The Malta Independent 6 December 2023, Wednesday
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TMID Editorial: A serious accusation

Thursday, 16 November 2023, 10:07 Last update: about 20 days ago

A statement that was made by Opposition Leader Bernard Grech during a political activity a few days ago is shocking, to say the least.

Speaking in San Gwann, Grech said that during a break in a parliamentary sitting earlier this year, Animal Rights Minister Anton Refalo accused the Nationalist Party of buying out the judge who rescinded the deal regarding the three hospitals.

In February this year, Mr Justice Francesco Depasquale annulled a deal which had been reached in 2015 by the government to transfer the administration of three public hospitals to the private sector. The agreement had originally been with Vitals Global Health Care, and was subsequently passed on to Steward Health Care. The annulment of the “fraudulent” deal was confirmed by a Court of Appeal in October.


In his address on 5 November, Grech said that Refalo did not have the courage to put on record his claim, expressed during a private conversation, that the PN had bribed the judge who had given the original judgment.

Ten days have passed since Grech’s statement, which was headlined by Times of Malta, MaltaToday and The Malta Independent, but it has been met by complete silence.

Refalo has not reacted to it, which can be interpreted to mean that what Grech said about him is true. If Grech had lied, one would expect a minister to counter with some form of denial, perhaps even going as far as to sue for libel the Opposition Leader, given that Grech said what he did outside Parliament and was therefore not covered by parliamentary privilege.

But Refalo remained silent, as did the government, at least publicly. We do not know whether Prime Minister Robert Abela called Refalo in for an explanation.

What we know is that such an allegation, coming from a minister, is serious enough to warrant some explanation. Refalo has been in politics long enough – he was first elected to Parliament in 1987 – to know that he should be careful with his words. Judging by what Grech has said about him, in this case he was not.

One of the questions that need to be asked is whether other Cabinet members, including in particular Prime Minister Robert Abela, agree with Refalo’s position.

Let us remember that since he became Prime Minister, Abela has often been seen to be at loggerheads with the judiciary. Earlier this year, he was questioning their sentencing policies, for example, saying that their judgments were demoralising the police force.

Even more recently, when a debate was being held in Parliament following the Appeals Court judgment on the hospitals deal, Abela commented that the Opposition “played at home” in the courts of law, implying some kind of favouritism which was condemned by the Chamber of Advocates.

The Prime Minister’s public interventions about the judiciary are a form of bullying and an attempt to put pressure on judges and magistrates. The political motive he is attributing to their decisions is a serious attack on their independence and impartiality.

But what Grech said Refalo alleged is much more serious than that.

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