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Politicians must be above suspicion

It is difficult to understand the logic of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in the aftermath of the publication of the main conclusions of theEgrant inquiry.

He has good reason to be relieved with the outcome. It would have been very bad – not just for him and his government but, more importantly for the country – had it resulted that his wife owned a secret offshore company in Panama, as had been alleged.

Yet, he evidently has had little or no qualms about the fact that his chief of staff and a Cabinet minister had similar offshore set-ups.

This point defies logic, as do some remarks made by the inquiring magistrate in the 50-odd pages of his report published so far, though he could have qualified them elsewhere in the report, which the Prime Minister has a copy of. Casting doubts on aspects of the testimony given by a former Pilatus Bank employee, the magistrate said many of the allegations had not been backed by proof.

This is understandable from a legal viewpoint. A magistrate, especially at the inquiring stage, must go by evidence, not suspicions, suppositions or allegations.

However, in the strictly political context of the case, his comments assume a wider dimension and can be exploited to serve particular ends, as is happening.

The magistrate is, of course, correct in saying that 100 suspicions do not amount to a single piece of evidence but it is also widely acknowledged in thriving democracies (for there are democracies in name only) that politicians and those closest to them have to be above suspicion.

This is the dimension Dr Muscat and his men are striving hard to make the public overlook or not give enough weight to. Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.

Family members or close associates of a prominent public figure must go to extra lengths to ensure they are clean – possibly whiter than white. Let alone politicians.

The inquiry has concluded no evidence was found linking the Prime Minister’s wife to Egrant.

However, it was Dr Muscat, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s top aide, Keith Schembri, and some others, who, through in/action, created a political environment conducive to the germination of suspicion.

How could people not suspect wrongdoing if a Cabinet minister is retained even when found to have opened a secret offshore company?

 The same applies to Mr Schembri, especially in view of the influencehe evidently has on the Prime Minister. Had both men decided toleave, or were fired, the story might have been forgotten by now or, at least, different.

However, in an act that could not but give rise to further suspicion, Dr Muscat made a joke of it: he stripped Dr Mizzi of one portfolio but gave him another and kept him in the cabinet and did nothing with regard to Mr Schembri, proving he is untouchable if not indispensable.

If the Egrant case amounted to the biggest lie, as the Prime Minister insisted all along, this was surely the biggest insult to the electorate.

Law-abiding citizens await the outcome of the inquiries involving Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri with bated breath.

It is not only a question of being found guilty or not guilty in terms of law; more importantly, it is being above suspicion.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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