Read this report of a particular battle The Malta Independent chose to fight on principle more than anything else. If they were ever to force the government to give a proper response to their detailed questions about how much the movie awards night held before the election cost, few will care by then.

We all know it cost stupid money. We all understand it was a big waste considering the frugality with which local operators in the industry the awards are supposed to celebrate have to function, deprived of any meaningful government support. We all have good reason to suspect the awards night was a way of giving the Labour Party a leg up in its upcoming general election campaign.

By the time what we already know is endowed with the detail of actual figures, we’ll have run out of the air we’d need to gasp.

Consider yesterday’s Times of Malta news story about payments made to a company held by Keith Schembri’s wife from VGH at around the time VGH was obtaining government clearance to resell its concession for 3 formerly public hospitals in spite of failing to deliver on any of its contractual commitments.

We knew for years the hospitals contract was corrupt. We knew Keith Schembri was in government to get rich. Filling out the details with actual invoices and payment transfers changes nobody’s understanding of the facts.

So why does The Malta Independent do it? Why do they file Freedom of Information requests and appeal from the inevitable denial? It’s a lot like Repubblika chasing information on how bent cop Silvio Valletta made it to the FIAU. The actual question becomes less and less urgent with time.

What’s urgent is that a right that is supposed to belong to citizens by law – freedom of information – is continually frustrated by government. People often miss the fact that in principle all government conduct is a matter of public interest. That means we have a right to know what’s happening, particularly how our money is being spent.

There are situations, rare, where the public interest is better served by secrecy than by transparency. The details of the security arrangements to keep the gold reserves safe in the bowels of the Central Bank are best kept away from public knowledge. Anything else we want to know we should be able to know.

The government cannot be allowed to get away with refusing to answer how much it paid for an awards night. Its excuses, faithfully reported by The Malta Independent, are not only not credible, they are absurd.

If I were a board director at the Malta Film Commission, and the staff were to tell me they are unable to answer how much one of 22 events during Malta Film Week cost, when my concerns about overspending are over that one event, not the other 21, I’d be insisting on dismissals.

It’s like getting a restaurant bill and having the manager tell you they are unable to say how much they are charging you for the wine cost and how much for the steak, only how much you need to pay for both.

They’re not infants. They do it on purpose. They produce these ridiculous excuses because they want journalists like The Malta Independent and activists like Repubblika to give up even trying to ask questions. The fact is that their absurd ‘justifications’ for refusing to share the information are humiliating in their callousness and contempt.

This is the antithesis of democracy.