If only we had some clues about Joseph Muscat, something in his past that might have hinted how things would turn out. If only we could have known Muscat would be so self-indulgent, self-serving and dishonest. This is the excuse bandied by those suffering from buyer’s remorse, now too embarrassed to have rooted for him.
Actually there were clues — loads of them. Many preferred to ignore them.
In 1998, Alfred Sant’s life was rendered miserable by his predecessor’s antics. Sant’s one seat majority exposed his government to the foot stamping of the disgruntled fallen icon.
In an open letter to Sant, Joseph Muscat quoted Mussolini: Better live one day as a lion than a hundred years as a sheep. Muscat pushed Sant to an early election, precipitating his premature downfall. Sant would hang around for another decade, losing three consecutive elections and paving the way for Muscat’s ascendancy.
In 2003, Malta voted to join the EU. Muscat was Sant’s advisor. Despite the clear result, Muscat sold Labour’s fans a barefaced lie, and partnership won. As thousands celebrated the referendum result, Muscat called Labour supporters into the streets with utter disregard for public safety. Muscat could not stomach defeat. He interpreted the nation’s vote as a personal slight and lashed out with utter recklessness.
Soon enough, Muscat was in Brussels embarrassing the nation with his “what the heck” scene at the European Parliament. When nobody was available to translate his speech, Muscat truculently stormed out of the chamber. His impudent scorn resurfaced when he declined an invitation to the president’s farewell dinner, announcing that he would rather eat a burger.
As Opposition Leader he threatened Peppi Azzopardi: “For every blow you strike the Labour Party, I will strike you twice, with all my strength, under the belt.” That was the real Joseph Muscat. The endearing charm was just a veneer.
Despite all the flashing warning signs, the country fell for his manufactured charisma. Before even settling in to his Castille office, he rented out his car to the state, making an extra €7,000. He shamelessly handed over €4.2 million to the Cafe premier director with whom he negotiated using his personal e-mail address.
On a secret trip to Azerbaijan, Muscat hammered out the squalid SOCAR deal that cost the country millions. The Electrogas heist was another scam of epic proportions. When Muscat was asked when he last met Yorgen Fenech, he lost his memory. Muscat hid the truth with ineffable duplicity. He had invited Yorgen Fenech to his private birthday party and accepted his lavish gifts. He travelled with Fenech to the Pilatus Bank owner’s wedding in Tuscany. He stayed at Fenech’s Hilton in the French Alps. He exchanged messages with Fenech on WhatsApp.
Muscat perfected the art of lying. He said the €120 million Metropolis mega project in Gzira would employ 400 people and be completed in 4 years. It remains a gaping hole. Muscat bragged that the €115 million American University of Malta would have 1000 students in the first year, and 4000 by the fourth. In 2016, Muscat claimed that Vitals would invest €220 million in two years, it would build a new 450 bed Gozo hospital and refurbish St Luke’s.
Muscat abandoned his pre-electoral promises of meritocracy and appointed close allies to key positions. They weren’t just incompetent, they were dangerous: Joseph Cuschieri, James Piscopo, Jason Micallef, Johann Buttigieg, Lawrence Cutajar, Marvin Gaerty, and Frederick Azzopardi. Muscat defended Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri. Despite a damning FIAU report finding reasonable suspicion of money laundering between Schembri and Adrian Hillman, Muscat appointed Hillman as government representative on the AUM board.
Before being forced out of office in disgrace, Muscat secured an obscene €120,000 termination payment, as well as the use of fully stocked government offices. And a €90,000 consultant post for his protege’ Konrad Mizzi. And a €540,000 deal for himself with a shady company paid millions by Steward on the day it inherited the hospitals concession.
What happened with Muscat should serve as a warning. It shows that integrity matters. It shows that putting a narcissistic Machiavellian in power was always a dreadful idea. He was an unmitigated disaster. The majority of his associates have been convicted, indicted or investigated: Chris Cardona, Carmelo Abela, Keith Schembri, Karl Cini, Brian Tonna, Konrad Mizzi, James Piscopo, Edward Scicluna, Owen Bonnici, Rosianne Cutajar, Justyne Caruana, Ian Castaldi Paris, Silvio Grixti, Silvio Valletta, Lawrence Cutajar, and Adrian Hillman.
Malta is again called to make a choice. As in 2013 and 2017, there are clues, loads of them, and more emerge by the day. ‘Robert Abela 2022’ is the new prophet. But we already know enough. He selfishly gorged on taxpayers’ funds, obscenely shovelling thousands of euro into his account every month. His links to alleged money launderers, drug smugglers and kidnappers is compounded by his refusal to answer questions about them. Abela knew Christian Borg was up to no good, yet he struck a deal with Borg because there was money in it for him. He made thousands more through his deal with Gilbert Bonnici.
Abela arrogantly conceals his income and tax returns. He continues to shield Joseph Muscat, refusing to publish the former prime minister’s severance deal. Like Muscat, Abela squats in government offices for his own personal profit, though Abela has since ripped off the sign outside his Valletta offices indicating his firm operates from there.
Abela’s decisions are seriously flawed. He retains the rotten Steward concession. He reappointed Justyne Caruana and Rosianne Cutajar. He rewarded Lawrence Cutajar and Alex Dalli. He protects Joseph Cuschieri. But he left women and children stranded at sea on pleasure boats, simply to make a point and to reward Labour’s friends, the Zammit Tabonas.
Abela made sure he got his weekends off — even in the middle of a pandemic — to escape to Sicily on his luxury yacht.
There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true, and the other is to refuse to believe what is. Having been fooled twice by Muscat, many intend to be fooled again by Robert Abela.