The Malta Independent 16 July 2020, Thursday

Not a dress rehearsal

Mark Josef Rapa Tuesday, 2 June 2020, 07:13 Last update: about 2 months ago

Last Sunday, Robert Abela said that education should take precedence over punishment. Criminal law is often not the appropriate tool to educate individuals about their responsibility towards their health and others. However, the way Abela went about sharing his thoughts was immature and unsurprisingly caused upheaval on social media.

SARS-COV2 is a highly infectious virus, and social distancing is one of the most successful strategies that several countries have introduced since the beginning of the pandemic. Malta went a step further and legislated on social distancing punishing those who broke the law.


Robert Abela said that in his view, those who broke social distancing laws negligently should be given amnesty, with those who already paid the contravention having the possibility to apply for a refund. This, one is left is to assume, would be done on a case by case basis before a board of appeal. The short-sightedness in making such a statement beggars’ belief and his intentions and opinion came across as populist and vote-grabbing.

In a statement, the Medical Association of Malta (MAM) said that “Rushing to reverse the measures which have kept the virus in check, places an additional risk to health, undermines public confidence and may be counterproductive to the economic recovery. The removal of fines for breaching quarantine, or social distancing rules is not what is expected of a responsible government”. The police association also issued a statement -and rightly so- that all their hard work was undermined within minutes.

Were Robert Abela truly convinced that education should take precedence over punishment, he would have launched an even thorough educational campaign and set in motion the necessary legal mechanism before going on the party’s television station and sharing his views. The fact that this was not done should come as no surprise.     

The lack of communication between stakeholders across this pandemic has been shocking, and this is evident from the mixed messages that we are receiving. This counters effective Public Health which is largely dependent on the continuous send out of updated and consistent information.  

The Chamber of Advocates told this paper that they were not informed about the court reopening on Friday. They only heard the news like the rest of us from the Prime Minister’s interview on ONE, the Labour party owned media station, At the time of writing, the only solution that lawyers have been given is to install plexiglass between the adjudicator and themselves, with the lawyer, client and all others present in the halls still at risk.

It is also worth mentioning how last week, Robert Abela and his entourage were exempted from quarantine after their short trip to Libya; another slap in the face to all of us who have put our faith and fate in scientific evidence. The exemption was given on the basis that “the persons travelling on these flights provide an essential service”. Could the meeting not be postponed or held via videoconferencing? He missed on a sterling opportunity to lead by example and encourage citizens to reduce their carbon footprint.

To add insult to injury, Abela keeps insisting on using phraseology suggesting that we can now return to normality, prejudicing the health of the citizens he is meant to be safeguarding. This translates into a wicked move which glorifies the economy over the physical and mental well-being of citizens, which further discourages observing guidance and legislation enacted to promote and protect the common good.

Robert Abela is coming across as a narcissist, weak leader who thinks of himself as above the law, indifferent to scientific evidence and who speaks his mind without having thoroughly weighed the implications of his words. His strategy to focus on education and, hopefully, harm reduction is the sensible way forward, but to build the necessary trust in these measures and ultimately his leadership, he must exercise caution, follow the principles of the rule of law and engage with experts who can back up his opinion. Governing a nation is not a one-man show and certainly not a dress rehearsal. 

 Dr Mark Josef Rapa holds a Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Malta and Master of Laws degree in Health Care Ethics and Law from the University of Manchester. Mark Josef works as a Research Assistant at the School of Social Sciences at the University of Manchester.



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