Confronting the skeletons of the recent past

Polls showing that Abela enjoys even greater support than Joseph Muscat should make him more – not less – pro-active, in ensuring that justice is done and seen to be done

The post-COVID-19 ‘return to normality’ cannot simply be a question of going back to work and kickstarting the economy.

It is also crucial to restore a sense of institutional normality: which was seriously undermined by the implication of high government officials in an assassination plot, which ultimately led to Joseph Muscat’s resignation and the election of Robert Abela as party leader and Prime Minister. 

While the government should obviously not interfere in police investigations, the public perception is that there is a general reluctance to act beyond the current court proceedings against Yorgen Fenech: the suspected mastermind behind Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder.  

But this trial alone cannot solve what appears to be a complex case, featuring a number of sub-plots. The roller coaster testimony of Melvin Theuma – who has been offered a Presidential pardon in exchange for revealing all that he knows about the case – has already implicated a number of people beyond the prime suspect.  

While some of this is based on hearsay, it is vital that each element in the puzzle is fully investigated. It is still astonishing that, all these months later, we have never learned on what happened to Keith Schembri’s mobile, and whether investigations have continued, at the very least, into the possibility of obstruction of justice.  

It is also unclear whether Kenneth Camilleri – a former security aide to Muscat, also mentioned by Theuma – was and is being investigated. Even more baffling is the fact that the bomb-makers are still on the run. 

In this context, the new Police Commissioner has the responsibility of giving leadership to the police, and reassuring the public that no stone really is being left unturned. That makes it even more vital that the new commissioner enjoys widespread trust and, is seen as someone who has no qualms in conducting the investigation without fear and favour. 

Ideally, the new commissioner should be held in the same esteem as Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci was held during the COVID-19 crisis. Surely, he or she will be walking on a minefield; but this is all the more reason why the new Commissioner needs to assume a more pro-active public profile, and win over hearts and minds across the political divide. 

The only way to do this is to put an end to the institutional paralysis which has neutered the police force ever since the first Panama Papers revelations in 2016.  It remains a mystery to this day why inquiries related to 17 Black remain unfinished. 

Moreover, in view of revelations during last Tuesday’s court sitting – in which his name surfaced in transcripts of recordings – Chris Cardona would do well to resign his post as deputy leader of the Labour Party: not as an admission of guilt, but to remove any perception of being politically protected from any investigations in his regard. 

Cardona has every right to protest his innocence, but he can’t fight his battles as the deputy leader of a party which needs to turn a new leaf. 

But beyond judicial truths, political truths also have to be established. Former PM Joseph Muscat is duty-bound to answer questions about his relationship with Yorgen Fenech and Keith Schembri; and to reveal when exactly he himself became aware of the assassination plot, and when he became aware of Keith Schembri’s knowledge of it. 

Truth has also to be established regarding what exactly happened during a stormy Cabinet meeting which ultimately led to Muscat’s resignation. If need be, Parliament should appoint a committee to hold sittings in which the former Prime Minister and other officials are grilled on the political overtures of this case.

Above all, Robert Abela cannot afford to be seen as a protector of his predecessor. It is time for him to detach himself from continuity from the former administration, and prepare his party for its reckoning with its recent past.

So far, the Labour party and its media has ignored this part of Muscat’s legacy completely. The absence of a strong opposition is no excuse for carrying on business as usual. For any failure to make progress on the justice and corruption front, will inevitably take the country back to the tense December weeks.

Nonetheless, a vast segment of the population has so far given Abela the benefit of the doubt.  Now, the Prime Minister needs to justify this trust by ensuring that, under his watch, investigations are indeed taking place without fear or favour.

Polls showing that Abela enjoys even greater support than Joseph Muscat should make him more – not less – pro-active, in ensuring that justice is done and seen to be done.

Yet to date, Abela’s behaviour suggests that he has very little will to confront the skeletons left in his Castille closet by his predecessor.