Alfred Sant was the only prime minister who really took the fight against “mafia tentacles” in Malta seriously unlike his three successors, Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo said in parliament on Tuesday.
Bartolo gave this scathing assessment during question time when he was asked for an evaluation of recent developments which have again placed corruption under the spotlight to the detriment of Malta’s reputation.
The foreign minister was visibly irked when asked by Opposition leader Adrian Delia if he had been aware of the controversial Montenegro deal which came to light following a joint investigation by Times of Malta and Reuters.
He insisted he only learnt about it “recently” and not during a Cabinet meeting held last November, as was reported in the media.
“There are not many people within the Opposition ranks who can lecture me on what is right, even though I have been speaking loud and clear for years,” he said.
He recounted that when, nine years ago, he used to sound warnings “on how former Malta Financial Services Authority chief Joe Bannister destroyed the country’s integrity”, he did not find the support of the Nationalist Party. Instead, he was attacked for tarnishing Malta’s reputation, he said.
“I spoke about these mafia tentacles in the right fora but, unfortunately, the last three prime ministers, not including Robert Abela, failed to take action. The only prime minister who really took up the fight seriously was Alfred Sant,” Bartolo said in parliament.
The last three Prime Ministers before Abela were Joseph Muscat, Lawrence Gonzi and Eddie Fenech Adami.
His remark was further testament to the strained relationship that Bartolo had with Abela's predecessor, Joseph Muscat, who was forced to resign late last year in the wake of the fallout from the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder investigation.
Though Bartolo's remarks might have been music to the ears of the Opposition, he soon threw cold water on the possibility of jumping ship.
While insisting he would take no lessons from the PN, Bartolo said that joining the Opposition in a bid to step up the fight against corruption would be tantamount of jumping “from the frying pan to the fire”.
Replying to a separate question from his shadow Carm Mifsud Bonnici, Bartolo said this fight should involve all strata of society and not just politicians. He said the legal profession, the police and even the Church had a major role to play to inculcate the right values.
“I am personally very sad that all this is happening during a year in which the Labour Party was meant to mark its centenary. I am certain the party founders would have never envisaged moving in such direction,” he said.
As for the Montenegro deal, Bartolo said he had never been to the Balkan country. However, he pointed out that there was no indication that Malta’s ambassador to Montenegro, Karl Izzo, was involved in any wrongdoing.