Thousands answered Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s call to reply to allegations of impropriety by attending a mass rally but his speech to a somewhat underwhelming crowd failed to provide any answers at all.
Muscat used his May Day speech to announce a new investment of €50 million in social housing funded by the cash-for-passport scheme. This investment, he said, will augment the €58 million investment announced in July 2017 which will see the construction of 680 apartments over three years.
The move is aimed at addressing growing social inequalities which are resulting from rising rental and housing prices due to the influx of foreign workers and sustained economic growth. But this is hardly enough to provide accommodation for the 3,200 applicants on the waiting list for social housing.
He also announced a public consultation on rent reform, which he insisted will reach a balance between the duties and responsibilities of tenants and landlords.
This is a much needed reform which can only be properly assessed once a draft law is published. These two announcements show that Muscat is aware of the growing social inequalities but they are only cosmetic changes which will undoubtedly increase his popularity. However, they will only ease the pain caused by an economic system built on wage slavery, tax evasion, money laundering, kleptocracy and the destruction of the environment.
These measures go nowhere near creating an economy that works for all people rather than the few who control wealth, based on social justice and the highest labour and environmental standards.
Yet, anyone expecting Muscat to address the elephant in the room, that is the serious allegations of impropriety made against his closest aides and the erosion of democracy in Malta, must have felt let down by his speech.
Thousands of Labour supporters answered Muscat’s rallying call to “reply” to the serious allegations made against him and his right-hand men Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi. But all they got was a recital of his well-rehearsed rebuttal and not a hint of introspective criticism beyond his pledge to resign if he is found guilty of any wrongdoing.
Once again Muscat described the Egrant allegations as “the greatest lie in Malta’s political history” and said that not a shred of proof has been presented. However, he conveniently failed to tell the adoring crowd which gathered in Valletta that a number of magisterial inquiries are still ongoing and the game is far from over.
His speech was mostly aimed at the audience waving ‘We are proud of our Prime Minister’ placards in Valletta and not at the external criticism which is getting louder and louder, including from European institutions, MEPs from across the political spectrum and the international media.
Thanking the crowd for trusting and believing in him, Muscat said his government was fulfilling its promise of making Malta “the best in Europe.” However, he can hardly claim to be Europe’s finest when a journalist was murdered under his watch. He cannot claim that Malta is the envy of the world when he has rendered the country’s independent institutions toothless, refuses to fire Schembri and Mizzi and does absolutely nothing to dispel the perception of leading a country built on cronyism, corruption and money laundering.
“Where others want division, we will foster unity; where others want to build walls, we will build bridges; where others want hate, we will sow love,” Muscat said in his closing prosaic remarks.
His popularity might swell but no social justice placebos derived from the shady cash-for-passport scheme will quell the storm. His followers might follow him everywhere but he’s heading towards a precipice. More than giving a reply, his May Day speech sent out a distress signal.