Robert Abela’s moral compass

Robert Abela’s immoral tactics may give him some sort of short-term victory, but the long-term damage to Malta’s reputation will have to be borne by all of us

The Prime Minister is correct when he insists that other EU states are morally obliged to share with us the responsibility of immigrants saved at sea by Maltese Forces, even if they are saved in the area of the Mediterranean where Malta is responsible for co-ordinating Search and Rescue (SAR).

But is putting some 170 migrants indefinitely on two pleasure boats, anchored outside Maltese territorial waters, morally correct? More so when the boats are not meant for long-stay passengers but are actually licensed to offer tourists a boat-ride lasting not more than a few daytime hours.

This action may be acceptable to many Maltese but it is hardly based on some moral principle – more so as this strange ‘cruise’ has now lingered on for over three weeks for one boat and some two weeks for the second boat. The ‘temporary’ solution is turning out to be quite a permanent one.

The only positive reaction has come from Germany, that has informed Malta that it is prepared to take 30 immigrants from those staying on the pleasure boats. Ironically, one of the owners of the pleasure boats that are raking in money for this service is the former non-resident Ambassador to Finland, who had to resign after he stupidly insulted Angela Merkel with a personal post on Facebook.

Although the immigrants on these boats are well provided with food, and they are not in any risk of losing their lives, their stay in isolation in the middle of the Mediterranean cannot but cause psychological harm to them. News that some were on a hunger strike – or attempted to do so – was no surprise. Meanwhile in Malta, nobody seems to bother at all. Empathy for immigrants is not considered a Christian value by many.

The truth is that the government is abusing of the COVID-19 emergency – supposedly the reason why Malta’s ports are closed – to use these immigrants as a bargaining chip and force the EU to take action about the immigration situation that Malta faces regularly.

Moreover, Malta is piling up pressure on the EU by vetoing spending on Operation Irini, an EU military operation intended to enforce a Libyan arms embargo; although critics maintain that it was effectively only stopping the flow of weapons to the UN-recognised Libyan Government of National Accord as it is unable to stop the flow of weapons to the other side of the internal Libyan conflict. Malta has also vetoed the appointment of the new force commander of Operation Irini.

Many argue that morality has no place in foreign politics and this hardline stance adopted by Abela – apart from the decision to leave the latest would-be immigrants rolling on two pleasure boats in the Mediterranean – is justified.

This could explain Malta’s hardline tactics ‘against’ the EU but in any case could never morally justify the way the transfer of these migrants on to the two pleasure boats.

In the circumstances, asking whether Robert Abela already lost his moral compass is a legitimate query.

It is well-known that some negotiators seem to believe that hard-bargaining tactics are the key to success. They resort to threats, extreme demands, and even unethical behaviour to try to get the upper hand in a negotiation.

In so doing, they convey the view of negotiation as a win vs. lose venture. But this should not be the rationale behind Malta’s demands to the EU about the migration crisis. In our case, falling back on hard-bargaining strategies betrays a lack of understanding about the gains that can be achieved with serious, mature negotiations.

There is another aspect to this.

Joseph Muscat’s lack of action about Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi plus Robert Abela’s current hardline tactics have led to our EU partners losing all faith in Malta’s way of doing things.

In 1981, the newly established Fenech Adami administration took several painstaking years to roll back the negative reputation that Malta had earned in the international community as a result of Dom Mintoff’s crude negotiating tactics and his friendship with Gaddaffi.

It took many years for other countries to be persuaded that Malta had turned a new leaf and even merited becoming a respectable EU state.

All this has now been demolished and Malta will suffer serious repercussions as a result.

Robert Abela’s immoral tactics may give him some sort of short-term victory, but the long-term damage to Malta’s reputation will have to be borne by all of us.

Trump’s rolling purge

When US President Donald Trump fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick on 15 May, it wasn’t the first time he took action against someone responsible at law to act as a government watchdog.

In the last seven weeks, Trump has fired or replaced four inspectors-general, including Linick. Inspector-generals were introduced in the US as one of the Watergate-inspired government accountability measures.

According to White House officials, Trump acted on the recommendation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he fired Linick. This happened after Linick’s office was investigating Pompeo for alleged misuse of department employees and Trump’s 2019 declaration of a state of emergency to sell $8.1 billion in U.S. arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

What Pompeo may or may not have done has been overshadowed by the Trump administration’s policy of freeing itself from independent oversight in a time when most Americans are more worried about the rising number of deaths due to COVID-19.

Imagine the reaction if the Maltese Head of Government – the Prime Minister – were to fire the Auditor General or the Ombudsman while the incumbent is investigating some alleged government abuse. He cannot do that in Malta, of course, because such a decision would need a two-thirds majority decision in the House of Representatives.

This helps us to understand how much Trump has undermined US democracy.

Meanwhile, according to the last annual country-by-country assessment of political rights and civil liberties, released by Freedom House, democracy is under assault around the globe, and the effects are evident not just in authoritarian states like China, Russia, and Iran, but also in countries with a long track record of upholding basic rights and freedoms.

Freedom House is a U.S. government-funded, non-profit, non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights all over the world except the US.

When will Freedom House start assessing the state of democracy in the US? Democracy – much like charity – should begin at home!

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