For years, as one scandal stacked up on top of the other, we were told that bad behaviour was not enough to resign.

When Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri were caught with offshore structures, Labour said there was nothing untoward. They had not committed a crime, they said.

Then, when allegations were backed by documents, we were told media reports are not the same as criminal investigations.

Now, investigations have led to the attorney general and police commissioner filing criminal charges against top government members, following the outcome of a magisterial inquiry. And Labour has, predictably, shifted the goalposts once again.

Now that those institutions have moved against them, they tell us the system they have controlled for a decade is rotten

Chris Fearne, we are told, should not have resigned as deputy prime minister and minister, despite being accused by prosecutors of having committed fraud. The bar has shifted: now, only a conviction is grounds for resignation.

Fearne is widely respected and considered to be one of Abela’s most capable ministers. His 11-year run as a junior minister and minister will most likely be treated positively by the passage of time. Many say they cannot believe he committed crimes while in office and will vouch for his integrity.

All that is irrelevant at this moment in time.

In a normal democracy, Fearne’s resignation would be a given. There is no conceivable way in which a sitting member of government’s executive can operate while also being accused of having defrauded the people and government he works for. In a normal democracy, the government would be taking a good introspective look and decide whether it can continue operating knowing the litany of serious scandals it is facing. But we know by now that our government believes crimes can be eradicated by popular mandate.

Just listen to the narrative of Abela and Labour MPs talking to reporters on Saturday.

Fearne’s move to step down was lauded by most of society. Finally, many said, someone implicated in this sorry mess had done the right thing. As the Malta Chamber succinctly noted, other politicians should learn from his example.

The irony is that pushback against Fearne’s decision came from his own boss and colleagues.

Prime Minister Robert Abela publicly asked him to reconsider the decision. Jonathan Attard went on the radio to say Fearne should not have resigned. It is extraordinary to have a Prime Minister and Justice Minister, who are incidentally both lawyers, say that criminal charges are not grounds for resignation.

Or rather: it would be extraordinary, were it not for the Abela government’s panicked and vicious response to the Vitals inquiry fallout.

Following Joseph Muscat’s lead, Abela has directly targeted a magistrate. He has implied that her report was politically motivated, while in the same breath claiming to have not read that report.

He has said far less about the decision, made by the attorney general and police commissioner, to act on the magistrate’s conclusions by filing criminal charges against those allegedly involved in the hospitals fraud.

Both the attorney general and police commissioner are appointed by Abela. Are they also part of the “establishment” that the prime minister and his minister claim are out to harm Labour?

When media exposés were ignored by investigators, or prosecutors chose not to act on the advice to prosecute key people linked to the Labour Party, Abela and his predecessor told us that we should “allow the institutions to work”.

Now that those institutions have moved against them, they tell us that the system – the system they have controlled for a decade – is rotten.

These are playground tactics, not politics.

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