On the 19th December the Slovakian Republic began the process of healing itself after the cold blooded double murder of Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend in 2018. The court case against the murderers and the mastermind who ordered it and the ministers involved begins.
Listening to the commentators both from within Slovakia and from outside it, it is immediately clear that the court case and the sentencing that may result from it will not provide closure, nor will it bring to an end the suffering of the Slovakian population. Even though two ministers and the prime minister as well as police heads and others in the chain of command have already resigned or lost their jobs since the murder, the damage to the rule of law and to the newly won democracy in Slovakia, after over seventy years of dictatorial communist rule, is too great and too deep.
The infiltration of the local and international mafia via the neo-liberal and open economy that came about as a result of Slovakia joining the European Union in 2004, into the local economy resulted in a widespread culture of illegality in all sectors of the country damaging the social and moral fabric. To get back to the dream of democracy after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Slovakians are asking for a root and branch overhaul of their system. Full independence of the judiciary, police and army from the politicians. Elimination of the older politicians with historic links to the former regime or with new links to the criminal or ultra-liberal and immoral business communities is an absolute necessity.
Then a period of transparent and impervious investigations into all contracts, business links, tax returns of the business and real estate activities followed by identification, naming and shaming and punishment of wrongdoers. It is only then after a number of years that the society can rid itself of the causes that led to the murders in the first place. Only then can reconciliation begin and that will take years.
Does this sound familiar? It could almost be Malta today. Sure it does except that the Slovakians are far ahead of Malta in their roadmap to democracy and the rule of law.
We, in Malta, seem to think that once Joseph Muscat is forced to resign before the date he chose to freely leave, and finally leaves his post in shame to become a normal citizen, subject to arrest, investigation and potential sentencing, we would have begun to cure ourselves and the Christmas Season with its warm and friendly peaceful celebrations can proceed.
How stupid can such politicians, newspaper columnists think the Maltese population is? Joseph Muscat is no Icarus who was too ambitious and flew too close to the sun. Joseph Muscat was one of the planners of the entire 6 year mafia like economic activity upon which he built his following. He only fell from grace because heroes like Daphne Caruana Galizia and Simon Busuttil forced the truth to emerge. Malta has had an extraordinary and extremely fast economic growth during these 6 years but it was one based upon criminal and fraudulent economic activities attracted to Malta on promises of lax controls and dependant on a complicated cobweb and network of relationships between politicians and greedy businessmen aided and abetted by the developers, by private citizen house and property owners, by real estate agents, a cohort of tax evaders, unending numbers of lawyers and auditors and financial consultants who should never had been allowed to work or been given a licence.
Wrongdoings filtered through a series of strategically placed gang members in the police, army and the courts. The population naively and apparently unwittingly cooperated and enjoyed the economic success but knew, that the entire system was based on cheating.
The system which attracted immoral gambling, European passport selling, money laundering banks, cannabis growing, cryptocurrencies, criminal or quasi criminal banking, tax avoidance schemes and a never ending number of fraudulent public sales of national assets like power stations, buildings, plots of land, hospitals, road contracts, building permits, ODZ garages, secret jobs for the boys and many other illicit acts cannot be allowed to continue unchanged. If this were to be the case we can only expect more of the same and another murder in the future. As many of us remember whenever we sinned and went to confession we came home redeemed and cleansed for the price of a paltry three Hail Marys.
This will not do any longer. The sins are too many, the cancer too widespread and too many organs affected.
Sorry Mr Archbishop. Sorry Mr President. Sorry Mr Developers Association. Sorry Mr Chamber of Commerce. Sorry Mr Gaming Industry. Sorry Mr Central Bank. Sorry all those who call for forgetting the past, unifying the people and getting the economic ship back on course.
If you really want us to put all that has happened behind us and unite as a Maltese people to carry on with our business lives as though the past six years were a bout of influenza then you must either be part of the issue or must be living on the moon.
I am hoping against hope, that Dr Fearne, with his deep socialist family background beliefs and his medical and surgical experience will be able, in spite of the blood stains that he himself bears having been a cabinet member and a member of the Labour parliamentary majority that voted unanimously for all that Muscat and the gang of thieves and murderers asked them to endorse, will be able to rise above the issue and use his cold and excellent brain to bring about deep and long term changes that are required.
He knows that the cancer which Malta is suffering from, did not start with the Joseph Muscat period. Joseph Muscat and his cronies only perfected the criminal act with mens rea and premeditated zeal, because the ground had been set for them by the previous government. It was the nationalists after the Mintoff debacle flirting with communism and the violence and criminal economic activities of the seventies and eighties, who introduced the fiscal system, attracted tax evading private citizens to come to Malta and avoid paying their national tax dues whilst pretending to reside in Malta.
It was the nationalists who introduced the fictitious corporate tax system for so called financial services for companies registered in Malta by foreign owners. They pretend to bring their foreign earnings to Malta for a ridiculously low tax rate. It was the nationalists that introduced the gambling industry to Malta, a scourge for many small betters who get induced into the highly addictive sickness, giving the companies who come here low or no tax, no controls of a social nature and special tax rates for the executives of such companies.
These laws passed by our governments were aimed at stealing tax revenues from our EU partners. As such they constitute an international crime. The nationalists also had a number of sales of assets like Mater Dei, power supply, bus lines, bank privatisations, and financial services permits, widening the ODZ definition, that were dubiously clean and potentially as criminal as those under Muscat and Labour.
For these reasons Dr Fearne would be well advised not to try to do a simple clean-up of the Labour Party membership, whilst retaining many of the existing cabinet members. He should wield the scalpel with determination and to cut deeply. He should not only look at the main tumour which is at the core of the government – the PM’s office and cabinet, but he should excise all the other metastasis spread throughout the body of our dear and quasi terminally sick Malta.
All positions of trust should be reviewed, all permanent secretaries to resign, all heads of the government services including the police, army, courts, attorney general, all authorities, to offer resignations.
Before choosing a new Cabinet, reappointing or changing the above mentioned resignation positions, he should do one other fundamental thing if he wants Malta to follow Slovakia back to democracy, transparency, accountability and meritocracy based upon the rule of law.
He should not undertake this Herculean task alone.
I suggest that for the remaining two and a half years of the present Labour Party mandate, Dr Fearne sets up a temporary national emergency government that is made up in three parts of which 40% of the cabinet posts are Labour, 30 % are Nationalist and 30 % are shared by AD, PD, civil society.
Every re-nomination of former or new ministers in this government of national unity with a 30 month mandate will need a 75% majority, every re-nomination or new nomination of heads of government services will also demand the same 75% of the cabinet.
The parliamentary majority would remain the same but with a cabinet made up of elected and non-elected representatives of all Malta, all parliamentary activity during these 30 months would be directed towards the clean-up of the past, the punishment of the guilty both those in the political circles as well as those in the civil service, the armed and security forces, the judiciary and the civil and economical spheres and the amendments to the Constitution to ensure that what happened over the past 20 years or so of moral degradation of our society never happens again.
With these new nationally accepted people in place Dr Fearne would run his government normally having simple majorities for all other day to day activities. Since all suggestions to Parliament for the re-organization of the policies of government, fiscal, economic, political, social or monetary will come from the cabinet, Malta and the EU would be assured that we would have embarked upon a program of economic reorientation and re-establishment of democracy and the rule of law.
Eliminating the mafia, the people smuggling and low wage slavery which we have experienced these last few years will not be easy. The mafia is deeply rooted in what appears to be normalcy. How many hotel owners, yacht owners, property owners, businessmen importing or manufacturing in Malta have offshore companies in Panama, Guernsey, British Virgin Islands or other places I dare not imagine. The Panama Papers apparently not only mentioned Schembri and Mizzi but also a number of other Maltese, yet we have never heard the names of any of these other Maltese. Why not? They are as much to blame as Schembri and Mizzi. Not being politicians or PEPs does not absolve them from having acted criminally.
How many Maltese businessmen sell their produce or services to themselves in a company registered abroad at a low price and then sell these same products or services onwards to the final customer for the proper market price retaining the difference as a profit of their foreign company registered in a 0% tax regime? How many AiRBnB flat owners rent out their flats and not declare their earnings? How many Maltese property owners rent their houses or flats to foreigners who should normally reside in Malta for 183 days or more a year but who do not, but get the support of the property owner who runs the water and lights the electricity to produce a bill? A bill that should be challenged by the tax authorities, but is not. What about the developers with their 17 illegal cement batching units imported from abroad without permits operating in disused quarries?
How come high-rise permits are allowed in breach of residents and too close to our historical monuments? The list can go on and on and no mention has yet been made of the foreigners running businesses in Malta, mafia-like coffee shops and pizzerias sprout up everywhere. Gambling at its worst directed at the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium and Germany has mushroomed. Criminals opening banks like Pilatus.
I say to these foreigners you are all tainted by the same reputational brush as Malta has been these last years. As I travel across Europe and say I come from or live in Malta I get the same incredulous questions and the sly looks branding me tax avoider or a criminal. Well many of my friends and many of my foreign acquaintances are crooks and tax avoiders and they should be ashamed to have chosen this tax haven to reside in, to register their yacht or airplane in, to set up their Malta based holding company in, to import cheap labour to or to speculate in the overheated construction industry.
Three Hail Marys will not absolve any of you.
A market crash, a moratorium on all EU funding and on Malta Council voting rights as a result of Article 7 process by the EU will probably be one of the first effects we will all feel. The European Parliament vote included most of the Socialist members too. This will hurt many of us and there is probably very little we can do but work our way out of it through a correction and rehabilitation and reconciliation process similar to that Slovakia is starting today. Muscat by hanging on is forbidding Dr Fearne to take over and hopefully do a good job.
I say hopefully because I am not convinced that he is prepared to use his scalpel deeply enough. His cosiness within and fear of the Labour Party will probably inhibit him from operating a cure. He will be pressed to attack the symptoms but to leave the disease untouched. He will be forbidden to work with the opposition and civil society.
He will have the blessing of the archbishop, the president, the chamber of commerce, the chamber of accountants and association of developers, One TV commentators, some independent press columnists and others but he will leave the patient moribund.
Another Daphne will discover continuing or renewed criminality. The mafia is like Cerberus with several heads. Cutting one is not enough.
If he takes this gamble to spend 30 months in the company of the opposition and civil society cleaning up Malta, he will have a much bigger chance to win the next election in 2022, than if he believes that the Labour Party alone can do it. If he chooses to perform cosmetic surgery leaving the sick patient to slowly die, he may still win the next election but the EU would have by then taken the big cudgels and our economy would lose a huge part of its liquidity and addio surpluses for many years to come.
May I wish him my sincere best wishes for the season and, if he does attempt deep surgery bringing in all sections of Maltese society, he can rely on my support.
John Vassallo is a former Maltese ambassador to the EU.