Too serious to sweep under the carpet

Labour has an obligation to live up to the selfsame lofty standards to which it holds others.

Cartoon for MaltaToday Midweek by Mark Scicluna
Cartoon for MaltaToday Midweek by Mark Scicluna

At a press conference yesterday morning, the Nationalist Party produced correspondence which appears at a glance to irrefutably prove that Labour leader Joseph Muscat knew of the infamous 'white powder incident' at a Labour Party club.

They were written or dictated by the barman of the Hal-Safi party club. The evidence is based on the complaint made personally (and in writing) to Joseph Muscat by the former barman of the club.

Naturally the timing of the PN's revelations was chosen to wreak maximum havoc within the PL camp at the height of an electoral campaign where the oil scandal has hijacked the campaign. We need hardly be surprised at this; Labour has demonstrated the same Machiavellian streak in its own various criticisms of the party in government.

But while questions may well be asked over the fact that the PN knew of such allegations and chose not to report them (in fact they had these letters last September) - a line of defence currently doing the rounds on social networks - there can be little doubt that the real onus to report this matter to the authorities lay with PL, not with the PN at all.

On various occasions since the allegations were first aired, the Labour leader stated categorically that he did not know about this incident. It now appears that the matter had been brought to his notice more than two years ago.

That the offence happens to concern drugs only makes matters considerably worse. Drugs are rightly a major cause for concern. Regardless of proposals in this same election to 'decriminalise' possession of certain soft drugs, what we are dealing with here does not seem to involve simple possession, nor for that matter 'soft' drugs.

But the real question mark in all this goes beyond the PL leader's stating the truth.

Indeed the whole affair first came to light in a recording, aired by the Nationalist Party, in which deputy leader Toni Abela was heard saying that he went to a police station, found a labour-leaning policeman and requested that no action be taken. That incident was not about a drug related case. 

The drug case refers to the Safi club not the Attard club.

To be fair the recording sounded like a selective collection of excerpts from a recorded conversation; and while the selected parts do indicate that Abela mishandled this case completely, it would be far better for all concerned to hear the full recording and form our own opinions - rather than have to rely exclusively on the PN's interpretation, which (for obvious reasons) may be slightly biased.

Even if there is more to the story, however, the excerpts to have been aired in public so far do not reflect well on either party or its leadership. 

Toni Abela definitely took immediate action when he was informed of a suspected drug abuse at a club.

Whether he should have informed the police is of course debatable. If he had he would have solved all the angst about this case.

Naturally it is was up to the police to investigate this case and they discovered no wrong doing; but in the court of public opinion there is more than just criminal responsibility to be taken into account.

One must also analyse the political fallout. What are the political responsibility issues at stake in this affair?

Either way, the recordings (and corresponding letter) have had an impact on Labour's credibility and left Toni Abela in a difficult position: a position that (let's face it) cannot have been helped much, when both the party leader himself and newly elected deputy leader Louis Grech stated publicly that they would have acted differently.

Those words have not helped Toni Abela.

Coming at a time when Labour is far ahead in the polls, the actual electoral fall-out from all this is admittedly another question altogether. It remains too early too see what effect this particular case will have on voter intentions. It would however be a shame if the underlying lessons to be learnt from this incident are overshadowed by purely electoral considerations.

Ultimately, Labour has an obligation to live up to the selfsame lofty standards to which it holds others. Anything less would be a betrayal of that otherwise meaningful slogan, 'Malta belongs us to all of us'.

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