Editorial | Sunday, 23 November 2008

Of leaks and plumbers

Austin Gatt’s “revelation” of the identity of the so-called “anonymous consultant” of Labour leader Joseph Muscat has to be taken for what it is: an attempt to derail the debate about the exorbitant revised utility tariffs by shooting down a private, defenceless individual.
What the minister did last Tuesday in Parliament is a typical example of political spin, in the wake of an onslaught of scandals hitting the government in general, and Gatt’s own ministerial portfolios in particular: a typical strategy, aimed at deflecting public attention from the real issues at stake.
On the one hand, he wants to summarily execute an individual whom he can name and shame unaccountably, thanks to his parliamentary privilege. On the other, he dismisses any request for information into misdeeds carried out under his own responsibility, ridiculing the media and hiding behind the pretext that he would not divulge information as long as investigations are ongoing.
Let it be reminded that it took Gatt more than a month from when the MITTS server was attacked on 3 and 4 September, to inform Parliament about the 20,000 stolen government passwords. In that month, he took every opportunity to ridicule anyone who voiced concern, asked questions and gave this serious and unprecedented national security breach the importance it deserved.
To all these, his one and only reply was that it was all “a pack of lies”.
And yet, the investigation report Austin Gatt himself read out in parliament last month referred to a meeting of the MITTS board on 26 September, in the course of which it was established that, contrary to all previous assumptions, the hacking attempt had in fact been successful, and the 20,000 passwords were indeed stolen.
In view of this admission, one would have expected Gatt to retract his “pack of lies” statement. Instead, he has reasserted it, contrary to the evidence he himself has produced in Parliament. In view of this, one would be justified in asking who is actually lying: the media, or Austin Gatt himself.
Meanwhile it must be said that Austin Gatt’s own party is not exactly new to spin, nor to political dishonesty. The PN secretary general right now stands accused of breaching private citizens’ privacy by illegally intruding into their private lives under the guise of “customer care”, while the office of the prime minister has gone into overdrive covering up for his blunder.
What does Gatt have to say about Paul Borg Olivier’s unacceptable request to ministers to pass on personal and confidential data from complaining citizens to the party? Doesn’t he feel this case warrants an investigation by the Data Protection Commission – which, it must be added, has been left headless since the demise of its Commissioner, Paul Mifsud Cremona, last August?
A word must also go to Labour. This party urgently needs new blood, new faces, new advisors and new experts. How can it think of attracting anyone when it has such a shoddy, amateurish approach in treating its own people? The fact that Gatt could arrive at the Central Bank manager simply by downloading a word document posted on Labour’s website and MaltaStar (and later removed), and checking for the author’s name in the document’s properties, goes to show that Muscat is still surrounded by Alfred Sant’s army of boy scouts.
The ongoing investigation at Central Bank should serve more to establish the veracity of Gatt’s allegations than to determine its official’s proximity to Labour – as if this in itself were a crime.
From the first pieces of information coming out about Muscat’s “advisor”, it seems already clear that Gatt was far off the mark when he said this was a case of leaks of sensitive Central Bank information.
It seems the Central Bank itself was not even involved in the handling of the data mentioned by Gatt before it is made public; and even then, it has to be established whether this bank manager was privy to it in the first place.
Only then would this case be a breach of ethics and loyalty towards the bank, warranting some form of disciplinary proceedings. Anything else – whether or not this man did write the report for Muscat, or given any advice whatsoever to any party of his choice – is irrelevant to the issue.
What will happen then if Gatt’s allegations turn out to be “a pack of lies?”

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