The Malta Independent 4 October 2022, Tuesday
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Analysis - Election Roundup Day 24 – The Russian connection and a third inquiry

Stephen Calleja Friday, 26 May 2017, 06:13 Last update: about 6 years ago

The Russian spy story continued to reverberate on the campaign trail, as Prime Minister Muscat had to deal with the backlash of ridicule that erupted after his announcement that he had received information from two allied secret services that Russia was behind the Egrant saga.

In the morning, the Prime Minister once again reiterated what he had said a day earlier, with much less drama, but he would not be drawn into saying whether he believed the story was true or otherwise. And nobody was expecting him to say yes or no. A "yes" would have brought even more disdain, and open up diplomatic issues, and a "no" would have been an admission that the story was nothing more than an attempt to win some sympathy.

In the afternoon, we had the confirmation from the Russian embassy that denied that the information received by the Prime Minister was correct. Although nobody expected otherwise, this was yet another blow to Muscat’s credibility.

We now have a third inquiry, with Magistrate Josette Demicoli taking responsibility for the allegations made by Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil that OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri paid former Times director Adrian Hillman €650,000. Both deny the claims, but a third magisterial inquiry continues to add pressure on the Labour Party just a few days before the election.

Never before has a party in government sought to be re-elected while the Prime Minister and his chief of staff were directly involved in three magisterial inquiries.

The PM tried to recuperate some lost ground on this issue in the evening when he said that the Labour Party had learnt from its mistakes on the Panama Papers scandal. It’s too little, too late, Prime Minister, given that you have defended your two closest allies to the hilt.

One wonders what he meant by saying Labour has learnt from its mistakes. The PM will only be believed if he had to say now – before the election – that he will not reappoint Mizzi as minister irrespective of his electoral result and that he will not reappoint Schembri as chief of staff or in any other government top position. And then, of course, keep his word. Too many times he’s said something and done the opposite.

In other news from the campaign, Busuttil continues to pledge an underground transport system which will cost €2.3 billion. He seems very confident he will fulfil his promise, although there are many questions on how the PN intends this to be done. On paper, it seems impossible and unsustainable, but perhaps Busuttil knows more than he is letting on. He is also focusing on 10 of the over 500 proposals he says a new PN government will implement, the ones which he says are closest to his heart.

Muscat spoke about tuna fishing and said that the Labour Party’s promises will cost the country €120 million, much less than the pledges being made by the PN.

Apart from the Russian spy story, it was a quiet day on the political front, almost a lull before the two leaders meet for a head-to-head debate on Xarabank this evening.

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