Twists in Panama Papers story
The evidence available so far suggests the Prime Minister is getting increasingly prone to making the wrong decisions in matters concerning his government in one of the biggest scandals to hit the international scene in recent times: the revelations contained in the Panama Papers.
Malta is linked to the Panama Papers as one of the Cabinet ministers, Konrad Mizzi, has been found to have a company registered in Panama. He is the only known minister from a European Union member state to be involved.
The case for Malta gets even more serious because, besides this Cabinet minister, the Panama Papers also reveal that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff has a registered company in Panama too.
The story has taken many twists and turns since it hit the international headlines. Insofar as Malta is concerned, the latest is that, according to unconfirmed reports, Dr Mizzi would not attend a grilling himself before a specially set-up European Parliament committee but would, instead, be sending a legal representative. If the report were to be confirmed, this would again be another wrong move, one that would place Malta and Dr Muscat’s government in an embarrassing situation.
Hopefully, good sense would prevail and the minister will comply with any request for him to personally appear before the committee. Refusal would be taken as a challenge and the deputy chairman of the committee, MEP Ana Gomes, has already given an indication of how the committee would react to such a situation.
She said there were methods of encouraging cooperation if countries did not play ball. She warned: “There are political sanctions that can be taken against countries that do not cooperate with investigations of this nature. They have been used in the past. The committee also enjoys powers it can wield in such circumstances.”
Very pointedly, she said that not participating in serious inquiries of this nature could only raise greater concerns as it would suggest there is something to hide.
Ms Gomes can hardly be more direct than this and it would be a grave mistake if the minister were to challenge the committee.
In the face of the Panama Papers leaks, the Prime Minister prevaricated and, knowingly, decided to go completely against the national sentiment. Then, following mounting national pressure, he thought he could appease protesters by stripping Dr Mizzi of his energy and health portfolios.
However, since, very unwisely, he kept Dr Mizzi in his Cabinet as minister without portfolio and, to boot, made him responsible for the completion of the new gas-fired power station, the move was seen as nothing short of a ruse. To aggravate his brazen affront, he chose to keep his chief of staff in his post too.
What kind of message was all this supposed to transmit? The Prime Minister has chosen to act against basic principles of correct moral behaviour. As more than one Cabinet minister has said, or hinted at, and as so many people have undoubtedly felt, the honourable way out for Dr Mizzi and the chief of staff were to move out of their posts, or be removed.
An international firm had to audit Dr Mizzi’s financial affairs but, six months after the audit was announced, there is no indication of the stage reached in its work.
The story has taken up so much space in print, social media and broadcasting bulletins that many may now find it boring. However, the government will be wrong in thinking the matter will simply go away. It will not.