We are ushering in a new year and it is time to mention those public servants – paid out of the public coffer – who made a disaster out of their accountability, transparency and good governance obligations.
It is also time to show our kudos for those unsung heroes who bravely did their best to resist a tsunami of bad administrative practices and tried to salvage a semblance of the rule of law in our beloved country.
It was a very close tie between Ministers Edward Zammit Lewis and Justyne Caruana for the top prize as the villain in public life for year 2021.
Both are front runners as elected people’s representatives who have demonstrated the least sense of shame – or indeed no shame at all. Both would like to hold their head high up in spite of their awful behaviour as ministers elected to do that what is in the best interest of the country.
Yet both, in what must be a state of intellectual inebriation, fail to see how badly they have let the country down.
The first, a Minister of Justice caught cavorting with the alleged mastermind of a journalist’s murder, continues to consider himself the jewel in the crown of the Cabinet and complains, with some good reason, of the Ġaħan constituents who voted in his colleagues on the government side.
The second, a Minister of Education, found out to be only concerned with riding piggy-back on the direct orders rampant abuse system to award a €15k contract to a friendly pseudo-consultant, and then had the cheek to file court proceedings against the Standards Commissioner while declaring that she entered in politics to serve.
A new prize will be conferred this year for the most exemplary of Permanent Secretaries in the Civil Service.
There was little challenge for the award of this prize which goes with acclamation to Frank Fabri, in charge of the entire administrative apparatus at the Ministry of Education and its entities, which is probably the ministry with the largest expenditure budget.
Alas, after all these years in the civil service, Fabri has not realised that the role of Permanent Secretary is that of ensuring the observance of the highest administrative standards at the Ministry irrespective of the party in government – rather than kowtow to the Minister by plotting ways and means for the Minister to flagrantly abuse of power.
Fabri had already raised eyebrows years ago when he, called to give evidence, in a criminal case affecting his tenure of Mayor at the Rabat Local Council, opted to refrain from giving evidence in order not to incriminate himself.
How he was subsequently given a Permanent Secretary post has always been a mystery to the author.
The Commissioner for Revenue takes the prize for the abysmal and discriminatory manner with which he decides the remedies for flagrant tax evasion. We have seen the village hairdresser, mechanic and butcher who would cash the odd social security cheque for his customers, having the book thrown at them, being issued with freezing orders and being accused of all imaginable offences in the Criminal Code, bar murder.
Perhaps the authorities would like to believe that such disproportionate action might even impress FATF of the Maltese executive’s no bars hold in the protection of public revenue and in its crusade against tax evasion.
But then drops the penny and the public is regaled with flagrant cases of tax evasion committed by Labour MPs Rosianne Cutajar and Ian Castaldi Paris – the latter in the range of almost €1 million – which are all quietly dealt with administratively… with perhaps a friendly slap on the wrist.
The extent of impunity for the select few and the discriminatory and selective manner in which justice is administered cannot be made clearer for all to see.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna is to be congratulated for the direct and impeccable manner with which he talks to his audience, whether it is the cops on Police Day celebrations or to the MPS at the Sette Giugno or Independence Day celebrations.
He does not pull his punches when explaining the role of law enforcers and of the legislators and of how they fail in their duties to God and country when they do not act in accordance with their oath of duty. In his pronouncements he is always on the mark such as when he is castigating the Planning Authority for aiding and abetting the developers in ravaging what little remains of our countryside or in the uglification of out townscapes.
The Archbishop’s record for 2021 would have been without any hitches had he not failed to walk his talk. The proverbial fly in the ointment was the crass, nay unscrupulous, manner with which the Curia renounced its rights in favour of land speculators under the guise of being the alleged heirs of the original foundress of the Cosmana Navarra Foundation.
This maverick piece of chess is leading to a land grab that is causing so much economic and emotional pain to so many families in Gozo.
The Bishop finally gave evidence in the Gozo courts – after he repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, tried to avoid it by invoking formalistic grounds. This sounds familiar with the politicians that Scicluna usually criticises, does it?
The Monsignor was hot under the collar trying to persuade the protestors gathered outside, and the general public, that he could not foresee that the consequences of his action were nothing other than the unscrupulous pursuit of land speculation and development he is otherwise so justly critical of.
A newcomer to these islands who in the dying days of this year managed to clinch an Oscar at his first attempt was Joseph Gavin – the CEO of MFSA, head-hunted by the Ministry of Finance in an attempt to find someone capable of ushering out Malta from the undignified league of FATF-grey listed third world countries.
This after Malta was made to endure one adventurist episode after another, all organised by an amateur band of thieves and insatiable pigs at the trough at the steering wheel of government. In this they were aided and abetted by a series of failed institutions, not least the MFSA itself.
Alas in this first occasion in which Mr Gavin faced the press, the taxpaying public who pay his €160,000 salary package could not only hear his voice but also see the grimaces on his faces and observe see him squirming on his executive chair. His first meeting with the press proved to be a complete public relations disaster. Apparently the interview was requested by none other than Mr Gavin himself.
It seems he would have liked to impress the public on how well his challenging mission was progressing… until he was asked a couple of most legitimate but uncomfortable questions which caused him to blow his top when he found it so difficult to deal with.
The prizes for unsung heroes for Year 2021 go to the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life George Hyzler, to the current Head of the National Audit Office Charles Deguara and to the Ombudsman, Anthony Mifsud.
Whilst generally the institutions in Malta have let us down by giving in to illegitimate interference in their duties by the executive government, a few institutions are to be commended for having performed well demonstrating that persons with integrity can still perform their duties satisfactorily in spite of all difficulties.
The three institutions have remained loyal to their oath of duty and to the Constitution. Each one of them have been incisive in the search for the truth and the identification of abuse of power, conflicts of interest, nepotism and pillaging of government coffers by our elected representatives entrusted with the stewardship of a ministry or public entity.
Otherwise the people of Malta would have missed the candid reports dealing with the mother of all scandals: the award of the running of public hospitals and their management to VGH; the Electrogas contract, the gas procurement ‘arrangements’, and Enemalta’s misadventures in the Montenegro wind farm.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Angelo Farrugia, pales in personality when compared to the aforesaid Hyzler, Deguara and Mifsud.
Speaker Farrugia has repeatedly let down law abiding citizens for him to each time lend support to those members of the House who have denigrated the post with their behaviour. Perhaps appointment in the Chair for a third time is the priority.
Witness the way he went about delivering the reprimand to Rosianne Cutajar, caught red-handed evading tax. Speaker Farrugia allows Konrad Mizzi to continue his filibustering and to ridicule Parliament as an institution and to take the entire nation for a ride in spite of such manifest evidence of how he has fleeced the country.
Compare our Speaker Farrugia with his UK counterpart Sir Lindsay Hoyle. The latter has also been appointed by the party in Government but he has the stature and gravitas to force Prime Minister Boris Johnson to sit down and shut up four times, telling him “Prime Minister, I am not going to be challenged by you; you may be prime minister of this country but in this House I am in charge”.
These holders of the Standards Commissioner, NAO and Ombudsman have their independence and impartiality protected by security of tenure in terms of the Maltese Constitution. This goes to demonstrate the need, in the public interest, of having the appointments of the Commissioner of Police and Attorney General protected by similar constitutional safeguards to ensure independence from government interference.
This would go some way towards reducing botched prosecutions and lack of proper investigations, whether as a result of incompetence or as part of a deliberate strategy leading to selective justice. After all, this is one of the real motivations behind the FATF grey listing rather than the more diplomatic motivations specified in the official FATF statement.
In the dying days of last year, the FATF grey listing has now been further accentuated by the US Government action to inflict travel sanctions on Maltese subjects known to all for corruption, except it appears, to the law enforcement agencies in Malta.
This is another first for an EU country, yet another humiliation for Malta to be treated as if we were some Caribbean banana republic.
Who do you think deserves a special mention for their undignified behaviour in 2021?