The initial shock when Peter Grech outed his minister, Owen Bonnici, as holding a private practice while still minister is now sinking in. The rule that prevents ministers from keeping up their professions is not to keep a lid on their income or to make sure they’re available if the prime minister needs to give them a late night call.
We are going away with the assumption that Owen Bonnici phoned Peter Grech hours after the Egrant inquiry was completed and that was the first time he introduced himself as the private attorney of the subjects of that inquiry. But given how they’ve been outed, while Peter Grech was dragged kicking and screaming to the witness bench to testify under oath, the assumption there’s nothing more to this is hopelessly naive.
The more reasonable assumption is that Owen Bonnici has been Joseph and Michelle Muscat’s attorney throughout the inquiry. That he is Minister for Justice precisely because he’s their attorney.
That he has been representing their personal interests from his desk at the Justice Ministry since the inquiry started. That, holding the keys of promotion or career oblivion, he has been on the phone with the employees of the court, with the officials at the registry, with the record keepers and note takers. even with the magistrate.
All’s well with waving the flag of integrity when speaking about magistrates and court officials. But the reason our laws protect them from influence and interference is because relying on integrity alone is insufficient and unfair. They are human beings as well. Whether they want to or not they are subject to pressures, to influence, to incentives that may be granted or withheld in the gift of the executive.
Except that in this case the executive, Owen Bonnici, is the lawyer of the people they are supposed to be investigating and determining whether there is enough face value evidence to proceed to prosecution.
There is no doubt that Owen Bonnici the politician cannot be neutral on the matter. But Owen Bonnici the personal attorney of Joseph Muscat and Michelle Muscat is actually in duty bound to secure for them the most favourable outcome.
It does not end with Egrant. Peter Grech, rather generously, acknowledged Joseph Muscat tied his political office to the outcome of the Egrant inquiry. Why specifically Egrant? Can Joseph Muscat have a political future if the inquiries into Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi’s affairs find Joseph Muscat has been protecting them and retaining them in office in spite of eminently plausible suspicion of wrongdoing?
Must we assume that Owen Bonnici stopped being Joseph Muscat’s attorney after he got the full copy of the Egrant inquiry from Peter Grech? That, again, would be a very naive assumption.
The more reasonable assumption is he is still Joseph Muscat’s attorney today and from the Justice Ministry, Owen Bonnici, is seeking to secure an outcome from the inquiries into his colleagues that prevents irreparable and devastating damage to his client, Joseph Muscat.
When we hire ministers, we are their clients and have a right to expect they serve our interest. Not if Joseph Muscat gets there first.