Resignations are a means of last resort in politics. However, they still happen, even in this country, though they are far from being in direct proportion to the many allegations made and shadows cast.
This legislature witnessed the resignation of a prime minister, cabinet ministers, junior ministers and even members of parliament from both sides of the House of Representatives.
Prime Minister Robert Abela was right when he said resignations hurt. But how could he have the cheek to add, in the same breath, that they reflect the culture of change brought about by his administration? It seems he forgot it was he himself who pledged ‘continuity’ when he took over from his disgraced predecessor.
The prime minister went on to rub salt into the wound by unashamedly declaring: “Since January 2020 we have brought in higher standards, a culture of change, something which the opposition never practised.”
Standards are set high when erring politicians immediately assume their responsibility and step down, being careful not to embarrass either the institution they form part of or their leader.
Two examples readily come to mind: the late Nationalist MP Lino Gauci Borda, in 1994, and former Labour minister Charles Mangion, in 1998.
Gauci Borda stepped down after a newspaper reported he had a UK investment account containing £48,000, which he had never declared for tax purposes.
He quickly accepted that, as a people’s representative, he had to promote the highest standards and pay the price, no ifs or buts.
Mangion resigned from justice minister after he inadvertently failed to inform cabinet before recommending a presidential pardon to a man convicted of drug possession.
It later transpired that neither the police nor civil servants had informed Mangion that the man had other pending criminal cases.
“I had to assume political responsibility for a mistake, even if made in good faith as was the case in this instance,” Mangion declared.
For the prime minister at the time, Alfred Sant, that was a “unique way” to show “how public and political accountability should be practised”.
“Despite the lies, the most important thing for me is respecting good governance. My party and country are bigger than me,” David Thake said just a few days ago when announcing his decision to step down as Nationalist MP.
For days, he had been defending himself after Times of Malta and MaltaToday reported that one of his companies owed €270,000 in unpaid VAT and another had failed to file audited accounts for 10 years running and also had to settle €550,000 in VAT.
True, delaying the payment of income tax and VAT is not uncommon in the business world. However, being an MP, Thake should have made it a point to lead by example and ensure he does not give his political adversaries a golden opportunity to hit when they deem fit.
Indeed, that is what they have done because there can be very little doubt that this was a leak from high up. May other such leaks follow.
Though not by design, his resignation has set standards too: defaulters in public life caught with their pants down must pay the ultimate price for their wrongdoing.
This applies to those lying about their assets or other matters, evading or avoiding tax, colluding with big business, abusing power, being chummy with unsavoury characters, promoting the culture of votes-for-favours…
It falls upon the prime minister to make it clear that he expects erring politicians to submit their resignations without undue delay. If that does not happen, it is his responsibility to wield the axe.
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