Around this time a year ago Joseph Muscat was asked point blank when he had last spoken to Yorgen Fenech. He rolled his eyes like a toddler looking for a lie in the back of his head. He asked what year it was. Can you believe it? The prime minister asked what year it was, playing for time as he frantically searched the depleted reserves of his nasty street wisdom for a slimy quip that could save his premiership. Then he said he hadn’t spoken to Yorgen Fenech for a year.

And now we read that just days before that line of questioning he had left a WhatsApp chat group he shared with Keith Schembri and Yorgen Fenech set up after the last time he said he had met Fenech.

That’s quite apart from the fact that he pretended to forget inviting him for his birthday bash at Girgenti and getting gifts from him that day that could be swapped for a small car.

The police are hauling in Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri for questioning, releasing them after several hours under caution, warning them not to leave town. The press are reporting the police may have a case against the two for trading in influence, which compared to what we have reason to suspect they’re involved in is small beer. But it’s a start.

And yet the police are not quite ready to formally make that start yet. If they were, they’d have issued charges against them. At this point I don’t think the police are doing these arrests and releases to shut us up and make it look like they’re doing something. For a politician, even one in forced retirement, sleeping in a cell, even for one night, on the back of anything but manifestly trumped-up and politically-motivated charges is an enormous humiliation. I don’t think this is a PR exercise. Of course the proof of the pudding and all that.

But consider an alternative scenario. If we now had a PN government and the police chief was an appointee of a PN prime minister, Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri (and Joseph Muscat when and if his turn comes up) would not only be proclaiming innocence – which they are – they would be proclaiming themselves victims of political vendetta. They would be filing human rights cases against police harassment. They would be fancying themselves miniature Nelson Mandelas.

These people had no problem undermining the independence of institutions when they were in government, imagine what they’d be prepared to say if they were in opposition.

With that in mind it remains profoundly disturbing to see Prime Minister Robert Abela continuing to refuse to distance himself from his erstwhile mentor and predecessor, whatever comes out of the investigations into his conduct and the conduct of the ministers and officials he protected.

That scene of Joseph Muscat lying through his teeth about not remembering what year it was when he had last spoken to Yorgen Fenech: it is significant that to Joseph Muscat’s immediate right there’s his lieutenant and soon-to-be replacement Robert Abela. It is significant that a year later our present prime minister still stands there next to a former prime minister who lied to his ministers, parliament and the Maltese public.

The reports in the press yesterday said that Joseph Muscat left the WhatsApp group he had with Schembri and Fenech when he heard the arrest of Melvyn Theuma was imminent. That was a turning point when even the quondam Invictus realised that the very weak institutions of Malta were wriggling out of the shade of Joseph Muscat’s reportedly brass testicles: when Joseph Muscat could no longer orchestrate events to ensure he would not get caught.

Robert Abela’s failure to repudiate Joseph Muscat, to denounce his lies, to throw him out of the Labour Party and to start an examination within his party and his government of how a crook of that sort was allowed to take control and how such a thing is to be prevented in the future, confirms, as many other things also do, that Robert Abela too wishes he could control events more than he’s managing to.

That’s what Robert Abela was brought up to think: that prime ministers, like absolute monarchs, get to decide who gets arrested and who doesn’t; who gets charged with a crime and who doesn’t; and that these outcomes are decided at his pleasure and partisan convenience.

Every time Keith Schembri is arrested, every time something new is revealed about Joseph Muscat’s conduct in office, every detail that emerges about the police’s growing confidence they may have some sort of a case against the most senior Labour Party luminaries of l-aqwa żmien, Robert Abela shrinks a little bit more.

He could rise above this if he were to denounce Joseph Muscat. But he won’t. Because Joseph Muscat is the Labour Party. And Robert Abela is Joseph Muscat’s creature. He can no sooner separate himself from Joseph Muscat than he can separate himself from his oiled-up, steroids-buffed reflection in the mirror.

If Robert Abela won’t do anything, we must turn to what we must do. We’ve been fighting this battle over three years; some of us almost 5. There’s no doubt this has been tiring and it has taken much of our lives to concentrate on it. Many temptations come with exhaustion.

There’s the temptation to think justice now has its own momentum and if it is to happen, will happen without our effort. In spite of all that has been achieved, it is the intuition of the humble to assume they can make no difference. If we let up now, they’ll get away with it.

There’s the temptation to think that just because we’ve been fooled before, we’re always being fooled; that there have been so many twists and turns that nothing is what it seems and we cannot trust our own judgement; that arrests are just for show; and that we must then give up. If we let up now, they’ll get away with it.

There’s the temptation to think we must choose between justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia or justice on those who perpetrated the political corruption that has plagued this country, accepting the idea that this is a zero sum game and that politicians must get away with it if killers are to be punished, or killers can be let off in order to capture the politicians. If we let up now, they’ll get away with it.

There’s the temptation to lose the furious focus we have kept for so long, far longer than any political strategist ever thought possible; to start chasing the red herrings thrown at us; to stop talking about what matters and to talk instead about the distractions we’re fed. If we let up now, they’ll get away with it.

There’s the temptation – ever present in people of conscience – to examine ourselves before accusing others. We’re told that only those without sin can cast the first stone, and it is true because we all have our own hypocrisies, our misguided loyalties, our sins. But only one without sin could admonish us in that way. When people who are protecting Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi warn us not to point our fingers at them because we’re not without sin, we must remember the true innocents.

Those who do not repudiate Joseph Muscat recommend him to our children, the true innocents. By not repudiating Joseph Muscat, Robert Abela sets him up as a role model for young Labourites looking up to a leading role in our society.

We all saw CNN’s Van Jones weep a few days ago at the news Donald Trump lost the election. “It’s easier to be a parent this morning,” he said, because there could now be a role model in high office again.

We had a prime minister who exchanged pictures of women with a briber and alleged murderer; who jumped in delight singing on the top of his voice that no one could touch him – “Ma tagħmlu xejn ma’ Joseph tagħna”; who discussed the reliability of a potential witness to a murder conspiracy with the man he knew to be the mastermind of that conspiracy; who said he would leave no stone unturned in the investigation of the murder of a journalist when he sought to blind the police; who coordinated his lies with the lies of his ministers caught setting up off-shore companies in secretive jurisdictions; who used and uses all means available to him to ruin the lives of witnesses to his crimes.

Who’s been telling their children they should be more like Joseph Muscat? From his silence we learn, Robert Abela is.