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Corruption

The judgement of Joseph Muscat

by Mark Wood

Published in The Times of Malta, October 7, 2020 

I wrote this editorial in October 2020 during my time as print editor of Times of Malta. It marked the last speech made in Parliament by former Prime Minister of Malta Joseph Muscat, as he resigned as a Member of Parliament and pulled out of Maltese political life. 

The editorial may be a little dated but it takes on a new relevance now, with Muscat at the centre of public attention. He recently considered a return to politics by contesting the June European Parliament elections – an idea he eventually abandoned. 

Perhaps he knew he was soon to face criminal prosecution over a fraudulent deal to privatise three hospitals during his time in office. A magisterial inquiry into the deal has just been concluded and this is exactly the situation he finds himself in right now – the first Maltese former prime minister to be facing criminal charges in court.

The background to the editorial is that Muscat had resigned as prime minister in January 2020 over links between him, his close associates and Yorgen Fenech, the man accused of being behind the killing of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia on October 16, 2017. A public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the murder later found that the climate of impunity that overshadowed Malta, and permitted the assassination to take place, originated in the Office of the Prime Minister.

As he stepped out of politics, the editorial focused on what Muscat would likely be remembered for in history – for running a government with a reputation for corruption, for association with a murder and a resignation in shame – as opposed to the achievements he touts as being his legacy. 

The editorial ends by saying it is not in the courts of public opinion that Muscat needs to finally be judged, clearly implying it is the law courts that would eventually judge him. This scenario has just come much closer to becoming a reality. 

Mark Wood

When Joseph Muscat is judged by history, his main legacy will not be seen as the short-lived economic boom of the last few years. It will be the international ill-repute he has earned for Malta that will long outlive the government he has left behind. 

The image that his premiership will most readily conjure up to those studying it years from now will not be the massive influx of foreign labour that helped the island prosper.

It will be the huge crowds protesting in Valletta that forced him to resign in shame over his government’s alleged links to a murderous crime.

The single most important event associated with his six years in power will not be his resounding victory at the 2017 general election but, rather the assassination of a journalist a few months later.

That assassination might not have happened had he decided to say “enough” at an early stage to the corrupt elements that were running riot in his government.

It is under the shadow of these dark realities that Muscat resigned from parliament on Monday. They are realities that will continue to unfold, as audits and investigations, inquiries and court cases proceed to unravel the tangled web of corrupt practices that he allowed people around him – even those considered closest to him – to indulge in.

Under his watch, Malta made a name for itself as a great place to find a job, do business, enjoy a holiday, settle down, become a citizen. Because of him and his cronies, Malta’s name is also being dragged through the mud as a place where people can launder their proceeds, steal taxpayer money through government contracts and avoid tax to the tune of millions.

During Muscat’s time, construction could proceed largely unhindered by regulators, fuelling the economy by providing thousands of jobs and generating billions in profits.

Muscat’s success in strengthening social rights will be overshadowed by another singular achievement: the weakening of most of the institutions meant to keep in check the abuse of power and trading in influence.

But that same building frenzy obliterated the character of towns and villages, gobbled up green open spaces and made life hell for countless neighbouring residents – even killing a few of them.

Muscat’s success in strengthening social rights will be overshadowed by another singular achievement: the weakening of most of the institutions meant to keep in check the abuse of power and trading in influence.

The former prime minister has not left behind a Labour Party proud of having upheld its values but hollowed out of people of principle and having difficulty keeping up any pretence of integrity even among its own supporters.

One of the last times he spoke to reporters as an MP was not an interview about his successful policies but a grilling outside police headquarters about why he had just been interrogated in connection with the investigation into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

His last speech in parliament was not a glorious recap of his best moments as a legislator but a 90-second excuse for his sudden and inglorious departure. He used to roar inside the House but left it with a whimper. 

We will not, however, be seeing the back of him. The wheels of justice have recently started to grind with slightly less friction than during his time in office. Some of them might even reach their destination: to confirm or otherwise the suspicions, which started with a trickle and have become a flood, about his part in the darkest chapters of his administration.

Muscat may have paid a political price for his acts of commission and omission. It is not in the courts of public opinion, though, that he needs to finally be judged.

Photo credit: Arne Müseler / arne-mueseler.com