“We’re starting 2017 better off than we started 2016,” said Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in his New Year’s Day video message. In many ways, he’s right. Unemployment is at record lows, tourism at record highs and business is booming.
But there’s something else that changed last year and Dr Muscat would be wrong to ignore it.
It started in January with the resignation of one of his ministers following a corruption scandal involving land transfer in Valletta. But it exploded with Panama Papers and has continued to haunt the government till today.
“Half the country now thinks Dr Muscat and his team are seriously corrupt. Not overrated, incompetent or greedy. Corrupt to the core.”
Half the country now thinks Dr Muscat and his team are seriously corrupt. Not overrated, incompetent or greedy. Corrupt to the core.
The country’s reaction to the hijack on Maltese soil last month was a case in point. First we joked about the conspiracy theories. But soon it stopped being funny and started to feel a bit too close for comfort.
Suddenly we have a South American news portal listing at least 11 reasons why this might have been a “staging” or a “public relations campaign”. From the calm passengers who were never interviewed by journalists, to the fact that the replica weapons were never displayed to the press. To the outrageous way the hijackers were paraded before going to court.
“This accumulation of suspicions… invite us to conclude that the episode of the apparent kidnapping would coincide with a staging or little subtle public relations campaign to favor the ruling Labor Party. In a second section, it will be fair to ask what merchandise was transported on the 8U209 flight,” reads the Google translated version of the article, originally shared by Daphne Caruana Galizia.
“People don’t need any more proof that the government is corrupt. They need proof it isn’t.”
The government will obviously dismiss these claims (we’ve asked them for a reaction and we’re waiting for a reply). But the fact that these allegations are even being made underlines how bad things have become. We are now seriously discussing the possibility of the government faking a hijack. And all this is happening at the very same time as Malta takes over the EU Presidency.
Corruption is not a new theme in Maltese politics. Nor is it a new theme to Joseph Muscat’s three-and-a-half-year legislature so far. But 2016 took things right to the top, and it’s been at least 30 years since such allegations were levelled against a Prime Minister.
The temptation at this stage will be for the government to keep behaving as if nothing has really changed. After all, Dr Muscat’s approval ratings are still high and the Opposition’s are still low. Plus, there’s a huge portion of the Maltese population that seems to be comfortable with corruption as long as they are benefiting too.
But if Dr Muscat is not the corrupt person so many people believe him to be, he needs to realise that the burden of proof now lies with him. People don’t need any more proof that the government is corrupt. They need proof it isn’t.