The Malta Independent 15 June 2024, Saturday
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TMIS Editorial: The beam in the PM’s eye

Sunday, 26 May 2024, 10:15 Last update: about 20 days ago

If he has not yet watched it, Prime Minister Robert Abela should find the time to see how his British counterpart Rishi Sunak spoke in the House of Commons last Monday following the publication of an inquiry into what has become known in the UK as the infected blood scandal.

Sunak did not attack the board of inquiry for publishing its report as an election was approaching. He did not say that the inquiry, which took six years to complete, had been specifically timed to conclude as he was preparing to call the vote. He did not say there was a hidden hand, or an establishment, that wanted to cause harm to his party.

When Sunak addressed Parliament last Monday in relation to the blood scandal, he must have known that, two days later, he was to announce the date when the British voters will choose their next government. And yet the British PM absorbed all the blame he could – even though he had not been born when thousands of people started being infected with tainted blood, which is believed to have caused at least 3,000 deaths. He acknowledged the responsibility he should shoulder, as the country’s PM, for mistakes that had been committed by others.

He acted as a prime minister of the whole country.

Sunak did not shield former PMs for their shortcomings. He spoke of a “day of shame for the British State”, offered an unequivocal apology for the failures, and did not defend the indefensible.   

That is how it should be.

Here in Malta, Prime Minister Abela acts as the main defence lawyer for his predecessor Joseph Muscat and others, who will be charged in court following the conclusion of a magisterial inquiry into a deal – now annulled – that had seen the transfer of three public hospitals to the private sector. He has offered no apology for the way the Labour government – under Muscat and now led by him – handled the issue and wasted 11 years of investment in health infrastructure, as highlighted to this newspaper last week by the president of the Medical Association of Malta, Martin Balzan. He has not acknowledged his and Muscat’s failings.

Abela just points his finger at the timing, forgetting how his own government programmed its goodies to coincide with the election campaign. And yet Abela, with a straight face, denies that there is a coincidence between their distribution and the election.

Speaking of timing, the agreement announced Friday with the Malta Union of Teachers also smacks of political convenience. Two scenarios are possible – either the government planned such a conclusion to coincide with the election, or else the government was forced to accept the MUT’s terms so as to avoid industrial action, possibly a teachers’ strike, on the eve of an election.

On other matters, PM Abela blames everyone but himself for all that is wrong in this country. It is never his or his government’s fault.

It is always the Nationalist Party, the judiciary, civil society, NGOs, the media, the self-invented establishment – now, according to Abela, it even has a branch in Brussels – and everyone else who is culpable.

Just this past week, he denounced the PN for “persecuting” (his words) around 100 families who had been “shamefully manipulated” (a magistrate’s words) into changing their addresses to Siggiewi, even though the block they were to reside in was still uninhabitable.

Twenty-two magistrates – not one, 22 – came to the same conclusion: that an abuse had been committed. An investigation was also ordered into how this had happened and who was behind it, and yet all the PM could say – instead of admitting that it had been an attempt to influence the local council election – was that the PN was inflicting “martyrdom” on the affected families.

Is PM Abela for real? Doesn’t he realise that by justifying what is wrong – in this case electoral fraud – he is an accomplice in the wrongdoing?

That, then, he irresponsibly states that the Nationalist Party is laying a trap for supporters of Joseph Muscat who are being encouraged to flock to Valletta on Tuesday in solidarity with the former prime minister who will be accused of criminal charges – a first in Maltese history – is almost beyond belief.

Such a reckless statement, coming from a head of government, can only increase tension, and through it Abela has once again shown that his main interests are his party’s, not the country’s. He is pre-empting the possibility that there could be trouble in Valletta on Tuesday, and he is preparing his excuses by already blaming the PN for what could take place. In a way, he is almost savouring unrest, as then he will say it was the PN’s fault.

While, on the one hand, he tells his supporters to be calm and not to be provoked, in other instances he is the one who is fomenting division.

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