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Pilates in the House

The Prime Minister claims to have an electoral mandate to implement the changes he plans for the IVF law. The Labour programme did promise to widen and extend the service, even to change the law, but that meant nothing, or everything. It is very much like his party’s promises to the gay lobby. Equality Minister Helena Dalli can best explain how manifesto promises can be interpreted.

On the IVF amendments, the issues are immensely serious as they involve the beginnings of life, the freezing of embryos and even surrogacy. From the Labour side, any concerns have been muted, with the exception of the very strong objections of former foreign minister George Vella. But he no longer sits in Parliament and the Prime Minister has said his parliamentary group is united behind the proposed changes.

The IVF controversy comes against a backdrop of immensely serious allegations made by a group of media houses working on where murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had left off. Last week, Dubai company 17 Black came to the forefront as “target client”.

What had been supposedly shelf companies in Panama, belonging to the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, suddenly became potential recipients of this company. Furthermore, €1.3 million were transferred to 17 Black, a smoking gun if there ever was one.

The Prime Minister had nothing to say on this. He claimed it would be irresponsible to prejudice the inquiries under way but that did not stop him talking on a third secret Panama company, Egrant, also the subject of an inquiry. It made his restraint sound false.

The game of sit and wait, of waiting for the storm to pass, of hoping people would forget, of being ‘positive’, does not work anymore. The secret Panama companies continue to haunt the government, as does the murder of Ms Caruana Galizia. They will not go away.

The government thinks that keeping the economy going in top gear will excuse it of all its faults. Maybe that applied at the last election, when Labour was generously rewarded despite its many governmental failings. But things are changing.

Given his majority in the House of Representatives, Dr Muscat speaks with confidence, even impunity, but, in reality, he comes across as powerless in the face of serious reports emerging. A true prime minister would not hide behind magisterial inquiries but handle the case politically as he should have done when the Panama Papers first emerged. If he does not, someone within his own party should.

The IVF amendments offer an excellent opportunity for MPs on the government side – significantly without a free vote – to speak up and say the rot must stop. The IVF Bill involves moral issues. So does the Panama scandal and all that is now emerging. They are unrelated cases but are based on a basic principle: morality in politics.

Surely, there are MPs on the government benches who believe in values, moral and political. They should know that silence would mean complicity.

It is time for Labour MPs to speak up in the national interest and not wash their hands, Pilate-style. The Labour Party’s enormous electoral success will fizzle into nothing and become a sad memory if no one steps forward to bite the bullet and stop the spreading rot.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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