The Malta Independent 16 July 2020, Thursday

Muscat’s laundry

Thursday, 4 June 2020, 08:07 Last update: about 2 months ago

Recently, the local media carried a story which risks making journalists the unwitting accomplices in laundering the bad reputation of the disgraced prime minister, Joseph Muscat.

It was a lead story: the news of a report entitled “Economic Note: The Possible Evolution of the Maltese Economy in 2020 and 2021” which was “Compiled by The Office of Dr Joseph Muscat.”

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The very first footnote of the document states: “Restricted circulation. Not for re-distribution or reproduction without prior consent. This Economic Note was researched on the basis of information available as at 24 April 2020, and reflects the state of knowledge on the extent and duration of the COVID-19 pandemic prevalent up to that date. Given the fluidity of the situation, it is important to note that conclusions made here may differ significantly from those which would be made using the same methodology on the basis of more updated information.”

The title, subtitle and footnote should be enough to make anyone stop, think and ask some basic questions. 

When Simon Busttil was Leader of the Opposition, Muscat loved to swagger about how knowledgeable he was about economic issues, as opposed to Busuttil. Of course, we all know that politicians, especially leaders of a party, have experts to guide them in the formulation of their policies. But Muscat boasted so much about his personal expertise that many, including journalists, might have thought that this new ''Office of Joseph Muscat'' could solve our problems – which, by the way, apparently are yet to come, with or without a second Covid-19 wave.

So, what did we learn from this document?

Good to know that Joseph Muscat still has some sort of role in our country, set up somewhere referred to as “The Office.” Perhaps the current prime minister should do himself and the country a favour and tell us what it is exactly that Joseph Muscat is set up to do. 

We are talking about a disgraced prime minister whose administration was linked to countless scandals. A man who was forced to resign after the country was awash with scandals all pointing to the Office of the Prime Minister when he was at the helm.

Of course, it would be greatly helpful, if Robert Abela could clarify Muscat’s position and not send us mixed messages like he did over the past weeks in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The first footnote in Muscat’s document along with the title are a PR exercise in themselves.

The document was “meant” for “restricted circulation” but made its way to all media houses. Please tell me there is no fake witch hunt or inquiry of sorts to find out who leaked this document! 

Muscat makes it amply clear that this document is not offering facts etched in stone. Of course, many economists do this because they are predicting the future. However, Muscat is also a politician, who only a few months ago lost the support of his Cabinet colleagues and had to resign.

He therefore feels it necessary to qualify his predictions (and predicament) with words like “possible” and “attempts”. At the same time he can’t resist referring to himself in the royal plural “we”. Oh yes, I know, “we” may refer to “The Office” but the Muscats loved using the royal plural so much I seriously doubt it refers to a group of people.

Next set of questions. How many people are employed at “The Office” and what is their background? Who is paying for their salaries? Was this office set up as part of the deal in a resignation agreement of sorts which eventually paved the way for Abela to become prime minister? Was this the new “diabolical pact”?

It pains me to think that this country, which has its share of good socio-economic minds, men and women, feels the need to wheel out the most shameful politician to tell us the state of affairs and predict our future. 

Perhaps Muscat can answer this question and add it to his very poor conclusion in the document. Why is it that a number of countries are not choosing Malta as one of the first destinations to open to in what is being referred to as “safe” or “tunnel” tourism?

Remember, our public health efforts, and the low numbers of infected cases and deaths, have been praised by key people in organisations like the World Health Organisation. Could it be that the reputation that Muscat gave us – of being fundamentally dishonest right at the top, of disregarding the proper checks and balances – has made even our health figures untrustworthy?

Am I the only one who noted that Muscat avoided completely the topic of reputation in his document? Reputation is key to all aspects of our economy. Tourism and country branding depend fully on reputation. Niche tourism is very selective, and Malta is an ideal destination for the exclusive tourist. Such tourists are willing to pay more for that extra service, but they will choose carefully.

Before publishing stories and headlines related to Muscat, I hope editors realise that we all expect journalists to go out there and ask these questions and much more. The fantastic reputation built by our health workers and general public does not seem to be enough to launder Muscat’s legacy and no “Economic Note” is enough to change that.

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