Whistle-blowers are everything we’re programmed to dislike. They are close to something wrong, maybe even part of it. The chemist who exposed the cigarette makers for putting addictive poison in their products, was a chemist who had put addictive poison in cigarettes. Every day before whistle-blowers decided to blow the whistle was a day when they decided not to. They are active or passive accomplices until they decide no longer to be.

Whistle-blowers are also snitches, rats, plants, traitors. They betray their friends and colleagues. They lie to them, living a double life in the time between when they decide to stop collaborating until the time they take the witness stand.

Often, though not always, whistle-blowers are motivated by values that are well short of what might be perceived as honesty, let alone heroism. They might seek fame, or at the very least attention. They might seek payment or some other reward. They are nearly always looking for redemption, a quieting of their conscience, so tossed by their original complicity and by the betrayal of their friends.

We need whistle-blowers. If we had more of them this would be a better place. We need them in the private sector, in industries and companies providing services, because they might tell us about poisons in our food or in our waters, or about scams perpetrated by people we trust like our bankers or our insurance providers. And we need them in the public sector because they might tell us about politicians or officials we trust to take care of our safety and our money who betray our trust by chasing their personal profit.

The point I’m trying to make is that whistle-blowers are the easiest people to be made to look bad. Because often they are bad. They are often tainted by the crimes they expose and they are turncoats, people who switch sides, and it isn’t always clear to everyone that there’s a right or a wrong side.

Consider the case of this Roger Agius. He used to solicit votes for Silvio Grixti and for Andy Ellul. He was a ‘driver’ which is what his contract of employment would have said. In reality he was a broker, a fixer of favours, and, by his own belated admission, a tool in a corrupt scheme of embezzlement of public funds for the callous purpose of buying votes. From a certain point of view he is a person who has made objectionable choices in life.

He’s also a turncoat. He is offering to testify against Labour Party politicians and he’s hired as his lawyer one Jason Azzopardi which is enough to turn a few people positively apoplectic. He has walked away from the code of loyalty of the Labour clan. Indeed, he’s walked away from a code of loyalty which is enough to attract the judgement of anyone for whom loyalty to something, whatever it is, is a value above all others.

Yesterday Robert Abela commented on this story. He appealed to the principled sense of justice inherent to anyone looking at a story from the outside. Agius is trying to get away with his wrongdoing, the prime minister said. That’s why Agius wants to be a whistle-blower, because he did wrong and he doesn’t want to be punished for it. Investigations shouldn’t be distracted by an (alleged) criminal wanting to avoid justice.

At face value, Robert Abela sounds right. Maybe he is. He could be. Someone who’s caught in a criminal conspiracy might start blabbering to avoid the punishment they deserve. Their blabbering might be useless. They might just be saying things the police already know, offering evidence that is already in the hands of prosecutors. Their belated attack of conscientious collaboration should not help them.

Quite apart from how right or wrong the prime minister could be, let’s look at what we do know.

Since late last year Roger Agius has been offering to provide evidence on people in office who, he says, are involved in bribery, corruption, and embezzlement and – this is important – who were not and are not yet the subject of a police investigation.

His lawyers applied to the whistleblowing officer in the prime minister’s office for their client to be given the protections of the whistle-blower act. Robert Abela said this was an attempt to obtain immunity from prosecution. That’s only partly true, and as such, practically a lie. Protection under the Protection of the Whistle-blower Act is not the same as protection given by a presidential pardon. This is not a plea bargain either.

The whistle-blower act would protect a witness from detrimental consequences for the information that they give, which means that it does not protect them from the consequences of information the authorities already have. Presumably Roger Agius is entirely aware that the police know some stuff that would land him in trouble. He says he has information the authorities do not have and he has volunteered to give this information to the authorities. He presumably understand that though whistle-blower protection would protect him from consequences for the information he provides, it would not protect him from consequences for the information in the state’s possession that can already be used against him.

In theory that is why the law exists: so that the state could still acquire information that would otherwise remain hidden from it because the people who have that information would get into trouble if they were to reveal it. What sort of trouble? It isn’t just about prosecution for their role in the wrongdoing they expose. It’s also about the possibility of being sued in some effort to recover damages or embezzled funds or even about losing their job.

Now I do not know if Roger Agius has any useful information. I don’t know if he is in possession of evidence that would truly incriminate people – he says senior politicians – and that the authorities do not already possess the information he says he has.

But I do know the whistle-blower officer in the prime minister’s office doesn’t know either. How do I know that? Because the whistle-blower officer never met Agius. They never interviewed him. They never looked at the evidence he says he has. They never evaluated it. They just ignored his application.

Well, I say ignored. Perhaps they didn’t. Perhaps they looked at his application and decided not to respond to it. But something inside the prime minister’s office must have happened, because the prime minister yesterday appeared to be fully briefed about the case and he gave the first official motivation for the whistle-blower officer’s decision not to respond to Agius’s application.

The prime minister said the application did not deserve to be met because it was no more than an attempt of a criminal to avoid consequence. That is a determination. It is the outcome of an evaluation, however cursory it may have been. And, here’s the rub. It was an evaluation and a determination to which the prime minister is privy.

Robert Abela assured us yesterday that the whistle-blower protection officer has “some autonomy”. That is vague, almost to the point of irrelevance. It’s like saying someone is almost pregnant. But even if “some autonomy” were to mean something, it is clear by the simple fact that the prime minister could publicly pronounce the determination of this case before the whistle-blower officer ever replied to Agius, that that autonomy does not extend to the ability of the whistle-blower officer to reach their decision without referring the case to the prime minister.

Let me explain. A judge is autonomous from the prime minister because in a case where the prime minister argues before the judge, the prime minister only finds out what the judge has decided when everybody else does. The judge does not look for the opinion of the prime minister about what determination they should make.

In this case the prime minister is privy to the deliberations on an application for whistle-blower protection which means the deliberations did not happen independently of his will.

And this is why the system is not working. Because Robert Abela (and the whistle-blower officer who acts as the extension of the prime minister’s will) is not some impartial actor in cases where he, his ministers, and his party might be accused of bribery, corruption, and embezzlement. Quite the contrary. Even if he was never aware of the crimes, his judgement would be questioned. Consider how Robert Abela hired Silvio Grixti as his consultant after he was forced to resign as MP when the police interrogated Grixti as part of their investigation into benefits fraud.

I’m obviously interested in this case because it’s a case of corruption at the high political levels (and if Agius is right, even higher than we know so far) and it is a particularly callous case of fraud at the expense of the most vulnerable in our society: people who are eligible to public financial aid because they are severely disabled.

But I’m also interested in this case because it proves a point we at Repubblika have been making for 6 years. This country is not equipped with a whistle-blower protection law. I don’t need to be sympathetic with the whistle-blower. I sympathised with the plight of Jonathan Ferris and Maria Efimova but I thought the country owed them much more than even a perfect whistle-blower protection law could give them. I have little to no sympathy with Roger Agius, though I can only judge by what I heard.

My motivation for wanting him to be protected if he truly has useful evidence to give, is that I want that evidence. The country needs it. It is not right that we are stuck with corrupt politicians simply because their underlings are too scared of the consequences if they were to blow the whistle on them.

I know I argue all the time that the prime minister should be available to answer journalists’ questions. But his response yesterday, so loquacious about a case that should never have reached his desk, proves, more than anything seen or heard heretofore, that this is a government profoundly seeped in corruption, unable and unwilling, to fight that which keeps it in business: embezzlement, fraud, and bribes.