The Malta Independent 24 September 2021, Friday

Inquiry board ‘alarmed’ by Muscat’s justification of closeness with business

Neil Camilleri Sunday, 1 August 2021, 09:45 Last update: about 3 months ago

The members of the board of inquiry that looked into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia were “alarmed” by former PM Joseph Muscat’s justification of government closeness with business people.

The inquiry, whose findings were published on Thursday, concluded that the State must shoulder responsibility for the journalist’s murder and highlighted several shortcomings and regulatory failures.

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It also found that Muscat’s inaction against Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri “further strengthened” the atmosphere of impunity that facilitated the murder.

The board – composed of judges Michael Mallia, Abigail Lofaro and Joseph Said Pullicino – also blasted the Muscat administration for being too close to big business, including to individuals investigated by Daphne Caruana Galizia over links to alleged corruption.

When summoned to testify before the inquiry, Muscat had tried to justify this closeness by saying it was “vital” for the economy.

He told the judges that it was the “real economic motor” and was “not only necessary, but also inevitable.”

“Let me make a statement that might be shocking. Every government in the world, including in Malta, has to be close to business. If you’re not close to business, the economy won’t move. In an economy and society like Malta’s, the economy is run by not more than ten people …”

He further argued that the government and policymakers have to be in “direct and constant contact with these people, otherwise the economy would stop, and no decisions would be taken, and there would be a gap between the State and the real economy. For me, this was crucial. The real economy is crucial. Whatever we say, the real economy, people’s jobs, their quality of life were the number one priority for us.”

Muscat told the board that this was not a new concept or something he had invented. “This intimacy has been there for a long time.”

The board noted in its report that this declaration by an ex-PM, made at a time when he was certainly aware of the allegations levelled against his government and which had led to his own resignation, is a statement of ‘real politique’ that is hard to contest.

It was also the same line of reasoning used by other policymakers who were summoned before the board in their bid to justify the closeness that the administration had with business.

“The concept of intimacy between those who exercise power and business, which for Muscat is apparently inevitable, alarms this board,” the judges wrote.

Intimacy goes beyond acquaintanceship or friendship, they noted. It goes well beyond the professional distance that must be kept by a public administrator when carrying out his/her duties. Such people should collaborate and encourage economic growth, but they must also act correctly and with strict adherence to the rules that ensure good governance.

Unnecessary intimacy can lead to a sense of reciprocal obligations and personal links that can condition the objective judgment of a public administrator, they said. Such situations could prove to be fertile ground for corruption, the board continued.

The board also chastised Muscat for suggesting that the board went beyond its remit.

“The fact that the Prime Minister who appointed this inquiry and the one who is set to receive its report have both expressed concerns should be taken seriously,” Muscat had told the inquiry board, adding that it risked becoming a “political exercise.”

The board said that, while Muscat and Abela are entitled to their opinions, they would not be conditioned by their “out-of-place” warnings.

They said that the public inquiry was a unique exercise of transparency and accountability on how the administration exercised its power.

“Society has been given an inkling of what might have led to the collapse of the institutions and authorities tasked with upholding the rule of law.”

They said that, from the start, evidence started emerging of links between allegations of bad governance in several big projects involving the heads of public entities. Worse still, allegations emerged of contacts and closeness between some of these officials and the people who could have planned and executed Daphne’s murder.

The board also noted that Muscat and Schembri had decided to keep big projects under their own wing, excluding the ministers responsible for these sectors.

As an example, it noted that the Education Ministry had not been involved in the American University of Malta project, the Health Parliamentary Secretary had been kept out of the hospitals privatisation deal and the Finance Minister had not been involved in the Electrogas project.

 

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