Friday, 16 October 2009

Freedom Press

Freedom Press

16th October 2009
The Malta Independent - Friday Wisdom
Alfred Mifsud

Real democracy depends on a free press. Yesterday’s 30th anniversary of the burning of The Times building marks the true beginning of the end of Dom Mintoff’s premiership.

This was given tangible meaning when his Labour lost the overall voting majority in the December 1981 elections.

These two events forced many level headed voters to re-assess Mintoff’s relevance for the country’s future in post Freedom Day Malta.

On this I had built my assessment that there are two versions of Dom Mintoff. Here is what I had written on 9 July 2000 in Labour’s il-Kulhadd in an article titled ‘Mintoff vs Mintoff’.

“The greatness of Mintoff for Malta until Freedom Day cannot be denied. It would be a grave error for anyone to belittle these achievements due to Mintoff’s subsequent disastrous performance.

“I maintain that for historical assessment Mintoff must be packaged in two very contrasting chapters. The first chapter ends on Freedom Day where Mintoff achieved all he had worked for in 32 years of political militancy. This chapter shows Mintoff was no ordinary politician but was the soul and conscience of the country. He was the inspiration to move out of our colonial mentality of servitude and really start thinking as members of a sovereign state.

“A glorious chapter of great economic straddles, intellectual liberation and the building of a social network suited for a modern society which made us proud to be Maltese. A chapter of great democratic achievements where the Labour movement neutralised the power network of capital which hitherto used to dominate with the Church’s support.

“This glorious chapter ended as an obscure one began. A chapter where Mintoff could not accept the consequences of the change he himself had brought about. Where he started restricting the liberty he had worked for by the dismantling of the colonial cage and instead expected that he decides what’s best for us even in such things as the nature of the chocolate we eat and the TV we watch. Where he failed to realise that the country needed leadership with a different set of skills in the post Freedom Day reality.

“This post March 1979 chapter is very dark indeed. Mintoff became a rebel without a cause.

“The burning of The Times and the violence on the private residence of the Leader of the Opposition were highly anti-democratic acts. In tolerating them Mintoff was betraying all that he had struggled for in the first chapter. The pinnacle of this betrayal was reached with the electoral result of the 1981 election.

“One can bring a million excuses but it will not change the fact that a majority of the electorate had chosen a Nationalist government. Had Mintoff recognised the sign of times his stature would have become gigantic if he had found a way to give practical significance to the electorate’s decision of 1981. Instead he did the opposite and he started dismantling his democratic credentials by adopting a more repressive posture while governing without a moral mandate.

“The contrast between the Mintoff of both chapters is clearly borne out by his intervention in a press conference in the 1976 election campaign. A journalist had asked him a question using the phrase ‘your party’. Mintoff was quick to correct him that he belonged to the party not the party belonged to him. Mintoff of the second chapter seemed to think otherwise when he brought down a democratically elected Labour government in 1998”

I am reviving all this because I maintain that Mintoff’s downfall started through his mild reaction to the serious offences against democracy executed by people in his fold 30 years ago. The freedom of the press and the opposition’s right to criticise freely, its right to due access of information, and its duty to watch over the government workings are treasures to be well guarded.

This brings me to the revelation this week about the alleged impropriety by the Minister of Finance in accepting an invitation to travel for leisure with members of his family with two prominent businessmen who paid for or procured the travel and the entertainment.

Politicians live in a glass house and the press would be failing us all if such facts are not brought into public domain.

I happen to think that the Minister was naive rather than corrupt in accepting the invitation. Ministers should bear in mind Friedman’s dictum of no free lunch and conduct a life style which matches their income. Tonio Fenech is one such Minister.

He is to be admired for pursuing policy objectives he believes in and which are needed to correct a gaming situation which got out of hand in spite of his being threatened by exposure which in the very least shows his political naivety. But he cannot blame the press for doing its work.


No comments:

Post a Comment