Democracy’s candle in the wind
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Democracy’s candle in the wind

Eight months ago the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit filed a report on Adrian Delia’s dealings with his Soho clients that did not exclude possible links to money laundering. The police took the report so seriously that it immediately opened an investigation.

We got to know about these developments only a few days ago. By rights, the news that the Leader of the Opposition was now part of a criminal investigation should have resounded around the country like a thunderclap. Instead, it has had the effect of yet another dull thud on the head of a punch-drunk boxer.

The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, although the news was as unwelcome as it is unpleasant, it was not completely unexpected. Delia’s bumbling efforts to shake off these accusations first made by Daphne Caruana Galizia were far from convincing, culminating with his ‘biċċa blogger’ diatribe that contributed considerably to her isolation. 

Secondly, Delia’s investigation has some serious competition for the public’s attention. Multiple investigations, counter-investigations and determined legal attempts to stymy said investigations related to various allegations of misdeeds by senior government figures have been swirling for months around the body politic. They, and the outcomes of the Egrant inquiry, have created a popular feeling of disorientation, of scepticism either at the allegations or at the whole investigative process, depending on which political tribe one belongs to. 

The latest developments have made matters worse. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and their supporters have been furiously trading accusations and counter-accusations, borrowing from each others’ self-defence strategies. At some points one could practically take the statements by the PL and the PN on Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi and Adrian Delia and just switch the names.

Much to the detriment of our democracy and the shame of our politicians, we are witnessing the sorry spectacle of two of the three main pillars of Parliament, our highest democratic institution, shielding their political and personal liability behind their constitutional position to avoid the dirt being thrown at them, whilst busily throwing said dirt back at their assailant.

There is a growing chorus, now also from industry heavyweights, that this constant battering could do real damage to Malta’s international reputation and financial resilience. But it is the long-term effects to Malta’s democratic fibre that should be the greater cause for concern. 

The current sorry mess of our national politics is leaving the general public thoroughly bemused, disgusted and disenchanted. With the government up to its neck in credible allegations and multiple indicators of corruption, and its MPs basically bought out, who represents well-meaning people now? Delia does not seem to have a hope, even less so now, of making inroads in terms of keeping the government accountable and offering a viable, electable alternative government. In its closing of ranks around Il-Kap, his party seems to have lost its capacity to do the right thing for the country.

Perhaps Godfrey Farrugia could take on this role, but his is too much of a lone voice. Even he has had to protect his flanks from barbs about his past involvement with this government. Civil society was instrumental in Labour’s first term to galvanise national consciousness on environmental issues, but since October 2017 is struggling to define itself beyond the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Over the last six years the public’s trust in the capacity of key State institutions to safeguard the democratic State has been critically undermined.

In this scenario, the belated start-up of talks about talks on constitutional reform led by President Colerio Preca are further cause for concern, rather than hope. We have no reason to question the personal and political/professional integrity of the representatives of the two major parties. But how can their work on behalf of their leaders, who are so politically compromised, be expected to be immune to suspicions of conflicts of interest? How can they be trusted to do what is right for the country, and not simply equate this with the interests of their parties? 

Thank God for small mercies: many members of the judiciary are still beyond reproach and suspicion, and the offices of the Auditor General and the Ombudsman are doing heroic work. But can their combined action stem the general feeling of hopelessness at the general rottenness of our political class?

All in all, the thinking public, the shrinking band of what used to be called the floating voters, has been effectively disenfranchised. Malta’s democracy is now like a guttering candle.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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