Konrad Mizzi would have passed the PN’s ‘due diligence’ test with flying colours...

The rest, as they say, is history… but it is a history that seems destined to keep repeating itself forever (or at least, for as long as political parties keep making the same old predictable mistakes: which, I suppose, is more or less the same thing…)

In case you ever wondered why so much seems to be rotten in the state of Maltese politics… you need look no further than the ‘due diligence’ test carried out by the PN as part of its ongoing leadership contest.

Last Monday, the chairman of the PN’s ‘Candidates Commission’ – tasked with (among other things) vetting potential future party leaders - announced on NET TV that both Adrian Delia and Bernard Grech had been judged ‘appropriate’ (‘idonji’) to run for the PN leadership.

Inevitably, this raised a few eyebrows. For one thing, the candidates’ suitability (or otherwise) was supposed to be established by an ongoing due diligence process: the first of its kind for Nationalist Party leadership elections, announced with much fanfare at the beginning of last month.

Well, the last we heard about this exercise was that it was still underway; and that it was not expected to be concluded before the third week of September.

The candidates themselves only submitted the requested documentation last week (24 August) – and the same Commission has meanwhile revealed that both candidates will be asked to make further submissions this week, “in order for the panel vetting their credentials to have the full picture of the situation.”

By its own admission, then, the panel conducting the due diligence process clearly does not have access to the ‘full picture’ yet. So… how on earth could the Commission already be in a position to announce the final result?

But I’ll get back to this point later.

There is another, more pressing anomaly about Monday’s announcement: it seems to overlook the fact that the PN wouldn’t be holding any leadership contest at all… were it not for the vast majority of its parliamentary group having irremediably lost confidence in Adrian Delia as leader: precisely because they consider him to be the very opposite of ‘idoneous’ for the job.

They even spelt this out for us, in a statement released shortly after the vote of confidence last July: “Delia had not managed to get rid of the large number of serious allegations against him, which placed him in such a position that he was always forced to defend himself. Many times, the PN ended up being used to defend his own personal situations…”

They also concluded that: “In light of this, these 19 PN parliamentary group members consider Delia’s position to no longer be tenable and insist he must shoulder responsibility by stepping down as Opposition leader.”

And that was just the parliamentary group. Later – no doubt for the same overall reasons – the PN’s Executive Council also voted against Delia: it was, indeed, this very vote that precipitated the whole leadership contest to begin with.

Oh, and it’s worth bearing in mind just how highly unusual this contest really is, within the context of the PN’s – or any other party’s – political past. Historically, this is the first time an incumbent party leader has been subjected to an internal challenge only three years into his tenure; and without ever having even led the party into a general election (still less lost one: which is the only reason leadership elections have ever been held before today).

Yet we now have the PN’s own ‘Candidates Commission’ unilaterally declaring there, in truth, is no real problem concerning Delia’s suitability for the post. He is, in fact, every bit as ‘idoneous’ to be PN leader as (dare I say it) ‘Saint Bernard’ himself…

So…um… why even bother going through with this leadership election at all? For let’s face it: if the Commission is right, it also means that the ‘large number of allegations’ against Delia can only be unfounded. As such, all those objections to his leadership should in theory be dismissed out of hand… and with them, all the reasons for wanting to replace Adrian Delia as leader to begin with.

Ah, but that hinges on whether the Candidates Commission had any solid basis to reach its conclusion. So that point I said I’d come back to later… well, it may as well be now.

When pressed to clarify Monday’s announcement, a party spokesman said that the Committee’s conclusion “did not refer to the due diligence itself, but the other required qualities outlined in the statute: such as being of integrity, honest and only motivated by the desire to serve the people and the country.”

Doink!

Excuse me for asking, but… erm… wasn’t that the whole point of introducing a due diligence process to begin with? I.e., to establish whether the candidates really do possess those very same qualities mentioned above: ‘integrity’, ‘honesty’, and above all ‘a desire to serve people and country’?

And besides: how else can such things be determined, anyway… if not by actually going through their respective business interests, personal finances and assets… in order to figure out whether their claims to ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’ really are borne out by their behaviour in the real world?

Well, at least we do have part of an answer to that second question. We were also told that - apart from submitting tax documents, etc, - the respective candidates also had to face a grilling by the Commission itself.

As things stand, then, the Committee’s judgment could only realistically have been based on those private colloquies with the two candidates: without actually looking at any of the documentary evidence.

And… well, that’s just another way of saying: “we concluded that Delia and Grech are both suitable for the position of PN leader… because they told us so themselves.”

Hmmm. So much, I suppose, for the much-vaunted ‘due diligence’ process. By the same reasoning, almost anyone at all could be considered ‘idoneous’ to lead the PN – for it seems that the only qualification is a certain skill at convincing others of one’s own integrity; and - much as I hate to say it - people who actually possess that skill tend overwhelmingly to be the least ‘idoneous’ political leaders imaginable.

There is, after all, an entire history of politicians whose words did not exactly match their (mis)deeds… and it is precisely to weed out such politicians, that such things as ‘due diligence tests’ are usually carried out in the first place.

Meanwhile, just to illustrate that last point a little further: consider, for a moment, how a similar ‘due diligence process’ would have panned out in the case of Konrad Mizzi… even after the emergence of the Panama Papers scandal in April 2013.

Bear in mind that - at the time - all we really knew was that Mizzi had been outed as the owner of a secret offshore company in Panama.

The connection with Electrogas - while suspected from the outset – was not immediately clear; Yorgen Fenech himself had not yet been revealed as the owner of 17 Black; and nobody was in a position to forge any link with the Montenegro windfarm deal (which, in any case, hadn’t even happened yet).

Another thing that hadn’t happened yet was the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia in October 2017. So even if the allegations themselves were slightly different… from April 2013 onwards, Konrad Mizzi was nonetheless in very much the same boat as Adrian Delia today.

He was fiercely (and successfully) maintaining his innocence, in the face of ‘a large number of allegations’ concerning corruption, maladministration, and possible money laundering.

Effectively, then, this also means that applying the PN’s ‘due diligence’ procedures to Konrad Mizzi, would have returned exactly the same result as the Candidates Committee’s announcement last Monday.

For if the decision were to rest uniquely on Mizzi’s own claims to ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’ – which he made from day one, and still continues to make today -  wouldn’t be be judged just as ‘idoneous’ to lead the PN as Adrian Delia, Bernard Grech, and even all the PN’s past leaders or leadership hopefuls (who, let’s face it, never had their ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’ questioned to anywhere near the same extent)?

And I don’t even need to prove this, because… um… this is precisely what happened.

OK, the circumstances may once again not have been identical – Mizzi wasn’t exactly ‘running for the Labour leadership’ (in which case, things might have turned out slightly different); but nonetheless, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s decision to retain Konrad Mizzi in his Cabinet, in spite of the Panama revelations, had been taken on exactly the same grounds.

Remember? He had spoken to Mizzi; Mizzi had assured him there was nothing amiss or untoward about his offshore holdings; and Muscat simply took his word for it (and continued to do so until 2019).

The rest, as they say, is history… but it is a history that seems destined to keep repeating itself forever (or at least, for as long as political parties keep making the same old predictable mistakes: which, I suppose, is more or less the same thing…)

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