To what extent do politicians have a right, or even a duty, to hold bankers to account when they allegedly commit major mistakes or abuse their clients’ trust? Does the public have a right to demand that their elected representatives investigate, condemn and express disgust in cases of alleged abuses by bankers who often consider themselves as ‘masters of the universe’?
According to the local high priests of parliamentary democracy: NEVER. They tut-tut whenever any politician not in their magic circle vents the frustration of ordinary people who feel cheated by the abusive behaviour of bankers, even when such bankers are publicly chastised and fined by financial regulators. Cases of mis-selling of investment and insurance products, internal manipulation of interest rates for unfair gain, and crass disregard of clients’ interests are common practices that have shaken the confidence of the general public in bankers. But our high priests parading from the moral high grounds that they believe is their natural and exclusive domain warn those who dare to censure these abuses that their actions are putting at risk Malta’s financial services sector.
As usual we seem to believe that the world revolves round our tiny island and that we are a shining example of ethical rectitude and best business practice thanks to the inspired leadership of our long lasting government and its acolytes. So far we have heard nothing from the Prime Minister on his reaction to the grilling that the Chairman of Barclays Bank Marcus Agius and the CEO Bob Diamond by the British media and parliamentarians across the UK political spectrum. If there is a country that treasures its financial services industry, it is Britain. But it is precisely for this reason that British politicians have no inhibitions when it comes to censoring abusive behaviour that goes against the interest of ordinary citizens.
Those who followed the parliamentary treasury committee grilling of Bob Diamond must have noticed the different approach that is followed by the British government when dealing with abusive bankers and that followed by our own Nationalist administration. While one would be naive to pretend that the political world is populated by quite a few saints, one cannot but feel how unfortunate we are to be served by a government that is kept in place by a perverse network of obscure political, business and other powerful interests.
Our membership of the European Union was justified by many ordinary people as they saw it as a means of upgrading our political and business class so that the interests of the citizens would always be the most important consideration in our political and economic activities. How wrong we have all been. The hollow rhetorical commitment to the protection of consumers is cruelly exposed when we see how really democratic governments treat those business leaders who abuse their customers, while our own government condemns anyone who defends financial services consumers.
The inertia of ordinary people when they get a chance to pronounce their verdict on the shabby treatment that they receive from their government perpetuates the sad phenomenon of unchecked abuse by certain business and political leaders. Democracy should be about ordinary people grasping the opportunity to empower ourselves and kick out those who abuse of our trust even if they are declared as untouchable by the discredited high priests of parliamentary democracy.