Exhaustion, hope and opportunity

The end of January is drawing near, and the tremors of the recent political earthquake are subsiding.

The seismic events brought fear, anger and sadness. There was also a strong sense of betrayal in the air. How could the country end up in such a political disaster? Why weren’t there adequate precautions and safeguards in place to protect us? Who is responsible?

The dominant feeling is now one of exhaustion, yet mingled with some hope.

Only three months ago, the huge changes we have witnessed could not have been imagined possible. Even a week is a long time in politics, as the saying goes. A new prime minister is in place. A wave of important resignations have occurred, with ministers going down like skittles. A new police commissioner is in the offing.

Robert Abela is being welcomed like a breath of fresh air after an episode of near suffocation – although with a good measure of caution too.

His decision to push for the resignation of Justyne Caruana as Gozo minister would have been unthinkable under Joseph Muscat as prime minister.

Abela was absolutely right that Caruana had to go. Her husband, former deputy police commissioner Silvio Valletta, maintained a close friendship with Yorgen Fenech while Fenech was being investigated by the police in connection with the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Joseph Muscat has refused to answer questions about Caruana’s resignation. Of course. How could he answer? He did the same thing himself. He invited Fenech to his personal birthday party earlier this year, despite knowing that Fenech was implicated in the murder investigation.

In Parliament this week, independent MP Marlene Farrugia said that Caruana should have seen it coming. But, birds of a feather flock together. Caruana possibly did not even realise there was anything wrong. The incident merely reflects the general approach of Muscat’s style of government, with abysmally low standards of behaviour all around.

Muscat accepted expensive gifts from Fenech too, including luxury watches and top wines and who knows what else. If Valletta’s behaviour was out of line, then so was that of Muscat. But we knew that already. Fortunately, Abela has now made it official.

When these items were first revealed in December, Muscat said he would publish a list of such gifts. He then retracted his promise and said he would do nothing of the sort. But Muscat cannot be allowed to just walk away in silence. Resigning is not enough. People had entrusted him to run the country and to represent it on their behalf, and now they deserve answers.

Just as Caruana had to resign from her office at once, Muscat should also have resigned at once and not dragged out his departure over six weeks, with rallies and meetings set to glorify him. This has now also been admitted by members of his former Cabinet. They also criticised Muscat’s over-the-top holiday in Dubai over Christmas. But it is a great pity that his colleagues did not speak out earlier, and that they let things slide as far as they did.

Muscat has always been compared to Simon Busuttil. They were MEPs at the same time and then both moved on to lead Malta’s two major political parties.

Busuttil did not enjoy the electoral successes that Muscat achieved here. But now that they are both moving on, Busuttil can leave the Maltese parliament with some integrity while the same certainly cannot be said for Muscat.

Will Abela clean up this act? On all fronts, calls for reform are being made.

The Opposition has laid a set of reform proposals on the table. A system for political party funding by the State should be put in place, to create a measure of financial independence from big sponsors and continual fundraising.

The Chamber of Commerce has called for a register of lobbyists to be set up. This would go some way to address the burning problem of undue influence being exerted on politicians and improve transparency.

Civil society activists are calling for good governance measures. Environment NGOs are crying out for change in the planning sector. The list goes on.

These widespread calls for reform have one thing in common: a wish to ensure that the slippery, unprincipled style of governance that has brought this country to its knees is never repeated.

Abela has been given the opportunity to usher in a new style of politics. This would be a great political legacy for him to aspire to, both as prime minister and also as leader of the Labour Party. His first moves have been encouraging.


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