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Opinion • 11 July 2007

Mugliett – the Velcro minister


Claire Bonello


When it emerged that the British Home Secretary David Blunkett sent an e-mail asking for the visa application of his lover’s nanny to be fast-tracked, it spelt the end of his ministerial career. He resigned, even though the e-mail specifically stated “no favours but slightly quicker”. It seemed that the British public was largely sympathetic to Blunkett’s cause (ever tried being a working parent without childcare?) and although he declared that he had done nothing wrong, Blunkett said that questions about his honesty had damaged the government. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair accepted Blunkett’s resignation whom he described as having been a force for good in British politics who had “left government with his integrity intact”, even though he was one of his chief lieutenants and allies in the Cabinet. Love or hate Blair and Blunkett, you have to admit that both acted appropriately in the circumstances. The Blunkett case is an example of ministerial misconduct being handled in a correct fashion – no defensive cover-ups, no retaliatory name-calling, no stubborn clinging to office, but the relinquishing of office because the mere perception of misdoing has damaged the minister and handicapped the government.
Zoom over to Malta where Minister Mugliett is being asked to face the music, and observe a completely different scenario. We might retain a couple of red postboxes and copy the vile Big Brother programme, but other than that we’re making sure that we do not retain any other British traits – least of all their culture of resignation and accountability. Consider the case at hand. Jason Buttigieg and Roderick Galea, two ADT officials were implicated in the “Buy Your Licence” scandal. Galea was Mugliett’s canvasser.
Eventually both Buttigieg and Galea were found guilty of accepting bribes and given a conditional discharge for three years and banned for life from holding public office. The general public thought that this non-custodial sentence was just another slap on the wrist. Apparently the Attorney General thought so too and appealed, requesting a prison sentence. The Court of Appeal confirmed the ruling of the lower court and so the matter should have ended there. However the two disgraced ADT employees felt hard done by and asked for a Presidential pardon, requesting for the perpetual interdiction to be changed to a temporary one. In the meantime, they had very rightly been sacked. However the ex-ADT CEO Gianfranco Selvaggi stated that he was told to reverse the decision to sack them until the presidential pardon was acceded to or turned down. In fact the sacking decision was overturned and the two suspended on half-pay. Eventually the press got wind of the matter and the corrupt officials were given the boot. In a futile face-saving measure Mugliett stated that the decision to suspend instead of sack was a collective one made by the ADT Board – a claim which was refuted by the ADT chairman who stated that the board had nothing to do with it. It now transpires that Jesmond Mugliett has offered to resign, an offer which has been turned down by the Prime Minister who seems to be treating the matter as lightly as if it was only the Chairman of the Eurovision Song Festival Board who had offered to slink away after another colossal embarrassment, rather than a minister who has acted out of place.
The Prime Minister says that Mugliett’s was a “debatable decision” and adds that the Minister did not ask for the officials’ retention merely their suspension pending the outcome of the presidential pardon. Consequently there were not enough grounds to warrant resignation. The Prime Minister must be taking us for a bunch of nitwits. The behaviour which is objectionable lies in Mugliett’s getting directly involved in a decision in which he should not have been involved – a decision which was to benefit two persons who had already been found guilty of a crime. Both the Minister and the Prime Minister are acting as if a presidential pardon is the last stage of the judicial process. In the normal course of events it is not. The judgment of the appeals court is the final stage and a presidential pardon is an exceptional remedy – a call for leniency in outstanding circumstances. The ADT officials had already been found guilty by the highest court of the land. There was no possible reason for requesting their suspension instead of a dismissal.

In another ingenuous statement, the Office of the Prime Minister answered Alternattiva Demokratika’s claims about the ADT. “Mr Mugliett never defended corruption,” the reply went, “nor those who committed it. So much so that the employees were investigated by the police and taken to court, found guilty, denied a presidential pardon and sacked from the authority.” The implication is that since Mr Mugliett did not interfere in those decisions, everything is above board. It may have escaped the Prime Minister, but not the rest of us, that suspicions were not raised about the investigations, prosecution, judgement or refusal of the pardon. No, the suspicions relate to Mr Mugliett’s role in having the sacking of the employees changed to a suspension on half-pay. Mr Mugliett cannot claim credit for not having perverted the course of justice in other areas.

By closing ranks and acting out of some misguided sense of loyalty to his own the Prime Minister has succeeded in alienating even the most ardent Nationalists. I met one of them – fresh from hosting a party for one of the Nationalist candidates in our district. After a pep talk by the candidate while the fun-sized pastizzi were being passed round, talk fell upon the Mugliett affair. The consensus among the crowd – all die-hard Nationalists, who would normally sooner run out into the streets in their underpants rather than criticise the party – was that Jesmond Mugliett should have been shown the door. “Why is he going to these lengths to help someone who was found guilty of trousering tenners?” was the question that they were all asking. They were baffled by the Prime Minister’s behaviour and his refusal to accept the resignation.
In their eyes, the Prime Minister had been handed an opportunity to chuck out the questionable ‘uns and show that he was capable of making ministers accountable for their actions. The Prime Minister’s refusal to do so was inexplicable to them and shook their faith in him. His actions, or lack of them, show how he has misread the public – the same public who had come back from their Mater Dei outing extolling his praises. From exclaiming about the state of the art apparatus in the new hospital, they switched to annoyed mutterings about a key figure in the cabinet and the Prime Minister’s lack of judgment. One of the persons at the gathering remarked that Mugliett was like a Teflon pan – none of the allegations made in his regard stuck to him. Somebody else quipped that Mugliett should be called the Velcro minister – sticking on quite securely but which can and should be ripped off. In the circumstances this description is the most apt.

I was moved to tears by the newspaper account about the seven-year-old daughter of the sole survivor of the recent firework factory explosion. The little girl wants her mother to lock the house door so that her father won’t ever go to manufacture fireworks again. Her words say it all – a piteous appeal to her father not to risk leaving her for the sake of a hobby however deeply-ingrained. When faced with such an appeal, I cannot understand how fireworks enthusiasts will insist on risking lie and limb and orphaning their children. Fireworks enthusiasts will argue – as the girl’s father has – that “People who do not work in fireworks factories find it difficult to understand. It’s in you.” He’s right. I don’t understand. I don’t want to. I cannot contemplate wanting to do something which would deprive children of their parents. I refuse to regard fireworks enthusiasts as heroes who dice with destiny to honour the saints. I have no direct link with any of them but I very much doubt that the saints need to be honoured by fireworks, the manufacture of which might cause the blowing up of a little girl’s father. The sooner that enthusiasts realise this and stop talking about “destiny” and hobbies which are “in their blood”, the better. If they want to honour the patron saint of their village, they can light a candle or say a prayer and take good care of their children. That would beat being absent from the household for long hours every day or even permanently.

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