The Malta Independent 4 October 2022, Tuesday
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TMIS Editorial: Muscat’s shadow on Abela

Sunday, 14 August 2022, 10:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat thinks that Malta’s institutions, or at least some of them, buckle under pressure.

That is what he wrote on social media the moment it became known that Fredrick Azzopardi was to be arraigned in court over alleged environment protection breaches. The former chief of Infrastructure Malta appeared in court for the first sitting last Tuesday.

Before Azzopardi made it into the law courts building, he found Muscat figuratively by his side, arguing that Azzopardi was being taken before a magistrate “because he performed his duties”. Former PL president Manuel Cuschieri took the cue and called for physical support for Azzopardi outside the law courts on the day of the sitting. Not many turned up.

Like everyone else who is accused before a court of law, Azzopardi is innocent until confirmed or proven otherwise. We have no doubt that the court will deal with this case with fairness and that the letter of the law will be applied. But Muscat’s intervention can be seen as an attempt at influencing the course of justice.

That’s only one point that comes across from Muscat’s outburst – he said he was angry to see someone like Azzopardi facing charges of breaking the law, so we hope he does not get offended if we label his writing as having been an outburst.

What is worrying is that someone who was the head of government – until he was forced to quit in the worst of circumstances and after being labelled as the man of the year in organised crime and corruption by an international consortium of journalists – publicly denounced the “public officer” for taking the “wrong decision” for which there are consequences. “And someone should be held responsible” for this, he wrote.

By “wrong decision”, Muscat was referring to Azzopardi’s arraignment.

What Muscat is saying is that heads should roll because someone took Azzopardi before the courts of law. What will that “public officer” do the next time a case like Azzopardi’s comes across? Isn’t this a way for Muscat to put pressure on that “public officer” – and others in the same line – to desist from touching people who worked for him?

All of this gives us a deep insight into Muscat’s ways. It also tells us why his administration has been described, time and again, as one where the culture of impunity reigned. It also tells us why investigations into serious allegations lead to nowhere, or actually do not start, in spite of recommendations made by magistrates.

If Muscat, now a private citizen but still holding a strong influence, feels he should come out in defence of someone who worked closely with him, then it is no wonder that Muscat, when he was Prime Minister and wielded so much power, did so much to protect his allies.

There is then a political side to the story. This is Muscat’s shadow over the Robert Abela administration.

In his social media post, Muscat was not only defending Azzopardi, but he was, not so subtly, attacking the government of his successor. Muscat said he was making it clear that this was not his intention, but reading between the lines, that is what this outburst amounted to.

One phrase stood out: “Now that decisions are being taken in this way.” What he was saying was that decisions were taken differently under his premiership. This is perhaps why Malta’s reputation was sullied under his tenure. This is perhaps why we ended up on the grey list.

Muscat is doing to Abela what Dom Mintoff did to Alfred Sant. We will never get to the point that Labour’s government crumbles, as it did in 1998. Mintoff was an MP in a one-seat majority, while Muscat is no longer in the House as Labour enjoys a nine-seat advantage. But, like Mintoff did, Muscat still thinks and acts like a party leader in spite of having relinquished the post and this is not something that Abela welcomes.

He (Muscat) cannot stay away from the limelight, and his constant presence is not doing any good to Abela. Muscat knows that he is still revered more than Abela will ever be. Not even winning an election with a bigger margin has taken Abela to a higher level than the one on which the Labour grassroots have put Muscat.

Abela steers clear of Muscat as much as he can. He will never denounce his predecessor, as most Labourites will always choose Muscat over him. But in his heart of hearts Abela must cringe every time Muscat takes centre stage – be it for a position in the football world or as he did in the Fredrick Azzopardi case.

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