The Malta Independent 4 December 2020, Friday

TMID Editorial: Repubblika and Jason Azzopardi

Friday, 20 November 2020, 08:00 Last update: about 13 days ago

Imagine a Non-Governmental Organisation which holds events, sends press statements and organises protests on matters pertaining to the environment, particularly on issues related to development and over-development.

It attacks massive projects, saying they will take up more of our open spaces and countryside and add burdens to the infrastructure. It goes to court to raise more public awareness too. It speaks up to highlight the detrimental effects that such projects will have on our quality of life.

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This NGO builds a name for itself as being the voice of dissent against all that is related to the construction industry.

Then an idea about a new project is made public, but the NGO remains silent. It does not hold protests, does not open court cases and does not issue press releases. And it’s all because the developer in question is someone close to the NGO and it does not want to hurt him.

All the good work that had been carried out previously by that NGO would be lost in the blink of an eye. It would lose most, if not all, of its credibility.

The same thing has happened to civil society group Repubblika when it has remained silent on reports about Nationalist MP and lawyer Jason Azzopardi these last few weeks.

Azzopardi has admitted to staying at the Hilton Tel Aviv for free during a trip to Israel in 2017. His stay was “taken care of” by the Tumas Group which, at the time, had Yorgen Fenech as one of its directors. Fenech is now accused of masterminding the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, with Azzopardi appearing parte civile for the family in all proceedings related to the assassination.

Since its inception following the murder, Repubblika has rightly so been vocal on many fronts to highlight important issues. Just a quick look through emails received from the group in the last months shows the widespread interests it has – education, racism, the status of forces agreement (SOFA), deaths in prison, migration and construction industry incidents are just a few of the subjects tackled.

But the group’s major emphasis has always been the rule of law, justice, abuse by people in positions of power and ethical standards by politicians. It has issued statements about Robert Abela, Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, the Electrogas deal, the VGH contracts and the Venice Commission report and even called for the resignation of the principal permanent secretary Mario Cutajar because of something his brother is allegedly involved in.

Yet it had nothing to say about Jason Azzopardi. No statement, no reprimand, no pointing of fingers at the breach of ethics, much less a call for a resignation. We’re sure that, had a Labour minister or top official been found to have stayed in a hotel with expenses paid by a businessman, Repubblika would have been the first to accuse that politician of (at least) breaching ethics.

But, just like that environmental NGO, it chose to remain silent when a scandal hit close to home.

Maybe it’s because Azzopardi, as a lawyer, has represented it in court, not only in Malta. But this, then, should have been the reason why a supposedly non-partisan organisation should not have employed the services of a politician for its legal battles. It should have gone for a lawyer who is not linked to any political party so as to keep its distance from partisan politics, and to remain free to criticise should a scandal be unearthed, as happened to Azzopardi.

By choosing Azzopardi, it showed bias. By choosing not to criticise Azzopardi, it lost credibility.

 

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