There’s betrayal and then there’s betrayal. One means letting the side down through carelessness or a fit of madness. The other is systemic betrayal of the entire project, the destruction of its reason for being.

Among the ways of reacting to having betrayed others: impenitence, regret and remorse. Regret is being sorry you failed your side. Remorse is shame that you betrayed yourself as well as others. It’s possible to regret only that you’ve been caught; remorse always involves disappointment with yourself, the recognition you should have known better.

During the Joseph Muscat years, betrayal by corruption was systemic. Castille, where the big cheeses presided, was where most maggots wriggled.

On what we see so far, Keith Schembri was not what we were told, a self-sacrificing public servant; he was the grand vizier of financial vice. Konrad Mizzi was not the mandarin of high management but the satsuma of low sleaze.

Those notorious ministers of previous administrations, guilty of skimming cream off public contracts, look like quaint dairymaids in comparison. Schembri is charged with raking in exponentially larger sums.

On the current evidence, he and his cronies expected to sweep the table every time. Did they likewise sweep all before them in those several other shadowy deals? On the pretext of building up public assets, did they strip them? Did they tie an albatross around the neck of future generations where vital sectors like health and energy could no longer be secure? We have every reason to fear the worst.

Courts decide criminal responsibility but transparency and reputation are public criteria and they have economic consequences. Even if nothing criminal is proven, Schembri and cronies operated using the hallmarks of money laundering. By itself, it damaged Malta’s reputation and is still exacting a terrible international price.

These were not the actions of a few. It required a small army of collaborators: political appointees on boards that adjudicated contracts, officers that decided investigations and ministers who should have smelled the rat colony.

On top of the heap was Muscat. He not only did nothing in the face of the mounting evidence. He protected Schembri, saying he was off-limits. He vouched for his integrity. He mobilised Labour activists and the base to defend him.

By any definition, this was systemic betrayal. Even if Muscat’s fault is only negligence, it was consistently gross negligence. The corruption targeted public assets of strategic importance. They were assets in which past Labour governments had made signature investments. The pillaging damaged Labour’s past and future legacies.

It’s this betrayal of the entire project that Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca has in mind when she says Labour owes an apology.

Enter Labour deputy leader, Daniel Micallef, who makes a mockery of the demand. First, he twists what she said.

Micallef said Labour’s foundational principles are honourable and so are its thousands of activists, as though to demand an apology is to blame either. Coleiro Preca wants an apology precisely because those principles and activists have been betrayed.

A proper apology is not offered on behalf of the crooks, who need to face justice. It’s offered by those who vouched for the crooks and those who enabled them- Ranier Fsadni

It was the Labour machine that dragged those principles and activists into the sleaze of Panamagate, when its officials, like Micallef himself, appealed to them while gaslighting those demanding public action. The party decision-makers used the symbolic capital of May Day to rally the party base in defence of Schembri and Mizzi; they connived to make criticising the Panama Gang sound like disloyalty to principle and history.

Second, Micallef minimises the betrayal. He says Labour is humble enough to offer an apology (actually, he said it was humble enough to demand one but, presumably, that was a lapse). He suggests an apology would be a sign of Labour’s virtue; but an apology is needed to acknowledge the utter failure of its top politicians to stop wrongdoing.

By referring to “those who feel hurt” he makes the injury sound subjective and limited to some people, not all. Yet, the entire public is a victim of corruption. It’s not a matter of feeling hurt, as though the problem is oversensitivity. It’s a question of demanding accountability.

And by saying that the corruption involves only the misdeeds of a few, he ignores the many who needed to close an eye to what the relative few were evidently up to.

Even if the entire top echelons of the party were genuinely bamboozled, they would owe the country an apology and Labour supporters an extra one: the country for the harm it suffers, the activists and voters for the additional energy and support they gave to a fraudulent cause. When you vouch for someone’s trustworthiness, you take responsibility for what they do.

If they were really all bamboozled, however, you have to wonder if they’re up to running a country that needs to be secure against all kinds of rogue agents using every means to disguise their wicked schemes.

Many critics are saying they wouldn’t want an apology anyway since it won’t wipe the slate clean or undo the damage. True, though that’s not why an apology is necessary.

A proper apology is not offered on behalf of the crooks, who need to face justice. It’s offered by those who vouched for the crooks and those who enabled them. It’s offered to own up to their part in the mess, to show a sense of responsibility, not just regret but also remorse.

Micallef did none of these things. He didn’t offer an apology. He minimised what happened. He’s made things worse. Someone who speaks of “not minding” offering an apology suggests he sees nothing wrong with humouring a few democratic hypochondriacs, even if there’s nothing to feel really contrite about.

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