Saturday, April 30, 2016

Civil Society protest - 7 May #Malta #PanamaPapers #Resign

Civil Society Protest to proceed

The civil society network is proceeding with its call for a national protest for the immediate resignation of Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri from their posts of Minister and Prime Minister's Chief of Staff in view of the Panama Papers controversy and Panamagate. 

"The Prime Minister's farcical reshuffle in the past days was an insult to the intelligence of all Maltese people who believe in good governance. Given Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri's involvement in Panamapapers, the least they can do is resign. This is what other politicians and other politically exposed persons in other democracies did when their names were revealed in the scandal".

The protest will be held in the square in front of parliament on Saturday 7 May, 10am. There will be no speeches. The protest will be peaceful and non-partisan. Individuals and organisations are welcome to attend the protest with their own banners. 

Civil Society Network said "We are simply demanding what is normal and obvious in a democratic society: politicians and politically exposed persons should not be associated with tax havens and dubious financial dealings, as this can result in conflict of interest".

A Facebook event page has been set up for this purpose:


Michael Briguglio, Monique Agius, Karl Camilleri, James Debono, Reuben Zammit, Martin Galea Degiovanni,  Julian Delia

30 April 2016

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Erosion of the Social

I wonder what Jeremy Boissevain would have made out of the latest examples of deficit in governance in Malta. What would he have said of politicians populating their assets in tax havens, of defending what cannot be defended, of the way political parties situate themselves amid the mess?
Boissevain was mostly famous for his writings on ‘saints and fireworks’ and ‘friends of friends’ networks in Malta, but his writings had also delved elsewhere.
For example, he borrowed the idea of “amoral familism” from Edward C Banfield, who, in turn, had written about “the inability of the villagers to act together for their common good or, indeed, for any end transcending the immediate, material interest of the nuclear family”.
Perhaps Boissevain would have said that friends of friends were doing their utmost to keep their power in Malta, whilst amoral familism contradicts the idea of a common good among many. Or perhaps he might have gone a step further and spoken of ‘amoral individualism’ – something a colleague of mine dubbed a few days ago as we were discussing the social situation in Malta today.
In my view, the biggest danger of the current political situation in Malta is not the simply political survival of new oligarchs in a system which already had its fair share of oligarchs.
It is the cultural malaise that wants to normalise corruption, where if you can’t beat it you join it. And by corruption I am not referring to legalistic interpretations of the term – important as they are - but to a way of life that moves away from meritocracy, transparency and other basic norms of liberal democracies.
Trust in politicians is already going down, and things will only get worse if this phenomenon spreads across society in general
Unless things change, Malta’s style of governance can dangerously head towards a direction whereby the common good and responsibilities are increasingly moved out of the conversation. If oligarchs can put their money in tax havens, then what legitimacy do they have to tell common citizens to be responsible, for example in the payment of tax?
The same Labour government that is progressive in the introduction of civil liberties is not equating this step forward with the need to promote the common good and responsibilities.
Yet, it should be clear that people’s well-being is very much interdependent to both rights and responsibilities and that the state has a vital role in this process. Politicians should therefore not avoid their responsibility to act for the common good.
Let us not forget that one important message of the general election in 2013 was that many voters wanted change towards an increasingly modernised society. If the same party that won theelection retains the deficit in governance, a net effect could be increased scepticism, lower civic commitment and lack of responsibility.
Trust in politicians is already going down, and things will only get worse if this phenomenon spreads across society in general.
This erosion of the social can therefore have implications which Malta should be avoiding. Such as becoming increasingly dependent on political oligarchs for favours. Or looking at nature as a commodity to be exploited.
Or associating public services with rent-seeking interest. Or becoming increasingly inward looking in terms of political tribes, even in basic needs such as law and order. Such insularity and dependence do not fit well with equal opportunities and level playing fields.
In such a context, I strongly appeal to Labourites who hold dear the values of social democracy to keep doing their utmost so that the government, which is in power through legitimate democratic means, earns a legitimacy of authority through self-restraint, through true deliberation, and by putting the common good before the interest of the few.
Governance should therefore not simply be justified through legalisms and parliamentary majorities. Government should also be about character, respect and responsibility.
As things stand, the oligarchy is only showing respect towards itself, at the expense of the common good.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Panama Paradox

There is so much to say about the global Panama Papers controversy. It is the talk of town everywhere you go around Malta. Really and truly, it seems to be part of the perfect storm of bad governance overshadowing the Labour government.
In a way this is a pity, when one considers that despite its situation, Labour does have a good number of decent politicians within its ranks. Some of them are standing up to be counted on Panamagate, others are probably working behind the scenes or are being conspicuous by their absence from the everyday spectacle of politics.
Arguably, the more Labour procrastinates in taking concrete action on the mess it is in, the deadlier will be the blow on its long-term electoral prospects. But the political context of Malta’s Panamagate is so fluid and volatile that things can change by the day, if not the hour.
There is another aspect of Panama Papers which I find so striking. And Malta fits in squarely within this framework.
Indeed, isn’t it ironic that while so much money is being hidden, laundered, recycled, what have you, and while so much tax is being avoided or evaded, Malta has a Third World infrastructure?
Take the state of Malta’s roads. Were it not for EU funding, most of Malta’s arterial roads would be in a terrible situation, as is the case with many residential roads. One main reason for this is that local councils simply do not have funds to cope with the requirements of proper road resurfacing and maintenance. Henceforth, we end up with roads which are carried out with inferior materials, or with roads which are partially resurfaced in their most damaged parts. And these are the lucky roads.
Isn’t it ironic that while so much money is being hidden, laundered, recycled… Malta has a Third World infrastructure?
The same can be said with pavements. Some pavements are simply not fit to walk on, courtesy of damages by contractors and heavy vehicles, sundry signage and obstacles, and do-it-yourself substandard works. Once again, local councils simply do not have the funds to fix all pavements, so yet again, some pavements end up being more equal than others.
Unfortunately, local councils – even those which are efficient in their management – end up bearing the brunt of residents who demand adequate infrastructure in their localities. Isn’t it paradoxical that local authorites are deprived of funds while millions of euros are hidden in the clouds?
A cursory look at the terrible state of various public sports facilities, from Marsa to Mtarfa, as well as their surroundings also confirms this trend.
What about the general shabbiness of the Maltese islands? Wires galore, abandoned buildings, cars fit for scrappage, and aesthetic incongruence. New mega pro-jects surrounded by substandard infrastructure, ramshackle practices, the odd brick here and there, and innovative methods to occupy parking spaces.
Not to mention the disparity of financial realities. Only last day, a friend of mine was speaking about the few euros extra costs incurred due to the new bus ticketing scheme. Another day, I overheard other parents speaking about costs and making ends meet. Not to mention pensioners who tell me that their pensions are simply too low.
I can also mention the precarious situation of patients who rely on television shows and voluntary organisations to collect donations. Or the exploitative situations of workers – from Ukraine to North Korea – in precarious employment or in modern-day slave labour courtesy of pseudo-massage parlours, gentlemen’s clubs and not-so-leisurely clothing.
All this is carried out in a global context of Panama Papers and other similar cases. Governments lose millions and billions in revenue, and common people lose out. Peanuts give you monkeys. In Malta it gives you Third World infrastructure and more.
And yet, Joseph Muscat boasts of Malta’s economic growth.
The Panama Paradox is therefore not only about politicians who should be responsible and resign from their posts, but also about a global context of huge inequalities which are played out in the everyday life of citizens in their respective societies. And while money flies freely out to tax havens, people cross borders, fleeing war and misery, in search of a better life. Only to find closed borders.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Civil Society calls for resignations of Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri

The Civil Society Network is calling for the immediate resignation of Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri from their posts of Minister and Prime Minister's Chief of Staff in view of the Panama Papers controversy and Panamagate. We will be organising a non-partisan civil society protest on Saturday 7 May, 10am in front of Parliament to voice our demand. Everyone can attend the protest.

Michael Briguglio, Monique Agius, Karl Camilleri, James Debono, Reuben Zammit, Martin Galea Degiovanni, Julian Delia

Facebook event page:

Monday, April 11, 2016

Dilemmas of writing

Picture: Graffiti art by Retna

When I write my weekly column in the Times of Malta, I use a rather systematic procedure. I normally write the first draft on a fixed day, I go through it the day after, and I then send it to the editor.
In the days preceding the actual writing process, I write down notes and comments and insert them in a folder full of ideas for upcoming articles. Subjects usually range from social policy to environment, from politics to social movements, and from international affairs to culture.
Even though I would have my own opinion on each subject chosen, I try to use my sociological imagination as much as possible, thus attempting to go beyond static interpretations, and asking questions rather than giving ready-made answers.
One main dilemma I face every week is which subject I am to choose for my subsequent article. My sociological imagination has its better and less good moments, and my ‘ideas’ folder proves particularly handy in the case of the latter.
Indeed, there are issues which are very topical, and others which are timeless. For example, if Parliament is discussing a particular issue – as was the case with the non-American non-University of Sadeen - it would be fitting to write about it. But other issues, such as the need to protect the environment are not necessarily bound by the parliamentary rhythm.
In these past weeks, however, a new dilemma has emerged in my article-writing process: the Panamagate invasion.
First it was the news that Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi was being promoted to Labour deputy leader despite his Panama dealings. Then it was the news about Keith Schembri and Joseph Muscat’s defence of the duo. Damning news emerged day in day out and eventually, the issue found its place within the global Panama Papers scandal.
Voters are increasingly reflexive and can easily give a historic defeat to Labour
In other articles I already gave my opinion on the issue. An oligarchy seems to be in place. Mizzi and Schembri should go. Joseph Muscat seems increasingly less in control within the oligarchy. Voters are increasingly reflexive and can easily give a historic defeat to Labour. And so forth. So I will not repeat what I already wrote about.
Yet, as a writer, my dilemma is that if I write about another topic, it would seem as if Panamagate can now be ignored and that a new normal is in place: a normality of corruption, untouchable politicians and so forth. I simply refuse to accept that Malta should go down such a putrid path.
And this is precisely the Panama paradox, or the dilemma I am referring to.
There are a lot of issues which are crying out for public debate, important as they are. To name a few, these include precarious employment, pensions sustainability, quality of air, electoral reform, water sustainability, judicial reform, migration, climate change, transport policy and so forth. Not to mention less ‘serious’ issues but equally interesting. For example, Eurovision. Or Willy Mangion’s epic search for garages. Or the impact of Xarabank on everyday democracy.
But I simply feel that it is not on to discuss other issues while Panamagate is in place. I want to be part of the civil society wave that stands up to be counted against such blatant misgovernance. For Panamagate is not only about Konrad Mizzi’s choice on how to populate his assets.  It is about a global elite whose behaviour has a terrible impact on fairness and the common good. And this impacts different aspects of policy making. Particularly when they are characterised by lack of transparency, which is the case in various decisions involving Mizzi himself.
Now if Panamagate creates a dilemma to writers, activists, and others who, like myself, would like to discuss so many other issues, I shudder to imagine its impact on the day-to-day decision making process and operations of Government itself.
As long as Panamagate stays in the way, we can only expect more attempts at silly propaganda, defensive tactics, political antagonism, and indeed, implosion.This is when the government is supposed to be fully concentrated on delivering its electoral manifesto. Which once again, begs the question: what is Joseph Muscat waiting for?

Monday, April 04, 2016

How many third parties?

What if another political party is formed? At face value, this may sound exciting. Another voice would be giving more choice to voters in Malta.
But what if the party has no clear direction? Or policy base? Or ideological orientation? Or proper procedure? Or a lack of internal democracy? Well, it could win votes in an election, particularly from those who are fed up from the current state of things. Grillo, and now Trump – two champions of populism - are examples in this regard. But could such results be transposed to the Maltese context? And if they are, would this be something desirable?
Well, let’s put things into context. Following Malta’s independence, Malta’s Parliament was always represented by two parties, bar exceptions when some members resigned from their respective parties. So far, floating voters have preferred to switch from Labour to Nationalist or vice-versa rather than voting for a third party. Of course, trends are not necessarily eternal.
The most successful small party since 1964 was Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green Party. After its establishment in 1989, it elected some local councillors in different localities, with repeated re-elections in Attard and Sliema (I happen to be the local councillor in the latter case). AD’s best general election result was in 2013, winning 1.8% of the vote (I was chair at the time), and its best European election result was in 2004, when Arnold Cassola obtained 9.4% of votes, under Harry Vassallo’s chairpersonship. In the former case, AD’s share of the vote represented more than a parliamentary quota – though on a national level, and in the latter case, AD was close to election.
The Green Party helped put issues such as environmental protection and civil liberties on the political agenda, and it also played important roles in the EU, divorce and hunting referenda. Its structural position as a party which can ‘take’ votes from other parties gave it a cutting edge.
Other small parties were less successful than the Greens, though Norman Lowell’s Imperium Europa won 2.8% of the votes in the 2014 European elections, or 0.1% less than AD. This ultra-right party fared much worse in other elections.
A cocktail of nonreconcilable ideas and ideologies is a no-go area as far as political parties are concerned
In the past days, Marlene Farrugia said that she will be setting up a new political party with what she considers to be fresh faces having no political baggage. I wonder why the latter is necessarily bad. Using this logic, Farrugia would be immediately disqualified.
Having been in discussions with Farrugia and others on the current political situation, I would like to set the record straight on matters that concern me.
First, the discussions I participated in never formally decided to set up a new political party. There were different views, which, yes, included the immediate setting up of a new party, but which also included other options, ranging from having campaigns on good governance and electoral reform to considering the setting up of a party in the future.
I, for one, said it is impossible to have a political party with opinions that are non-reconcilable. For example, how can a pro-EU and pro-civil liberties Green politician reconcile his/her views with someone who speaks against ‘foreign’ workers (including those from EU countries) and with Eurosceptics? And how can a party affiliated with the European Greens form an alliance simply based on external pressure despite its possible ramifications?
How can someone proclaim a third party when a third party already exists? If one values procedure and internal democracy, one should know that the existing third party – namely AD – requires a general meeting among existing members, before deciding on structural change. And on a Facebook post, Secretary General Ralph Cassar made it clear that such procedure will be followed.
In my view, a cocktail of non-reconcilable ideas and ideologies is a no-go area as far as political parties are concerned, and this can actually do more harm than good to the future of third party politics in Malta.
So can all those disillusioned with Malta’s current state of governance join forces in any way? If an inclusive civil society movement is formed – focusing specifically on governance and calling for immediate resignations of politicians who have lost all legitimacy – this could be a successful way forward.