matthew_vella
Matthew Vella

The waiting begins

To any of the two men who could be Prime Minister today, this newspaper augurs that enlightened leadership will guide his every action; that he will seek national reconciliation, embrace good governance and the diversity of political thought, restore faith in the institutions not by political putsch but with minded guidance, and take our plundered environment to the top of his government’s agenda

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella
4 June 2017, 7:00am
Cartoon by Mikiel Galea
Cartoon by Mikiel Galea
The promise of change heralded by the Labour Party lies moribund, as the Panama Papers of 2016 revealed a nefarious plan of offshore companies which – according to FIAU documents recently leaked to the press – were intended for highly suspicious purposes: bribery and money laundering.

The Opposition leader took this evidence to the courts, revealing a series of payments which Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff deposited into an investment account for the former Allied Group managing director. If similar accusations subsist on other offshore companies connected to Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi, for the purposes of receiving payments related to Labour’s key policy – energy – there would have taken place not just a grievous lie, but an act of treason.

So the incumbent Prime Minister may cut a lonely figure today as he awaits the results of an election that he fashioned into a referendum on himself. Speculation that he could be cut down to size in a Pyrrhic victory is rife. A loss for him would cement the Maltese electorate’s resolute decision to send Labour packing on the broken ‘Taghna Lkoll’ promise, and in the eyes of the victors, a triumph built on snatching the moral high ground.

A Labour victory today will probably be measured in terms of the scale of popular approval.

Certainly, the allegations on Muscat’s ownership of an offshore company (and an Azerbaijani gift of nothing less than €1 million) came without any form of attempt at verification or documentation. Busuttil rallied his troops and took them to the streets. So Muscat weaponised the accusation by calling a magisterial inquiry and declaring he would resign should a magistrate find the slightest connection of the offshore claim to him; his opponent failed to live up to the same measure, perhaps confirming the unease over the veracity of the Egrant claim.

And then Muscat called a controversial snap election, claiming he was safeguarding the economy in the face of political instability. Up until going to print, various election polls seemed to confirm that Malta was still giving Muscat the benefit of the doubt. But the wisdom is that the public’s sentiment of anger and resentment has been broiling for too long.

For in the last four weeks, the FIAU leaks illustrated a wider and harrowing understanding of why Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi and their enablers were creating their offshore companies. If opinion was not already polarised since Panamagate in 2016, these new findings radicalised the opposition, both partisan and independent, against Muscat. The MaltaToday polls of 2016 indicate the Panama nadir as the big rupture for the Labour project. The FIAU findings today reinforced a segment of voters who say nothing else matters but to vote corruption out.

Surely enough, the caustic flavour of this election has divided family and friends, in part through a vociferous social media environment fired up by the reinvigorated Opposition. Not at all times was reconciliation the order of the day. Democratic insurrection made enemies of those who did not believe in the ‘cause’.  

But it is near impossible to fault those who feel that nothing else matters in this electoral battle. Busuttil has been the champion of this mission, even though this was a role in which the Opposition leader – never a leader in the polls – has had to grow into. But he did rise to the challenge against a redoubtable adversary, a man whose experience and economic record in government seemed to have kept his neck above the water despite the allegations dogging his administration.

If a convincing majority keeps Muscat in Castille, would it mean that thousands of taxpayers simply ignored the gravity of the corruption encircling Muscat’s inner core? Surely the journey to each individual’s vote is a personal one, and one not necessarily motivated by a black-and-white notion of being ‘for or against corruption’. Jobs, salaries, quality of life, and other materialistic and worldly concerns have often trumped morality in previous elections.

Even so, in the aftermath of the election kick-started by ‘Egrant’, a victorious Muscat will still be the emperor without clothes. No majority will prevent the new wave of protest that he will herald by keeping Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi by his side. For the sins of Panama have long shadows.

Muscat has set much store by his strong leadership. If he wins, his leadership cannot have Schembri by his side. It would sheer effrontery to blithely ignore that the people serving this nation must always be above suspicion. After Labour’s carefree betrayal of good governance, Muscat would stand accused yet again of taking his victory as just the mathematical capitulation of his opponents.

To any of the two men who could be Prime Minister today, this newspaper augurs that enlightened leadership will guide his every action; that he will seek national reconciliation, embrace good governance and the diversity of political thought, restore faith in the institutions not by political putsch but with minded guidance, and take our plundered environment to the top of his government’s agenda.

These four years placed the Maltese government under the most intense form of scrutiny. Its relationship with the media was fraught, sometimes for the wrong reasons. On other occasions it battled an unfriendly press that was propped up by partisan interests. If the magisterial inquiries ongoing as of now bring about a much-awaited endgame on Panama, it is the hope of everybody that justice is brought to bear on this sordid tale in our political history.

The consequences for the Maltese press, where partisanship at times shrouded the combative spirit of investigative journalism, for better or worse, are already self-evident. Those who believe the relationship with power must always be an act of war, may never stop to appreciate the obligation for journalists to also listen to those they write about.

This newspaper too will not stop being self-critical in its regard. Ours is an obligation to the truth, the bond of trust we have with our readers. This duty cannot be undertaken by amplifying those miniaturised and democratised statements of umbrage and conceit we often see much of on the social media, or by labouring the grudges of tribal loyalty. It is through accuracy, intellectual fairness, and the power of the question, that we will be loyal to our calling.

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Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.