Well that didn’t last very long, did it?

Robert Abela cast a faint glow of hope during the first week of his tenure by taking some inevitable — and largely unavoidable — decisions.

He cut a few of the indefensible loose, like the inept police commissioner and that bottom feeder Neville Gafa. But to spin this as a sign of progress is disingenuous because the new prime minister could hardly do otherwise.

He also showed an early propensity to blur the truth by announcing the cancellation of certain contracts which had in fact expired. Adrian Hillman’s MGA contract was cancelled, we were told, and Keith Schembri’s men have been purged from the OPM.

The latest developments reveal that this early illusion of change was nothing more than sleight of hand.

In a clumsy attempt at a dime store magic trick, the prime minister made a show of doing something with one hand to distract you from the hand holding the actions everyone really cares about.

Investigating Schembri and Joseph Muscat. Prosecuting Konrad Mizzi, Hillman and Brian Tonna for money laundering. Getting to the bottom of Vitals Global Healthcare, Electrogas, the ‘American’ University of Sadeen, and so many other dodgy deals.

Those are the key issues, and where they’re concerned, Abela is just buying time.

‘Give him a chance,’ people said. ‘He’s new, he hasn’t had a chance to prove himself yet.’

That’s the same Muscatian logic which says, ‘We must wait for the outcome of the inquiries before demanding resignations’ — while deliberately delaying those same inquires, guaranteeing an outcome will never be reached.

Don’t you think it’s time to stop falling for that line of obvious nonsense?

Abela wasn’t exactly a political virgin. He was part of Muscat’s government and a legal consultant to the disgraced former prime minister. He knew what actions had to be taken long before he threw his hat into the leadership ring.

The blinders should have come off the moment Abela nominated Konrad Mizzi as Malta’s representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

At best, this could be seen as a misguided attempt to get Mizzi out of his way by using Europe as a dumping ground for a potential leadership challenger. That’s been done many times before. And let’s be clear, despite screwing the country like a dog with a leather fetish at a shoeshine convention, Mizzi does have a depressingly strong base of support among Labour true believers.

But Abela could do a much more effective job of sidelining the former Minister of Dodgy Deals by taking his new police chief by the hand and walking him over to all those FIAU reports they still haven’t acted on.

No, if this was diplomacy, then Abela has already failed catastrophically.

The eyes of Europe — and the world — are on Malta. Relief at the fall of Muscat was briefly replaced by faint hope. And then the new prime minister decided to appoint Malta’s most controversial member of the Muscat Mob to be the face of the nation in a major European institution. A man tied to Yorgen Fenech’s 17 Black.

EU officials were already reeling from the shock that the Office of the Prime Minister has been deeply implicated in the violent assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, and has done everything possible to cover it up. 

What sort of message do you think this sends? ‘Yes, you’re dealing with a mafia State, and we don’t care if you know it. You can’t kick us out, so you’d better pay up.”

The rest of Europe looks at Malta like that guest everyone’s forced to invite to a dinner party but no one trusts because he has a well-founded reputation for stealing the silverware.

If the political and financial juggernaut bearing down on the country took a pause to see if Klepto Keith really was gone, that juggernaut of sanctions, enforcement, and Article 7 is bearing down on Malta once again.

The public outrage that greeted Mizzi’s appointment resulted in its immediate withdrawal, but this only showed weakness on Abela’s part. Muscat would have ignored the outcry and gotten his way through bluster and pigheaded arrogance.

The outrage hadn’t even died down when the story of Mizzi’s €80,000 ‘consulting’ contract hit the news. It turns out Mizzi didn’t resign in disgrace last December when the entire Cabinet tried to distance themselves from the pariah in the room to save their own skins. No, he actually got a raise in the form of a non-job courtesy of il-Kink.

Mizzi’s lucrative contract — for which he was to be paid 42% more as a ‘consultant’ to the Tourism Ministry than he earned as Tourism Minister — also raises the question of whether Muscat, Schembri, Gafa and others walked away with similar secret deals at taxpayers’ expense.

I can see three possible explanations for Abela’s fumbling the ball so badly here.

One, he’s testing the waters to see how much he can get away with. The speed with which he backed down suggests that he might be calibrating his compass.

Two, Muscat is pulling his strings and has been all along. The reign of Abela is nothing more than a continuation of The Kingdom of Kickbackistan.

Or three, Baldrick from Blackadder is the new Schembri, and kicking Mizzi upstairs was his latest ‘cunning plan’.

I think number two is the most likely reading. And if it isn’t, then Abela had better put on those posing trunks and flex his integrity as hard as he used to flex his muscles.

A runaway train loaded with Muscat’s filthy baggage is hurtling towards Malta, and the new prime minister is the only one in a position to flip the switch.

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