Abela must act to restore Malta’s reputation

Robert Abela may have promised a degree of ‘continuity’ from the Muscat era, but in the light of the ongoing court case on the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination, and all its sinister implications, there is a point at which ‘continuity’ must end

With each new hearing, the ongoing compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech – accused of masterminding Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder in 2017 – paints an increasingly harrowing, worrying picture of the state of Maltese politics. 

The tapes being played out in court strongly cement the impression of a Police Force that ‘serves and protects’ the people in power; and which was definitely rudderless under the last Commissioner of Police. 

Even though the evidence itself is often hearsay, the gravity of the implications is enough to warrant a thorough investigation of all emerging allegations. 

These include the claim that former Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar himself had leaked security information to suspects, thus possibly endangering police officers’ lives by leaking details of an impending arrest. Likewise, former deputy police chief Silvio Valletta and former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri have also been implicated in similar leaks. 

These allegations alone attest to the level of suspicion and disrepute that now beleaguer the instruments of Maltese justice. But even this pales into insignificance compared to the repeated allegation that PL deputy leader Chris Cardona may have paid assassins to murder Caruana Galizia; or the many mentions of more people in the police force doing Keith Schembri’s bidding; or of Keith Schembri himself, or the further implication of Cardona through the mention of his very close friends (including Toni l-Biglee: a former Special Assignment Group officer, and also canvasser to Cardona); as well as a host of other middlemen, and even the alleged bombmakers. 

While all due legal process must be undergone before establishing guilt in this case, it remains inconceivable that such damning accusations have not resulted in an immediate criminal investigation by the police. 

At minimum, Cardona should have been called in for renewed questioning; and given that he has also hinted at a possible ‘frame-up’ against him, his own claims – which also amount to a serious criminal offence – should be investigated separately. 

None of this seems to be happening, however. And this suggests that the institutional paralysis that gripped the country under the preceding administration, can still be felt today. 

Faced with all this, Prime Minister Robert Abela has to take serious note and pay attention to what is happening around him. He cannot sit pretty and wait for Cardona to resign of his own accord.  

Nor is it enough to say – as Abela did last Monday – that “Chris Cardona has at heart the Labour Party, and I trust he will take all necessary decisions not to harm the party”. The reality is that Cardona’s predicament is harming the Labour Party… indeed, it is harming the country as a whole. 

As both party leader and Prime Minister, Robert Abela has to be the one who takes the bull by the horns, and demand his resignation. 

But Abela also has another huge problem inside his party – and that is his predecessor Joseph Muscat, to whom many of the men implicated were also closely connected: most specifically Keith Schembri, around whom so much of the allegations revolve. 

Muscat’s influence cannot be simply discarded as that of a ‘mere backbencher’: even because he can no longer be considered as such, having been taken on as an economic advisor by the present administration. 

Robert Abela may have promised a degree of ‘continuity’ from the Muscat era, in his bid to become PL leader last January; but in the light of the ongoing court case, and all its sinister implications, there is a point at which ‘continuity’ must end. 

Both the Labour Party and the country need to turn a page, and move away from this sordid episode in our history. But Abela’s dogged insistence on retaining all links with the troubled past only makes that severance harder to achieve. Even worse, it contributes to the same perception of an institution that is geared towards protecting its own. 

This is unacceptable at the best of times. But today, the reality is that Malta is facing a serious crisis: a crisis which risks crippling the reputation of its Police Force, as well as eroding national trust in an entire political class. 

Its ramifications are being felt elsewhere, too. In Europe, Malta's ‘bad faith’ has cost the country any claims to occupy the moral high ground. 

As Prime Minister, Robert Abela has to take responsibility for the current situation, and work to restore public faith in the justice system, as well as Malta’s damaged international reputation. 

And this can only be achieved by expunging the Police Force of the elements that have thrown it into disrepute; and ensuring that this prosecution successfully investigates ALL the people involved… as well as keeping the public well informed of the status of investigations, with the same transparency and accountability that we should, after all, expect in a 21st century EU member state.