The Malta Independent 5 August 2021, Thursday

Eight years of Labour resignations

Stephen Calleja Sunday, 4 April 2021, 09:00 Last update: about 5 months ago

The recent resignation of Rosianne Cutajar over her alleged connection with a man accused of being the mastermind behind the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is the latest setback to the Labour government.

Since taking over the reins of the country in March 2013, there has been a string of ministerial (and other) resignations, many of which were not for the right reasons. There were also high-profile resignations from the Labour Party.

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Some of the resignations were linked to scandals that have rocked the foundations of our democracy, apart from putting Malta in bad light on the international stage. Others were connected to national happenings which, in their time, also created controversy. Then there were others which were necessary for the individuals concerned to be given a more prestigious and lucrative position.

Joseph Muscat

The most significant resignation was that of Joseph Muscat.

The former Labour leader will be remembered by the diehards as having won every election, but under his premiership the level of corruption in Malta reached new heights. More than a year after his resignation, the country is still finding out more details on what took place under his leadership.

Muscat announced his resignation in December 2019, days after the arrest of Yorgen Fenech, after revelations linking Muscat’s office with the hotelier who is now charged with being a mastermind in the Daphne murder. He failed to complete either of the two terms he was elected to govern, ending up doing less than seven years as PM from what should have been a total of 10.

Economically, the country flourished under Muscat, but it also saw the degrading of the country’s institutions, Malta’s international reputation going to the dogs, the Egrant saga and the assassination of Caruana Galizia.

The culture of impunity, growing nepotism and Muscat’s inability to distance himself from people who were causing so much harm – and who are now facing justice in a court of law – will also be part of his legacy.

Muscat also resigned from MP in October 2020.

Konrad Mizzi

He must hold a record.

Twice he was minister, and twice he lost his portfolio.

After being the only European Minister to be named in the Panama Papers in 2016, Mizzi was relegated from the post of Energy and Health Minister to a minister within the OPM. Muscat had then been unable to kick him out completely, and continued to defend him.

When Labour won the 2017 election, Mizzi was appointed minister by Muscat again, this time with the responsibility for tourism.

Mizzi, intrinsically linked with the then OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri after the two were caught to have secretly opened a company in Panama, again resigned in November 2019. He had then said that he was resigning “in the national interest” and “out of a sense of political duty, in order not to distract from an effective and serene leadership of the country”.

The resignation had come days after the arrest of Yorgen Fenech and just before the announcement of Muscat’s own decision to quit. He has since been called in by the police Economic Crimes Unit as their investigations continue.

Mizzi was also Labour Party deputy leader for three months in 2016 before also resigning the post in the wake of the Panama Papers revelations.

In June last year, after Robert Abela had taken over the PL leadership, Mizzi was kicked out of the Labour Party. He remains as an independent MP.

Chris Cardona

It was Chris Cardona who replaced Konrad Mizzi as PL deputy leader, but even he had to quit last year.

Cardona’s name had come up in police investigations into the murder of Caruana Galizia, allegations that the former economy minister vehemently denies. The police continue to keep an eye on him as it was only a few weeks ago that he was again interrogated in connection with the case.

Cardona was not named as minister when Abela replaced Muscat as Prime Minister, and eventually resigned from the PL deputy leadership as well as from Parliament.

On the day Mizzi resigned as minister for the second time – 26 November 2019 – Cardona had suspended himself “pending investigations and proceedings going on right now”. This happened days after the arrest of Yorgen Fenech, with Cardona insisting that he had no connection with the case while the police were asking for “further clarifications”.

He was reinstated as Minister on 1 December 2019, hours before Muscat announced his decision to resign.

Keith Schembri

Keith Schembri was never a minister, but the power that he held in the government corridors has been acknowledged by members of the Muscat Cabinet.

As OPM chief of staff, Schembri was considered to be Joseph Muscat’s right-hand man, and Muscat had defended him to the hilt until Schembri was interrogated by the police after Fenech’s arrest, leading to Schembri’s own resignation and the toppling of Muscat.

Months of investigation led the police to charge Schembri on 20 March. He is accused of money laundering, criminal conspiracy, fraud and forgery. He is pleading not guilty.

Manuel Mallia

Manuel Mallia, a self-confessed former Nationalist who was personally recruited to Labour by Muscat, had been sacked by the then PM after not giving in to requests to resign in December 2014.

This happened after his driver – Mallia was then Home Affairs Minister – was involved in a shooting incident in Gzira. A board of inquiry had found that Mallia was not part of any attempted cover-up, but he had the duty to see that an official statement was accurate.

In an interview later, Mallia had admitted that the incident had embarrassed the government but added that he had been made a scapegoat. He insisted that a resignation would have meant an admission of guilt. His refusal to resign led to his dismissal by Muscat. He had been replaced by Carmelo Abela.

Michael Falzon

Then parliamentary secretary responsible for lands Michael Falzon resigned in January 2016 after what became known as the Gaffarena scandal.

The resignation arrived after a National Audit Office report which found that Falzon and other government officials had failed to safeguard the government’s interests in a deal on government property in Old Mint Street, Valletta.

Falzon had said at the time that he had reservations about the report, but nonetheless he was shouldering political responsibility. He had been replaced by Deborah Schembri.

Justyne Caruana

This is probably the most unfortunate resignation of the lot, as Justyne Caruana was not directly involved. But when the ties of her husband Silvio Valletta, a former deputy police commissioner, with the main suspect in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder were exposed in January 2020, there was no other way out.

She had just been re-appointed Gozo Minister by new PM Abela, but resigned days later after it was reported that Valletta had been abroad with Yorgen Fenech. Her position in the Cabinet was no longer deemed tenable and she resigned. Caruana had been replaced by Clint Camilleri.

Caruana was reinstated as minister, this time with responsibility for education, in a Cabinet reshuffle last November.

Rosianne Cutajar

In chronological order, this was the latest resignation of the lot and, again, Yorgen Fenech is the connection.

Cutajar resigned in February pending the outcome of an investigation by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life into her ethical conduct with Fenech.

The parliamentary secretary for reforms was under pressure for weeks after it had been revealed that she had benefited from a property deal involving Fenech. She has described these reports as “unfair attacks” and an attempt to undermine her reputation.

The report of the investigation by the Standards Commissioner is still to be published.

Marlene Farrugia

Outspoken MP Marlene Farrugia resigned from the Labour Party and parliamentary group in November 2016.

Farrugia resigned saying that the Labour Party was taking the same route as the previous Nationalist administration, a position she could not accept. She resigned after voting with the Opposition on amendments related to the Environment Act.

Godfrey Farrugia

Godfrey Farrugia, who was Health Minister for just over one year in the first Joseph Muscat administration, resigned from the Labour Party on the eve of the 2017 election. He had also served as whip of the PL parliamentary group.

In his resignation letter, Farrugia said that the PL had lost its soul.

Like Marlene Farrugia, Godfrey Farrugia then contested the 2017 election on behalf of the Partit Demokratiku, which was in coalition with the Nationalist Party. Both were elected, but subsequently both resigned from the PD and stayed on in Parliament as independent MPs.

Etienne Grech

Labour MP Etienne Grech resigned from MP in the same days as Joseph Muscat, in October 2020. Grech and Muscat were replaced by Miriam Dalli and Clyde Caruana, both of whom were co-opted.

Gavin Gulia

In what was one of the shortest stints in Parliament, in January this year Gavin Gulia was sworn in as an MP after winning a casual election but resigned minutes later, paving the way for the co-option of Oliver Scicluna.

Others

Others resigned to take up more prestigious positions, both nationally and in the international sphere.

Marie Louise Coleiro Preca resigned from Family and Social Solidarity Minister in 2014 to become President of the Republic.

Karmenu Vella resigned from Tourism Minister in 2014 to be named European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

Helena Dalli resigned from Equality Minister in 2019 to become European Commissioner for Equality.

Leo Brincat resigned as Minister for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change in 2016 to become a member of the European Court of Auditors.

Edward Scicluna resigned from Finance Minister in 2020 to be appointed Governor of the Central Bank of Malta.

Franco Mercieca gave up his post as Parliamentary Secretary for Rights of Persons with Disability and Active Ageing to return to his private profession.

Toni Abela resigned as Labour Party Deputy Leader in March 2016 to be named a judge.

 

 

 

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