The Malta Independent 1 October 2023, Sunday
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Hospitals’ deal aftermath: Labour grassroots ‘frustrated’, others ‘comfortable’ with government

Marc Galdes Sunday, 28 May 2023, 08:00 Last update: about 5 months ago

There’s division in the Labour Party grassroots as some have lost their trust in Prime Minister Robert Abela’s government, saying they have been “forgotten”, while others have stuck by it insisting that the administration is still in touch with the man in the street.

A number of Labour officials and sources close to the PL grassroots have spoken to The Malta Independent on Sunday on condition of anonymity, and they either expressed their “frustration” towards the current government and the scandals that surround it or said that they were very “comfortable” and satisfied under the current administration and criticised colleagues who have complained about the government.

This story follows articles published in the Sunday Times of Malta and MaltaToday where both newspapers separately spoke to ministers in the governing party about the current mood of the PL after the publication of the National Audit Office (NAO) report on the hospitals’ deal.

The Times’s sources said that senior figures in the Labour Party are becoming increasingly frustrated by revelations about Joseph Muscat, fearing they will be shackled by their former leader’s actions for as long as they remain in government.

They are also getting increasingly irked by Robert Abela’s apparent reluctance to deal with the issue, though they concede that they do not see a way out for him.

MaltaToday’s sources said that Muscat remains “the elephant in the room” but his name did not crop up during Labour’s parliamentary group meeting in the days following the publication of the NAO report.

The third NAO report said two weeks ago that former Labour Minister Konrad Mizzi “misled” the Cabinet and that the Abela government was days away from signing a new concession agreement with Steward in 2020. Also, an investigative story by The Times of Malta, The Shift and OCCRP revealed that former Muscat is being investigated for a consultancy contract with a Swiss company that allegedly could have been used to disguise payments from the hospitals’ deal. Muscat replied and said that the payments were for work he had carried out, while Mizzi labelled the NAO report as “pure conjecture”.

In light of this, Labour officials were asked whether there has been a shift in the mood and loss of trust in the party and also asked whether they felt like the PL was still giving importance to the grassroots.

We are ‘frustrated’ with the current scandals and ‘not heard’ by the PL

“We are not heard,” one Labour official told this newsroom when expressing their frustration as they felt that the government was not giving the grassroots much importance any more.

“We have to face the people and the government does not care. We get used to getting the blame, while the government does not care.”

Asked about the latest revelations into the Steward-Vitals story, they said that they have lost a level of trust in the Labour Party. They added that they were not happy with what happened as the “money could have been used on much better things”, however, they clarified that they were mainly annoyed with the fact that the authorities were ignoring local issues.

“We should be heard. We face the music with people, not them.”

To give an example they said: “It is easy for Transport Malta to make a decision but then we have to face the decision. We should be part of the decision-making.”

Upon mentioning the Steward-Vitals scandal, another source told this newsroom: “I’m not happy. No one is perfect, but things happened which shouldn't have happened.”

Other sources close to the grassroots of the PL said that large reforms are needed which give more strength and power to the local councils. Giving local councils more power and responsibilities is something that the PN has proposed before.

“If local councils in Malta do not have many powers, then they will completely and continuously depend on the authorities.” They noted that there is an issue because usually the local council and the authorities have different interests.

Moreover, they added that there is also “a level of frustration” in reaction to the “dirt that is emerging”. They said that within the PL certain people are becoming more and more irritated with what is emerging every month.

In spite of all these revelations, they expressed how shocked they were to see that the PN is still not making any progress in the surveys.

“This is something incredible where you have all these revelations about a former Prime Minister and a former chief-of-staff, but then at the same time, the Opposition does not make any progress.”


Abela is “obviously” still in touch with the PL grassroots


With a slightly different response, another Labour official told this newsroom that they had always been uncomfortable with what was being unveiled all the way back to when the Panama Papers story started.

“I am not comfortable that any political party in Malta, especially the Socialist party in Malta, would be associated with these kind of stories… If it looks bad enough in politics, it is bad enough.”

However, they drew a line between the previous legislation under Muscat and the current administration under Abela and praised Abela for how he has been handling the situation and facing criticism.

“At this moment in time with all the difficulties that there are, to a certain extent I am comfortable with what has happened vis-a-vis this issue.”

“[Abela] did more than certain people expected but obviously, it is never going to be enough for others. But the circumstances are obviously difficult in themselves and were made difficult much before Robert Abela.

Asked whether the PL has forgotten the PL grassroots, they said: “I would be very surprised if anyone had to say so because meetings are held regularly.”

They were critical of other grassroots members who may criticise the government for not offering enough help while also not being active when the government allows them to speak out.

“If you continuously receive invites for meetings, even with the Prime Minister, to speak openly from the grassroots, but then you do not attend, do not tell me that the party has forgotten you.”

When another Labour official was asked whether the PL still gives importance to the PL grassroots, they responded with a stern and short “Isn't it obvious that it is still the case?"

In reference to the hospitals’ deal, the last Labour official who spoke to this newsroom said that sometimes they question whether or not certain things that are said are true, however, they believe that “if it was, or is, a person's mistake, the party should not be blamed”.

They acknowledged that some grassroots members might feel cut off sometimes, however, people might be asking for impossible things which the government and authorities cannot attend to. “If there are rules, then there are rules.”

But they did acknowledge that there are situations where people are not being served for something small.

“What annoys me is that it has become almost fashionable to say that you were not served when this would be totally untrue.”

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