Corruption and what people think
At first glance, a survey showing that nearly half the population thinks the government is corrupt should be considered as bad news for Castille. But looking at the situation from another angle, given the numerous corruption scandals that have hit the country since the Labour Party took over in March 2013, the survey result may not be so terrible for Joseph Muscat and Co.
Last Friday, our sister newspaper published the first part of the results of a survey that was carried out by this publishing house, commissioned to Business Leaders. Other parts of the survey are being published today and will continue to be published in the coming week.
In answer to a question on corruption, 47 per cent said they believed the government is corrupt, while 37 per cent do not think so. The rest were either undecided or would not answer.
In different circumstances, the fact that nearly half the population thinks a government is corrupt would be very worrying for the administration. Yet, with all that has happened in this legislature – the Café Premier, the Gaffarena scandal, Australia Hall, the hedging agreement, the Libyan medical visas to name but a few, topped of course by the Panama Papers – such a result might not be bad at all.
It shows that, in spite of all these instances and other situations that have embarrassed the government time and time again, half the people still think that the government is as clean as a whistle. Considering that Malta is more or less divided in half in terms of political allegiance, one could argue once again that, for Labourites, a Labour government can do no wrong.
It also shows that there is a large section of the population that has been unfazed by the string of situations that would have led to individual resignations or worse, had they had happened abroad, but here in Malta are considered as minor blips by people who want to hold on to power at all costs and irrespective of the shame they bring to themselves and to the country as a whole.
Accountability is a word that is used often by politicians, but it seems that it applies only to their political opponents and not to them. If someone on the other side does something wrong, then he or she should go, but if it’s someone from our side then we defend him or her until the end.
But such a result also throws a bad light on the Opposition, which has seemingly not made any inroads in all of this. None of the work that has been carried out by the Nationalist Party to point out the government’s corrupt practices has had an impact with the people. All the campaigns and mass protests in the streets of Valletta to raise awareness on the various issues that have dogged this administration have not dented people’s overall perception.
And this is confirmed by other parts of the survey which we are publishing today, which show that, notwithstanding everything that has taken place, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is still trusted more than his political counterpart Simon Busuttil. Dr Muscat has been accused of protecting his right and left-hand men Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, but he is still way ahead of Simon Busuttil when it comes to politicians that can be trusted.
Joseph Muscat is still riding on the back of the huge electoral win his party achieved three and a half years ago with a comfortable margin. It could be that the economic prosperity that the country is enjoying is enough for the people to brush aside their concerns about corruption. ‘If I have money in my pocket and food on the table, I don’t care what the top brass is doing’, is an argument that is made often.
Ironically, under Lawrence Gonzi the economy was doing perfectly well in even worse times around the globe, and yet this was not enough for him to retain power, certainly because of factors that went beyond the oil scandal that erupted on the eve of the electoral campaign. Yet, this time around, it is clear that the feel-good factor coming from an economic boom is sufficient for Joseph Muscat to remain popular.
The Nationalist Party, on the other hand, is still far from being a convincing alternative government. Simon Busuttil has made great strides forward in his leadership skills since taking over the party’s reins, but is still not perceived by many, including PN supporters, as being bold enough. Added to this, the PN benches in Parliament are still occupied by people who formed part of the 2013 downfall, and the memories of that have not gone away.