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Raphael Vassallo

Missionary position? It’s not for Presidents

Missionary work in Peru is the sort of thing one might expect from George Abela the private citizen who has no State obligations at all.

Raphael Vassallo
10 July 2012, 12:00am
If Dr Abela’s newfound missionary zeal is fuelled by genuine concern for the underprivileged, I would have thought there was poverty and squalor enough in Malta, too.
H.E. the President of the Republic Dr George Abela is still in time to cancel his ill-advised charity trip to Peru, in the light of what now looks like a distinctly possible Constitutional crisis erupting while he is away.

While he's at it, he also may wish to question the wisdom of whoever advised him to go off on such an unlikely caper in the first place, at a time when there are urgent political issues smouldering beneath the surface right here on his own doorstep.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister hinted at 'important decisions' to be taken this Thursday (i.e. the day after Abela's presidential plane takes off for Peru). For all we know, a snap election may be among those decisions; but even in the much likelier scenario in which three MPs are expelled from the PN, the outcome will still be more or less the same.

Now, I ask you: is this a good time for the President of the Republic to go gallivanting off to do missionary work on the clean other side of the globe? I, for one, think not.

Even without all the political hullabaloo in the background, it remains unclear what purpose this whole business was originally supposed to serve. If Dr Abela's newfound missionary zeal is fuelled by genuine concern for the underprivileged - and I don't doubt that for a second - well, why go all the way to Peru? It's not as though you have to live in a hut made from llama excrement to qualify as 'poor', you know. I would have thought there was poverty and squalor enough in Malta, too.

More to the point: why go at all? My guess is that Dr Abela will have thought (or been advised) that the symbolic gesture of a Head of State wading knee-deep into the dregs of human misery would be construed as a shining example of Christian altruism - the equivalent of Christ Himself washing his disciple's feet, etc.

If so... well, yes, I can see how some people might warm to the general idea. But there is a small snag. Dr George Abela is not the Messiah. He is the President of the Republic of Malta; and that post brings with it certain responsibilities and obligations that Messiahs can conveniently ignore.

A President cannot, for instance, simply shoot his mouth off and say whatever he likes in any given situation. As an embodiment of the Republic and a guardian of the Constitution, there are automatic limits on what he can and cannot say or... do.

I am sorry to have to add this but Dr George Abela seems unaware of this particular aspect of his role. He demonstrated as much quite recently, when he chose to publicly align himself with one dominant viewpoint to the exclusion of all minorities. (His precise words were "I cannot be everybody's President" - when the very nature of the job demands that he acts precisely as a representative figurehead for ALL  citizens of this country, and not just the ones with whom he happens to see eye to eye.)

At a glance these two issues may appear unrelated, but that they are different facets of the same underlying issue. Basically, there is (or should be) a clear distinction between what George Abela thinks, believes, aspires to and does in his private capacity as a human being... and on the other hand, how his role as President obliges him to act in specific circumstances.

Missionary work in Peru is the sort of thing one might expect from George Abela the private citizen who has no State obligations at all. There will, in fact, plenty of time for Dr Abela to fulfil this lifelong ambition of his... after his term of office is over.

But to rush off precisely now - with the proverbial excrement about to hit the fan, as it were - is not only to compound the impression that our President is several light years away from the true problems and issues facing the country... it also creates monumental headaches for his staff, and places undue strain on the country's resources to boot.

Out of curiosity, did any of his advisers inform the President what this trip actually entails from a logistical and security perspective? Has it crossed anyone's mind that the (admittedly remote) possibility of something serious happening to Dr Abela while he is away would pose unprecedented diplomatic and political problems?

For the sizeable Maltese security detail that shall accompany Dr Abela, this prospect is little short of a waking, living nightmare. Providing Presidential security here in Malta is one thing. But in Peru? The logistical challenges quite frankly unprecedented; and while I am aware that it's not exactly kosher to openly criticise what is (I suppose) a well-meaning initiative... I have to say it is remarkably short-sighted of the President to saddle his own office with so many burdens and unreasonable responsibilities, for what is ultimately an entirely private and personal endeavour. 

What will it take for this simple fact to finally sink in, I wonder? The undignified sight of the same President having to cut short his trip - apologising to the Peruvian governement for the inconvenience - to rush back to Malta in time to oversee a Constitutional crisis?

I suppose we'll find out soon enough.

josette farrugia
running away is not the answer and charity begins at home. if you do not want to hurt your friends you should not have accepted the office.
lslsj@bigblue.net.au
It is about time that the adulation of this President comes to an end. He should resign over this decision which in my view shows extremely poor judgement. Well done for having the guts to write such an article. I do not know if this 'mission' has any relevance to the Church but if it does then I would say that the President has put at peril the church/state divide. Any incoming PM should ask him politely to resign.
Joe Borg
He has has his own vein of gold in the mine called Tax Payers' Money. His is called charity. The 50-centers dropping pro-gonzi comments should ask themselves why his supremo does not resign and dedicate himself to charity at his own expense.
eddy privitera
I think Raphael Vassallo has made an important point, while I can understand the President's wish to do missionary work. But, as Raphael said, wouldn't there be other occasions in future when Dr. Abela would not have any similar constitutional or similar problems occupying his mind ? eddy privitera
Brian Azzopardi
Spot on article.
Ramon Casha
The cheapest online tickets I could find for a trip from Malta to Peru and back was just short of USD 4000. The average monthly wages for a carpenter in Peru is USD 328. So, the flight costs alone to send one Maltese person across the globe to spend a couple of weeks doing mundane work, would employ a professional carpenter full time for an entire year.
Tony Fenech
Two comments out of ten from the blogger LOL, who is shining than? Vague blogs, huh? If you cannot take it just drop it, I'd say. By the looks of it you are not doing any progress in fact, this is the last time I be reading your blogs. Waste of space.
Raphael Vassallo
No, 'Progress', what I am saying is that you are stupid, and the fact that you didn;t even work it out for yourself is further evidence of the fact (not that any was really needed, but anyway). Meanwhile did you actually read your own comment before posting it? You proved my entire point, just with this one line: "It is like a priest who wishes to do good gesture by helping a third World Country..." Well, that's the whole point, isn;t it? George Abela is not a priest. I know some of you find this hard to accept (including, it seems, George Abela) but he is actually the President, and his actions and words carry instant relevance to a great many very important matters... including international relations. If he were a priest there simply wouldn't be problem. There: not exactly rocket science, is it now? But then again you are not exactly a shining example of 'progress' either, so let's just drop it, huh?
Raphael Vassallo
No, 'Progress', what I am saying is that you are stupid, and the fact that you didn;t even work it out for yourself is further evidence of the fact (not that any was really needed, but anyway). Meanwhile did you actually read your own comment before posting it? You proved my entire point, just with this one line: "It is like a priest who wishes to do good gesture by helping a third World Country..." Well, that's the whole point, isn;t it? George Abela is not a priest. I know some of you find this hard to accept (including, it seems, George Abela) but he is actually the President, and his actions and words carry instant relevance to a great many very important matters... including international relations. If he were a priest there simply wouldn't be problem. There: not exactly rocket science, is it now? But then again you are not exactly a shining example of 'progress' either, so let's just drop it, huh?
Tony Fenech
@Mr.Raphael Vassallo, I already gave you proof on previous comments that you know our names and you got stuck it seems, cause you never gave a reply, so you are saying that when you sign your real name, done , intelligent, full stop. So you are saying that you are intelligent, right? Shall we ask the readers about that? Criticizing the President for wishing to go and help people in need in Peru? why? It is like a priest who wishes to do good gesture by helping a third World Country, if all the other good Presidents of the World follow this man's humane ambition, we surely have a President with a good example and courage.
Raphael Vassallo
Has anyone else ever noticed how the more perceptive and intelligent online comments are nearly always signed with real names? Hmmm...
Godfrey Vella
I wonder, has President Abela ever visited a local migrant detention centre?
Tony Fenech
@Mr.Raphael Vassallo honestly speaking I have given up on you. No more please, I beg of you, cut the crap. Please I ask again.
Alfred Falzon
A very good article indeed. I do not believe that the President was "advised" to do missionary work. HE has no advisors but is surrounded by family members who dare not challenge his decisions. His closest confidant is a banker with zero experience in international affairs. I would like to ask whether the Foreign Ministry did indeed give any advice on this issue. According to reports the Peruvian diplomats in Rome were rather surprised when approached about this initiative. IN one of the diplomatic functions a Chinese diplomat was overheard saying that if this happened in China, it would be considered as interference in our internal affairs.
mary cassar
For once I totally agree with you. But that title? Christopher Hitchens you ain't!
Nigel Lawrence
smart move- do the "charity" work now, when the taxpayer foots the bill.
GRACE PAVIA
It is well meaning, but the position you have adopted is very apt and correct.
Peter Bbarbara
...or else could be most of your guesses are off target..again