Wilfrid Buttigieg – Observations

Dear friends, the following are the observations made following a two year political discernment process which took place between January 2009 and January 2011. A process which was initiated to find an answer to the following questions: What are my true political values? Should one get involved directly in politics with a political party, or as a journalist to be able to give a valid and effective social contribution? The only aspect I was sure of at starting point was the following: that my spirit was in place i.e. at home at the heart of political and social debate.

I believe that before joining a political movement or journalistic entity, one needs to develop the ability to view situations from an objective and unpartisan point of view. At least, the point of departure needs to be of this nature, rather than being overly influenced by where one was born or the social group he/she was brought up in. An investigation about where one is coming from should lead to the realisation that our identity is very often socially constructed rather than freely chosen.

These two years have been particularly characterised by an active involvement in the political spheres as a fully participative and active democratic citizen. The methodology adopted was strategically chosen to meet politicians face to face in order to bypass the media’s imagery and reality blurring tactics. This was done via various formal and informal meetings, by attending public lectures, talks, discussions, seminars and presentations with various enactors of today’s and yesterday’s local political scene.

The first concrete step in this process was a response to the invitation by the Fortunato Mizzi School of Politics in Gozo, an excellent and well organised initiative by the NP (Nationalist Party) involving a number of relevant political speakers. Later on, another political formation initiative came along thanks to the MZPN (Moviment Zghazagh Partit Nazzjonalista) program ‘Genius’, providing hands on visits to places such as the power station, local olive oil producers and exporters, Mater Dei hospital and a visit to ‘after school’ homework projects with children coming from educationally deprived backgrounds. This course also involved various other lectures and discussions with leaders from the political field. At approximately the same time I started attending courses and public debates organised by the Ideat Foundation and the LP (Labour Party). Some of the discussions attended were related to the subjects of cohabitation, the environment, and the future of Labour. I also attended NP’s Vision 2015 and the LP’s conference entitled ‘Revisiting Labour History’. Last but not least was the start of a two year Catholic Social Teaching course organised by the Jesuits via the Centre for Faith and Justice.

The maxim which reflects the discerning attitude adopted throughout the two year process is the following: ‘Even though various people argue that an unpartisan and objective view of social and political situations is not possible, as a matter of personal choice, I will continually strive to stay on this ‘tight rope balance’ albeit being aware about the challenges to retain this position with consistency.’

The observations made to date:

The origin of this interest in politics, most probably, comes from the days spent with the Jesuits as a pre-novice for a period of six years. Those years of formation where undoubtedly profound, transformative, intense and a real commitment towards living a life for others, a life of service. Spending time with the Jesuits requires entering a new psychological and spiritual dimension of self examination of one’s own intentions; it is an invitation to leadership and asking the important or fundamental questions of life within a context which goes beyond the limits of the individualistic self – towards a wider and more international world view. It is interesting to observe that various Maltese politicians where formed at least partially by the Jesuits, for example both Dr.Eddie Fenech Adami and Dr.Joseph Muscat have received a Jesuit education.

With regards to the choice between politics and journalism, a choice was made for politics, because as Prime Minister Dr.Lawrence Gonzi explained in one of the meetings we had throughout the process “In politics one can implement, while in journalism one can comment”. Various people also argued that politics is dirty while others saw it as a noble social service. My conclusion is that politics can be both; the choice ultimately depends on the individual and the choices he/she makes once given the responsibility. As I see it, the safest option is to stay out and simply not get involved, while the much more difficult and truly challenging action is to go through the effort of getting involved, to spearhead change, progress, to ‘be’ the very excellence expected from others who are already ‘on the field’.

An assessment of the local political scenario to date was also concluded and is represented in the following paragraph: “Whilst appreciating and acknowledging the social, economic and democratic progress achieved by the Nationalist Party throughout the last 25 years, when experiencing the present political circumstances; if Dr.Muscat truly manages to reform the Labour Party, he and his team could be an adequate alternative to the NP government, an alternative which was not necessarily available prior to Dr.Muscat’s leadership”.

The reasons which sustain this understanding are the following: the movement started by Dr.Muscat seems to be the freshest political move which is truly in touch with what people from the majority levels of society are going through (especially the lower and middle class). My understanding is that Dr.Muscat is particularly close to the sufferings of these classes in these times of economic turbulence. Dr.Muscat displays more respect towards these person’s plights and dignity by being close to the people and supportive about what they are experiencing in their daily lives. Dr.Muscat seems to be more able to look into the lives of individuals while the NP seems to favour statistics, experts and economic reports. On the other hand, ‘technically speaking’ the NP government is providing quite a good performance when considering the difficult international economic situation and the severe crisis other countries are facing due to poor short term based political decisions.

Apart from the latter, the progressive movement also seems to be best geared to address certain stagnant social and political issues which have been sidelined by the present administration. One of these issues is the improvement of the health and strength of the Maltese democratic system which requires a re-examination of fundamental aspects such as party financing. From a purely utilitarian point of view, the present status quo of same party governance for over 25 years is not healthy for a democracy and providing a stronger opposition is in itself a win for democracy.

Dr.Muscat also seems to be addressing issues which will lead to the creation of a more just and meritocratic society from the perspective of social justice. If there is one particular difference which distinguishes the LP from the NP at the moment; it is a difference which is not necessarily recognisable on the ‘ideological papers’ of the parties. The difference is Dr.Muscat’s renewed commitment to social justice. This fundamental aspect of politics is placed very high on the LP’s agenda and seems to be located at the core of the movement started by Dr.Muscat. The NP seems to have reduced its levels of social conscience over the last years, with a lot benefiting a few already rich families and less benefiting the majority. This situation could possibly be linked to paying back those private individuals who have sustained the party for the last twenty five years and thus further confirming the need to tackle with urgency the matter of party financing.

Throughout these last two years I have realised that I do strongly believe in meritocracy, social mobility and political actions which lead to a more equal and more ‘merit’ based distribution of wealth and power. This belief is one of the fundamental and core beliefs I choose to adhere to when acknowledging the natural injustice which we are all born into i.e. the reality that no one of us has the power to choose his parents, the place or country he or she is born in on the basis of merit and thus the relative consequences. The latter by no means reflects a passive or fatalistic belief of life or the lack of belief in the potential that lies within every individual to take his/her destiny into his/her own hands and become a success story. It is simply a reminder and recognition of the reality that most of us do not start from a level playing field and that political decisions can make a difference in this regard.

Thanks to the Catholic Social teaching course I have also realised that the social teachings and encyclicals of the church are very much in line with social democratic values. On the basis of this understanding I do not see why the church and the LP need to be so distant from each other. Sincerely I believe that the church and the LP can write a new chapter in Maltese history, one which can be written with much less conflict especially with regards to social democracy and the churches social teachings.

Last but not least, Dr.Muscat’s ambitious vision of making Malta not only a leader, but the best in Europe, is in itself, an inspiration. I do personally and intrinsically share Dr.Muscat’s vision of making Malta the best in Europe in the sense that I do have great expectations for these Islands. I believe that there is a lot of tapping of the untapped to be done. The Malta I believe in is one which does not follow, but one which leads within the EU. Even if Dr. Muscat’s vision is being deemed as too ambitious by various people, I do reckon that this is what makes a leader: a person who pushes us beyond the limits of thought which we got used to and with which we are conservatively comfortable with.

Apart from the above vision Dr.Muscat also has a challenging mission ahead of him, a mission which is dual i.e. a reform on a national level together with the much required and challenging internal party reform within the LP, which I believe, once achieved will also work in the national interest. I look forward to a future where the Maltese electorate will have two strong parties to choose from, made up of competent and excellent people on both sides.

From a personal point of view, I do also prefer to contribute within the context and concept of a movement, because it involves unpartisan people who come from beyond party borders and allows them to be of political service. Based on the past two years of experience, I have observed that Dr. Muscat in particular, is very open in welcoming people with such a view. Dr. Muscat’s availability and openness towards meeting new people goes beyond rhetoric about open doors and consultation because Dr.Muscat really enters into reciprocal dialogue and listens. A movement which is truly open to dialogue, discussion with all stakeholders and levels of society can only succeed and provide the foundations for a healthy democracy.

To conclude, originally this article has been a response to an invite by the Ideat Foundation to make a contribution. My view of the Ideat Foundation is as an agent of change, inspiration, education, innovation, transformation and policy making in association but independent from the LP in the sense that it also allows for criticism of the LP itself. This unedited article itself is a confirmation of that openness. I believe that the concept of a ‘think tank’ is the way forward in politics. The goal is to have research based politics sustaining decisions made by open minded, life-long learning leaders which win over the results of instinctive, shallow, short term politics. The striking words of President Emeritus Guido De Marco have also confirmed the latter, when during one of his last lectures he stated; that learning is the epitome of leadership that one cannot lead if he/she does not know something more than others. Especially nowadays one cannot lead if one is not a life-long learner who is continually up to date with the rapid changes that take place in society. Therefore, political leaders must remain up to date educationally as open minded, life-long learners if they want to be of effective service. In conclusion and as author of this article I will also adopt the same approach and will remain open to criticism, feedback, further dialogue and discussion via the e-mail wilfrid@wilfridbuttigieg.com.