Watching Robert Abela’s extraordinary response to legitimate questions from journalists on Thursday felt like seeing an angry child kick a rock in fury and then collapse into tears because his/her foot hurts, but the rock doesn’t feel a thing. The only difference, though a crucial one, is that with Robert Abela the rock is Malta and its citizens, and we most definitely do feel the effects of his figurative kick, the stupidity of hubris and incompetence that has led to hundreds of premature deaths and untold damage to the economy.
I looked on in revolted fascination as the man supposedly in charge of leading the country through this frightening ordeal collapsed into a self-indulgent, self-obsessed whine about having been “broken” by the “enormous pressure” of dealing with the COVID pandemic. The supposed prime minister of our country simpering about feeling unwell and being on “medication” – like a lazy student trying to justify exam failures by claiming to have had a headache on the day.
Robert Abela doesn’t seem to have understood the most important basic requirement of being a prime minister, that of leadership. He doesn’t seem to have grasped the fact that the buck stops with him and no amount of claiming he was feeling unwell will absolve him from the guilt of having failed so miserably to protect his country and its citizens from the worst effects of this global pandemic.
While it’s true that no Maltese prime minister since well before Independence has had to contend with a pandemic like this one, previous premiers have been faced with challenges that posed extremely serious threats to the country. The financial crisis of 2008, which saw every other country in Europe plunge into years of deep recession, is a prime example.
I don’t recall ever seeing then-prime minister Lawrence Gonzi whimpering about feeling sick when asked hard questions by journalists. But of course, he wouldn’t have had to. His administration handled that crisis with skill and gravitas. Never underestimating the enormity of the risk to Malta, as all around us countries fell like dominoes to the effects of the crisis, the government of the day succeeded in not only protecting jobs, businesses and incomes but also continued its strengthening, diversification and expansion of the economy.
Gonzi and his colleagues have never been given the enormous credit they deserve for their handling of the financial crisis, though that’s a discussion for another day. But one can’t help comparing their record in the face of crisis with the current incumbent’s bungling, devastating idiocy. To have gone from being held up as an example to the world in how to handle a pandemic last spring, to the situation we have now, with new infections soaring, the hospital so overwhelmed it’s said to be having to turn away sick people over a certain age, and deaths mounting steadily day by day, is truly tragic.
Once again, one has to question, does the man even know what it means to be a leader? Ever since his fatal July decision to open the airport while failing to test, quarantine and monitor arrivals, Abela has behaved as though he’s been possessed by a host of money-hungry, squabbling demons. The measures, or lack of them, he and his bizarrely muzzled minister of health have introduced since July have been so obviously senseless and contradictory that it’s impossible to mistake the identity of the battling fiends who’ve taken over.
When Abela beat health minister Chris Fearne to the post of PL leader in January last year, COVID had already begun in China. As an editor on an international financial news website at the time, I was astonished at the difference in the reporting of the emergence of the virus in the general news media as opposed to the importance it was being given by the financial news media. From as early as late December 2019, analysts and pundits were already weighing up the potential damage to stocks and bonds of businesses dealing with China, whether through having manufacturing plants in the country, or because China was a significant market for specific goods or vice versa, that the businesses involved depended on exports from the Asian country.
It’s tempting to wonder whether, if the general news media had given the same importance to the emerging epidemic as the financial media did, the PL leadership election might have gone the other way. While Fearne’s willingness to go along with Abela’s baffling decisions now casts a very dark shadow of doubt over him, in the first months after the pandemic hit Malta he was clearly, and calmly, in charge. The measures taken then, especially as seen from London, where chaos reigned, were opportune and effective. Unlike so many other countries, infection rates remained low, hospital admissions were manageable and deaths among the lowest rates in the world.
But in July, for some reason, Fearne’s influence waned and lunacy began to reign. Abela, catapulted into the prime ministerial seat after just three years in parliament, decided to sell his soul to the demons within and slam the door on any advice that spelt sensible. His pitiable lament on Thursday, that he’s being “broken” by the pressure he’s under, gave some not unexpected insight into his dark, beholden world. The battling fiends controlling his decisions are tearing him apart, and his performance two days ago proved it.
Robert Abela is not fit to be prime minister. He has neither the intellect nor the integrity to guide Malta through the dangerous unknown of this pandemic. He has the arrogance born of ignorance that one usually sees only in adolescent boys. His lack of leadership, competence and conscience has led to hundreds of potentially avoidable deaths and a healthcare system that’s on the verge of breaking. Throwing a tantrum on TV may be the least offensive thing he’s done, but it’s without doubt one of the most telling.