It is true that where people are involved the temptation of corruption is present and the possibility that it occurs is inescapable. It doesn’t get better if it’s more sophisticated. But it can be somehow worse if it is cheaply and brazenly done. A kickback on the back of some major public contract laundered through layers of baroque off-shore structures is, somehow, more respectable, than Rosianne Cutajar’s version of “pigging out”, as she calls it in words that must be her weird idea of self-congratulation.
When you take a bribe from a contractor you somehow obscure the fact that you are ultimately embezzling public funds. After all whoever is paying you the bribe is recovering that cost from the bill they issue the government. And then some. You have got to respect the attempt to cover up tracks.
Rosianne Cutajar cut the middleman. She collected a fee from a government agency for doing nothing. She stole money from public funds without even bothering to organise some form of over-priced return. There was, literally, nothing to show for the money she was paid. The Auditor General found no record of her doing any work. Her “client”, the Institute for Tourism Studies, could produce no work she might have done for them. It was, literally, money for nothing.
Repeating “literally” is not a literary device, if you excuse the tongue twister. It’s hard to use good words to describe something so vulgar. I’m no poet, but most poets would likely struggle to write uplifting verses about a rubbish heap. Rosianne Cutajar’s fraud is the corruption equivalent of a rubbish heap, metaphorically.
There was something the Commissioner for Standards said when he reviewed this case. He said the rules precluded him from taking any action but that didn’t mean he condoned what Rosianne Cutajar had done. Leave aside the fact that Rosianne Cutajar did nothing for the money she was paid (that was something the Auditor General established). The Commissioner recalled how the OECD have recommended that back-bench MPs are not given government jobs, even if you were to assume that they’d work for the money. MPs on the government’s payroll cannot be independent of the government, much less can they scrutinise the government’s conduct.
He could have mentioned that the OECD’s recommendation echoes what the Venice Commission and the Council of Europe’s GRECO had already said before. The government has been ignoring this for 10 years.
The proverbial ink on the Commissioner’s report hadn’t dried when another backbench MP was hired for another government job. The new appointee is MP Omar Farrugia who now leads Malta’s national sports agency. Farrugia is a pubescent former bank clerk whose 19-month Parliamentary career has demonstrated zero interest in sports policy. He’s never spoken, never written, never showed any knowledge about the subject he now leads as chief national policy maker.
Times of Malta’s report of the news is exquisite. They compared Omar Farrugia’s cv with the cv of his predecessor in the same post. Farrugia replaces a literal professor of sports science and a recognised expert on sports management. Yeah, but you see, Farrugia is literally a Labour MP and that’s all the qualifications he needs. There’s all that ‘literally’ again.
I don’t know that Omar Farrugia will do a Rosianne Cutajar and never actually show up to work to earn the salary he’ll be paid. But I do know he is as unqualified for the position he’s been given as Rosianne Cutajar was when the blessed Italian teacher was hired as a consultant to a catering training school. They may find Farrugia has done some work but you can bet it will be completely useless.
Consider something Alfred Sant wrote today. I suspect he had people like me in mind when he said that “those who regularly write to lament about how, in their view, Malta has become Sodom and Gomorrah under the Labour administration are probably damaging the very cause they believe they’re promoting.”
Sant goes on: “The arguments, the instances, the criticisms and the rhetoric of scandal and protest that they deploy are so repetitive and so predictable that they have become monotonous.”
Guilty as charged. I’m boring. It should surprise me if you’re still reading this. It certainly surprises me that I’m writing it.
But what can one do if in the week that the Commissioner for Standards and the National Auditor find what they found in Rosianne Cutajar’s case, the government makes a near identical appointment with Omar Farrugia? How do you react differently to the same situation?
How can you make interesting and exciting the predictable misconduct of a government constituted by corruption and embezzlement? How do you colour the monotone rhetoric of protest when you’re living in a banana republic?