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People of conscience, act

Malta is at a crossroads. Again.

The good thing about choices is that even if one makes a morally dubious one, somewhere down the line there is bound to arise an opportunity to change direction and follow the road marked out by one’s conscience.

So it is with a nation. Last June the electorate chose a leader who stood for feel-good prosperity, at the expense of probity and rectitude, instead of one who prioritised good governance based on ethical and moral principles. The assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia threw these issues into relief like never before. Six months later, the country is again having to look itself in the mirror and examine its conscience: what standards do we want to be governed by, what sort of reputation do we want our country to enjoy, what example do we want our politicians to set for our children, what moral direction do we want Malta to take?

The urgency to stop and reflect on these matters has again been brought to the fore by the work of investigative journalists. An international team that includes the Times’s Jacob Borg has courageously picked up where Caruana Galizia left off and is pursuing the leads she was prevented from following in such abominable fashion.

The real purpose of the Panama companies that belong to Joseph Muscat’s close colleagues Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi – which were first exposed by Caruana Galizia – is now clearer than ever. According to the evidence published, the secret companies were meant to receive, into their planned overseas bank accounts, hundreds of thousands of euros in one year. Suspicious? It’s more like a smoking gun. This is possibly the most important revelation so far in the short life of the Daphne Project. There is more to come, and the choice facing the country will become starker still.

What is different this time is that it is not the electorate who will make that choice. This time the decision on what type of country we would like to live in lies in the hands of high-ranking officials at the agencies that are supposed to ensure Malta’s laws and regulations are respected and applied equally to all. They have the power, by their individual actions, to hold Mizzi and Schembri to account and to halt the decline symbolised by the Panama companies and Pilatus Bank.

Foremost among these agencies are the police, followed by the Attorney General and the judiciary. Then there are the various financial watchdogs of the land: the inland revenue department, financial services authority, gaming authority, financial intelligence unit, the Central Bank, the National Audit Office, the Accountancy Board...

The country’s reputation, and its citizens’ peace of mind that Malta is not being deliberately transformed into a haven of corruption and of dirty money seeking to be laundered, depend in large part on the decisions made by people in these entities.

Some undoubtedly do their job admirably and fulfil their functions without fear or favour. Others appear to have become compromised, in the process ditching any semblance of independence and seemingly following instructions from the cabal at Castille.

Perhaps this is out of fear or weakness. Perhaps what drives them is blind political prejudice or personal gain. Whatever the reason, the blame for Malta’s deepening problems of bad governance and corrupt practices can partly be placed at the door of those institutions that have failed to act robustly and autonomously when required to do so. Otherwise, Caruana Galizia might still be alive today. And Schembri and Mizzi might already have joined the Pilatus Bank chairman in the dock over their financial dealings.

It is time for all responsible officials at these entities to decide where their loyalty lies: with their political masters or with their higher principles.

This is not about politics any more. It is about taking the sort of decisions and actions that will help determine Malta’s fate – whether it continues down the road of reputational ruin or takes a turn towards restoring its dignity.

Admittedly, it will take courage to go against the grain, especially in the climate of intimidation and hatred that is creeping in.

But surely some of these officials are fed up of being the slaves to someone else’s schemes of power and profit. Surely they feel their dignity has been sacrificed enough at the altar of someone else’s personal ambition. 

To all these people, here is an appeal: let your conscience and values dictate your actions in office from now on. The country will one day be grateful for it.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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