Egrant! Perhaps the single most read, spoken and hotly debated name (if we can even call it a name) these past two years or so.
In context what do we know about it that is certain? It was registered a few days after the 2013 general election together with at least two other companies. One was established for Konrad Mizzi and one for Keith Schembri.
And now it seems that Egrant, with respect to which the owner’s name could not be communicated by e-mail, unlike the others, was established for no one. At some point Brian Tonna claimed that Egrant was his, but that rather odd claim did not stand the test of time. We now have to believe that Egrant was established for fun, or perhaps for a fish called Wanda.
A proper perspective on the whole affair requires calm judgement and dispassionate analysis. In hindsight, and hindsight is all it can ever be, it was a risky move to give so much weight to that company, for at least three reasons.
Firstly, there was no ironclad proof, even if it has to be said that the circumstantial evidence was pretty convincing. So it was an allegation, not an accusation.
Secondly, in the light of the habit of the Muscat administration to tamper with our institutions it was perhaps not sensible to expect these same institutions to do their job and secure the evidence. I say this without referring to Magistrate Aaron Bugeja, whom I know – I am certain he is of the highest integrity. He did the absolute maximum he could have done in the circumstances with the tools, information, witnesses and documentation he had at his disposal.
Thirdly, from a human perspective it was not fair to make a family, the Muscat family, go through such an ordeal without 100 per cent ironclad proof.
It was an allegation with very strong circumstantial evidence and it should have stayed that way, with the emphasis being on what was beyond doubt, such as the Lands Authority scandal, the Cafe Premier scandal, the Identity Malta scandal, the Vitals scandal, the huge abuse of public monies and of the ‘person of trust’, the Tillgate and Hearnville scandals, the Enemalta contract etc. All those seemed to indicate the obvious with respect to Egrant, but the obvious does not always correspond with what an inquiry will determine.
Some context is needed however. Egrant was set up with the other two companies. It was the only one for which the service provider did not feel comfortable e-mailing the owner’s name to Mossack Fonseca. Hard to argue with the plausibility of suspicion in this respect.
On publication of the allegation, which in the UK would have seen Scotland Yard and the equivalent of Malta’s MFSA and FIAU descending with all their guns blazing on the suspect bank, here in Malta we witnessed the total inertia of the authorities, the crazy scenes of the bank chairman arriving in the night and later emerging with a bag, the mysterious private jet trip on that same night, the very late actions of the police the day after and eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, the request by the Prime Minister for an inquiry.
John Grisham would have been proud of that script, but apparently Agatha Christie would have too. Even harder to argue with the plausibility of suspicion in that respect.
As to the famous bag in the middle of the night, it should be observed that the documents of an offshore company would not be more than a couple of papers, so the concept that the bag needed to be bulging with papers is nonsense, as is the idea that the bank chairman was not seen loading files, etc. To place in context, all it required was a single A4 slim envelope to contain all the documents.
Of course, electronic records are a different matter, even if there is no obligation to have any such electronic records, so not finding electronic records may mean close to nothing.
In the light of all this context and perspective, a strategic decision was taken to use Egrant as an important electoral theme. Despite the misgivings I mentioned earlier, which I shared, it was probably the most logical thing to do, politically speaking. The decision was taken and endorsed and owned by all within the PN. Some did not even refer to it as an allegation, while others did, including myself. But irrespective of that, it was endorsed by all as part of the electoral strategy, and all circumstantial evidence pointed to it being a sensible and logical decision.
He spat and trampled on the dignity of the PN and all its voters
Some more perspective. We all recall the wrong strategic call that led to the contentious introduction of VAT just before the 1996 elections, leading to the unexpected PN defeat. We also recall Alfred Sant’s wrong strategic call when labelling Dom Mintoff a traitor, leading to the PL’s 1998 defeat, and Sant and Muscat’s wrong call in claiming that ‘Partnership won’ after the 2003 EU referendum, leading to the 2003 PL electoral defeat.
Strategic mistakes are committed, but in this case it cannot be said that what may now have become an Egrant strategic mistake caused an electoral defeat. Unlike in all the other cases mentioned, it was perfectly plausible for the Egrant inquiry to have concluded otherwise, so blaming the defeat on that strategic decision is contentious.
With all that context and perspective in mind, what else can one call Adrian Delia’s decisions and actions after the publication of the conclusions of the Egrant inquiry if not rash revenge, pure and unadulterated rash revenge, which besides being a sign of immaturity is also a classic sign of desperation, hardly characteristics one looks for in leadership.
Hardly a few hours had gone by from the publication of the inquiry’s conclusions when Delia, resembling a drooling hyena rather than an aspiring Prime Minister, gleefully swallowed Muscat’s clever hook and did several unthinkables in one short burst.
Firstly, he reduced himself to his direct political opponent’s obedient and accommodating lapdog, in the process humiliating the PN, democracy itself and of course himself. Secondly, he committed the exact same error he was attributing to Busuttil by accusing him of something without proof. Thirdly, he was forcing Busuttil to pay for a strategic decision that all had endorsed. Fourthly he spat and trampled on the dignity of the PN and all its voters. And finally he raised the suspicion in many, including many I have spoken to who backed him, that he is incapable of reasoning and taking decisions dispassionately and sensibly.
This was clearly nothing more than an attempt to pay Busuttil back for the latter’s actions during the PN leadership election process last year, during which, one should recall, Busuttil had advised Delia not to contest following the Commission’s report that had cast serious shadows on Delia’s suitability for leadership.
Using the Egrant conclusions for revenge purposes is unacceptable but above all highly irresponsible, not only because it is unfair but also because it is a direct insult to everyone in the PN.
With that infantile reasoning half the MPs, if not more, should go, many of Delia’s own henchmen too, and the list could go on and on. You do not fire a former leader of the party just because one of the strategic decisions was proven to be wrong, 15 months after. That is absolutely unbalanced behaviour, totally unbecoming of a PN leader and an aspiring Prime Minister to boot. No wonder Muscat and Labour are having a field day. I certainly cannot blame them. It is what the PN did after the equally unbalanced Sant decision to label Mintoff a traitor.
Where does the PN go from here? Well, it is becoming painfully clear that it is going absolutely nowhere right now. Trying to square a circle will never work and denying the obvious can only scare more people off. People need to understand this and above all the party’s councillors and members need to put the party’s and the country’s interests above their own, unless of course they wish to go down in history as the people who destroyed the party that won self-rule, independence, democracy and EU membership for our country.
The party needs balance, common sense, respect and maturity. It needs to believe in its leader and in its future. It needs change and it needs it fast. Recognise a train wreck when you see one and move on. Above all the PN needs credibility, which is rock-bottom right now and sinking by the minute.
David Griscti is a PN member for life and former president of the AZAD Foundation.
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