Lady Bountiful, except when she’s in the frame

President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca was evidently frustrated when she took the stand on Wednesday to testify in the case against British millionaire Paul Bailey and the organisers of the ill-fated Paqpaqli ghall-Istrina 2015 event.

She said the Paqpaqli charity event was organised by third parties and she had no involvement in its running. A frustrated President, chiding a plaintiff’s lawyer “not to put words in her mouth,” insisted the disaster that struck was not her responsibility.

“I know this is a court but let’s ask what you want – do you want me to take responsibility for it? I am grieving to death for the victims. I came here with no privilege, to see that justice is done,” she said.

But her privilege is exactly what is being questioned.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs presented evidence of links between the President’s Office and the decision-making team. Yet, the President insisted on creating a distance between her Office and the event. Her foundation will take the funds but accepts none of the responsibility for any associated risk related to fundraising events, it seems clear from this testimony and the statements in defence the lawyers kept referring to during the hearing.

A reasonable course of action, observers said, would have been to compensate the innocent victims, saving them (and the volunteers, many of whom have much less of a connection to the accident, if any, than the President) the worry and expense of a long drawn-out civil case on top of the criminal proceedings.  Then the issues between the organisers could have been sorted out privately. She failed to do this.

Paqpaqli 2015

The damaged car after the 2015 event. Photo: Malta Police

At the event, Bailey had control of his Porsche 918 Spyder on the runway at Malta International Airport, ploughing into the crowd and injuring 23 people. Together with the event organisers, he stands charged with involuntarily causing grievous bodily harm, as well causing damage to vehicles through imprudence, carelessness and non-observance of regulations.

This was an event in aid of the President’s foundation. Her members were on the organising team and therefore involved in preparations and logistics, she was in the car shortly before disaster struck, and any funds collected went to her charity.

The President insisted that although some of the people on the committee were employed by her office, they were acting as volunteers. This may well be seen as a poor attempt to distance herself from an event held under her patronage and with the clear involvement of her office, after people got hurt. How’s that for helping the vulnerable and being so worried about the victims?

There is far more that the President could have done that she did not do. She should have used her influence to support the victims and all those involved, even using her moral authority to push insurers and others with deep enough pockets to compensate the victims before sorting out liability. Instead she chose to be seen as acting as a defendant in her own interests, just like all the others, volunteers and all.

She seems to be fine playing Lady Bountiful, except when she is in the frame.


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