Something is quite amiss when a minister gets elected as party deputy leader with a stunning majority only to then get quizzed by the press not about his plans for the party but about his company in Panama.
Konrad Mizzi won 96.5 per cent of the vote from Labour Party delegates on Thursday, just 24 hours after news emerged that he has a company in the tax haven. Clearly, the revelation did not dent his standing within the party, quite the opposite it appears.
The initial news was that Dr Mizzi had set up a trust in New Zealand with his wife and children as beneficiaries. But things took an even more shadowy direction when it turned out that the trust owns a company in Panama, a country blacklisted by the European Commission for its lack of transparency in taxation matters.
The minister has not revealed the name of the Panama company nor the names of the trustees administering his wealth. He gave his assurance that the company and the trust did not yet hold any assets, and that he would disclose them all while paying all taxes due.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has stood by his minister but his discomfort when faced by the press was evident. His line is that because Dr Mizzi intends to include the trust and the company in his next declaration of assets in Parliament, then all is fine. It is anything but fine.
For all his promises of transparency and good governance, Dr Muscat does not see the glaring contradiction between Dr Mizzi’s antics and the electoral manifesto that brought him to power. Disappointingly, neither do party delegates, who have done the PL a great disservice in giving Dr Mizzi such a strong endorsement.
That a government minister opens a company in Panama, of all places, is a scandal. Not because there is any evidence of illegality or corruption. It is, at this stage, all about fundamental political ethics. Panama is associated with concealment and such behaviour would just not be acceptable in a democracy.
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil raised pertinent questions in Parliament, saying the trust in New Zealand and company in Panama were not set up for an income so paltry as a minister’s wage but to handle millions. The response he got was a challenge to repeat those words outside the House. Dr Busuttil deserves answers, because what he said reflects what many are inevitably thinking.
The PN has listed all the multi-million projects in which Dr Mizzi was involved. They include the sale of the former BWSC power station, a 33 per cent stake in Enemalta and the hospitals. The questions only follow naturally.
If Dr Mizzi declares all his assets, as he promises to do, there is no logic behind his choice of Panama. Why select a place that excels in secrecy when he intended to include the company’s assets in his declaration? Another, inevitable, question.
He says he was following financial advice but he forgets that he is a politician first. The services he has sought abroad are also available in Malta. This country promotes itself as a financial services centre and yet one of its most prominent government ministers snubs it and opts for elsewhere.
The cloud of suspicion which he has brought upon himself will not go away. It will detract his focus from the essential sectors under his responsibility, health and energy, something the country can ill-afford. As for his new party responsibilities, that was the delegates’ choice, and they must live with it.
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