[WATCH] Academic ‘surprised’ by PN’s stand against cannabis reform after Bernard Grech’s commitment

Xtra on TVM News Plus | Academic George Vital Zammit says the impression he got when interviewing Bernard Grech on cannabis was very different from PN’s final position

Public Policy Senior Lecturer George Vital Zammit
Public Policy Senior Lecturer George Vital Zammit

A senior academic has spoken of his “surprise” over the Nationalist Party’s rigid position against cannabis decriminalisation, which went contrary to the impression given by Bernard Grech.

George Vital Zammit, a senior lecturer on public policy at the University of Malta, said the PN’s statement jarred with previous statements made by Grech.

“The PN’s position on cannabis surprised me. I interviewed Bernard Grech a few months ago and the impression I got was different from the position eventually adopted by the party recently… One has to ask what happened in these months?”

Zammit was a guest on Xtra, the discussion programme hosted by Saviour Balzan on TVM News Plus, along with the head of UOM’s public policy department, Mario Thomas Vassallo.

Last week, the PN parliamentary group adopted a formal position against government’s cannabis reform, insisting it would normalise drug use. The statement came a few weeks after Grech took credit for the government reform by claiming it took on board his idea to address from where cannabis can be bought legally.

The PN leader is understood to have found resistance among his parliamentary group to agree with the reform and had to back down despite previous statements that suggested the party could tag along.

READ ALSO: MPs give Grech no support to attempt new tack on cannabis law

But the internal resistance Grech faced on the cannabis issue could also be a reflection of the disunity within the PN.

(From left to right) George Vital Zammit, UOM Public Policy Department head Mario Thomas Vassallo and Xtra presenter Saviour Balzan
(From left to right) George Vital Zammit, UOM Public Policy Department head Mario Thomas Vassallo and Xtra presenter Saviour Balzan

Zammit and Vassallo agreed that lack of unity was one of the key issues why people were not comfortable trusting the party with their vote.

Zammit said the PN remains a party in transition and the cycle of ideas that started when the Labour Party gave birth to the concept of a movement has not yet run its course.

“Let us not forget that between 1981 and 2008 people only chose the Labour Party once, in 1996. There was a cycle of ideas [started by Eddie Fenech Adami in the 1970s] that had to run its course… but people also need the comfort that the team they choose to run the country can govern them,” Zammit said, adding lack of unity within the Opposition was a problem.

Zammit said it was evident that the PN has not spent enough time in opposition but there were also more complicated reasons for its poor performances in surveys.

“The power of incumbency of a government cannot be underestimated… but we are also seeing a situation where the PN leader does not have the strength to take the party where he wants to,” Zammit said.

He suggested an ideal scenario where the leader should call a general council, present his ideas and ask members for their trust. “But this is what I believe is the ideal scenario and may not be practical because as a course of action it could create more problems than it solves.”

According to Vassallo, the PN’s biggest problem is linked to its values that were tied to the catholic church’s social teachings that underpinned demochristian ideology. 

“With the catholic church losing its moral authority on society, the party’s ideology started to decay. The PN is broken ideologically and is rife with fissures in its mosaic and not simple cracks,” Vassallo mused.

He said former Labour leader Joseph Muscat realised this and in a “Machiavellian way broke down the PN by exploiting the civil rights issues”.

New PN candidate Joe Grech insisted the PN’s values should not only reflect the church’s teachings. “Social issues will be discussed in society irrespective of what parties want. The PN should not only reflect church teachings… it should go beyond that,” he said, adding young candidates like himself were trying to bring about change within the party.

Asked about the Labour Party, Vassallo said the situation was completely opposite with very little dissent if at all.

“It is as if within the PL everyone is expected to speak with one voice… is it possible there is no one within the PL parliamentary group who has concerns on the cannabis law? Is there no one who can reflect the concerns or disagreement of some Labour voters who disagree with the law?”

Zammit concurred, insisting there was very little auto-criticism on government benches in parliament to hold the administration to account.