The Malta Independent 19 April 2024, Friday
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TMIS Editorial - Sofia public inquiry: Politicians must pay the price too

Sunday, 3 March 2024, 10:25 Last update: about 3 months ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela was quick to come up with initiatives which he said the government is determined to take following the Jean Paul Sofia public inquiry report, published last Wednesday.

It is clear that Abela was anticipating the long list of recommendations that the board of inquiry, led by Ombudsman Joseph Zammit McKeon, submitted after it heard the testimonies of 57 people in a space of five months. The promptness by which the government reacted indicates it knew all along that there were too many shortcomings in the sector, and one wonders why it took so long to attempt to address them.

The inquiry was established to deeply investigate the goings-on in the construction industry following the untimely death of 20-year-old Jean Paul Sofia when a building under construction in Kordin collapsed on 3 December 2022.

For the second time, a public inquiry has found the State to be responsible. It was in July 2021 that a public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia found that the State had so much to be blamed for. That inquiry had also compiled a list of recommendations for the government to implement to rectify the “culture of impunity” and build a better rule of law; sadly, little, if anything at all, has been done in this regard.

The Sofia inquiry, on the other hand, has already led to some movements, practically minutes after the board of inquiry passed on its findings to the PM. Soon after publishing the report in its entirety, Abela announced five measures that he said will go a long way to improve the situation. We wait and see how far this will take us. We hope it is not just an exercise of damage limitation.

But, before that happens, there are other considerations that need to be made.

First of all, it must be recalled that Robert Abela did all his best to avoid having a public inquiry following Sofia’s death. He fought tooth and nail against it, forcing his parliamentary group to vote against a motion presented by the opposition to establish this public inquiry. He insisted that a magisterial inquiry was enough. He had accused the opposition of just wanting a TV show when it demanded a public inquiry. We all remember the raucous sitting when Labour MPs unashamedly voted against the motion, and the PM walking out past Sofia’s mother Isabel Bonnici without as much as giving her a glance.

It was only when an angry crowd was about to hold a massive protest outside his office that Abela relented and had a change of heart and mind. A few days after he instructed his MPs to vote against the PN’s motion, Abela made a colossal u-turn and, finally, agreed to set up the inquiry. Even his MPs were baffled with this sudden shift. One Labour MP, Randolph Debattista, has now expressed his shame for having voted against the Sofia public inquiry. It’s more than likely that there were others who did not share the PM’s views, but who toed the PM’s line against their will. So far, none of them have spoken up.

What the inquiry has uncovered wanted to be kept hidden by Abela and his colleagues. Were it not for the determination of Sofia’s own mother Isabelle Bonnici, whose resolve gained so much sympathy and support, we would not have arrived here. Abela only succumbed when he realised that his popularity and that of his government was waning. His reversal came because of political convenience, not conviction. It’s always a matter of votes for politicians.

Since the publication of the report, we have had some resignations of people who carried some kind of responsibility. We have had a mini Cabinet reshuffle too, as the PM – almost as an afterthought to his interventions to his team in January, but probably also as a result of the inquiry report – shifted the employment portfolio from one minister to another (among other changes) to put JobsPlus under the same umbrella as Identita to coordinate better the management of foreign workers, according to a government statement.

But no political responsibility has been accepted by the government. There has been no official apology too. Elsewhere, in countries where they know the meaning of accountability, the government would have quit as a whole after such a scathing report about its failings which, let us remember, cost the death of a youngster.

Calls for Abela to accept political responsibility and for ministers to resign have so far gone unheeded.

They should be paying the price of their failings too.

 

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