Abela moves from words into action: Konrad Mizzi gets the boot

Mizzi flung down the gauntlet, and defied Abela’s explicit marching orders… the prime minister proceeded from words into action and got the Labour national executive to kick him out

In a Facebook post yesterday, disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi revealed that he had been asked to relinquish his parliamentary seat by Prime Minister Robert Abela; and also that he flatly refused to do so. 

“While I respect [Abela] and the work he is doing for our country, I disagree that I should have to step down over allegations and speculations pushed forward by the adversaries of the Labour Party,” he wrote. 

This latest development follows hard on the heels of the revelation, last Friday, that 17 Black – the offshore company owned by Yorgen Fenech: the prime suspect in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia – had made a previously undisclosed profit of €4.6 million when Malta’s state energy company, Enemalta, bought a wind farm in Montenegro in 2015. 

The energy minister at the time was Konrad Mizzi, who made several unexplained trips to Montenegro. In addition, Mizzi is himself the owner of offshore holdings that were set up specifically to receive payments from 17 Black, among others. 

Even before this money-trail came to public attention, there had been numerous calls for investigations into other dubious government contracts linked to Konrad Mizzi: including the partial privatisation of Enemalta, and the Vitals healthcare concession that saw three State-owned hospitals transferred to a private company which subsequently failed to meet its contractual obligations. 

Some of these investigations are still ongoing, but the Montenegro case alone has already provided tangible proof of corruption having taken place on Mizzi’s watch. With the emergence of clear evidence that money changed hands, we are no longer (as Mizzi claims) in the realm of ‘allegations and speculations’; and while the former minister is naturally within his rights to defend himself, there are also political responsibilities to be shouldered. 

In this case, the responsibility is painstakingly clear. Faced with such damning charges, Konrad Mizzi has no political option but to immediately resign from his position as a Labour MP: if nothing else, to avoid causing any more damage to both his party and country.

This happened through his forced suspension from Labour by the national executive, with 99% of the executive voting to kick Mizzi out of the parliamentary group.

The fact that he continues to resist doing so – even in open defiance of his own Prime Minister – only reinforces the growing public perception that he is clinging to his Parliamentary seat as the only means to defend himself from the possibility of criminal charges. And this, in itself, is the very essence of ‘impunity’. 

But Mizzi’s position is untenable for another reason: by refusing to take the honourable way out, he is also undermining Prime Minister Abela’s ability to distance himself from the toxic legacy of Joseph Muscat (and in so doing, to extricate his government from what Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo has aptly described as a ‘political eclipse’). 

In part, Abela is himself responsible for the situation he now finds himself in. His first reaction after winning the PL leadership election in January was to be seen publicly embracing Mizzi at the victory celebration; and he also contributed to an apparent ‘rehabilitation’ of his disgraced predecessor, Joseph Muscat, by appointing him as an economic consultant during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Of the so-called ‘Panama Gang’, only one – Keith Schembri – has resigned from party member out of his own will: and even then, without incurring any official reprimand from the party itself. But Muscat and Mizzi both linger on as shadowy presences in the background… thus undemining any attempt by Abela to put his party’s recent troubles behind him, once and for all. 

There are, admittedly, understandable political reasons why Abela would have been reluctant to cut ties with the past. Given the enormity of the lead he enjoys in surveys, Abela would no doubt have reasoned that it was not simply worth the risk of alienating Labour voters who still, in spite of everything, look up to both Muscat and Mizzi as party stalwarts, or victims of fake news in the media. 

But the reality is that the political cost of such a strategy far, far outweighs its short-term benefits. For unless Abela draws a clear line in the sand, the perception that he is trying to protect a criminal legacy will only return to haunt him every time a serious accusation of impropriety surfaces. 

To be fair, it must also be said that Abela did initially show the necessary resolve, by clearly stating that: “If Konrad Mizzi has any involvement in this case, he either has to decide for himself, or else I will be the one to take the decision.” 

Mizzi flung down the gauntlet, and defied Abela’s explicit marching orders… the prime minister proceeded from words into action and got the Labour national executive to kick him out. This was the natural step to take for Abela. For now, the new Labour leader is doing what it is right, now following the sullied Maltese playbook of politics.