The Malta Independent 20 January 2020, Monday

TMID Editorial: Joseph Muscat - A split Cabinet of Ministers

Thursday, 5 December 2019, 09:59 Last update: about 3 months ago

No matter what is said from the Labour Party end, the Cabinet of Ministers was and still is split on how Joseph Muscat handled the recent crisis – and the nearly four-year-long Panama Papers scandal before that.

Officially, through statements issued by both the government and the Labour Party, there is a united front. It is said that Joseph Muscat enjoys unanimous support in the parliamentary group and the party executive.

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But one need only take a look at what top Labour people are saying – or not saying – in the social media to understand that there are different trains of thought on how Muscat tackled the situation.

It is easy to see that there are some who are extremely loyal to Muscat and would protect him to the moon and back, others toe the official line without question but hold back their real feelings, and others still find ways in which to express their disappointment and anger, particularly at the way their good work is being overshadowed by this national crisis.

Among the latter group are, for example, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo, who was vocal, although at times cryptic, in the way he disassociated himself from the mess that was created; and former Labour leader Alfred Sant, who was in an “I-told-you-so” mood this week, repeating what he had said in 2016 that Konrad Mizzi should have been kicked out. Both have been consistent in their views since the Panama Papers scandal broke out, and maintained it now that the cat is out of the bag.

Then there are others – and this is quite a sizeable group – who have remained silent on the social media. Whether they spoke up within the official structures is not known, but their silence in public speaks volumes. Given that reports speaking of Cabinet ministers’ rage over Keith Schembri’s involvement in the whole issue have not been denied is another indication that there is quite a division in the inner circles.

We’ve said it all along since that famous day on February 2016, when it was revealed that Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, together with the still anonymous Egrant, had opened companies in Panama, that this is something that will not go away and that the Prime Minister should take it seriously.

But Joseph Muscat – in spite of warnings that were coming his way from all quarters, including from people who were part of Labour’s top structures – underestimated its significance and did not give heed. The 2017 election victory was so massive that it continued to blind him, politically speaking, from the repercussions that were bound to happen once further revelations were made.

Add the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination to all this – and now there is a suspected connection between the Panama Papers scandal and her brutal killing.

In all of this, under Muscat’s watch, Malta lost much of its credibility and trust in international spheres, and the damage that has been done to the country’s reputation will be hard to patch up and overcome.

Even the President himself now is speaking of “irreparable damage”. In his speech to the nation on Tuesday, George Vella said that Malta needs to go back to normality before it is too late. The cancellation of conferences and Christmas activities by many organisations and companies is only a fraction of the cost of this unrest.

Muscat chose to take a long way out of the premiership, prolonging his agony and that of the country in general.

This is the last of the many mistakes that he had made.

 

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