If there’s any advice I should ever find myself giving, that would be not to take my advice. I have no illusion of knowledge or life experience that could endow me with any confidence I might foresee a tsunami before it drowns me and everyone else. Also, I’m acutely aware of my inconsistencies, attitudes that do not fit in some general rule.
So, when I say we’d do well to listen to Evarist Bartolo I know I could be wrong.
Today he tried to be heard. He must have picked up the rumblings that his newly found and publicly expressed scepticism about corruption in the Labour Party are as much the product of careerist tactics as much as his silence and publicly expressed loyalty during his years as minister in Joseph Muscat’s government. He must have heard the assessment that his attempt to distance himself from the Panama Gang was part of his program to ingratiate himself with the PN and get their vote when the presidency comes up for grabs next year.
On the one hand his long service in the Labour Party will mean that no matter how critical he’s been in the last year or two, most of his former colleagues won’t mind his elevation. If anything, becoming president would shut him up for 5 years during which he’ll be writing about the highfalutin nonsense that presidents write about, rather than how shocking the Labour Party’s involvement in the benefit fraud scandal is.
On the other hand, the Nationalists, whose vote is now needed to choose the next president, would consider him as a ‘good Laburist’ because after the electorate kicked him out of Parliament, he denounced the corruption of the Labour Party.
That sort of cynicism rather colours the credibility of the temporary enlightenment of the post-electoral Damascus experience of Evarist Bartolo. It is informed by the years of cynicism of standing by Joseph Muscat. I can never forget that the last post I wrote on this blog just hours before Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed carried this picture of a smug Evarist Bartolo, standing alongside Joseph Muscat. I was writing about his abysmal conduct when corruption was exposed in the department he was running.
He obliquely wrote about that too today. He referred to his humanity, his gratitude for the spotlight he had on him, “because let’s face it,” he says, “we slip up even where there is that spotlight.” You betcha.
Today Evarist Bartolo wrote another in his series of articles from the last year where his initially obscure and equivocal references to Labour Party corruption have become explicit. The Labour Party should re-introduce its “vigilance and disciplinary committee” from the late 1980s, he says. That’s not an insignificant observation. In Labour-speak he is saying that the Labour Party has fallen to the execrable levels of corruption of 1987, and it needs the solutions of 1987 to start cleaning up its act again. It needs the same tools the Labour Party needed to push Lorry Sant out of the picture. That’s how bad things are, Evarist Bartolo is saying.
Then he throws in a little constitutional design. It comes rather from left field. One minute he’s speaking about the internal rules of the Labour Party and another he is speaking about how Malta’s president should be chosen. The new president should be someone who hasn’t spent their lifetime in politics, Evarist Bartolo says. If this weren’t Evarist Bartolo writing, you’d be right in wondering what’s one thing got to do with the other. Why discuss the profile of the president in the midst of discussing how the Labour Party should organise itself to search and destroy corruption within its ranks?
It is Evarist Bartolo writing. He appears to want to rule himself out of the presidency to earn the credentials of an uninterested but experienced observer, a repentant veteran who is doing anything but looking for another way back for himself.
You could say this is even more supremely cynical. That like the Duke of Gloucester, he is on his knees in the garb of the penitent insisting he doesn’t want the crown, all part of the plan to become Richard III in short order.
Or you could rightly ask if we should take at face value anyone whose just turned their coat. What if this was Joseph Muscat? What if Joseph Muscat started writing articles on his concern about corruption under Robert Abela? What if Joseph Muscat were to profess himself disgusted by the benefit fraud scandal (in the same way Alfred Sant did, to nobody’s surprise)? We’d laugh Joseph Muscat out of the room. There is nothing Joseph Muscat can say, after all he did, that could ever redeem him in the eyes of his critics.
Is Evarist Bartolo different? Is his silent acquiescence in the years of Joseph Muscat’s protracted orgy of corruption as much as a permanent disqualification from credible public discourse as being Joseph Muscat and leading the orgy himself?
Perhaps I’ve been told too many times that I should shut up and not be heard because of buses working late a hot summer 13 years ago. Perhaps that is why I intuitively, and despite direct experience of the people we’re talking about, find myself wanting to believe Evarist Bartolo’s regret.
Whatever cynicism might motivate his latter day pentitismo, however, his voice is important because, ironically, it confirms that we are not mad. The Labour Party does not have the means or the will to restrain corruption, to the point that people who have kept its secrets throughout their long political lives, people who have presented the Labour Party as the only solution for this country, are now calling for its removal from government.
For that’s another thinly veiled implication in what Evarist Bartolo wrote today. The reference to the “vigilance and disciplinary committee” is a reference to 1987: it’s a reference to the first day of a barely interrupted quarter of a century of opposition for the Labour Party. Evarist Bartolo knows it. It takes more than an internal committee to clean a party so deeply seeped in corruption. It takes losing elections. And if Evarist Bartolo wants to help with that, who are we to stop him?