Thousands join protest following inquiry on hospitals deal corruption

Thousands of people gathered in Valletta today in the wake of the conclusion of the hospitals inquiry to protest as the government continues to vilify the judiciary, civil society and journalists.

The crowd walked down Valletta’s Republic Street chanting, “Daphne was right,” and “You’ve stolen our country, we want Malta back.” They also called out disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s corruption and the lack of action by the present government with Robert Abela at the helm.

The protest held on the day marking the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia on 16 October 2017 was organised by 22 NGOs, including student organisations.

“As a student, as a youth in Malta, I feel angry at the events in the last weeks. I see our instiutions being disrespected by our government… when I was in secondary school, I learned about the separation of power and now our prime minister is acting as though he’s unaware of it. Worse, he doesn’t care. And he expects that we remain silent,” Luke Bonanno from the University organisation KSU told the crowd.

Bonanno also referred to Central Bank Governor and former finance minister Edward Scicluna, who faces charges of fraud and misappropriation of funds. “And, of course, he won’t resign.”

He addressed Prime Minister Robert Abela, saying that while he was sure Abela wasn’t in the crowd, he hoped the prime minister would hear the call of the people. He picked on Abela’s use of the term ‘establishment’ to refer to anyone scrutinising the government.

“Look at a dictionary and you’ll find that the word ‘establishment’ refers to those who hold power… if you don’t like this definition, if you believe the ‘establishment’ are those who will not allow you to deceive the people, we are ready to carry this responsibility with our heads held high,” Bonanno said.

 

Sarah Xuereb, representing the youth organisation Kunsill Nazzjonali taż-Żgħażagħ, said although protestors gathered came from all walks of life, they united today to demand reform.

She said unwavering allegiance to political parties and political leaders, without an ounce of critical thinking, is undermining the very fabric of our democratic society.

She also spoke about the attacks on the judiciary and journalists: “Journalists in Malta, through their role as watchdogs, continuously strive towards sharing information which is within the public’s right to know, and their work is as essential as the work of any prime minister or cabinet minister. Therefore, we refuse to witness the important work of journalists being undermined, especially given the fact that Malta has once again placed amongst the lowest EU Member States on the press freedom index.”

The magisterial inquiry on the privatisation of three of Malta’s public hospitals has led to charges filed against companies and those who held top positions in the previous Labour administration, including disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat, his chief of staff Keith Schembri and former minister Konrad Mizzi – all were at the centre of corrupt deals sealed under Muscat’s leadership.

While the inquiry remains unpublished, the charges relate to bribery, fraud and money laundering.

The request for the inquiry was filed by NGO Repubblika. Honorary President Robert Aquilina addressed the crowd today, saying that four years ago, protests led to the resignation of Joseph Muscat and his aides despite his efforts to control the institutions.

He stressed there were still challenges to face, but it was time to appreciate how far the people had come to drive home the message that nobody was above the law.

“We see a desperate former prime minister attacking the institutions, the current Prime Minister Robert Abela submitting to Joseph Muscat’s pressure – and because Abela is weak, instead of defending honest citizens and the institutions needed to protect our freedoms – he is repeating and aggravating the attacks,” Aquilina said.

“He’s attacking the judiciary. He’s attacking journalists for holding him accountable. He’s turned the guns on them and put them in danger. Muscat and Abela are portraying the judiciary and journalists as the enemy of the people…as they did to Daphne Caruana Galizia,” he added.

Aquilina stressed that those undermining democracy do not have the nation’s interest at heart. “Our presence in Valletta today is a message that we will not let you do that.”

Other speakers at the conference included Repubblika President Vicki Ann Cremona, Occupy Justice activist Pia Zammit, and Norman Vella, who this week won a case on political discrimination.

                           

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