We have converted a reality into a dream, reversed the realisation of our ambitions, stepped further from our own home. We allowed the golden calf of money to distract us from the truth we used to long for until we forgot to care anymore.
The Economist Intelligence Unit no longer thinks we are a democracy in full effect. The EIU is not making a normative judgement. Its job is to advice investors where to take their business, to describe the potential destinations so investors know what to expect to find.
If you’re looking for oil fields you’ll need to go to Venezuela, to Nigeria, to Saudi Arabia or to Russia. You’ll want to know the state of their politics because you’ll want to know if your staff need armed guards, if you can rely on local courts in case of disputes or if you’ll need to take care of your interests the hard way, if you’re going to have to compete with people who get their own way by paying the local grandees bags of cash.
What can investors expect from Malta? Malta is a country where a journalist has been killed. It’s a country where powerful politicians allowed the murder to happen and helped cover it up. It’s a country where senior policemen cavort with the criminals they’re supposed to pursue. It’s a country where the elites systematically let their citizens down.
I’ve worked in Harare, in Lagos, in Freetown and in Johannesburg. They warn you before you go about the ‘African handshake’: that a policeman that stops you on the road will flatly ask you to “pay his lunch” or you risk something worse than a cash fine.
That sort of corruption is unimaginable here. Frontline civil servants – police officers, teachers, nurses, doctors, public servants in local councils and government front offices up and down the country – their quality may vary, their enthusiasm for work, their efficiency, their training, their courtesy, all that may be hit and miss. But they’re not corrupt. You never need to fold a 50 euro note with an application with your council, or to a policeman stopping you on the roadside, or with the triage nurse at A&E.
And yet the last prime minister before this one resigned in disgrace with his edifice of power erected on the clay feet of rotten corruption.
Hard-working, honest, citizens who in their hundreds of thousands live their lives paying taxes before they earn them, waiting in line without complaint at parents’ day at school or at the outpatients ward in hospital, coughing up a little bit extra when the local band club knocks on the door asking for money to pay for the fireworks and calling twice with €20 donations to l-Istrina, have done nothing to earn a ‘flawed democracy’.
Hundreds of thousands of ordinary folk have never cheated on their taxes or even thought about how they could do it. They did their day’s work and expected nothing but what they earned in return. They did not think hard about politics most of the time. They voted whenever they were asked to in the way they thought would be best. They never actually met a politician and if they stumbled on one, they never thought of ‘asking’ for anything.
That’s all they expected they needed to do to live in a fair society without fear for their rights, without having to bother too much about protecting their rights.
And yet, having done nothing to deserve it, they find they live in a democracy less deserving of that name than it was 10 years ago. Explain that. Explain how we found ourselves crawling backwards and living further away from the more perfect society we were promised.
Explain now how the city on the hill we have spent our lives walking towards is now further away.
Yesterday the prime minister said he was delivering on his promise of improving the manner in which the police chief is chosen. Of all the disasters that were inflicted on our country the abuse of the prime minister’s power of choosing a police chief was probably the one that dragged our democracy down deepest.
In 2013 Malta had a police chief who did not blink as he locked behind the ringing metal gates of prison two judges of our high court. We had a police chief who waited at the airport for an EU commissioner to fly back in the country and be made to face that same fate.
That upright police chief was fired and replaced first with a crony, then with a nincompoop, then with a coward and finally with a clown.
Under the clown’s watch a journalist was killed and the clown kept clowning. His deputy was no clown but did not mind clowning as long as it was in a murderer’s Rolls Royce and in a VIP box at a big-league soccer match.
As hundreds of thousands of people lived their lives in fear of the law, they saw how the police partied with the worst criminals. They looked forward to a time when a stop would be put on the abuse.
Instead the prime minister yesterday announced a ritual that changes nothing and reduces nothing of the powers that his predecessor so completely abused.
Joseph Muscat dragged us into a time which we could not remember, somewhere around 1981, when democracy was worse on one day than it had been the day before. To make up for that Robert Abela cannot just pretend none of that happened. He can’t even merely restart the long march in the right general direction. None of that is enough.
We never told them but we promised our children that city on the hill and we must now make the changes we need to catch up on lost time. Those hard-working people who expect nothing from their politicians except that they do their job, want to live their lives not having to fear for their rights and to worry about politics. They deserve leaders that do their job and get democracy right.
Who’s going to lead us back on the road to that city on the hill?