I voted for Joseph Muscat in 2013 because his vision resonated with me. It was decisive, liberal and economically convincing. As a journalist, I had watched the silent revolution he led within the Labour Party, and I was excited to see it extended to the rest of the country.
Judged purely on results, it was the right decision. The government delivered some serious achievements through hard work, smart management and radical thinking. In just four years, we have record unemployment, lower electricity bills, and an unprecedented surplus of €100 million. Enemalta is no longer in debt, investment is flooding in, and Malta really is the envy of Europe – even when it comes to civil liberties. The transformation has been phenomenal.
So up until a couple of months ago, I would have gladly voted Labour again, even if just to reward the government for delivering most of what it promised and injecting a get-shit-done attitude across the public sector.
But too much has changed in the past few weeks to stay silent and pretend everything is normal.
Today, there is no longer any semblance of the decisive, liberal or economically convincing Prime Minister we elected four years ago. Instead, Joseph Muscat has stubbornly refused to take a decision that would have been obvious to him back in 2013, systematically shut down the press he once courted, and placed Malta’s major economic pillars in serious jeopardy.
Labour will be re-elected on Saturday, possibly by another historic landslide victory. But make no mistake about it, this will be at our peril.
The sad truth is that Joseph Muscat’s Malta Tagħna Lkoll vision is now, at best, compromised beyond redemption. At worst, it has been exposed as a guise for the pre-meditated looting of this island nation’s assets.
“The sad truth is that Joseph Muscat’s Malta Tagħna Lkoll vision is now, at best, compromised beyond redemption. At worst, it has been exposed as a guise for the pre-meditated looting of this island nation’s assets.”
It is compromised beyond redemption because too much needs to be done to restore faith in the Prime Minister, the people around him, the police force, and Malta’s standing as a stable and reputable place to do business. And it’s looking increasingly unlikely that the many allegations being made can all be proven false.
What is indisputable is that the two people closest to the Prime Minister opened secretive company structures in Panama, only five days after they won the election. They also tried to open bank accounts for monthly deposits of €20,000 and €50,000 respectively. Those revelations alone were unacceptable by the Malta Tagħna Lkoll standard – the one that fought against secret pay rises, Tonio Fenech’s clock and Austin Gatt’s Swiss account.
The secret Panama companies have brought into serious question the motivations behind the many government deals these two individuals struck – for that alone, Joseph Muscat should have kicked them out immediately.
Instead, Muscat said he needed Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri for big national projects that had to be delivered. Yet he kept them on, even after the projects were concluded and even after calling an election.
As more evidence emerges, and as Muscat continues to refuse interviews by the independent press, the Prime Minister has become even less credible in his defence. His explanations have worn thin, but the allegations have only thickened.
Today, irrespective of whether Muscat (or his wife) owns Egrant, there are now at least four reports by the country’s Financial Analysis Intelligence Unit (FIAU) which add huge credibility to claims of something deeply sinister behind the Malta Tagħna Lkoll facade.
We’re not talking a lack of transparency and meritocracy here.
The big implication is that a group of friends and businessmen put their money together to take over a political party, fund a winning campaign, and then set up international offshore structures to facilitate bribery, corruption and/or money laundering on an international scale.
“The big implication is that a group of friends and businessmen put their money together to take over a political party, fund a winning campaign, and then set up international offshore structures to facilitate bribery, corruption and/or money laundering on an international scale.”
Four magistrates are now investigating different aspects of these complex and widespread allegations. We could have waited for the outcome of these inquiries before rushing to conclusions, but Muscat called a snap election.
By doing so, he conditioned the country’s press to create an artificial sense of balance. He added pressure on the magistrates investigating. He distracted the Opposition with the shortest campaign possible. And he forced the electorate to take a gut decision before the rule of law was allowed to run its course.
We could choose to believe that the Energy and Health Minister Konrad Mizzi set up a company in Panama to hold a property in London which he was trying to sell.
We could choose to believe that the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri needed his network of offshore structures just because that’s what businessmen do.
But even the most naive of interpretations would still lead to an ugly conclusion: these two men created tax-dodging structures despite their sworn duty to defend the national interest. That alone should make them ineligible to govern, which makes Muscat’s insistence to stand by them all the more questionable.
We could also choose to re-elect them in the naive hope that it will keep the country’s economic momentum going. But too much has happened for things to go back to normal and re-electing Labour would only make things worse in the long run.
How can Joseph Muscat discipline his Cabinet, his parliamentary group, or even anybody else in the public sector, with these two men by his side?
Why should ordinary citizens pay our taxes when people in Castille get away with this?
How can the Prime Minister defend our economic pillars which depend on strict regulation, when he has become a symbol of weak enforcement?
And how can he rebuild trust in the institutions tasked with clearing his name when he cannot clean up Castille?
The bottom line is that the momentum which the country gained over the past four years will be lost once Muscat is re-elected.
From day one of a new legislature, the Prime Minister will be forced to spend his time defending his government against ever-escalating allegations of corruption. He will have to defend Malta’s key industries despite not having the credibility to do so. And his party will eventually start to catch on that the end is nigh.
“From day one of a new legislature, the Prime Minister will be forced to spend his time defending his government against ever-escalating allegations of corruption. He will have to defend Malta’s key industries despite not having the credibility to do so. And his party will eventually start to catch on that the end is nigh.”
So where does that leave voters?
We are like kids who just discovered our father has been cheating on our mother and lying to us about it. We may one day learn to forgive the hero we once thought could do no wrong. But we cannot pretend it never happened. We cannot help him get away with it. Even if we think it would protect our mother in the short term, we know the long-term consequences would be much worse.
The coalition may not be as decisive, liberal or economically convincing as Labour was in 2013. But it is much more all of those things than Labour is today.
As long as Joseph Muscat is Prime Minister, Malta Tagħna Lkoll is dead.
But if those who still believe in it, fight for it at every election, we will eventually get there.
The alternative, is giving it up forever.