March 2013 marked the dawn of a new era under the leadership of Kink Joseph Muscat. One of his first loaded gestures was that of paying himself for the use of his own car. It signalled that stealing from taxpayers was fair game. In the best of leadership traditions, Joseph signalled that if you were arrogant enough to try it then you would get away with it. He set the scene and the rest unfolded before our very eyes.
He quickly followed that up with Cafe Premier. It was a toe-dipping exercise – a little noise from the Opposition, not a murmur from the (spineless) civil servants and they quickly figured out that they would get away with anything they wanted – as long as they kept chucking crumbs at the faithful followers.
Malta’s complex society is made of many strata and each sets its price for their vote. Paying that price pays huge dividends in the zero sum, winner takes all, game.
At the lowest end you have the ‘working class’ voters. These are the easiest votes to buy. They queue up at the bank’s door whenever Social Security or Pension cheques arrive. They live from hand to mouth, they are desperate for more money. They have been led to believe over many years that they should be grateful for the Children’s Allowance or the COLA increase or the handouts that the government dishes out from time to time. They just need to feel they have a little extra this week than they had last week. The promise of huge reductions in electricity bills (which never really transpired) was an easy sell. The government then maintained the handouts, as they did this week with the milk and bread compensation. Pathetic for most but essential for some. It keeps the voter base ‘safe’. I call this lot the unlucky ones. Deprived of education and simple in their needs. Maybe they are the happiest – who knows?
Then there are those who are lazy. Not interested in education or working their butt off to ‘make it’. They lobby for jobs or housing or whatever it is they need most, once their candidate makes it into parliament (doesn’t matter if in government or in opposition, just ask ML Coleiro). They feel entitled because, you know, a family’s vote is worth a job or a flat. They don’t care what the job is as long as they have a stable income at the end of each month. These are the cheats. The ones who have no scruples about dipping into the trough, with a sense of entitlement. “Gvern tagħna, nagħmlu li rridu. Sittin elf maġġoranza”. That is the limit of their maths prowess. They will likely skive from work because they have other ‘part-time work’ elsewhere they can do ‘tax-free’. The government job is just a front and a guarantee.
The middle class were never easy to convince to vote Labour. Their price was a lot higher. They are generally better educated and can see through most devious schemes. They will not be conned by handouts but by real reform that will create a better life for their children than their own. They have generally worked hard, paid their taxes and earned everything they have. They didn’t blackmail a candidate into promising a ‘no-value no need to work hard’ job as a messenger, carless driver or general hanger on. But if they have money to invest then relaxing the development rules can be interesting. “If everyone else is legally ‘abusing’ why shouldn’t I? Bugger the environment – this is a one off opportunity”. Unless they have a direct benefit they are unlikely to sway their vote to the corrupt.
That leaves the ‘new middle class’. Those that aspire to be in AB, by speaking to their childlin in Inglixx, sending them to Inglixx speaking football nurseries (while slamming anyone who speaks Sliema) dining out at fine (read expensive) restaurants and generally trying to keep up with the Joneses, even though they have an average income and would need to live beyond their means. The money had to come from somewhere. Rents doubled and quadrupled, property prices went through the roof (“all these bloody foreigners”), the price of everything went up (“imma inflation is low?!”), government induced charges all rose (except the common taxes) etc. Something had to give. Either it was part-time or tax evasion or abusing their position.
What we are witnessing in the Police force is just the tip of the iceberg. Malta is living way beyond its means. For some – the inner circle – life (income) is great. Not all legitimate, they splash it around. New cars, evenings in expensive restaurants, homes that are unaffordable on a civil service salary, travel frequency like going to Gozo.
A civil service that has rules requiring three quotes for a sharpener, has seen virtually all contracts backed by ministers going to direct order. Gone are the days of ‘il-Finanzi’ hauling you in to justify the capital cost and ongoing maintenance of any small project. Where are the heads of department? The Internal Audit units in each Ministry? All headed up by party lackeys looking everywhere but where it matters and taking in a little more on the side. They KNOW what is going on and buggered if they are going to struggle to make ends meet when everyone else “qed jimpalhom”.
The more the criminals in Castille stashed away the more daring the hangers-on became. Like a sequence from Escobar – ix-xiħ was burning money to keep the children warm (three day trip with kids to Dubai first class) and the hangers-on were screwing (literally). They believed in L-Aqwa Zmien and understood better than before why Joseph rented his own car.
If Joseph can pay himself from taxpayer money for the use of his own car then why can’t I share in a little abuse of my own. “Konrad and Keith set up Panama companies – we all know why – tiegħi ha jaraw żejjed?” Besides, they know that there is so much illicit money coming through the IIP scheme their little extra won’t hurt anyone. Hux?
They will close a blind eye to abuses because they too are likely abusing. Everyone who can and lacks principles is in the trough.
And now the chickens are coming home to roost.
They hailed the new leader as a reformist and a breath of fresh air (compared to the corrupt regime that still roams the streets and VIP lounges freely).
Now is Robert Abela’s chance to show us whether he is going to walk the talk.
Announce a high level Commission with wide ranging powers and a remit to uncover the abuses and corruption that are staring us all in the face.
Vest the Commission with powers to prosecute without going through the ineffective, slow court procedures by appointing magistrates specific to the clean up.
Commit to taking (real and timely) action against anyone caught with their hands in the till and anyone who’s responsibility it was to monitor money flows and breaking of rules.
Process the bastards responsible for the mega projects in energy & health and their offshore structures.
Take action against the money launderers advising government officials.
That is the way to tackle Malta’s reputation – by taking action against the corrupt and real money launderers not by imposing ineffective rules on the financial services sector in the hope of uncovering the odd misdemeanour.
Finish off what Daphne started – for the sake of our country, democracy and ‘normalcy’. Tall order? Indeed. What are the chances? I’m not holding my breath.