Blame for corruption could not be placed on politicians alone: “the whole ecosystem is a problem,” according to Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo.
It was Bartolo’s turn to field parliamentary questions during question time on Tuesday’s parliamentary sitting, and a number of Nationalist Party MPs, perhaps inevitably, brought up the Montenegro scandal.
In reply to a parliamentary question by Carm Mifsud Bonnici, the minister insisted that in spite of the many problems the government face, it has worked to build systems of good governance since Robert Abela became Prime Minister last January. But he also argued that there was a degree of collective responsibility if corruption flourished in Malta.
“It is easy to claim that politicians are corrupt, that they can easily be bought,” Bartolo said. But he insisted that one shouldn’t exonerate society and just lay the blame on a handful of people.
“The responsibility for corruption belongs to us all,” he added in a possibly accidental reference to Labour’s 2013 election slogan Malta tagħna lkoll.
Nevertheless, the minister did point out that those in power obviously had to assume greater responsibility.
Ministry ‘verifying’ ambassador’s possible involvement in Montenegro scandal
Mifsud Bonnici also asked whether Malta’s non-resident ambassador to Montenegro – former waterpolo coach Karl Izzo, a personal friend of Joseph Muscat – would be dismissed in the wake of the scandal.
Bartolo revealed that the ministry was looking into any possible role Izzo may have played, though in reply to a follow-up question by Karol Aquilina, he said that it had not launched a formal investigation, but merely “verifying things.”
So far, he said, there appeared to be no grounds to warrant Izzo’s removal, though he added that he would have no issues with removing him if any were found.
Bartolo also insisted that he only found out about the scandal when the report was made last week, denying suggestions that he – and Cabinet – may have been informed back in November.
We’re bad, but you’re worse
Opposition Leader Adrian Delia then asked Bartolo whether he still had faith in colleagues such as Muscat who still formed part of the government, prompting Bartolo to insist that there were very few people in the opposition benches who could give him any lessons on such matter.
The minister highlighted his longstanding concerns about erstwhile Malta Financial Services Authority chairman Joe Bannister, who left the authority in 2018 as it received increasing criticism over its apparent inability to address money laundering allegations.
He said that years ago, he had found no support in his opposition to people who “destroyed a sector that had been built with integrity,” or when he spoke about the need to bring down a “criminal octopus.”
But Bartolo lamented that the last three Prime Ministers – thus lumping Muscat with former Nationalist PMs Lawrence Gonzi and Eddie Fenech Adami – did nothing.
“The only Prime Minister who stopped people like these was Alfred Sant,” he added.
The minister said that while the opposition was free to criticise him as much as it deemed fit, it should at least show some humility, before dismissing any suggestions that he should cross the floor.
“I would be going from the frying pan into the fire. We are a mess (qegħdin ottu) but you’re much worse,” he maintained.