Clutching at straws

The truth is that Muscat has only himself to blame for this state of affairs - and if he had any respect he would stop acting as if wants to bring down the Labour Party and the government too

Joseph Muscat (right) appeared on Manwel Cuschieri's talkshow on Smash TV
Joseph Muscat (right) appeared on Manwel Cuschieri's talkshow on Smash TV

It was very hard and painful to watch Joseph Muscat talking to Manwel Cuschieri on Smash TV last Friday.

I use the word ‘talking’ not ‘replying to questions’, for this was not an interview but a rant with Cuschieri nodding and smiling in awe.

Way back in 1998, as deputy editor of The Malta Independent, I had written a feature and suggested that Labour needed to go for a fresh face. I had identified the young Joseph Muscat, as leadership material. I remember him laughing it off. I did not read it at the time as false humility.

In 1998, he was nicknamed the poodle by his detractors (for his blind defence of Alfred Sant’s politics), but that did not stop others from seeing him as someone with the personality and determination to reshape a future Labour Party.

We tend to judge people not on all the episodes in their life but on the ugly chapters that stick out like a sore thumb. And for far too long many of us, me included, gave Muscat not only the benefit of the doubt but also believed that he was a worthy political leader and prime minister.

I know he now thinks that everyone should be grateful to him for making their lives easier or even better or for fulfilling their dreams. But being greedy, self-conceited and allowing Malta to fall into such a colossal mess was not part of the deal.

By mess I mean: Panama Papers, the Daphne murder, the Vitals/Steward deal, Electrogas and others. No one voted for Joseph Muscat to have these episodes of shame. Neither were the consultancies with companies or individuals that had some form of connection or dealings with the government part of the plan either.

In his chat with Manwel Cuschieri (who was quietly banned from One Radio some months ago for his adulation of Muscat), Muscat did not explain the story behind his €12,000-a-month from a company involved in the purchase of exotic birds owned by one of the shareholders of the Dragonara Casino.

The Dragonara Casino had its concession extended until 2083 in 2019 by Muscat’s administration. Dragonara was then co-owned by Johann Schembri and Michael Bianchi, and previously had a 10-year lease agreement with government-owned Casma Ltd.

The new lease extension agreement was approved by the Maltese parliament after a motion presented by Economy Minister Chris Cardona and seconded by Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne. It was not contested by the Opposition.

It is no secret that Muscat had intervened to see that Dragonara was given an extension to the concession to the chagrin of the Tumas Group and especially Yorgen Fenech and all those who played to his tune. It could very well be and probably is that the present owners were and are the best investors in this kind of business.

But when it transpired that Muscat started receiving € 12,000 a month from the same owners of the casino, there were all sorts of suggestions of inappropriate behaviour by Muscat.

Muscat on Smash TV (he is no longer invited on One TV) has accused a network of ‘very horrible people’ of wanting to bring him down in spite of the fact that Malta had democratically chosen a Labour government. The truth is that he has only himself to blame for this state of affairs. And if he had any respect he would stop acting as if wants to bring down the Labour Party and the government too.

Which is what will happen, if someone does not separate his exploits from that of the Labour government.

It may be true that the inquiring magistrate Gabriella Vella is someone who comes with political baggage, but this habit of hitting out at a magistrate was also employed by Repubblika (as was the case with Nadine Lia). It is a habit to start questioning the judiciary when things don’t go the way we like them to go.

In his TV appearance Muscat was not asked questions but allowed to vent, he simply said that he would be prosecuted and face a court of law, emphasising this in a clear message to his core supporters. He is hoping that when that day does finally come, he would be greeted by hundreds of his acolytes outside of court.

This is not the first time a former head of state has faced the law. And it is not the first that a popular political figure has tried to rally his supporters to his rescue. But nothing changes facts.

But is there a good enough reason to prosecute Muscat? There are definitely questions that need answering.

That he received money from Accutor when Accutor was linked to VGH raises eyebrows and the recent discovery of a consultancy contract with a company linked to the Dragonara Casino owners also raises serious questions.

There are rumours of other consultancies and payouts that may compromise Muscat.

Muscat consistently makes it a point to remind us of the past misdemeanours of other politicians to justify his own sins and we can expect this line of defence to continue.

Muscat will also argue that he has a right to earn a living. But this is not the point; the central issue here is the ethical considerations of having a former prime minister take up paid work from business people who had dealings with the government only a few months before.

And without a doubt, this also raised legal considerations as to whether something untoward could have happened.

Muscat’s show on Smash was a far cry from the confidence and flawless interviews he used to give when at his peak.

I prefer to reserve two memories of Joseph Muscat: The one which gave us hope and a breath of fresh air; and the other of deceit, arrogance and self-enrichment.