If Robert Abela expects to be convincing when saying he is seeking to reform this country, he must discontinue the ‘continuity’ he spoke about when he accepted Joseph Muscat’s poisoned chalice.
As a fish rots from the head down, both as prime minister and as leader of the country’s largest political party, he must do some serious soul-searching, walk the talk and ensure the country and all its institutions are firmly back on track.
It was 22 long months ago when he spoke about continuity. A devastating pandemic has since strained the country’s strong economic performance.
Disturbing details on how Muscat failed to defend good governance from greedy businessmen and allowed the institutions to be hijacked, leading to a collapse in the rule of law and a culture of impunity, surfaced and continue to emerge.
All in all, bar some shaky moments, Abela handled the pandemic fallout well. Businesses were supported, unemployment kept in check and the health sector given all the support it needed.
The same cannot be said for the political situation Abela inherited. Given his proximity to the seat of power, he must have been aware that the Augean stables were dirty, though he can be given the benefit of the doubt that he was not fully aware of the extent.
If that is the case, Abela should have been far more resolute and ruthless in “changing what needs to be changed”, as he had promised.
This country recently commemorated the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a journalist who was always vocal about state capture, the corruption of governance and the demolition of the rule of law.
The cowards reacted by hiring hitmen to shush her up for good. What they did, however, was give her a much stronger voice and platform, ruining Muscat and his cronies in the process.
There are some ways in which, at least on the surface, Abela appears to have departed from Muscat’s times and ways. While there does seem to be an attempt to tackle and reform rule of law, beyond the cosmetics, there remain many instances where his administration seems to be a diluted version of the previous one.
Malta’s main employers’ bodies have sounded a serious warning, urging the government to stop absorbing more private-sector workers into State entities, as the general election looms.
Only the politically blinkered fail to realise that Konrad Mizzi continues to be defended by his former colleagues in parliament. The appointment of cronies to delicate positions is a practice Muscat excelled in.
The public broadcaster is still captured by the political party in power and falls under a minister who has a very grave shadow hanging over his head.
High-ranking police officers favoured for promotion by the previous commissioner over other seemingly more deserving candidates are empowered to give orders on who should be investigated, prosecuted or go scot-free.
The ill-treatment of migrants in distress is another reminder of the Muscat era, as is the ombudsman’s repeated reference to unregulated lobbying, lack of transparency and accountability. We still keep reading reports of businessmen close to the Labour Party benefiting handsomely from government contracts. Abela may have decided to await the outcome of the election, hoping a strong vote and direct popular mandate would make him stronger.
But did he factor in the possibility that some of the millstones around his neck may also become stronger too?
Abela has still to prove he is prime minister of Malta, and not just the leader of the Labour Party.
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