The Malta Independent 21 April 2024, Sunday
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We’re back to public executions

Noel Grima Sunday, 3 March 2024, 08:23 Last update: about 3 months ago

It doesn’t look like it had the mesmerized public listening in while stuck in some traffic jam or switching to the parliamentary debate instead of the daily jukebox called radio.

Still, it reminded some of the days of the Cultural Revolution in China if not the days of Mani Pulite in Italy – the public humiliation of those hitherto considered among the great and the honourable. Or else the public executions at the time of the French Revolution with the ghouls sitting around and knitting.

Mind you: not all of this was bad. Some people with an inflated ego needed pulling down a bit. And the Zammit McKeon report, for all its bulk, has some eminently quotable sentences which must have made the media chortle and the public smirk as they trawled through it.

Let’s look back. When the Jean Paul Sofia tragedy happened it did not strike people as any different from other tragedies which pepper our days, from construction accidents to traffic accidents and so on.

But then there was an indomitable and courageous mother who refused to be shut up in her grief and defied the wall of silence and neglect that surrounded the tragedy as the site of the tragedy was quickly tided up and the bricks spirited away. What seemed to remain were the memories of the young man in the heart of his mother and those who knew him.

But this was not enough for the mother. Is this 200-page book and the public humiliation of those it mentioned enough to bring cloture?

Robert Abela must have disagreed. “I expect resignations by 4.30pm” he thundered at 3pm. And slowly, a trickle to be sure, the resignations came.

Now it can also be argued that not all those mentioned in the report have resigned. Especially some of the principal actors. They may have felt that being mentioned in a report of a public inquiry did not amount to a condemnation by a properly constituted court.

They could even point at some people who were not mentioned. Some have pointed out that ministers seem to be absent, whether this was from design or because ministers do not micro-manage to this level.

With the Euro Parliament election approaching and even with a comatose public opinion no government worth its salt would think of pilloring its ministers.

Sofia’s mother however had said more. She said she hoped her son’s death would lead to changes making construction less dangerous. We could add to her words that maybe the fact that most of the victims are foreigners or Third Country Nationals, who were poor to begin with and whose far-away families do not have the means to speak to the Maltese public, may have something to do with a lesser perception of the dangers involved in construction. They’re foreigners, aren’t they?

Still, nothing has changed. The Zammit McKeon report is full of highly-paid officials wringing their hands and saying that “unfortunately” they do not have the people to carry out a proper enforcement. That doesn’t seem to have worried them till now.

As in many other areas of our life enforcement is missing, except perhaps parking infractions or even that. Malta is a by-word for irresponsible cowboys who get away with anything. And no government seem able to do something tangible about it.

The construction industry is the sacred cow, with huge political clout. Look at the repeated stories coming out of the Planning Authority and its weakened state under Labour. The industry needs standardisation and regulation and not just a knee-jerk reaction because of some accident.

Then if we want to keep going this way there are multiple other areas that could do with a public inquiry such as the Zammit McKeon one. For instance, in Italy there was some sort of inquiry on the Covid deaths in Bergamo (remember they had to get in the army to clear the backlog of deaths). And there was a beginning of an inquiry on the same subject in the UK but it seems to have petered out to Boris Johnson’s behaviour in those days.

In the absence of such inquiries this would have been a huge opportunity for the media, at least one not susceptible to blandishments from the seat of power.

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