Joseph Muscat and Keith Schembri: a symbiotic relationship

Was Joseph Muscat just a screen for Keith Schembri to the extent that decisions on political strategies and on policies were actually being taken by Keith Schembri hiding behind a façade called Joseph Muscat?

Was the tail actually wagging the dog all the time? And would the dog have been left wondering what to do if he lost the tail?
Was the tail actually wagging the dog all the time? And would the dog have been left wondering what to do if he lost the tail?

A short time after Joseph Muscat was elected Labour leader, an acquaintance of mine who – unlike me – had known Muscat for some time assured me that the new Labour leader was just a damp squib, in the sense that he was expected to be interesting, exciting, or impressive, but will actually fail to be any of these things.

As time passed by, I decided that this assessment of Joseph Muscat was completely erroneous. In fact, I often expressed myself in the sense that he was being constantly underestimated and that his astuteness made him capable of achieving apparently difficult results with a certain ease.

Muscat’s tryst with the history of our country is not ending in triumph, but in disgrace. Was he therefore the astute, unbeatable politician that many thought he was or was he just a screen behind which somebody else’s astuteness and guile were hidden? The man behind the screen was, of course, Keith Schembri.

Coincidentally, in February 2017, some time before Donald Trump ditched Steve Bannon, I had written a piece titled: ‘Vote Trump, get Bannon’.

In it I had commented: “In Malta we have seen Richard Cachia Caruana involving himself in electoral campaigns and then playing the part of the man behind the throne in Eddie Fenech Adami’s administrations. Today, we have a similar relationship between Joseph Muscat and Keith Schembri.

“It is an interesting phenomenon. Nobody voted for Steve Bannon to become President of the USA, as much as nobody ever voted for Richard Cachia Caruana or for Keith Schembri to become ‘de facto’ Prime Ministers of Malta.”

The same, I suppose, could be said of the relationship between Lawrence Gonzi and Edgar Galea Curmi.

My comments went further: “The immense influence these men hold (or held) in the power structure of the different administrations is acknowledged by many – including elected politicians who grumble about the system giving so much power to ‘unelected’ persons. That between leader and ‘counsellor’ is an interesting symbiotic relationship that merits further study by professionals.”

Was Joseph Muscat just a screen for Keith Schembri to the extent that decisions on political strategies and on policies were actually being taken by Keith Schembri hiding behind a façade called Joseph Muscat?

I do not underestimate the input Richard Cachia Caruana gave to Fenech Adami’s political strategies and to his administrations, nor do I underestimate the contribution of Edgar Galea Curmi to Gonzi’s way of doing things, but I am sure that both Fenech Adami and Gonzi were men of substance and although their counsellor’s input was very important, the buck actually stopped with the Prime Minister.

When there was disagreement, as there must always be between any two adults, the two Prime Ministers – could and did – rule out their advisors’ advice. It could well be that there were not many occasions when this happened – that is the way this symbiosis works. It is also true that there were instances when the two PMs used their personal counsellor to do their dirty work for them. But my experience leaves me no doubt that both Fenech Adami and Gonzi were their own men, not a screen for somebody else.

It now seems that the Schembri-Muscat relationship was quite different. Was Joseph Muscat just a screen for Keith Schembri to the extent that decisions on political strategies and on policies were actually being taken by Keith Schembri hiding behind a façade called Joseph Muscat?

There is no doubt that this is also the impression of a number of Castille insiders, who now feel freer to express their opinion on this issue.

Is this why Schembri boasted that he had given Labour ten victories – victories that were purportedly won by Muscat? And did Schembri make a mistake when he mentioned ‘ten’ victories – as some concluded – or was he also including the victories that the Schembri-Muscat tandem made within the structures of the Labour Party? Remember Schembri also had an office at the Labour headquarters.

Was the tail actually wagging the dog all the time? And would the dog have been left wondering what to do if he lost the tail?

Was this the real reason why Muscat had indicated that he ‘needed’ Schembri (and Konrad Mizzi) to the extent that he could not dicth them when their setting up of companies in Panama was revealed?

I cannot but acknowledge that my acquaintance’s assessment of Joseph Muscat being an empty vessel was probably nearer the truth than I ever thought.

President’s message

In his message for Christmas, President George Vella called for everyone to do their utmost for the country to regain ground and for everyone to feel respected.

He insisted that this could only be done if everyone shouldered their responsibilities and carried them out honestly and transparently, placing the country’s interests first and foremost.

This is a message worth pursuing. It has to be followed up with action by all political parties and all members of civil society if our dear Malta is to regain its standing and honour.

Happy New Year

Here’s wishing a very happy and prosperous New Year to all MaltaToday readers and staff.

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