It started with our top government officials secretly opening companies in Panama days after they got elected, and it ended with Malta getting the Panama treatment by the Financial Action Task Force.
We were promised the best of times (L-Aqwa Zmien), but instead the worst has happened. Malta has fallen onto a grey list, confirming we are no longer a trusted global partner in the fight against money laundering and financing terrorism.
It’s a horrific conclusion to a traumatic five years in Maltese politics, and what happens next will be defining.
This could be the tipping point Malta needs to undergo the radical change required to become the thriving and peaceful paradise it can be. Or it can be the start of an even more painful period where, besides political unrest, we also experience the financial backlash we have long been dreading.
The government is acting surprised, blaming ‘unjust’ political decisions, and even going as far as to claim the letter of support by Opposition leader Bernard Grech somehow put spokes in the country’s wheel.
But this is the same government that insists on keeping a member in Cabinet despite being an alleged bank robber, a government that is led by the legal adviser of the most corrupt Prime Minister in history, and a government that placed Edward Scicluna as governor of the Central Bank after he was the Finance Minister who oversaw Malta’s descent into this mess.
There is a sense of denial in the air, but the truth is the writing has been on the wall, at least since 2016 when the Labour Party chose to defend Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi despite the fluke of history that was the Panama Papers leak, which revealed their devious intentions.
The more the government points out the fact that Malta is compliant on all aspects of the Moneyval and FATF scorecards, the more it exposes the fact that it is the Labour government itself that is the problem. It is the government the FATF does not trust, despite all the hard work and efforts of civil servants and public authorities to get their act together at record speed.
The FATF seems to be also sending a message to the Maltese electorate. ‘If we don’t trust your government, why do you insist on doing so?’
What the international community might not realise is that for the past five years there has not been an alternative government to replace the current one, at least not one that inspired an adequate amount of confidence or hope.
The Nationalist Opposition should have been an automatic choice, but the electorate does not see it that way. And even if economic hardship starts to be felt, that is unlikely to change quickly.
In a normal reality, the PN would have immediately called for an election after yesterday’s terrible outcome. But it is afraid to do so because it knows what the polls are saying.
Voters can sense that fear and insecurity and they concur. Despite everything, the PN is still not ready.
Yet this reality, which is illustrated clearly in opinion polls, only serves to strengthen Labour’s power and legitimacy, and softens the government’s resolve to take the difficult decisions it obviously needs to take. The FATF decision should be a stark reminder to the government that popular support is not everything.
Of course the government must do everything it can to retain the public’s trust and regain that of the international community. The time for propaganda is over. This is a mess of Labour’s own making and no spin is going to change that. What is needed is clear and decisive action that is the opposite of the serene continuity Robert Abela promised before he became Prime Minister.
But because what is ultimately needed is a change in government, the real onus now is on the Nationalist Party to prove it is better positioned to get Malta off the greylist and provide an alternative economic and social vision for the country now that we need one so badly.
We often speak of a dangerous duopoly in Maltese politics. But what we effectively have today is even more dangerous: a monopoly, run by a government the FATF does not trust.
Providing a credible alternative is difficult for the PN to do when it has made so many mistakes in recent years. It is even more difficult to do when the party remains so divided.
But its members need to remember that despite its embarrassing recent past, the PN has a proud history of bigger picture moments. It is the party that helped restore democracy in the 1980s, that transformed Malta for EU membership, that made the fiscal reforms needed to join the Eurozone and that steered a steady ship during the financial crisis and the Libyan war.
Our democracy relies on having at least two strong parties who can provide alternative governments when they are needed and PN needs to realise that its failure to get its own act together will only lengthen Malta’s torture.
Even if it simply starts to rebound at the opinion polls, the government will no longer so easily use its unassailable electoral advantage to justify the unjustifiable.
But for voters to start to switch allegiance, PN needs to do much more than just present itself as the other option. It needs to offer real change and inspire hope that things can actually be different. Ultimately, it needs to define its purpose and then prove to the electorate that it is capable of fulfilling that purpose.
This is not the time for PN to gloat or say ‘I told you so’, even though Lawrence Gonzi’s 2013 rhetoric sounds eerily prophetic today.
This is the time for PN to regroup and understand that by failing to work as a team, it is only prolonging Malta’s trauma when it actually has a duty to heal it.
And those within Labour who do not want to be remembered for the mess their party will leave behind should start speaking truth to each other now, before it’s too late.
L-Aqwa Zmien is officially over.
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