Labour, PN, the Police, a new archbishop and justice with Mamadou Kamara in 2015

Only time will tell whether Malliagate, and the government’s disastrous handling of the situation, was a turning point for the Nationalist Party. 

Mamadou Kamara died while in custody of Detention Service officers. Young men and women continue to rot in Malta’s degrading detention centres while our political parties continue to, unashamedly, play the blame game
Mamadou Kamara died while in custody of Detention Service officers. Young men and women continue to rot in Malta’s degrading detention centres while our political parties continue to, unashamedly, play the blame game

Only time will tell whether Malliagate, and the government’s disastrous handling of the situation, was a turning point for the Nationalist Party. However, it did demonstrate that PN leader Simon Busuttil has come a long way from his unimpressive first few months at the helm of his party.

From a politician who seemed unable to adapt to the Maltese political scene, whose speeches lacked passion and emotion and whose delivery left a lot to be desired, Dr Busuttil – thanks to Muscat’s reluctance to take immediate action against Manuel Mallia – stood up to be counted.

In many ways, the real Simon Busuttil stood up and called his counterpart’s bluff. Slowly but surely he’s transforming himself into a credible Prime Minister in waiting. Thanks to his assertiveness, Labour – with a nine-seat majority in Parliament – was forced to tone down the citizenship by sale scheme, make a U-turn from its decision to cancel the 2015 local council elections and sack Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia.

Whether this will persist in 2015, only time will tell, but if it doesn’t Busuttil will have only himself to blame. With the passage of time he proved that he can be assertive, not least with his own side. However, he cannot and should not defend mistakes committed by some of his own MPs under successive Nationalist administrations.

Those who erred need to be held accountable for their actions, whoever they are. He cannot, of course, ask them to step down from their parliamentary seat, but eventually he’ll be hard pressed to state whether a handful of his MPs will be allowed to stand on the PN ticket and eventually make it to his cabinet should the PN make it to government in 2018, and then Busuttil has to provide answers. 

I have always maintained that if he’s allowed to implement the changes he deems fit for his party, aided and abetted by Chris Said, his party’s Secretary General, Busuttil will transform the PN into a peoples’ party. On the civil unions bill, he was hampered by the conservative elements within his party and the result was a disaster for the PN.

However, Busuttil seems to have learnt his lesson: never again appease those who want to maintain the status quo, unless he wants to be remembered for having paved the way for a new PN leader but never stood a chance of making it to government. Today, Busuttil is demonstrating authoritative leadership, but that alone is not enough. 

In 2015, Simon Busuttil needs to start fleshing out his party’s policies on bread and butter issues. People will not vote the PN back in government because of Labour’s mistakes but only if the PN proves that it has learnt from its mistakes, is willing to make the necessary amends, present fresh and young faces, make sure that those who erred are held accountable for their actions and have a clear stand on bread and butter issues.

Time for Muscat to pull up his socks

Polls show that Joseph Muscat still enjoys a considerable lead over Simon Busuttil. Should that lead be maintained or, worse, widen in the next two years, it would be very hard for Busuttil to pull it off in 2018. However, the Prime Minister had better watch out.

A handful of his ministers and their coterie have taken control of his government and have become the new untouchables. Manuel Mallia was a case in point, but there are others. Gozitan Minister Anton Refalo is making a mess of his portfolio, so is Minister Chris Cardona. Minister Konrad Mizzi has lost his charm, and he’d better sort out the power station mess he’s created if he wants to make it to Parliament in 2018. 

With the economy doing relatively well, the Prime Minister cannot afford to spoil it all because he is unwilling, or at worst unable to stand up to some of his MPs and their people. Malliagate and the Prime Minister’s reluctance to take immediate action against his Home Affairs Minister tarnished Muscat’s reputation of an assertive and ruthless political leader. 

Many now are of the opinion that the Prime Minister is strong with the weak and weak with the strong. The Prime Minister should put to good use the festive season to take stock of the situation and reconsider his strategy. On many fronts, his government is in freefall.

For a start, he should do our country a favour and put a stop to the ‘anything goes’ culture, which after only two years in office is deeply ingrained within his government. Whether he’s willing to do so is anybody’s guess. 

A new Archbishop for the local Church

Way back in August, I called for Archbishop Paul Cremona’s resignation [Maltatoday, Sunday, 24 August] and for a clean sweep at the Archbishop’s Curia. The feedback I received was astounding. 

Many within the Church, not least priests and lay men and women, told me that despite the fact that Mgr Cremona was a pastor with his heart in the right place, he was a poor administrator and an ineffectual leader without much authority. Others complained that we had a defunct Church and that the Curia had been ‘hijacked’ by inward looking traditionalists. Of course, other’s stood up for their Archbishop and accused me of wanting a ‘militant’ Archbishop to ‘appease the Nationalist Party’.

Needless to say, I wasted no time with these ridiculous assumptions. I have always maintained, not least internally within the Nationalist Party, that should the party want to spend a very long time in opposition, it should seek to pull closer to the Church. The PN is a secular party and should remain so. [Simon Busuttil mentioned, in his Independence mass meeting speech at the Floriana granaries last September, that the PN is a secular party. He should walk the walk and make this unequivocally clear in its statute]. 

It was screamingly obvious that Cremona had to go. A few days later, following the publication of my article, others lamented about the lack of leadership within the Church. Eventually Cremona stepped down, paving the way for a new Archbishop for the Maltese Catholic Church. At the time of writing, we have no clue who the new Archbishop will be.

There needs to be a clean sweep at the Archbishop’s Curia. Fingers have often been pointed towards the likes of Pro-Vicar Anton Gouder, Mgr Joseph Said Pullicino and Mgr Charles Cordina and many, within the Church, are in agreement that their time is up. 

Most importantly, the local Church needs to take stock of the current situation and realise that the arrival of Pope Francis marks the end of a triumphal Church. The Church in Malta needs a visionary and a healer of wounds at its helm. It needs someone with a fresh approach who is not hampered by the decisions taken in the past and who, above all, is not constrained, in any way, by the internal politics within the Curia. 

Picking up the pieces

The Malta Police Force is in a mess and it will take much more than a new Home Affairs Minister and Police Commissioner to put its house in order. 

The situation in the Police Force has been deteriorating rapidly for the past four to five years, and with the appointment of Manuel Mallia as the Minister responsible for the Police, the Malta Police Force became a joke and lost its hard earned reputation. Police Commissioner Michael Cassar needs to pick up the pieces and restore pride to the Force. Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela needs to maintain a healthy distance from Cassar’s office while ensuring that the right polices are in place to rebuild the credibility of the Police Force 

Peter Paul Zammit, Ray Zammit and Manuel Mallia failed miserably. Michael Cassar and Carmelo Abela cannot afford to fail. We shall hold them accountable.

For shame

Shame on both Labour and the PN for their irresponsible way of dealing with the findings of the Judge Valencia report on Malta’s detention system following the murder, in detention, of African migrant Mamadou Kamara. The inquiry also referred to the death of Ifeanyi Nwokoye, a Nigerian detainee who also died shortly after a failed escape from the Safi detention centre.

For three months, the Nationalist Administration failed to act and it took two years and a political crisis of his own making, for the new Labour Prime Minister to publish the findings of the Valencia report. It is disgusting that the Prime Minister left the Valencia report under lock and key for two years, and published it only when under pressure from the Opposition on the Malliagate. 

In the meantime, young men and women continue to rot in Malta’s degrading detention centres while our political parties continue to, unashamedly, play the blame game. 

Mr Kamara is dead, but justice still needs to be done. Political complacency and failure to take appropriate steps to prevent, investigate, punish and redress human rights abuses is a very serious offence which cannot be tolerated.

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