Newly-returned Prime Minister Robert Abela starts his fresh legislature with a powerful advantage. No longer having to cower under the sword of Damocles his disgraced predecessor dangled over his head, he is free to start righting the many wrongs that infested the previous two governments. If he wants to.
The inevitable Labour victory last Saturday brought some surprises and rid the nation of a few of the more loathsome specimens on the government benches. Some of Abela’s Cabinet choices were also unexpected, in a positive way. But he didn’t go anywhere near far enough. If Abela wants to convince us, and the rest of the world, that Malta has recognised its wrongdoing and is determined to get back on the right track, he will need to signal this unequivocally and very clearly.
And he can only do that by starting from the most urgent of issues: true justice for assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the investigation and prosecution of any ministers and MPs involved in corruption, the full implementation of the findings of the public inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and the public, unswerving commitment to transparency, honesty and rule of law – whatever that may cost him and his colleagues.
Caruana Galizia was murdered because she exposed the mind-boggling extent of the corruption and sleaze at all levels of Muscat’s government, though silencing her reporting around the Electrogas scandal was clearly one of the main motives. We should not forget, however, that shamed former minister Chris Cardona was also implicated in a parallel plot to murder the journalist.
It’s unfathomable that with the weight of publicly-available evidence around this “parallel plot,” the police have failed to take action against Cardona. It doesn’t take much brainpower to work out that accused fraud and money-launderer Keith Schembri’s alleged knowledge of Cardona’s plans (made clear in his alleged letter instructing accused murderer Yorgen Fenech to pin the blame on Cardona) might indicate that the two plans didn’t necessarily remain parallel, but may equally have merged into one.
It’s equally incredible that despite the mountain of evidence pointing at Schembri’s own involvement, the police have so far failed to take any concrete action against him in relation to the assassination. Indeed, it beggars belief that none of the other characters that have been mentioned has been properly investigated or charged. It serves no one but the conspirators themselves for the police to stop at Fenech and let the rest of the potential conspirators get away with it.
If Abela truly intends his new PL government to turn over a new leaf, he must ensure the police do their jobs, that the Attorney General does hers, and that anyone and everyone involved in the conspiracy to murder Caruana Galizia is made to face the justice they deserve.
Equally importantly, Abela must begin immediately investigating the allegations and reports of corruption surrounding the vast majority of his former Cabinet. It’s not enough to sideline them, it’s not enough to shift them sideways or demote them.
Corruption is a serious crime, not a misdemeanour. If the police commissioner continues to ignore the brazen law-breaking of those individuals, then Abela should immediately replace him with someone who knows how to do his or her duty.
First on the list is Abela’s disgraced predecessor, Joseph Muscat, and his closest associates Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri who have even been banned by the US. Remember, Schembri has only so far been charged with crimes related to the Allied Newspapers case. There’s a host of other shady deals that have his grubby, compromised fingerprints plastered all over them.
Ian Borg being booted sideways to foreign affairs is nowhere near enough. And no, the idea that Borg is “still too powerful” to be sacked and investigated is unconvincing. Abela has just embarked on a new five-year term, giving plenty of time for Borg to be investigated for his role in each and every shocking contract, direct order and shady deal his ministry handed out.
Owen Bonnici, the nasty little human rights abuser who tormented the grieving supporters of the assassinated journalist, is still squatting in Cabinet – despite his embarrassingly obvious incompetence at everything. Rosianne Cutajar has already been discarded by many of her former supporters. Now is the time to cut her off entirely, to ensure that her lack of morals, her greed and her willingness to use politics for her own personal gain, is never again associated with the Labour Party.
Evarist Bartolo, one of the most craven, duplicitous hypocrites ever seen in Maltese politics who whined to the foreign press about the terrible corruption he was forced to live with, yet voted time and time again to actively support it, has also been discarded by the electorate. He must stay gone. Any idea of rewarding him with high office must be abandoned before it’s even mentioned.
Carmelo Abela must be properly investigated by the police over his alleged role in an armed robbery of a bank, and, very importantly, over the reason he was kept in Cabinet even after all this was exposed.
The list of current and former PL ministers, MPs and officials who should be being lined up outside the police depot in Floriana is painfully long. There’s barely a handful of names from the previous legislature’s government benches that haven’t been allegedly embroiled in some sort of wrongdoing, from the outright theft of taxpayer money around scandals such as the Electrogas deal, the Vitals Hospitals deal, the American University, the Montenegro windfarm, the St Vincent de Paule extension, to the more oblique forms of corruption, like the wholesale hiring of almost an entire island of unqualified people to do imaginary jobs, the employment of friends and families of MPs in state-funded entities, and the gifts of “grants” to village band clubs and “culture” groups.
Abela must show us all, whichever political party or ideologies we follow, that he’s serious about making a new start, that it’s not just more window-dressing, more attempts to dupe the electorate into believing things will be different from now on.
Most of the 192,000 people who voted against the PL, or simply didn’t bother to vote, greeted this third Labour victory with dismay and deep concern. I’m one of that number, clearly. I don’t hold out much hope that Abela will do what’s necessary – he himself has a lot to explain before any discerning citizen could begin to trust him. But, for the sake of everyone in Malta, I very much hope he decides to prove us wrong.