The Malta Independent 13 December 2019, Friday

TMIS Editorial: Don’t wait until January Dr Muscat, go now

Sunday, 1 December 2019, 09:00 Last update: about 11 days ago

Joseph Muscat cannot keep biding his time before doing the inevitable. He cannot keep toying with the now boiling-over national sentiment as the maelstrom around him continues to suck down not only him and his colleagues, but the very country itself.

If Joseph Muscat is truly a leader, as opposed to merely being the person who was elected to lead the country, he will do what is right and step down not in January, not next month, not next week or even tomorrow. If he is a leader worth his salt at all, he will step down now, immediately and hand over to a person untainted by this whole mess and who will be able to navigate the country through it and out of it.

Joseph Muscat cannot stay in office for another minute, for every minute in which he continues to cling desperately to power is a minute in which his position becomes less tenable, in which the national unease grows and in which the voices of rebellion and discontent grow.

Joseph Muscat must go, now, before more harm is caused to the country, its social fabric, its democracy and its people.

Joseph Muscat cannot wait any longer, he has to take this action now for the sake of the country that he had been given the particular honour and privilege to lead for as long as he has.

And in so doing,  Joseph Muscat may very well have, at long last and at the bitter end, ended up making one good move in this whole years-long protracted, drama of corruption of the highest order and murder of the murkiest: falling on his sword, even if it were only to save his own skin.

We say ‘may’ because the circumstances around his expected departure are still very much open to consideration because, apart from the obvious need to resign on account of political accountability, there are also other very serious matters of crime and punishment to be seen to.

He cannot stay because he is too close for comfort to all of this.  He cannot stay, not because he is necessarily guilty of murder or corruption, but because he allowed it to happen on his watch.

And that he knew of certain things is undeniable, by his own admission.

For example, when the news that the middleman in the Caruana Galizia murder case had been arrested and was discussing a pardon, when Muscat was cornered on the doorstep of a hotel, he said not once, but twice, quite clearly, that he has known of certain things for the last two years, but that he had, out of prudence and caution, not said anything. 

Two years before that was when Caruana Galizia had been assassinated, almost to the day.  What, exactly, did he know while he still allowed his heavily implicated and now disgraced former chief of staff Keith Schembri to be privy to the Prime Minister’s security briefings?

Just this week, the Prime Minister acknowledged he had known that Yorgen Fenech was a potential suspect in the assassination since at least May 2018 and in fact, he had signed the order for Fenech’s phone to be tapped, taps which Schembri also presumably had access to.

So how long did Muscat know that Schembri himself was somehow attached to this whole business, implicated up to his neck in at the very least the circumstances leading up to the murder.

What did Muscat know for so long and for how long did he know it?  These are crucial questions, the answers to which will reveal a whole lot about what happened at Castille after the Panama Papers fallout and the ensuing cover up.  None of the answers are very savoury, but the people have an absolute right to know.

Joseph Muscat also has to go now because of the cack-handed way in which he has handled this whole mess, starting years back and continuing right through to yesterday.   This shows complicity or incompetence and either is a dismissible offence and he needs to go, post haste.

But stepping down will not absolve him, just as stepping down will not absolve Schembri and Konrad Mizzi.  Prosecutions now need to follow and the piper needs to be paid.  We, and the country, will settle for no less than that.

Tuesday marks the exact midway point of this current legislature, after an election Labour had fought and somehow defended the indefensible on the battleground of the very corruption that is rising so nastily to the surface now. 

Things are looking a little different now half a legislature down the road.

And the questions are will Muscat make it as far as the midway point, and should he make it that far?

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