No other prime minister in the western world would have survived a fraction of the scandals Robert Abela is mired in. One of the selling points he keeps trumping is that he’s not as bad as Joseph Muscat. We don’t know quite how bad Joseph Muscat was which suggests we don’t quite know how bad or how less bad Robert Abela is.
Being the second most compromised, second shadiest prime minister in Malta’s history is hardly a glowing review though.
The question about the use of his Żejtun property for Russian princelings he never met to enable them to acquire an EU passport should not really be about whether he paid tax on the money he made. Even if he did pay tax on the rental, this is inappropriate behaviour for someone who wants to be prime minister of anything but a banana republic.
It’s not okay if you include in your income tax declaration booty from a bank robbery.
Robert Abela leased out an uninhabited property he owns that alone is a big chunk of his personal net worth. Like most, if not all, beneficiaries of the Malta passport selling scheme his tenants never lived on his property. They probably never even visited it at all. They just paid Robert Abela blood money to buy his silence so that they can lie on their declaration to Malta’s government that they lived on Triq ix-Xrobb l-Għaġin instead of shuffling between Tverskaya Street and Mayfair.
It does not matter that the government is complicit in this fraud because they accept the declaration knowing it full well to be false. It’s actually worse. Because senior government official Robert Abela (as he then was) relies on the government closing an eye on the fraudulent act he is covering up.
We can’t as an electorate behave like the government and accept the sort of incredible responses Robert Abela gives in his so-called defence. Robert Abela said “I rented them my property but I don’t know what they did with it”. Who believes that? Who rents out a property, particularly one in a state of disrepair, and never looks into whether their tenants have ever moved in?
Also, Robert Abela said he can remember when he rented the property out (which was before he became prime minister) but not when the rental expired (which presumably would be when the monthly cheques, the money for nothing, stopped flowing in). Who doesn’t notice monthly rental income going dry?
These lies are acceptable to the government as far as the passport selling scheme is concerned. The moment these contradictions are challenged Malta’s least hidden secret is exposed: that none of those passport buyers, none of those Putinista oligarchs roaming freely around Europe beyond the reach of law enforcement agencies, actually ever looked at the physical space they said they lived in. That’s why our government does not ask questions.
Why are Robert Abela’s lies being accepted by the electorate, though? Because a prime minister who cheats the government is a role model for all those keen on a share of the profits from more cheating the government. It’s the passport scheme today, but if and when that runs out there’ll be something else.
Consider the notorious “science experiment” that is a front for illegal bird trapping. The government there created a state-sanctioned national lie to allow people to break the law. Think then of all the lies the government organises and participates in every time an unqualified contractor who would never win a procurement competition is given a direct order instead, on the false pretext that they are the only possible supplier. Think of all the unqualified employees appointed to positions they know nothing about on the back of shared lies of what the proper job requirements should be.
The institutionalisation of lying, the devaluation of integrity, the disintegration of any meaning to declarations made to and by the government, requires collaborators within government. To get away with lying to the government you need someone within the government who is prepared to believe your lie.
This works best when your collaborator, the liar-in-chief, is the prime minister himself. That’s Robert Abela’s selling proposition.