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Opinion • 11 July 2007

Politics of despair and politics of convenience

Saviour Balzan

Everyone, from my garden gnome to Bibby my cuddly house spider, were supposed to be over the moon with the very unsurprising press release that Malta, Gozo and Comino are now officially in the eurozone once and for all.
But as the news was spilled onto every television channel, we were either all yawning, sleeping or munching crisps in front of Canale 5. Others were sunbathing on the dirty shoreline or wondering whether Jesmond Mugliett’s resignation offer had been nothing but a joke, a loony game or just a mirage.
I guess only the Prime Minister can answer these questions in five seconds and three laughs. Having said this, the PM’s office has launched its Janissaries to defend Jesmond Mugliett.
It happens to be high summer, and yet we cannot forget the indomitable Jason Azzopardi – he too writes in green ink, to imitate and emulate good old Guido. Jason is Jesmond Mugliett’s rival candidate on the minister’s constituency, and has decided to legally represent the two individuals at the ADT who were convicted for bribery in Court, one of them being a Mugliett canvasser.
The PN backbencher Jason Azzopardi did more than that: he first got his clients to suffer a reprimand, but then lost the court appeal, and petitioned President Edward Fenech Adami for a presidential pardon… and that is when Mugliett jumps in.
The convoluted story continues, with Mugliett saying he did not suggest, advise, tell, inform, discuss or whatever he did with the ADT chairman that the two should be kept on half-pay until the good old President decides. The Chairman and CEO then sort of suggested, said, announced, that it was Mugliett who told them so. So!
What happens next is a sequel from the Inspector Clouseau saga, but needless to say all hell breaks loose. When the heat got at him, Mugliett did the honourable thing and offered his resignation to the Prime Minister. And the PM did what Mugliett prayed he would do: reject it.
The PM said: “Okay Jes, I cannot see what all the fuss is about. You can stay and be part of this great team we call the Cabinet.”
Jesmond replies: “Gee, thanks Lonz. I really think that you are nice guy.”
And the PM retorts: “That is not what the papers will say, but what the heck, who cares?”
And in so doing, we all confirmed what we always feared: the PM finds it infinitely hard to take a decision. I recall when Gonzi was running for the leadership post, vacated by Fenech Adami especially for him, many of his acolytes repeated ad nauseam what a decisive man he was.
Well, there you are. The proof is in the pudding.
And there is also a little thing in Gonzi’s character that remains an enigma. He seems to be adverse to having his agenda dictated by others and gets all worked up if his plans are somewhat hijacked by others. In his mind, a Mugliett resignation would have led him to push for a reshuffle, and he simply is not in the mood of carrying out this reshuffle just because The Times carried a story.
More seriously, Dr Gonzi cannot quite imagine having some of his backbenchers in his Cabinet. He loves the sight of Tony Abela in the corner, eating peanuts and checking on his next appointments.
But I am sure he is asking himself: ‘what is wrong with having a Clyde Puli stand in for, say the Minister for Foreign Affairs?’ Surely he would confront the Libyans and call them all sort of names. At the very least, Puli could make good use of his waistcoats.
And why not have Jason Azzopardi as Justice Minister? Certainly he could come up with a plethora of presidential pardons for his constituents.
In this saga, Mugliett is battered and beaten but he has done his little part, and like all good parliamentarians and ministers he will hang on.
The real winner in all this is Jason Azzopardi, the lawyer and politician who impresses us all with his wit and political depth and who surely cannot be forgiven for seeing a golden opportunity in the two unfortunate constituents who deserve our President’s Christian compassion.
If no one has shouted at the PM, then someone should, and point him out the ugly implications of his decision. It is clear that the PM does not appreciate how awful the situation is at the moment. The PN government is in free fall, and only one thing can stop this plummet.
Worryingly, the spectre of the PM’s treatment of John Dalli has come to the fore. And poignantly, the confirmation that the National Audit Office is not investigating John Dalli after all but all the ministries, should come as a shock to everyone including the PM.
But I find it very hard to believe that this is not known to the PM. The latter has argued that he could not have a minister under investigation in his Cabinet. Good to know then, that the ‘investigation’ which is three years late, has chosen not to focus on the Dalli case after all.
What a mega mess!

If convenience is Gonzi’s favourite thought, then despair must be Labour’s future motto.
I suggest ‘Labour in despair’, or ‘Labour makes you despair’. Joseph Sammut makes a veritable fool of himself with his Bus 13 apartheid suggestion and guess what, his lawyer-companion he shares the same office with, mumbles something that sounds like “Grrrr”.
Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, who is the President of the Labour Party, thinks that we are misreading Dr Sammut. Charles Mangion, the notary and deputy party leader, thinks so too. You see, even to suggest that Sammut should do a Mugliett is far too difficult to ask.
The best quip or the quote of the decade comes from Alfred Sant who defensively asked the MaltaToday journalist: “Why? Don’t you think that it is a problem for Birzebbugia residents?”
Well, thank God all our newsroom staff are nice guys and gals. The ceremonial MLP president Zrinzo Azzopardi suggested we should wait for Monday’s parliamentary adjournment when Sammut should have explained himself to the radio listeners of Radio 106.6 that he meant to say something rather different.
Politicians cannot understand that you cannot say something and take some tippex and erase it. It is like slapping your wife and then telling her: “Dear, I’m sorry, I had an awful day at the office.”
In the meantime it is a pity it is not the hunting season, because Sammut, who is a keen hunter, would be killing some of his precious time massacring game birds in the good company of his great friend and mentor, the one and only Michael Falzon, another hunter by the way and the Labour party’s progressive deputy leader.
You know, I am getting all excited about New Labour. It is starting to sound like Old Labour and smells just like New Nationalists, and guess what: I think that Joseph M. Sammut must be that unknown quantity in the Labour party that sooner or later will sprout and blossom.
Pretty much like Michael Falzon’s metamorphosis from a party activist who was only known to George Abela and the doorman to Labour’s number two.



MediaToday Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 02, Malta
Managing Editor - Saviour Balzan