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Ministers, not feudal lords

In the wider scheme of things, the controversy over Foreign Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela’s rooftop timber veranda looks rather superfluous, a minor detail, nearly as insignificant as the Tal-lira clock that former Nationalist Cabinet minister Tonio Fenech once received, to the Labour Party’s delight. But the veranda case is not that simple.

This newspaper has reported that work on the veranda at Mr Abela’s residence was done by government employee(s) posted at the Home Affairs Ministry, which he headed at the time. The minister said it was his wife who had coordinated the work. Later, he insisted it was one employee who carried out the job on a Saturday morning in 2015.

Now questions have arisen on whether the works required a development permit, particularly because Mr Abela’s home is situated in an urban conservation area in Żejtun. The Planning Authority, an institution meant to uphold the rule of law in this country, would not speak on the case. It is autonomous and non-partisan, we are to believe.

The veranda incident symbolises, once again, the political malaise that has taken over this country. Not that the Labour Party invented it but the weakness has found fertile ground to grow in since it came to office in 2013.

Ministers come equipped with customer service set-ups, for which read cronyism. In return, they are elevated to beyond mere ministers at the public’s service but to feudal lords dispensing favours. They make the laws and are above them. Gone is the sense of service in politics. It is just about power.

The Nationalist Party has rightfully called for Mr Abela to step down because it is a resignation matter. Then its own media claimed on Sunday that the Office of the Prime Minister had asked the minister to offer his resignation and the reply was: “Konrad [Mizzi] should resign first.” And there lies the government’s weakness.

A government that is obsessed by economic growth at all cost, to the point of bringing in thousands of foreign workers to achieve that growth, has neglected, or even discarded, the issue of good governance. It went so far that questions are now raised on the very rule of law in the country.

Labour in government has been inundated with one controversy after another and, yet, it sails on, undisturbed, flaunting economic numbers while some people fall behind or get discarded on the wayside. Not a few are making good money too, especially in the real estate business, but none of this excuses the fact that political ethics have been discarded. And, sadly, not many seem upset by that. Inversely.

Putting money above all else, and supported by the popular vote, is undermining the moral fabric of society and that makes incidents such as that concerning Mr Abela’s veranda so easy to accept and forget. It should not be so.

No government minister should be found to have a secret company in Panama and allowed to stay on. No minister should go on official solo trips abroad without presenting receipts of taxpayer money spent. The same goes for Mr Abela. It is called accountability.

Yet, the government appears unable to move against Mr Abela, or anyone else in its ranks, even if it wanted to. The rot is too deep and people seem to think it… normal.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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