Robert Abela’s era is being heralded as a glorious time of cataclysmic change that belies his campaign totem of continuity. Many have rushed to acclaim the State’s new Daniel, but is Abela really the ‘wise young judge’ that he is being made out to be?
The ‘optics’ are there for all to see – Muscat’s long-drawn slide to anonymous ignominy was the beginning of a flurry of other resignations or non-appointments. We all know where Keith Schembri is (or at least we have an approximate idea). We are told that Chris Cardona refused a reallocation of a portfolio, that Joe Mizzi was never given one, and that the choices for the new gargantuan Cabinet were made in the interest of change. Now even Lawrence Cutajar is out. It was reported that the fixers from the hell that are Nexia BT no longer find favour with this lot.
The devil, they say, is in the detail.
Abela may choose to consciously live in denial when it comes to realising that the system he inherited is broken. Abela constantly tries to disguise the issue as a minor blip on the glorious road of Muscat’s wave of wealth and triumph. What Abela calls “mistakes” will not go away with the brush of a pen. The “mistakes”, which are really about a system of governance in crisis, will not vanish unless they are tackled head on.
Is Abela committed to tackling the problems of governance and rule of law? You tell me. The governance portfolio fell to a parliamentary secretary (youngest MP, female MP – the optics again). That portfolio is lost among other elements such as reforms on cannabis legislation, prostitution and Identity Malta.
If that were not enough of a slap in the face of any idea of real reform, then we just had to wait for the appointment of the Cabinet Governance Committee headed by Muscat’s travel buddy Edward Zammit Lewis.
Incidentally, that Cabinet is one of the largest ever. Seventeen ministers and eight parliamentary secretaries – so 26 members of the Executive out of 37 Labour MPs. Abela the ‘changer’ has given us an Executive that continues to undermine the concept of parliamentary representation.
It is not a good sign of governance, if only just for the fact that it is an open secret that ministries and secretariats are the focal point of a system of fiefdoms and favouritisms upon which our sorry State is built. Cue Anton Refalo informing his constituents that since he was not appointed minister, he might not be able to satisfy all their requirements.
The loss of heaven and the pain of hell
Back to the flurry of resignations. There is a perverse sense of appeasement that centres around the belief that resignation is somehow equivalent to full accountability and, therefore, universal absolution.
To begin with, the motivation for most of the resignations that we have begun to witness since December has nothing to do with accountability for whatever “mistakes” (sic) were committed. Instead, we had a series of public persons riding off into the proverbial sunset with a pat on the back (for some) or a month-long celebration of their achievements (for the luckier among them).
In the eyes of many, particularly the Labour “ħalluna ha niggvernaw” (leave us to govern in peace) crowds, the resignations were only the result of unfair pressure on persons who had dedicated their lives to the betterment of our common wealth. As a nominally Catholic nation, we still think in Catholic terms. Many, in fact, seemed to think that resignation was the new plenary indulgence. Unlike confession, the indulgence bypasses any sense of contrition for the sins committed. By simply performing an action (a prayer, a visit to a place) the person is released ‘from temporal punishment’.
While it is God’s prerogative to forgive sins, in a system of rule of law the accountability for actions cannot be bypassed by a resignation. In a version of the act of contrition, the sinner speaks of his regret for having sinned and thus having suffered the loss of heaven and the pain of hell. The Maltese version is harsher – the heaven I have lost and the hell that I have gained. Catholic rites have always been dark. That’s a stark contrast to the triumphalism surrounding the resignations of Muscat, Schembri, Cutajar, Mizzi, Cardona and more.
The new Cabinet members are going to great lengths to distance themselves from the decisions made in the Muscat era. Suddenly they are all discovering how uncomfortable they were with certain people and certain processes. Their lip service may please those hypnotised by the cosmetics of change, but the failure of this Executive to move to real action concerning the accountability of those who have supposedly retired will come back to haunt the lot of them. Actually, it already has.
Remedies for the soul and remedies for the State
On Sunday morning we woke up to the news that Silvio Valletta, former deputy police commissioner and husband to the Minister for Gozo, had holidayed with Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder suspect Yorgen Fenech. Valletta is another example of the conflicts of interest that ran wild under Muscat. Valletta’s retirement did not come a day too soon – his answerability for blatant conflict of interest remains pending.
The following morning, we have his wife Justyne Caruana’s resignation. I’d like to be able to say it was inevitable and expected but given the time we had to wait for something to happen with regards to Cutajar, Mizzi and Schembri then we could all be forgiven for not holding our breaths. Abela has a huge problem on his hands – no amount of cosmetic changes will alter the basic fact that the whole of the Labour parliamentary contingent stood squarely behind Muscat until the day he “went away”. What should be a Party in government is in fact a walking cupboard full of an endless supply of skeletons. A dead government walking.
With that in mind, no amount of toying superficially with laws by a Committee of Compromised Ministers will suffice to remedy the ills of the State. The Venice Commission, the EU institutions and other watchdog entities will be reinforced by the continued vigilance and action by civil society.
Because today, ‘sorry’ is not enough.