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You know it’s an interesting time to be a political observer when you get to witness events that obliterate the smugness of politicians who previously thought they were untouchable.

In 2019, we witnessed the downfall of the likes of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat and his chief of staff Keith Schembri, two individuals who have their fingers in so many pies they may as well send a CV to Maypole. We witnessed the axing of Konrad Mizzi, a man once hailed as Labour’s star candidate, now an albatross around the neck of everyone who ever worked with him. Besides Mizzi, half a dozen other lieutenants were cut down way before Muscat’s administration finally bit the dust.

In 2024, we are waiting for the inevitable downfall of yet another Labour prime minister while his former deputy’s career meets a familiar, ignominious fate.

You see, power has a way of making the person wielding it more likely to become oblivious to their own personal faults. This is the main reason why power should never be vested in individuals whose character flaws are easy to exploit.

It does make sense, after all. You would be constantly subject to the overtures of fawning sycophants who are seeking to extract favours from you. Individuals keen on securing a position of power will need to wait on your approval.

The concentration of power in the hands of a minister is so dense that thousands of euros are spent every day just to accommodate their daily schedule. Every minister has, at the very least, a driver, a state-provided vehicle, budgets for press conferences, and a communications manager. An average worker’s monthly salary can be easily spent in a day just for this individual to broadcast their message to the public.

The perks, the vanity, and a sense of inflated self-importance make them detached from reality. Eventually, it becomes clear that the individual has become so self-absorbed there is no sense in even trying to get through to them. Becoming a minister in Malta’s immensely corruptible political system is like becoming a powerhouse that feeds off the approval of the district you hail from.

Because of the perpetuation of this system, far too many Maltese politicians make the mistake of thinking that a strong electoral showing is enough. That no matter what they do, as long as the votes roll in, then it hardly matters. For most of our history as an independent nation, this really was the case.

Scratch a few people’s backs, keep enough powerful lobbies happy, and voilà: you’ve got a winning recipe. After decades of this winner takes all scenario playing out over and over again, the landscape has shifted. Judging from the results of the MEP and local council elections of this year, votes aren’t simply leverage to extract concessions from benevolent patron-politicians anymore.

In spite of this shift, disgraced health minister Chris Fearne still had it all in the bag just two years ago. In spite of the fact that this government is by far the most corrupt we’ve ever had, Fearne still somehow managed to maintain enough of a decent reputation to be liked by middle of the road voters. Far enough from the nexus of power in Castille to have plausible deniability, close enough to have plenty of clout to throw around.

During the last general elections, Fearne was the only candidate on the Labour Party’s ticket on the fourth district who was elected on the first count. With 6,670 first-count votes, he had more than double the votes obtained by fellow minister Byron Camilleri and almost four times as many as Jonathan Attard, who now holds the justice portfolio.

Coasting off the generally positive coverage he received as health minister during the COVID pandemic as well as benefiting from prominent positions within both the party’s internal structure and as deputy prime minister, Fearne could have easily pulled a political coup whenever he wanted to.

When I say ‘political coup’, I don’t mean that disastrous leadership campaign that Fearne ran when facing off with Robert Abela (echoes of ‘RIPN‘, anyone?).

What I mean when I say ‘political coup’ is coming out swinging against government corruption while capitalising on the widespread anger that we witnessed in Valletta’s streets at the time. Fearne could have taken that golden opportunity to start a new chapter, emerging from the shadows which his corrupt colleagues are so fond of to show everyone he has the courage to take the bull by the horns.

Instead, he chose to run a miserable campaign that focused largely on targeting the Nationalist Party, pandering to party loyalists who then chose to dump him anyway when it came down to it. Practically every single news outlet and political observer in the country rightfully pointed out that since then, Fearne played an active role in facilitating corruption, largely through his approval of additional dozens of millions of euros that flowed into Steward Healthcare’s coffers long after the deal was identified as suspect.

It is for this reason that Fearne’s pathetic attempts at salvaging what’s left of his reputation are so infuriating. Hearing Fearne boast about how the auditor general found ‘no shortcomings‘ with his conduct in relation to the deal is proof of his desperate desire to be seen in a better light than his peers.

The National Audit Office chooses its words with surgical precision, and auditor general Charles Deguara in particular has a reputation for being a stickler. He is one of those old-fashioned civil servants who would not borrow a pencil without ensuring he’s logged it in a database somewhere.

‘No shortcomings’ does not equate to ‘great job defending the country, comrade.’

It most certainly does not equate to ‘thanks for choosing to prioritise your career and the perks that come along with it instead of, gee, I don’t know, the very same hospital patients whose well-being you swore to safeguard.’

What it means is ‘in the course of our investigation about this concession, we could not identify any wrongdoing committed by Chris Fearne,’ in the same exact way then-magistrate Aaron Bugeja’s inquiry about Egrant had concluded that it could not find any evidence that the offshore company was owned by Michelle Muscat.

That inquiry never exonerated the Muscats. The NAO report does not exonerate Chris Fearne. More importantly, both of those investigations still have major question marks hanging over them. The identity of Egrant’s secret owner remains unconfirmed. The hospitals remain in a pitiful state, and the exact whereabouts of millions of euros in taxpayer money which were supposed to be invested in those hospitals remain unknown.

If Fearne wants to be exonerated from his sins, misleading, half-assed statements aren’t going to cut it.

The only deal that should bear Mr Real Deal‘s signature is a pledge of cooperation with the prosecution that is currently charging him and dozens of others in the hospitals concession case. The fact that Fearne has first and foremost sought to protect himself by using Parliament to obtain a police escort merely shows he is concerned about the very same individuals who claim to be his trusted colleagues. It does not show remorse, nor does it show an inkling of wanting to make things right.

All Fearne has done since Times of Malta broke the story about Steward Healthcare’s efforts to tarnish his reputation is whatever he thinks he should be doing to save his own skin.

Now, the cost of absolution is spilling the beans about every dodgy thing he’s ever heard about from within the halls of power. Whether we like it or not, nobody is better placed than he is to do so. If Muscat and his criminal syndicate have compromising information about Fearne, he will have to face the music, come clean about any abuses that he either committed himself or were otherwise committed on his watch, and flush whatever he thinks he can salvage from his career down the drain.

There is no Labour Party left to save. Anyone who thinks they can have a career in politics after being a member in the most corrupt Cabinet in Malta’s history is beyond delusional. Fearne’s career is over, just like the political careers of everyone who’s already facing charges in court in relation to the hospitals concession case and everyone who is yet to face charges for crimes that are yet to be fully unearthed.

Though he wishes to be seen as a representative of the enlightened minority of the Labour Party, the fact is that Fearne failed to see that his career was destined to be over the minute he failed to fulfill his duty to protect and serve the republic of Malta. It’s been over since 16 October, 2017.

Healing the festering wounds on our democracy’s ailing body is going to require plenty of bitter medicine, the kind that makes your insides itch.

Bottoms up, Mr Real Deal. You’re up first.

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