[WATCH] Abela turns guns on PN when asked about his time by Muscat’s side

Xtra on TVM | Robert Abela discusses COVID-19, presidential pardons, and the fight against corruption

Prime Minister Robert Abela
Prime Minister Robert Abela

Prime Minister Robert Abela has refused to shoulder some form of responsibility for decisions taken in the Muscat-era Cabinet, during which he served as the former premier’s appointee. 

Abela refuted suggestions by Opposition leader Bernard Grech that he had to shoulder the burden of Joseph Muscat’s decisions, by virtue of having been present on Cabinet meetings.

Instead he turned his guns on the Opposition, saying Grech was surrounded by members of the party old guard and that the PN lacked credentials to present itself as an alternative government.

Interviewed on TVM’s Xtra, Abela appeared unable to explain why people close to the Muscat administration did not blow the whistle, or had not realised that an alleged scheme of enrichment was being played out right before their eyes. 

“Today Keith Schembri is facing criminal proceedings, which followed a magisterial inquiry... this government’s philosophy is that justice shows no favour to anyone,” Abela replied. 

Xtra host Saviour Balzan himself admitted he himself, like other sections of the press, had been unable to discern Keith Schembri’s motives in his dealings with him, but put it to Abela that Muscat’s former chief of staff had also been one of his colleagues, and that much of this could have been avoided by taking action on the Panama Papers scandal. 

Abela countered by saying that Eddie Fenech Adami himself could be argued of having made the error of appointing the disgraced Noel Arrigo to Chief Justice, who was later convicted of bribery. “We could say that was an error that brought the justice system to its feet,” Abela said, refusing to pass judgement on the errors of Muscat. 

Abela, like his predecessor, pitched his government as being “pro-market and pro-business” and even implored critics to “stop throwing shade on the business community”. 

“Let’s stop this narrative... I have the back of all businesses who are working towards attracting more investment. There are moments when there needs to be synergy between politics and business, but even this has to be done with the necessary distance from each other.” 

Abela practically ruled out the idea of a presidential pardon for Yorgen Fenech, who is being charged for masterminding the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. This was initially suggested by Opposition leader Bernard Grech as an option of last resort.  

Abela referred to Vincent Muscat ‘il-Koħħu’, who had secured a plea bargain with police which saw him punished with a 15-year prison sentence for the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. However, his guilty plea directly led to the arrest of three others, brothers Adrian and Robert Agius and Jamie Vella, who were subsequently charged with providing the bomb that proved fatal for Caruana Galizia. “In that case, more people were arrested. We can’t go in the direction where no one is found guilty in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder […] If we want justice, but it means everyone walks free, then that isn’t justice,” he said.

COVID strategy 

Malta’s strategy out of lockdown will see a gradual removal of restrictions with education given priority, the Prime Minister said.   

Abela: 'If we want justice, but it means everyone walks free, then that isn't justice'
Abela: 'If we want justice, but it means everyone walks free, then that isn't justice'

Interviewed on TVM's Xtra by Saviour Balzan, Robert Abela spoke about COVID-19, corruption scandals, and whether the Labour Party has become too neoliberal over the past eight years in government.  

On COVID-19, he said that Malta's reopening will be done in a gradual way and with the advice of the health authorities. 

Abela insisted that business owners have been crucial in providing jobs throughout the pandemic, and that they shouldn't be branded negatively in public discourse. 

“This is a pro-market and pro-business government,” he stated. “Having economic growth means wealth is created and distributed to everyone.”  

Abela admitted that the last eight years of government saw some experiencing the benefits of added wealth more than others, but insisted that the Labour Party’s aim is to ensure that those who have not experienced this wealth can be supported and pushed up the economic ladder. “You can’t have wealth remain in the business sphere, it has to be distributed.”  

The fight against corruption  

In line with this, Abela wanted to reassure the private sector that the fight against corruption will not lead to a witch-hunt across businesses, as the recent charges brought against Nexia BT sent a sour taste among financial services providers.  

“The demarcation line is clear – we strengthened institutions to combat organised crime, and we’ll continue incentivising companies to invest – they've been crucial in providing jobs.”  

On Electrogas, Abela stated that the project brought about a better quality of air, and in turn, a higher quality of life, together with cheaper electricity bills. “Let’s not attack projects that have brought about a better quality of life.”  

Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri were heavily embroiled in Electrogas controversies, but the Prime Minister insisted that a political decision was taken on them a while ago.  

“It’s no longer a matter of political decision – we have institutions for those who were lacking […] The court decides and we bow our head to their decision.”