MaltaToday previous editions

MaltaToday 24 March 2021 MIDWEEK

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 10 of 15

SO far, Prime Minister Robert Abela's reaction to the arraignment of Keith Schembri has been limited to distancing himself from Muscat's former chief of staff; while repeating his predictable mantra that 'the institutions are working'. To be fair, there is some truth to the latter claim: for under Abela's watch, the police has indeed succeeded in building up a case against those charged with corruption and money laundering on Saturday. In this sense, Abela's appointment of police-commissioner Angelo Gafà may well have been the game-changer. Who would ever have imagined Labour's king- maker and chief strategist spending a night in jail, under the watch of a Labour PM who had promised 'continuity' with the Muscat era? Nonetheless, there was – and still is – a lot more for the prime minister to say. One must also acknowledge that Sat- urday's charges were triggered by an inquiry based on reports filed by former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil; and that, in any case, action came four or six years too late. Besides, the root of the problem remains the climate of im- punity immediately after the Panama Papers exposé, and the reconfirmation of Schembri in his key role in 2017, despite pending inquiries. Even if these issues predate his own term, Abela cannot simply refuse to ever comment on these past mistakes. The picture which is emerging is that of a cautious and re- luctant Prime Minister: who declares that he is 'leaving justice take its course' – when, in reality, he has no choice in the mat- ter – without expressing any political verdict on his own prede- cessor. In so doing, he may be salami-slicing Muscat's legacy, with each piece of investigation taking its toll on an already shat- tered political heritage. Yet this risks leaving the Labour electorate in a state of confusion: with a minority now open- ly expressing doubts on Muscat, a greater number ditching Schembri, but not Muscat; and a still-greater segment which awaits Abela's verdict before making their mind. More importantly, this approach suggests that the govern- ment is still refusing to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Those Labour MPs who had voted against motions to remove Schembri from office, and those media pundits who defended Schembri tooth and nail, now have some soul searching to do. Their embarrassment should be palpable. This includes Abela himself, who served as Muscat's consultant; and who – unlike Alfred Sant, Evarist Bartolo, and a few others – failed to speak up when the controversy erupted in late 2019. On another level, the argument that 'justice has to take its course' avoids the fact that this case has political ramifications. The Labour Party is duty-bound to reflect, atone and ask the uncomfortable question: how did we allow our party to be hi- jacked by a clique motivated by pecuniary gain? To this end, Abela is expected to give a clear direction. He also needs to raise the bar for all his MPs: who, since Pan- amagate, had been given the impression that everything can be absolved. Abela would to well to consider the example of Alfred Sant: who managed to ditch old labour's corruption and thuggery, and reinvent his party as a bulwark against the 'friends-of-friends' networks, before winning the 1992 election. Just distancing himself from Schembri may not be enough to help Robert Abela build a strong narrative: through which he can reclaim his party's moral credentials, and thus be in a bet- ter position to appeal to voters who are still wary of the PN, but are shocked by the rot which is piling up on Abela's doorstep. But the Nationalist opposition also has to learn from its own past mistakes. While one understands that many in its ranks feel somewhat vindicated, the Opposition must show humility and refrain from giving the impression that it is using this case to short-circuit its way back to power. Moreover – as recognized by various PN MPs speaking on this issue in parliament on Monday – Labour voters are not to blame for the actions of Schembri and Co. What the Opposi- tion is obliged to do is to propose reforms aimed at avoiding similar cases emerging in the future; and to ensure that its own candidates and MPs abide to the standards of governance. The Opposition is justified in expressing its outrage but it would be deluding itself if it expects Labour's majority to evap- orate in thin air, simply because Schembri is now facing charg- es. Ultimately the Opposition can only win if it convinces the people that it can offer them a better standard of life. A nation- al accord on good governance reforms – including a full-time parliament, state financing of political parties, greater account- ability when it comes to sale of state assets, and the approval of new code of ethics regulating lobbying – may be the best way of avoiding a repeat of what happened on Saturday. As Nationalist MP Mario Galea said: "parliament is not split between angels on this side, and devils on the other." For this is not a question of good versus evil, but an opportunity to build structures which makes it unlikely for figures like Keith Schem- bri to ever re-emerge in the future. Labour has a lot of soul-searching to do 11 LETTERS & EDITORIAL maltatoday MaltaToday, MediaToday Co. Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016 MANAGING EDITOR: SAVIOUR BALZAN EXECUTIVE EDITOR: MATTHEW VELLA EDITOR: PAUL COCKS Tel: (356) 21 382741-3, 21 382745-6 Website: E-mail: maltatoday | WEDNESDAY • 24 MARCH 2021

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of MaltaToday previous editions - MaltaToday 24 March 2021 MIDWEEK