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I’d like to invite literally anyone to convincingly justify the neurotic obsessiveness with which the mainstream media outlets of this country trample over each other in their rush to whitewash outgoing politicians’ legacies.

That Mintoff-era fossil, George Vella, finally bites the political bullet today. He is set to formally pass the baton on to his successor, Myriam Spiteri Debono, who is going to be the first President of Malta to be appointed following unanimous cross-party approval in Parliament.

In Vella’s case, it is clear that publicity deals have been signed and money has changed hands to heavily promote the outgoing president’s self-adulating biography, which partly explains why everyone is extolling the virtues of a president whose ‘finest hour’ is his steadfast refusal to deny women their reproductive rights and otherwise stomping his feet repeatedly whenever he felt personally offended by a legislative proposal that landed on his desk.

Two key ingredients in any classic whitewashing recipe are a short memory span and a tendency to gloss over the bits that make the beneficiary of the whitewashing exercise look like the hypocrite they often are. Since it seems like the job of setting the record straight properly is falling onto the shoulders of independent journalists – who then end up shouldering a disproportionate share of the party-engineered hatred and ensuing isolation – allow me to remind you what Vella really stood for in his career as a politician.

The brilliant Kevin Cassar summarised George Vella’s attitude perfectly when he wrote an opinion piece titled ‘the thin-skinned president‘, in which he wrote about Vella’s disgusting attack on the independent press in his last Republic Day speech. Vella was careful to refer to “certain media outlets” in his speech, using the tried-and-tested, cowardly technique of smearing everyone and no one at the same time, overtly urging foreign diplomats to not trust such outlets without having the gall to name names.

If Vella was so certain of what he was talking about, he would have said those names outright. But he didn’t, because he’s a self-obsessed individual who spent tens of thousands in taxpayer money on self-promoting billboards across the island and he’s more concerned with lashing out at his critics than actually doing anything to improve the nation state’s democratic credentials, including through the promotion of a free press which does not fawn over politicians but instead strives to hold them accountable for their failures.

In an opinion piece published in the Times of Malta, independent political candidate Arnold Cassola also took aim at Vella’s hypocrisy, pointing out that whenever the opportunity arose for Vella to take the moral high ground when it mattered, he failed to do so. Noting the way in which members of Labour’s old guard – including Vella – cautiously take weak potshots at the party after they exit their offices, Cassola wrote:

“They could have called for Konrad Mizzi to be immediately investigated for his Panama illegality and other misdeeds. But they didn’t. They could have objected to the Vitals-Steward multi-million deal concocted by Keith Schembri and Mizzi, with the backing of Joseph Muscat. But they did not.”

And how could Vella ever be comfortable around the free press when we are always present to document his own, personal, spectacular failures at being responsible with public finances? Just look at the livid over-reaction to Christoph Schwaiger’s story on MaltaFiles. Schwaiger exposed the president’s ridiculous spending spree – €30,000 on a private jet for himself and his entourage to attend the Queen’s funeral, along with another €30,000 spent at the Corinthia Hotel in London. More on the president’s cosiness with Corinthia in a minute.

Schwaiger’s story was immediately followed by a Times of Malta report carrying the official justification for the private jet bill as its sub-heading. Vella’s office claimed that all flights to London were full up and the private jet was chartered as a last minute resort option, given the exceptional singularity of the occasion.

Let us stretch our goodwill by a few light years and assume that the sheer momentousness of the death of a high-profile monarch was enough to justify the office of the president’s decision to scramble for a private jet, presumably to avoid the diplomatic embarrassment of failing to make it to the queen’s funeral on time.

That still does not justify spending €30,000 at the Corinthia Hotel in London, nor does it explain the somewhat bizarre claim that Corinthia “made a mistake” in the invoices it billed to the president’s office. While the invoices sent to MaltaFiles clearly referred to a 13-day stay, the office of the president claimed this was incorrect and that the president and his entourage had only stayed for three days, an assertion which was backed up by a notice in the government gazette at the time.

At time of publication of this piece, nobody’s yet reminded the public that Vella forged very cosy ties with Corinthia Group, including through a 2022 trip to Qatar which cost taxpayers at least €100,000 for a 31-person delegation which included both the chairman and the CEO of Corinthia, in which he overtly promoted the business group’s interests in the region and even went as far as shaking hands with alleged terrorist financiers.

As documented in The Shift’s exposé on the trip:

“When President George Vella visited Qatar in June, he shook hands with two Syrian brothers accused of funding terrorism by transferring money to an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group – the aim of the meeting was to encourage them to invest in Malta. The President’s Twitter account features several meetings he held in the Gulf State six months ago, including the one in question with UCC Holding, “where discussions were held on several sectors in which it operates and the possibility of investing in Malta”.

Malta’s President was shaking hands with two billionaire brothers, Moutaz and Ramez Al-Khayyat, who were accused only two months earlier in a British court of using their accounts at Doha Bank to fund the Al-Qaeda-affiliated group Al Nusra Front and its militants in Syria.”

While Vella fronted the Maltese government’s efforts to bring in money from the autocratic Qatari government, one of the worst human rights abusers in the world, this was not the first time the president did so. It was merely an echo from his playbook as foreign minister, in which he had also fronted the Labour Party’s efforts to cement ties with our other favourite human rights abusers in Azerbaijan.

Vella loves to wax lyrical about his perceived values but has refused to as much as acknowledge the fact that his government enabled a climate of impunity that led to the assassination of a journalist. He refused to acknowledge Daphne’s heroic contribution to investigative journalism in Malta. Right up until his very last days in office, he poured scorn onto media outlets who refuse to pretend his behaviour is anything other than an extended series of entitled tantrums.

Instead of using the standing of his office to unequivocally call out the rampant corruption of his party’s government, Vella preferred to prevaricate when faced with overwhelming evidence which clearly spelled out just how systemically rotten the government is, because if there is one thing he did do well in his time in office, it’s navigating the finite curve of mediocrity to power, saying the right things to ensure you come across well with party leadership and eventually, collect your reward when the time comes.

All I have left to say about this whole circus is this – remember the names of those who are making a meal out of whitewashing Vella’s legacy.

If they cannot be trusted to objectively retell the story of someone so obviously crooked as Vella is, then their judgement cannot be trusted with anything else.

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