The Malta Independent 9 December 2018, Sunday

Egrant and the PN’s wrong strategy manoeuvre

Simon Mercieca Monday, 20 August 2018, 07:41 Last update: about 5 months ago

It was not my intention to comment on the Egrant issue per se, but there can be no doubt that the PN has been caught on the wrong foot and its reaction has been even more erratic and misperceived. 

With the PN’s back against the wall, its supporters should stop thinking that this is the result of Muscat’s political manoeuvre. It is not. It is the result of years and years of the PN’s damaging strategy. It is unfortunate that the PN is, and has been, obsessed that all it needs is a legal mind or minds. The Party is acting as an association or club exclusive to lawyers of the freemasonry kind. Politics is more than just a legal quibble. 

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If ever there was an instance where this became extremely obvious, it was when the PN reacted to the Attorney General’s refusal to publish the Egrant Report in full or give a copy to the Leader of the Opposition. The PN’s solution was to go to court to challenge this decision and ask the Court to order the Attorney General to hand over a copy to be published in full. The Opposition is arguing that this is no longer a legal case, thus implying that it is accepting that this was not a normal course. 

Therefore, why is the Opposition challenging this decision in Court? Our Courts can only judge according to the laws of the land and not according to the whims of individuals, be they politicians or ordinary citizens. Furthermore, not even a Court judge can ignore the fact that the Attorney General has the right at law not to publish the report. Has anyone stopped to reflect on the fact that the Attorney General may have a perfectly good reason for not wanting to publish the Egrant report in full at this stage?  Art 2 cl 3 of the Attorney General Ordinance reads “where under any law the Attorney General is to act or exercise any power in his individual judgement he shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.” 

 The Prime Minister has stated that he is in favour to have it published in full and the Prime Minister has a copy of the full report. Lest we forget, the Prime Minister, besides being the subject of this inquiry, is a politician and also the democratically elected leader of our country.

Therefore, the Court is not the right forum for a political party in opposition - that was not elected in two consecutive democratic elections - to seek redress on such an issue as the Report in question. The proper forum for such an issue is Parliament.  It is up to Parliament to assess whether a judicial document is laid or not on the table of the House, thus putting closure to the current political abnormality.

Had the PN taken the route here proposed, it would have put Parliament and Muscat to the political test. The test for Parliament comes from the fact that this would be a first time that such a request has been made. Should Parliament have agreed to have this Report laid on the table of the House, the Attorney General could not say no.

 According to the standing orders of the House and even according to the normal procedural praxis that our Parliament has been following, such a request can only come from the members of the House. The Speaker cannot order that such a document be laid on the table of the House because of its political importance. But if such a request is made by the House and the motion is approved, the Speaker has the power to order that this Report be laid on the table of the House. The power of the chair increases should both sides of the House agree on a common motion and take a collegial vote. I don’t see why this cannot happen when the Prime Minister has said that he is in favour of its full publication. 

If the PN took this course of action, it would have put Muscat to the test.

Muscat would have been asked to stand and be counted. He would have been asked to agree on a motion. The wording could have even been agreed upon by both sides. 

Should Muscat have failed to support this motion, it would have been a political deadlock for Government. In this scenario, the PN had all to gain and nothing to lose. By not following this avenue, the PN only reinforces the general perception that all the law courts represent, is a very lucrative playground for lawyers.  

I have used the future perfect on purpose. As the PN has now embarked on this legal route, it cannot resort to this political avenue. Muscat has a good alibi not to support such a motion by rightly stating that the government is waiting for the court decision. At this stage, things appear to be in favour of the PN as the court accepted the PN’s request to hear this case in urgency. Now the PN has only to cross its fingers to win this case. If it loses it, it cannot take the parliamentary route for obvious reasons. The government would surely use the court sentence in his favour not to support such a motion.

The situation has become even more complex for the PN because a faction is asking for the inquiry to be reopened. But how rational can this request be when the full report is not yet available to the public? This is why I am insisting that it would have been more pragmatic were a political solution found and this is why I am insisting that a solution should have been found in Parliament.

 The truth is that the PN needs to change strategy. What the PN desperately needs now is expertise capable to filter out damaging ideas. These individuals need to have the capacity to give shape to a mediocre content and develop the public interest in politics. For sure, the worst thing the PN has done so far is picking its experts from among the highly paid consultants in Castile. In so doing, it signed its own death warrant.

 These experts have landed this new PN to take crummy political decisions and half-baked policies. Their advice is the product of short-term judgment. Busuttil loved to pull down a blind before his eyes to screen him from reality. The new leader is using this same method, thus dodging reality by convincing himself that it does not exist.

 If the PN wants to make headway, it needs to start by waging an ideological campaign. If this party believes that the way forward is by implementing an action plan with the help of the private sector or with that of Muscat's former consultants, then such puerile thinking can only lead it to another political catastrophe. 

Simon Busuttil has followed an unreasonable political route and met with a concrete wall. In his days, it was thought that the private sector could do better than academics because it alone had the expertise to conceive and implement projects. Delia still has this train of thought. The result is that PN supporters are now turning into cynics. This needs rectifying with the help from honest apolitical experts, capable of offering solutions. Ordinary mortals are no longer interested in the usual legal wrangles and jargon that have long become the hallmark of the Nationalist Party.  

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