So what is the endgame?

I am not quite sure what is going on in Muscat’s mind but it must read like this: “If Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi resign now I will gain nothing, I will be battered by my critics and I will appear weak if I succumb to the outside pressure. I will stick with what I said before.” 

Those concerned about Malta’s state of governance will continue to ask themselves why Joseph Muscat has not called in his closest aides and made them resign in the wake of the new 17 Black revelations.

The readers of this newspaper will be the ones that care. I know because they ask me.

I am not quite sure what is going on in Muscat’s mind but it must read like this: “If Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi resign now I will gain nothing, I will be battered by my critics and I will appear weak if I succumb to the outside pressure. I will stick with what I said before.” 

Muscat must think that hanging on to the narrative that he will wait for the inquiry is the best option in the circumstances. More often than not his political judgement, now questioned by many, has turned out to be right.

Will he be right this time?

He believes that his electoral supremacy and the Opposition’s weaknesses leave him with that unique advantage that permits him to make perilous decisions.

Today everyone in government knows that 17 Black and Panama remain the big elephant in the room. They will never go away. We cannot say that this is a normal situation. The two individuals who are under public scrutiny are Muscat’s most effective lieutenants, and have been crucial in implementing Muscat’s economic doctrine. They are efficient, decisive in their actions and successful in their visible deliverables.

And it is no secret that Muscat wants to exit local politics but he is not willing to do this at the wrong time. However, many observers say his exit is very much linked to the plight of Mizzi and Schembri.

Those who refuse to give Muscat the benefit of the doubt argue that he must be involved in some shady affair, which precludes him from acting against his trusted political aides. Foremost in promoting this line is Simon Busuttil, whose irreverent and unforgiving approach to the Muscat government is a constant.

The media’s obvious and understandable obsession with good governance and Busuttil’s repeated calls for Muscat’s head seems to have found public opinion weary and worn down by scandal, and despite having a clear opinion about the entire Panamagate saga, has now tuned off when it comes to these stories.

But whether we like it or not, Panama remains an issue even though the public may be sick of that storyline. The press may have had a role in alienating audiences to the real issues at stake by ignoring what the public has won in the past years of Labour government and instead focusing on a few subjects intended at hitting out at Muscat. But the media has a role and an obligation to report and talk about these realities.

Surely enough, it would be a different story had the economy been faltering: 17 Black fails to elicit anger at a time it is most needed because the average Joe seems to have little to complain about, with a booming economy that seems to have sanitised public opinion.

But Muscat is interested in his legacy. 

The unyielding accusatory tone against Muscat has taken its toll on the political climate but not on his electoral success, at least for the time being. The majority of people still think that he has changed their lives and unlike other societies, the changes are tangible and obvious. And the changes have made fundamental differences to people’s lives – not just materially, but even socially.

People are simply more interested in the endgame than the arguments for good governance. And they also know that when they hear political statements that “this is the most corrupt government Malta has ever seen” they cannot wipe out their memories of how the previous administration acted. And when MEPs jump onto the bandwagon, those same ears are just not listening to all their jazz.

This is an electorate that has come to understand that all administrations have had their fair share of sleaze and impropriety. More significantly many businesses simply cannot fathom the hypocrisy of critics who accuse this administration when they themselves have had major failings in transparency and governance issues. I say businesses: because – as top party brass knows – they are the first stop for party donations, polite ‘kickbacks’, and financial gifts that insure power players against unfriendly government policy. Yes, many a party salary gets financed by successful businesses. So I do take their concerns into consideration, because they tend to be on the frontline of how politicians act when their guard is down and they have to ingratiate themselves with the money.

None of this changes anything about Panama and what it has down to the Maltese political landscape, and it does not make the job of the media any easier. 

It raises the question of how crucial it is for our political set-up to radically change, for politicians and their peers to be moulded in the new way of doing politics; where politics becomes a career with a decent and decorous remuneration but with very clear goals, guidelines and ethical standards.

This would have been a wonderful opportunity for constitutional reform. Unfortunately reform does not seem anywhere near.

In the meantime we need to find a way to address the crisis in the media. We know that we have a responsibility to report and raise the issues but somehow we are not getting to the public. I do not believe that the issues we are raising are wrong, but our readers are responding clearly to the way we go about reporting them and more so about our credibility in presenting the facts. Ultimately, strong editors with tested values of journalism are important in our industry to give their newspapers a clear editorial tone and sane judgment and analysis – to be relevant and responsible while continuing to raise the issues, as we are expected to do, to make it matter and to make others realise that everything, eventually has an endgame.

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