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I’d have done it differently

At the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the testimony by Ian Abdilla carried so many clamorous admissions that the implication of the politically most important one has been missed.

The former head of the Economic Crimes Unit has acknowledged that the Panama Gang was not investigated – saying there were more important cases. He confirmed the advice by the Attorney General that discouraged a police raid on the offices of Nexia BT.

His excuse for not investigating the Egrant matter the way international police methods require: the terms of the official inquiry were too narrow; the terms having been drawn up by the target of the inquiry himself.

But that’s not the most clamorous admission politically. That came when Abdilla, exasperated at being asked why the police didn’t do this or that, said the police had not faced a case like the Panama Papers before.

Take the implications of that slowly. A top police officer claimed THE POLICE didn’t know quite what to do because nothing in their experience had prepared them to handle that high level and extent of corruption.

We now have it from the police. In terms of corruption, Panamagate is unprecedented. So much for the whataboutism that says that previous governments were equally corrupt. Here the corruption froze the police.

Critics might say that the police were not just frozen in their tracks. They were deliberately looking the other way. Perhaps. But the point here is this: the best excuse the police can offer is that this level of corruption was on a grander scale than they had ever encountered before.

Which is almost certainly true, of course. This week has also brought out in fluorescent relief just how far the crooks’ tentacles reached.

Demands for information to probe dubious contracts relied on other institutions. Public contracts were denied on claims of commercial sensitivity. Those demands were upheld by authorities, including the courts, that are supposed to judge those claims according to legal standards of justice and openness.

You don’t need to assume those judgements were reached thanks to a conspiracy with the crooks. It’s enough to note that the people appointed to protect an open society were already disposed, in terms of political outlook, to favour the claims of the government.

Is it controversial to pour scorn on these judgements? Not any more, it seems. The Auditor General makes it quite clear that his office should, naturally, have had access to the Memorandum of Understanding concerning the Vitals Global Healthcare deal. The current prime minister supports him. The whole principle of withholding the document has collapsed.

The document has now disappeared. Just like other public documents have mysteriously begun to disappear.

Here is the chain of control over the evidence: invocation of ‘principle’ (unknown in any other liberal democracy) to keep information hidden; authorities that confirm the government’s judgement; agents in the bureaucracy to make documents (evidence) vanish.

No wonder that we’ve seen the disappearance of the expression ‘under my watch’ (properly speaking, it’s ‘on my watch’ – but who’s watching?). That expression was supposed to convey vigilance. Now we know almost everyone has been looking the other way.

So the new expression is, “I’d have done it differently.” Abdilla has used it to suggest it’s easy only with hindsight to see what was wrong.

Robert Abela has already used it at least twice: in relation to Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri (he’d have sacked them in 2016) and with respect to the Attorney General’s infamous advice. He means that it won’t happen under him because his judgement is better – so let’s move on.

But that’s not good enough. For one thing, we didn’t need hindsight. There were people at the time who were insisting that Mizzi and Schembri had to be sacked. These people were pilloried. One was assassinated – 1,000 days ago today.

We didn’t need hindsight because what needed to be done was obvious – by any standard other than a bent one.

Abela says he’d have done things differently then. He realises he didn’t need hindsight. So he ought to tell us: What did he do then? What did he say? He can’t cop out by saying he wasn’t an MP in 2016. He still had a mouth. He still had his brain.

We do know what he’s done since. He smeared the sons of Caruana Galizia as despising Malta. He has since retracted that – but conspicuously did not apologise, as any decent person would have done.

The man who would have done things differently then still is complicit in trying to launder the disgrace of Muscat. Enough of Abela telling us what he would have done differently years ago. He should begin by doing things differently now.

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