Let him be the first to throw a stone

Busuttil cannot expect the public to forget those years of abject nepotism and incomprehensible malicious government simply because Muscat is scoring auto goals

The scene from “The life of Brian” by Monty Python, a film whose screening in Maltese cinemas was at the time banned
The scene from “The life of Brian” by Monty Python, a film whose screening in Maltese cinemas was at the time banned

When everyone is dreaming of the next seaside barbecue or, better still, what to do with the kids over the next few days, some politicians are still in campaign mode. Media newsrooms are kept busy on politics, prevented from focusing on lighter topics.

Most people are not well enough into the intricacies of high finance to comprehend the complexities of the controversy over the €350 million state guarantee for a bridge loan to the Electrogas consortium. They will start to twitch when their electricity and water bills come higher, confounding all the electoral pledges we were given before the last election.

Labour is visibly distressed and angry that the PN are having a field day from this state aid loan issue. More so when they in opposition – before 2013 – played ball with the government of the day and accepted to bury the hatchet when a similar situation arose and the Nationalist government provided state aid for the ailing state owned Enemalta corporation, which the PN in government had driven into the wall. The then Labour MP spokesman in opposition was called in to the ministry to show understanding.

People in government today are, unnaturally, perplexed that the Nationalist party does not play ball and I would put this down to a combination of naivete and of underestimating the opposition, which is grasping at anything that comes its way to create difficulties.  

The opposition has been relentless in its criticism and on several occasions it has had good reason to raise the ante. But in doing so it seems to have escaped it that there is still ample time for the government campaign machine to recover lost ground and forge a strategy to upgrade its limp marketing.

But if Labour has underestimated the PN, the same can be said about the PN vis a vis Labour.  

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil in particular declares that he was not there when past misdemeanours were taking place. True, he parachuted in for the last three months before the election and was probably directly unaware about many things.

But he cannot say the same for many of his colleagues, including his two deputy leaders, Mario and Beppe, who were there when the waters were turning murky.  

The going was tough, not for them but for the public – the people who were treated like second-class citizens, and the business community who were shunned and sidelined.

The truth is that as the Gaffarena case has shown so clearly, many Nationalist big wigs were finding solace in the Gaffarena comfort zone.  

Nothing surprising, considering that Joe Gaffarena senior was, until only recently, a PN activist and canvasser.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat should not be too happy about this situation, his lack of resolve on the matter has not served him well at all. 

He failed to take action with regard to parliamentary secretary Michael Falzon, or any public official linked to the Government Properties Division (GPD), and he refused to decapitate Ray Zammit, the former Commissioner of Police.

His indecisiveness on this matter – so starkly contrasting to his sacking of his then deputy leader when they were still on the electoral campaign trail – has not scored him any brownie points. If he had acted fast, instead of dawdling, he would have sent a clear message to the country that he means business and has zero tolerance for alleged impropriety. 

He could have done better and retrieved all the public property and cancelled the financial transactions between the GPD and the Gaffarena bunch.

He would have reached a new high.

And that would have been against a backdrop where Simon Busuttil was discovering the tentacles that linked Beppe Fenech Adami, David Gonzi and Joe Saliba with the Gaffarenas.

This is the tip of the iceberg, beyond the evident gaffes on Gaffarena and other good governance issues – the biggest problem we have in politics is not only the government but rather the absence of credible opposition, hobbled by a still fresh, debilitating past.

Busuttil cannot expect the public to forget those years of abject nepotism and incomprehensible malicious government simply because Muscat is scoring auto goals.

Every time Simon Busuttil utters a word, he is shot down by a cheeky government and reminded about his credibility as leader of a party that is in no position to preach or tell anyone how to comport themselves. More so when it acted in a like manner, or even worse, in similar cases when it was handling the reins.

There is also sometimes a knee jerk reaction from the opposition, which is becoming common enough to make it the norm rather than the exception. Friday’s press conference by Roberta Metsola and Marthese Portelli about the state guarantee for Electrogas is a case in point.

Metsola, supposedly a learned MEP, called on the EU to look into the matter. It was a rather bizarre statement and one that ignores the fact that the government’s decision to resort to state aid was done according to very strict procedural steps determined by the European Commission.

To the extent that the consortium headed by the Tumas and Gasan groups issued a statement saying the government guarantee was compliant with the European Commission notice on guarantees. 

“In this respect the consortium issued irrevocable letters of credit equivalent to our capital contribution (in excess of 90m euros) and also paid government fees equivalent to €8.8 million,” the consortium said. 

“The irrevocable letters of credit and the fee paid by the consortium, amounting to €98.8 million, confirm that Electrogas Malta has never had any difficulty in raising financing for the project.”

In this respect it would have been advisable if the Opposition held back and did some thinking before calling on the Commission to rally to their concern on state aid.

It also brings to the fore the timely advice Joseph Muscat was given when taking over as party leader in 2008. The advice was that he should disappear from the scene and work on putting his party on the right footing, to worry about campaigning only in the last year.

Simon would do well to take a cue from this approach. 

Needless to say he will not.   

On the contrary he acts as if credibility counts for nothing.

There are many lessons to be learnt, and Simon Busuttil could start by reminding his immediate retinue at least, that they cannot throw stones if they themselves are not virginal.

It stands to reason.

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Labour backbencher Etienne Grech has come out as an opponent of “multiculturalism” at a time when the government is promoting a national debate for an integration policy.

When I see the right wing discourse of some Labour MPs, I wonder how they could feel comfortable in Labour and I can understand why Muscat cannot really expel or push out any errant ministers.

The answer is very simple.

He is devoid of any individuals who have enough of the right grey matter to stand in for a ministerial post.

With the likes of Etienne Grech on one side and Wayne Hewitt on the other, I really worry about the quality of our political class. 

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