The Malta Independent 20 April 2024, Saturday
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TMIS Editorial: How things changed in a year

Sunday, 26 March 2023, 10:30 Last update: about 2 years ago

The last weekend of March in 2022 was one of euphoria for the Labour Party, as it celebrated its third record consecutive general election victory.

Having done even better than his predecessor, Robert Abela was looking forward to an easy five-year ride. The Covid-19 pandemic was nearly over, the economy had survived and the Opposition was in disarray.

It could not have been better for Labour, a year ago.

Fast forward 12 months and things have changed drastically. The government, in spite of its massive nine-seat majority in Parliament, is under immense pressure. It will keep winning votes in the House, as all MPs follow the master with no questions asked, but out there we are reaching boiling point.

The hospitals landmark judgment has shifted the balance. More than a month has passed since Mr Justice Francesco Depasquale described the deal that had been reached by the government for the privatisation of three hospitals as “fraudulent”, and ordered their return to the public. Many things have happened since then – an appeal by Steward Health Care and their pulling out a day later, just to give some examples – but the political snowball has continued to run and it has grown larger, picking up pace too.

The Opposition has found new strength and after so many years of turbulence and in-fighting, it has gathered in a united front. It finds obstacles to make its presence felt, with PN leader Bernard Grech accusing the Speaker of turning a debate on its own motion regarding the hospitals’ deal as a “parody of democracy”. But its voice is now heard more. Its daily events are now more focused, punchier and effective.

It’s not only the rescinded hospitals’ deal that is a cause of concern for Labour’s drop in popularity. There have been other situations in the past months that have embarrassed the party in government.

Only this past week, we had the publication of chats between the man accused of being the mastermind in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and a Labour MP. Leaving aside the salacious parts, which have naturally drawn more attention from the public; what is of greater concern is the rest of the content, which exposes so much about how things are run in this country.

The court, police and Attorney General showed unprecedented efficiency and speed when the WhatsApp exchanges between Yorgen Fenech and Rosianne Cutajar were made public. It took barely 24 hours for it to be ruled that criminal action should be taken against Mark Camilleri, who published the messages on his website.

Others who should be investigated, arraigned and potentially sent to prison for far more serious breaches are still walking free with a smirk on their faces. It’s clear that in Malta it’s not those in the wrong who get the authorities’ attention, but those who expose them.

Added to this, there have been calls for the resignation of two ministers. Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri was told to step down after reports that the police took long to carry out a search at Enemalta, related to the wind farm in Montenegro. It was the second call for Camilleri’s resignation this year. He had kept the prison’s director in place when the latter was charged in court with threatening a man with a handgun. When a guilty verdict was given, there were calls for Camilleri to quit for taking the wrong decision. He’s still a minister.

The second Cabinet member who was in the eye of a political storm was Foreign Minister Ian Borg, after a court declared that a permit he was given to build a swimming pool at his countryside villa was illegal. It was the second time that a court of law ruled against the Planning Authority and Borg on the matter. Borg is still a minister too.

One other issue which has put Labour in bad light is its resistance to order a public inquiry into the death of Jean Paul Sofia. A magisterial inquiry is not enough.

Labour – as a government and a party, although not even top PL officials can make a distinction between the two – has been weak in its attempt to defend itself.

As a government, it has come up with the “implementing together” slogan, with most press statements issued by the Department of Information carrying it as part of the headline. They are mostly propaganda releases that aim to deflect attention away from the real issues. They’re not succeeding much.

Similarly, as a party the PL is holding regular press conferences to boast about what the government is doing. But these are backfiring because we are more interested in what PL officials have to say about the shortcomings, and having PL officials refusing to answer makes it worse for the PL.

The political landscape has changed in these past 12 months. Labour is confused, with a Prime Minister who continues to defend wrongdoings and unable to shirk off his predecessor’s shadow. Conversely, the PN has gained in confidence.

Time will tell whether this is just a phase.

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