“That which I do, I do before God”. This was not Ali Khamenei, Islamic Iran’s highest political authority. It was President George Vella, justifying his failure to bear his share of responsibility, in defiance of the Caruana Galizia inquiry recommendations.
When challenged why he refused to carry political responsibility, as a member of Muscat’s cabinet, Vella commented: “I can assure you I am doing my duty with a clear conscience”. He was working behind the scenes, he reassured us. He flatly refused to answer whether he will shoulder responsibility.
The question is a legitimate one arising directly out of the inquiry’s recommendations. President Vella can accept that responsibility by resigning. Hysteria followed the justified calls for Vella to consider his position. Former MEP Marlene Mizzi adopted the tactics roundly condemned by the inquiry board.
“Trying to taint the reputation of a respected man of integrity, will only earn you the disdain and disgust of the nation” she threatened. Instead of enabling a mature discussion, Mizzi swiftly shut it down with ominous threats.
The culture of impunity was identified as the main reason for Malta’s descent into a haven for murder. Yet Mizzi ensured Vella’s impunity through intimidation, appropriating “the nation” in the same way that Vella appropriated “God”.
Rather than provide reasoned arguments why Vella bore no responsibility, Mizzi feigned outrage, fomenting the usual offensive violent threats by Labour’s trolls against those who dared raise the question. The aggressive hostility she displayed belongs in autocratic countries such as Thailand where “lese-majeste” earns you decades in prison for offending the monarch.
The reason Mizzi deployed such tactics is that facts are not on her side, or Vella’s. Reasoned debate would not be kind to her cause. So hysterical diatribes are required.
Others, such as Raphael Vassallo, attempted to make some arguments about why Vella should be exonerated. Vassallo asked, why are ‘certain people’ suddenly demanding his head on a plate? The simple answer is that the inquiry report is published. And one of its recommendations is that Muscat’s cabinet must bear political responsibility for their inaction.
Vassallo argued that Vella’s “only crime” was his failure in 2016 to foresee what nobody else could have – that a journalist would be murdered. He naively claimed that Vella was being asked to resign not because of anything he did but simply because he was a minister in Muscat’s cabinet and behaved just like all other former ministers.
Sadly, Vella’s “only crime” is precisely that he behaved like all other ministers. Vella sat passively by as Muscat abused his power to loot the State and create the culture that allowed dehumanisation of those who pointed out he was doing it.
Vella witnessed at close range the devious chicanery and did nothing. For one so concerned about God, Vella should take heed of James 4:17: “Remember it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it”.
Vella was not like other ministers, young, ambitious and desperate to please their “kink”. Vella was the elder statesman, the mature experienced father figure in that cabinet. His responsibility was much greater – not least to stop the young leader running roughshod over the nation. Vella’s own political career was coming to a close. He had the moral authority and gravitas to call out the blatant corruption festering under his nose.
Vella did not just watch silently. He viciously attacked those exposing Muscat’s corrupt practices. He denigrated those sitting across him in parliament and accused them of harming the government. He offensively called those criticising Sai Mizzi’s shameless appointment “pea brain”. Driven by blinding partisanship that skewed his judgement, Vella made the wrong choice every time.
Instead of standing up to him, Vella willingly lent his support to a corrupt morally decadent leader and his greedy opportunists. Vella put the interest of his Party and government before the country’s. The opportunities before him were innumerable. He missed them all.
Even as recently as 2019 Vella defended Muscat proclaiming: “Our state of democracy rates very very well”.
As a doctor, he knew that the sale of half the health service to a notorious conman who had never run a clinic was not in the nation’s interest. Or that employing Konrad Mizzi’s wife on an obscene remuneration package did not serve the nation. He surely understood that opening secret companies in remote Panama was nefarious. Or that those companies weren’t opened to manage Konrad Mizzi’s modest property in Blackheath.
Instead of defending the nation, Vella repeatedly and consistently defended the stinking rot. His judgement was flawed, tribal and possibly self-serving with one eye on the presidency.
Vella’s loathing of “the opposition” blinded him to what was so obvious to any rational mind. His aggressive parliamentary speech at Konrad Mizzi’s no-confidence motion in 2016 revealed his distorted reasoning and fatal judgement. As Muscat swindled the nation, Vella provided a bastion of support.
If this is “doing your duty with a clear conscience”, that conscience needs close examination.
Vella is now presented with one final golden opportunity to make amends and redeem himself. He can send a clear message, by gracefully bowing out, that even the President is responsible and accountable – and not only to God. His resignation should trigger the avalanche required to cleanse the country of the malignant culture of impunity.
If the President steps down, all those on both sides of the political spectrum identified in the report would be under pressure to follow suit. If he doesn’t, nobody will. Vella can show Malta there is hope for recovery and our international partners that Malta is serious about redeeming itself.
He has one last chance to demonstrate he can put his country first. Of course, the prospects were always slim. If you didn’t realise Ram Tumuluri was a conman, Konrad Mizzi a liar and Joseph Muscat an artful dodger you must lack the one essential attribute to make that call – good judgement.
Even when Malta voted to join the EU, Vella insisted the PN government was inventing that the ‘Yes’ camp had won. If it were up to him, the people’s choice would have been denied – and Malta would never have joined the EU.
George Vella’s “only crime” is that he never stood up for what is right, when it really mattered.