The milestone of a new year is an excuse for turning a fresh page. It is an odd superstition of our times that we spend the last week of December expressing anger at the ending year for killing elderly rock-stars or inflicting some other perceived injury to us. And we do so as we raise a glass to a virginal and pure new-year wizened by the bad example of its predecessor.
This is obviously utter rubbish. There is no fresh start. We are stuck with the problems of a week ago and while we took a break from thinking and worrying, the drama did not stop.
The privatisation of three of Malta’s hospitals, the recruitment and promotion of police officers with a criminal record, the settlement of private debts at the Café’ Premier using public funds, the issuing of Maltese passports to corrupt fugitives, the dismantling of academic autonomy at the University, the failure to establish the identity of the person or persons who commissioned the assassination of a journalist: all of these are scandals that were refreshed in the last few days. No page was turned on any of those matters.
No page was turned on the government’s continued attitude of cold indifference to the criticism it receives. Each one of these stories is enough to force independent inquiries, apportioning of responsibility, dismissals or resignations. Nothing of the sort happens. Ever.
Take the hospitals issue. Some anti-corruption unit should be investigating the award process and shake-down the frontmen to determine who the real players are and what connections they have in politics and decision making here. But even as that happens, at the very least we clearly have here a major failure of value for public money. Parliamentarians should be on the case pronto assisted and advised by the auditor general.
We also have a very serious policy challenge to our health services tradition. The introduction of US health-service providers in our infrastructure is a radical transformation that should be attracting principled objections by experts in this area. Or even if we are to keep the pretence of an open mind, such a major shift should be extensively debated on policy grounds and the safeguards of citizen and patient rights clearly understood. Instead we have cautious acquiescence as the government wields its axe.
Take the policing issue. When the police failed to prevent the assassination of a journalist, you’d expect them not to be crowning themselves in glory. But the callousness of a police corps led by cronies and populated in a substantial and growing portion by criminals, must no longer surprise us.
There is no justification for the recruitment in the police force of people with a criminal record. It is shocking that our good repute rules prevent people now wearing the uniform with the responsibility to fight crimes from driving buses and taxis. It is not the exclusion from driving buses that I object to. It is the perverse policy of using convicted criminals ostensibly to fight crime. I say ostensibly because the policy itself is a promulgated promotion of crime not an effort to defeat it.
These are symptoms.
Any government is subject to criticism and is prone to error. Every decision will have detractors. The public debate and the discourse surrounding those decisions and errors allow the public to form a view and the government to assume its responsibilities on the basis of that view.
But that’s not happening here. These wheels are rolling in the mud. The political discourse is failing to push matters in any direction except where the government wants them to go.
The dark inheritance from last year and the few years before it is this: that no objection to government policy or action, to corruption, even the little of it that is conclusively exposed, to concentration of power and usurpation of institutional autonomy, is having any real effect on those policies, actions and corruption.
This is a truth we must come to terms with. Except in the service of government policy, political discourse is ineffective in changing people’s minds.
At this rate, we’re going nowhere.
We really need to talk.