Edward Scicluna’s pathetic ‘it wasn’t me’

There is no escape clause for minister Edward Scicluna, even if he has pleaded: ‘it wasn’t me’

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna
Finance Minister Edward Scicluna

The evidence given by Minister Edward Scicluna in the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia cannot be more pathetic.

His attempt to distance himself from decisions for which he was responsible as a Cabinet member and as Minister for Finance is an absolute disgrace and shows that this is one minister that is certainly not fit for purpose.

According to Malta’s Constitution, the Cabinet is ‘collectively responsible’ to Parliament for the way it carries the general direction and control of the Government. There are no two ways about it. There can be no kitchen cabinet acting in parallel with the Cabinet. There is only one Cabinet and there is only one Finance Minister who is responsible for the running of the country’s finances.

Cabinet collective responsibility is an established tradition in parliamentary governments in which the prime minister is responsible for appointing the cabinet ministers. It is a cornerstone of any democratic cabinet government.

The prime minister relies on the Cabinet to always support policy decisions and a breach of Cabinet collective responsibility, such as when a Cabinet member publicly disagrees with an executive decision, leads to their resignation or termination from the Cabinet. This means that ministers share responsibility for major government decisions, particularly those made by the Cabinet.

Cabinet collective responsibility dictates that the members of the Cabinet must publicly show a unified position, and must vote with the government even if they privately disagree with the decision made by the rest of their colleagues.

Ministers cannot declare – after the event – that they were in disagreement with certain decisions or actions. The fact that they chose not to resign over such disagreements means that they had accepted the responsibility for them and are obliged to defend them.

There are no two ways about it – if one disagrees with a decision, one has to resign or accept responsibility for something that one disagrees with. When Robin Cook resigned from Cabinet after disagreeing with Tony Blair’s decision to join the US in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he put it this way: “I can’t accept collective responsibility for the decision to commit Britain now to military action in Iraq without international agreement or domestic support.”

Intriguingly, the official Malta government website (gov.mt.) explains the issue of collective responsibility succinctly: “Every minister, including the Prime Minister, has an individual and collective responsibility. Individual responsibility means that every minister must answer before Parliament for the actions of his ministry and all government departments and entities that fall within his remit. Collective responsibility means that every minister is obliged to defend Cabinet decisions once these are made public, even if they do not personally agree with them.”

The anomalous situation in which some ministers found themselves in Joseph Muscat’s Cabinet had also been raised before when Minister Evarist Bartolo gave evidence in front of the same public inquiry.

Whatever they now say, both Bartolo and Scicluna are responsible for the decisions taken by the government of which they formed part.

In the case of Scicluna, his position is even worse as he was the minister responsible for finance. Government decisions such as the Vitals contract regulating the privatisation of the management of three government hospitals could not have been signed without the direct approval of the ministry of finance. If there was no such approval – as Scicluna tried to imply – then the ministers and/or officials who signed the agreement were in breach of the law and, I dare speculate, can probably be personally sued for damages.

Moreover, if such a colossal breach of financial regulations did actually happen, the ministry of finance was obliged to take immediate action to stop the contracts. Under the aegis of minister – and Professor – Edward Scicluna, the ministry of finance did nothing of the sort.

The same holds for all the suspect contracts made by government departments, state entities, regulatory authorities and other authorities established by law, agencies established under the Public Administration Act, government foundations, and limited liability companies in which the state has a majority shareholding.

There is no escape clause for minister Scicluna, even if he has pleaded: “it wasn’t me”.

His pathetic excuses are an insult to the intelligence of the Maltese electorate.

Biden’s choice

It is not usual for Presidential candidates in the US to go through the sort of great lengths that Joe Biden went through before deciding to pick Kamala Harris as his running mate – the person who would become Vice-President of the US if Biden beats Trump in November.

Harris is the daughter of immigrant parents with a mother from India and a father from Jamaica – a reflection of the melting pot the US has always been, in spite of what white supremacists say.

A former rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, she will be the first woman of colour to be nominated for national office by a major US political party. She has been regarded as a rising figure in the Democratic Party for the last 20 years, and as a worthy representative of the multiracial future of the US.

All the women considered as possible running mates for Joe Biden’s running mate first had to face the same, sometimes jarring questions, in an initial interview: What would your agenda be? What do you think Donald Trump’s nickname for you would be?

It was a difficult process – in many ways unlike any other search for a vice-presidential candidate in the past. It took place under an unusual public scrutiny following Biden’s early declaration that he would consider only women for the job.

Harris emerged on top in the end, winning over Biden and his immediate family to become the first Black woman, the first Asian-American, the first graduate of a historically Black college and the first Californian since Ronald Reagan to be on a major-party national ticket.

The Biden vice-presidential selection effort process was described as extensive and laborious, with no certainty of outcome, albeit Biden eventually chose the former primary rival that many had predicted he would pick from the start.

Reports in the US media quoted anonymous sources saying that Biden’s team took more than 120 hours meeting with party activists, interest groups and other stakeholders to decide who could best serve the party and country.

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