It should be a matter of concern for this country that the resignation of a prime minister in disgrace was marked by a celebration in his honour, rather than a political funeral.
Labour Party supporters openly wept on Friday as they turned up in droves for Joseph Muscat’s final speech as Labour leader. The Corradino sports pavilion, where it was held, was packed and overflowing. The atmosphere inside was akin that of a US-style convention to seal a presidential nomination.
Muscat himself displayed astounding hubris, with only a brief, indirect reference to the circumstances by which he brought about his own inglorious end. His apology for “whatever mistakes I made or were made by others” sounded hollow: if they were meant to convey contrition, they failed miserably.
Muscat was an outstanding party leader. With him at the helm, the Labour Party won 10 elections – local and general – and lost none. As prime minister, he piloted strong economic growth, turned the deficit into a surplus, created thousands of jobs and radically modernised Malta’s civil rights. Those achievements should be remembered with pride by the Labour Party, and indeed the country.
But Muscat brought about his own downfall – and eventual shame on the nation – when he permitted slippage in the rule of law. That slippage became a slide and then a headlong dive as state officials and businesspeople conspired to gorge themselves on suspicious tenders, high-value direct orders, doubtful appointments and dubious planning permits. Together, they have been sharing the spoils of impunity as Muscat turned a blind eye in blatant contravention of his earlier pledges of meritocracy, transparency and accountability. Now we know it was so much blah, blah, blah.
This sin of omission was best exemplified by his failure to take effective action in the wake of the Panama Papers revelation that his closest associates had set up secret companies in Panama and trusts in New Zealand. He failed to act again when it was revealed that those companies were allegedly to receive funds from another secret company, 17 Black. And yet again when the owner of that third secret company was identified as Yorgen Fenech, director of a company handed the controversial government contract to build and operate the power station.
Muscat was guilty not just of serious error of judgement but of persisting in that error despite being repeatedly warned of the potential dire consequences for party and government. He could argue that no evidence was produced that funds had changed hands. By doing so he implicitly and disingenuously likened politics to a court of law, which it is not, of course. Politics is based on perception and public trust – which Muscat has shattered multiple times.
Reputation is based on the same principles. Muscat’s inaction – ultimately giving rise to the perception that he had been protecting people with links to those involved in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder – has deeply undermined Malta’s image. That was forcefully shown when the European Parliament itself called on him to go.
It was not Caruana Galizia who brought down Muscat, but Muscat himself. She was but the brave messenger that he chose to ignore and vilify. She showed the world what he should have known, and possibly did, but did nothing about.
She was not the only one. Reports of alleged corruption and wrongdoing litter Muscat’s years in government. The authorities’ failure to properly investigate them allowed a laissez faire attitude to fester. Rule of law became a joke locally and an embarrassment internationally.
By staying on until he had no choice but to go, Muscat ignored the standards he expected of others and risked undermining his own economic achievements.
He also binned his legacy.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us