After the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, can Malta’s reputation ever recover?

Journalists gather outside the Parliament in Valletta, Malta in a silent commemoration to mark their sorrow at the murder of blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia (Getty Images)

It has been an utterly terrible week for democracy, justice, transparency, freedom of speech and the fight against corruption.

I am, of course, referring to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, which has received extensive coverage in newspapers around the world, as indeed it should. Daphne was a brave woman, who had received numerous warnings telling her to shut up. Faced with a choice of risking her life for telling the truth or keeping quiet, she chose the former. Now she has paid the price.

She could have had a great career outside Malta, being a fine investigative journalist. Hers was a considerable talent, and she was a big fish in a small pond. But she loved her country, and she was enraged by the way it had been ruined by corrupt people, and I imagine the idea of leaving Malta, of walking away, of having a new life, never occurred to her.

Maltese people are deeply rooted people. In colonial times the British were keen to solve the problem of overpopulation by persuading as many Maltese as possible to emigrate to Canada or Australia or the countries of the Middle East. But they constantly found that the take up on these offers was not what they had hoped for, and that the Maltese were deeply attached to their own island.

Yet in spite of this love of home, Malta today, once the jewel of the Mediterranean, is a ruined place – environmentally wrecked, socially divided, morally compromised. It has become rich, true, but once the money flees, what will be left? The reputational damage in the wake of Daphne’s murder is irreparable, I fear.

Consider, for a moment, another country which also has a poor reputation for probity. In Pakistan, the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, was involved in the Panama Papers scandal. He was forced out of office and has now been indicted for corruption. This shows us something very important, namely that the legal system in Pakistan actually works, and that even the Prime Minister is subject to the law.

Consider too the former Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Gunlaugsson. When the Panama Papers scandal broke, he was swiftly removed from office, thanks to popular protest.

But in Malta things are different. There a deeply compromised political class is more entrenched than ever. In the wake of Panama, there were no popular protests in Malta, just a lot of angry self-defence, and the demonisation of the one voice of protest. In Malta, the law was used against Daphne Caruana Galizia, as she was subjected to endless libel suits, designed to bankrupt her. She had her supporters, of course, but they were in a minority, and most of the time it seemed she was very much alone. Her situation recalls that of the prophet Elijah: “I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men.” (I Kings 18:22)

It seems likely that Daphne’s name will be remembered in the same way as that of Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko, two other fearless tellers of the truth who died rather than keep quiet. And that means that Malta and Russia now have something in common, being places where investigative journalism is a dangerous profession. This should perturb everyone on the island, and the thought of a mafia state in its midst should also alarm the European Union. As I said, it’s been a bad week for all of us, but above all for the citizens of Malta.