Bird Hunting
OPINION | Sunday, 02 September 2007

Respecting one’s intelligence

saviour balzan

Joe Saliba has said the PN has a one percentage point lead in the polls.
If I had been the journalist I would have asked Saliba to produce the data there and then to substantiate what he was saying. When sister newspaper Illum came out with the story last week reporting that a Labour internal survey showed the party leading by 5 per cent, or 14,000 votes, it based its reportage on what it saw – not on what it was told to report.
Everyone can say what they like, but the surveys published in MaltaToday and other newspapers do not tally with what Saliba is saying.
He probably knows something we do not know. What he knows and what we know is that there is widespread disenchantment with the government. Saliba stands by the government’s record and defends the status quo. No one is to blame for this but Labour, he will say.
But Saliba obviously takes great comfort in the fact that most readers are not statisticians. Talking to The Times on the same day he gave an interview to MaltaToday, he said the PN had been leading with a one per cent lead. In these kind of surveys, there is usually a five per cent margin of error. So there you are: anyone with primary school education can come to their own conclusions.
Saliba argues that Labour bases its campaigns on mudslinging. That’s of course the same thing Labour says about the PN. In this war of words, the only argument the Nationalists can continuously apply with certainty and conviction is that Alfred Sant is not fit to govern.
They should of course add that the Labourites say the same about them. Funnily enough many are saying the same thing, and not because they are being prompted to say this.
Apart from two or three ministers, the Cabinet is suffering from a severe fatigue and tiredness syndrome. The whole government apparatus has simply forgotten where it is going and there is a general feeling of déjà vu.
The other day at St Luke’s Hospital a staff member asked me to do something about the cornflakes and ham that are robbed on a daily basis from the wards. I asked how long this had been happening, and he said: “since I have been working here”. And how long was that, I asked. “Eight years!”
Did the health minister know about this? “Beats me,” he answered.
This summer, a litany of corruption cases has hit government hard, but the Prime Minister reacted feebly, standing by all his ministers as if they were vital organs.
The opening of Mater Dei, supposedly a great gift to the nation, has been overshadowed by the massive expense invested in it and the problem of migrating from St Luke’s Hospital, and the teething problems from the handover from Skanksa – which remains a closely guarded secret.
With this background, one listens to spin and counter-spin. And it is very nauseating and sad. Great declarations of accomplishments and groundbreaking records are dished out to the public about how great and good our healthcare is in the world, how brainy our graduates are, and a host of other Maoist declarations of how the Maltese are the happiest people in the world.
We are told in The Times, now firmly entrenched in its pro-government stance, that government has collected Lm14 million more in income tax. So it follows, that the economy must be doing great.
But there is of course a big difference between what economic statistics state, and what is felt on the ground. There is no better way of assessing this very subjective comment – one need only ask Tonio Fenech, who has an official wage of just over Lm14,000 as a minister, how he is getting by with his purchasing power.
Is it better? Is it worse? I will let Tonio Fenech answer that one.
Obviously no one is telling us whether the Lm14 million in extra revenue are coming from things such as the thriving gambling industry, or one-off sales, or better still… from better tax collection times.
Every time we hear that the economy is doing better I get the impression that we are expected to rush out of our homes with a small Maltese flag and wave it around ferociously to blow away the dandruff off our politicians’ shoulders. There hasn’t been one year in which the message that the economy is doing better was not transmitted.
Alfred Sant in the meantime continues to hold press conferences and play the role of prime minister-in-waiting, surrounded by the posse of would-be ministers and government authority chairmen – Michael Falzon, Charles Mangion, Silvio Parnis, Stefan Buontempo, Edward Zammit Lewis, Chris Cardona, Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi and Anton Refalo – all representing la crème de la crème. I try to decipher the reasons they call themselves socialists, and I find none. I see Michael Falzon, a man who loves fireworks and says he does not hunt in Malta but abroad, like the fine English gentry; and Charles Mangion, the super-notary who finds no problem working for the big boys with the big bucks.
Sant of course tells us the economy is not doing well; and that his government will be free of corruption, managerially-driven, and the proverbial breath of fresh air.
We can only pause and yawn. I could believe Sant were it not for the fact that the people around him do not strike me as being intellectually either on the left or any better, or different to the Nationalists. Yet even that is not a good enough reason to argue that the Nationalists should hang on to power till all our hairs turn white. The Labourites after all do not exactly eat babies.
The real argument that is really valid in all this confusion is the need for democracy. And like justice, democracy must be seen to be done.
As things stand, the need to alternate power becomes a requisite for a democratic state and in his wisdom, Joe Saliba has failed to advise his Prime Minister and party leader that the meritocracy revolution he once promised needs to be actuated.
It is probably far too late. It is too late, and when he says the Nationalists deserve to get elected again and again, he is only talking to himself and to his entourage. It reminds me of what I heard last Sunday on Radio 101. Malcolm Mifsud, the former Nationalist mayor of Pietà, was reacting to the story in last Sunday’s ILLUM on Labour’s electoral lead, and said that if the electorate wanted to see the difference between the way the PN and MLP act they need only look at the local councils.
He said: “Wherever the Labourites have ruled at local level they have made a mess.”
This came in the wake of the scandal at the Mosta local council which was captained by a PN councillor. But then it is one thing when Malcolm Mifsud believes his own spin, and a completely different story when we believe them.
Perhaps Joe and Malcolm could learn a thing or two about respecting people’s intelligence.


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