Why no one in Labour will flinch

Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri are unlikely to face any flak in public from Labour Party exponents in the wake of the latest damning revelations on their Panama companies. Kurt Sansone explains why

The Prime Minister has stood by Mizzi and Schembri through thick and thin, even going for an election with the weight of their wrongdoing hanging over the PL. Having won last year's election resoundingly despite the flak, Muscat's persona within the party rank and file has grown as big as that of erstwhile Labour darling, Dom Mintoff
The Prime Minister has stood by Mizzi and Schembri through thick and thin, even going for an election with the weight of their wrongdoing hanging over the PL. Having won last year's election resoundingly despite the flak, Muscat's persona within the party rank and file has grown as big as that of erstwhile Labour darling, Dom Mintoff

There has only been one significant voice within the Labour Party to publicly criticise Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri over the latest revelations involving their Panama companies.

Mark Camilleri, the chairman of the National Book Council and a Labour Party member, took to Facebook to voice his disappointment after an email uncovered by an international consortium of journalists showed how the ‘target clients’ of the Panama companies were two Dubai-based outfits.

The email also revealed that the Panama companies belonging to Mizzi and Schembri had to receive €150,000 monthly from the Dubai companies – 17 Black and Macbridge.

While the story may have appeared to be old hat – a regurgitation of Panama Papers and the 17 Black story that emerged during the election campaign last year – it was not. This damning email had not been available until now.

And to top it all, in his first reaction, Schembri acknowledged the existence of 17 Black, adding it had been included in a “draft business plan” for his companies.

Camilleri was appalled by the new information, which gave credence to the allegations of money laundering and kickbacks made several months ago, and vented his frustration publicly.

However, he is very likely to be a lone voice of dissent within a Labour Party that has had its work in government tainted by the Panama Papers affair.

Panama Papers

When two years ago Daphne Caruana Galizia outed Mizzi’s and Schembri’s offshore company set ups, many in the party were shocked. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat hesitated for two whole months as he saw his closest two allies taken to the gallows.

Evarist Bartolo, Godfrey Farrugia, Alfred Sant and Leo Brincat had publicly suggested Mizzi should resign. Many other voices within the party did not hold back from internally expressing their anger at how the Panama ventures of these two relatively newcomers in the party risked derailing the first successful Labour government in decades.

Muscat acted on 28 April that year when he reshuffled Cabinet by forcing Mizzi’s resignation from party deputy leader, removing his health and energy portfolios but retaining him as minister.

Schembri was retained, with Muscat expressing full trust in him.

On 4 May, a motion of no confidence against Mizzi was defeated in Parliament with Bartolo, making an impassioned speech that contained nuanced criticism towards his Cabinet colleague. All Labour MPs, even if some did it begrudgingly, eventually threw their weight behind Mizzi.

A persona as big as Mintoff’s

Roll forward two years and faced with a significant revelation that re-opens the Panama wounds, Bartolo’s reaction was coy. He evidently did not want to ruffle feathers when confronted by journalists asking him whether Mizzi and Schembri should resign.

And he is not alone. Despite internal discomfort and anger over Mizzi’s and Schembri’s behaviour, nobody within Labour is in the mood to stick his neck out and call for their resignation. Last time around, it led to nothing and most of those in Cabinet today owe their political career to Muscat.

The Prime Minister has stood by Mizzi and Schembri through thick and thin, even going for an election with the weight of their wrongdoing hanging over the PL.

Having won last year’s election resoundingly despite the flak, Muscat’s persona within the party rank and file has grown as big as that of erstwhile Labour darling, Dom Mintoff. He has not only captained his party to two historic general election victories but led the country to new economic heights, introducing major social change and civil liberties.

Given the trust the Prime Minister has constantly placed in his two allies, any criticism directed towards them at this stage would invariably be interpreted as criticism towards Muscat.

And with the Prime Minister entering the twilight of his political career – through a self-imposed deadline to leave before the next general election – it is unlikely he will want to engage in a bruising resignations game.

In these circumstances, nobody within Labour would want to appear a spoil sport. After all, with the Opposition still in tatters, it is not as if the PL’s grip on power can be seriously challenged by the revelations.

Dismissive attitude

There was an initial lull on social media by Labour sympathisers the moment the revelations started being made last week. Most were probably waiting to see how the Prime Minister would react.

After Muscat told MaltaToday he will not comment because of pending inquiries that are looking into the allegations raised, party sympathisers became dismissive of the new facts that emerged.

How long this attitude will last depends on many factors, not least Muscat’s stubbornness to hold on to Mizzi and Schembri at all costs.

Muscat is aided in his position by a public that has largely made its peace with Panama, closing an eye to wrongdoing while the country flourishes. It will only get ugly if the economy takes a hit.

But with nothing on the horizon suggesting a downturn, Muscat can hope to ride the next wave of criticism and emerge stronger before he calls it a day.

Whether this relative peace of mind will be destabilised by some court decision has to be seen but it will certainly not be Labour MPs and activists who will rock the boat.

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