Old habits die hard, as the Labour Party government is starting to prove with cronyism, inaction and petty attacks slowly beginning to resurface as seemingly standard procedure.
On becoming Prime Minister, Robert Abela was faced with a country in turmoil that required decisive and immediate action. Action which the new Prime Minister seemed to be taking. Key figures were unceremoniously replaced across various institutions as Abela repeatedly asked the public to judge his legislature on his actions rather than those of his predecessors.
This changing of the guard seemed opposed to the “continuity” promised by Abela during the election campaign but one that seemed to at least appease a large percentage of the population.
Abela also introduced sweeping changes to the police force that is already yielding major results; while putting massive resources to allow Malta to address some glaring issues in the enforcement of financial crime and pass a vital Moneyval test.
Malta passed the Moneyval test, and although greylisting by the FATF is possible, it looks like the action the country is taking is being recognised.
However, a year into his legislature and in the lead up to an impending election, change is starting to seem more and more like a cosmetic exercise with old habits slowly creeping back into the governments’ modus operandi.
The culture that allowed rampant corruption to fester and a woman to pay the ultimate price has not gone away to the scrap heap where it belongs.
For starters, the government whip and former Joseph Muscat attack-dog Glenn Bedingfield launched a scathing attack of Malta’s Standards Commissioner following the publication of several damning reports designed to keep MPs in line.
Bedingfield, who made his name through his vitriolic attacks of Caruana Galizia, knows this game well, as does Abela. Bedingfield’s comments were followed by usual choirboys and fake accounts, paving the way for Abela to outright question George Hyzler’s suitability for the role.
Perhaps, Abela and Bedingfield would much rather prefer yet another lackey designed to keep quiet and allow serious structural issues to go by unaddressed. Without a vigilant eye, the same old problems will continue from this administration to the next, our MPs will remain mediocre, and we will suffer as a result.
We need independent institutions for us to believe what institutions say, whether we like it or not. It becomes a very tiresome and frustrating task once the government starts dismissing their opinions as political. Civil servants, whether they’re PA case officers or the Standards Commissioner, need to operate without fear of partisan attacks to function.
Next, it was revealed that Adreana Zammit, the daughter of Jesmond Zammit, an advisor within Ian Borg’s ministry, was handed €108,542 in direct orders in 2020.
She started raking in the sums before she even graduated as a lawyer, spitting in the face of the many who have been forced to live on minimum wage with little hope for the future amid a major pandemic.
Zammit has been allowed a graceful exit and the people who hired her have escaped punishment. They’ll learn to be a little bit more discreet next time, like handing out a few consultancies and placing her on seldomly research boards, as they did with the Malta Developer Association’s new Director-General Deborah Schembri.
The issue is nothing new with Abela already being forced to rescind a dodgy contract handed to disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi soon after his resignation and another belonging Justyne Caruana’s intimate friend, Daniel Bogdanovic.
A few days later, local media houses came together under the wing of the Daphne Caruana Galizia foundation to lay bare Malta’s murky citizenship-by-investment scheme launched by Joseph Muscat.
The scheme and its questionable ethos are already subject to criminal proceedings thanks to former Prime Minister’s chief-of-staff Keith Schembri and Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna and a get-rich kickbacks scheme.
However, what the investigation has revealed is something all of us have already known. The scheme, which was seemingly set up to benefit the few, allowed questionable figures to acquire Malta’s powerful passport and gain unfettered access to most countries across the globe, with the aid of some shoddy oversight of course.
Still, the government continues to defend the program, reminding us once again that in supposedly patriotic Malta, our citizenship has a price. Pastizzi and some Red Bull might cover the cost.
Things then took a surreal turn when our Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia, the supposed beacon for progressive left-wingers in government, took to Twitter to engage in a spat with beloved satirical news site Bis-Serjeta – using awkward yo mamma jokes and libel threats to combat a platform who turns taking the piss out of politicians into high art.
Farrugia, armed with playground comebacks, knew what he needed to do. Out the author behind the platform and leave the party’s army of trolls to handle the rest.
Apologies mean little when you’re meant to be occupying a position of stature. It’s about time the Cabinet started acting like it – or maybe we’ll all start questioning whether they have the right “business IQ” to navigate the political economy.
Abela, it should be made absolutely clear, has made steady progress in areas where it counts.
The police seem to finally be somewhat independent and is tackling crime, even when it concerns members of the force and some of the most powerful people in the country.
He has removed controversial figures like Konrad Mizzi and Chris Cardona from the party – and introduced new faces like Miriam Dalli and Clyde Caruana to bring fresh impetus into the government without the baggage of the previous administration.
Still, he has been reluctant to action against people in government. Removing controversial figures are easy decisions in the wake of such damning allegations. However, Abela’s actions with regards to Rosianne Cutajar and Carmelo Abela have been far more tepid, suggesting that the Prime Minister will only act when his hand is forced.
Abela has also welcomed controversial figures with open arms, like Education Minister Justyne Caruana, whose estranged husband is believed to be a major leak in the Daphne Caruana Galizia investigation.
Caruana, who earned plenty under government contracts in her short stint out of Cabinet, has not returned Abela’s faith in kind – handing out a dodgy contract to her intimate friend, Daniel Bogdanovic.
The lack of action is exactly the kind of attitude which allowed corruption to infiltrate most government institutions.
It should be made clear that Abela has introduced necessary changes and improvements in Malta’s judicial appointments system, resources to fight financial crime, and rule of law concerns. However, most of them were forced upon the country with the threat of grey-listing and economic catastrophe.
Abela, who positioned himself as the continuity candidate, has shown a remarkable thirst for change. But a few superficial issues will not address the endemic problems in Malta.
The country is in desperate need to heal. A chasm has ripped open and the entire population deserves closure to this dark chapter to become the Malta we all know we can become. Abela is the Prime Minister of all the people and not of the party that elected him to power. We are all watching. Do not let the country down.
Is Abela doing enough to power through much-needed changes?