If it quacks and walks like a duck, then it is a duck. And what if it’s a prime minister who so completely ducks his responsibilities as head of government, that the Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry report feels compelled to state (p. 201) that his conduct was “unacceptable, to be condemned and represents a grave and abusive failure in the exercise of his functions”?
That passage refers to how Joseph Muscat continually shielded Keith Schembri. But the report could have been referring to all that it found. The State’s failure to protect Caruana Galizia could always be traced back to the Office of the Prime Minister under Muscat.
The report says (p. 340) that the State did not protect her; it also did not stop “the campaign of denigration and hate, going beyond all limits of humanity, sustained by the power of government”.
It continues: “It was a campaign so harsh that it could easily have provoked violent attacks on her person, motivated by some political extremism but also, and worse, as in fact happened, that it would serve as good effective cover for whoever had rather different reasons for eliminating her”.
Not to know the consequences of such actions is irresponsible. But it was worse. Fake news, dehumanising campaigns to isolate her, suppression of information and investigations — all traceable to the OPM.
The report shows that what was going on should have been self-evident to a competent person in high office at the time. The Board reports (pp. 334-35):
“In fact, the Board has information that it’s not at liberty to reveal because it might prejudice ongoing criminal proceedings. But it can confirm… the existence of a network of people who control regulatory authorities, chosen and placed as persons of trust by those with political power, with blind loyalty towards the people who appointed them and who report directly to the centre of power in the Office of the Prime Minister.”
Muscat told the inquiry that it was only just before his chief of staff was arrested that he realised that Schembri had to go. For this to be true, Muscat had to be sleeping on the job, a stooge of the criminal gang operating under his nose.
If that’s your excuse, then you’re guilty of everything the inquiry says.
Muscat has reacted on Facebook. He says he “accepts” the conclusions despite “very serious reservations” out of “respect for the institutions”. Humbug.
If he really accepts the conclusions he’d apologise for what happened on his watch. He’d drop the court case he still has against Caruana Galizia’s heirs.
Instead: ‘While the inquiry expressed its disapproval on my political judgement in the aftermath of the Panama Papers, it failed to point out that I took the decision to fetch another mandate in the following months, where the electorate judged me on how I managed the situation”.
The inquiry was being kind. Muscat told the Board (p. 191) that opening a Panama company was politically unacceptable.
Really? So why did Muscat (according to what he declared publicly after Caruana Galizia broke the story) approve Konrad Mizzi’s ‘draft’ parliamentary declaration of assets and pave the way for Mizzi to become deputy Labour leader?
The Board let Muscat get away with that.
He says he went to the polls “in the following months”? It was over a year later, after the State made sure the voters never had the information they needed.
Police Commissioner Michael Cassar went on long leave shortly after receiving a preliminary report from the FIAU, on Schembri and Mizzi, in early April 2016. He resigned at the end of April and was replaced by a stooge. The inquiry, before whom Cassar testified, adds (p. 287):
“… Cassar had decided to resign because he felt that all the responsibility was being thrust on his shoulders. Because of the political climate of that period, he felt that he couldn’t take the necessary steps related to this report.”
The “political climate” was Muscat defending Mizzi and Schembri to the hilt. It was the mobilisation of the Labour base against ‘traitors’.
It continued right up to the 2017 campaign. Caruana Galizia’s face was plastered on a billboard depicting her as a political enemy. The inquiry refers (p. 363) to “conclusive proof” that other journalists were targeted for intimidation.
In one case (p. 364), the Board reports the testimony of a journalist who was followed to a meeting with a source on the Panama Papers. Their conversation was recorded; the source was made to pay so heavily that he resigned from his job.
One of the people following the journalist worked at the Office of the Prime Minister. He reported to Schembri.
So no, the Board didn’t ignore the fact that Muscat called an election. It found that what happened during that campaign only condemns Muscat further. The inquiry states (p. 364) that a functioning State would have encouraged journalists to investigate in the public interest, rather than concentrate on silencing or thwarting them.
It’s not just the inquiry that has condemned Muscat. So has his successor, Robert Abela, if indirectly and, just possibly, inadvertently.
At the end of his press conference about the report, Abela urged a “change in attitude” beyond any legal and institutional reforms. He said responsibility ultimately falls upon those who lead the country — “today it’s me, tomorrow it will be someone else”.
Implication: responsibility fell also on those who led yesterday.
Abela continued: Those who lead need to give a message of responsibility — of seriousness, integrity and good governance — that needs to percolate through every institution.
If this is such a radical change, what does it say about the irresponsibility — the lack of seriousness, integrity and good governance — of his predecessor?
Abela is discovering that he cannot defend his government if it remains hitched to Muscat’s disgrace.