Strange things happen to people in job interviews...

If – with hindsight – Helena Dalli ‘disagreed’ with Muscat’s handling of the Panama Papers… why did she vote the way she did, anyway?

There is an Internet ‘meme’ – if that is even the right word for the culture of posting images with ‘motivational’ (or political, or satirical, etc.) messages – that for some reason keeps drifting into my online field of vision.

You may have seen it before: it shows a typical job interview, seen from the interviewee’s perspective, with speech bubbles to indicate the following dialogue:

Q: What is your greatest weakness?
A: Honesty.
Q: I don’t think honesty is a weakness…
A: I don’t give a shit what you think...

Now: if there were such a thing as a searchable index of online memes – and, the Internet being what it is, there probably is – this one would most likely be filed under the ‘Just imagine!’ category.

As in: ‘Just imagine’ someone were to really say that in a real job interview…’

Or maybe the ‘As if’ section (note: in the purely ‘Malglish’ use of the phrase). In the sense that…

… ‘As if’ something like that would ever happen in real life… ‘as if’ anyone at all, in the entire history of job-interview situations, has ever given a single honest answer to that same question…

And this, naturally, is what makes that meme so memorable. On one level, it is beautifully ironic that the interviewee was asked for an honest answer…  in a situation where ‘honesty’ was actually the last thing the interviewers expected to hear.

But on another: while the dialogue itself is the stuff of pure fantasy (another category might have been, ‘Things we’ve all wished we’d said or done, but never had the balls to’)… the situation it depicts is very real: to the extent that there are even websites offering practical advice on how to answer that, and other typical job-interview questions.

Evidently, then – after all these years of only ever receiving bald, barefaced lies to their faces – job interviewers still ask that same old idiotic question, every single time.

Makes you wonder what sort of answers they’d really expect: ‘My greatest weakness? Not sure if it counts… but I have this habit of picking my nose, and flicking the snot to see if it sticks to my computer monitor…’ (Note: I knew someone who had this weakness once; and for some obscure reason, he never managed to keep a job for more than a week…)

No, indeed. Real answers would probably sound more like the one given by Spud in that classic job interview scene from ‘Trainspotting’:

“Weaknesses? Me? Nah… oh wait, yeah… maybe I do have one weakness… I’m a perfectionist…:”

Again, there is some truth to this. Those guidebooks I mentioned earlier all offer the same advice: choose a ‘weakness’ that can just as easily be interpreted as a ‘strength’.

If I know this, and you know this… and even Spud from ‘Trainspotting’ knew it, more than 20 years ago… well, every job interviewer who has ever existed will surely know it much better than anyone.

Yet they keep asking all the same…. which leads me to believe that they either get some kind of kick about being lied to; or else, they are more interested in the creativity of the fabrications they are told – and what it may reveal about the teller’s competence and personality – than in ‘the truth’.

Well, I got more or less the same impression watching Helena Dalli’s ‘job interview’ before the European Parliament last week… and not just hers, mind you. Karmenu Vella, John Dalli, Tonio Borg  – especially Tonio Borg – as well as Joe Borg before him… they all found themselves in exactly the same situation: i.e., having to give MEPs the sort of answers they knew they wanted to hear, instead of what they actually think or believe themselves.

For instance: Helena Dalli was asked point blank whether she agreed with her government’s handling of the Konrad Mizzi/Panamagate issue. She replied: ‘No, I don’t agree, I would have done things totally different.’

Hmmm. It’s a pity there wasn’t any follow-up question to that, because a couple of rather obvious ones spring to mind. Like, for instance: if Helena Dalli could go back in time, and rectify her past mistakes… how, exactly, would she ‘do things different’? By voting against her own government’s motion of confidence in Konrad Mizzi, perhaps (instead of in favour… as, in fact, she did in 2016)?

But this only raises an even more obvious question. If – with hindsight – she ‘disagreed’ with Muscat’s handling of the Panama Papers… why did she vote the way she did, anyway? Why stick up for Konrad Mizzi in that vote, instead of seizing the opportunity to get rid of him through a Parliamentary resolution (in the same way as Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando had ‘got rid of’ Richard Cachia Caruana, just a few years earlier)?

Why, in brief, does Helena Dalli only say she would have ‘done things different’ now… and even then, only when there’s the small matter of a career advancement attached to the question… when it was only three years ago that her own actions completely belied her assertion in that (oh, so very brief) reply?

Oh well… you don’t really expect an answer from me, do you? I would imagine it’s for the same reason Tonio Borg suddenly found himself contradicting all his own former policies, when quizzed by the same European Parliament on the dreaded subject of ‘female reproductive health’.

Remember? As Justice Minister under Lawrence Gonzi in 2005, Tonio Borg had led a furious cavalry charge in favour of a proposed Constitutional amendment that would have prevented even future generations from ever changing Malta’s ‘female reproductive rights’ situation: which basically amounts to a total ban on abortion under all circumstances… by far the most restrictive and primitive legal regime anywhere in Europe.

As an applicant for a top job in Brussels, however, the same Tonio Borg nonchalantly informed his job interviewers that he ‘fully respected’ the EU’s position in favour of safe access to abortion in all countries… and that, as EU Commissioner for Health (no less), he would work to implement all the relevant treaties and conventions… including all the ones that condemn countries that have total abortion bans, and which recommend legal changes to ensure safe access to abortion for all women, everywhere.

And to be fair, he wasn’t exactly lying, either. It is true that, for his full term as Health Commissioner, Tonio Borg oversaw the implementation of numerous EU directives and programmes aimed at funding safe abortions all over the developing world… after having spent over a decade championing the most extreme facet of the local (but ONLY local) pro-life cause.

I need hardly add that all other Maltese commissioners-designate were also grilled about the same topic… that’s what happens, I suppose, when your country clings to archaic, medieval legislation regulating an issue the EU feels very strongly about – and in all cases, their reply stood in gargantuan conflict with their own political record in that same department.

In 2005, Joe Borg – who, as Foreign Minister, had helped negotiate the famous ‘abortion protocol’ in Malta’s accession treaty – likewise found himself mumbling something incoherent about Malta having ratified ‘the Cairo Declaration’ in 1994 (which, once again, advocates safe access to abortion in all countries)… conveniently omitting the small detail that Malta had also raised a vociferous objection – which is duly noted, in the same declaration – to the specific paragraph mentioning ‘female reproductive rights’.

And Helena Dalli, too, gave a very different answer from anything she’s ever said locally.  Here, admittedly, the landscape is slightly different: unlike the two Borges, Dalli never militated in a party quite as gung-ho as the PN has always been when it comes to abortion.

Also unlike the other two, she hails from a government that is justly proud of its recent record in the related spheres of equality and civil/human rights. So it came across as less of a contradiction, when she bluntly said she would not hesitate to grant all women, in all EU member states, full access to reproductive rights… ‘without exception’.

But a contradiction exists all the same. It is all very easy to say that sort of thing during a job interview for a European Commission posting; but it is somewhat harder to reconcile Helena Dalli’s newfound position on female reproductive rights, with her own government’s stolid insistence on retaining Malta’s total abortion ban in all circumstances.

To put it another way: Helena Dalli can use the expression ‘without exception’ as much as she likes; in practical terms, however, there is – and will continue to be – an exception within the European Union when it comes to access to safe abortion. It simply doesn’t exist in Malta… because Helena Dalli’s former government, like all its predecessors, is firmly committed to retaining the status quo.

So once again, I would have expected a follow-up question: does Helena Dalli, in her new job as European Commissioner for Equality, intend to push her former government to ensure that Maltese women are, in fact, treated on an equal footing with women in all other 28 members states?

Unless the answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes’ – in the sense that Helena Dalli will indeed see to it that Maltese women do get access to the same health services as all their counterparts, ‘without exception’ – her answer to that question will have to go down as completely and utterly meaningless.

At least, however, she now has an opportunity to put her money where her mouth is. We now have five years to find out whether Helena Dalli was being honest in her answers (in which case, Malta will have to legalise abortion by 2024 at the earliest)… or whether…

…oh well, you can work out the rest for yourselves.

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