So, is that it, then?

The PM is failing to grasp that people hate nothing more than being taken for fools. Retaining Mizzi as a Cabinet Minister without portfolio was met with sarcastic one-liners and scoffs of derision

This government is seemingly unable to realise that whether or not it cares about ethics and good governance (despite all its pre-election rhetoric) even politically it has much more to gain by doing the right thing than by persisting down this path.
This government is seemingly unable to realise that whether or not it cares about ethics and good governance (despite all its pre-election rhetoric) even politically it has much more to gain by doing the right thing than by persisting down this path.

In the end, perhaps Muscat would have been better off doing nothing after all and leaving everything as it was. Because at least, if he had done nothing, he would not have stirred up yet another hornet’s nest of justified criticism at the way he has been mishandling this whole thing from Day One.

Instead, after weeks of doublespeak about how he was “listening” and “paying attention to public sentiment” and that “something would be done” about the Konrad Mizzi-Panama Papers connection, what we got was a cute little game of musical chairs.  People were moved around, titles were removed, one person got back in and voilà the Prime Minister gave the illusion that he had “done something” when, in fact, he has not done much. I would hazard a guess and say he has made things much worse.

What I think the PM is failing to grasp is that people hate nothing more than being taken for fools. The news that he was removing the Health and Ministry portfolios from Konrad Mizzi’s responsibility, but still retaining him as a Cabinet Minister without portfolio was met with sarcastic one-liners and scoffs of derision. Mur obsor ghalik, hej.  That’s one of those completely untranslatable Maltese expressions which is used when we want to show someone that his attempt at pulling a fast one on us has failed. It is used when someone is being disingenuous or pretending not to notice that what he is doing or saying is preposterous and feigns innocence when we point out that he is full of it.
What the PM has completely miscalculated is that this decision, which is no decision at all, is a slap in the face, an insult to our intelligence and frankly, a complete misreading of the public sentiment he has claimed to have understood so well.  

This government is seemingly unable to realise that whether or not it cares about ethics and good governance (despite all its pre-election rhetoric) even politically it has much more to gain by doing the right thing than by persisting down this path. The short-sightedness of it all is unbelievable. By refusing to understand, or worse, ignoring, the crux of the matter of what bothers the electorate about all this, this administration has managed to unravel faster than could have been thought possible.  

Let us say, for the sake of argument, that behind Muscat’s refusal to demote Konrad Mizzi to the backbenches is a simple defiance of his critics. The reason I’m saying this is that I saw a certain defiant jutting of the jaw and a certain look in his eyes while he was giving his press conference which seemed to indicate that he does not want to give anyone the satisfaction of having backed down. I have to turn to Maltese again, to use the word ‘suppervja’ (arrogance) – that is the best word I can think of to describe what I saw on Muscat’s face when he was making the announcement.  

Not a good look at all when you are facing the people who put you there. So, if what is behind the obstinacy is the determination to brazen it out because, having taken it this far, he does not want to back down now, all I can say is that it has backfired big time. He may think that backing down is a sign of weakness, but he’s so wrong. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the obstinacy and defiance are threatening to be even more of a problem than anything that can be dug up in the Panama Papers.

There are, of course, other possible whispered reasons for Muscat’s reluctance to slap Konrad too heavily on the wrist, which come in the form of persistent rumours that he cannot banish him from a ministerial position because he has some kind of hold on him.  
You cannot blame people for thinking this, and for the doubts to continue to grow and fester. These question marks will keep haunting Muscat for the rest of this administration, which makes me wonder, again, if he has really tallied up the costs of how much all this has hurt him politically.

I have no doubt that over at the PL headquarters, like with any political party, there are people who are busy crunching the numbers and weighing the pros and cons of every move, assessing where they are losing votes and where they hope to retain them. But I wonder if they are doing their sums correctly. For every diehard who will be clapping wildly at today’s mass meeting, there will be others sitting quietly at home who are not amused at all.

And Muscat, of all people, should know that it is those who stay away from mainstream political activities who are the ones that made all the difference and swept him to power in such great unprecedented numbers.

Finally, a word about the re-introduction of Manuel Mallia as a Cabinet Minister. I didn’t realize that someone who has been asked to resign over unacceptable behaviour was merely being given a grown-up version of “time out”, only to be allowed back in with the big boys after saying sorry. I cannot see how Mallia can be considered as a suitable person to take up a Cabinet position once again (even if the title is vague… what on earth is a Minister for Competitiveness?).
Any brownie points Muscat may have gained by asking him to resign over trying to cover up the shooting incident by his driver, have been completely obliterated by bringing him back once again.

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