Earlier this morning, prime minister Robert Abela graced the residents of Mosta with his presence. In a typically patronising Facebook post bearing beaming smiles, the Rotunda in the background (so you know he really was in Mosta), and a couple of staged photo-op handshakes, our great leader informs us he exchanged “a couple of words with (the) Mostin”.
Speculation is still rife as to whether any of those words included references to how Mosta’s local council, led by Labour mayor Chris Grech and Labour vice-mayor Rachel Abela, became a national villain overnight by butchering mature Ficus trees that sheltered the town’s iconic square for half a century.
It is incredible to see that, in spite of having an army of communication and PR advisors, staffers, party officials, and other assorted apparatchiks, Abela fails to understand that sometimes, when you’ve mortally wounded public trust by taking away something precious like the collective memories associated with a bunch of trees in a busy town, you should make yourself scarce.
If you are going to show up in public, show up in the same way you’d show up at your partner’s doorstep after a row – perhaps bring a box of their favourite chocolates with you and the best proofread apology you can muster.
Instead, all we get are photos of Abela projecting himself as this farcical, grinning pater familias figure, standing over the residents to reassure them that the prime minister’s got their back and that everyone totally loves him because look at this photo of him shaking hands with an affable elderly man in a bar, how sweet!
For someone who attempts to convey a strongman aura, Abela panics like a child caught with their hands in the cookie jar when public opinion turns on him. His behaviour after protesters stood in the way of heavy machinery and abusive police officers to halt the local council’s madness in Mosta is part of a broader pattern that we first saw with Isabelle Bonnici’s heroic, one-woman struggle to start a public inquiry which is currently looking into Jean-Paul Sofia’s death and the circumstances that enabled that tragedy.
When thousands of people were set to descend on Abela’s doorstep following the shameful moment in which the overwhelming majority of the Labour Party’s Parliamentary group voted against a motion for Sofia’s public inquiry, he unilaterally decided that the public inquiry would, after all, be held, just hours before that protest was set to happen.
In a surreal display of a crippling lack of self-awareness, Abela actually had the unmitigated gall to go for a quick victory lap around Castille when protesters were still present, eliciting a well-earned volley of insults in the process.
Now, this morning, after a three-year tenure as a prime minister which has been an absolute boon for the rampant construction industry in Malta (remember, everyone: the tree massacre in Mosta was a “landscaping” exercise, also known as the newest tool in the ‘direct-orders-to-friends arsenal), Abela figured he could stretch his legs in Mosta’s square for a few minutes, after locally elected representatives of the political party he leads callously pissed off an entire town.
But of course, Abela did bring a box of chocolates, didn’t he? Except it is, of course, a box of chocolates which were bought with your money which should, in any case, always be used for your own benefit.
Yesterday, it was Naxxar‘s turn to bask in the glory of Abela’s presence.
Sporting his trademark, offbrand American Psycho grin, Abela informed us that “in other European countries, they are currently receiving high electricity bills and taxes, and in Malta we are receiving cheques.” He was referring to a measure announced in this year’s annual Budget propaganda exercise – the distribution of additional COLA (cost of living adjustment) cheques of between €100 and €1,500 per household.
As explained in the Times of Malta report quoted above, the grant varies according to household income and the size of the family. The allowance will cost the government €45.5 million, according to financial estimates for the Social Policy Ministry.
These COLA cheques are over and above yet another impending cheque that will be sent in the next few weeks – the infamous tax refund cheques, the very same ones which Abela and finance minister Clyde Caruana conveniently decided to send a week before last year’s general elections.
In summary, Abela’s government is so short on policy ideas and initiatives that they are falling back on the one strategy that is familiar to the Labour Party more than any other – handouts. Those cheques are paid for with your taxpayer money. The extra cash we will be receiving from the government is not from the government. It was not pulled out of thin air.
It was pulled straight out of public finances which are, in any case, meant to be used to ensure roads don’t look like cheese graters, hospitals can keep saving lives, and power stations can keep the lights on. In all of those three key areas of public infrastructure – transport infrastructure, healthcare and energy – we’ve witnessed some of the biggest corruption scandals this country has ever seen.
Conscious of his dwindling popularity and growing unrest within his own party’s ranks, Abela is desperate to massage his bruised ego and find some sort of way to appeal to voters or otherwise be forever remembered as the prime minister who lost the Labour Party’s previously unassailable electoral majority. The dustbin of history.
Of course, Abela’s sunny, ‘we’re all rolling in dough’ speech in Naxxar does not make any reference to the fact that a cursory look at this morning’s headlines alone is enough to make you shiver.
Bernice Cilia’s family, speaking up publicly for the first time close to the first anniversary of her brutal murder at the hands of her estranged partner Roderick Cassar, expressed their disappointment at the fact that they are yet to receive as much as an apology from the state for the authorities’ failure to adequately protect Bernice from the clear danger she was in before she was murdered.
The office of the European Public Prosecutor, effectively took over an investigation that was being carried out by the Permanent Commission Against Corruption following a Times of Malta report which exposed corrupt practices in the thrice-inaugurated Marsa flyover project. That same office, in conjunction with OLAF, another branch of the European Union’s anti-fraud enforcement, is also currently involved in a joint investigation about a €15 million fraud involving EU funds that was perpetrated through several legal entities based in Malta.
In a display of the finest public relations acrobatics, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage has now decided to invoke specific laws that should allow it to revoke a shameful permit that was awarded to a development which was set to be built just metres away from the prehistoric temples in Ġgantija.
Those are just four separate news items that were published within the past few days. I cherry-picked those articles specifically because of the implications behind them, the systemic failures which, by design, enable such gross wrongs to be committed with impunity.
It will take much more than Abela’s sordid PR stunts and a few mail-in cheques to address these failures. It will take a deluge of the kind of public anger that makes a government collapse to flush out all the stains that the Labour Party has left on the country’s fabric.