An abdication of duty

As an elected official Rosianne Cutajar has far greater responsibilities than ordinary individuals. The chats show that she reneged on these responsibilities. 

A dump of WhatsApp exchanges between Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar and murder suspect Yorgen Fenech published by author Mark Camilleri has raised a hornet’s nest. 

There is the issue of journalistic responsibility and whether Camilleri’s act was ethical. MaltaToday will not condemn any act of responsible journalism that uncovers secrets that have a bearing on the public conduct of persons in power. Within this context, it becomes fair game to lift the lid on private WhatsApp exchanges that deal with matters of public policy and clearly show attempts by an elected Member of Parliament to trade in influence as well as accepting gifts and cash that were kept secret from the parliamentary register of interests. 

The debate however goes further: there are those who believe that an act of responsible journalism should not wilfully ignore the fact that these private exchanges are actually part of the criminal evidence collected in the course of charges against Fenech. Could reckless behaviour that displays this kind of evidence “in contempt of court” have potential ramifications on the system and process that will try Fenech in the end? 

Rosianne Cutajar’s spicier exchanges with Yorgen Fenech are of no public interest: the two had a very intimate relationship, which can also be proven through other less intimate exchanges. 

Publishing the details of these salacious exchanges is unnecessary and ultimately served to ridicule the MP, and perhaps obfuscate the serious exchanges that tell a lot about how the MP used her relationship with the 17 Black owner to obtain favours – this is the more serious issue at hand, which unfortunately risks being buried beneath the dump of sexual innuendos between two consenting adults. 

Undoubtedly, it is Cutajar’s behaviour as a politician that is of serious concern. By receiving cash gifts and a Bulgari handbag from a businessman at the same time that she was pooh-poohing a report penned by the Council of Europe that referenced the businessman’s secretive company in Dubai, 17 Black, and its sinister links to the Electrogas power station project, Cutajar rendered her position as an MP untenable. 

She was clearly acting as an advocate of sorts for Fenech, as an MP who represented the Maltese, without disclosing her beneficial relationship with him. To any right-thinking person, what Cutajar did was not only unethical but potentially criminal. 

Cutajar may claim, like anybody else who knew Fenech at the time, that she was unaware of his involvement in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder. She is right. Nobody, apart from those directly involved in the murder and the privileged few who had access to police investigations, would have suspected Fenech to be behind the journalist’s murder. If she believed that Fenech was an affable character at the helm of a business empire, sought after by politicians from all sides, one can hardly question the reason for pursuing a friendship. 

But in 2019, the news was already out that Fenech owned 17 Black, which had been indicated as a client company of the Panama companies set up by Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi. 

It is also true that the government narrative at the time was to play down the relevance of 17 Black and any claims of corruption involving the power station contract. Rosianne Cutajar may have simply been following the herd, repeating the narrative her bosses at Castille were peddling. 

As an MP, Cutajar cannot claim naiveté. The chats reveal that she received gifts and money from Fenech, suggesting a person who sought personal enrichment from the whole affair. She was not simply a government politician championing the government line, but a politician who had no shame in accepting gifts from the man she defended in her public capacity. 

As an elected official Rosianne Cutajar has far greater responsibilities than ordinary individuals. The chats show that she reneged on these responsibilities. 

Additionally, her rant to Fenech that “everyone is acting as if they are at the pig’s trough” and unashamedly telling him she will do the same, is an ominous example of moral degradation within the corridors of power. 

There are many reasons why Rosianne Cutajar should step away from her parliamentary role and public life altogether and none of them have to do with her intimate choices. 

It will be a mistake if the Labour Party uses the recklessness of what Mark Camilleri did to ignore everything else. Brushing aside Cutajar’s misdeeds will not make them go away. 

Just as it did with Konrad Mizzi in 2020, when it kicked out the former minister following media revelations on Enemalta’s involvement in the Montenegro windfarm scandal, the party has to, at the very least, discuss Cutajar’s future. 

Relegating this judgement to the voting public is not a choice but an abdication of duty.