The Malta Independent 30 November 2022, Wednesday
View E-Paper

Messing with the rules

Kevin Cassar Sunday, 25 September 2022, 10:21 Last update: about 3 months ago

Robert Abela wants to ‘partner’ with private sector to see large-scale infrastructural projects delivered. It would help keep the country’s economic engine revving, he claimed. We all know what that means - it will keep Labour politicians’ pockets full.

Robert Abela was the only cabinet member who defied the ministerial code of ethics. He failed to declare his income. The code specifically obliges him to.  It also obliges ministers, including the prime minister, to file their asset declaration with the cabinet secretary by March. Abela defied that rule too.  He submitted his useless declaration in April, one month late.  The prime minister should be setting the example.  Instead he publicly displays his contempt for the rules and encourages his colleagues to follow suit.

Is it unreasonable to expect those who set the rules to follow them?  Is it too much to expect those who make the law to follow it? Of all people, the Prime Minister should not only follow the law in its letter but also in its spirit.

Italian MEP Franco Roberti, a former anti-mafia prosecutor from Naples, hit the nail on its head. “Reforms in Malta were only undertaken because of external pressure.  Without that pressure nothing would have been done… we need to see a change in mentality and culture, otherwise reforms will only be on paper but will not be implemented”.

Culture shapes behaviour more than any rules, or process or threat of enforcement. Abela’s disdainful attitude pervades all the institutions. Once established it is impossible to change. For Abela, rules are only introduced to placate European colleagues.  The rules are not there to be implemented or enforced. They’ve only been drawn up to make sure Malta continues to draw its European funds without further bother.

Abela is the product of Labour.  He epitomises Labour’s irritation with democratic checks and balances intended to ensure the executive’s compliance with the law. Stringent European regulations are seen as an imposition, a serious affront to Labour’s “foreign interference” mentality. Abela encapsulates Labour’s annoyance with democratic rules. He sees the independent media, the opposition, civil society, the judiciary, the law itself simply as hurdles to jump over. Instead of recognising that adhering to the rule of law protects the liberty of individuals against the arbitrary abuse of power, Abela refutes the restrictions the law places on his power.

Abela cannot claim to operate within the rule of law while he flagrantly abuses his own obligations.  Instead of sticking to the rules Abela changes them on a whim for short term or personal interests or undermines the institutions through political horse trading.  Witness Abela’s manipulative abuse of power in his failure to consult honestly with the opposition in order to appoint a new auditor general.  It’s been over a year that the Auditor indicated his intention to step down.  Yet Abela dallied and delayed.  When Standards Commissioner George Hyzler repeatedly found Abela’s MPs guilty of breaches of ethics, Abela directed his MPs on the standards committee to obstruct, undermine and challenge the Commissioner to protect their colleagues.  In one of Abela’s most cynical moves, Hyzler was nominated to the European Court of Auditors where he’s expected to take up his post shortly.  Abela meanwhile rubs his hands in glee as Hyzler’s post remains vacant for as long as possible.

Labour’s MPs on the committee, aided by speaker Anglu Farrugia, have done little to instill faith in our politics.  We’ve witnessed an unhappy period where those who flagrantly abused their position were simply protected while the Standards Commissioner was vilified and attacked by Labour’s whip and his colleagues. Even the most despicable acts - a prime minister accepting lavish gifts from a suspected money launderer invited to the prime minister’s Girgenti birthday, an MP accepting bagfuls of cash from the same suspected money launderer, a Minister abusing her position to award her personal friend thousands of euro in taxpayers’ money, another Minister who used public funds for his own propaganda - failed to elicit the categorical condemnation and punishment they deserved.

MPs are elected. But that doesn’t make them a breed apart.  Rules and the law should still apply to them.  Indeed they should think even more carefully about what they say and how they behave.  Higher standards should apply to them. In Malta the opposite holds.  Joseph Muscat was exonerated because he was no longer an MP.  Rosianne Cutajar simply received a cordial letter from the Speaker.  She went on to use vulgar language, calling Claudette Buttigieg ‘a whore’ during a Parliamentary sitting. Justyne Caruana is taking legal action against the Commissioner. Silvio Schembri simply put in a letter, which was construed as an apology - which it certainly wasn’t. He’s now bullying the youngest MP with his hostile red-necked tone unsuited even for a drunken brawl let alone for the House of Representatives.

Many others have done far worse. Michael Farrugia met Yorgen Fenech and went on to change the high rise building policy to include Mriehel, within one hour of the meeting. Konrad Mizzi met and signed a secret memorandum of understanding with Vitals. Clayton Bartolo lied about his girlfriend’s employment.  He refused to answer basic questions about the exorbitant cost of the Malta Film awards. Silvio Schembri steadfastly refuses to explain how renting a property for the Malta business registry costs more than 30 million. Robert Abela met Charles Polidano, ic-Caqnu, in Castille days after the latter was arrested and questioned on money laundering. Abela had dinner with Joseph Portelli, days before Portelli’s Sannat mega development was given the green light, his daughter Chloe was given a second permit for development on ODZ land, and Portelli’s Mercury Towers were included in Malta’s Special designated area.

Abela’s own links to alleged kidnapper Chris Borg and his 45,000 euro profit, his purchase of a Zejtun property for peanuts days after its many illegalities were sanctioned, and his outright refusal to publish Muscat’s termination agreement are all shocking examples of his disdain for democracy.

Labour represents less than half the population.  Yet it adopts, what the courts referred to as “a winner takes all” attitude. Labour rides roughshod over every rule in the book - without regret - and Malta pays the price. And now Abela wants to ‘partner’ with the private sector.

  • don't miss