This column first appeared on Malta Today
Over the last few weeks, the PM has been growing a beard, we were told, in honour of Movember, where men grow facial hair during the month of November, in order to create awareness about men’s health issues.
Suddenly, on Wednesday morning he appeared clean-shaven even though the month of November has not yet passed. It may be a trivial observation but it could not go unnoticed because of the timing. On Tuesday he announced that he would be recommending a conditional Presidential pardon to a suspect, a middleman, who is willing to testify and give up the name of the mastermind who ordered the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Barely 24 hours later, Yorgen Fenech, CEO of Tumas Group, a partner in the Electrogas power station and owner of the infamous 17 Black company, was arrested when he attempted to flee the island in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The dots were connected quicker than you can say ‘yacht’.
For all I know, it may be completely unrelated, but the decision to shave off the beard before he spoke to reporters again on Wednesday seemed to coincide with a PM who has finally taken a unilateral decision. What that decision is we do not yet know but simply from observing him closely over the last few months, the nervous demeanour was gone, so were the darting glances which did not make eye contact with his interviewer and the shiftiness of someone who is caught mercilessly under the media’s unrelenting glare. He still looks gaunt, worn out and thin, as he has been looking for a while now – a type of thinness which does not come from diet and exercise, but from excessive worry and the weight of a huge burden. But the nervous disposition was gone, and his trademark decisiveness (or cold arrogance, depending on whether you are his fan or not) was back.
Obviously he has no one else to blame for all this: tough decisions should have been taken three years ago when the news broke that Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi were in the process of setting up secret offshore companies. With each new revelation, including the Dubai-based 17 Black alleged connections to Schembri and Mizzi, Muscat instead chose to stand by them, defending them to the hilt, and that decision has haunted him to this day. Whether it is because he is in it with them up to his eyeballs, or because he is fiercely loyal to his friends and members of his Cabinet, the fact remains that it is that inaction which culminated in the developments that have unfolded this week.
Logic tells you that Labour voters themselves should be openly calling for Muscat’s head. The fact that they do not, and that he still enjoys overwhelming support is proof (some claim) that many are content with, and unperturbed by the corruption allegations. There are those who claim that despite everything we now know, Labour supporters will support Muscat and his administration no matter what, but those who reason like this are only basing their assumptions on the very vociferous diehard Laburisti who often take over online comment boards and Facebook threads. That is only a segment of the Labour-voting base. However, if you speak to people away from the virtual world, the situation is very different. There is another segment of people who never comment about politics online, but who, in person, speak with dismay, disillusionment and deep anger about how the Labour Party has managed to screw everything up so royally in just six short years.
They are angry with Muscat for allowing all this to happen and for not doing what needed to be done long ago, and many will openly say that they would not be surprised if he is also personally involved in the corrupt practices. Mention Egrant, and there are those who still raise a cynical eyebrow. I do not think that Muscat realises just how much damage he has caused to the party’s credibility and the voting base which had been lured back to the fold after many decades of alienation.
Or maybe he doesn’t care because he has well-trained sycophants jumping to his defence like predictable jack-in-the-boxes under every news story.
But for those who hold back and do not comment publicly, the general sentiment is that it is almost impossible to trust anyone in politics again after all this.
This week, with the very real possibility that those in the seat of power have links to someone who has been implicated in an unthinkable assassination is a turning point which even the unassailable Muscat cannot ignore.
The only path possible for Muscat is to remove Schembri and Mizzi now. That has always been the only real course of action possible, and each day and each minute that they remain glued to his side, is a further slap in the face and a stab in the back to all those who put their faith in this party, naively believing that things in this country could be different and that people enter politics to serve, rather than for obscene personal gain.