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Question time: Summer on hold

What should Malta expect during this silly season?

Aleander Balzan, Director of Communications, Labour Party

People have started going on holidays, taking leave from work and enjoying a well-deserved break after months of hard work. It’s the period during which many recharge themselves before another scholastic year and the last quarter of the year which is normally quite hectic.

However, news editors are not short on stories to report. This summer has till now been a rather busy one with important events hitting the headlines.

I will limit myself to the political scenario. For the second consecutive summer, the Nationalist Party is proving to be quite the dominant source of news. Some weeks ago, the Egrant inquiry by Magistrate Aaron Bugeja was completed and its full conclusions published by the Attorney General. As expected, the nation has not stopped discussing them.

True, certain bloggers and media outlets would have liked to embark on the silly season earlier on, to avoid reminding their followers that they were part of the biggest lie in Maltese political history. Yet, the aftermath was so devastating for the Opposition that this was not possible.

We experienced a face-off between the current Opposition leader and his predecessor, where the latter has had the upper hand. Adrian Delia succumbed to the establishment’s pressure and withdrew his request for Simon Busuttil to suspend himself.

If the leaks from within the Nationalist Party continue to reach the media with the same vigour of the past weeks, there will be no silly season but a lot more to report.

People are benefiting from economic prosperity and social justice

For some, the story that dominated local news during the past weeks was a confirmation of their lies and how they tried to win power by deceiving the public. For these, the silly season has started early, as they are desperately trying to justify their actions, when they absolutely cannot.

One of them is Kristina Chetcuti, Busuttil’s partner. Last Sunday, she wrote an article in which she wanted parents to believe it is acceptable for their children to face discrimination. She justifies that children are excluded from social events which everyone else is invited to and, even worse, claims that school-ground bullying is part of life and, therefore, one should not complain about it.

Obviously, she was trying to get at the Prime Minister’s wife after she genuinely spoke about the way their children were badly treated because of the Egrant lie. What a silly argument to try scoring a political point! 

For MP Karol Aquilina, the silly season has also started early. He has decided to attack the Bugeja report because, like Chetcuti, he did not like its conclusions. After the magistrate concluded a 1,500-page report in which about 500 witnesses were questioned, Aquilina wants the inquiry, that took 15 months of investigation and included five foreign jurisdictions, to be reopened. What a silly suggestion from a person who was backing a lie for months.

Same goes for MP Jason Azzopardi who attacks the judiciary by proposing that the inquiry should be sent back to Magistrate Bugeja for a new investigation to commence. Again, nothing but a silly idea simply because he just cannot accept that the calumny he so strongly promoted has been rejected unequivocally.

I won’t be surprised if other silly arguments arise in the following weeks, especially from those still living in denial and who want us to believe they are the only ones who can lead this country.

Unfortunately for them, reality is different. In fact, it might be a good suggestion for news editors to use the so-called silly season to send their journalists on the ground to experience what the Maltese people think about their country. They will find a confirmation of what the statistics have been saying for months.

People are benefiting from economic prosperity and social justice in a country governed by rule of law. These real, daily experiences will confirm why our government is getting the highest approval ratings in history.

Peter Agius, Former Director of the EU Parliament Office in Malta

The news of the Egrant inquiry gave summer a political flavour. Most of us would rather deal with the heatwave than have a political summer, and, yet, deal with it we must because, as we speak, the safeguards to our democracy are put to the test.

Three weeks have passed since the publication of an extract of the Egrant inquiry. Since then, the Prime Minister’s aides had three weeks’ opportunity to plan the next moves before an eventual publication in full. An advantage not afforded to the Nationalist Party. Adrian Delia asked, through several means, including a court application, for the full inquiry. The Attorney General refused without, to my mind, sufficient reason. This is clearly in breach of the principle embodied in the highest law of the land – our Constitution – that provides for a parity of arms between political parties.

The grim picture painted by opinion polls is contrasted with the throes of enthusiasm in people approaching us to lend a helping hand

The above is a detail in the bigger picture, albeit an illustrative one. The bigger picture is about political responsibility. The Prime Minister’s reaction to the inquiry set the standard, to which he is to hold himself accountable. He reiterated that, had anything been found linking him to the Panama company, he would have resigned forthwith. That standard applies to Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi – that inquiry tells us about their Panama companies – and, yet, they stand behind him unfazed.

The Nationalist Party, on the other hand is ready for the higher standard that Labour is failing. This can be seen in the difficult decisions made by its leader. You can doubt or you can support Delia – fact is, he had no part in the Egrant saga, he is trying to turn the page on it, for the sake of this country, turning to the real issues troubling people in their homes, at the workplace or at the market.

Let us take a few recent examples where Labour is failing the test. Two weeks ago, we got to know that Maltese fruit and vegetables tested very high on pesticide levels, way above the legal limit. Parents are concerned for their children’s health. All of us have cause for concern, not least the farmers themselves who are the first victims of the distrust towards their product. Last year, we had the same damning results, and, yet, no one addressed the situation. Another case ofgoverning by crossed fingers.

The same can be seen in the handling of the slime gracing our shores from St Paul’s Bay to Marsascala. Last year, we had the slime too and, yet, the minister announces measures after we have seen its worst. Sorry, Josè Herrera, is not your job to prevent that slime rather than to react to it? Are we to expect more slime next year before the minister takes charge of the situation?

The same trend prevails in the preposterous reaction to the damning report of the European Banking Authority. But while the government may be deaf, the world around us has ears wide open. The recent downgrade of the banking sector by Standard & Poor’s is a clear eye opener to that stark reality.

After a difficult start to the summer season, the Nationalist Party is now geared to face its first real challenge under the leadership of Delia – the local councils and European Parliament elections next year. The grim picture painted by opinion polls is contrasted with the throes of enthusiasm in people approaching us to lend a helping hand. It is our duty to make them feel at home in this party. It is our duty to call on all those of goodwill to give us another chance. They need not trust us with their vote yet – we just call on them to listen to us for a minute and consider whether we can join forces in setting a higher standard in Maltese politics.

If you would like to put any questions to the two parties in Parliament send an e-mail marked clearly Question Time to editor@timesofmalta.com.

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