Malta's nominee for the European Court of Auditors has been manifestly rejected by the Budgetary Control Committee by 17 votes to 9. Though it does not entirely come as a surprise, it does lead to some reflections which I think that we, as a country, need to make.
1. Europe's measure of competence and meritocracy is not the same as ours. While it is obvious that Joseph Muscat nominated Toni Abela only to get rid of him and make way for his Panamanian conspirator as Deputy Leader (re-changing the Party's statute in the process), MEPs expect the nominees to be competent and experienced enough for the post they are nominated for. It was cringing to hear MEPs ridiculing Abela's CV, which featured his term as Vice-Mayor of Ħamrun (which the MEP described snidely as "more of a small village of 10,000 people than a major regional town as described in the CV"), and highlighting the fact that he has no auditing experience. This perfectly captures the biggest problem with this government's nepotistic appointments and positions-of-trust: the problem is not that the appointees support Labour, but that they are not competent enough for the posts they are appointed too. Go ahead and appoint Labour-leaning individuals if that's your policy, but at least make sure they are Labour-leaning individuals competent and experienced enough for the posts they are appointed to.
2. MEPs do not follow party lines blindly. Notwithstanding the fact that Abela is nominated from a Party within the Socialist bloc, the Socialists are reported to be deeply divided about his suitability.
3. What happens in Malta does not stay in Malta. Not in the globalised world of the 21st century. The fact that the current government is riddled by corruption and led by a Prime Minister who does not take any action to curb it, featured heavily during Abela's grilling. MEPs found it difficult to trust his independence given that up to last week he was a consultant to various Ministers, including the Prime Minister, who form this same corruption-riddled government.
4. Following the bad name Malta got from John Dalli's dismissal and the childish way he fought it, our country's nominees are always going to be more suspect than the rest, at least for the time being. Therefore it was deeply irresponsible for Joseph Muscat to nominate someone with Toni Abela's baggage. The cocaine-trafficking incident in a Labour Party club and Abela's declaration that he would "gladly make people rich in secret" were too big of a stain for someone who is expected to audit the governments of the European Union, and this was make clear by various members of the committee, with one of them openly telling him "how are we expected to believe you?"
5. I was saddened to hear Abela defend himself from accusations that his behaviour in Maltese courts does not augur well for his behaviour in the Court of Auditors, by stating that it is normal for Maltese lawyers to be fined for contempt of court daily because of our temperament. That did not really put a star to our country's reputation, and I would expect the Chamber of Advocates to make a statement whether this insinuation is true or not.
6. Labour's attempt to blame the PN for Abela's rejection is as ridiculous as can be. Labour expects us to believe that the PN has that much influence on MEPs (including those from the Socialist group), that PN MEPs were accompanying Abela to lobby with EPP members (as confirmed by Alfred Sant himself) while conspiring against him, that MEPs base their decisions according to "dossiers distributed by anonymous sources", and that it was the PN who informed the rest of the committee of Abela's past because the Internet and Google Search have not yet reached Brussels.
Are we really expected to believe this, rather than expect our Prime Minister to apologise for his short-sighted nomination and for tarnishing Malta's reputation through his government's antics?
In the meantime, I wish all the best to Toni Abela. I have no doubt about his integrity and social conscience, and I still admire him for taking a stand against his party's abuses in the turbulent eighties. The fault does not lie with him, but with the Prime Minister who nominated him.
And given the state-of-affairs, the time might have come for Abela to stand up to be counted again, before Muscat drags the whole Labour Party and our country's reputation down with him. On second thoughts, I suspect that's what he was actually doing and why he was kicked away.