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michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon

The cost of human life

The proposal for the alcohol limit for drivers to be slashed from 0.8 gr. to 0.5 gr. is a step in the right direction and should be adopted without any further useless arguments

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon
10 January 2017, 8:05am
In Malta, six drunk drivers were among the 54 traffic contraventions reported by police during road checks set up last week for New Year’s Eve
In Malta, six drunk drivers were among the 54 traffic contraventions reported by police during road checks set up last week for New Year’s Eve
The reaction of the small enterprises chamber, the GRTU, to the proposed lowering of the drink driving limit is incredible. It gives the impression that for them, their members’ profit is more important than human life.

The problem for Philip Fenech – head of the GRTU’s leisure section – is that the proposed measures intended to clamp down on drink driving could lead to a dip in the number of people dining out – and that would presumably be a bigger disaster than the fatal traffic accidents caused by drink driving. 

Philip Fenech reacted to the report of what he had said about the issue by arguing that he was selectively quoted. He claimed that ‘nobody ever said that business comes before health’ but still insisted that his observation was simply that if a couple choose to take a taxi so that they both can drink, the price of going out would rise. He does not explain why he felt he should make this observation and in the circumstances, it can only be interpreted as concern on his part about the possibility of fewer people going out to eat or to entertain themselves. 

The proposal for the alcohol limit for drivers to be slashed from 0.8 gr. to 0.5 gr. is a step in the right direction and should be adopted without any further useless arguments. 

I was a Cabinet member when the limit of alcohol for drivers was first introduced in Malta. At that time the administration considered the different limits in various European countries and deliberately went for the highest figure. If my memory serves me right, the maximum allowable was in Ireland. The idea was alien to Malta and represented a culture change that had to be introduced slowly without any big shocks. 

However, everybody was convinced that the time would come when the limit would need to be slashed. That time is now long overdue.

Luckily this time around, the festive season was free of serious accidents caused by drink driving. But this does not mean that drink driving is not a problem as much as it is elsewhere.

When I am abroad visiting friends and relatives, my hosts always insist on going to a restaurant and back by taxi because they know how strict the police are regarding drivers who exceed the amount of alcohol permitted by law. In Malta, taxis are considered expensive – mainly because people like the GRTU always defended the sort of monopoly that taxis used to enjoy. Today, there are other forms of private transport that are much cheaper than the white taxi service and in any case, the cost of a cab is a very feeble excuse. Money – and profit – can never justify putting one human life at risk – whatever Philip Fenech says. 

In the UK some 3,000 people are killed or seriously injured each year in drink drive collisions and nearly one in six of all deaths on the road involve drivers who are over the legal alcohol limit. More than half a million breathalyser tests are carried out each year and on average 100,000 are found to be positive. 

In Malta six drunk drivers were among the 54 traffic contraventions reported by police during road checks set up last week for New Year’s Eve, when 738 vehicles in various locations were inspected throughout the night. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) even has a European action plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol between 2012-2020. It proposes a number of alcohol levels for all drivers and enhancing enforcement through increased random breath-testing or greater use of sobriety checkpoints.

But Philip Fenech of the GRTU suggests otherwise! His mind-set recalls the attitude of the GRTU when smoking bans for public places were introduced by the PN government in 2004. The GRTU opposed the measure, saying that bars, restaurants and other catering establishments should have the option to ban smoking on the premises or otherwise.

The GRTU boss at the time, Vince Farrugia, insisted that responsibility for infringements was wrongly being put on the owners of establishments rather than on the smokers; and that the ban should start with places providing essential services and only later, if necessary, should the ban be extended to places of entertainment.

On October 1, 2004, ‘The Malta Independent’ reported Philip Fenech opposing the smoking ban, saying “I will bring up the example of Ireland. They thought that the ban would raise some eyebrows and then it would settle. But it has had the opposite effect. People were OK with it, but now they are up in arms. Sales have gone down in bars, pubs, distributors and producers... There had been 2,000 job losses as a result”. He pointed out that the GRTU was not a pro-smoking lobby: “We want to have the choice of whether to be a smoking friendly or a non-smoking establishment. The smoking ban was no EU directive either and that must be pointed out.” 

Since then practically all EU states have introduced similar smoking bans.

Today the GRTU bluster and threats about the smoking ban have fizzled out into thin air and proved to be one of the biggest debacles of the GRTU in the last 15 years.

I am sure that Fenech’s concern about loss of income for restaurants and other leisure venues where drinking is the order of the day will meet a similar fate.    

An ambassador resigns

The sudden resignation of Ivan Rogers, Britain’s ambassador to the EU, and his resignation letter have continued to confirm that Theresa May’s government is at sixes and sevens on how to proceed with Brexit.

In his resignation letter, Rogers pointedly refuted the beliefs of some who think that free trade just happens when it is not thwarted by authorities – a statement that appears to be a thinly veiled attack on the wishful thinking of the Brexiteers in May’s government.

He referred to the ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking of those in power, insisting that: “We do not yet know what the Government will set as negotiating objectives for the UK’s relationship with the EU after exit. There is much we will not know until later this year about the political shape of the EU itself.”

To some this is a horrifying admission that the UK Government has no clue what it wants out of the negotiations with the EU.

Meanwhile, according to a Sky poll in the UK, only 11% think that May’s government is doing a good job in negotiating the UK’s departure from the EU, while 48% think they’re doing a bad job. And more (42%) think the government will get a bad deal rather than a good deal (22%) when negotiations are complete.

Any comments on my part will be superfluous.

[email protected]

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