Anything too stupid to say must be sung. Voltaire, the first to affirm that, isn’t around to advise Robert Abela. Surely, though, Abela knows he badly needs a convincing tune.
Abela’s problem is that he’d like to sound like ‘My Way’ or ‘Take Me To The Moon’. He would, if he could, make Keith Schembri and cronies sound like ‘Strangers in the Night’. Yet Abela can’t talk about anything without it leading back to the disgraced Joseph Muscat, and then what we hear is ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’.
Some of Abela’s inanities are entirely his fault. He tells the pandemic frontliners that he’s proud of them. It’s more relevant to know if they’re proud of him. He didn’t get serious about ensuring the observance of COVID rules until the long-suffering medics gave an ultimatum.
On most things, however, he cannot help sound hollow. No matter how hard he tries to make his rhetoric soar, it crashes and burns because of the legacy he’s inherited.
In his Freedom Day speech, Abela told us freedom is not just about sovereignty and independence. He invited the retort that sovereignty would, however, be a good start. A State that’s captured by corrupt private interests is neither sovereign nor independent.
He told us freedom is about building a vision. He only reminded us that the salient vision driving government has been private enrichment.
Abela said freedom is about separation of powers: we hear him confirm that Muscat’s reign was therefore one of ordinary people treated like serfs by neo-feudal overlords.
He says that freedom is about the peace of mind not to be evicted from one’s home, and knowing you can get a fair return for it. We’re angered by his indecency: he knows Miriam Pace’s family can hear him. So can the family cheated by Ian Borg, whom Abela lets serve in his Cabinet despite the underhand way in which Borg grabbed that family’s land.
And when Abela says freedom means that the ultimate goal is not power, is it possible not to scoff? Every time he’s had to choose between the national interest and political survival, the country came second.
He insults our intelligence when he tells us the institutions are working. If they’re working now, when arrests are taking place, then they weren’t working when no investigations were even attempted.
Abela praises the Muscat years even though it’s clear that Muscat’s government was not plagued by merely a “few bad apples”. The entire tree was diseased. Some were directly part of the plan to pillage the country. Others had their own little schemes, allowing them to be vulnerable to blackmail; it’s sometimes tempting to think that political advancement was aided by being blackmailable. A few were personally honest but lacked backbone, or else loved their Party ‘not wisely but too well’.
Until recently, the extent of the disease ruled out a snap general election, in spite of all the speculation. Abela knows what journalists know about various members of his government. What five-week campaign would survive new scandals, one or two per week, revealed by leaked WhatsApp messages that tell us about more unsavoury links to Yorgen Fenech?
Abela has now been spared that prospect, as a side-effect of Magistrate Rachel Montebello’s decree that prohibits the publication of Fenech’s communications even if they have nothing directly to do with his murder trial. Abela will not, however, be spared questions to do with the muck coming out in the courts.
Any rational person, when asked for a view on Muscat, would have to conclude that Muscat must either have been an irresponsible fool, to miss all the signs of rampant corruption, or else be on the take. Abela can’t even bring himself to express regret about how Muscat acted, even though Muscat ruled in the name of the Party that Abela now leads.
Instead, Abela tells us that Muscat is no longer part of government. He knows we know he’s squirming out of the question but he’s ready to sound like an idiot for Muscat’s sake.
He’s not stupid. He’s just another reminder that Muscat’s legacy disgraces all those who defend it. No one can wade in a sewer and not stink himself.