Gone fishing... but what could Robert Abela be afraid of?

Seems Robert Abela cannot have the luxury of a summer holiday during which he is cut off completely from controlling what is happening in Malta – let alone without permanently following up the nitty-gritty of his duties as the country’s Prime Minister

Our Prime Minister has been rightly criticised for his way of delivering his duties: he keeps on doing it even when he is miles away from Malta on his boat in the middle of the Mediterranean. This is nothing short of very silly and can lead to serious Constitutional problems in particular circumstances.

For donkey’s years, it has been the established custom that when the Prime Minister or the President is not physically in Maltese territory, their duties are passed on to someone in an acting capacity. According to the constitutional theory behind this practice, the Prime Minister (or the President) cannot discharge their duty properly if they are not on Maltese territory. This goes on to the extent that when anyone of these is unconscious because of anaesthesia during some medical intervention – small as it might be – someone else should technically take over their responsibilities, even if it is only for a few hours.

Robert Abela would not have any of this ‘nonsense’. He never hands over his duties and responsibilities to anyone else, even when he is on holiday enjoying himself with his family miles away from Malta.

Opinions on the reason why he does this do not differ much. It seems that he does not want to pass on his duties and responsibilities – even temporarily – to the Deputy Prime Minister, at all costs. This means that the relationship between the two is not normal, and is subject to suspicion to the extent that it has become strained with paranoia.

This has never happened in Malta.

Even Dom Mintoff, who used to take a summer break on someone else’s boat, was replaced by an Acting Prime Minister when he went fishing. He trusted his deputy, who for many years was Guże Cassar. In those days, Mintoff’s summer break served another purpose: some in the higher echelons of the Civil Service used to wait for this annual holiday to get some document endorsed by Cassar, as they suspected that it could otherwise provoke some Mintoffian tantrum leading to it never being signed and officially approved.

Mintoff never thought that Cassar had any ambitions to replace him – and he always relied on Cassar’s loyalty; even though Cassar was the only one in Mintoff’s Cabinet who somehow sometimes succeeded in persuading Mintoff to change his thoughts. Chris Fearne is no Guże Cassar, of course.

Eddie Fenech Adami had no qualms about leaving the responsibility of the premiership to Guido De Marco. In those days, this business of ministerial responsibility was taken so seriously that Richard Cachia Caruana used to monitor the dates of all the summer breaks taken by members of the Cabinet to ensure that the majority of the Cabinet were in Malta at any point in time and to plan which minister takes over the duties of a holidaying colleague. Seniority was observed sanctimoniously.

I do not recall any time when the relationship between the Maltese Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister were so strained as they are today – to the extent that the Prime Minister’s responsibilities are not passed on to an acting Prime Minister even when the Prime Minister is enjoying himself and his family, fishing in the deep blue sea, miles outside Malta’s territorial waters.

This is no good omen for the smooth running of the country’s government. After winning the election earlier this year, Robert Abela chose his own Cabinet. Yet, there is something that does not seem to add up: Abela’s hold on his Cabinet seems to be as shaky as that of Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici’s. Moreover, everybody knows that lurking behind the Prime Minister is the shadow of Joseph Muscat, who is still popular among the Labour grassroots.

So what is Robert Abela afraid of?

Chris Fearne’s ambitions?

Joseph Muscat’s threats?

Whatever it is, it seems that Robert Abela cannot have the luxury of a summer holiday during which he is cut off completely from controlling what is happening in Malta – let alone without permanently following up the nitty-gritty of his duties as the country’s Prime Minister.

This is bad – not just for Robert Abela. It is also bad for Malta to have a Prime Minister permanently in this situation.

Computer jitters

A story published in the Times last Tuesday revealed the problems faced by foreigners wanting to register the names of their children born in Malta. It seems that the computer at Identity Malta cannot accept foreign alphabets and the idea of babies having a surname regulated by the gender of the baby itself.

Certain letters are not recognised by Identity Malta’s computer system. In fact it started recognising Maltese letters such as ż only recently. Otherwise the system only allows official letters of the English and the Maltese languages.

A Dutch person complained that the Maltese system does not recognise the ë symbol that is part of her surname. And a French couple could not register their son with his French name – Gaëtan.

Apparently, my old – soon to be obsolete – computer can reproduce such symbols but not Identity Malta’s!

The more serious issue is that in countries like Poland, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine and Russia, the surname changes according to the gender of the person involved. Remember the name of Mikhail Gorbachev’s wife being Raisa Gorbacheva?

The report gives the example of a Polish surname that ends in ‘-ski’ but changes to ‘-ska’ if the person is a girl. So the father’s surname ending in ‘-ski’ in Malta is given to all his children – even if it should actually be ‘-ska’ in the case of girls. While in Poland a female with a surname ending in ‘-ski’ would be ridiculed, Identity Malta’s computer and its rules are not bothered.

The days when a parish priest would refuse to baptise a baby with whatever name the parents choose, if he thinks – or suspects – the chosen name was not that of a saint, are over. I know of cases where parents took months – and even years – to baptise their child because of the obstinacy of some parish priests.

Now it seems that the idiosyncrasies of the clergy have been replaced by those of Identity Malta’s computer system!