Editorial | Sunday, 26 July 2009
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Taking the fall

All but the most myopic would immediately discern a number of contradictions in the chain of events leading to Victor Scerri’s resignation as PN president last Wednesday.
Scerri announced his departure dramatically (and unexpectedly) on Tuesday night at around 10pm – a few hours after assuring this newspaper that he had no intention of taking the attacks on his reputation lying down.
On Tuesday afternoon Scerri was still insisting that his permit for an outside development zone villa in Bahrija had been regularly issued, and even threatened to take legal action against MEPA if it were to be revoked. This was not the attitude of a man resigned to his fate; Scerri had evidently intended to fight his patch all the way down to the wire.
In this, he was being consistent with earlier declarations on the same subject. Ever since the infamous permit first surfaced during the European election campaign, the PN president has vehemently protested his innocence of any wrongdoing in the case. At one point he even “reported himself” to the Police Commissioner: knowing full well that a police investigation would clear him of any allegations of law-breaking, for the simple reason that no such allegations had ever been made.
Significantly, he also told this newspaper that he had met the Prime Minister on Monday, and was assured that Lawrence Gonzi had “full confidence” in his integrity.
But this brings us to the first of many contradictions: if the Prime Minister saw no misconduct in Scerri’s behaviour, then why did he utter those cryptic words three days earlier, urging Scerri to take the “morally correct decision”?
More to the point: Scerri himself responded to this declaration by attempting to lob the ball back into the PM’s court. If anyone should resign, he hinted, it was not himself but the DCC board which approved the permit in the first place. And yet, a day later Scerri tendered his own resignation... claiming in the process that he was “not pushed” into taking the decision.
Something, somewhere is not quite right. If Scerri’s actions were all along morally correct, why was his resignation also deemed a ‘morally correct’ decision? And if he resigned entirely of his accord, without any pressure from the party or the government... then how are we to account for his apparent, last-minute change of heart?
Part of the answer may be found in the report compiled by MEPA auditor Joe Falzon – commissioned by Scerri himself, and ironically published the day after his resignation. Falzon found that the permit had been issued in violation of a number of MEPA’s own policy principles. And though he stopped short of indicting the PN president in any way, he nonetheless exploded a myth that Victor Scerri himself had compounded some two weeks earlier.
According to the Falzon report, works on the Bahrija villa were forcibly halted by MEPA itself, by means of an enforcement order. This contrasts starkly with Scerri’s own version of events, whereby he himself had stopped the works.
Added to the fact that the land itself had been bought for a pittance from a company embroiled in an alleged art theft (one of whose shareholders, by a remarkable coincidence, was sentenced to prison on the same day that Scerri resigned) and it fast becomes clear that the Victor Scerri incident was becoming too hot to handle for a Prime Minister who had staked his entire reputation on a clean-up the notoriously unpopular Malta Environment and Planning Authority.
In short, it seems that Victor Scerri has paid the ultimate price for the expensive ‘GonziPN’ strategy, whereby the credibility of the entire government now rests with the persona of the Prime Minister himself. Scerri’s antics – which were arguably unsavoury, even though entirely legal – were in the end just too embarrassing for a Prime Minister who has evidently reverted to Louis XIV’s aphorism, “L-etat c’est moi”.
How many more loyal Nationalist acolytes will similarly fall on their sword to prevent Gonzi himself from taking any flak in future? And will all these subjects be as accommodating as the mild-mannered Victor Scerri, and spare Gonzi’s blushes by resigning without putting up too much of a fight?


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Taking the fall


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