Burying the Muscat legacy: the right thing to do

At a political level Joseph Muscat’s legacy, with all its good, has been poisoned. This is a legacy that cannot be treated any longer with kids gloves by those who believed in the change that was promised.

Robert Abela has had a convoluted relationship with his predecessor’s legacy since becoming Labour leader in 2020. 

He has repeatedly pledged to continue building on the good that was done, and to fix “where things could have been done better”. 

For some reason, however, he has never found it in him to describe the corruption that happened under the Muscat administration as “bad”; that would be too strong a word for him to use. 

But the opening of secretive companies in Panama by Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri; the machinations behind the Electrogas tender; the implicit corruption involving Yorgen Fenech’s 17 Black and the two Panama companies; Enemalta’s payment of a high premium to acquire a Montenegro wind farm, from which Fenech enriched himself; the fraudulent hospitals deal; a minister’s deliberate attempt to mislead Cabinet; these are not things that ‘could have been done better’. 

These instances all point towards a group of people who entered government with a clear intention to enrich themselves. These were people with a personal roadmap that ran parallel to that of the country. 

The assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia at the behest of someone so close to Castille’s topmost officials, is definitely not something that ‘could have been done better’ – it was an evil act in which a journalist was silenced because of her work. 

Last week’s revelations concerning former prime minister Joseph Muscat and the VGH hospitals deal were yet another nail in the coffin of the Labour Party’s fairy tale since 2008. 

That Muscat was in the employ of Swiss company Accutor soon after he stepped down from prime minister had already been revealed. We also knew that Accutor had itself received payments from Steward Health Care, which took over the ill-fated hospitals concession in Malta. 

But the new information made available by the OCCRP, Times of Malta and The Shift showed that one of the companies Muscat received payments from had previously been called VGH Europe and was set up by a director of the original hospitals concessionaire. 

In a further twist, it was later revealed that former VGH director Ram Tumuluri has asked for whistleblower protection status in the US to lift the lid on alleged threats he received from top officials in the Muscat administration to transfer the hospitals concession to Steward. Tumuluri’s filings in the US also state he will give information on the corruption under the Muscat administration in relation to the hospitals deal. 

Once again, these are not things that ‘could have been done better’. These are serious accusations of corruption involving Joseph Muscat and those closest to him in the previous administration. 

The former prime minister has denied any wrongdoing, suggesting there is a concerted effort by obscure forces to tarnish his reputation. He has gone as far as to request the inquiring magistrate’s recusal. 

The magisterial inquiry into the hospitals deal, which has been going on for four years now, will determine whether there is enough evidence that could lead police to charge the people involved, including Muscat. 

It is not for Abela to pronounce himself on the guilt or otherwise of Muscat; that is a matter for the courts to decide. But the Prime Minister has the duty and responsibility towards his party and the country to pronounce himself on the political impact of the sleaze that characterised some of the major projects under the previous administration. 

Abela cannot ignore all that has happened, including the damning findings of the National Audit Office published last week. The NAO pinned the blame on Konrad Mizzi; but it also noted the lack of proper engagement by Muscat and Schembri when information was solicited from them. 

Abela cannot brush off this whirlwind so lightly. If he wants to distance himself and his administration from the wrongdoing of his predecessor, he has to acknowledge that what happened was bad and denounce the protagonists who have dragged the country into a quagmire. 

At a political level Muscat’s legacy, with all its good, has been poisoned. This is a legacy that cannot be treated any longer with kids gloves by those who believed in the change that was promised. 

Labour supporters understandably want to cherish the good that has been achieved – and there has been a lot of good. But the coin also has a terrible flipside that leads up to the man who was in charge. Labour supporters must not let nostalgia get in the way of telling things as they are. 

This is why Robert Abela must show true leadership. It is not enough for him to say that, upon becoming prime minister three years ago, he put an immediate end to the farce of having government workers remove flowers from Daphne’s makeshift memorial in Valletta. It is not enough for him to say that his government has implemented important reforms. It is not enough for him to say he took the bold decision to kick Konrad Mizzi out of the party. 

Abela has to be the first to acknowledge the bad things without softening the language used. He has to tell his supporters that the bad decisions taken by the Muscat cabal do not represent the party’s values. He then has to apologise to his supporters and the nation for the actions of his predecessor. 

The poisoned Muscat legacy must be buried and the Prime Minister must reiterate his support for all organs of the State in the pursuit of justice. 

This course of action will hurt and anger certain sections of the party grassroots. But it is the right thing to do.