Corrupt police officers can be found everywhere. But when entire sections of a police corps come together to commit and coverup illicit activity, it is no longer a question of a few bad apples.
This is another symptom of Malta’s corrupt culture which has not only been left to fester and infect all institutions but has been actively encouraged by those in power.
Just like any company or organisation has a culture that inspires the behaviour and attitudes of its staff, countries develop their own culture through the example they get from the people at the top.
As a small Mediterranean island with a young democracy, Malta has always had a cultural predisposition towards corruption. The tight knit community lends itself to things like nepotism and bribery being mischaracterised as kindness and generosity.
But from 2016 onwards, this took on a whole new meaning because clear wrongdoing was sanctioned and excused by the Prime Minister.
By standing by his minister Konrad Mizzi and chief of staff Keith Schembri after they were exposed to have set up secret Panama companies, former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat effectively endorsed corruption and money laundering.
L-Aqwa Żmien sent a stark message to the entire country: Min ħexa mexa (those who screw the system succeed).
But it wasn’t only the impunity shown towards Mizzi and Schembri that sent this message.
Muscat also gave jobs and consultancies to most of his backbenchers, effectively (and brazenly) giving his MPs a pay rise without having to call it that.
And similar contracts were also given to people involved in suspicious activity, such as former Times of Malta director Adrian Hillman.
During L-Aqwa Żmien, those who fought corruption were ridiculed, isolated and, in at least one case, killed. In a concerted effort by government apologists, they were labelled “holier than thou”… as if to call out wrongdoing was inherently hypocritical and something to be ashamed of.
On the other hand, those who were demonstrably corrupt were promoted. Worse still, they were presented to the electorate as superstars and victims of Nationalist spin, ensuring their re-election. This allowed the government to say that it was the electorate who wanted people like Konrad Mizzi promoted rather than fired.
Mizzi was hailed as a hero after setting up dodgy offshore structures to defraud the taxpayer and the police officers who tried to stop him were either sacked or made to resign.
So it is no surprise that police officers would come together to defraud the taxpayers and give themselves a secret pay rise by declaring false overtime.
This does not justify their disgusting behaviour. Their job is to expose wrongdoing, so their crime is aggravated. But as a country we must start coming to terms with the reality that this rot has spread throughout every institution – and not in a slight way.
Conducting a proper cleanup and changing this culture of corruption is going to take time and it’s going to hurt many people. It could also leave the country with very problematic situations. The police scandal could leave us without enough traffic police officers, for example, and might also force the resignation of the interim Police Commissioner just before he is to be replaced.
The first step is to provide real protection and respect to whistleblowers who come forward, journalists who expose these rackets and politicians, police officers and members of the judiciary who take serious action.
It is also essential that the Opposition gets its act together so it can lead by example and provide an alternative in case the government fails to go far enough.
Needless to say, having a leader who is himself under investigation for money laundering is a non-starter.
If there was ever a need for people of good faith and clean conduct to put themselves forward for the service of this country at all levels, it is now.
We need to fight the rot with goodwill and make it as contagious as corruption has been.