Anton Refalo: The great survivor

Under normal circumstances, the Opposition would be over all the place, crying wolf but they can’t: Adrian Delia is facing his own allegations of domestic violence by his wife and any utterance on his part would have been instantly pounced upon by government MPs

Joe Mifsud should have recused himself when faced with his former minister Anton Refalo
Joe Mifsud should have recused himself when faced with his former minister Anton Refalo

Former Gozo Minister Anton Refalo must have been pleased that of all people, it was Manuel Delia – the erstwhile brown-noser to minister Austin Gatt – who leapt to his defence. According to Adrian Delia’s very own ghostwriter, the charges against Refalo on domestic violence (against his son, over a revenge porn incident) were filed by Assistant Commissioner Silvio Valletta, husband to the present Gozo minister Justyne Caruana – without any shred of evidence.

Needless to say, Valletta has nothing whatsoever to do with the Gozo district and cannot order police to take action against anyone just like that. So long as Delia can stir up some false or perceived news, it looks like the end justifies the means.

Like his Nationalist predecessor Giovanna Debono, Labour’s former minister for Gozo Anton Refalo has built a great electoral base on that traditional relationship of patronage between the politician and voter. Before the 2017 election, he was embroiled in a controversy on allegations that his ministry was the meeting place for two ministers and the parents of boys facing charges of drug trafficking; the incident was whitewashed thanks to a one-man ‘board’ of inquiry. But the case of alleged drug trafficking was revealed to have produced the crime of perjury in court.

Apart from having been minister, Refalo also has a particular interest in art collection. And during his time as minister, he purchased a Mattia Preti for Gozo’s yet unopened regional museum, for the princely sum of €371,000 – against the advice of Heritage Malta experts.

In 2017, Refalo returned to the House of Representatives, but this time he was not selected to be Gozo minister. But Joseph Mucat has a way of keeping his team happy: Refalo was made chairman of Heritage Malta, a role that keeps him close to his favourite pastime: the collection of priceless art.

Only some weeks ago, MaltaToday reported that Refalo was facing criminal charges for a serious physical altercation with his son, after the latter posted a nude photo of his ex-girlfriend, an incident that led to some serious discord between father and son.

On that level, we obviously empathise with Anton Refalo. Those of us who are parents come to a point where we all feel the need to take discipline to that extra limit, but we do not because we know it is wrong. Yet Unlike Anton Refalo, we do not hold elected office.

In normal circumstances, Refalo would have been asked to resign or else to suspend himself until a final court decision. In normal circumstances the Prime Minister would have asked him to suspend himself.

When Joseph Muscat needed to do so, with a far less serious consideration in mind – I am referring to Anglu Farrugia’s silly comments on the judiciary – he did just that. Better still, he asked him to withdraw as deputy leader.

In normal circumstances, the Opposition would be over all the place, crying wolf. They could not of course: Adrian Delia is facing his own allegations of domestic violence by his wife (not as a charge in court, but as a statement filed in a counter-reply to his request to have access to his children) and any utterance on his part would have been instantly pounced upon by government MPs who would have rightly accused him to have a look at his own situation and asked why he did not resign? (And that’s why we have a hapless Opposition with no political leverage at all).

But the cherry on the cake is that Anton Refalo appeared before of his former consultant – the magistrate Joe Mifsud – to face charges filed by the police against him.

And indeed, Mifsud is clearly in a league of his own, with much of his frivolous commentary during court decisions making him the laughing stock of his fellow colleagues.

Mifsud shot down the charges: describing them as hearsay (since the matter was relayed to a police officer who was obviously not present during the altercation), and after Refalo’s wife, as expected, did not testify, cleared Anton Refalo.

Well, it goes without saying that such legal reasoning is the prerogative of the Magistrate.

But in normal circumstances, as a magistrate he would have maybe thought that having only recently held a paid consultancy with the accused, he should have recused himself. It seems that Mifsud’s bone-deep confidence in his impartiality knows no bounds.

And so Refalo continues to survive politically, irrespective of all the allegations and accusations he faced. Surely he is happy that he reigns supreme despite all this media attention, and that he is only a victim of circumstance. But these Refalo episodes simply prove that the barometer of ethical tolerance is several notches down from the accepted norm in Malta. There seems to be no longer any consideration for what is acceptable or not. 

The calibration of our ethical barometer is very simple to understand: ask yourselves what your fate would be, if you were caught not paying tax or declaring your true income, beating up your son or daughter or wife, asking the police to look the other way, finding favour from the judiciary, jumping the queue and being favoured before everyone else.

The answer to all that is rather simple. 

We are ordinary folk and we have to have face the music like anyone else. That music is a rather bitter affair. The fact that an elected public official is expected to set the example, means we expect the very best from all them.

The opposite is of course true. The writing, once again, is on the wall.

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