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michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon

Whistleblowing in the wind

The real whistleblowing goes on not through the application of the law but through leaks to the press and to a particular blogger. Most – but not all – of these leaks are the work of persons with a political motivation

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon
22 March 2016, 8:21am
When the first draft of the Whistleblowers Act was published over five years ago, I predicted it would be a useless piece of legislation, particularly in the Maltese environment. The previous government was accused of dragging its feet about the proposed law and finally the law was enacted very soon after the current Muscat adminstration assumed power.

The thrust of the law is to give protection to employees who report illegalities or wrongdoing being carried out by their employers or by other employees, and it applies to both the public and private sector.

On paper, whistleblowers are courageous people who are given the right to be protected from disciplinary action, retribution, discrimination and court action. Howeover, I insisted that in practice, any whistleblower in the private sector in Malta would be doomed to be unemployed for the rest of his or her life: ‘There are no ifs or buts about this, even if one assumes that the whistleblowing was simply an act of conscience. Malta is too small for a whistleblower – protected as he or she might be – not to be identified and pilloried. In the case of an employee with the public sector, I have no doubt that he or she will still be permanently considered as a nuisance by the rest of the civil service.’

As far as I know, this law was applied once since its enactment: in the case where the husband of the former Minister for Gozo is being accused of abusing his position. Although from a purely legal standpoint, the Whistleblowing Act has been correctly applied in this case, it is obvious that the motivation of a genuine whistleblower is quite different from that of a contractor who accepted to carry out allegedly abusive works and ended up not being paid for his services. 

Genuine whistleblowers are nowhere to be seen – because they prefer to do their thing protected with the veil of anonymity, rather than by the law. 

Yet the real whistleblowing goes on in Malta – not through the application of the law but through leaks to the press and to a particular blogger. Most – but not all – of these leaks are the work of persons with a political motivation, but this is irrelevant. If what the leaks reveal is true and is, moreover, illegal, unethical or wrong, the motivation of why the information was leaked is immaterial.

It is such leaks that have led to the revelation of one scandal after another that have changed the public perception of the Muscat adminstration. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Indeed, it shows that there are many people who are not ready to stand for any nonsense and that democracy in Malta is alive and kicking.

Today, in fact, both the formal media and the informal so-called social media are in a very much stronger position than they were in the past. During the Mintoff days, the social media did not exist and I often wonder how he would have reacted were Dom to be attacked and ridiculed on Facebook and Twitter. He would have probably gone berserk!

As for the press, libel laws were used to smother its freedom. Any historian who peruses the Maltese press in the seventies and early eighties, would never get the real sense of what the country was going through. Luckily the press today is more courageous and dismissing it as the work of ‘the enemies of the people’ while protecting one’s supporters after provoking them to go and attack – and burn down – newspaper offices would be an utter disaster for any administration.

The role of the Opposition has somewhat changed as well. In the Mintoff days, abuses were leaked to the Nationalist Party and its media. Anyone with a ‘good story’ – as leaks about government abuse were somewhat euphemistically described – would not have dreamt of going with it anywhere but to the Opposition, directly to Eddie Fenech Adami if the thing was serious enough. Then the ‘story’ would be recounted in a mass meeting which ensured its transmission to all the corners of this island. No need for facebook, back then. Word of mouth worked wonders!

Many remember that this was how the infamous secret treaty that the Mintoff administration signed with North Korea made the headlines after being revealed by Fenech Adami during his speech at a mass meeting. That sort of thing was also part of the build-up of Fenech Adani’s political personality. But there was also a courageous whistleblower behind the story. Many remain unknown to this day. 

Nowadays, Simon Busuttil seems to be getting everything second hand. He seems to be consistently following leads about scandals and abuses first revealed by the independent press and bloggers. He comes across as following, not leading.

Times and circumstances have changed and anyone who tries to find parallels between the Mintoff and Muscat adminstrations will instead find many obvious differences. Serious abuses, however, remain abuses and are blown up to become huge scandals – whether real or perceived – under any administration.

Who needs officially recognised whistleblowers?

 

A matter of ovine rights!

The latest twist in the unregistered Gozitan sheep saga saw staff from the Veterinary Service being stopped by court order from proceeding with the culling process for which another court had given the go ahead. 

The Constitutional Court will now determine whether the owner’s human rights were breached during an earlier cull, or attempted cull.

Rather than a human rights issue, I think this is becoming more a matter of ovine rights. These sheep must be feeling like those American prisoners condemned to death with the Courts staying their execution over and over again. The process itself becomes inhumane, or, perhaps in this case, just unovine! 

Meanwhile the state wastes more of its citizens’ money guarding death row.

What is fascinating is the real reason why this Gozitan herdsman never registered his flock. At the same time he claims that his sheep cost a fortune he never had.

Trying to work outside the system pays dividends for many a Maltese. More so if you are Gozitan. Being jealous of your Constitutional human rights, makes it even better.

What can I say, except ‘baa... baa’?

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon is a former government minister who served under several Nationalist admini...
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