The consummate juggler

What is at stake now is the Prime Minister's own future

Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi speaking with the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff, Keith Schembri
Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi speaking with the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff, Keith Schembri

Here we go again.

Malta’s Prime Minister, twice elected with a landslide, is being asked once again to sack Minister Konrad Mizzi and his Chief of Staff (or whatever) Keith Schembri.

What a repetitive bore have our politics become! One more emergency debate in Parliament just because information about the ownership of the Dubai based company, 17 Black, was made public.

What a waste of time. If our PM wanted (or is it could?), get rid of these two millstones from around his neck, he would have done so a very long time ago. Plenty of good reasons have gone by in the past. Not that he lacks the necessary ruthlessness. Even for much smaller misdemeanours, he has shown us all that if he can he will, as with Anglu Farrugia, Manwel Mallia, Michael Falzon and Godfrey Farrugia.

Why is it not that simple?, one is tempted to ask.

Things have now gone out of hand for so long that any resignation, forced or otherwise, of Muscat’s two leading men is practically useless – in spite of the fact that they have dragged what would otherwise have been two brilliant Labour governments into the deep mud.

The PM’s support of these two ‘unlucky’ main players in his administration, whose intentions were uncovered by a fluke of circumstances thousands of miles away from Malta, is being translated to mean that our PM just could not do what he should have done… What is at stake now is his own future.

In such a stalemate, a change needs to be radical, decisive and possibly camouflaged with many other changes so that its true purpose remains undiscovered, or at worse confused. So Machiavelli would say.

There is one element that everybody seems to be in agreement with. Joseph Muscat is playing for time. Well, a true Machiavellian would definitely go down that path, wouldn’t he? The flimsy excuse is that he is waiting for the many investigations now currently in hand to be concluded. Not very convincing, considering that he and his friends are pushing to frustrate the very inquiry on 17 Black... and considering that he proclaimed he had not read in full the result of the inquiry into his wife’s alleged ownership of Egrant. Who knows? Perhaps if he read it all he would have learnt what he could not know as PM and do nothing about it.

But all this begs the question… what is he waiting for? When can we expect the night of long knives to happen?

Like a skilful juggler he has many balls in the air to juggle. Definitely, the next European Parliament election is one, but hardly the more important. His priority would be what to do next, after a brilliant political career as Labour leader and Prime Minister.

All this begs the question… what is he waiting for? When can we expect the night of long knives to happen?

It was common knowledge that he was aiming at a high post in the EU administration, but his chances there have also being frustrated by his lack of action here.

This brings us to another ball in the air. Who will replace him? The young guy from Dingli, who has been entrusted with an enormous portfolio that was once the domain of Lorry Sant?

Will it be Chris Fearne: a solid socialist who plays a straight game with a no-nonsense approach and who will most probably clash with Keith and Konrad… not to mention that he contests the same district as Konrad and – guess what – he had to clean up the Vitals Global Healthcare mess he inherited from him.

Or will it be MEP Miriam Dalli, a compromise candidate who, unlike Fearne, will not rock the boat? Rumours have it that the party machine is working for Dalli to get a record number of votes in the EP elections – a success that would then be touted as a popular plebiscite leading to her ‘naturally’ inheriting Joseph Muscat’s leadership role.

These are the main balls in the air, but there are some more. Such as when will the current investigation is allowed to be concluded, the time-tested impartiality of our Courts where very often the buck stops, as well as the role of the divided PN and the leader of the Opposition.

This is the current scenario. Many balls in the air, some bigger than others, but all pretty lethal, particularly as the balls keep increasing as more reports of misbehaviour emerge, and the juggling becomes more difficult and therefore more dangerous.

Our political scenario may look boring at first sight but if one digs deeper it can prove to be more interesting. Something tells me that our home-grown Machiavelli is up to it. His past track record shows a nerve of steel, a deep political insight, great decisiveness and a knack of striking when the iron is hot.

I would have been much happier if his attributes included the moral standing that many would like a Maltese Prime Minister to have. But that may be asking too much from a true Machiavellian who believes that the end justifies the means.

Brexit deal

An article in last Thursday’s edition of The Telegraph compares what Theresa May promised to what she managed to get in the Brexit deal. Among the more notable differences one finds:

May promised an end to “vast annual payments” while the agreement obliges Britain to honour all of its commitments to the current EU Budget. Moreover the UK and the EU have the right to jointly extend the transition period, with the UK continuing to make payments to the EU for as long as the transition lasts.

May promised a customs “partnership” – but not a customs union – allowing UK-EU trade which is “as frictionless as possible, while the agreement creates a Single Customs Territory, that does not allow the UK to set its own tariffs on goods

May promised an open border, with no new customs infrastructure and no trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Now she has agreed to a “backstop” clause that would see Northern Ireland remain in a Customs Union, applying the full EU customs code and the EU single market rules for goods.

May promised that regulatory standards would remain as high as those set by the EU to allow a “level playing field” and instead delivered a legal commitment to apply EU regulatory standards in the UK to avoid undercutting the EU market.

The big question mark is now whether May will overcome the storm that she is bound to face on this deal in the House of Commons.