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Saviour Balzan | Wednesday, 20 January 2010 No. 147

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Rizzo is the man

Over the years, the unfounded allegations of kickbacks have continued to spiral. If omertà was a Sicilian phenomenon, then surely there must be a word to describe the Maltese culture of silence in the face of corruption and favouritism.
I am not being fickle, but convinced that the level of corruption in Malta is so extensive, so widespread, so deep-rooted… that it is impossible to gauge who could possibly not be on a kickback.
The reality is that it is impossible to prove anything. It is next to impossible to know if anyone has received funds or favours.
But there is little doubt in my mind that the political leaders know to what extent corruption exists. The fact that most of the ‘influential’ bodies and ‘deciding boards’ are run by political appointees raises serious questions. There is evidence here and there of the extent of corruption. Looking at what happens on a local council level, one could perhaps understand how real corruption exists in the higher strata. The experience one has with local councils and the secretive dealings of some mayors with contractors is indicative of the thirst of some individuals for some extra cash on the side. But the cancer of corruption has reached all levels of our institutions, and so many people are involved and tarnished that it is next to impossible to reveal or confirm the allegations.
Perhaps, there are two indicators which should be adhered to.
The first is that there should be zero-tolerance on the existence or presumption of a conflict of interest. The definition of a conflict of interest is in itself an issue. Most politicians question whether their actions are equivalent to a conflict of interest, and non-politicians play stupid and continue to argue that their actions – such as government-appointed chairmen and board directors who are partners with entrepreneurs with an interest in the sector they themselves regulate – are not intrinsically bad.
The second consideration, which most of the time is generally ignored and difficult to prove, is confirming the origin of income and revenues. It remains unclear how everyone can accept that certain individuals are able to pursue particular, lavish lifestyles, which require such a continual flow of cash to sustain that it is difficult to understand how these lifestyles thrive.
However, not all those who take kickbacks are silly enough to show off their wealth. Many continue to keep a low profile, especially one that is not in full view of their most envious of colleagues and acquaintances.
These two considerations will have to be addressed by two different groups of people. The first consideration, linked to the issue of conflict of interest, can only be addressed by the politicians. But here again, I have little faith that the political class will ever address the matter.
Lawrence Gonzi has long lost the chance to take the necessary steps to inculcate a political ethic that could serve a transparent and meritocratic society. Indeed, this inaction is aggravated by the fact that he is surrounded by blind loyalty and bile-driven acolytes who do not question government policy (Opposition leader Joseph Muscat, on the other hand, is inebriated with his grand desire to replace Gonzi as the next Prime Minister).
The second consideration, concerning the ‘reality of corruption’, can only be addressed by the judiciary and the police. In spite of any misgivings about John Rizzo, the Commissioner of Police still remains the best placed to fight corruption. For after all, his credentials are best appreciated when seeing his efforts into uncovering one of the most telling episodes of corruption in this country – the one that involved the judiciary.
One may disagree with his conservative outlook, but Rizzo’s integrity is not in question here. If there is anyone who should be entrusted with a probe into the corruption and kickback of public and private officials, Rizzo is the man.
And he can start by investigating the assets in Malta and abroad of all those involved in the privatisation and tendering procedures for government contracts, and compare them with their declared incomes. I am sure he will not be disappointed with what he will find.


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