Doing the right thing

The direct appointment of politicians’ relatives to government posts is just not done, and I don’t care if people argue until they are blue in the face about how suitable she is for the post. 

Sai Mizzi Liang's appointment has raised eyebrows, prompting an admission from the PM that it had not been handled well.
Sai Mizzi Liang's appointment has raised eyebrows, prompting an admission from the PM that it had not been handled well.

In life there are two sets of people: those who automatically know what is correct, ethical behaviour without having to be told, and those who always seem somehow surprised and taken aback when you point out that they have crossed a line.

They just have no qualms about bending or breaking the rules, whether written or unwritten, because they seem to have never learned the difference between right or wrong. Or else, they may have started out knowing but somewhere along the way they have been tainted and the edges of their moral compass have become blurred until it all becomes rather hazy and wishy-washy.

They convince themselves that what they are doing is not really wrong, just perhaps, slightly questionable. U iva, mhux xorta. It will pass, like everything does.

This occurred to me yet again this week as I read through the testimony in the case of John Dalli, who is claiming unfair dismissal by European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso. It’s a complicated, “he said, she said” kind of case, but what has emerged so far is that former EU Health Commissioner Dalli acted inappropriately, unethically and, if the charge of alleged bribery is proven, illegally as well.

In that position, one’s behaviour should be above reproach - but having said that, it also reflects very badly on the judgement of former PM Lawrence Gonzi who put him there in the first place. What on earth was he thinking? The next obvious question is: why doesn’t the current PM Joseph Muscat simply cut Dalli loose? 

I really wish someone would explain why Muscat feels the need to gather people around him who are of dubious character when he has a nine-seat majority. It’s not as if there is a danger of anyone toppling this government; in fact, never has a PM been in such a strong position. Frankly, he does not need to pander or to compromise. But politics is a Machiavellian game, and who knows what is behind it all.

There are other examples which, although not as serious as that of the Dalli case, are worrying just the same because they point to a similar mindset.

Take the Xarabank programme on the man who was falsely accused of sexual abuse by his daughter, on the instigation of the mother, and who was wrongly jailed. Xarabank decided to produce a programme about it while the trial was still ongoing, but only brought the man’s side of the story.

After a formal complaint by the woman’s lawyer, the producers have now been censured by the Broadcasting Authority. The BA is right but the Xarabank producers insist they did nothing wrong.

Well, this is it you see. If they need to have it spelled out to them why you cannot have a “trial by media”, (especially without presenting both sides fairly) in such a small country without the fear of influencing the verdict, then really there is nothing more one can say.

It was obvious to me that at that delicate juncture, a TV programme relying purely on sensationalism which would simply add fuel to the fire was completely out of line and that justice needed to take its course.

It would have been different if there had been a discussion programme which took the most salient issues (without going in into the merits of this particular case) and discussed them maturely: such as the dangers of filing false reports, the irreparable harm being done to children when parents use them as weapons, the repercussions which false sexual abuse allegations cause to real victims, and a myriad of other very crucial, related topics all of which needed to be dealt with in an ethical, level-headed way. But Xarabank preferred to take the typical Xarabank route.

Back to politics and another example staring us squarely in the face is the appointment of Konrad Mizzi’s wife Sai Mizzi as the government’s envoy to China. Here again, it is the principle behind it which is wrong and not necessarily how much she is being paid. 

The direct appointment of politicians’ relatives to government posts is just not done, and I don’t care if people argue until they are blue in the face about how suitable she is for the post. 

When, in 1993, US President Bill Clinton appointed his wife Hillary to chair the task force on National Health Care Reform, there was a huge uproar and vociferous opposition not only against the reform itself but also because it was an unprecedented move for the First Lady to be handed such an active political role.

As far as I know she wasn’t even paid for it, but it still did not go down well with the public.  (As it turned out the idea to provide free health care never got off the ground and it is only now, 20 years later, that Obamacare has been somewhat accepted. Americans have always been inexplicably suspicious of what they call ‘socialist medicine’.)

On the home front, it is no use for Muscat to now tell us that Sai Mizzi’s appointment was “not handled well”. I’m not even sure I know what he means by that. All I know is that there are some things which are ethically wrong and I know them when I see them.

The problem we have right now in Malta is that whenever the PN chimes up to (rightfully) object about things like this, they are just not taken very seriously for the simple reason that they had become the masters at fudging the lines between right and wrong behaviour. I would say they had it down to a fine art. Pot, kettle, black.

They cannot even be taken seriously with their whining over the fact that the journalists who accompanied Muscat on his trip to wheel and deal with the Chinese were handpicked, while others were left to take the inexistent slow boat to China.

Please, PN, do no even go there, because if any administration sifted and handpicked “friendly media” not just for its press trips but for interviews, scoops and assorted spin via its doctors, well…need I go on?  

More in Blogs