We are in a state of abnormality. Muscat must go

Muscat can no longer command the moral authority a prime minister requires to address this national crisis

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

Malta is under a black cloud.

As the miasma of speculation appears to be clearing up on the Caruana Galizia assassination, there is only solid foundation upon which the palpable sensation of popular anger can rest: the removal of Malta’s prime minister.

The clusterfuck of Thursday’s Cabinet press conference – the tragic optics of a Cabinet in crisis, the absence of veteran minister Evarist Bartolo, the ‘lock-in’ of journalists after the press conference, and the protests on Castille place – showcased the catastrophe of Malta’s political state.

But now abnormality has captured the state of Malta, in the throes of a conspiracy that first started when the PM’s chief of staff and a minister concocted the secretive opening of offshore companies in Panama to receive monies from a Dubai offshore company owned by the Tumas magnate and Electrogas shareholder, Yorgen Fenech.

Today we witness the extremity of what this crime has resulted in: the assassination of a journalist.

The second the 17 Black owner, Yorgen Fenech, became a person of interest in the assassination, was the second that Keith Schembri, his conspirator in the offshore ruse, became implicated in the assassination.

Schembri may evade criminal culpability, but now the entire Labour administration has been compromised beyond recognition: because Schembri was present at those Malta Security Service briefings in which his friend Yorgen Fenech and the link with middleman Melvin Theuma, were given to the prime minister.

Here a strong suspicion that national security could have been breached, must lead to a criminal investigation.

Schembri and Konrad Mizzi were spared the criminal investigation that the Panama Papers scandal warranted back in 2016; but it was Joseph Muscat who politically defended his men, refusing to see the corruption of the offshore structures that had been secretly devised, in an error of judgment that is unfolding into an explosive climax.

The prime minister failed to probe his men when Caruana Galizia’s cryptic 17 Black post made the rounds in February 2017, and during the May 2017 election when a draft FIAU report was leaked to the press alleging a link between the Panama companies and 17 Black. Back then Schembri issued a denial of the link – only to admit it later in April 2018, when the Daphne Project conclusively proved the link between the Panama companies and 17 Black, and then when Yorgen Fenech was outed as the 17 Black owner in November 2018.

At some point in 2018 as these facts were made known to the public, the Prime Minister was aware that Yorgen Fenech was a main suspect in the assassination – and Keith Schembri was present for these meetings.

Muscat can no longer command the moral authority a prime minister requires to address this national crisis.

He has been shorn of the trust of a well-meaning part of the citizenry, which has never latched on to the partisan tribalism that sustains the overweening power of politicians. And he cannot be expected to use blind loyalty or partisan shows of force to see him through this crisis.

His resignation is necessary because Malta needs to restore a semblance of stability and trust in the institutions, and because a new prime minister must deliver the island from the corruption that has engulfed it.