Only one mistake, eh? For Robert Abela that is the sum total of Joseph Muscat’s fault in relation to Konrad Mizzi. He didn’t sack Mizzi (and Keith Schembri) back in 2016 when he found out about his Panama company, Hearnville.
Abela says Mizzi deserved to be expelled from Labour’s parliamentary group but Muscat is a different case altogether. Muscat’s only sin was of omission.
All this assumes Muscat found out about the Panama company along with the rest of us. You must believe that:
(1) First, there was Daphne Caruana Galizia’s story in the last week of February.
(2) Then you have the Panama Papers break worldwide in April.
(3) Finally, on April 28, we get Muscat’s reaction.
He announces that he was naturally disappointed like the rest of us. In fact, most of us, including Labourites, were livid. But for Muscat, it was merely politically insensitive even though there was nothing wrong.
Muscat’s reaction then: Mizzi stepped down from Labour deputy leader (just two months after being elected). He was ‘demoted’ to minister without portfolio within the Office of the Prime Minister – where, Muscat assured us, Mizzi would be under his eye.
But this timeline rewrites history. Muscat did not find out about the Panama company with the rest of us. If we believe what Muscat told us in February 2016, the real timeline was this:
(1) In the first days of February, Muscat was told by Mizzi about his Panama company.
(2) On 22 February, Daphne Caruana Galizia began to break the news of Mizzi’s New Zealand Trust and Panama company. She wanted to warn Labour delegates voting in the one-horse deputy leadership race on 25 February.
Mizzi declared that he had nothing to hide from the public. Why, he had only at the beginning of the month filled in the parliamentary declaration form (dated 8 February) listing his Trust and the Panama company.
Now listen carefully: Mizzi told us that, at the beginning of February, he had informed Muscat, who had okayed it. Muscat confirmed this story.
Fascinating. In April, Muscat says he was disappointed when he learned of the Panama company. Two months earlier, however, he did not express disappointment with journalists.
He defended Mizzi. He permitted Mizzi to campaign for the deputy leader position – as sole candidate – for another three weeks.
Ponder that. Muscat stripped Mizzi of his deputy leadership position in response to the news of the Panama company. But when he first supposedly learned of it, he permitted Mizzi to continue to run for the same position. (A race in which the rules were changed to permit an MP to run, and in which other hopefuls were discouraged from running.)
Why strip Mizzi of a position because of an action you knew about before he took up the position?
Mizzi, just elected deputy leader, told journalists he couldn’t remember the name of his company. “Something technical.” Hearnville? Technical? Hadn’t he just filled in the form?
None of this behaviour makes sense if you want to be perfectly open with the public. It does make sense if you’re still not sure about the extent of the leaks.
Back to Muscat. He didn’t just spare Mizzi. He promoted him within the Party. He defended Mizzi’s excuses with journalists – even though they made no sense to financial planning experts.
Muscat defended Mizzi against the storm that blew within Labour itself. He got the parliamentary group to defend Mizzi. Given what came out later, he made a laughing stock of Labour’s senior politicians.
Muscat still wasn’t done. In the 2017 general election, Mizzi scooped up votes in Paola that in 2013 had gone to Muscat. That only happened with the benediction of Muscat.
Nothing that came out in the Panama saga changed Muscat’s mind. Not email evidence that Mizzi’s accountant scoured the world for a secret bank account. Not the link to 17 Black. Not the fact that Mizzi never sacked and sued his accountant, even though Mizzi blamed him for mistakenly believing Mizzi wanted a bank account and business with 17 Black.
The real history is clear. Muscat didn’t just spare Mizzi. He gave him cover and let the rest of Labour be covered in ridicule. He promoted Mizzi, at the expense of other leadership hopefuls.
He gave excuses that are so contradictory that they have to be lies. He ignored the rising evidence of Mizzi’s corruption. He continued to let Mizzi run amok – leading to scandals that have repeatedly plunged Labour into crisis.
And he’s quitting only after the summer? Not a moment too soon.