The Malta Independent 3 August 2021, Tuesday

TMIS Editorial: Why Abela must denounce Muscat

Sunday, 4 July 2021, 10:40 Last update: about 30 days ago

For the nth time this week, Robert Abela was asked whether he would denounce his predecessor, Joseph Muscat, after Malta’s grey-listing by the Financial Action Task Force.

Such as in previous occasions when asked whether he would disassociate himself from his former master, Abela squirmed around the question and gave a wholly unsatisfactory answer.

“Joseph Muscat hasn’t formed part of this government since January 2020. Today he is no longer an MP, and so that question is already answered,” Abela told reporters on Tuesday.

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That answer is not the one we’re looking for, and it’s probably not the one the countries who voted to grey-list us are looking for, either.

It is crystal clear that the FATF verdict came as a result of Malta’s lack of progress in the field of anti-money laundering and corruption. The task force said last week that we still lack on money laundering prosecutions and on keeping up-to-date information on the ultimate beneficial owners of companies, particularly the offshore kind.

Abela himself conceded that the Panama Papers did not help Malta’s case, adding that he could never justify that scandal.

Now we all know how badly Muscat handled that particular situation – he excused his buddies Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi and continued to defend them, until he could defend them no more. It was only when the pair were linked to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia that Muscat finally cut the cord. Yet, for years, he had done nothing when his former Chief of Staff and Cabinet Minister were embroiled in scandal after scandal.

It is crystal clear that Muscat’s inaction against Schembri, Mizzi and others contributed towards the situation we now find ourselves in. The Malta Tagħna Lkoll and meritocracy mantras turned into the country’s worst nightmare, and the person who was ultimately responsible for it all was none other than Joseph Muscat.

We’re not saying that Muscat was personally responsible for all that took place between 2013 and 2019, but the truth of the matter is that, as Prime Minister, the buck stopped with him.

The country’s reputation now lies in tatters, and cleaning up our name internationally is no easy task.

There are several ways to do this, and the first and most crucial step is for our incumbent Prime Minister to disassociate himself from those who are responsible for the mess we’re in. That means denouncing Joseph Muscat, the man during whose tenure the rule of law in Malta became a joke, political scandals went unchecked, and senior government figures were linked to the most shocking scandals the country has ever experienced.

So no, simply stating that Muscat no longer forms part of the government does not cut it.

Now Muscat still retains a demi-god-like status among Labourites and still holds sway over the party, and Abela knows this. If Muscat were to contest the general election tomorrow, he would probably get elected with a personal record number of votes. That is just how our country works.

Muscat was also a backer of Robert Abela in the leadership election – he put him there and could easily reverse this situation.

Abela knows this too, and he is fully aware that, by publicly denouncing Muscat, he would be shooting himself in the foot and getting on the wrong side of all those who still regard his predecessor as the ‘saviour’ and ‘king’ who ended Labour’s 25-year losing streak.

He knows that he would also possibly sour his relationship with some of his Cabinet members who still adore Muscat and consider him their political father. While many of them have accepted that Muscat is no longer in Castille, some of them still occasionally share a photo of the fond memories they have of him.

But Abela cannot see this as a party matter. He knows that the name Joseph Muscat has become toxic abroad (this actually happened several years before the FATF verdict). He knows that, in order to save what remains of Malta’s reputation and to start fixing it, he needs to clearly state that his predecessor mucked up, that despite the advances Malta made in the fields of civil liberties and other reforms, Muscat was a weak PM who let the country down when it comes to good governance.

No, this is a matter of national interest, and Abela must see this. He must do this for the good of the country, not the Labour Party or his own.

This is the crucial first step towards returning to the ‘normality’ he so fondly speaks of.

Acknowledging past mistakes is just part of the solution. The PM must also denounce those responsible for them, showing that he is not only willing to embark on the necessary regulatory reforms, but also that he has truly cut ties with those who brought us to the current predicament. 

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