The Malta Independent 5 December 2020, Saturday

Sock it to 'em, Bernard

Noel Grima Sunday, 25 October 2020, 08:16 Last update: about 2 months ago

Tomorrow the Leader of the Opposition will rise to deliver the views of the Opposition on the Budget that was presented last week.

It is a traditional parliamentary occasion with a ritual of its own, heightened by the direct transmission on television stations.

These past years its importance has been gradually diluted both because Parliament is now screened directly (for those perhaps intent on self-harm), and also by the distressing lack of oratorical skills on the part of successive Leaders of the Opposition.

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But who can forget the speech which Eddie Fenech Adami made just a few days after Raymond Caruana was killed when Eddie skipped the Budget Speech in toto and spoke on the general dire situation of the country? The country heard him out because he was speaking on matters which concerned every one.

Bernard Grech has a similar opportunity tomorrow. He can squander it or he can get the country to listen to him. The situation today is very different from that of a year ago or the past years and has nothing to do with the fact this will be Grech's first Budget Speech.

We are deep in the throes of the Covid pandemic. For the past week the daily numbers of newly infected persons has been in three digits. The sheer numbers show the imminent risk of the health system becoming overwhelmed – there are, Charmaine Gauci just said, 12 patients in the ITU. The people doing contact tracing cannot cope.

It is often objected that other countries in Europe are also experiencing a similar spike these past days as can be seen on every news bulletin.

But these countries are trying to do something about the spike. We here have just been ordered to wear the facemask out of doors and nothing much else.

There is the serious matter of enforcement which the prime minister himself has admitted is seriously lacking.

And there is an underlying sense that most of the pandemic restrictions can be undermined or gone round if one knows how or, more to the point, knows someone.

Thus it has been reported, and so far not denied, that bar owners are being offered a temporary restaurant permit which enables them to stay open after 11pm.

If true and if similar holes are found, the new restrictions will be rendered null and void. So how will the spike be controlled?

So far it seems the spike has thankfully not touched schools or transmission between educators and students.

Bernard Grech will be expected to react to the Budget Speech and its measures but one could also argue the Speech is along the line of the mystification of public opinion so that people do not realise the danger they’re in. And of course the various projects and initiatives keep the ministers occupied and in the public eye without which their minds might lead them to cause trouble.

The danger to public health is such that the leader of the alternative government cannot possibly be expected to be impartial and dispassionate where the health of the country is at stake.

Whether Grech can snap out of his congenital bonhomie and reasonableness still has to be seen. Here is an opportunity to carry the Opposition and hopefully the rest of the country that is alarmed at what is happening with him. He must rise to the occasion and muster hard facts to throw at the other side.

As I wrote recently, the brutal, childish and humiliating way by which he was treated by the prime minister within minutes of his taking the oath of office should show him no quarter is to be expected.

Then of course the torrent of new facts on institutionalised corruption that is emerging from multiple sources in Malta and abroad should show conclusively that no irenic conciliation is possible unless there is deep change inside government.

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