This was supposed to be an interview like many others before it. Initially booked for the morning of Tuesday 17th October, it was meant to focus on the Opposition’s reaction to the Budgetary measures announced by the Minister of Finance the week before. As it happens, it was also meant to be our first interview with the new Leader of the Opposition.
But everything changed on the afternoon of Monday 16th, the day when journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered by a car bomb.
By the time we had reset the appointment with Opposition Leader Dr Delia, there were other priorities and more urgent matters to contend with: the tragedy which engulfed a family and the island, the international maelstrom, and the search for justice.
“What happened [on Monday 16th] changed everything,” Dr Delia told us in his office at the PN headquarters. “One day in the history of the country, changed everything: how we look at things, how we plan, how we deal with people, who to meet, what to say. We reacted hour by hour, feeling first shock, then anger, then slowly, slowly, determination to try and get everything back to normal, whether you’re talking about country, party or personal lives. And what could have been maybe a challenging experience turned into one of a sense of history, a sense of scope. Why am I here at all?”
This interview was conducted the day after the Police Commissioner gave his much-criticised press conference. Asked for his reaction on the response following the murder, Dr Delia focused on his disbelief.
“Tragic. Watching our TV screens and instead of getting some kind of comfort, and I’m not even talking about politics here, I’m talking about us, as citizens, of disbelief in what you are watching. After three days, you hear the first word which should give you some comfort, some sense of safety, some reassurance; I would have expected somebody to come out there and say ‘this is a tragedy; nobody was prepared for something like this, but we are going to react cautiously, where we ascertain that justice is done. We are also going to give comfort to everyone out there that you’re safe.’ Instead, we got a sense of ‘wow, is this the best we have? Are these the people who are going to protect us?’”
He pointed to Government’s reaction. “Government needs to show that in times like this timeliness is of the essence. At least give us a sign. At least. I expected the Commissioner of Police to come there and say, ‘I have failed, I am not up to this’. We were not expecting to make a judgement call according to whether he is a good man, or a dishonest man. It had nothing to do with this. It seems he was interested in giving us those kinds of reassurances. He needed to reassure us that either he is in control or he is not; either he is in charge or he isn’t. The Office of the Attorney General - again not a judgement on persons or people - but on the institutions, on the Office, did we get any reassurances? Did we even get any statements? Did we get Government to give us some type of comfort? Government needs to act fast. It is running out of time. And now it’s not just us watching the clock; it’s the whole world which is watching, minute by minute.”
Considering the negative spotlight Malta, its institutions, and its politicians have been under internationally, does he think businesses will start to leave Malta and what can be done to prevent this? “I hope they will not. I will work every day so they will not and it’s a question of finding balance. We need to convince these businesses that there is an opportunity here for Malta to get back on the right track, not only economically, but morally and at an institutional level. We need to be cautious, prudent, think ahead, give comfort that we can get this back to normality.”
But in concrete terms, what can be done?
“Government is in charge so it has to start from Government immediately; it has to show signs of acknowledgement, of signs that something is happening, and that’s overdue. And if Government takes that lead, there need not be a change in administration. Because we need to respect the democratic process, which a few months ago gave a resounding endorsement to this Government, so the legitimacy of the Government itself should not be questioned at this stage. But the leadership, the Prime Minister, has to shoulder the responsibility, and we also mentioned the AG and the Police Commissioner. And the institutions, then agreeing to be chosen at a two-thirds representation majority of parliament to give the comfort to the people that the institutions are being structured as a representation of the Maltese and not politically, in terms of partisanship. If that’s the case, the Opposition will be there to actually help, to be participative in whatever needs to be done to get back on track.”
International reports and sources have also questioned the legality and viability of operators within various sectors which have grown in Malta over the past few years. We asked him about due diligence, even in sectoral terms.
“We have to start by good governance before getting down to the sectoral due diligence. We need to ascertain the robustness of the authorities themselves. If we had to look at flagrant examples of what should not be done, let’s all look at Pilatus Bank. It’s a picture, a film being run in front of our eyes on TV of how things cannot be done in a country which five years ago was becoming a hub of excellence in the financial world. That is the best example I can give you of how we should not be acting. So, Government has a tall order it needs to abide with, if he wants to mend the irreparable harm that it has now wrought on our country. We need to be very careful. We need to show - and again I need to go back to this timely manner – because as soon as we do nothing, we are doing a lot by omission. The responsibilities of Government are becoming heavier than before.”
Dr Delia also puts forward the Opposition’s role. “From our end we will keep on insisting on putting our institutions first, seeking justice first. That’s not a partisan stance, not an antagonistic stance. It reflects the seriousness our country finds ourselves in. I hope our Government does the same. If that happens, then we can start working together, giving a sense of peace, a sense of normality, back to our country.”
This interview originally appeared in The Business Observer