Muscat Is Not A Closed Chapter (and Why Labour Can’t Kick Him Out)

Nearly two years after his resignation, Joseph Muscat remains in the thick of things.

He is not a closed chapter, as his successor Robert Abela wants us to believe.

We should forget all about him and move on, we were told.

But Muscat still has so much to answer for, and we look forward to the day when he will have to.

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Muscat keeps on defending himself saying that he has paid the political price. He says that he has shouldered his responsibilities and sacrificed his career.

But old sins cast long shadows.

Malta is still suffering the consequences of his decisions, or lack of them, at a time when he was leading the country. These repercussions will stay for us for years to come.

So Muscat continues to be a hot topic, one that will not go away quickly, especially when he gives interviews that expose him as being uncomfortable, unrepentant and stuck-up.

And then, when stories such as the one we had this week raise even more suspicions on the way he operates, he should not be surprised that he remains in focus.

He says that none of his predecessors or former ministers was persecuted after they left office. But then, none of them had earned the title of “man of the year” for corruption by a consortium of investigative journalists, as Muscat did in 2019.

Calls for dismissal

Over the past months we have had repeated calls for the dismissal of Joseph Muscat from the Labour Party.

They were made after the publication of the findings of the public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, which confirmed what had been said all along since that tragic afternoon – that the government under Muscat’s leadership had allowed a culture of impunity to permeate all through regulatory bodies, which led to the collapse of the rule of law. The inquiry also found that the State had failed to recognise the risks to her life, without providing her enough protection. In a nutshell, the inquiry found that the State was responsible for her murder.

They were also made after Malta was grey-listed by the Financial Analysis Task Force, the first time that a European Union country received such dishonour. The money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog took action against Malta after years of international criticism about Malta’s way of doing things, including the sale of passports and the lack of action on suspicious activities, as well as malfunctioning institutions. Such a decision has dealt a devastating blow to Malta’s economy and the way Malta is perceived on the international stage. The golden passports issue, spearheaded by Muscat in his days as PM, remains a hot topic, with European President Ursula Von der Leyen recently telling Malta that their sale has to stop. The government, now under Robert Abela, did not listen, or does not want to.

Caruana Galizia’s assassination happened under Muscat’s watch, and although the grey-listing decision was taken with Abela as PM, it came about as because of what Muscat and his government did or failed to do. In his first months as head of government, Abela tried to ward it off via a series of changes that were intended to turn the page for Malta, but it was too late to reverse the tsunami that was approaching. We have been told that we will soon get back on the white list, but it may not be so easy. And, even so, the effects of such a decision are already being felt and the stain will remain.

The more recent spotlight thrown on Muscat – regarding “consultancy fees” that the former PM was paid by a company linked to the one that took over the running of three public hospitals – adds to the idea that Muscat remains an albatross around Labour’s neck.

Abela and the Labour Party have ignored these calls to get rid of Muscat. The PL’s own president, Ramona Attard, came up with the absurd notion that the State we have today is not the same State that existed when Muscat was PM. Maybe some Gahan believed her.

Muscat is not Konrad Mizzi, who was unceremoniously dumped by Abela six months into his tenure. It was much easier to take a stand against Mizzi and kick him out of the PL parliamentary group. Mizzi, presented as a rising star ahead of the 2013 election, was linked to highly controversial deals such as the power station project, the Montenegro wind farm and the transfer of public hospitals to the private sector, apart from being caught having opened a company in Panama along with Muscat’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri. Mizzi was asked to resign, refused, and was dismissed from the PL group in what Abela said was a judgment of his political, not legal, responsibility.

Reverence

But the stature of Muscat in the Labour Party is different from that of Mizzi.

Muscat is still idolised by Labourites, who consider him as their saviour. Some put him on a pedestal of similar height as that of Dom Mintoff, others even higher.

His dismissal would effectively mean that Labour is renouncing to all his election wins – he was undefeated at the polls – and the good things that he did. Muscat is seen by the hard-core and grassroots Labourites as the man who took the party out of decades of strife and defeats, turning them into multiple victories against three PN leaders.

Muscat is seen by Labourites as having led Malta to a budgetary surplus for the first time in 32 years, strengthened the economy, presented successive no-taxes budgets, expanded civil rights, created job opportunities and lifted many from the lower classes to what he proudly always described as the new middle class.

He is their hero.

Labour supporters would never admit that under Muscat the country’s institutions faltered, a culture of impunity infiltrated our society, the environment was disregarded, capitalism overshadowed the socialist principles they endorsed and still hold dear, Malta’s reputation was damaged, Malta’s identity was sold to foreigners and, as mentioned earlier, a journalist was killed and the country was grey-listed. They will never mention that Muscat in 2019 was named man of the year for organised crime and corruption by a consortium of investigative journalists.

Neither do Labour supporters realise that Muscat was unable to complete either of the two terms they gave him as PM. He had to cut his first legislature short by a year in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal and then left midway through his second administration after his office was linked to Caruana Galizia’s murder. He had said he would do 10 years as PM but did not even manage seven.

They do not dispute the fact that Muscat continued to defend Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri in spite of all the allegations that were being levelled against them. Neither do they question why Muscat gave instructions for Mizzi to be given a consultancy job with the Malta Tourism Authority so soon after Mizzi resigned as Tourism Minister, a move that the Standards Commissioner later described as having been an “abuse of power” and a “breach of ministerial code of ethics”. Labourites then see nothing wrong that only a few weeks ago Muscat said that he will not ditch Schembri.

Muscat is so precious in the eyes of the average Labour supporter that any hint that the PL could be considering kicking out Muscat would probably lead to Labour’s own downfall. It would be a bigger crisis than the one which Labour faced when in 1998 its then leader Alfred Sant clashed with his predecessor Dom Mintoff.

Cracks

But this does not mean that some things have not changed.

A recent survey showed that only 60 per cent of Labourites would want Muscat to return to politics.

In a recent interview, Muscat threatened to make a comeback if he is “annoyed”, whatever that means. But four out of ten Labourites – and a bigger proportion of the rest of the population – do not want him back.

There was also a decision not to publicise the hanging of Muscat’s portrait with that of other prime ministers at Castille.

It was taken to mean that Labour is no longer proud of Muscat. It cannot kick him out of the party, but neither does it want to flaunt him. The PL’s own media did not even carry a report about the portrait, a point that was raised by the artist in a post on the social media.

There are more indications that Labour wants to distance itself as much as possible from Muscat. When Abela called a press conference to defend his government’s position after Malta’s grey-listing by the FATF, he emphasised his government’s work to make up for the deficiencies of the previous years. Abela did not say it directly, and he never will, but what he was doing was tacitly criticise his predecessor for allowing the situation to deteriorate to such an extent. After all, Abela is the one who has to make up for Muscat’s errors.

But Abela, and the PL, will never publicly denounce Muscat.

Still, his chapter remains open.

 

Source : https://www.independent.com.mt/articles/2021-11-14/local-news/Muscat-is-not-a-closed-chapter-and-why-Labour-can-t-kick-him-out-6736238284

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