As public demands for his resignation mount, Edward Zammit Lewis is deflecting attention from what is — after the Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry report — the elephant in the room.
True, the revelations of the cloying, self-abasing WhatsApp messages sent by Zammit Lewis to Yorgen Fenech — almost up to the latter’s arrest — have made it impossible for the justice minister to fulfil his functions, not least that of getting Malta de-greylisted by the FATF as soon as possible.
Zammit Lewis boasted with Fenech that his political acumen is so superior, he could eat his Cabinet colleagues for breakfast. That does rather invite the vision of a minister of elephantine appetite, enjoying repasts rich in Ġaħan-based protein and good cholesterol. Next to the elephant in the room, however, Zammit Lewis is a svelte tapir.
He needs to go but let’s not lose sight of the elephant, the Labour Party hierarchy. The inquiry places Labour’s organisation at the heart of its findings on the State’s responsibility for the assassination.
What does the hierarchy say for itself? So far, silence.
The inquiry was charged with investigating the State. It sticks to that task. It notes, however, several instances where Labour was implicated in the denial of Caruana Galizia’s freedom of expression, as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights, and the free exercise of her profession as journalist.
The board notes how Labour treated Caruana Galizia as a political adversary, rather than a journalist, especially after 2013. Joseph Muscat told the board he considered her the real Opposition. She was combatted, says the board (p. 173), “with all the weapons available on a partisan level”. The State’s duty to protect her freedom of expression was overridden by partisan considerations.
The board underlines such treatment is condemned in case law by the Strasbourg Court (whose supremacy is recognised by our Constitution). In her writing, Caruana Galizia was “occasionally aggressive and violent” (p. 151) but she was still a legitimate investigative journalist writing on matters of clear public interest. She should never have been treated as a partisan opponent.
Such treatment was systemic Party strategy. The board says it went beyond acceptable limits. She was denigrated, dehumanised and made an object of hate. Her face was plastered on a Labour billboard in the 2013 general election campaign. The report could have added that she reappeared on another Labour billboard during the 2017 campaign.
Glenn Bedingfield says his anti-Daphne blog was personal but the report recalls that his campaign was also carried out on Labour’s TV station. When Bedingfield used sexual innuendo in referring to Caruana Galizia, the Party’s media arm did not stop him. It was complicit.
The board rejects Bedingfield’s excuse that his was only an “equal and opposite reaction”. It was anything but equal. All the Party’s forces were aimed at a sole journalist.
The report highlights another grave failure by Labour. The distinction between Government and Party-in-Government was obliterated: a critical element of a “style of government” that “could have facilitated the assassination or strengthened the resolve of those who committed it” (p. 125).
Does Labour agree it was complicit in the violation of Caruana Galizia’s human rights? That it failed to respect the crucial distinction between Government and Party? That it therefore contributed to the facilitation of an assassination?
No, Abela has not already apologised on its behalf. He was explicit: he apologised on behalf of the State.
In not saying anything, Labour is once more failing to distinguish between Party and State. This time it’s hiding behind the State’s skirts, instead of subverting the State for partisan purposes. Even now, post-report, it still is guilty of the same failing that the inquiry has condemned.
In April, with reference to systemic corruption allegations, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca declared that Labour owed the nation an apology. Labour’s deputy leader, Daniel Micallef, treated the demand as something to humour, saying Labour was “humble enough” to offer an apology to those “who feel hurt”.
Now he should be asked again and told we’re not asking for displays of humility. We’re looking for contrition and remorse. We don’t “feel hurt”. We want to know if Labour has any sense of responsibility.
If there’s no apology, we must assume that, even with new personnel at the top, Labour is still irresponsible. It still is the same organisation depicted in the inquiry report and denounced by Coleiro Preca: a shell company, covering up for a clique who betrayed their many honest supporters, robbed the country, facilitated a culture of impunity and hence an assassination, and all but destroyed Malta’s reputation.