When I watched Joseph Muscat give us his version of the conclusions of the Egrant magisterial inquiry, I should have, for all intents and purposes, felt sympathy as he described the effect on his family, especially his children. Instead I was left completely stone cold, even though my family and I had been through a similar experience.
My youngest was 5 years old when a precautionary garnishee order was applied to our bank account and my salary. He was with me in the checkout queue and a mountain of shopping in my trolley, when I had to phone my bank because my card didn't work. I had to educate him about how a justice system works. He was under the misapprehension that going to court meant there was a chance I could end up in prison. I spent two years in court. Five months without a bank account and my salary frozen on the minimum wage. I tried to make Arms re calculate our bill on the correct tariff. I wrote to Joseph Muscat and the then Minister for Energy, Konrad Mizzi. To no avail.
That day in August 2013 was the day the bottom of my world fell out. We had done absolutely nothing wrong and yet, even though I didn't have to attend Criminal Court, I did feel, as my son correctly perceived, just like a criminal. All I did was insist that we pay for our utilities on the primary residence tariff, not the secondary residence tariff. It put a huge strain on our family life as we pinched our way to the end of the month, every month.
Joseph Muscat, on the other hand, made eunuchs of the police, the FIAU, the MFSA, the Attorney General; he kept Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri in office, even when it was revealed that they had Panama companies. It was obvious that there needed to be an investigation into the very serious allegations against him. Like there should have been investigations into all the serious allegations against other politicians.
But there he was on my television screen, making it seem as though he should never have been investigated.
I have touched upon this politician / ordinary person divide before in other blogs in Malta Tenant Support. It is a reflection of the automatic reverence with which most of us look at politicians, as if they are the deities and we are the ordinary mortals. We have allowed them to think that they are gods when really their sole raison d’etre is to serve the public, without fear or favour. After all, this is what they say they will do in their oath of office.
It doesn’t help that we have members of parliament from only two political parties* in our Parliament and have done so for decades. This has created a toxic political partisanship where you are either red or blue. It’s binary – if you’re not red, then you must be blue, and vice versa. It’s been a vicious descent into the current poisonous situation, the flimsy checks and balances on the Executive, long having given way.
It is depressing to see this reverence even in well educated people – there is no room in their minds for criticising ‘their' party, no matter how serious the shortcomings. That would be seen as a victory for ‘the other side’. It is an ugly impasse which breeds hate upon hate, intolerance upon intolerance.
Do they understand, I wonder, the implications of Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Chief of Staff for the Prime Minister, Keith Schembri, having set up Panama companies one day after taking their oath of office? Do they understand the utterly cold cynicism of PEPs setting up secret companies in order to hide their money within days of being elected? That’s right - they set up these secret companies to hide their money. If it hadn’t been for the Panama Papers, we would be none the wiser. Please don’t believe the ridiculous stories of family trusts and all the other nonsense. It’s as clear as the light of day. This is why there are rules against politically exposed persons setting up these financial structures.
Do they not make the link with Azeri Socar overcharging us on our fuel by 40 million dollars every year? Or the sale of our health care system to Vitals? Or the sale of our preciously finite pristine land to Sadeen to build a ‘university’?
Is it possible that they don’t see the link between the above and the setting up of opaque financial structures within days of PL winning the 2013 general election?
Or do they understand this but admitting it would mean that ‘their' side has lost and ‘the other' side has won? Yes, it’s that infantile.
One final point. The aftermath of the Egrant magisterial inquiry is a prime example of how this toxic partisanship is creating more disunity and exposing the dysfunction of our institutional checks and balances. The police did not investigate a single Maltese person revealed to have a Panama company. This inquiry was ordered by the accused himself. Joseph Muscat decided when to ask Magistrate Aaron Bugeja to set up the inquiry. As it happens, this was 13 months after the Panama Papers were published. Whoever Egrant belonged to had 13 months to get rid of the evidence. Joseph Muscat decided on the terms of the inquiry, he presented the conclusions to us in a perfectly orchestrated press conference. We then have Pilatus Bank, Mossack Fonseca and Nexia BT. The owner of Pilatus Bank was arrested in the States and faces 125 years in prison for money laundering. The MFSA recently asked the EBA to rescind the licence for Pilatus Bank. Mossack Fonseca was shut down. Nexia BT is still open, even though it set up companies in tax havens for PEPs. We have Maria Efimova contradicting Daphne Caruana Galizia in her testimony. We don't have Daphne Caruana Galizia to comment on this. What did Karl Cini say when / if asked who the individual in his email to Mossack Fonseca was? The forgery - who forged the signature? Isn't it the nature of these financial structures that they are difficult to attribute ownership to?
With all this in mind, how can we trust the outcome of the inquiry, no matter how excellent the magistrate is?
I also wonder whether these people read the conclusions. The two conclusions at the end of the report begin with ‘Ma nstabx’ (It wasn’t found). This is not a guilty or innocent ‘verdict’. An inquiry is a compilation of evidence from which a magistrate draws conclusions and makes recommendations. And yet we are treated to triumphant jubilation when not proven does not necessarily mean innocent.
We also have the angry PL supporters who label the sceptics PN supporters, who jeer and crack jokes at the expense of people they say are from ‘the other' side. They do not see the context of this inquiry in its entirety: the fact that the inquiry was tainted from day 1 or that Joseph Muscat and six other defendants are doing their utmost to delay another inquiry instigated by Simon Busuttil more than a year ago. Is it that Joseph Muscat is uneasy with an inquiry of which he has not dictated the terms?
Why is it that we don't see that the inquiry should never have even taken place? Instead of entrenching ourselves behind PN or PL, we should have all made sure that Joseph Muscat dismissed Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, that fateful day in 2016 it was revealed that these owned Panama companies. The fact that he didn't has only cast doubt on Joseph Muscat himself. It shouldn't only be the sceptics - the small group of neither PN nor PL - who see this. It should be ALL of us holding the political class to account, without fear or favour, ALL the time. It's down to us - the collective us. Politicians will certainly not uphold their oaths of office if they know that we will let them get away with behaviour like this. So they will keep on laughing all the way to the dodgy tax haven as the frothing at the mouth partisan provides a smokescreen for them to be able to do this.
*(I’m ignoring the PD anomaly – they were elected under a PN ticket and it remains to be seen whether other political parties will go down this route again. It did show us, however, that this is a way to get round the prohibitive impossibility of electing a third political party to our parliament.)