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Opinion • October 17 2004

Endless Bundyism

When John Bundy came up with the Pajjiz tal-Mickey Mouse song it was an all time hit. It articulated our love/hate relationship with our own country. It expressed our contempt for amateurishness stating our frustration at the absence of the standards we aspire to achieve.
The one thing that really got up my nose was the fact that John Bundy was a well known PN supporter. He has stood for elections in the interests in the PN and had not landed from the moon minutes before launching his hit song. He had enthusiastically defended the Nationalist administration that had governed the country for the previous decade at least. Great song, wrong singer.
Bundyism was born. It was a defining moment. The song, quite apart from the tone, the lyrics and the frustration it expressed, was an exercise illustrating what has become a standard Maltese political technique. Instead of recognizing one’s faults and chanting mea culpa to the drum beat of a self battered chest, rather than keeping quiet about one’s glaring faults, politicians and their motley crew of acolytes sidestep smartly and criticize themselves just as if they were talking about somebody else.
The latest exercise in a very long series is the Prime Minister’s outrage at the goings on at the Mater Dei hospital. Watching the mutual recriminations of the other political parties from the Green sidelines is dead boring. We’ve seen it all before: more zero sum politics about who made a worse mess. What was fascinating was the Prime Minister’s attempt to have us believe that he is stepping in to save the situation.
Anyone would think that he is our newly elected Prime Minister after an alternation in power. He takes the new-broom-sweeps-clean a little bit too far. We all know that he had been a Cabinet minister before being elected to the premiership by the PN. He cannot ask us to believe that he has had nothing to do with the economic landscape distorting white elephant at Tal-Qroqq. It is sheer Bundyism.
Dr Austin Gatt is past master at the game. His restructuring of PBS was pure Bundy: we were given the figures showing a huge waste of public money. Funds that were to be invested in updating equipment had been frittered away on productions. By Labour? By the Greens? Alien invaders? We were given the impression that somebody should have been shot for running such a scam for so many years.
Finally we were invited to praise the energy and verve displayed by Dr Gatt in ending the chaos. We were invited to be grateful to Dr Gatt and his precious PN for saving the day. At the end of it all we were invited to be grateful for the virtual loss of a public broadcaster which leaves us in the hands of a broadcasting anomaly unique in Europe: political party television stations.
I particularly loved Dr Gatt’s denouncement of the state of the gas bottle filling plant at Il-Qajjenza. In dashing Bundy style he described it as a chicken farm. It really was no news. It was part of the Mickey Mouse country we all knew so well before John Bundy painted the picture. Austin Gatt’s brushstrokes showed the hand of a master Bundyist at work. What was missing was the portrait of the chicken farmer, Dr Gatt’s Nationalist predecessor, Prof Josef Bonnici.
Had he been sent to the firing squad? Was he publicly pilloried for maintaining such a dangerous mess for so long? Was he banned from public office for life? No! He was rewarded with the prize of heroes. He was sent off to Strasbourg to repeat his chicken farming exploit across the European Union at the Court of Auditors.
Dr Deguara, the Health Minister has developed a new strain of Bundyism. Instead of firing blanks at an unnamed Nationalist predecessor, he shoots himself in the head with amazing regularity. Needless to say, he never injures himself. He tells us that radical reforms are needed in the health sector. He tells us that the situation is alarming. He confesses that he has told us so many times before, admitting that his stewardship has been ineffectual for years and years.
It is so bad that we are led to believe that something very drastic will have to be done about it soon. Dr Deguara is gently breaking the news that a free health service for all is no longer on the cards, a fundamental of the domestic economy of every Maltese family may vanish altogether because of the way things have been handled so far. Dr Deguara defines the point where Bundyism meets schizophrenia.
Dr Francis Zammit Dimech, having found the Maghtab landfill too hot to handle at a constant 400 C, has been moved to a key economic sector: tourism. In a public unveiling of reforms at the Malta Tourism Authority this week he told the congregated tourism stakeholders that the MTA was top heavy. Did they find the news worth the trip to Valletta?
He expected their agreement that a management structure with 41 heads was far too much. In the peculiar tradition of FZD, he had engaged a prominent accounting firm to tell him what everybody knew and to define a new structure for the place. The study and the experts are used to create a higher authority to which the Minister can refer to deflect reactions. Dr FZD did not even blush when the experts told us that nobody at the MTA could name his or her boss when asked point blank. Some structure, some leadership.
If we need experts to tell us such things, it must really be bad. Why do we need a Minister? Why does he have a CEO at MTA? What is he paid to do? In his next reincarnation, Dr FZD will tell us that we can do away with that bit of the structure also.
The Bundyest part of the show was the announcement that the Prime Minister has accepted to chair the new inter-ministerial committee on tourism. Dr FZD made it sound like the grant of a divine grace. Some of his audience seemed to be squirming with devout joy and gratitude at the news. They seemed to think that with experts below him and the Prime Minister above him, no minister need get his head out of his backside except to have his picture taken. Tourism could still be saved.
What a performance! It was virtuoso Bundyism. This minister was not only blaming his predecessor but also denouncing himself with a joyous grin on his face. In a way he was pointing fingers to his future faults and asking for applause.
Nobody seemed to notice that the Prime Minister cannot be the PM, the Minister of Defence, the Minister of Economics, the substitute Minister of Health and the substitute Minister of Tourism with anything resembling success. Dom Mintoff tried and failed.
The newcomers to politics are learning fast. Thursday’s Opinjonisti chatshow on NET TV gave us a PN – MLP debate about the need for a new way of doing politics. It sounded like the AD slogan in 1989: Stil ta’ politika gdida They spoke about consensus, about that clear sensation that the Maltese people are sick to death of zero sum politics.
They were obviously talking about the 29,000 who voted Green in the EP elections and the 54,000 who did not vote at all. In a breathtaking performance they managed not to mention the Green Party once all night. Dr Mario de Marco made pleas for consensus and Joe Saliba used ecological imagery speaking of the need for diversity.
I nearly died laughing. They were looking for a remedy for what was going wrong by doing exactly what they were describing as the problem. It was surreal.
They were constantly talking about the growing Green presence in Maltese politics in our absence and amazingly without speaking the word Green. It was a deafening omission. What consensus politics? What desire for diversity? Never once did anyone mention electoral reform to give people a full and fair choice in politics.
NET TV maintains a hermetic boycott of everything Green. Opinjonisti this week was the ultimate example. It was also a leading edge exercise of Bundyism. They were not pointing out a past fault, they were pointing it out while they were committing it before a national audience. John Bundy, we owe you.






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