The Irish Times view on the crisis in Malta: A test for the rule of law

Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered just for doing her job

Protesters hold pictures of Daphne Caruana Galizia during a demonstration to demand justice over the journalist’s murder, outside the office of the prime minister at Auberge de Castle, in Valletta, Malta, on Friday. Photograph: Yara Nardi/Reuters

Protesters hold pictures of Daphne Caruana Galizia during a demonstration to demand justice over the journalist’s murder, outside the office of the prime minister at Auberge de Castle, in Valletta, Malta, on Friday. Photograph: Yara Nardi/Reuters

 

A political crisis of corruption, cronyism and conflict of interest engulfs Malta two years after the campaigning journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered by a car bomb. Her investigations had uncovered links between top officials, ministers and business figures concerning energy deals and suspected offshore payments. Prolonged police investigations are only now culminating in arrests, resignations and criminal charges. On Sunday, the ruling Labour Party is reported to have agreed on a political succession to replace prime minister Joseph Muscat in January after his chief of staff Keith Schembri resigned last week.

Muscat’s immediate resignation has been demanded by demonstrators and media rightly appalled by the reputational damage being done by the scandal to their small island nation. Their concern is shared elsewhere. As an EU member Malta is committed to common legal and conflict of interest norms inscribed in its values and laws. The same applies to its role as an offshore financial services hub with a regulatory regime this government has lightened over the last six years when growth has been driven by booming online gambling, gaming and cryptocurrency dealings. The European Parliament, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation demand action in support of these commitments. This crisis shows they are now being heeded.

That it took dedicated investigations by Caruana Galizia to reveal two of Muscat’s closest associates benefited from a Panamanian shell company deal 18 months before she was murdered, and follow-up investigations by her son and other journalists to reveal the wider web of which this is a part, underlines the important public function campaigning media play. More journalists are killed now than ever before just for doing their jobs. Corruption, cronyism and conflicts of interest thrive under the recent conditions of financial globalisation unless they are countered by active media and effective regulation. On both counts Malta’s political crisis has become a test case for accountability and the rule of law.

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