The government’s reaction to a resolution on the collapse of the rule of law in Malta, approved by more than two thirds of MEPs today, is reminiscent of a legendary scene from antiquity – Nero fiddling while Rome burns.
The actions of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and his ‘star’ minister Konrad Mizzi, in the past days speak louder than words.
A few days before the EU parliament was discussing a strong resolution calling on the Police Commissioner to investigate Mizzi, a video on Charlotte Crosby’s Instagram showed a relaxed Minister sitting down in a chair with a massive pair of sunglasses as he was partying with celebrities ahead of the MTV Europe Music Awards.
This may well be the perfect representation that captures the zeitgeist of the Muscat era, characterised by the privileged elite’s excesses and the decadence of institutions. The next time Muscat lashes out at ‘the establishment’ he should keep Mizzi in mind.
Faced with such a devastating resolution, for which he is partly to blame, Mizzi should have spent his weekend penning his long overdue resignation letter and meeting his lawyers to prepare his legal defence. For if the Maltese government abides by this resolution, he should be facing a night at Police Headquarters for a long interrogation. In any normal country a Minister resigns when under investigation.
Yet Malta is not a normal country. It is a country where impunity for the powerful has become the order of the day. Mizzi, like the the Prime Minister’s own chief of staff Keith Schembri, should have resigned the moment his name was linked to the Panama papers. But why should Mizzi worry, when his political master was packing his suitcase for Hong Kong?
On the same day that the EU parliament approved the resolution, Joseph Muscat was in Hong Kong where he was invited to address a conference organised by Henley and Partners. Once again he has put himself and the entire country in the humiliating position of acting as a salesman for a private company that runs our passport sale scheme.
It is no wonder that a number of MEPs yesterday expressed their outrage at the scheme, which is effectively selling European citizenship to rich oligarchs who use Malta as a stepping stone to gain access to Europe.
The government is refusing to publish a separate list with the names of those who are awarded citizenship through investment. And a magisterial inquiry is investigating whether the PM’s Chief of Staff received kickbacks on the sale of Maltese passports through the offices of auditor Brian Tonna. These further erode trust in Malta’s ability to protect Europe from criminals abusing the scheme.
Moreover it is thanks to the scheme that Malta has achieved a surplus in its Budget, which speaks volumes on the sustainability of Muscat’s economic model.
The resolution itself calls on Malta to state which safeguards are in place to ensure that all these new citizens have actually spent a year in Malta, a clause which was only introduced in January 2014 following pressure by the EU commission. Still, responsibility for this legal travesty lies squarely with the European Commission, which accepted an unenforceable residence clause thus giving legitimacy to a scheme which has turned Maltese and European citizenship into a commodity.
This stands in stark contrast to the way both Malta and the EU treat poorer migrants who are either turned down at the borders or forced to live a precarious existence.
The Maltese government’s indifference to the debate in the European Parliament suggests that it banks on the European Commission not following up on the approved resolution. This would be disgraceful for both Malta and Europe.
Muscat’s flight to Hong Kong on the day suggests that our Prime Minister feels more at home in the company of the super rich in authoritarian capitalist outposts than he is facing scrutiny in a European democracy.
This lethal mixture of neo liberalism and authoritarian politics has contributed to making the political debate in Malta toxic.