The Malta Independent 15 June 2024, Saturday
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Robert Abela's statements are 'verging on the despotic', Adrian Delia says

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 26 May 2024, 08:00 Last update: about 20 days ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela's statements since the conclusion of the Vitals inquiry, which subsequently saw charges filed against current and former politicians, are verging on the despotic, PN MP Adrian Delia told The Malta Independent on Sunday.
Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his former chief of staff Keith Schembri, former Minister Konrad Mizzi, former Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne and Governor of the Central Bank Edward Scicluna are among those against whom criminal charges were filed in court in connection to the hospitals
deal.

They will be charged in court, for the first hearing, on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The hospitals deal saw the transfer of three public hospitals to be run by the private sector. It was rescinded by a court of law in 2023, in a judgment which mentioned fraud, and the decision was confirmed in a judgement by the Court of Appeal that mentioned collusion.

Following the news that the inquiry was concluded in April, Abela questioned its timing being so close to the upcoming EU Parliament elections in June, and raised doubts about the inquiry process. He said that the conclusion of the inquiry so close to the election was aimed to cause harm to the Labour Party.

He has since been accused of attacking the judiciary with the statements he has made, with many different organisations, including employers, students and civil society warning about the dangers of such attacks on the judiciary. Abela’s comments about some journalists, tying them to the establishment” – who Abela accuses as working against Labour – has also resulted in an outcry against his behaviour.

Asked about the statements made by Prime Minister Abela and his actions since the conclusion of the inquiry, Delia described them as dangerous. "If I have to use adjectives like haphazard and desperate or panicked, I would be using words usually used within the realm of political debate. But in this instance it is much worse than that, this is dangerous. We are playing with the delicate balance of the separation of powers. Having the head of government, who is your prime minister, who is the prime minister of every Maltese and Gozitan citizen, attacking another institution, attacking the courts, attacking the media, attacking students, attacking NGOs, is verging on the despotic. This is dangerous. Robert Abela got caught up in a pact with the devil, a term that he himself had coined," Delia said.

As for what he believes Abela needs to do from this point on, Delia said that Abela "needs to understand that he is a prime minister of a country and not a leader of a political party. He needs to understand that we are not here to ascertain his survival, but the wellbeing of a country. He needs to understand that this is not a game of ploys, tactics and manipulation, but the democracy and freedom of our country".

Asked whether the statements Abela has made about the inquiry are aiding those who are facing accusations in court, he said that if he were a defence lawyer of anyone charged, he would use a declaration by the prime minister. "Wouldn't you?"

Turning to Joseph Muscat, Delia said that the former prime minister "is evidently trying to obtain a trial by the people. Instead of waiting for a process in the court of law, the terminology in the appeals he is making is to have the people decide for themselves, and the whole Labour Party is doing that (...) This is a very dangerous game".

As Opposition Leader, Delia had filed the court case that resulted in the revocation of the hospitals deal last year. "When all this started taking place, I had highlighted that there is both political responsibility as well as legal responsibility and consequences. I had called for responsibility to be shouldered at the time, around five years ago, and I had also taken action in so far as the recovery of the hospitals and the recission of the pertinent agreements and contracts."

That is what the law had permitted him to do as a Parliamentarian at the time, he said.

"In parallel to civil consequences, when there is an action that carries both a civil and criminal breach, there are separate proceedings under our law. What we are seeing happening now is the continuity of what was originally initiated by Repubblika, in so far as the magisterial inquiry is concerned." He said that subsequently, people, including those who had or have public posts, face charges in court.

"While the government seems to be on a wordspree saying that these are only allegations and everybody is presumed innocent, (which is) true, the government seems to forget that there is already a judgement by the Court of Appeal showing that the biggest fraud Malta had ever seen has taken place."

The judgement of the Court of Appeal is final, he said. "So we know there was fraud, we know that more than €400m was stolen from the people. Now we are going to witness the part of the consequences which relate to the criminal charges pertaining thereto."

He noted that what is happening now is the initiation of another stage. "But at least there is the sense that there aren't two weights, two measures (...) at least the sense that politicians are also subject to the law of the land."

 

Faith in the judiciary

Asked whether he has concerns regarding the prosecution of the cases, given that the Nationalist Party had called for the Attorney General's resignation in the past, he noted that he himself had won a case against the former Attorney General. "I had filed a Constitutional case which I had won on appeal for a breach of human rights by the Attorney General of Malta. This was incredulous, the Attorney General breached the fundamental human rights of the Leader of the Opposition at the time," he said, in what was reference to the case where he won the right to be given a full copy of the Egrant inquiry.

"Our position today is to declare our faith, support in, and protection of, the judiciary. We cannot have one arm of the state attacking one of the other branches, because that is an exercise in degenerating democracy. It is wrong for Prime Minister Abela to say there are checks and balances in the sense that the executive has to sanction what the courts do. It is the other way around and it is the courts' job to sanction what the executive does. Our position as an Opposition today is that we burden with responsibility, not only the Attorney General, but also the Commissioner of Police, with the full responsibility of ensuring that now everything within the parameters of the law has to be done to ascertain that the judicial process is handled rigorously and comprehensively."

Muscat has claimed that his fundamental rights were breached as he wasn't questioned prior to being charged. Prime Minister Abela had raised questions about this happening to some of the people who are also accused. Delia stated that he "does not understand there to be any fundamental human right which establishes that particular procedure. Obviously, if there is a query to the Constitutional court, then whatever the court decides, the court decides, but in my mind there isn't such a right at that stage".

 

Muscat ‘using the language of threats’

Muscat had also said that the current situation is not only an Egrant 2, but worse, and that it would lead to breaking the PN. "I think that Joseph Muscat forgets that he was the one shouting out that the Nationalist Party was negative and that he was positive, as the words he is using now are that he is ready to fight, that he will wear the gloves, go into the ring, that he will bring not just an earthquake but a tsunami. He is using the language of threats, the language of violence, the language of arrogance. I'm not someone who likes playing with adjectives, but the language being used by Joseph Muscat is very evidently fanning the flames of tribalism, civil unrest and political play at a very low level."

There have been calls for Muscat's supporters to hold a demonstration in Valletta on the date of his first sitting, on Tuesday. Asked whether he expects trouble, Delia said: "I certainly hope not. Everyone is free to demonstrate, everyone is free to protest, speak out and march within the parameters of the law. We are a civil society where I expect to respect each others' ideas and beliefs, even if you don't agree.” He expressed his hope that there won't be trouble and said “we will not utter one word to fan any more fires of trouble".

Recently Health Minister Jo-Etienne Abela unveiled a masterplan for the Gozo General Hospital and The Malta Independent on Sunday last week also revealed that the minister held a meeting with Mater Dei Hospital staff where he detailed the short-, medium- and long-term plans to increase the capacity of Mater Dei hospital by 600 beds.

"These are the projects that we have already paid for through our nose, correct? This is the new hospital that had to be built in Gozo with 450 beds, correct? This is the increase of more than 400 beds that we were expecting in Malta, albeit at the St Luke's site, now being proposed at Mater Dei. PM Abela speaks about the timeliness of a magisterial inquiry, then he doesn't speak about the timeliness of the all of a sudden massive investment being banded around on the eve of an election to tell us that what we had paid for before is actually now going to start being contemplated. I take that with a pinch of salt."

He said that the government had messed up big time and mentioned the collusion highlighted by the Court of Appeal. "Let's ensure that going forward this does not happen again and involve all shareholders. We have nothing except a fresh promise with a couple of photomontage pictures. I feel no need to say anymore before I see some seriousness coming out of all this."

 

‘Surreal’ that Edward Scicluna hasn’t resigned

While Chris Fearne had stepped down as Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister, Edward Scicluna has not stepped down as Governor of the Central Bank. Asked about the impact of Scicluna not resigning, Delia said that it is "close to becoming, to use what Chris Fearne once used on another issue years back, 'irreparable damage'". He said that the Governor of the Central Bank also sits on the Board of Governors of the Malta Financial Services Authority and will also attend meetings of the European Central Bank (ECB).

On the ECB meetings, Delia said Scicluna "would be attending those meetings as the Governor of the Central Bank of Malta, with the Maltese flag on his arm".

"Companies going to the MFSA to register to do business in Malta and create a structure, need to go through due dilligence. If you were to go and set up a company or were to have a position and have this list of allegations to answer for, you wouldn't pass that due dilligence."

"It is surreal that out of decency he doesn't step down at least to have the dignity to say that the position of the Governor of the Central Bank has to be irreproachable. That is what he needs to do. Even for not doing that he is at fault."

 

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