Opinion: Abela’s dead cat

Robert Abela has just thrown a big, fat, dead cat onto the dining table.  He diverted attention from the sickening details emerging from the court about Labour’s massive disability benefits scandal by commenting about the planned cafeteria at Paola Parish Church.

“There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted.  That is true but irrelevant.  The key point is that everyone will shout, “Jeez mate, there’s a dead cat on the table.” In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”

Boris Johnson wrote that piece about the dead cat strategy in a column in The Telegraph just six days before Labour returned to power in 2013.

He lauded the strategy of deliberately commenting to divert media attention from his failures. He recruited Lynton Crosby, the Australian political strategist who devised it, to manage his London mayoral campaigns.

Johnson continued to deploy that strategy in many situations where “the facts are overwhelmingly against you”.

Robert Abela is doing the same.

“The planning application is a non-starter and the applicant should withdraw it,” Abela said.  “I expect better from the applicant,” he added.

The applicant is Paola’s parish priest, who is desperately scrambling to pay the bills. One of his fundraising ideas was to turn the Parish church belfry into a cafeteria. There is nothing wrong with that.

But Abela knew he could distort the well-intentioned and frantic attempts of the Parish Priest into a national scandal and deflect the nation’s attention from the real scandal.

“Those plans should be revised, and for me, a revision would mean a withdrawal of the application. I believe Maltese churches are connected with the Maltese festa and should not be ruined with applications like this one,” Abela stated.

And his stunt worked. Everybody was tut-tutting in disgust at the Parish Priest’s greed.  The press was busy reporting the lurid details of the case.

The Curia got sucked into the media maelstrom, pointing out it was applying for a 4C, not a 4D licence.  Even Franco Debono waded in, mocking the priest. Cartoons appeared in the papers about it.

For Robert Abela, the mission was accomplished.  The shocking evidence emerging from the court case had been drowned out by Abela’s dead cat, and the media had moved on to the next “hot” issue.

But that sworn testimony is of far greater relevance to the public than a cafeteria hidden from sight in the belfry of Paola’s Parish Church, which few, if any, will ever patronise.

The Director General of the Social Welfare ministry, Grazio Barbara, felt the heat as he desperately tried to avoid answering basic questions.  His reticence and resistance earned him a stern admonishment by the Magistrate.

Grazio Barbara’s sworn testimony was evasive and vague. Barbara, the Director General, was being cautious. He was trying to reveal as little as possible because he knows how dark and dirty the secrets behind that massive benefits scandal are.

He knows, too, that behind it was a legion of powerful people.  It’s not just Silvio Grixti who is in the dock.  Grixti couldn’t have been alone in getting hundreds of people on disability benefits when they were fighting fit.

The hundreds of millions of euro the scam robbed from each and every one of us couldn’t have happened without support at the highest levels. And that’s why Barbara was so scared of uttering one unnecessary word.

Despite his best efforts, Barbara was cornered. He was forced to admit that although the medical board decisions are meant to be final, specific cases were afforded reconsideration.

Applications rejected by the medical board cannot be appealed. Yet the Court heard how Mark Calleja, known as “Gulija” (Goliath), a person of trust at the Ministry, would allegedly receive photos of applicants whose applications had been rejected the day before, which he would then order to be reconsidered and which were subsequently approved.

When Barbara was challenged under oath about Mark Calleja, he claimed he did not know who Calleja was. Barbara, the Director General, also claimed he didn’t know how the doctors who sat on those medical boards were selected.

One of the accused gave him a quick helping hand, shouting from the dock, “From OPM”.  Visibly uncomfortable, the Director General said, “I cannot reply”.

“The list (of doctors) comes from the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry, but I don’t know”, Barbara stammered. One of the defence lawyers quickly rebutted: “If you (the Director General) don’t know how doctors are selected, then who knows?”

“Do you know about this?” Barbara was asked in relation to the flagrant breach of national procedure through reconsideration of specific rejected applications.  “This is not my remit,” Barbara replied.

“But were there (reconsidered applications)?” the Magistrate insisted.  “Yes” the Director General admitted.

The same Mark Calleja (Gulija), who allegedly arranged for rejected applications to be reconsidered, is still working at the Ministry of Social Welfare.

Former Labour stalwart Mark Camilleri described Calleja as Minister Michael Falzon’s fixer. According to Camilleri, Calleja is the President of the Gzira Labour Party local committee and owns catering establishments.

No wonder Grazio Barbara is terrified of testifying. No wonder Robert Abela is piling dead cats on the dining table. “Anyone who thinks this is breaking news, it’s not,” Robert Abela commented when the shocking benefits scandal was revealed in September 2023.

For Abela only a cafeteria in a church belfry is breaking news.


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22 days ago

How come the Maltese can stand to all this? As a Maltese honest law abiding citizen and paying tax on every cent I earn feel disappointed, disillusioned and disgusted on how this muvument korrott is punishing the honest taxpayer. Malta’s name have been dragged into the pits.

22 days ago

Dear Mr. Arrogant,
Dear Prime Minister,

you have bought the TV stations for a lot of money for positive coverage,
You have so many people on the official and unofficial payroll,

So I wonder again:
Have you not already destroyed the justice system and the police of Malta enough?

Isn’t it enough that today’s youth no longer see a future in Malta?

I am sure that one day the Maltese see you as what you really are.
It will take time, enough time for you to say sorry.

D M Briffa
D M Briffa
21 days ago

I sense we’ve reached a turning point. The pile of scandals is now too high for anyone not to see it. The Opposition must turn this pile to their advantage. They just need to convince 15% or so of those who voted PL in 2022 that they would have to be brain-dead to vote PL again, and the government will topple. A good start would be to organise a couple of anti-corruption demos in Valletta in May. Get a few thousand to each demo and that will get the fire started. Look what happened to Muscat in November/December 2019 after thousands took to the streets.

Joseph Tabone Adami
Joseph Tabone Adami
21 days ago

What was hoped to be a thick layer of covering, to hide the illegal ‘benefits’ scandal, by way of shaming the Parish Priest of Paola has turned out to be a very thin, flimsy and transparent piece of see-through fabric.

But only for those with good eyesight and a working brain – not for Gahans!

Noel Ciantar
Noel Ciantar
21 days ago

Sorry to comment about the dead cat. Only yesterday, Monday 29 April, which was International Dance Day, Roberto Bolle, a world-famous Italian dancer, presented a special programme on Rai Uno, Italy’s flagship TV channel, in which about a hundred dancers were recorded dancing on the roof of the Duomo di Milano (Milan’s gothic cathedral).

So far, I haven’t heard a word from Italian PM Georgia Meloni about that.

Last edited 21 days ago by Noel Ciantar
16 days ago
Reply to  Noel Ciantar

The mention of a dead cat is so sad, I’ve met his parents and they had a lovely cat with only three legs, when his father became president his wife and the cat moved into Palace where the cat became top cat in the gardens. If only the PM could be as loyal as his parents we would have a great country

Maria Cardona
Maria Cardona
20 days ago

Not now

Toni Borg
Toni Borg
20 days ago

As usual, Mr Cassar, hats off to you!

are there no laborites with a good state of mind to realise that Robert Abela is taking them for a ride?

or are they all perhaps on the governments list of promotions, direct orders, PA permits, ODZ approvals, etc etc??

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