Our tough man in Castille

It shouldn’t need saying, but it’s part of our political predicament that it must be said: The police doing their duty does not mean ‘the institutions are functioning’.

The Prime Minister cannot simultaneously “wait for the facts to emerge” when he is also in a position to control which facts do emerge.

Joseph Muscat cannot claim to be answering all “legitimate questions” (thank you, Prime Minister) while also deciding which newsrooms are ‘legitimate’ enough to be invited to his briefings.

The institutions cannot be functioning properly when the Prime Minister can claim credit for not letting Yorgen Fenech get away – since, he says, the extra surveillance depended on his go-ahead. What about any other extra surveillance that might be needed but which might also determine his own future?

Muscat says he’s doing his duty because, in this high drama, Malta needs leadership. But why is it that the arrest of Fenech has created a leadership crisis?

It’s because, for a long time, Muscat’s inaction gave Fenech an aura of untouchability. In the past several years, which of Malta’s institutions, under Muscat’s ultimate control, has not bent backwards to accommodate Fenech’s Electrogas interests in some way?

The processes that deemed Electrogas financially worthy to carry out the project? The bank constrained to provide financial cover? The contract obliging the country to pay Electrogas a price way above the market rate? The forces of law and order that never found the evidence of suspicious ties between Fenech and Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi compelling enough to investigate?

Now, Muscat wants us to believe only he can see to it that Fenech is shown not to be above the law.

He also assures us that, if the facts implicate people in politics he can take the hard decisions. What hard decisions? For a politician under arrest, resignation from government is automatic.

As for Muscat’s record in taking hard decisions: He is, of course, the same person who took the hard decision to provide cover for Mizzi over the latter’s secret Panama company.

Until, that is, Labour grassroots anger pushed Muscat to take another hard decision and strip Mizzi of his deputy Labour leader role. Muscat said that, although Mizzi had done nothing illegal, he (Muscat) was of course disappointed. By what? Nothing had changed.

Muscat is the man of firm principle who was outraged, 10 years ago, when the then (PN) Finance Minister travelled on the private plane of Fenech’s father to watch an Arsenal game. Such promiscuity between a high government figure and leading businessmen was unacceptable.

But when the news broke of Schembri’s ‘draft’ plans with 17 Black, Muscat took the hard decision to ask his Chief of Staff no questions about documented evidence that he planned to earn €5,000 a day from Fenech’s secret company.

Now, Muscat intimates that he has known many secrets about the investigation but which the burden of office obliged him to keep to himself. Where does that leave his decision, as Labour leader, to permit Labour’s online army, led by colonels working in the Office of the Prime Minister, to smear Matthew Caruana Galizia as possibly implicated in his mother’s assassination?

Maybe this isn’t quite the tough, unflinching leader we need to take the necessary decisions now.

And this is why everything that Muscat has said in this crisis is anything but reassuring. Except for the spinners and triple A commentators (Abject. Asinine. Apologist), institutional rot is plain to everyone.

It’s evident to a former Chief Justice and public prosecutor, Vincent Degaetano. It’s evident to the Council of Europe’s (CoE) special rapporteur, Pieter Omtzigt, who has the CoE’s full backing.

And it’s evident to the Executive Secretary of the CoE’s Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO). In yesterday’s interview with The Shift, he makes it clear that delays in magisterial inquiries suggest impunity, not due process.

At the current pace, what the Prime Minister and his spinning machine will count as ”facts” will take years to emerge. But the country cannot afford more years of this. It’s tottering now.

Effective action needs Labour MPs to see that the objective situation is bad for themselves, their Party and the country. The situation is not ‘leading’ to a political crisis: it’s neck-deep in one. It cannot be weathered till the next general election.

Labour MPs will necessarily be cautious. They need to be shown that the most reckless behaviour would be to have no change at the top.

Only public protests will do that. The more disciplined and orderly they are, the more chilling.


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