A question of responsibility

It would be even more tragic if the country did not pause to take stock of the implications of Saturday’s mishap; and, where necessary, embark on a revision of procedures and safety standards at public events.

Saturday’s accident at the Paqpaqli Ghall-Istrina event at Luqa has once again spotlighted glaring loopholes in Malta’s entire approach to public health and safety.

Naturally, such accidents can never be deemed entirely ‘avoidable’: there will always be a level of human error against which it is practically impossible to safeguard against with 100% success. 

In this instance, however, there is evidence that safety precautions were lax to begin with. And in the aftermath of a crash which could have had far more serious consequences, it must be said that the event also exposed a certain laissez-faire attitude that can only erode public confidence in the official entities involved in its organisation. 

It would be even more tragic, then, if the country did not pause to take stock of the implications of Saturday’s mishap; and, where necessary, embark on a revision of procedures and safety standards at public events.

It is little short of astonishing, for instance, than the precise details regarding responsibility and accountability remain shrouded in obscurity a week later. Legal experts all concur that liability will be difficult to establish, given that the Office of the President, as patron of the Malta Community Chest Fund, appears to be technically responsible for public safety at the supercar event. 

It has been observed that, at law, the OPR could be immune from civil and criminal liability in such cases. 

Up to a point it is understandable that the Office of the President, as the highest Constitutional body in the land, should be exempt from certain bureaucratic procedures: even if just as a token mark of respect for the office. 

But surely these exemptions cannot extend also to basic safety procedures which are necessary to avoid injury and death.

Ultimately, this presumed legal immunity only makes it all the more onerous upon the OPR to be totally transparent on the details of the accident, and to confirm whether it will be taking steps to audit the way it allows various volunteers organise events for the MCCF. 

And yet, for all this, we have so far heard little from the OPR in terms of information about the actual specifics of the organisational set-up. 

It remains unclear, for instance, whether the plastic crash barriers present on site had been filled with water: without which, they would be unable to absorb the shock of an impact, rendering them unfit for purpose. 

Furthermore the metal barriers separating the crowd from the track are clearly unsuited for the purposes of protecting onlookers from collision with vehicles. Moreover, they may even have exacerbated the seriousness of the accident. The fact that they were interlinked also meant that the footprint of the crash-site was actually increased: when the car smashed into the barriers, it dragged the entire chain of barriers inwards, exposing more spectators to the risk of injury.

These are all basic safety consideration that would, in other events, have been addressed by conditions mandated for the permit. Failure to observe such conditions would result in clear culpability.

This principle is automatically understood when the responsible entities do not enjoy legal immunity. Last year’s shooting incident in the Santa Venera tunnels was a case in point: ultimately, the minister responsible for the police had to resign when a member of the corps (his personal driver) fired shots at a car in a tunnel, thus posing a direct danger to the lives of others.

Had the president been a directly-electable MP or minister, the onus of responsibility for Saturday’s crash would have landed squarely on the OPR. The ‘Sheehan principle’ would apply, because lives were clearly endangered by the laxity of safety levels. In the same way that Manuel Mallia resigned because his driver could have killed someone, so would the organiser of the MCCF event have had to resign: had we been talking about any other entity but the Office of the President. 

If nothing else, then, this unfortunate occurrence should at least spark a review of the laws governing the Office of the President to ensure that future events organised under its auspices benefit from the same safety precautions imposed on all other organisers.

Rainbow warriors

On a separate note, congratulations are in order as it transpires that Malta is currently in third place in the International Lesbian-Gay Association’s ‘rainbow map’: a table which appraises countries on the state of their legislation concerning LGBTIQ persons.

Malta is now surpassed only by the United Kingdom and Belgium, having risen a staggering eight places in the past year. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association hailed this sudden improvement in gender equality legislation as “the most eye-catching story of Rainbow Europe 2015”. 

Considering how far we lagged behind in this same arena just a few years ago, it is indeed a remarkable achievement. Underpinning this success was a programme of far-reaching legislation on gender-identity that has since transformed people’s lives for the better. State recognition of same-sex civil partnerships, the Gender Identity Act and various legal safeguards against discrimination on grounds of sexuality have all contributed to what can only be described as a quantum leap forward for equality and justice in Malta.

We should be proud.

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