on German television last month, and on so many other shows since Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder in October. There have been prizes, awards, tributes to her work and countless speeches, outside of Malta. The flood shows no sign of abating yet.

Joseph Muscat described Daphne’s murder as a “wake-up call … to understand that everyone is watching us”. He said to Newsnight’s John Sweeney: “A long shadow has been cast on us.” Or, more bluntly, a can of Maltese worms has been opened.

A clear pattern has emerged in the coverage, with most reporters driven by a similar line of questioning. The government looks uncomfortable in these interviews but surely nobody can honestly still believe that it is all contrived by the Opposition’s control room, which is currently so uninspiring that it can hardly string an interesting or credible statement together. Having taken a long, hard look at Malta, the international press has come to its own conclusions.

Many of the questions are obvious. Let’s have some answers and get some sleep at night. Here are a few. What is in Jonathan Ferris’s six envelopes? We want to know now. What are the conclusions of the Egrant enquiry? And by the way, what do Chris Cardona’s mobile phone records show, regarding his whereabouts on that fateful ‘Acapulco night’? Let’s see them  and move towards an ending of some sort.

People fear that Malta is making it too easy for dirty money to get into the EU. So, why not calm those fears by identifying who has ‘participated’ in the International Investor Programme (in plain English, bought a passport)? What is there to hide?

Unless these and other questions are satisfactorily answered, the anxiety and suspicion will continue. It is not convincing to argue that other EU countries have similar passport programmes. As Sweeney pointed out, Malta is the only one that sells passports so aggressively.

The waters in which Daphne was fishing were much darker than even she imagined

The questions Daphne was asking haven’t gone away. On the contrary, they are now being raised outside Malta. Sadly, as said on Newsnight, the waters in which she was fishing were much darker than even she imagined.

The environment trenches

The battle of Malta continues to rage, with many victims and losses. The Planning Authority has decided to build yet another large petrol station in the countryside near Burmarrad, in the vicinity of no less than four other petrol stations. This area is fast becoming the fuel tank of Malta. A surge of thousands more cars on the island is expected, causing traffic deadlock and creating chaos. No public transport solutions are in sight.

So far, a large chunk of public land at Żonqor remains in Jordanian hands, despite their unrealistic targets and evidently ineffective strategy to recruit students. Seeing how they appear to have dealt with their employees so far, Marsascala residents might not be so keen to get jobs there after all. Jobs were a main justification for giving away this public land.

The Planning Authority has also rejected an application to schedule and protect the 19th-century St Ignatius Villa in Balluta, paving the way for its demolition by the powerful construction lobby. I am not wholly surprised, having witnessed the sense of impunity with which the developer knocked down parts of this historic villa some weeks ago, despite being told to stop by an enforcement officer in the presence of the police.

In December, journalist Tim Sebastian ended his Conflict Zone programme on Malta with the ominous line, “this is the permissive atmosphere in which you get killings of journalists”. Actually, a permissive atmosphere leads to disaster on many fronts, including in our towns, villages and countryside.

The assertion of power

In his seminal book on the Renaissance, literary critic Stephen Greenblatt describes a supper hosted in the early 1500s by “a vainglorious prelate”, at which Thomas More was present. All the guests in turn felt pressed into lavishing some “exquisite praise” on their host, publicly flattering him with elaborate and insincere compliments.

More was fascinated by the games people play. Why should men submit to such fantasies, asks Greenblatt? The answer is power. The more outrageous the fiction, the more impressive the manifestation of power. More’s vain host may have been in the grip of self-love and pride but he could “compel others to enter the madness and reinforce it”.

Throughout history, autocratic rulers have tended to indulge in odd or extreme behaviour. People are mildly shocked by the display but go along with it.

Donald Trump instinctively pushes at the boundaries of tolerable behaviour. Calling himself a stable genius. Competing with the North Korean leader (in a tweet) about who has the biggest nuclear button. Those are just two outrageous statements in the last couple of weeks. By making people accept the unacceptable, to submit to this as though it is normal behaviour, his power is asserted.

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