The gravitas of the presidency

Bernard Grech’s way of doing things is completely the opposite of what he should do

Opposition leader Bernard Grech
Opposition leader Bernard Grech

It seems that the news last week that Bernard Grech’s choices for the presidency had caused ripples of discontent among the PN parliamentary group was overtaken by other events since the story broke.

Many in the PN parliamentary group were reported to have been irked with Grech presenting them a ‘fait accompli’ and the discussion on the issue was subsequently postponed. No problem, considering that the term of the current President will end next April, in another six months.

It was reported that Grech refused to discuss his choice of nominees insisting that he had made the decision and it will stand.

Apart from the way Grech leads the PN by presenting the PN parliamentary group with a decision he had taken solely by himself, the chosen nominees themselves raised another issue. How will the negotiations for the choice of President be taking place, when the time comes for such a decision?

First of all, the leak about Grech’s intention was apparently done to stop Grech in his tracks, because of serious objections to two of his nominees.

Grech might be playing a game such that, while saying he is giving the government side three options, in actual fact he is giving them only one. I think the choice of president should not be subjected to such a silly game and doing so, demeans the Presidency itself.

It demeans the Presidency because such a move has the inherent implication that the three nominations are acceptable to the PN. While former minister Dolores Cristina fits the bill, many feel that the other two ‘candidates’ thought up by Grech do not.

To nominate them as well, however, implies that the PN thinks that they also possess the necessary gravitas to be appointed president.

That is certainly not the opinion of any PN supporter and flies in the face of the idea that agreement to find a suitable candidate that would be acceptable for two thirds of the MPs is something that this divided country really needs.

Appointing a new president is not a game.

We have come a long way from the day that someone from the PM’s office rang up George Borg Olivier - then leader of the Opposition - to inform him that Dom Mintoff was going to propose Anton Buttigieg as president within a few days... with Mintoff pretending that a telephone call from a civil servant is all the consultation needed to satisfy the constitutional provisions for the appointment of the president! That was one of my first experiences after I became an MP in 1976.

Things have moved in the right direction since then and by next April a consensus must be found.

However, Bernard Grech’s submitting the names of three candidates, of whom only one is really acceptable, is a silly and dangerous game.

It means that the PN is actually in agreement with any three of its nominations when it is undoubtedly bluffing. Choosing the president is not a game of pretence, as it has been reduced to by Bernard Grech’s way of doing things.

In any case, I do not understand the need of the Opposition to nominate three possibilities. A meeting with the PM and a frank discussion with him was all the Leader of the Opposition should have done at this stage. Going out of its way, and giving the Prime Minister three possibilities - that are in fact a Hobson’s choice for only one - is certainly the wrong strategy.

Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have time to think and a frank preliminary discussion without any firm candidates should be the first step that will lead to a consensus.

Bernard Grech’s way of doing things is completely the opposite of what he should do.

It is an insult to the gravitas of the presidency.

Metsola shines

Roberta Metsola’s speech in the PN Independence meeting last Wednesday laid out her vision for a country that reaches the highest possible standards and a vision of excellence.

Without listing all the scandals that rocked Malta under Labour, she expressed optimism that ‘it is not too late’ to turn back the clock and for politics to become an instrument for the common good.

As she put it, one cannot go any lower than using their position to prey on the vulnerable. That was her only reference to the recently revealed benefits fraud racket involving former Labour MP Silvio Grixti.

However, her message was one of hope: ‘Despite the current situation in our country, no, all is not lost. No, it's not too late. We are still in time.’ She said that the country needed to have a new vision to get it back on the right track. This will restore Malta’s reputation and take it to higher grounds with better standards.

Her speech was inspirational: ‘Yesterday's solutions were good for yesterday's challenges. We are here because we want to shape the future. The future is not destiny. The future is not a closed box. The future is the box that we want to create, with our vision, with our ability - because the Maltese and Gozitans are capable of doing it.’

Metsola’s speech was a classic example of how to inspire hope for a better future - the only formula that can unseat a government in any democracy.

I am almost sure that she will be giving more attention to the situation in Malta after her term as President of the European Parliament ends next year.

Defending the indefensible

The Labour Party is finding it difficult to shake off the benefits fraud scandal, even though it is normally very proficient in shaking off accusations of abuse of power.

Three organisations - the Social Assistance Secretariat (SAS), Azzjoni Kattolika Maltija (AKM) and Żgħażagħ Azzjoni Kattolika (ŻAK) - that work with people of different ages, with different needs, with different life expectations, and also who are in difficulty, said that the recently uncovered systemic abuse of disability benefits is a crisis that is having a significant and harmful impact on Maltese society.

This abuse is leading to the undermining of our country's democracy and therefore it is also weakening society in general, because when there are people who sell their vote in order to get what they are not entitled to, it is weakening the voice of the people who do their duty when they go to vote conscientiously.

Writing in the GWU’s it-Torċa last Sunday, former Labour minister and deputy leader, Joe Brincat, tried his best to attribute this scandal to the lower echelons of power - even resorting to a stupid summersault of the Maltese proverb that says that the fish reeks from the head (Il-ħuta minn rasha tintenn) to say that the fish reeks from the tail. In fact, he titled his piece: ‘Il-ħuta minn denbha tintenn’!

He retold various anecdotes of petty corruption in Malta under different governments in his attempt at minimising the current fraud scandal which certainly was not a one-man show but involved the collaboration of several people.