Some people have all the luck. With some, it’s extraordinarily good luck. It’s so extraordinary, it’s unexplained.
Take Robert Abela before he became prime minister. There was no unexplained luck involved in the multiple, lucrative contracts with government ministries and State authorities — amounting to a minimum of €28,000 per month.
That was, surely, down to best-in-Europe expertise and a willingness to work on Sundays. Well, at least we were given that explanation.
As a property developer, however, Abela has had extraordinary luck that he refuses to explain. He’s made hundreds of thousands of euros off property development. And he’s had an uncanny knack for being involved in deals when planning permits arrive exactly when needed.
In the notorious deal with Christian Borg, a former client of Abela’s who is now charged with kidnapping, the development permit arrived on the very same day that Abela entered the deal.
In the purchase of the Zejtun ODZ property by Abela and his wife, the sanctioning of the many illegalities occurred just five days before the Abelas entered the contract in 2017.
But their luck didn’t end there. Several experts have given the mansion a conservative market value, in 2017 prices, of at least €2 million. But the Abelas only paid €600,000.
At least that’s what they declared to the taxman. And now the taxman — who, as extraordinary luck would have it, was appointed by Abela’s government — is saying he’s not going to tell us if the tax department considers that amount credible or not.
Here’s the thing about luck, though. It’s not the same as a miracle. We call ‘miracles’ those things that can’t be explained at all. Good fortune, however, can be explained — say, by hard work, hanging around the right place, networking, and so on. It’s possible to explain how you were in a good position to grab opportunities when they came your way.
Abela’s luck, however, is unexplained. He denies it has anything to do with his former position as adviser to the Planning Authority. He also refuses to offer an alternative explanation for the serial coincidences.
Being a miracle worker is a good look for politicians. Repeatedly being the beneficiary of miracles, however, is highly suspicious. Ordinary people assume the worst. But what should the media do?
Currently, they simply report the suspicious circumstances but continue to refer to the events as striking coincidences. They stick to the presumption of innocence.
Maybe it’s time to reconsider this presumption when it comes to the State and governments — all governments.
The presumption of innocence is an essential pillar of a liberal justice system. It’s meant, however, to protect individuals against States that persecute them. It’s there to tame the power of the State and protect members of the public.
I’m arguing for a presumption of guilt only for governments and State entities. It would apply only to the court of public opinion. It aims to protect the public against the power of the State and keep the latter accountable. It would put the burden of proof on the government to show that suspicions of maladministration and corruption are unjustified.
We already have instances where the presumption of innocence is suspended. In the case of unexplained wealth, the burden of proof is on the individual to show the wealth was acquired lawfully. Should we not have a similar principle for unexplained luck?
If the media have done everything reasonable to get a politician to address the question, but still he or she refuses to explain, or even to confirm or deny an allegation, then the story should be reported as confirmed. It’s then up to the politician to provide evidence to the contrary.
We don’t have to put up with a government that repeatedly claims that the dog has eaten its documents — be it a Memorandum of Understanding, a letter of appointment, and all documentation and emails to do with Joseph Muscat’s entitlements, even though the disgraced former prime minister and his wife must be invoicing the government for their perks.
In such cases, the media can simply report their story as confirmed. If it’s wrong, the government will publish the documented proof. It took a national uproar for a Memorandum of Understanding, signed with Vitals Global Healthcare, to change in status from “lost” to “found” — after Abela reacted to the uproar.
The presumption of innocence is there to protect the weak from the powerful. Governments and State entities have considerable resources to explain themselves.
We don’t have to put up with missing documents as though they’re misplaced car keys. We don’t have to put up with contracts as though they’re a Sherlock Holmes mystery. If no one, not even his boss, knows what a person of trust does, or where his office is, or even which entity technically employs him, then it’s a corrupt contract.
And if the EU Prosecutor, Laura Kovesi, couldn’t get the authorities to tell her who is investigating financial crime, the story isn’t that she doesn’t know who is doing the investigations. In fact, she knows: no one is investigating. That’s the story. The burden is on the government to prove otherwise.