Prime minister Robert Abela, speaking at an extraordinary parliamentary sitting held to discuss the public inquiry’s conclusions on the state’s role in the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, rejected the board’s finding that the Labour government had fostered a climate of impunity for criminals, and failed to commit to a specific plan for the implementation of the public inquiry board’s recommendations.
Despite his opening remark that “Maltese people deserve transparency and honesty”, Abela claimed the inquiry had concluded that the state did not play a role in the assassination and played down the government’s responsibility in the creation of a climate of impunity. Abela argued that there is “no impunity” in Malta, in direct contradiction of the inquiry board’s conclusions.
Other government MPs accused the opposition of “being partisan” in their approach to the debate. Government MP Miriam Dalli, as well as Abela himself, both argued in favour of “unity” within the country when facing “the challenges that lie ahead”, referring to “divisive discourse” being leveled at them by the opposition.
Opposition leader Bernard Grech did not mince his words as he condemned the “the surreal speech in the surreal times” Malta faces after Thursday’s publication of the 470-page inquiry report sent shockwaves through the country. The testimonies of witnesses involved in the public inquiry as well as the submissions filed by individuals or organisations have not been published with the report.
“The answer given to us by the public inquiry is clear: the state and the government are responsible for the climate of impunity they created,” Grech said.
“They are responsible because rather than doing their job and taking action on the corruption Daphne Caruana Galizia was exposing, they chose to demonise and isolate her,” the opposition leader continued.
“They chose to look the other way; they chose to protect criminals, until the criminals, like the tentacles of an octopus, took total control of institutions. The people who killed the journalist did so with impunity,” he added.
While Abela reiterated his apologies for the state’s role in facilitating the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, his statements often clashed with the findings of the inquiry. A large chunk of his speech also consisted of praise for his own government’s legislative reforms. He was vague on commitment to the plan to implement recommendations.
“We are going to create a plan to implement the recommendations made by the inquiry board. We will work in the same way we worked on other recommendations such as the ones given to us by the Venice commission,” Abela said, neglecting to mention that the inquiry board specifically pointed towards governance reforms being carried out on paper only.
In its conclusions, the board says that it “was faced with situations in which the established procedures dictated by good governance looked like they were being followed on paper but in fact were simply means with which those involved would achieve their objectives”.
The opposition’s leader quoted this segment of the board’s conclusions to argue that the prime minister is “trying to give the impression that he is leading a new government”.
“The truth is that he is still leading a government that behaves in the same exact way. It is still protecting various persons who should have been taken to court a long time ago,” Grech stated.
“You have laws on paper but in reality, the candidate of continuity is still defending them. Or rather, he is afraid to find the courage to not defend Joseph Muscat,” he added, repeatedly urging the prime minister to kick disgraced former prime minister Muscat out of the Labour party.
Opposition MP Karol Aquilina picked up a similar thread in his discourse, arguing that Abela is “a puppet” whose strings are pulled by his predecessor while giving the prime minister a list of things that could be done by the government to clean up corruption within their ranks.
“You should revoke the €120,000 pay-out Joseph Muscat was given. You should demand that he pass on all information he might have to the police. These are all things you can do, but you cannot,” Aquilina maintained.
“You cannot, because you are still tied to Joseph Muscat, and before realising that you need to sever that connection, you will be an eternal slave of Joseph Muscat. No more lies, no more maneuvering, no more hiding. We know the truth and we expect you take action today before tomorrow,” Aquilina added.
In his speech, Abela also played down the inquiry board’s strong emphasis on the unhealthy links between big business and politics, which they concluded were key ingredients in Caruana Galizia’s assassination because her reporting focused largely on this issue.
“Politics and business are different, and the choices I’ve made in my team reflects this idea. Business is important for wealth creation; there is no doubt that most businesses in Malta are legitimate and compliant with the law,” Abela argued.
“We have a choice when it comes to dealing with how we face the results of this inquiry: we can choose confrontation and play the blame game, or blame each other, politically, or we can choose the mature road, to learn our lessons and move on to enact the recommendations that the public inquiry offered,” he added.
Abela’s remarks appeared to bypass the inquiry board’s scathing statements about the Labour administration’s close ties with influential businessmen: “the reality is that big business, unsurprisingly, pounced on the occasion to operate and complete its projects with minor administrative obstacles and through the manipulation of the highest-level public officials with which they developed common interests,” the report reads.
In his speech, Grech again pointed out the clash between what the board had concluded and what the prime minister was stating, and insisted that “the public inquiry concluded that Daphne’s murder is the collective responsibility of the Labour government”.
“You can try to hide this or cover it up, you can try to run away from it looking downward and playing with your phones. You can try to manipulate it through One News or through your control of PBS,” Grech said.
“But, like the truths Daphne exposed, this is a truth that you cannot run away from,” he added.
Opposition MPs Jason Azzopardi and Therese Comodini Cachia, who were also acting as the lawyers for the Caruana Galizia family throughout the proceedings since the assassination, thanked the family as well as journalists in general for their persistence in bringing the inquiry to a conclusion, arguing that today’s plenary session was just the beginning.