Saviour Balzan | Sunday, 31 January 2010

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Flying saucers

Throwing money at problems is the new political credo. Thankfully it has been condemned by most organisations, and yet the government ignores everyone and goes about bankrupting this economy.
The €55 million in cash gifts to the bus drivers is perhaps further proof that the government has lost its mind. Since when does it make sense to make reforms by throwing away millions, more so to bus drivers and owners who are well known for their strong financial standing?
In all the reforms or decisions taking place, the government has simply resolved issues by splashing out on public funds and throwing them at the problem. The Malta Shipyards were on the road to recovery and even made a small profit a few years ago, until a former CEO clashed with Minister Austin Gatt and was literally destroyed. But it was only after a new CEO came in to make the mess that later killed the shipyards that hundreds of workers were given €60 million in payouts.
After millions were dished out in taxpayers’ funds to cancel the shipyards’ debt in 2004, the government now thinks it is a wonderful idea to sell the dockyard and its vast footprint to a little known Italian company for the measly sum of €5.7 million.
Which goes to show why I cannot understand who the hell believes that the running of this economy can be left to the likes of Austin Gatt or Tonio Fenech.
What is most interesting is that in every scenario where there is a payout, there is always someone on the other end who is bound to benefit. In the dockyards, the debt repayment added up to €697 million, a foolish decision taken by Lawrence Gonzi back as social policy minister. Then we had €60 million as redundancy payments last year, and now Neapolitan firm Palumbo come in and guess what? They want to pay €5.7 million for the yards. And the government says yes.
Does anyone smell a rat?
So what about the €55 million compensation to bus owners? Who is going to benefit from all this? I mean… who is coming in with the new buses?
When, some years ago, the old buses were partially scrapped by the transport authority under the chairmanship of Charles Demicoli, the local company that made a killing was the Tumas Group (also the same group aiming at total dominance of the casino industry by bidding for the 10-year licence for the Dragonara casino).
The Tumas Group may think that we are being unfair by asking questions about their dominant position in the industry, but I guess everyone believes that finance minister Tonio Fenech knows what he is doing… or does he?
The issue of throwing money at problems is so deeply inculcated in the psyche of this government, that they are not realising that the taxpayers have simply had it. They continue to tax the middle class, they continue to raise electricity and water tariffs but they argue they cannot subsidise Enemalta’s losses – losses, which by the way, are the fruit of this administration’s mismanagement.
In all spheres they have sold this country’s silver: Sea Malta, Maltapost, and gas to private firms. In the end the consumer has had to pay more, not less.
Even the port handling, once again in the hands of the Tumas Group, did not reap in more benefits for the consumers and the advantages to the government are next to nil.
I am not against privatisation, but one has to start asking who is benefiting at the end. Is the government collecting more taxes from the profits of these privately-run companies? Is the consumer getting a better deal?
The answer should be yes, but unfortunately it’s no.

The closed sessions
I am confused and sad when I see the Labour party trying to emulate the Nationalist Party in everything. It is true that the strength of the PN has to be gauged by its control of PBS through the good offices of its political appointees there, and the cruel spin exacted by their faithful hacks.
But what need is there for the PL to repeat their same mistakes? In the run-up to the last day of the Labour general conference, Joseph Muscat organised workshops for the delegates. But these were closed to the prying press.
Muscat, like Gonzi, is obsessed with the press, obsessed with being edited and quoted out of context, or having an internal debate splashed all over the press. He is worried because he thinks that opening up will bring more negative commentary from his opponents and from the media.
It is this fear that he should overcome. If Muscat wants to prove to everyone that he really believes in a new way of doing politics as Gonzi had suggested he believes in, he should not be scared to be open and transparent.
It is not the diehards from both sides he should be concerned about. He should be concerned with the normal people, the silent majority who have no time for endless spin and hysteria. Those people who are living far worse than they ever did before, those who cannot understand how their electricity bill continues to rise while their spending power plummets; those whose problems are red tape, the scourge of nepotism, long waiting lists, and the arrogance and empty promises and widespread corruption in their midst.

On odium
I am told this week that the woman from Bidnija was once again in a stupor of delirium, having hit out at countless people, most especially a magistrate.
The allegations are personal, typically hateful, and concern people’s sexual lives. In Maltese, she can only be aptly described as ‘hadra’ and ‘miskina’. Her latest tantrum originates from the fact that she believed this newspaper would publish a story about the police report lodged by her husband back on the 8 December, in which he accused his wife of assaulting him with plates. The reports were confirmed by a spokesman for the police force, which led to charges being issued against her and proceedings brought in the family court.
This story did not appear in MaltaToday, but in l-Orizzont yesterday.
But in an attempt to stop its publication, she hit out at people who had allegedly referred to this particular incident at some dinner party, and suggested that it would appear in MaltaToday. How gossip in this dinner party has any connection, or could be taken with what’s going on in our heads here, is quite a feat in itself!
In recent years, she indiscriminately hurled abuse at everyone, including the De Marco and Borg Olivier families with lurid allegations about their personal and sexual lives. Now she has even suggested drug-taking in certain cases she wrote about. I guess it says a lot about the person. Many are devastated by this intimidation.
She also insinuated she would sue this newspaper for libel if we published the fact that her husband filed a report at the police station against her, and went on to make very clear threats that she would turn on MaltaToday and its staff if we did. I’m peeing in my pants.
When arsonists had attacked her Bidnija home in 2006, I was one of the first persons at her house to express my solidarity. Norman Lowell later sued this newspaper for libel for reporting that on the night of the arson, Mr Lowell had organised a barbeque some two kilometres from her house. I believed then, as I do know, that the freedom to express one’s opinion is supreme.
But her hysterical outbursts border on the psychotic, and have nothing to do with free speech. Her vocation to destroy people by inventing stories about their private lives, their family, children, friends, partners and everything else imaginable is unacceptable (and acceptable only to her patrons). Her message of odium is clear: move out, or I will retaliate with all I have got.
In the past she vilified my late wife by referring to her in the grave – simply to hit out at me in the hope I would stop writing; she concocted the story that I was requested to accompany John Dalli to Brussels and leave MaltaToday; and that I had some problem to write about Judge Noel Arrigo (when it was this newspaper that broke the story of the bribery investigations back in 2003).
But I am neither impressed, nor frightened of such theatrics and threats. No amount of bile or flying kitchen plates will stop me from getting on with my job and my life – I am fulfilled, happy and at peace with myself.


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