Another Party loyalist lost his livelihood this week in a fit of pique directed not at him but at the man he pulled strings to help.
The Cold War was marked by conflicts such as these, as the world’s two nuclear-armed superpowers squared off in other people’s countries in a frenzy of collateral damage aimed at destroying their rival’s allies.
Unable to project power beyond Hurds Bank — not without that long-overdue €48.6 million patrol boat — Labour’s mini-Mussolini is battling his once loyal Bodybuilder Prince in the gladiatorial arena of local football.
Jesmond ‘il-Hutch’ Abela was the latest pawn cut down in Malta’s proxy war.
What did he do to deserve this? Truth be told, he didn’t do much of anything, least of all show up for work, and that is exactly what was expected of him.
The Hibernians football club team manager was hired by Konrad Mizzi’s Projects Plus as a ‘project management specialist’ in 2017, where he specialised in managing his own pet project: work avoidance.
He had a perfect record of non-attendance, cleverly drawing his full salary for a year while on sick leave with what sources say was a debilitating allergy to office furniture, punctuality and keeping up appearances.
Thankfully il-Hutch’s condition didn’t interfere with attendance at football club events or flights to Dublin. He was also able to canvas vigorously for Joseph Muscat’s successful election as chairman of the Malta Professional Football Clubs Association (MPFCA).
And therein lay his mistake.
In orchestrating Muscat’s takeover, il-Hutch attracted the ire of Robert Abela, who had been actively undermining his predecessor’s candidacy. But the Hutch-touch paid off, as years of patronage left the disgraced former prime minister with enough favours to pull 50% of the vote.
Abela struck back this week, personally intervening to remove the Muscat loyalist from his role as vice-chairman of SportMalta. The prime minister has also reportedly given instructions to investigate il-Hutch’s €50,000 per year non-job.
Mega-developer and gobbler of Gozo Joseph Portelli was among those who also lobbied hard for Muscat, but it remains to be seen whether Abela will retaliate against them. So far, Portelli isn’t having any trouble circumventing the Planning Authority with his limestone eyesores.
The disgraced former prime minister has no experience in football administration, but he’s also passing himself off as an ‘economic consultant’.
The new head of the MPFCA’s first act on taking over the role was a bit of a sleight of hand. After renaming the organisation the Malta Premier League, perhaps in an effort to pretend it’s bigger and more professional than it is, Muscat said he would focus on generating more business and revenue streams.
It remains unclear whether he was referring to his own revenue streams or the organisation’s.
Maltese football has long been plagued by allegations of match-fixing and money laundering. A 2016 study by Fifpro, the global players’ union, calls Malta the 8th most corruptible of the 53 countries they examined.
Joseph Muscat’s close former friend Yorgen Fenech, currently in prison awaiting trial for masterminding the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, even had some experience in this area — at least according to Italian police, who would like to prosecute him for alleged match-fixing and illegal betting in Sicily.
It remains to be seen how a man driven from office under a black cloud of corruption allegations can ‘fix’ a corruption-plagued sport.
Speaking of black clouds, a department normally known for trailing exhaust is under a Muscatian cloud of its own. Fresh details emerged this week about Malta’s driving test standards in court testimony involving a scheme where candidates would receive a pass if connected to the right government ministry.
Those studying for a large vehicle permit will be pleased to know that “unless the trucks return splattered with blood, the drivers pass”. Particularly inept candidates are now scheduling their exams to coincide with the winter rainy season.