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frank_psaila
Frank Psaila

Abela’s failure defines Muscat’s politics

Joseph Muscat kicked Toni Abela ‘upstairs’ so as to rid himself of a critical voice within the PL executive, and promoted Konrad Mizzi, a man who deserved to be sacked on the spot

frank_psaila
Frank Psaila
23 March 2016, 8:02am
The last thing I would have expected a week ago was to end up defending Labour deputy leader [technically, he still is] Toni Abela. I’m not saying that Dr Abela gave a good show. Of course not. But far more deserving candidates for the collective frustration, following his failure in Brussels last Monday, are lurking unnoticed, blaming the PN for “working against Malta’s interest”.

Labour is panicking and there is no better way to assuage their sense of failure than to heap blame on their political rivals. 

Monday’s grilling was horrible to watch; as though you were watching someone accelerating the wrong way down a motorway. In free fall without a parachute, it couldn’t be more of a mess, but it was bound to happen.

Things started to go badly awry the moment he entered that room. He stumbled badly as soon as the first question was asked. 

But let’s pause for a moment and instead of joining what increasingly sounds like a mob lynching, put things into perspective.

Toni Abela did not have the necessary experience for the European Court of Auditors.  That’s a given. Not that he’s incompetent. Abela is a seasoned lawyer, and (one of the very few) well-read Maltese politicians.

However, that does not make him eligible to be a member in the European Court of Auditors. He never held public office, and has no experience in budgetary and auditory matters. He is, by the standards of the post for which he was nominated, inexperienced.

Abela had another massive hurdle. His party in government is flat on its back – mired in serious allegations of corruption and wrongdoing. Minister Konrad Mizzi’s and Keith Schembri’s shell companies in EU-blacklisted Panama, made it to the international press.

Toni Abela, for those who know him well, could vouch for his general honour and integrity of character, couldn’t argue that his party in government of which he was a second-in-command, had taken bold decisions on allegations of corruption involving senior party and government members.

He was not entirely to blame. When the Panama scandal broke out, instead of sacking Konrad Mizzi, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat nominated Toni Abela for the Court of Auditors and replaced him with Konrad Mizzi; basically, ‘kicking’ Abela ‘upstairs’ – so as to rid himself of a critical voice within the PL executive, and promoting a man who deserved to be sacked on the spot the moment the Panama shell-company scandal broke out.

The Prime Minister did not even have the decency to wait for Toni Abela’s Brussels hearing before replacing him with Konrad Mizzi. 

I have no doubt that the Prime Minister thought that Abela would make it through the Budgetary Committee hearing stage, but either failed to think about the disastrous consequences the messy local scenario would have on his nominee’s hearing (on top of that was the ‘cocaine’ case allegations, which came back to haunt Abela), or he just couldn’t give a damn.

Alternatively, he’s short sighted – and is happy to be so; which, I think, is the case. He won an election by over-promising before it finally caught up with him. Abela’s horrible show in Brussels defined Muscat’s way of doing politics: Cobble something together to get over the line and when it hits a brick wall, blame your opponent.

What happened in Brussels was a blow to Malta’s reputation but Toni Abela is not entirely to blame. It was horrible to watch, and seemed cruelly unfair. He shouldn’t have been placed in that position in the first place. Given the necessary backing from his party leader, Abela should have been asked to stay on as PL deputy leader and initiate a much needed process of returning the party to its well meaning supporters.

Toni Abela has what it takes to reach out to the disgruntled Labourites who, according to polls published by this newspaper, are on the increase. The seasoned lawyer, aside from his colourful personality, is a social democrat at heart who believes in the core principles of the Maltese Labour party.

Unfortunately, for him, his party leader would have none of that. Konrad Mizzi was handpicked by Joseph Muscat and served him well in the run-up to the 2013 general election. He is now his greatest liability – but, strangely, the Prime Minister continues to stand by his man and instead of showing him the door appoints him as his party’s deputy leader.

Toni Abela had amended the Labour Party’s statute to bar the party’s deputy leader from contesting the general election. Joseph Muscat changed that overnight, clearing the way for a yes-man.

Whether Toni Abela will seek greener pastures is yet to be seen – it is unlikely that Abela will return to his profession, or to the Labour Party for that manner. In his typical manner, Abela’s first reaction was “it’s all over for me. Leave me alone”. Others, in his position, would be baying for their pound of flesh.

He was let down by the people who should have never ever placed him in that awkward position. Should Abela decide to fade into political oblivion, it would be another blow for well-meaning Labour Party supporters who, rightly, feel that Labour has sold its soul.

 

***

 

It is screamingly obvious that there is an air of discontent within the Labour Party. 2016 is, by the looks of it, an annus horribilis for the Labour Party in government. Veteran Labour MP Evarist Bartolo has shown signs of discontent through subtle messages on his facebook page. Bartolo is a convinced social democrat. Probably, (and hopefully) Bartolo is being less subtle at high profile meetings held at the Labour Party headquarters, and during cabinet meetings.

I imagine that the same could be said about Labour backbencher Godfrey Farrugia – who lost his health portfolio to Konrad Mizzi.

Other Labour Party stalwarts, including popular Luqa MP Charles Mangion, and Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, are conspicuous by their silence on the sorry state of the Labour government.

With Toni Abela out in the cold, it is highly unlikely that things will change for the better, within the Labour Party. Well meaning Labour MPs and party officials lost a point of reference and a vociferous loyal dissenter.

Alternattiva Demokratika chairperson Arnold Cassola summed it up when, in his reaction on Monday night stated: “These are terrible blows for the prestige of our country at international level... it is very unfair that Toni Abela had to pay for the unethical behaviour of our national leaders, Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri”.

Amen to that. Unfortunately, Dr Abela’s rejected nomination not only left a well-meaning politician out in the cold but worse, was yet another blow to Malta’s reputation at such an important forum. 

frank_psaila
Frank Psaila, a lawyer by profession, anchors Iswed fuq l-Abjad on Net TV. He was formerly...
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