Tista’ taqra bil-Malti
Robert Abela has been caught. Days before Joseph Portelli’s mega-development in Sannat was approved, Abela was guest of honour at a dinner organised by Joseph Portelli and coordinated by the OPM. All the details, including attendees, time and venue were revealed by The Shift. The event was held on 5 March, the night before Labour’s latest fundraising campaign. Over €210,000 were raised in Gozo.
Abela couldn’t deny attending the event. His sheer panic was obvious when asked by journalists what the purpose of the dinner was. The contorted tortuous reply was enough to indicate Abela had lost it. He was desperately trying to cover up.
“Like I do every Saturday, I meet with various sectors of the Gozitan community, I meet with those working with persons with disability, I meet with communities in general, I meet with the business community as I did again last Saturday when I met the Gozo business community in a public place,” he said.
“I will continue to work on the principle that it is essential for the prime minister to meet with all sectors of society because when the prime minister we had before 2013 refused to meet or met selectively with certain business people we know there were negative repercussions on jobs and unemployment”. Abela was in a state of frenzied agitation.
But did you attend the dinner as Labour leader or as prime minister, the perplexed journalist asked?
“I am the Leader of the Labour Party and prime minister,” was his shameless reply.
For Abela, there is no distinction. That he fuses the two roles has been clear for months. But what is incredulous is that he has no qualms declaring it publicly. Abela doesn’t even seem to be aware that his two roles must be kept separate, especially during an election campaign when he is only caretaker prime minister.
Abela doesn’t even have a clue that in fusing those roles he is in breach of Venice Commission as well as OSCE guidelines.
Guideline 251 on political party regulation adopted by the Venice Commission in December 2020 states: “Par 5.4 of the OSCE Copenhagen document provides that participating states have to maintain ‘a clear separation between the state and political parties, in particular political parties will not be merged with the state’”.
Robert Abela is clutching at straws as he sinks deeper into the quagmire. He attempts to defend himself by shamelessly bringing in the disabled. He pathetically tries to deflect media attention from his despicable consorting with Joseph Portelli by denigrating Lawrence Gonzi and smearing his name.
Abela can’t help scraping the bottom of the barrel. He insolently announced, at a Labour rally, that cheques will be delivered in the week before the election. “These cheques will be the last you receive if you trust Bernard Grech and the PN,” Abela threatened.
He’s breaking the Venice Commission’s guidelines again. “Incumbent candidates must not use state funds or resources to their own advantage” rule 251 states. Those same guidelines remind Abela that abusing state resources is universally condemned by international norms such as Article 9 of the UN convention against corruption.
Rule 252 couldn’t be clearer. “While incumbents are often given free use of postal systems to communicate their acts of governance to the public, mailings including party propaganda prior to elections can be considered a misuse of this free resource”.
Abela not only sent €100 and €200 cheques to practically all households on the eve of an election, but sent with them a letter signed by himself and Minister Clyde Caruana.
That letter is pure propaganda. “This administration has safeguarded the lives and livelihoods of Maltese and Gozitan families,” the government brags, saying “it has also stepped in to ensure electricity bills and fuel prices remain stable”. Abela bizarrely claimed that €4 billion of “direct or indirect support” was given.
But that wasn’t enough for Abela. He wrote another letter to all those who received another cheque purportedly for tax refunds. He was making sure he milked his power of incumbency to the full and that the Venice commission was left in no doubt of his brazen contempt for them and their silly guidelines.
Since when does the prime minister personally write to recipients of tax refunds? “Over 250,000 beneficiaries will receive this incentive which has been increased substantially by the government,” his letter reads. “These policies have been widely successful,” it boasts, “increasing employment by 80,000 in seven years”.
“The Maltese economy has recovered quickly and is in a position where it can continue to generate wealth”. And, he had to say it – “This tax refund is a gesture of appreciation for your active participation towards building a better country for our children”.
Abela is trying to keep his head above water. It’s been revealed that the villa he bought for €600,000 in 2017 was built illegally on ODZ land. The property had been extended to 352 square before 1994. But just weeks before Abela bought the property in 2017 – when he was the Planning Authority’s lawyer – the illegalities were sanctioned.
When challenged about the remarkable coincidence of how a property that had been illegal since 1994 was regularised just before the PA’s lawyer acquired it, Abela exploded. “Why don’t you look at permit 499 of 2019,” he hit back. Abela was flinging muck at Bernard Grech. “His villa was built illegally,” Abela falsely claimed, “he only regularised just before becoming PN leader”.
Application 499/19 was an application for minor changes and to sanction PV panels on the roof. It was lodged on 15 November 2018. Grech became PN leader on 3 October 2020, almost two years after that application.
And he’s broken another of the Venice Commission guidelines: “The abuse of state resources includes when government resources are used to slander and denigrate opposition parties”.