Why doesn’t Robert Abela clean his own mess? Justyne Caruana was entirely Abela’s mess. He appointed her when he knew what she could get up to and retained her even when he knew what she was up to. That mess is now all over Abela’s face.
For months Abela dithered. The man who bragged he’s not afraid to take decisions prevaricated and procrastinated. He brought every excuse to dodge his duty. The report was inconclusive, he made false claims about the commissioner’s report. Yet the report could not be more categorical.
Caruana abused her power and lied repeatedly to cover it up. She claimed she was not in a relationship with Bogdanovic. She claimed experts suggested Bogdanovic to her – everybody else testified she picked him. She testified that Bogdanovic wrote the report when she knew her consultant Paul Debattista did. Caruana lied repeatedly under oath.
That’s no surprise. Her judgement has been abysmal from the start. Which politician launches his career with a hysterically hateful speech calling political adversaries “snakes“? When she was abusively transported to the airport in an army helicopter, she falsely claimed she needed to present two reports abroad. She presented no reports. She refused to answer journalists’ phone calls and emails. The OPM refused to divulge the costs of her flight.
As parliamentary secretary, she reportedly threatened Day Centre managers to “take them to the police commissioner”. She ominously warned them: “I’ll show you who Justyne Caruana is”.
As Gozo minister, she awarded €4.3 million in direct orders in less than two years.
Despite her then husband’s close friendship with Yorgen Fenech, she failed to declare her conflict of interest when voting on Fenech’s presidential pardon. She never exposed her former husband’s friendship with the alleged murderer when the journalist’s family sought his removal from lead investigator.
Yet Robert Abela reappointed her minister. What seemed like a brainwave at the time to increase Labour’s support in Gozo, now leaves Abela sorely exposed. His decision was certainly not driven by a burning desire to improve the country’s educational level. It was a self-serving partisan misjudgment for which Abela now pays the price.
Sacking Caruana would expose his poor judgement further. He could hardly claim ignorance. He knew what was going on from the start.
Abela’s own head of secretariat, Glenn Micallef, approved Bogdanovic’s transfer to the education ministry on 2 December 2020, barely 10 days after Caruana’s re-appointment. On 29 December, Micallef approved Bogdanovic’s appointment on salary scale 6, the highest possible scale.
The Direct Orders Office approved not one, but two direct orders for Bogadnovic – a €19,500 direct order for monitoring maintenance works and a €15,000 order to draw up a report on Skolasport.
When the media revealed Bogdanovic was working at the education ministry, alarm bells should have been ringing. Abela did nothing. When revelations about the abusive €15,000 direct order surfaced, Abela belatedly announced its termination – to mitigate public outrage.
Bogdanovic still received €5,900. Abela took no action against the minister.
When the standards commissioner launched his investigation into the minister’s abuse, Abela remained paralysed.
All the sordid details of the minister’s ghastly machinations were exposed in the commissioner’s report. Yet Abela still procrastinated. The prime minister, faced with incontrovertible evidence of abuse of power and outright perjury did nothing; his inaction the result of his lack of moral authority over his Party.
Abela initially deflected journalists’ questions – “let the process take its course”. Had he even read the report? He cynically shifted his responsibility onto the parliamentary standards committee, which won’t meet before another month.
Abela was trying to buy time, hoping the furore would die down over Christmas. When it didn’t he hoped Caruana would fall on her own sword, relieving him of the embarrassment of sacking her and avoiding her supporters’ wrath.
Caruana wouldn’t play ball. Why should she? Didn’t Carmelo Abela also breach ethics? Didn’t Zammit Lewis lie too when he claimed he paid for his lavish stay at Yorgen Fenech’s Evian-Les-Bains Hilton without presenting any evidence one year later? Hadn’t he denied any relationship with Fenech despite exchanging hundreds of grovelling messages, dined with him and begged him for jobs?
As Caruana obstinately refused to go, Abela resorted to exerting public pressure: “Members of the executive must carry their own responsibilities”. “Do you mean she should resign?”, Abela was asked. “I didn’t say that”.
Abela is too weak. He is no leader. Problems aren’t solved by ignoring them. Practical obstacles are not cleared by leaps of imagination. By repeatedly condoning unethical behaviour, outright abuse of power, and blatant lying by his ministers, Abela paved the way for further abuse.
As Labour’s own grassroots openly vented their anger at Caruana’s shameless abuse and her subsequent attempts at a cover-up, Caruana finally succumbed.
Having left Abela to stew in his own juices for days, Caruana reluctantly resigned. Her disdain, contempt and egocentricity rang through her insolent Facebook post.
Instead of a humble apology and a quiet exit, she arrogantly and stupidly announced she would contest the report and embark on legal procedures. Instead of hiding away in shame, she plans to humiliate herself further.
Caruana has no insight. She has annihilated her own future.
She also humiliated the prime minister who is left looking like a dunce. She has stripped him of any semblance of moral authority over his own Party. He is reduced to begging, cajoling and inducing his minister to do his dirty work for him.
Abela hasn’t realised he is the prime minister. It was Abela’s job to sack her. It wasn’t the standard commissioner’s, not the parliamentary committee’s, not the Speaker’s and not the minister’s. By shirking his duty he has failed the country, his Party and himself.
Abela is left weak and impotent, drained of all authority, unable to clean up his own mess.