On 23 November 1996, three young Ethiopians hijacked Flight 961 travelling from Adis Ababa to Nairobi. One of them snatched a fire axe from the cockpit, another used a fire extinguisher as his weapon. The third claimed to have a bomb.
The three demanded to be flown to Australia, over 6,000 miles away. Captain Abate, a veteran pilot, explained there wasn’t the slightest chance of reaching Australia. There simply wasn’t enough fuel.
The hijackers wouldn’t believe him. The in-flight magazine stated that a Boeing 767 could fly for 11 hours. Yet that only applied to extended-range Boeing 767s fully loaded with fuel.
The pilot and air traffic controllers desperately tried to convince the hijackers there wasn’t enough fuel. They stubbornly believed the in-flight magazine. They believed the pilot was tricking them. They thought they were so smart, they didn’t realise how dumb they were.
The airliner ran out of fuel and crash-landed into the sea, just off the coast of The Comoros, watched by horrified tourists on a nearby beach. Fifty passengers survived, 125 perished, including the three hijackers.
On 2 August 2021, Chris Fearne stood up in parliament. In a dramatic speech, he denounced “those we used to trust and admire for years”. Fearne didn’t name them – but he referred to Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi. Fearne admitted he now realises that people he worked with turned out not to be what he had thought. Less cryptically, Fearne accepts he’s been duped. Or at least that’s what he wants us to believe.
If his sudden Damascene conversion is genuine there is only one conclusion: Fearne is no better than the three hijackers. If he’s being honest, he is admitting to incompetence so fascinating and profound as to be worthy of close study.
Fearne is not dumb. He is a paediatric surgeon and a seasoned politician. Is it possible that he failed to realise there was something pretty fishy about handing over half the national health service to an Indian Canadian who had never run a clinic, let alone a hospital?
Was Fearne so naive that he failed to realise that the men given three public hospitals to run were professional conmen? As an experienced doctor, was his suspicion not raised when he met Ram Tumuluri and heard him utter complete medical nonsense?
Maybe it was because he trusted those he worked with for years that he was blinded to the criminally motivated sale of the nation’s treasured hospitals. If it hadn’t clicked that he was being fooled, there were plenty around him who alerted him.
His own colleagues in the Medical Association warned him this was a scam, time and time again. It only took five minutes with Tumuluri for even the most inexperienced in the field to recognise here was a crook. Daphne Caruana Galizia did the detailed due diligence for him.
Like the hijackers of Flight 961, Fearne was convinced there was enough fuel to get him to Australia. No matter how loud and persistent the warnings came – don’t be fooled, don’t let it happen – Fearne ploughed on. He was too blinded by partisanship and a deep distrust of those he should have listened to and who held the interests of patients and the country at heart.
Instead, Fearne trusted those he “admired”, the same ones he now denounces for enriching themselves at the cost of many. But on 19 June 2016, Fearne sat beside Ram Tumuluri spouting fantasies of epic proportions. He was actively selling falsehoods to the nation.
VGH would invest €220 million in two years, they would transform hospitals into state-of-the-art centres, attract medical tourism and create 800 new jobs. Gozo would have a new hospital with 450 beds with the potential of adding 100 more. St Luke’s would have 350 beds and Karin Grech another 320.
That same day Claudette Buttigieg warned Fearne: there’s not enough fuel in the tank. Buttigieg insisted, “the person chosen to lead the hospitals has no experience in hospitals”.
She called on the government to publish the agreements with VGH. Fearne had not yet realised that “transparency is essential if we want to be a government of the people”. Those agreements were kept secret, for obvious reasons. Fearne even refused to divulge to the nation the cost of the hospitals deal.
Those who refuse to listen to what they’re being told, when they dismiss it as lies and fakery, can be pretty dangerous. Maltese politics is so polarised, so hostile that whatever is said by those who do not belong to the Party is ignored, or worse, ridiculed and vilified.
When somebody tells you you’re being stupid, you ignore them because they always say you’re being stupid and you don’t trust them. Once we only listen to those who think like us, who belong to our Party, we have abandoned our defence against stupidity.
When the pilot told the hijackers there’s not enough fuel, for them, it was all fake news. Those who pointed at the fuel gauge were pilloried by Labour and that great peddler of fiction, One News – “empty boxes”.
Those who insisted the plane would ditch in the ocean were ridiculed by Robert Abela and Edward Zammit Lewis. The journalist who bravely exposed the truth was dehumanised and then barbarically eliminated.
If it hadn’t been for those who warned that fuel was swiftly running out, Joseph Muscat would still be leader, Konrad Mizzi and Chris Cardona deputy leaders. Muscat would be making way for prime minister Konrad Mizzi. Keith Schembri would still be chief of staff, Brian Tonna and Karl Cini still busier than ever.
Fearne’s realisation that there wasn’t enough fuel, after all, might not be too late. Sadly Glenn Bedingfield, Rosianne Cutajar, Owen Bonnici, Ian Borg, Zammit Lewis, Carmelo Abela and Robert Abela still think that tank’s still pretty full, even as the engines stall. Like the pilot on that flight, Fearne’s outnumbered. That can only mean one thing.