Blame the system, not just the crooks

With the spotlight on the rot surrounding Joseph Muscat, it’s clear that the current crisis is not the accidental result of a few bad actors. The peripheral government job awarded in 2017 to assassination middleman, Melvin Theuma, shows how the State was captured by criminals.

It was a job he never even asked for. He accepted it only on the basis that he wouldn’t have to perform it. There was a commedia dell’arte interview. Reportedly, a panel of three assembled to ask him if he knew how to use email and, when he replied, “Sort of,” he got the job on the spot. There are more syllables in a haiku (17) than were probably uttered in the complete exchange between interviewer and interviewee.

Theuma’s testimony – so far never contradicted by the established facts – reveals that there is no hyperbole in saying these are the workings of a Mafia State. There is an entire hierarchy of personnel the crooks can draw on – a Head of customer care, an employment agency, a member of the Prime Minister’s security detail…

Theuma’s testimony confirms at least part of Yorgen Fenech’s claims. Fenech did know secret details of the assassination investigation. Whether it was really through Keith Schembri or another source, we still need to confirm. Either way, it was a mole deep inside the State apparatus.

Some men in this episode proclaim their innocence of any knowledge of the plot in which they played a part. If true, it still doesn’t make the system any less of a Mafia-serving machine.

Let’s not baulk from the word ‘mafia’. It is another lie to blame ‘big business’ as the serpent in the Labour paradise. Mafias are themselves business enterprises involved not only in trade of illegal goods and violence but also in selling stitched-up contracts and protection. Some big businesses are part of the corruption, but they joined a game set up by organised crime at the heart of power.

Things are worse if it’s established that they are innocent of any knowledge of murderous intent, these men of walk-on parts like Sandro Craus, the Head of customer care at OPM, and Tony Muscat, the man who interviewed Theuma. It would mean the reason why they obeyed orders so automatically has to be because they were part of a system designed to operate this way.

As reported, the interview conducted by Muscat followed form in the pedantic detail – a panel of three, gathered in a board room, a job question asked, an official decision handed down. Clearly, the charade was performed so that a reassuring official answer could be given if a probing question were asked. Even this week, we were being assured that there had been a public call for applications for Theuma’s phantom job.

It is a system organised meticulously with deception in mind. It evidently wasn’t cooked up just for Theuma. The system was devised for the routine administration of lies.

The system of government was stripped of every alarm bell, every security lock and every guardrail. The details have been spelled out by Kevin Aquilina, the legal scholar, in an op-ed in The Times of Malta yesterday.

The separation of powers was eroded to tempt the watchdogs to look the other way. When watchdogs did bark, they were ignored or, worse, called traitors. Unfettered, arbitrary power was concentrated in the hands of Joseph Muscat, his partners, and their minions.

For Muscat now to speak grandly about solving the case “under my watch” is grotesque. On his watch, the system was deformed and pulled apart, way beyond what anyone had come to expect of our already-tainted clientelistic system.

But it didn’t happen only on Muscat’s watch. It happened on the watch of those whose Constitutional duty was to watch him – not least Labour ministers and MPs.

As they seek to earn public trust now, do they really think it enough to distance themselves from the crooks? Should they not tell us if they recognise their own misjudgements? Evarist Bartolo has half-told us he does. Even half-telling is better than nothing.

Take Robert Abela, the Labour MP, running for Leader and now in the high-minded business of denouncing ‘diabolical pacts’. Does he not think that the sons of Daphne Caruana Galizia were right all along to denounce the Muscat regime’s diabolical pact? Abela had denounced them in Parliament as detesting Malta. Does he still think he was right?

Every Labour MP and official should be asked questions like these, not least any leadership hopeful. We are owed an explanation of how they could miss the abuse of power that emboldened the assassins. We deserve to know if they recognise any errors of judgement on their own part.

The top priority now is to see that justice catches up with the assassins. But the urgent next priority is to see that the system is fixed. That can’t be done unless the new people in charge recognise it’s broken.


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