Magnanimity comes in short supply

Hopefully, Jean Paul Sofia’s death would have served a purpose – the least the family could expect in these circumstances

Robert Abela’s sudden U-turn on the Jean Paul Sofia public inquiry was the right thing to do. There was logic and reason behind the call for a public inquiry pushed by Sofia’s mother, Isabelle Bonnici, and supported by a wide array of people from all strata of society and of all political hues.

Sofia’s death came just over three years after Miriam Pace suffered a similar fate when her house collapsed as a result of excavation works on an adjacent construction site.

Something, somewhere went wrong and many, including Sofia’s mother, wanted an independent inquiry that probed the construction sector’s practices and how it is regulated.

The Prime Minister’s opposition to this inquiry was incomprehensible and yet in one fell swoop last Monday, Abela changed course.

There is nothing wrong in politicians performing U-turns. We’ve said it before and we repeat it again – Abela is not the first politician to perform a U-turn and will certainly not be the last. This newspaper had advocated for a U-turn in this case.

But U-turns have to be explained otherwise they will only serve to sow confusion.

Unfortunately, Abela’s justification to accept a public inquiry into the Sofia case is based on the premise that the magistrate carrying out the criminal inquiry extended the term of the probe, which is now entering its eighth month.

Objectively, the magistrate did nothing different from what she had been doing in the previous months and so there was no material change from the situation that had Abela opposing a public inquiry. It’s not as if several more months had passed thus necessitating some form of action.

If Abela had been waiting for the magistrate to conclude the inquiry by Monday he should have said so beforehand and still voted in favour of the Opposition’s motion in parliament calling for a public inquiry.

But instead, the Prime Minister chose obstinacy only to change his mind a few days later when the public outcry transcended political boundaries and his MPs faced angry backlash from constituents.

Instead of using the magistrate’s umpteenth extension as the reason to justify his volte face, Abela should have simply shown humbleness in front of Sofia’s grieving parents and accepted that they were right all along and he was wrong. It is magnanimous admitting taking the wrong decision and changing it.

But magnanimity, it seems, comes in short supply for a Prime Minister who saw no problem darting off on his boat to Ragusa in Sicily as his MPs faced the brunt of anger from their constituents.

So, yes, the Prime Minister did the right thing to appoint a public inquiry as Sofia’s parents had been demanding but he should not expect gratitude for his belated action, more so when he could not even muster the courage to admit being in the wrong.

The final outcome of Monday’s decision is that a public inquiry will be held with a remit that appears to be wide enough to probe any aspect linked to the construction sector. This is something the country has been calling for.

Headed by Ombudsman Joseph Zammit McKeon, the inquiry will hopefully shed light on the relationship between the construction industry and power; how it is regulated; and whether the sector has been appeased for far too long.

As for Zammit McKeon’s appointment, the law does not preclude him from taking on such a job as long as it is not incompatible with his duties or creates an impression of incompatibility with his role as Ombudsman. He should be allowed the serenity to steer the inquiry without doubts being cast on the appointment.

Hopefully, Jean Paul Sofia’s death would have served a purpose – the least the family could expect in these circumstances.