Konrad’s box of tricks

Just withdrawing the contract is not enough. Did Konrad Mizzi approach MTA offering his services, or was it MTA who sought them?

Konrad Mizzi’s name hit the news again this week after The Times revealed the ‘secret’ deal that he had ‘negotiated’ and signed with the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) just two weeks after he had resigned from his post as minister responsible for tourism.

At that point in time when this nefarious contract was signed there was no tourism minister. Therefore, the political responsibility for whatever the Malta Tourism Authority was doing led directly to the then Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat.

Muscat was very busy at the time, what with visiting the Pope and the Italian Prime Minister, ‘holidaying’ in Dubai and even visiting Bethlehem, apart from facing an unprecedented political storm in Malta.

So the clever and intelligent Konrad Mizzi sought refuge to his box of tricks and pulled out more than the predictable white bunny – a contract that would see him at the receiving end of a financial bonanza even more generous than the salary and perks that he had as a minister.

Joseph Muscat has gone on record that he stuck with Konrad Mizzi because he was delivering the goods, a clever and intelligent person that one rarely finds in the political fray.

But then, one could also say that the devil himself is a clever and intelligent being. Should old Nick, therefore, be appointed a Cabinet Minister – whatever the consequences?

I am flabbergasted about all this, not because Konrad Mizzi did it, but because he thought that he could get away with it. This fact reveals the impudence of the man, not just the cheek, that belies his lack of a sense of ethics and moral rectitude, but even more the mind-boggling optimism that blinds confidence tricksters from the possibility of their being caught at their own game.

That is why his ‘contract’ tested everybody’s limits of incredulity, irrespective of political allegiance. It is so indefensible that it defies the possibility of some sort of justification. Not even the most rabid Labour supporters can accept it.

The government’s first reaction was weak. The current minister responsible for Tourism, Julia Farrugia Portelli, at first said that the government was looking at the legal aspects before it decides what to do.

Seriously, did the Minister and the MTA think that Konrad Mizzi would have the nerve to sue them if they unilaterally cancelled the contract and its effects? Were they confusing legality with morality? Otherwise, why was there the need to study the so-called ‘legal aspects’?

And then they did it. Later the Prime Minister revealed that he had not known about the contract. Had the board of directors of the MTA endorsed the contract to employ the former minister who had appointed them in the first place? Who on earth imagines that there is nothing wrong in this?

This certainly warrants a deeper investigation. Just withdrawing the contract is not enough. Did Konrad Mizzi approach MTA offering his services, or was it MTA who sought them?

Such an investigation might exonerate Robert Abela, but surely he is responsible for proposing Konrad Mizzi as the head of Malta’s Parliamentary delegation to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

This nomination provoked the anger of the Opposition and Civil Society – as well of several Labour officials and MPs who did not publicly express their disappointment. Abela might have thought that this delegation would just be taking part in some sort of glorified debating society and he would not have been far off the mark.

Giving Konrad Mizzi a useless job where he could not resort to his box of tricks was probably the idea. But Prime Minister Robert Abela miscalculated the negative reaction that this proposal would provoke.

It had to be the revelation of Konrad Mizzi’s ignominious contract that persuaded Abela to withdraw this nomination. Otherwise, I am sure Mizzi would have taken his box of tricks with him to every OSCE meeting, on the premise that one never knows what opportunities one is going to encounter.

The cracks start to show

The revelation of the Konrad Mizzi contract by the press provokes me to think deeper in the way this administration is now being hounded by all and sundry.

One obvious aspect was the timing: after Konrad Mizzi’s nomination as head of the OSCE delegation was already formally discussed in the House of Representatives and having to withdraw it before a vote was taken, would put the administration in an uncomfortable situation.

But timing apart, the very fact that the contract was leaked tells me that this administration is nearing its end. We have a situation where people are fed up with abuses and they leak documents revealing these abuses to the media or to the Opposition. These people could very well be Labour supporters and sympathisers who are fed up with the abuse they see around them. Punishing abusers by leaking documents is a time-honoured way to soothe one’s conscience.

This means that in the current situation, one’s ethical and moral tenets are given more weight than blind party allegiance.

I have seen this happening when the Mintoff/KMB regime was nearing its end. If I had to name the people who helped the Opposition uncover the filth that was going on at the time, everybody would be surprised. Of course, I will always be faithful to the confidentiality that is a sine qua non in such circumstances. So I will leave everybody guessing and speculating.

There was a similar situation towards the end of the second Gonzi administration. The leaks about ministers getting an undeclared extra income and about the oil scandal come to mind.

Despite the tales of woe instigated by Malta’s tribal politics where people always follow the exhortation ‘My party – right of wrong’, there will always be people who take covert action when they see something going wrong.

The increase in such actions belies that the cracks in the administration’s structure start to show.

Expect more revelations. Unless, of course, Robert Abela manages to right the ship of state and reinstate its aura among all citizens – something that the Joseph Muscat/Keith Schembri tandem cleverly built up... only for them to foolishly destroy in the way they did.

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