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Opinion • November 21 2004

On Jeremiahs and Peppi-natas

Folks it has been happening far too fast. I guess we are not the only souls thinking along these lines. Lawrence Gonzi is understandably oblivious to our concerns and he has not quite noticed that he has opened far too many fronts.
There is little sympathy for the PM and his bad planning. When he anointed Eddie as President after Eddie blessed his leadership fortunes, little did he realise he had catalysed the first in a series of angst-ridden sensations within the public towards government. Then it was the Brussels fiasco and the latest is his proposition for the Opera House site. Public opinion has given the government a thumbs down.
Trying hard to fill up a small hall at the Corinthia San Gorg for the Kunsill Generali is hard work, but not many people were noticing.
And calling those who criticise Government Jeremiahs is not exactly helpful, but downright foolish and a throwback to Mintoff’s time when the arrogant, rude Labour father figure would use the same precise word to describe those who dissented with his policies.
Joe Saliba has a short memory, otherwise he should have recalled this before unleashing his ‘intelligent’ buzz words at the Kunsill.
As if that weren’t enough, the PM did a Peppi-nata when, with his colourful repertoire of gratitude to each and every minister including those who definitely need to be rapped for their gross incompetence, he sounded more like a jazz vocalist thanking his backing vocals. I mean how can you thank Louis Deguara for seeing the Skanska bill rise from 93 million to 139 million or Austin Gatt for transforming PBS into a tamer version of TBS.
We are not impressed and that is not all we have to say.
The other Sunday I noted how the PM is reminding me more and more of KMB, but an unkind reader phoned in to point out that he instead resembled more and more the first six months of Alfred Sant’s governance.
In Sant’s case, it was Lino Spiteri who resigned and was replaced by Sant acolyte Leo Brincat. In Gonzi’s case it was John Dalli who played Spiteri’s role and it was Tonio Fenech who replaced him. Fenech, like Brincat, is a loyal servant in uncertain terms.
Now it’s budget time and the man in the electric chair is supposed to be Tonio Fenech. Well, it is supposed to be so. In reality Mr Fenech is a blessed junior finance minister. Unlike his predecessor, he has the party and the party media behind him.
Whereas John Dalli would have had to fight his way through to get some positive coverage on his own party media, Mr Fenech need only wink and there he is everywhere sounding the bugle. Whereas the former finance minister would get little in terms of spin from his party, Mr Fenech will be getting loads of free, clean stuff for all the spin planned by the PN machine.
Having said this, I should say I have tonnes of sympathy for Tonio Fenech’s economic arguments, but none whatsoever for his political arguments.
Mr Fenech may be a newcomer himself, but the party he represents is not. Add to this the fact that you cannot have the cake and eat it.
You cannot carry on blaming the people for their excesses or Alfred Sant for his 21 months at the helm. If there is anyone to blame, it has to be this government.
You cannot ask the public to come to terms with your policies and, for the umpteenth time, ask them to be understanding and to once again sacrifice their takings for the government’s sake.
In the distant background, the Labour opposition wails and gloats. Everyone knows that if it does get itself elected, it would do little to change any of the reforms introduced by Gonzi and Co.
Electricity and water tariffs, vacation cuts, overtime reforms and necessities not ideological do nots.
Yet Alfred Sant knows that his party could not in any way carry out the reforms needed to make up for lost time, for it would endear himself and his deputies once again to the opposition benches.
Dr Gonzi truly believes he will win his party an election in four years’ time. I guess a Prime Minister who opts for his birthday date as a target for the completion of 15-year-old nightmare called Mater Dei is an optimist and a positive thinker.
The ugly news is that the PN could only win if the economy turns around, which could only be done if stiff Thatcherite measures are taken in hand and rigorously implemented.
We are under the patronage of Brussels now and just in case no one has noticed we have to act within the parameters set out by Brussels.
We are the smallest Member State with the smallest growth and I am sure when Richard (Cachia Caruana) looks out of his private residence in Brussels over the lake, he mumbles to himself and says: “It is not looking good.”
Well, what I have said about RCC is mere speculation because even though he is the permanent representative, he still prefers not to talk to MaltaToday because he is apparently petrified by our questioning.
Which is a pity because, we would very much like to hear his point of view.

The next time you happen to hear a politician talk of social conscience, swallow a packet of Rennies. The other day I met someone who had spent 35 years working at PBS. He was asked to no longer report for work by means of a simple telephone call.
PBS has not only been completely overshadowed by Austin Gatt’s vision, but needless to say they are taking up his bad manners.
The best part of the story is the fact that the staff that was asked not to report for work are still on full pay.
But why talk? Dr Gatt says that he does not read what is written in newspapers, which is one league ahead of the Jeremiah bashers at Pietà.

Now we have the magisterial inquiry by Consuelo Scerri Herrera and the derogatory comments passed by the Attorney General and the obvious reaction from Louis Galea on the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools issue.
I am sick and tired of having to explain myself on this one. The last time I walked into the CID office in Floriana, I found two sort of ‘okay’ of Inspectors with little in the way of criminal intelligence trying to piece up a jigsaw puzzle that was impossible to put together.
Dr Galea can say what he likes, he did the same when in 1992 the AWTS scheme came to an end after financial mismanagement that saw his canvassers and the closest of aides sucking up thousands from a scheme which was unaudited and unaccounted for.
The names of some of the individuals who involved themselves at AWTS include Mario Callus, a Louis Galea aficionado who somehow resurfaced at FTS who at the time hired dumpers to the AWTS scheme!
As I stated in a letter I sent to my colleagues who edit The Times and The Independent:
“The news stories that appeared in MaltaToday are based on public information that came out through parliamentary questions. The parliamentary answers, which did not attract much media attention, reveal the names of ‘companies’ that received direct orders from FTS.
“Matthew Vella, the journalist who investigated these companies and their shareholders, noted that the vast majority of individuals originated from constituencies where Minister of Education Dr Louis Galea stands as an electoral candidate.
“It was also obvious that most of the contractors shared a ‘common’ political allegiance.
“Strangely, apart from ignoring government finance regulations, many recipients of direct orders segmented their invoices so as to avoid exceeding the threshold requiring a call for tenders.
“There were also other entities that received direct orders but were not registered as companies with the MFSA and therefore the recipient remains a mystery.
“With regards to the Magistrate’s comment that I did not reveal my sources, I must add that I continue to believe that journalists should not disclose their sources.
“Dr Louis Galea obviously reaped political mileage and rejoices at the findings of the inquiry and the comments of the Attorney General.
“As a newspaper we never called for an inquiry. It was the Labour party which did so. I simply collaborated with the institutions as far as is ethically possible. I should add that I found the police to be lacking the human resources to look into the matter.
“We retain our scepticism about the way inquiries are held and maintain the issuing of direct orders raises more questions than answers.
“The untimely comments by Silvio Camilleri as Attorney General tend to confirm our lack of trust in the whole inquiry. Needless to say this reminds me of the inquiry in the Auxiliary Workers’ Scheme (AWTS), where allegations of gross financial irregularities and favouritism involving well known political figures were brushed aside by yet another ‘superficial’ inquiry.
“A scary anecdote worth remembering is that on the 1992 election day the files related to the AWTS disappeared from the AWTS offices!”

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