Michael Falzon | Sunday, 24 May 2009
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Disappointing the electorate

I am intrigued on how the scandal regarding claims for expenses made by MPs in Britain that has shaken the political establishment in that country to the core, has been ignored by the ordinary Maltese man in the street with the local media giving it the short shrift.
There are lessons to be taken from this sad episode – both by our politicians and by our voters. After their abuse of the voters’ trust was published, many of the British politicians who had behaved so irresponsibly feebly attempted to defend the indefensible and tried to assuage the public outrage by saying that everything was done ‘according to the rules’ – which it actually wasn’t.
Not so the leaders of the two ‘big’ political parties in Britain – Gordon Brown and David Cameron. Both of them stood back for a moment and then made it clear that they were not going to take responsibility for the foolishness of their own party’s MPS, taking action as they thought fit. One might argue that it was ‘too little too late’ but the two leaders certainly did not disappoint the electorate; they did not stand back with a straight face and behave as if nothing untoward had happened. Clearly they could not afford to disappoint the voters.
In Malta we were spared the ignominy of a political scandal on such a scale and yet our politicians keep on acting in such a way as to disappoint the electorate.
Take Labour leader Joseph Muscat, for one. He keeps astounding me more and more by disappointing all those who had hoped that here, at last, was a Labour leader of a different mould. My astonishment at his failure to maintain his initial promise keeps on incrementing the more that time passes.
His decisions last Sunday to try to make political capital out of former Nationalist Gozitan MP Louis Refalo, and PN European Parliament candidate Alex Perici Calascione, were both astoundingly short-sighted and stupid. In the long run, whatever short-term political advantage, Muscat might have thought he was gaining, fades into insignificance when one considers the ‘collateral damage’ these decisions have wrought to the image of Labour in general and of Muscat in particular.
In the case of Louis Refalo, who is suffering from a medical condition, it seems that some eager Labour activists ‘gave him a lift’ to a Labour Party event whereupon Joseph Muscat declared him a new Labour party member! Apparently Muscat took what had happened at face value without delving and enquiring the circumstances and motives behind this surprising – and rare – political ‘breakthrough’. Faced with rebuttals from Louis Refalo himself and expressions of disbelief from Refalo’s family, Muscat came up a cropper: he just said that he does not concern himself with personal and family matters. In this way he appeared as if for him callously taking advantage of people’s unfortunate circumstances is all par for the course. Obviously, Muscat had jumped the gun without checking the facts properly – the fastest way any politician can take to disappoint the electorate.
In the other case, Muscat’s way of doing things is even more suspect. Perici Calascione had addressed a close meeting held for members of the ‘hunting fraternity’ and during his speech he had explained the circumstances that – prior to Malta’s accession to EU membership – led the then Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami to ensure hunters that Malta had obtained a derogation that would allow shooting of turtle doves and quails in spring. Probably for theatrical effect, Perici Calascione chose first to posit the theory that in giving this assurance, Fenech Adami was either acting like a lunatic or being an outright liar. He then went on to explain why he was neither. Incredibly, Muscat played a tape-recording of part of this speech selectively chosen so that one is led to believe that Perici Calascione had simply declared Fenech Adami was mad or lying – period.
I find it hard to believe that Muscat was unaware of the contents of the whole speech made by Perici Calascione and that Muscat himself was misled in such a way that he then ‘innocently’ misled his followers. The allegation that Perici Calascione had reportedly made such a serious statement in a meeting attended by several persons and for which the current PN leader and Prime Minister was present should raise anybody’s eyebrows, leading him or her to delve more into the matter before taking up the tack taken by Joseph Muscat last Sunday.
Sadly, I can only conclude that Muscat consciously chose to be selective in quoting from Perici Calascione’s speech to make him appear as if he had actually stated as fact the assumption that he had sought to disprove. This is grossly unethical and I cannot fathom how Muscat did not realise that in the long run this cheap trick would cost him dearly from the public perception point of view. I must admit that figuring out what Muscat tried to achieve in this case beats me.
Disappointing the electorate was never perfected as an art by any politician behaving so crassly as in this case.


This week saw the ‘birth’ of yet another controversy: the decision on the new plant to be bought for the generation of electric power at Delimara Power Station. I hold no brief from anybody and could not care one hoot whether the contract is given to one bidder or another. I have no hesitation in declaring that I do not have any direct or indirect interest in any of the bids.
I was spurred to comment about Enemalta’s choice of technology simply because I believe that its environmentally damaging aspects should not have been ignored. I still think that these aspects have not been given their due importance.
One worrying point is that on one hand Government’s Climate Change Committee recommends that Malta should switch to natural gas for the production of electricity by 2015 and then the same government – through Enemalta – decides to buy a plant that uses heavy fuel oil and justifies this decision on a financial assessment partly based on the projected use of heavy fuel oil for a much longer period than that between the currently projected commissioning date of the plant and the 2015 limit indicated by the Climate Change Committee! It does seem that the government is all at sea about energy related environment policies, with the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.
For me, the argument that the chosen technology produces the cheapest electricity is not on. Way back before 1987, Dom Mintoff’s government brought over to Malta a second-hand coal-fired plant as an extension of Marsa Power Station. He justified this decision precisely using the same argument: this was the cheapest way to produce electricity. At the time the Nationalist Party argued that avoiding coal dust from the atmosphere – and the lungs of the residents – in the areas near the Power Station was imperative. It did not say nothing should be done about it because otherwise the electricity tariffs would have to be increased.
As the responsible minister after May 1987, I made sure that all Marsa Power Station boilers were switched from coal to oil. I now find out that I was squandering money and risked having to raise the electricity tariffs. Enlightened by the new way of doing things, I humbly beg forgiveness for my profligacy.
What really worries me even more is the way the current administration accepted at face value whatever the technical gurus reported and took the political responsibility for an environmentally bad decision, without bothering to stop and think… and delve deeply into the matter.
But disappointing the electorate has never been so popular!


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