MALTA TOWARDS THE GENERAL ELECTION
Malta is almost a week away from the general election, instigated by the Opposition Nationalist Party following a number of corruption allegations pointing to people involved in the highest leadership positions of the Labour government.
The strongest accusation directed at the wife of the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Michelle Muscat alleges that she has a secret company registered in her name in Panama. Other claims involve Keith Schembri, the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister who besides owning a secret company in Panama as Konrad Mizzi, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, is also involved in alleged cases of bribery through the sale of Maltese passports and other shady personal business done in the recent past.
According to public opinion surveys, these allegations have already damaged the Labour Party who won the last general election with a staggering 36,000-vote majority; nevertheless, a decline in votes will not be enough for the opposition Nationalist Party to win the election on the 3rd of June. The ongoing surveys place the Labour Party ahead with 8 percent although 20 percent of the electorate is refusing to respond or is still undecided.
Two magisterial inquiries following the Nationalist Party allegations are currently taking place; the parties concerned have categorically denied these accusations.
One of the inquiry is about ‘Egrant’ a secret company registered in Panama, and alleged to belong to Michelle Muscat, wife of the Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Following these allegations, the Prime Minister himself immediately ordered an investigation and called an early election, nine months ahead of the five-year electoral mandate that would have expired in March 2018.
The international publication IntelligenceOnline.com reported that the whistleblower in the Egrant allegations, a Russian national, was connected to these allegations against Michelle Muscat.
Addressing the media, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said he is conscious of information from foreign intelligence services, alleging Russian meddling in the run-up of Malta’s general election. IntellegenceOnline.com reports that British and American agencies are “concerned about possbile interference in the Maltese election process.”
Muscat said he could not state, as claimed in the international online magazine whether the whistleblower in the Egrant allegations was connected to these claims. “All I know is that we were told to expect retribution for our role in hastening the visa waiver programme for Ukraine and after we stopped the refuelling of a Russian warship on the way to Syria,” Muscat said.
Since the beginning of the electoral campaign, the Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil has submitted evidence to the two investigating magistrates respectively conducting the Egrant case and the allegations of bribery by Keith Schembri. The allegations of bribery by Keith Schembri include kick-offs made through the sale of passports operated by the audit company Nexia BT led by Brian Tonna who is a personal friend to both Schembri and the Prime Minister. Another allegation concerns a transaction of 650,000 euros made by Adrian Hillman, former Managing Director of Allied Newspapers to Schembri’s secret company registered in the British Virgin Islands.
These accusations are playing a key role in the campaign of the Nationalist Party led by the leader Simon Busuttil who is even making continuous claims that the institutions of the country have failed following the lack of action to take the necessary steps by the Police Force in the light of the ongoing allegations of corruption and bribery.
This unwarranted situation has led the Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil to establish a National Force to combat corruption in this general election. Joining him in this fight are two former Labour Members of Parliament: Marlene Farrugia, who founded the Democratic Party, and her partner Godfrey Farrugia, former whip of the Labour parliamentary group. Both are contesting the general elections for the Democratic Party but under the Nationalist Party list.
The proposals of both major parties is being based on a competition between them concentrating on who will reduce the most taxes in the various sectors including workers, employers and pensioners and how to strengthen the economy without harming the environment.
The issue of Brexit is also on the agenda of the Labour Party, as it is the only party proposing to set up a task force to ensure the maximum advantage for Malta out of this situation. Reports in the international media are indicating Malta as the ideal county to win over i-gaming companies after leaving Gibraltar. However, Muscat’s plans can be damaged as all international eyes are following closely the corruption allegations with Muscat accusing the Nationalist Opposition of being the culprits in disseminating such bad reputation for Malta.
In a country where corruption is tainting its leadership, simultaneously Malta in the past four years has recorded the lowest unemployment rate and is among the EU countries with fewer people registering for work, has an absolute record of employment and for the first time recorded surplus in government finances after 25 years. Therefore, the indications so far remain in favour of a majority for the Labour Party despite losing votes that will not be enough to reverse the outcome of the last general election of 2013 in favour of the Nationalist Party.