A few days ago, I wrote about the Lawrence Gonzi litmus test comparing the governance standards since 2013 with standards we all expected before that. I got some flak for that because, I was reminded, the Gonzi years were far from perfect and his faults and the faults of those times may fade in my memory because of nostalgia.
In anticipation of similar feedback, I will say in my defence that when a historical period compares favourably with another, the former period has no claim to utopia. Life comes in degrees of misery, I grant you that. But comparisons are useful. They remind us of what used to be important and what has been taken over in darker times by submission to worse depravities.
There were many a protest when Victor Scerri, then President of the PN, started converting his country-side home. One TV at the time reported valley marches that would have been impressive in scale and fury if they were resisting the dumping of nuclear waste in Baħrija valley. A group of activists asked the courts to strike down the building permit for this ‘development’, declare it unlawful and order the reversal of the project.
Faced by these accusations and intent, at first perhaps, to defend his home, Victor Scerri resigned his position in the party immediately the ‘scandal’, such as it was, broke. It took 9 years for the court to finally decide he hadn’t broken any laws at all and the permit he had to build his house had been entirely lawful. By then his political career was very much in his past. His home in Baħrija was not his anymore either. All he had as a reward for quitting his job to defend himself was the overdue objective recognition that he had done no wrong and had not needed to quit his job.
Please, contrast that with Ian Borg. Is there any serious expectation that now that a second court has found his grotesque valley swimming pool unlawful and in breach of policies, Ian Borg might now resign? Is there even any expectation that he may not be enjoying his illegal swimming pool next time he’s back from New York?
And we’re not even comparing like with like. If Ian Borg had conducted himself like Victor Scerri he would have left politics in 2018 when a formal complaint was first made that the permit Ian Borg held was unlawful. He would have defended his position ‘as a private citizen’ because his fucking swimming pool is only a matter of public interest because it is in the public interest that we all get permits for swimming pools only when and where the law allows it.
He did not fight the matter as a private citizen. He fought it as a minister of state, staking the credibility of his office to defend his own and allowing both to flounder.
The story of Ian Borg’s palace in Santa Katerina valley is convoluted and mediaeval in its intrigue. A few years ago, we learnt how he acquired the land the illegal swimming pool was built on: you’ve guessed it, illegally.
Middlemen acting on his behalf plied the mentally ill owner of a portion of the land he needed for his expansion with alcohol getting him to sell Ian Borg the land well below its value.
When Ian Borg testified in a libel case about the sale the court found Ian Borg’s testimony “not credible”. That too should have forced his resignation, this time in disgrace because he wasn’t just facing accusations, he was facing a court that branded him a liar.
Resignation over a court calling you out? Not in this country. Certainly not in the country where the Lawrence Gonzi litmus test turns pink. Here ministers have a license to lie, steal, twist laws, and get away with it until some judge with a healthy dose of common sense stops them. But they stay on as ministers, living to steal, lie, and twist another day.
And though 2012 was no utopia, Ian Borg’s arse would have long been fired.