The Malta Independent 15 June 2024, Saturday
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Labour is a synonym of crisis (2)

Friday, 24 May 2024, 07:13 Last update: about 22 days ago

Joe Azzopardi

In 1987 with a new Nationalist government in power, Malta started a new leaf. Pretty soon all socialist restrictions were lifted. The University of Malta’s population exploded from a mere 800 to tens of thousands. Foreign investments started flooding in – pharmaceuticals, betting, financial services, aviation services and IT companies. Infrastructure projects like the airport, new roads, MCAST. New IT services were introduced while Malta slowly returned as a modern European country. But most important Malta applied formally to join the European Union.

In 1992 Alfred Sant succeeded Karm Mifsud Bonnici as leader of the Malta Labour party.

He completely changed the party as he modernised it, built a new headquarters in Hamrun and started Labour’s own television station. His most commendable achievement however was the way he ditched unruly violent elements from the Labour Party.

Then in 1996 Alfred Sant managed to woo voters when he promised he would remove VAT introduced a year before by the Nationalist government. He won an unexpected victory.  Once elected he also froze Malta’s European Union application and tried to get an agreement with the Union for ‘a partnership.’ The talks failed miserably. The situation was worsened when he forged ahead with removing VAT without having an idea of with what to replace it. Lino Spiteri, finance minister, resigned soon after claiming he was not consulted before the commitment to remove VAT.

 

Leo Brincat replaced Spiteri and introduced a system known as Customs and Excise Tax (CET) which proved to be awkward, full of loopholes and fated to fail. Which it did, after twelve months of televised meetings to explain it.

 

But CET was not the cause of Sant’s government’s untimely death. The final blow was

meted out by Dom Mintoff, never a fan of Alfred Sant, who in parliament repeatedly charged the government of losing its social soul. In 1997 Mintoff abstained on various votes in the budget debate. But the nail in Sant’s government came in 1998 with a motion for the government to hand over the Vittoriosa waterfront to a private consortium for development into a yacht marina and entertainment area. Mintoff saw red and warned he would vote against. In fact, he did vote against the motion and the government’s resolution was defeated.

On the morrow Alfred Sant held the famous Vittoriosa meeting and later he linked the Cottonera project to a vote of confidence in the government. He warned that if the motion was defeated he would dissolve parliament. A Labour Party journalist, a certain Joseph Muscat, penned and article ‘Better a day as a lion than 100 days as a sheep’ in which he argued that an early election would be a ‘win-win’ situation. It was not and Labour lost the September 1998 general elections, the EU referendum and the 2003 general election. Labour also lost, with a slight minority, the 2008 elections. Alfred Sant resigned and a certain journalist called Joseph Muscat took his place at the helm of the Labour Party.

After a millionaire glossy and smooth election campaign, Joseph Muscat was elected as Malta’s youngest ever prime minister. But trouble started brewing soon. An investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia started exposing corruption within a few months. His most famous and notorious scandals included the sale of passports with kickbacks, the Montenegro windfarm corrupt deal, ElectroGas and Socar. The assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia occurred while he was Prime Minister and there is also the Vitals Stewart hospital corrupt deal.

Though in 2019 Muscat was hyped for a European Union top post (even as successor to Donald Tusk as head of the European Council) his bid failed miserably because of his ruined image by the Caruana Galizia assassination and the erosion of the rule of law in Malta. In that same year Muscat reached his political rock bottom when he was awarded the ‘Man of the Year in Organised Crime and Corruption’ by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). Muscat joined Vladimir Putin and Ilham Aliyev as receivers of the award.

November saw his resignation as prime minister and earlier this year he became the first ever Maltese prime minister to have to face criminal charges in the Vitals Stewart corruption scandal over the ruse to sell public hospitals to an unknown private company. He will be charged in Court accused on money laundering, bribery and criminal association. If found guilty he will face prison sentences up to 18 years.

And the sun started to shine in January 2020, when Robert Abela took office as Malta’s 14th prime minister after the now notorious ‘diabolic pact.’ He was assisted to obtain the Labour leadership by none other than Joseph Muscat and his spouse. And for that he was, and still is,

committed to defend his predecessor even after Joseph Muscat has been charged for corruption and criminal association. Because of Muscat, Robert Abela launched an unprecedented attack on the Judiciary even calling them part of his imaginary ‘establishment.’ For this he was condemned by many, including NGOs, academics, law students, the civil society, unions, The Malta Chamber, the Malta Employers Association and many others, including the media. The latter has been under attack too as in Robert Abela’s mind it is also part of the ‘establishment’ (who or whatever that is). Yet faced with journalists about this crisis, Robert Abela simply answers “what crisis?”

We still have to see what will be the outcome of the latest crisis within a Labour government. There is no doubt that there will be repercussions which Robert Abela and his government will have to handle.

 

The first part of this article was published yesterday

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