I am one of those who, in June 2008, as a Labour Party delegate, voted for Joseph Muscat to become leader of the party. At the time, he appeared to offer hope to many genuine Labourites who had experienced the despair of three consecutive election defeats in 1998, 2003 and 2008.
Only those who were politically active in those bleak years can realise what a difficult period that was for many Labourites when it seemed that the Nationalist Party had become the natural choice of the majority of Maltese and when Labour seemed to have become unelectable.
Unfortunately, what seemed like a new dawn at the time was eventually to come to be viewed today, with the beneit of hindsight, as a false dawn.
Let me explain myself.
Under Muscat, the Labour Party became electorally invincible. Astutely forging powerful electoral alliances with socially influential groups, correctly gauging what most people wanted from a future government and appealing to youths with catchy idealistic political slogans, Muscat won the confidence of a very impressive majority of the electorate.
This endeared him to many Labourites who saw in him the leader Labour needed to remain in power for many years to come and who could carry out a whole programme of social and economic reforms which would raise the quality of life for all Maltese citizens.
Muscat did not disappoint these aspirations. The economy flourished under his government and many social reforms were enacted. Everything seemed to be working smoothly and to everyone’s satisfaction. Then came 2016 and the Panama Papers scandal.
To be honest, at first, almost none of us politically active Labourites actually believed Daphne Caruana Galizia’s explosive revelations. I was a Balzan Labour local councillor as well as the full-time executive secretary of the Labour Party think tank, Fondazzjoni iDEAT at the time and I simply dismissed everything as the usual anti-Labour propaganda of Caruana Galizia and Nationalist Party supporters.
Even as time passed and further revelations were made, many like me did not believe them, so much so that Labour won another massive electoral victory in June 2017.
It was only after the assassination of Caruana Galizia, on October 16, 2017 and the fallout from it, including the civil society protests and even further damaging revelations, that many like me came to realise that something had to be done about the political situation.
Joseph Muscat betrayed the confidence Labour supporters placed in him– Desmond Zammit Marmarà
On May 4, 2018, I had written in this newspaper, referring to the political situation at the time: “The Panama Papers controversy has inflicted enormous damage on the reputation of this country overseas. Unless we rid ourselves of this millstone around our necks, things will never be the same again and public confidence in good governance will remain low.”
I concluded my article by saying: “History will judge us on what we did right and not on our amount of popular support at the time.” Needless to say, my advice was ignored.
The result was the political shambles that led to Muscat having to relinquish his post as prime minister on January 13, 2020. He also resigned his parliamentary seat on October 5, 2020. It is only now that we can correctly interpret what went on behind the scenes during the days of Muscat in power.
It is clear that the massive Labour electoral victories in 2013 and 2017 were achieved at a very heavy cost. The Labour Party entered into an unholy alliance with big business interests, especially in the building industry. Today, we can see the negative results all around us. Malta has become one large building site with cranes everywhere, accompanied with noise and dust. The destruction of the environment goes on unchecked and unabated.
It goes without saying that all this is the very contrary of what a Labour Party stands for. The 1996 electoral slogan ‘The Citizen First’ seems to be just a nostalgic memory of the past!
Even worse was the way Muscat neglected to take adequate action against those who were involved in the Panama Papers scandal and the several other alleged scandals that happened on his watch. It is only now, under the leadership of Robert Abela, that we have seen some prominent people taken to court to answer for their actions.
Furthermore, it is now obvious that the Labour Party under Muscat welcomed within its fold many opportunists who did not join Labour because they first and foremost believed in the Labour Party ideals but because they wanted to further their personal interests, such as career advancement and becoming rich.
The worst aspect of this can be seen in the fact that some people in prominent public positions under Muscat’s Labour government saw nothing wrong in accepting gifts and favours from big businessmen and putting the latter’s interests before those of the ordinary citizen.
The result of all this was a collapse in the standards of good governance, the rule of law and the fight against corruption. The new Labour prime minister seems to be on the right road towards enacting the reforms needed to correct the many mistakes Muscat made when in power.
However, if he wants to succeed, he has to once and for all dissociate himself from his predecessor. He has to stop listening to the hardcore supporters of the Labour Party who still idolise Muscat, incredible as that may seem to the rest of the Labour supporters like me who believe that Muscat betrayed the confidence we placed in him.
Moreover, Abela has to get rid of all those elements within the administration whose ethical standards leave much to be desired. He has to ensure that nobody is regarded as ‘untouchable’, against whom the law cannot proceed. Otherwise, Muscat’s negative legacy will remain like a sword of Damocles permanently hanging over him and the Labour government and threatening to fall at any moment.
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