Author Archive

The Psychologist Police

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

asbo_akkuzaAfter The Castille MEPA Protest Man we now have The Aggressive St Paul’s Bay Man. I apologise for the weird titles but it seems that this kind of tag is here to stay – we actually have the media ‘tagging’ the poor Kazakh woman who was guilty of participating too enthusiastically in a local festa as The Bikini Dancer (incidentally you have to love how the Times URL  places the title just after the “local” tag in so very much “A League of Gentlemen Fashion”).

My problem today is not about this recent unconscious fad of media tagging that in a way resembles archaeological findings such as Cro-Magnon man and the like. Rather it is about the worrying increase of reports of the police recommendations that persons under arrest be seen to by a psychologist in what seem to be a rather heavy handed manner of dealing with (possible) anti-social behaviour.

In the case of Mr Busuttil of the Castille MEPA Protest I have already spoken about how the resort to psychologists was an extremely worrying case of the police resorting to a Catch-22 scenario that stinks of heavy handed bullying and silencing of anybody with a gripe with the Prime Minister (see Arrested Development). In the case of Mr Snedden we have once again heard reports of the police requesting psychological assistance for an arrested person as seen here in a Malta Independent report:

The police declined to comment for the time being since investigations are still ongoing and a court case being heard. The prosecuting inspector , Godwin Scerri, however did state in court that Mr Sneddon has a bad temper and is a danger to himself and society and should be seen by a psychologist. He also said that Mr Sneddon was injured in a separate incident before the incident ensued between the accused and the police.

I stand by Jason Azzopardi’s position on this particular situation – particularly if the alleged rough-handedness by the police did take place. The issue of the police increasingly insisting on psychological assistance (and we do not know how often this is resorted to since we can safely assume that other cases are not reported) is worrying.

In Mr Busuttil’s case we saw warning signs of dangerous methods that threaten the safety of persons accused of committing a crime during the period of their arrest and detention. The introduction of psychologists who are prepared to sign on the dotted line and commit a person to a mental institution based on a suspicion by the men in blue is extremely worrying and  to say the least.

Without getting too technical we are talking here of the writ of habeas corpus – an institution in criminal law designed to safeguard the personal freedom of an individual even when criminal proceedings are being held against him.  Much noise has surrounded the rights of arrested persons (particularly their right to be assisted by a lawyer) in the run up to the last elections and we have heard much about the great legal reforms being undertaken to improve the laws.

Meanwhile however, the police seem to be relying on the psychological excuse all too often. Mr Busuttil’s case was a flagrant abuse of this factor. If the police advice were to be  followed in Mr Snedden’s case we are entering dangerous territory. Why? Well, Mr Snedden is not the first and by my guessing nor will he be the last to engage in a violent reaction when confronted by the police. Without justifying his reaction at all it should be the case to examine how such persons are dealt with.

If anything what we are facing here is not an extreme solution that tends to deal with persons in the haphazard “off to Mount Carmel” approach – or risks getting them off the hook (if they are guilty) with a few sessions at the psychologist of choice. It may be time to explore the UK road of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. Cases of violence when confronting public officers are most times a question of behaviour and upbringing.

The ASBO is in itself an attempt at legally defining a behavioural trait – as can be seen in the UK definition:

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 defines anti-social behaviour as acting in a manner that has “caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household” as the perpetrator.

Of course exploring this avenue is one part of the solution. Unfortunately the comical approach to upholding the law that is evidenced in cases such as that of the poor Kazakh woman, or over-reactions to cases of nudity by the beach for example – do nothing to strengthen the trust that is needed in the police force in doing their work.

Jason Azzopardi’s appeal for an inquiry must also be followed up by a thorough review of the police forces education and role in the process of arrest, detention and prosecution as well as by an examination of the possibility of introducing the concept of ASBOs in our legal system. My biggest concern as to the latter is that there are so many examples of Anti-Social Behaviour in this country that one would not know where to start enforcing it. Still, time is ripe for debate – and above all keep us away from those psychologists.

Of Ice and Men (and ALS)

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

icemen_akkuzaYou have to have seen one by now. If it is not The Special One, George Bush or Bill Gates then it is Shakira or your favourite singer who is pictured in a short video getting showered with ice cold water (with or without ice blocks in it). The ALS Ice Bucket challenge has taken the internet by storm and the viral quality is aided by the short deadline that is given to people challenged to take it on (within 24 hours you have to have taken up the gauntlet).

The overall effect has been an overnight miracle for ALS research and awareness. If you’d never heard of Lou Gehrig before you were bound to now – and notwithstanding the misunderstandings of many, of which I shall speak here, there has been a substantial spike in research money aimed at combatting this debilitating illness. All good then?

Not really. You see the rules of the ALS Ice Bucket challenge could not have been simpler – when challenged you either chose to donate money to the ALS Foundation (or alternatively to a local charity) or you chose to undergo the ice bucket wetting experience i.e. get a cold shower while being filmed. It’s an alternative – technically speaking all those who do chose to get filmed getting wet are those who are NOT donating money for the cause. Being filmed getting wet was the “punishment” you chose to undergo if you did not want to donate after being nominated.

Which is not really what happened. The Andy Warhol effect of social media contributed substantially to the rush for everyone and his brother to get filmed getting wet – with some spectacularly hilarious results. Granted nobody wishes to be a party pooper and if the ALS Ice Bucket challenge allowed people to get their kicks on video while also donating then, hey, it’s all for a good cause isn’t it?

There comes a point though when the exhibitionistic element eclipses the cause completely. I’ve seen too many videos that emphasised the “challenge” part of the experience without even mentioning the cause – let alone a donation anywhere. The wave hit Malta in the past days and we have seen a crescendo of nominees and participants in what the French press would call the “people” sector. In short we saw a growing circle of nominees who seemed desperate to make sure that they were in the “ring”. After all doing the challenge meant forming part of a new coterie of illustrious individuals. If Steven Spielberg was nominating JJ Abrahams and Mourinho was in the game you felt that our Maltese sense of VIP-ness required instant participation too.

Sure enough it was not too long before we had our Energy Minister nominating Ira Losco while exhibiting himself in an embarassing episode of kow-towing to “il-Prim”. Il-Prim too was on to the game and they seemed to be having a whale of a time bromancing under the ice in what seems to be the Girgenti lawn. Of course they mentioned a donation (thank God for that) but the artificiality of it all was here to stay. Enter Edward Zammit Lewis with a professionally edited video (at least two cameras) complete with cameo wifey appearance killing all sense of spontaneous immediacy.

Here was a sure bet… a great PR stunt that should be uncriticiseable because it is, after all, for a good cause. Really? I am sure I will get more than my share of flak for this but it is there for all to see. Opposition Leader Busuttil was criticised for “chickening out” (or as the Maltatoday grammarians would have it “he foregoed (sic)” the challenge) when he did precisely what was required of him by the rules i.e. no ice bucket but a cheque written out to a local charity. Even Busuttil did not resist adding a little publicity twist by PS-ing a later nomination in which he finally outed a badly kept secret – by nominating his partner, Times journalist Kristine Chetcuti.

Some celebrities have begun setting the record straight on what the ALS challenge is all about. Look at Star Trek’s Patrick Stewart here underlining the either/or alternative in his muted manner.

Charlie Sheen was a bit more theatrical but makes the point just the same:

To really understand what the ALS Ice Bucket challenge is about and see the people who are being helped by this cause watch the next video till the very end. Also you can head to alsa.org to donate directly to the challenge – with or without your own ice bucket video.

 

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men

Gang aft agley.

Arrested Development

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

arrested_akkuzaYou cannot really laugh when you read stories like this. The institutions on the European mainland are constantly besieged by protests of all kinds against their decisions – and it is right that it should be so. Farmers from France have been known to drive up to Brussels and dump truckloads of manure to protest decisions by the EU institutions that they disagree with. For as long as I can remember London visits always included an episode where you come across a protester in the street, complete with tents, placards and whatnot monitored from a distance by a bobby or two – but still allowed to continue with his/their protest without being too bovvered by the long arm of the law.

Not in Malta 2014 though. Ignatius Busuttil was arrested for obstructing traffic (in a day and age when traffic is brought to a standstill by the needs of the latest Festa without so much as a by your leave) and for disobeying the police (who were ordering him to stop a peaceful protest). Worse still the newspaper report taken directly from the official statement we read that the police query goes into the questioning of Busuttil’s motives to protest : as though your very motives to complain about the government’s management of affairs require some sanctioning. Yes, it is facile to use the adjective Kafkesque but calling spades spades is sometimes the most simple of explanations.

“In the official statement given to the police and signed by Mr Busuttil, he was asked why he wanted to speak to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, what he intended to say to Dr Muscat and what his grievances with MEPA are. The police asked him whether he had ever tried to make a formal appointment with Dr Muscat or any other government officials. The police then asked Mr Busuttil whether he has any mental problems.” (The Malta Independent)

It get worse too. The police are apparently hot on psychology now and they will delve into a lovely conundrum taken straight out of Joseph Heller’s leaf.  They have taken Catch-22 and turned it on its head.

“Sure there is a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, that specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of the clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. 
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed. 

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka replied.

Much to Ignatius Busuttil’s chagrin the police have come up with their own version of Catch 22. It goes something like this:

1. You’ve got to be crazy to be protesting against this government.

2. Crazy people should not be allowed to protest. They should be in a mental institution.

3. Off to Mount Carmel.

Simple isn’t it? Joseph Muscat’s law is looking more and more like Joseph Heller’s. And it’s all the more a loss for our democracy.

Employing the statistics

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

employ_akkuzaAt 11:52 this morning Joseph Muscat tweeted (as we do nowadays) that employment was up by 3.6% in March. I had been waiting for some new NSO figures for some time now ever since a blog reader had flagged a few inconsistencies in the recent unemployment figures.  Something felt not quite right when you saw the sudden bounce in unemployment that was tantamount to 2,000 less unemployed people over the last year or so. Where had all these persons been employed?

You’d think we’re doing great and that this government has a fantastic plan that stimulates the economy to such an extent as to encourage growth and employment. You’d hope so. The impression that Muscat wants to give is just that in fact – we have created new jobs.

Well, it turns out that the suspicion our readers had when they read this paragraph in a MaltaToday report on the increase in deficit (up by 24 million euros in the first half of 2014) was rather grounded:

In addition, personal emoluments and contributions to government entities increased by €24.6 million and €21.2 million respectively. Operational and Maintenance Expenditure went up by €5.8 million.

Since then we had been trying to find out whether there was any relation between the increase in employment (or decrease in unemployment – whatever tickles your fancy) and the 24.6 million increase in government emoluments. We needed to find out whether there was an increase in public service employment in the last year. To put you into the perspective, the much maligned GonziPN government had succeeded in shrinking the size (and correspondent expenses) of the public service. Less public service employees, less wages. Stands to reason.

Here’s how that trend was described in a the National Employment Policy published by this government in 2014:

In Malta, the public sector remains one of the biggest employers. According to Eurostat statistics, Malta’s public sector administration is the third largest in size in Europe as a ratio of total population. Still, from figure 2.3 it transpires that during the past decade the public sector shrank in size by almost 6,000 employees, from 46,700 in 2004 to 40,900 in 2012 (NSO, 2012; 2013). 

So we know for certain that under the dastardly GonziPN the public sector shrank in size by 6,000 employees. More savings, less expenditure for the government. So was this trend confirmed under MuscatPL? Well not really. IN today’s NSO news release we read how the public sector contributed mostly to the increase in employment. And here are the magical numbers that we get from Table 2 of the same news release:

Public Sec 2012 avg 40,893

Public Sec 2013 avg 41,918

Public Sec Mar 2014 43,386

Oops. So all this strutting about claiming an increase in employment is just borne on a wave of bullshit. What has happened is that Muscat PL – Taghna Lkoll has bucked a positive trend of a shrinking public sector that had been going on for a decade. Essentially all these ‘positive’ bites regarding decreasing unemployment, rising employment etc are all the result of Labour reopening wide the gates of government employment. Little wonder then that a large part of the increase in deficit is attributable to government emoluments.

 

The Maltese Race

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

malteser race _akkuzaIt’s almost eleven o’clock on Sunday morning. In my church going days this was the time for the infamous Sunday mass ritual complete with sermon, parade and chit chat on the church parvis just before heading off to Sunday lunch. For a long time through my childhood and adolescence we counted the mores and values of the Catholic Church as our own. Those days are long gone and it is no longer a question of pointing your finger at the Bishops and their flock whenever you feel that the moral compass has gone haywire. To be honest it has become harder and harder to identify the source of our common values in a nation that has discovered a plurality of divisions that go beyond the traditional good and evil fault lines that have always aided us to paint a chiaroscuro picture.

I remember Marsalforn’s priest (known to the flock as il-Kappillan) promoting numerous missionary efforts during the months of summer when his church would be full to the brim with the sudden influx of ‘Maltin’ who had come over to Gozo to spend their summer vacation. To the kids the idea of a mission was a remote place where the poor underprivileged, unlucky and pagan souls would be nourished with food for the spirit and for the flesh thanks to the intervention of intrepid missionaries. They might have been a reality but it was a reality that was far away. The sense of remoteness would only be breached when the first shipload of Albanians would reach our shores in the early nineties.

We grew up with a cushioned mentality of what brotherly love and concern is about. At school I heard first of the La Sallian Freres around the world spreading the word through education. Then I learnt about the not too lightweight methods of Jesuits like Francis Xavier and their trips to preach to foreigners all the way to the Orient. I came across the Freres again recently when watching a documentary about the history of what was once the Belgian Congo. Their schools have survived the upheavals since independence and they now include history teachers teaching young Congo residents the path that the Congo had to take towards eventual freedom and self-determination. Congo’s first short-lived president Patrice Lumumba had for long preached a Congo where “the blacks would be white and the whites would be black”.

But I digress. Our concept of “foreigner” were forged in colonial times and then continued to be moulded in post-independence Malta that probably had not shed its colonial mentality. For long the foreigner was a tourist with all the idiosyncrasies he could bring. He was a tourist to be charged according to the hidden prices on the menu (still is) and someone who could leave a penny or two on this young republic’s soil. Politically with the arrival of Mintoffian principles combining fabricated nationalism and aggressive participation on international fronts, the foreigner became a “barrani” – an outsider – a concept that is encapsulated in very similar terms to “not local”. We had to choose with whom to deal with and who would be our friend in times of need.

There is no doubt that the politically expedient mechanism was absorbed into our way of thinking. The irony is not lost when you see that this kind of political tool culminated in a legislation on “foreign (outsider) interference”. Setting aside the political undertones, it says much about the lilliputian element in the mentality. “We are Maltese and no outsider will tell us what to do”. Inevitably such a narrative required a fleshing out of the myth of the ‘Maltese Race’ – for which we came up with a word that is only used in one other circumstance  ie. the United Nations or Gnus Maghquda. By 1979 we had Gensna (technically “Our Nation” but giving off serious whiffs of “Our Race”). The language of “us and them” had been packaged roughly and served its purpose well. It probably was here to stay.

Fast forward to the nineties where we began an uncomfortable rapprochement to the continent to our north. We may have made giant strides towards the “Europeanisation” of our nation structurally but come the referendum on EU membership the “us and them” mentality showed that it was going nowhere. “Them” in this case was the Europeans. We had the derisory, ridiculous, statements of parts of the opposition to membership regarding AIDS, Sicilian workers et al but they were there and I am not too sure that they were easily dismissed. Without making a value judgement on EU membership itself, I believe that it is safe to say that Malta might have politically and economically joined a wider club of peers but a substantial part of its population was still torn about the need to have anything to do (or depend on) the outsiders.

An uneasy membership had begun and it would not be long before we would have a government pouncing upon the uneasiness of a  large swathe of our population with the concept of “the others”. It could have been any party mind you – so long as it is one that relies on substantial doses of populism there would always be a vein to be tapped – a vein that dislikes the outsider, snobs the foreigner and demonstrates all the makings of an intolerant mentality.

The Albanian ships had just been a forewarning. Soon we would have an ever increasing wave of refugee seekers escaping the turmoils of the Dark Continent. We would also absorb a large amount of people escaping the ugly reality of the Balkan break up. Later on (more like recently) we would add to those the East European (non-EU) diaspora looking for a better life. The Gens Malti suddenly found itself knee deep in barranin. Would it cope? Could it cope?

In this year’s address to the Luxembourg population on Duke’s Day, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel surprised the non-Luxembourgish community in Luxembourg (the country, not the city, has 48% of non-Luxembourgers in its population in 2014) by addressing them specifically. He switched to French from Luxembourgish to do so (already an immense concession) and proceeded to tell the “foreign” community of how they are welcome in Luxembourg. “You may seem to be a problem at the start but I see you as a challenge, a positive challenge and an opportunity”. I paraphrase the sense of his speech but that was Bettel’s attitude in a nutshell. Luxembourg would make the most of the presence of non-natives – not complain about them. (see Luxembourg’s score on the Migration Policy Index here).

It’s not all about Migration though. It’s about a general attitude to anything conceived as non-Maltese i.e. foreign. Trying to understand this obsession with the Maltese Race is not simply restricted to the dangerous gibberish spouted by Imperium Europa followers. It means trying to understand how it is that we form our ideas about who and what is non-Maltese. It is also about trying to understand why we have selective bursts of what cannot but be termed racist/intolerant conceptions when talking about events unfolding in Malta and close to it. The overwhelming majority surely has no wish to think in terms of the brotherhood of man.

That is why it is worrying but not surprising that an idiot on Facebook expresses his wish that MEP Roberta Metsola gets gang raped by a group of immigrants when he sees her efforts being made towards integration and assistance. That is why it is worrying but not surprising that our government’s envoy to the World Tourism Authority deems it fit to use the word “rapist” when talking about ADITUS chairman’s efforts in assisting refugees and immigrants in integration. That is why it is worrying but not surprising that our nurses complain about (specifically) Libyan patients being brought to hospital as though hospitals are only equipped to combat Maltese illnesses and bacteria (and to think that part of our great historical narrative includes a period when Malta was the hospital of the Mediterranean receiving wounded from the First Crimean War for example).

Sliema and Saint Julian’s are under threat. There is hooded gang doing the rounds with some kind of master key and burgling homes. It seems to make a difference that these criminals are Eastern European, probably Serb apparently. We have got used to situations where the defining factor is not a crime but the nationality of the person committing it – as though this in itself is an aggravation or proves some statistical point.

All this points to a continued uneasiness with the concept of non-Maltese in 2014. This is not a pretentious rant but an attempt to identify the source of the mentality and the problem. Nations like Luxembourg have taken up the challenge and are seeing the potential in seconding this new wave into the very struggles of their own nation. Malta on the other hand seems to have gone down the path of refusal and denial. Efforts at integration and commonality are either not evident or non-existent. What is clear is that we are very weak policy-wise when it comes to thinking about how to work on this reality. So long as those entrusted to govern prefer to pick and mix with a populistic enthusiasm we can expect little or no positive input from their part.

Meanwhile the Maltese Race continues…. to the bottom.

 

 

Words of Abduction

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

abduction_akkuzaWhat is predicted to be Malta’s hottest August for years has begun under the sign of Martin Galea and the images of his post-abduction and freedom interview. The story of the abduction itself  should have turned out to be quite a straightforward one of abduction and rescue yet Muscat’s government have managed to turn this into another web of fishy explanations, hidden motives and bungled communications – to say the least.

Context

Context, a lot of it, is required. This is Libya following the rekindling of  what Western media describe as tribal rivalries. Not too long before the conflagration the government of Malta was busy signing Memoranda of Understanding with whoever was sitting in the shaky seat of power in Tripoli at the time. Any suggestion to the government of Malta that the Libyan situation was not at all safe and that it was about to explode once again into the warring factions we had seen in the post-Colonel scenario would be shot down with the usual arrogant panache that has become such a trademark Labour method in the domain of communications.

In mid-July Malta’s foreign Minister insisted that the situation in Libya was “not very serious” and that there was no need to evacuate Maltese citizens. It would soon become evident that notwithstanding our proximity to the Libyan realities and all the talk of our common history and heritage and friendship (all is well when you are signing an agreement for cheaper fuel) we apparently had no bloody clue what was going on. While other states withdrew their embassies (by July 27 even the US evacuated its Tripoli embassy) we were busy playing musical chairs with out politically appointed ambassador (aren’t they all) to-ing and fro-ing like a headless chicken on crack.

It is important to follow the trail of government speak in this story – especially when weighing who its real interlocutor is. When the government does seem to want to address the media (not only the selected media as on the China trip), it seems to have a second interlocutor in mind – one to whom it is intent on delivering a pleasant message.

Step back again to the days prior to the return to battle on Libyan territory. A few other incidents stick out like a sore thumb. First we had the mysterious Libyan being provided Malta state security in a Saint Paul’s Bay flat. Following some probing prompted by early questions raised on Caruana Galizia’s blog, the government was forced to comment on whether or not a Libyan national was being provided with state-funded security. It turned out that Libya’s former Deputy PM Sadiq Abdulkarim had fled to Malta. No confirmation was forthcoming from the government as to whether or not this was the same person being provided security. They had this to say:

Libya’s Deputy Prime Minister Sadiq Abdulkarim is living in Malta, this newspaper has learnt.A government spokesman would not confirm or deny it, simply saying it “would not comment on matters of national security”.Mr Abdulkarim, who was also Libya’s deputy PM while Ali Zeidan was prime minister, is living under heavily armed guard on the island. [...]

Over the weekend, the government was quick to deny media speculation that Mr Zeidan was living in Malta. Government spokesman Carmelo Abela reiterated during a press conference on Tuesday that the man seen under heavy escort in St Paul’s Bay was not the former Libyan premier but said he could not give further details because of national security.

Eight days after the above quoted report, the Times of Malta reported that Zeidan and Abdulkarim had returned to Libya (June 20th). Mr Zeidan returned to the city of Beida where he “made an attempt to reclaim his premiership”. It was Garibaldi all over again. A short rest in Malta before returning to retake the country – or so they thought. As for the Maltese government it stood by its “national security” dictate.

A second interesting development before the fighting began again in Libya was the accusation that Malta or some Maltese were involved in the smuggling of fuel from Libya.Tellingly this allegation surfaced on June 18th in the Maltese press – following its first appearance in a Reuters report. Here’s the Times:

Meetings are being held between senior security personnel in Malta and Libya to verify allegations of fuel smuggling from Libya to Malta and take all decisions necessary to curb such activities, the Foreign Ministry said.

It said the latest developments would also be discussed between Minister George Vella and his Libyan counterpart later today.

The ministry was reacting to a Reuters report that large amounts of fuel were being smuggled from Libya to Malta – even as angry motorists queued in Tripoli and the state oil firm struggled to deliver due to a lack of security at petrol stations

“This phenomena is a threat to Libya and affects national security,” the government said in a statement after Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni met Malta’s ambassador.

This time it was Libya’s government ranting away about “national security”. Curiously these events take place on June 18th, two days before Zeidan and Abdulkarim leave Malta to “reclaim the premiership”. On June 20th we have Libyan PM Abdullah Al-Thinni meeting the Maltese ambassador to voice his concerns while Foreign Minister George Vella met his counterpart in Al-Thinni’s government. There is something very confusing about the Maltese government’s dealing with Libya as a whole. On the one hand it is presumably (strong evidence backs this presumption) providing safe harbour to the deputy of the claimant to the “throne” in Tripoli but on the other hand it is also negotiating with (and therefore clearly recognising) the man occupying the coveted “throne”. 

Of course you are entitled to think that in this way the Maltese government is on “friendly terms” with all sides in the fractious break up of Libya. There is a high probability that the Maltese government is hedging its bets and hoping that whichever side is victorious then it can quickly cosy up and resume its agreements regarding oil procurement and immigration problem solving. Aside from the moral implications of this kind of foreign policy, one question remains to be answered? What weight does the Maltese government carry when push comes to shove in Libyan matters?

There’s one final piece of the context puzzle before moving on. This time we go back to May 2014 – a month before the events began to precipitate. Consul Maria Farrugia is called back to Malta on allegations of VISA fraud. Another piece of the network of foreign representatives being replaced by Taghna Lkoll Government appointees crumbles. This time, rather than simply recalling the diplomat we have charges of VISA fraud. Whether such allegations turn out to be substantiated or not is another story – what is important here is that our man in Tripoli is another political appointee who, as it turns out, becomes useless in the moment of need. Farrugia would be recalled at the time of Galea’s abduction and – if you were to take the abductees word for it – would be fundamental for his release.

This is not an abduction

So there you have it. This is the context in which we can better see the news behind the abduction of Martin Galea. Galea was abducted on Thursday July 17th while working for private company NAGECO as a health and Safety advisor. The government of Malta had to wait for his release, his return to Malta, his medical examination and finally for the incontrovertible truth explained in a TMI video interview before it finally conceded that this was an abduction. From the 17th of July till the end of the month, the governments’ handling of the issue begs more questions than it provides answers. With the above context in mind the questions that can and should be asked are the following:

Once the government was apprised of the fact that Martin Galea was missing and possibly abducted how was this information processed and prioritised? We are told that the government was informed of the abduction on Sunday 20th (Joseph Muscat statement in Parliament) and that it started working with the police and diplomatic service to contact the abductors. As late as July 30th statements by Civil Service head Martin Cutajar still insisted that the government never used the word “abduction” – adding that “it was the media who called it an abduction.

It was not just Cutajar, OPM Communications Head Kurt Farrugia also added that “the exact sequence of events was never clear, and the government never had direct contact with whoever was holding Mr Galea”.  In an interview with MaltaToday, a Libyan militia leader (Ayman Al Madani) also denied that Mr Galea was ever abducted. Saying that he played a role in securing Galea’s release he insisted that the Maltese national was not abducted, but taken in by a Warshafana militia when fighting broke out on the road he was travelling on.

Al Maydani has a Libyan contact in Malta – Khaled Ebrahim Ben Nasan who had asked him to enquire about Galea’s disappearance. Ben Nasan seems to have been brought into the picture by Malta’s ambassador to Libya Mannie Galea who, according to the MT interview ” asked him to intervene in the rescue of Galea on midnight of Saturday 26 July, the day after news broke that Galea had disappeared.” This last statement is interesting because it shows a lapse of 6 days between when the government knew of the abduction (20th July) and when Ambassador Mannie Galea contacted possible intermediaries. Did Ambassador Mannie Galea only get to know on the 26th July? It does not sound reasonable.

Also, what is all this concern about toning down the “abduction” and describing it as a case of being secluded for his own security? Which counterparts in Libya are being accomodated by this version of events? Does this in any way have anything to do with the hedging of bets with the internal situation in Libya? If a militia had indeed abducted Martin Galea was somebody making sure that no toes were stepped upon and no feathers were ruffled in case this militia transforms into a “government counterpart”? Whose security was being given priority?

Much has also been made of Ambassador Galea’s absence from the scene – he was nowhere to be seen at the victorious set-up at Luqa Airport upon Martin Galea’s return to Malta. Instead we heard Martin Galea say that he owed his life to Marisa Farrugia, the supposedly disgraced consul who had been whipped back in action by the government to bring back the person who had (according to the official line) not been abducted by one of the militias vying for power in civil war torn Libya. Complicated?

There are other questions of course. The government, through its spokesman Cutajar, insisted as late as the 30th of July that “‘competent authorities’ are still putting together the circumstances of what happened to oil worker Martin Galea who was held by Libyan militias for 12 days and brought back to Malta on Monday evening.” Cutajar also stated that Martin Galea “was given different versions of who the group who took him were”. Meanwhile Kurt Farrugia confirmed Cutajar’s statement adding:

“the government never said it was an abduction. “We chose our words carefully to protect Galea’s life especially when we didn’t have the full picture of the situation. We were still evaluating the situation, and the word ‘abduction’ was used by the media. We always made it clear that the government never had direct contact with whoever took him”. (MaltaToday, 30 July)

As I mentioned earlier it would take Martin Galea’s Independent interviews to get the government to ‘admit’ that it was an abduction. There are more telling points in Farrugia’s statements. There is the admission that the government was rarely on top of the situation. Notwithstanding that this was a country with whom an MOU had been signed earlier that month and that this was country where there was ‘no reason to worry’, the government proved to be rather inept at reacting properly on the ground.

Why not use the term abduction? For whose safety exactly? How exactly does an abduction get worse by calling it an abduction? One possible explanation is that the government wanted to ‘legitimise’ the abductors. A line similar to that sold by militia leader Al Madani would explain this. Theirs was not an abduction but Galea was simply kept aside for his own security. Of course none of this makes sense once you hear about Galea’s ordeal but for a government that puts much weight in the power of persuasion through words, not calling an abduction an abduction must have made a lot of sense.

Also, on the 30th July, the OPM Communications Chief confirms that “the government never made contact with whoever took him (Galea)”. Interesting. So essentially we have clear evidence that notwithstanding all the fanfare with Muscat and Manuel Mallia at Luqa airport, the government had little or no say in negotiating the release of the abductee Galea. So how and why was he released? How are we to interpret his words that it is to Marisa Farrugia that he owes his life?

Were there parallel efforts by different entities all doing their damned best to liberate a person who for all official intents and purposes had not really been abducted? There is evidently much that we are not being told. Muscat’s government has tried to minimise the escalation of troubles in Libya and it is evident that it has much at stake (as a party as much as a government) in the outcome of the troubles. Galea’s abduction was a major inconvenience for the official line that had hitherto attempted to understate the extent of upheaval happening to the south of our Republic.

A network of interests, dues and counter-dues somehow keeps trying to surface while Muscat’s government seems more and more inept and unprepared to take a clear line vis-a-vis Libya. More importantly it becomes more and more evident that the main interest for Muscat’s government when dealing with Libya is not the much vaunted “national interest” but rather a web of party and individual commitments and investments.

One last evident victim that comes out battered from such an experience (notwithstanding what increasingly seems to be the fortuitous liberation of Galea) is the whole branch of the foreign ministry and network of diplomats. When push comes to shove the real damage of privileging political appointments over meritocratic and technocratic employment of trained personnel is dangerously exposed in such situations.

In such situations, Muscat’s hypnotic hold over popular thought using his “Magritte technique” and calling something what it is not (or denying something is what it is) begins to show huge cracks and signs of breaking.

Ceci n’est pas un enlèvement!

(This is not an abduction).

 

 

 

 


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