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Laws are there for all

Laws regulate people’s conduct. What matters is that the law rules and that all citizens – with no exception – are treated equally.

A statement made by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in Parliament earlier this month is worrying. He insisted that laws governing the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit – the government’s anti-money laundering agency – had to be safeguarded by people shouldering political responsibility.

He said he would not mention any names because he did not want to be “political”. Still, those who follow the political scene, would have immediately concluded he was addressing Nationalist MEP David Casa who has let it be known he is in possession of a leaked FIAU report, which he intends to publish “in the coming weeks”.

The report, according to Mr Casa, calls for Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi to be investigated for possible money laundering activities in the wake of the dealings unearthed by the Panama Papers.

This would not be the first FIAU report to be leaked. There were at least another two in which both Dr Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s most trusted, non-elected collaborator, Keith Schembri, were mentioned. Other names emerged too, including those of accountants/auditors who, like Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri, should have immediately been asked to cease operating until their names are cleared… or otherwise. But that is another issue, even if it is an urgent matter if this country’s pride, credibility and reputation among the international community is to be protected.

Regrettably, it has now become abundantly clear the Prime Minister is only concerned with protecting those whose names have caused so much damage to this country already.

How dare he make a warning – veiled or not – to people willing to stand up to be counted to ensure that the rule of law, freedom of expression and all other fundamental human rights are fully respected?

As Prime Minister, as the first among equals, Dr Muscat has the grave duty to ensure that the law applies to all. That – to paraphrase George Orwell – all animals are equal. That some animals are not more equal than others.

As Prime Minister, it is indeed Dr Muscat’s duty to insist that the law is respected in relation to the FIAU. But there are many other laws that must be observed too. Thus, to be consistent, he should have demanded that all allegations and suspicions about Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri –and others in his orbit too – whether in relation to the violation of tax laws or dealings that could make them suspect in money laundering operations, are rigorously and thoroughly investigated.

He should have ensured that the country’s laws are respected and enforced without fear or favour. As the Chief Justice warned late last year, “every citizen will have to suffer the consequences when the rule of law fails”, when “instead of rule of law we will have the rule of delinquents”.

Dr Muscat has, however, failed miserably and has weakened his position. It may already be too late to redeem himself but, as they say, hope springs eternal.

Even if “the situation is desperate”, he should constantly bear in mind what The Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie said: “Two things form the bedrock of any open society – freedom of expression and rule of law. If you don’t have those things, you don’t have a free country.”

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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