Twitter, along with other social media platforms, often forms part of a public person’s arsenal of public relations tools, and like many politicians, Prime Minister Robert Abela uses the platform frequently.
In Malta Facebook remains the preferred social media platform by far, so we may presume that the audience the prime minister is targeting on Twitter is not primarily local.
This may partially explain why most of the posts from the prime minister’s official Twitter account are written in English using a neutral tone, resembling mini-press releases rather than wordy speeches. It might also explain why, on occasion, some of his statements bear little to no resemblance to the realities and experiences in Malta.
Abela on the visit by the LIBE Committee
Abela’s statement following the EU Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee visit to Malta to assess rule of law reforms said that in a meeting with the delegation he “underlined that the rule of law is a catalyst for high-value investment. We implemented unprecedented reforms and Malta’s government will continue to work in the interest of the people and the country to function as a modern democracy.”
Aside from the ambiguous wording, the statement could not have contrasted more with what the LIBE Committee had to say following their mission to Malta.
On their own Twitter account, the LIBE Committee announced its press release with the words “justice delayed is justice denied”, echoing the overall conclusion by the MEPs that not only was Malta’s justice system excruciatingly slow but that without external pressure from bodies like the European Union and the Venice Commission, little would have been done by authorities to improve Malta’s rule of law situation.
Abela on the role of journalism
Another example of the disconnect between Abela’s Twitter statements and reality is when the prime minister wrote that “in a meeting with newspaper publishers & the IĠM on the increased costs faced by the sector due to international events, we agreed to allocate a significant sum to support the work of printed journalism in Malta. The government will continue to support journalism and its important role.”
In a meeting with newspaper publishers & the IĠM on the increased costs faced by the sector due to intl events, we agreed to allocate a significant sum to support the work of printed journalism in #Malta. @MaltaGov will continue to support journalism & its important role. – RA
— Robert Abela (@RobertAbela_MT) May 21, 2022
Never mind the problematic scenarios that may arise from having independent media houses dependent on handouts from the government to survive. If the government truly supported journalism, surely it would not make access to information so very difficult, and it would not routinely treat independent journalists and their questions with such blatant contempt.
After all, it was Abela himself who told a journalist from The Times of Malta that his own editor was conspiring with the opposition and that he would no longer answer questions “intended to allow you to spin as much as you can and to tell as many lies as possible about facts that I gave you of my own free will”.
If the government truly valued the important role of journalism, then press freedom organisations would not be voicing their concerns that Malta’s current FOI legislation is being abused to obstruct requests and obfuscate the disclosure of public information.
If the government truly valued the important role of journalism, The Shift would not be facing an unprecedented number of appeals by 40 government entities against a decision by the Information and Data Protection Commissioner who ordered the release of information and, most importantly, the government would have implemented the press freedom recommendations made by the board of the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Abela on the findings of the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry
And let’s not forget that when the public inquiry report was published in July last year, Abela wrote that “the report merits mature analysis beyond partisan arguments. Lessons must be drawn, and the reforms must continue with greater resolve.”
I have just published the full report of the Public Inquiry Daphne Caruana Galizia. The report merits mature analysis beyond partisan arguments. Lessons must be drawn and the reforms must continue with greater resolve. – RA
— Robert Abela (@RobertAbela_MT) July 29, 2021
It will soon be a year since the report was published and we’re still not quite sure what “lessons” have been drawn, but it is evident that the “resolve” has long dissipated.
One example of this is the key recommendation made by the board that suggested introducing laws to ensure absolute transparency and accountability in the relationship between government and big business – a relationship that the board concluded: “created a corruptive system which internally eroded many of the country’s institutions” (pg 113).
To date, the government is still awarding costly direct orders to its preferred companies and, more recently, several analyses of the electoral campaign expenditure reports filed by elected Labour MPs, found that 10 well-connected companies profited by providing services for their electoral campaigns.
This includes people like Alicia Bugeja Said, the new junior minister for fisheries who had a third of her campaign expenses — some €6,000 out of €16,000 — covered by major players in the industry she’s supposed to govern. Members of the Opposition don’t fare any better.
In January this year, when the Opposition tabled draft Bills in parliament based on the recommendations by the board of the public inquiry, and which included several anti-corruption measures, the government voted against the bills at their second reading.
Last week three separate analyses on the rule of law in Malta from different European bodies were made public over two days, all probing the developments – or lack of them – that have been made in the country since the 2017 assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The Council of Europe’s (COE) anti-corruption watchdog – GRECO – published its report on progress since issuing its Fifth Round Evaluation Report on Malta in 2019 and underscored that only two of the 23 recommendations have been implemented. A few hours later, a provisional report on the honouring of membership obligations by Malta was published by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) that noted among other things “little visible response” to allegations of corruption.
The following day, the press conference by six Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from the civil liberties committee (LIBE), was held about their mission to Malta to investigate progress made following the assassination of Caruana Galizia. The committee concluded in much the same vein as the previous reports that Malta’s government has done little since 2017 to implement any meaningful change. Despite what Robert Abela states on his Twitter feed, these discrepancies have not gone unnoticed.