The Malta Independent 22 September 2021, Wednesday

TMIS Editorial: Joseph Muscat’s tainted legacy

Sunday, 1 August 2021, 10:59 Last update: about 3 months ago

Up until a few years ago many people would say that, while it was true that the Labour administration made many mistakes and allowed corruption to permeate into the top levels of government, Muscat was still ‘the best Prime Minister Malta ever had.’

They said that the sweeping reforms that he heralded in the field of civil liberties, and the then thriving economy, cancelled out all the wrongdoings. This is why Labour won another landslide victory in the 2017 election.

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Today, that situation is changing. While the Labour Party still enjoys widespread support, Muscat’s once God-like aura has fast faded away, and his legacy is one where his administration not only allowed, but actually contributed to a culture of impunity that allowed rabid corruption to take place and culminated in a journalist’s murder.

The Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry found no evidence that Muscat’s government was an active player in Daphne’s murder, but said its actions and inactions gave rise to a situation where those who wanted her dead felt they could do so without facing consequences.

The inquiry board also found direct responsibility by Muscat, whose failure to act against the Panama duo strengthened this culture of impunity. His refusal to sack Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi even when they were involved in scandal after scandal gave rise to the impression that these two were untouchable.

By extension, those who felt close to the PM and to his two close associates also felt that no harm would come to them, whatever they did.

The board also chastised Muscat over the way in which he defended the government’s closeness with big business – the ‘intimacy’ that Muscat said was “inevitable” and vital for the country’s economy. This group of people included individuals who were linked to allegations of corruption and wrongdoing, and Muscat was certainly aware of this when he testified last year, the board noted.

Muscat must not only answer for his own decisions and indecisions. No, as a former Prime Minister, he is responsible for all that took place under his watch, for every shortcoming that took place by the government he was tasked to lead. As Prime Minister, the buck stopped with him.

The sheer incompetence by the police force under the leadership of Laurence Cutajar – their failure to act in the face of mounting evidence of crime and corruption, and the failure to protect Daphne when it was clear she was facing real risk – is also his responsibility. We all knew that the police were refusing to act. Protests were held in the streets against Cutajar’s ineptness, yet Muscat kept him there.

The same goes for the shortcomings by the other regulatory authorities. Scandal after scandal went un-investigated. The evidence was ignored, even. But the Muscat’s government showed no appetite to get things moving. It preferred the status quo.

Not only did his administration let corruption go unchecked, it also mounted a campaign of denigration – organised from within Castille – against the person who was uncovering the sleaze.

Instead of upholding the rule of law, the Labour government closed an eye to corruption, attacked the messenger and justified all that was going on by pointing to the high ratings it still enjoyed.

Even after the journalist was murdered, top government individuals who were linked to the assassination or to other serious allegations of corruption kept waking free. They still are.

While the alleged perpetrators and mastermind are all behind bars, no one from the political class has spent a single day in jail so far. We doubt that they ever will.

This is also part of Muscat’s legacy. Crocodile tears and no real action against people at the top.

Thankfully, the situation is changing now. Prime Minister Robert Abela, who inherited this terrible mess, has chosen the path of reconciliation. He has apologised, on behalf of the State, to the Caruana Galizia family, and the apology has been accepted.

Abela has also pledged to implement all the recommendations made by the inquiry board and has already reached out to the Institute of Maltese Journalists to work on measures on the protection of journalists.

But many people feel that there is no justice – that those who are responsible for creating the atmosphere that facilitated a journalist’s murder should be brought to book.

They feel that the disastrous eight years of Muscat have damaged the country so badly that the wound will take many more years to heal. And they can be no real healing if those responsible are not brought to justice.

There surely can be no proper healing if some of those responsible for this situation are still members of Cabinet.

Unfortunately, it seems that the political class will not pay the price of this terrible tragedy.

This is Muscat’s legacy, and with every passing day, the stain that has tarnished it grows bigger.

 

 

 

 

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