Former Labour deputy leader Anġlu Farrugia speaks out about how he was “stabbed in the back” and the party’s close connections with contractors. Interview by Herman Grech.
The Labour leader said there have been good, regular contacts between you and the party since you resigned in December. Is this correct?
No. I haven’t had direct contact with Joseph Muscat since I resigned on December 20 and I am giving this interview because a condition dictating that I remain silent has been broken. It was on the premise that neither Joseph Muscat nor the Labour Party broached the subject.
So who broke this agreement?
Joseph Muscat did. He said something untrue. Contrary to what he said, I have not spoken to him since I resigned. I understand the reason he cannot approach me since his decision which led to my resignation was completely unjust.
It’s obviously in Dr Muscat’s interest to retain the business as usual approach.
There were only contacts through third parties because I’ve worked and will keep on working in the interests of the Labour Party.
I felt the party shouldn’t be harmed after Joseph Muscat sacked me. We agreed we shouldn’t do anything to harm the party during the election campaign. This condition has been broken, and I keep hearing talk that the decision to sack me was solely related to the fact I was a whistleblower in 2008 in a case dealing with corrupt practices. At no point did I attack the magistrate whom I know personally – the name of the magistrate was only mentioned by The Times. But this was a case where a member of the judiciary who was deciding on a political issue, in this case vote buying, should have declared her political conflict of interest, based on her family’s contacts. Joseph Muscat said he forced me to resign on this case.
Do you believe he forced you to resign over this case?
No, I don’t believe it.
So what was it?
There were several theories. My participation on Xarabank (in a debate against Simon Busuttil) was mentioned...
...which was held on the eve of your comment on the magistrate.
Xarabank was originally meant to be held on December 7, then on December 14, and eventually broadcast on December 15. With the exception of one programme, the shifting of the programme dates had nothing to do with me. Anġlu Farrugia did not decide to send Franco Debono on Xarabank.
Whose decision was it?
Joseph Muscat or somebody who advised him to do so.
How did you feel when you saw Franco Debono being dispatched to Xarabank instead?
I was always loyal to Joseph Muscat. I’ve given my all to the party. I didn’t feel I should have objected to that decision. Remember, I wasn’t sent to Xarabank on three occasions, and when I was sent on the Saturday programme, I was unaware of certain decisions. I was not briefed about the electoral programme in detail.
The water bills issue. I hadn’t been informed that the water bills would go down like electricity bills. Later, it emerged the water bills would go down by five per cent.
So you’re saying you weren’t involved in the preparation of the electoral campaign.
No I wasn’t.
As deputy leader didn’t you feel you had the right to object to such strategies?
Of course. There were moments where I did speak. Let’s remember I debated Simon Busuttil on RTK on December 13 and Joseph Muscat went on One (the Labour Party’s television station) to say Anġlu Farrugia performed really well. The Xarabank debate was a game I fell victim to. I don’t think I won or lost that debate. However, there was pressure on Muscat to take certain decisions.
So you’re saying it was the Xarabank debate which convinced Dr Muscat to take the decision to get you out.
I think it had been long time coming. Xarabank was just another excuse.
Long time coming, in what way?
In September I was with a delegation overseas and was told that I would not be deputy Prime Minister once Labour is elected to government. I had faced Joseph Muscat about this.
So you believe you were going to be sacked from the post after the election.
I think Joseph Muscat was uncomfortable with Anġlu Farrugia. Unfortunately, Anġlu Farrugia was so loyal to Joseph Muscat that he gave him total leeway and did not realise he was being stabbed in the back. This is like calling your best friend over and then shooting him in cold blood. It was political murder.
When you heard Dr Muscat was planning to sack you after the election, didn’t you confront him?
Yes I did. And he assured me it wasn’t true.
Are you saying he lied to you?
That’s up to him to decide. Whatever he did is on his conscience.
So what you’re saying is that Dr Muscat was uncomfortable with you.
I think if he wasn’t uncomfortable with me, at the back of his mind he always thought he would take such a decision just before the electoral campaign.
Do you think he saw you as a liability, someone who is associated with the notorious 1980s police force the Nationalists mention?
Thanks for asking me about the 1980s. When I was in the police force I worked with different Prime Ministers and ministers - Dom Mintoff, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, Lorry Sant, Eddie Fenech Adami, Guido de Marco, Tonio Borg and Louis Galea. Even during difficult times, when I was appointed by the Nationalist Government to investigate the Nardu Debono case, I did it in the interests of the country and loyalty to the police force. My past doesn’t embarrass me at all, even if there were elements in the police force then which were justifiably criticised.
There is clearly something Joseph Muscat doesn’t like about you.
It could be the fact Joseph Muscat was close to Alfred Sant’s group. He supported Alfred Sant when I contested him for leader in 2003. I’m not saying there was no working relationship. I worked well with Muscat and till this day I can’t understand why he took this unjust decision, which I describe as political vindictiveness. It’s not done that you remove the deputy leader like that, even if you remove him on grounds that he spoke about corrupt practices.
So you think the corrupt practice issue was merely an excuse.
I think it was. That means he was dishonest with me.
Don’t you think a party leader has every right to choose his colleagues?
A party leader has to be capable of keeping the family together. You need to work with the leadership, the administration and the rest of the party. He has to act like a father. If he’s incapable of keeping the family together he has a problem.
But if a father believes that by getting rid of one family member to lure many others in the party, do you blame him?
You can’t decide like that. This is not a commercial company or a club. There’s a statute, a general conference, the executive. I was elected by the general conference in the same way as Joseph Muscat. And I was elected by a strong majority. I decided to leave the party because I sought the interests of the party first and foremost. It was the eve of an election campaign. I didn’t think it was fair to take my case to the general conference to attack Joseph Muscat’s decision. Secondly, I felt if the leader didn’t have trust in me, despite his irrational decision, then I should resign. Even if he had no right to do it, the way he did it, the timing would have been dangerous for the party to challenge it.
Meanwhile, a new deputy leader was appointed within a week and your name is now never mentioned. Ultimately, isn’t this political strategy? It happens everywhere where Prime Ministers ask Cabinet members to resign if they lose faith in them...
...You’re mistaken. This is the first time in the Maltese Labour Party’s history that a deputy leader has been sacked by his leader in such a way.
That might be true – but as Alfred Mifsud rightly said – this is a political game. If the leader believes someone is a liability, for whatever reason, he has every right to go ahead.
It’s the first time I’m hearing I was a liability because Joseph Muscat never told me that. If anything, should a leader realise someone’s a liability after nearly five years of working together and on the eve of the election campaign?
Do you think he faced internal pressure?
I don’t know. Only he can tell you if he did. All I can say it was his decision. It was a tough decision in my regard. I suffered, as did my wife, daughter and family. I’m sorry for those who supported me. I hope they will find the same comfort when the party is hopefully in government in the coming weeks. This cruelty needs to be addressed by the same person who took the decision. In life everyone makes mistakes, but you cannot carry out injustices. I fought injustices in Malta and overseas. These things shouldn’t happen.
What happened right after your resignation?
I received a death threat in writing. They told me that I would go down the same way like il-Lion, who was murdered in Mosta. I informed the authorities about it.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Joseph Muscat said voters who once militated in the Nationalist Party nowadays feel comfortable in the Labour Party...
... I don’t believe you asked him about me in that interview.
No we didn’t.
It would have been interesting to read what he thinks.
Could his ideology be very different to what you believe in? Maybe he believes you’re still associated with the past?
I don’t believe he said that, but if he did say it he’s mistaken. A party needs to open up – you could describe it as a movement or an open party – but there needs to be a continuation of the party. A party has its values. It represents first and foremost the working class.
Does the Labour Party represent those workers today?
I was representing them.
Does the party?
I think the party could have a crisis in the continuation of these values.
Are you saying the Labour Party is becoming more capitalist?
When you see certain people getting close to the party... if they’re genuine they’re welcome. But I fear very much several people who wield power in the country – big businessmen and contractors – I don’t feel comfortable getting close to them for a number of reasons.
Are these people getting close to the Labour Party?
Yes, there are several of these who are close to the party.
...Who were previously associated with the Nationalist Party?
Wherever they were, the point remains is that the principal value of the Labour Party should be the lower and working classes and, why not, even the middle class.
Some believe the PL is morphing into a cut-and-paste version of the PN in the 1990s – more capitalist, comfortable with contractors.
God forbid it becomes like that. And I fear it will become like that.
Are these same contractors financing the party?
I can’t tell you because I was never involved with these people, although I know they are close with certain people involved in the Labour Party’s finances. I was never involved in the party’s finances or the campaign’s organisation.
You were the deputy leader of the party. How come you weren’t involved?
I didn’t have access because I wasn’t involved. I was involved in the studies...
... Is it because you weren’t allowed to get involved or you didn’t want to?
Let’s just say that I wasn’t interested in knowing everything.
I left it in the leader’s hands. And he never involved me.
So you think the Labour Party is too close to the contractors.
I say contractors are close to the Labour Party, like some are close to the Nationalist Party. My problem with contractors is that it triggers fears of corruption. I’ve been prominent in fighting corruption in Malta and overseas for years. When I contested the Labour leader election in 2003, I wanted to entrench in the party statute that whoever was involved in corrupt practices since Republic Day in 1974 should be barred from entering politics. This was never introduced and I believe Joseph Muscat was involved in the executive then. Now that everyone’s talking about corruption, did I have to be the one bowing out of the Labour Party?
Why didn’t you speak out in the last four years?
I didn’t need to. When the party is opening up, it speaks to everybody. But God forbid these people (contractors) have any power over the way the party is operating.
Wouldn’t it have been better if you pitched your battle from within?
I always wanted to protect those I have traditionally defended.
Don’t you think these statements you’re making are going to be described by the Labour Party as natural for someone who’s hurt?
I don’t need to say anything because I’m out of the party. Politics is a closed chapter for me. I’m not a candidate for this election or the ones in the future. I have no problem with that. I’ve always been loyal to the Labour Party. I hope my absence is better for the party in the future. But we need a political arena of honest, serious and, yes, humane politicians.
Dr Muscat is saying the party’s changed, the 1980s are the past, he’s saying the party now incorporates former Nationalists – you can’t accuse him of not trying.
Undoubtedly, and he’s worked very hard. But he didn’t do it alone. I don’t think our four-and-a- half years work together could be erased. The first thing we worked towards was luring back Labourites who didn’t feel comfortable in the party any more. But you can’t make the party bigger and run roughshod at the expense of values and beliefs you’ve always worked for.
And do you think such values are changing?
I think I acted as continuation for these people. I hope such values persist in my absence and in the national interest. The democratic balance dictates the need to respect everyone’s values.
You said you’re out of politics. If the current Labour administration had to change in the future, would you return to politics?
The decision to force me out made me realise that even though I was honest in politics, there are some people who don’t always take honest decisions.