Government sanctioned disobedience

As parallels continue to be made with wartime years, we also begin to understand the differences that distinguish us from the hardy generations that bore the brunt of pain and suffering.

The story doing the rounds is that while our forefathers could tell stories of hardship, misery and suffering, all that is being asked of us is to sit on a sofa and binge on TV series.

I found myself wondering whether, in the run up to the wars, there were similar assaults on supplies of toilet paper, flour and other basics.

The success or failure of the current campaign depends on discipline and obedience. No matter what country and no matter what form of government is in place, over a third of the world’s population is being asked to obey centralised instructions.

As during the war, a disciplined, united front is key to success and this hinges on a society being able to observe the strictures of regulation in the understanding that it is all for its own good.

There I go again drawing other parallels. Remember the rule of law mantra? Solon the Athenian statesman reminded us that society is well governed when the people obey the magistrates and the magistrates obey the law.

The point is that law and order are not just the product of the fickle imagination of some legal theorist; rather, they provide a solid backbone to society. Society works because everybody (big emphasis on everybody) agrees to abide by the law for the common good.

Which brings me to our beloved nation. The virus struck the nation at a time when the general approach to obeying norms made for the common good was – to put it mildly – cavalier and gung-ho.

The approach by the health authorities was worthy of praise by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the plan seemed to unfold rationally and scientifically, notwithstanding a shaky infrastructure inherited by corrupt decisions in the pre-COVID world.

It is only now as we reach a crucial stage in the period of confinement that the mixed signals of the government begin to bear witness to the colossal ineptitude of our supposed leaders.

I am convinced that, left to her own devices, the Superintendent of Public Health would have marshalled the nation through the storm using scientific, informed reasoning and making optimal use of available resources. But she does not have the final say, despite her title.

We have a government that consists of politicians who are still tuned in to the pre-COVID modus operandi of pleasing the people where possible. Now, you do not need a PhD to notice that what the people want is not necessarily what the people need – and this is true in times of normality, let alone in a time of crisis while combatting a serious pandemic. And yet…

Our supposed leaders have given a free hand to a cavalier sense of impunity that will undermine any attempt to have a disciplined campaign of sorts.

This is not about rushes on toilet paper. This is about a construction industry that still speaks of “negotiating shorter working hours”. It is about factories still operating with a workforce concentrated around the same workplace. It is about the masters of impunity themselves: the hunting lobby and their desperate need to hunt.

Impunity is by now inbuilt in the Maltese mentality. Obey? Screw that. The law is there for others and our band of headless chickens in charge of the coop will bend over backwards to reinforce such a mentality.

Which is how you get the flip-flopping of a Health Minister saying one thing one day and a Prime Minister another the next. The latest provision allowing for the opening of the hunting season has undermined whatever authority the powers had to tell people to stay inside.

How will they explain that what counts for the goose counts for the gander? Tough one, isn’t it?

Robert Abela’s government is fast losing credibility on all counts. The data leak concerning hundreds of thousands of voter data was another timely example of how the Labour party had as much of a gung-ho approach to rules and regulations as the citizens who seem to be happy to have them in government.

In times like these, citizens need certainty and direction. The last thing they need is a government that seems to take decisions out of convenience for the few and in direct contradiction to what is needed for the common good.

The vulnerable and old confined in their houses, relying on the daily updates and efforts of the Superintendent for Public Health, will only have their confidence undermined if the government turns out to be the saboteur of truth and reason.

Their fear of the virus and its deleterious effects will only be compounded by the actions of a Cabinet and Prime Minister that are fast proving they are not fit for purpose. Time to pull up those socks and practice some true leadership.

Only then will it make sense to obey, and obeying the rules will lead to freedom and liberation. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

An earlier version of this article contained a reference to an episode involving a driving instructors’ protest outside the TVM studios. Following comments received by readers, I am informed that the protest did not go exactly as I had originally understood. I apologise for any inconvenience caused.


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