The Joseph Muscat legacy

Labourites who have their self-respect and are able to think for themselves are not only disappointed with Muscat, but disgusted by him

Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

I guess the question that many of Joseph Muscat’s former collaborators and admirers are asking themselves upon seeing the first part of his Times interview is, it’s not what he said... but why he said it.

My take is that Muscat is concerned about his legacy and image. He is troubled by how he will be perceived from now on. Think of it: the man who, in the aftermath of the Caruana Galizia assassination, with a chief of staff that was too pally with the alleged mastermind, was in 2018 planning to dump the Labour Party and his administration to take up a cushy job as EU president.

Today he speaks of the love he still feels from admirers. Yet, he ignores the indelible stain on what would have been an illustrious decade in power. Now that we look back, it was all about a system of kickbacks linked to massive government contracts, a cover-up at Castille, and the involvement of top brass in the murder of Caruana Galizia.

That he still holds respect among many Labourites is uncontested. But he knows that the Labourites who have their self-respect and are able to think for themselves are not only disappointed with Muscat, but disgusted by him.

And that is putting it mildly. For if Muscat really thinks that people believed in him just because they were in it for their personal gain, then he must really be projecting on the people the way he thinks and acts. To many, Muscat was a beacon, a hope and a new way for the country. The only reason they do not leave the Labour fold is because they cannot see light on the other side of the border.

But that may only be a matter of time.

This is only part of the story. In my case I am concerned about Muscat’s clear attempts throughout his premiership to mislead the press about the narrative on the Panama Papers and Daphne Caruana Galizia. Because Muscat will always skirt the fundamental question as to why some of his closest allies and team-mates disowned and abandoned him: no amount of whitewashing will erase the truth of what happened behind the scenes.

Privately, Muscat argues that those who were once close to him and now no longer are with him were willing to jump on his bandwagon of electability to enjoy the fruits of his political success.

Of course, many were the people who were placed in various government positions to serve the Labour administration. But what he may not recognise is that many were the same people who actually assisted in the effort of Labour to be elected to power in the first place, and that a plethora of these well-wishers, admirers and ‘sycophants’ were willing to stand up for him because they believed in him, perhaps even at great personal sacrifice.

Muscat may be clinging to his past and hoping that his electoral record will never be surpassed. He is hoping that no one will beat his numbers, in economic and electoral terms. But in normal circumstances, would the media-savvy Muscat have chosen to gone to a newspaper not enamoured with his own record, in the middle of the silly season, to relay the message that he is still politically relevant, that his political star still has abundant potential energy?

Muscat knows that Robert Abela may call an early election. Indeed, it would be a wise decision. And it is no secret that ideally, Abela is hoping he can go one better by garnering higher electoral takings than the 2017 record. The longer he prolongs the election, the more difficult it will be to realise this.

For Abela, this must-have result would be a clear message that his administration can sail away without the Muscat legacy dragging it behind.

One thing is for sure: the Joseph Muscat story cannot be written by Muscat himself. That story, and its many hidden chapters, has yet to be composed. In my mind it is jotted down and crystal clear.

Prison bedlam

The saga over deaths at the prison has gone on for far too long. This is not the first time Corradino has been at the centre of controversy, by way of suicides and ill-treatment of inmates.

We have always had prison directors who are not worth their salt. We have always had home affair ministers who have looked the other way. Indeed Byron Camilleri reminds me of Tonio Borg. His complacency and silence, a characteristic of politicians who have nothing to say and are unwilling to take responsibility, is spot on. Indeed I expected much more from Camilleri.

That prison director Alex Dalli, a former military man, and associates such as Randolph Spiteri, should be sent home packing, is without any doubt a must. But it is not the solution. The long-term solution is having a structure that is robust and will perform over a period of time.

Andrew Azzopardi’s 100-point plan is a starting point (though ditch the ministerial one-night say in prison... sounds like a Xarabank special).

As in all things, the political decision-making process in Malta depends on the Prime Minister. And it is high time Robert Abela intervenes. This is no longer about the conditions of inmates but about inmates ending their lives. Abela needs to intervene and take action. Now.

Prison reform is all about dignity. Prisons have always been a constituency that is forgotten and considered irrelevant in the political discourse. But that too needs to change. We can no longer be participants in a medieval correctional facility that is run like a military camp for rejects.