Letters: 25 January 2015

In the spirit of the Pope's appeal 

Updating the Maltese Constitution seems to be a topic that soon will be gathering more importance and attention. Many would agree that the constitution was written under very different conditions. Though it is not to be tampered with lightly, times change and some articles need to be revisited, updated or modified or altered.

One such article, in my opinion, is article 2 in its entirety, and I put forward my reasons.

Article 2 (1) ‘The religion of Malta is the Roman Catholic Apostolic Religion’. Malta is not a theocracy and thus should not have an official /State religion.

If our forefathers intended to register the religion of the majority they did it because of their fear of being overtaken by Protestants. There is no place for such fear now and anyway the constitution is not the place where to register statistical figures.

Article 2 (2) ‘The authorities of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church have a duty and the right to teach which principles are right and which are wrong.’

There seems to be a growing perception that this right and this duty are given to the Catholic Church by the constitution. That is why I believe that it is the Church itself that should ask for this article to be removed.

The right and duty to teach, according to the Church’s own doctrine, form the mandate given to it by its founder, Jesus Christ. Whether this duty is enshrined in the Constitution or not does not make any difference at all. The Church always claims that it has the duty to propose its teachings without imposing them on anyone. Thus this part (2) of 2 is at least spurious.

As to the right of exercising the activities to fulfill its duty, this will be guaranteed by the constitution which gives this right of religious freedom of expression and worship to all faiths as long as their observances are within the legal parameters laid down by the legislators.

This ties up perfectly with the appeal made by the Pope in Sri Lanka when he said that “Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. Each individual must be free, alone or in association with others, to seek the truth, and to openly express his or her religious convictions, free from intimidation and external compulsion.” 

Article 2 (3) ‘Religious teaching of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Faith shall be provided in all State schools as part of compulsory education.’

This is not in the same spirit as that adopted by the Church when it says that it proposes but never imposes its doctrine. Now we can also say that it goes against the appeal made by the Pope which includes freedom “from intimidation and external compulsion.

Again the Constitution should only guarantee the freedom to teach particular doctrines in their particular schools but State schools should not offer any particular faith teachings. They should offer either studies in comparative religions or lessons in civil ethics and upright citizenship.

I would suggest that the Catholic Church should proactively approach the government to indicate its willingness to see that in the current ecumenical spirit, religious freedom is guaranteed in an equal fashion to all religions.

This, in my opinion, will enhance the friendly dialogue between the religions in Malta where all citizens are free to adhere or not to any belief and make clearer to all the citizens the separation between State and Church. 

Richard Curmi, Victoria, Australia

Back to the 1980s

Last Christmas while watching Love Actually, the classic Christmas movie, I drifted off in an unusual thought. In the press conference the British Prime Minister, Hugh Grant; stood up for Britain against the arrogance of the American President, Billy Bob Thornton, yet his humorous sneer was met by cheers and an assertive audience. Far from the truth and somewhat comical that a western power could stand up to American imperialism on the public stage and be cheered and applauded. 

In July 1982, a few weeks after the UK won a brief war with Argentina, Margaret Thatcher told the House of Commons, “The question is whether one very powerful nation can prevent existing contracts being fulfilled; I think it is wrong to do that”.

Whom exactly was Britain’s most anti-Soviet Prime Minister talking about? She wasn’t talking about Ayatollah Khomeini or Leonid Brezhnev, but about her closest ally, Ronald Reagan, with whom she had a ‘special relationship’.

The comment came after President Reagan ordered an embargo of firms using US technologies related to a $10 billion pipeline contract. The 3,700-mile gas pipeline was being built from Siberia to Western Europe, thus bringing closer the Soviet Union and an energy-hungry Western Europe. In fact, in August that year, the British government defied the embargo and ordered British companies to honour their contracts in accordance with international law.

France and Italy followed suit. Ironically, a year earlier, Reagan dropped the grain embargo against the Soviet Union placed by President Carter, to honour his pre-election pledge. At the time European leaders weren’t going to be pawns in this cat and mouse game between the superpowers. Those were the 80s and now times have changed. 

As the cold spell engulfs Europe with record temperatures, the cold war seems set also in east-west relations. Yet, it is wrong to use embargoes and sanctions targeting companies and individuals to make up for the diplomatic stalemates, like the Ukrainian crisis.

More should be done by the world community to understand all stakeholders in the conflict and remember that civilian lives are also at stake here. Currently there are over a million Ukrainian refugees who fled to Russia to avoid army shelling. Politicians should do their job and strive harder if they really want an end to the conflict, rather than tear down economic bridges at the cost of individuals’ jobs. 

2015 is the year Marty McFly takes his DeLorean into the future, 30 years have passed and it seems erringly strange that we use the same 80’s rhetoric on militarism, sanctions and nuclear armaments instead of negotiation and dialogue. I would invite you to re-read your history books to find that it was dialogue and goodwill from both sides that ended the cold war, not military confrontation and bullying; the latter was unsuccessfully tried and tested for the previous 40 years.  

There is a Russian saying, ‘voda camen tochet’, which means water wears away the stone. This is my humble attempt to throw water at the stoned wall of criticism toward Russia omnipresent in western media.

Gabriel Micallef, Liverpool

Oil corruption forced energy prices upwards

I refer to your excellent and exclusive reports about the scandalous oil corruption at Enemalta, which Simon Busuttil considers as a smokescreen, in spite of its serious implications.

No wonder Lawrence Gonzi could not lower the electricity tariffs his government was charging – we were paying for the corruption too, apart from the cost of energy.

Reading the story about Godwin Sant, the senior official at the Malta Resources Authority, I was amazed at the treatment he received, he having been suspended immediately from his job because he had accepted tickets from oil trader George Farrugia, to attend a football match in the UK.

A senior minister in the Gonzi government, who did worse, got away scot-free. I refer to Tonio Fenech, then Finance Minister, who travelled for free on the private jet of a Maltese businessman, to watch his favourite football team play.

Fenech was not only not sanctioned by the Gonzi government. He had the cheek to present his name as a candidate for the 2013 election, and the Nationalist Party had the cheek to accept him as a candidate. And his purblind electors went on to vote him in office.

John Abela, Msida