Monday, 11 October, started as a day no different from any other. I woke at around 5:30 am, extracted myself from bed and switched on my computer while gulping coffee and rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
I navigated to my email inbox, and through the reams of updates, offers and general journalistic back and forth, one name jumped out at me. Ex-justice minister, currently serving in the Ministry for Research, Innovation and the Coordination of the Post-COVID-19 Strategy, Owen Bonnici.
Now, I know that the very act of a Maltese government minister responding to a journalist is breaking news in itself, but the cherry on the metaphorical cake, in this case, was that I had asked the question four years ago.
I sat back and exhaled before bursting out into fits of laughter. I took a screenshot and sent it to my colleagues, captioning it, “this has got to be some kind of record, right?”
The email, the mysterious, unexpected, and totally out of the blue email was answering a question I had asked while writing an article on CBD oil in 2017.
Yes, you read that correctly. Four years, two months, 26 days. For over four years my email sat in Bonnici’s inbox, its purpose in life never (I thought) to be fulfilled.
I cannot decide whether Bonnici has been sweating over my email for all this time, or it just slipped his mind. Perhaps he was so perplexed by its contents that he printed it and pinned it to a board in his office, pausing to ponder it every so often. Or maybe it took him four years to conduct the research, formulate a response, type it out and press send.
Did he feel smug replying four years later, considering it a job well done — pat on the back and probable pay rise all round?
I am no closer to unravelling the mystery. I am sure the answer will plague me for at least another four years, relieving me from sleep and with Bonnici’s face haunting my dreams.
But the more I think about it, the more I realise what an insult it is. Some may laugh off the fact it took the Maltese government a record-breaking four years to reply to a request for comment, but when you look at it in context, it becomes more sinister.
This is a government that picks and chooses its media. It spends millions with some to curry favour and good coverage, even advice on how to deal with the press. It doles out hundreds of thousands in advertising, in the interest of good relations of course.
This government also picks and chooses the questions it answers and from whom, often ignoring informal and formal requests for information. It refuses to share information, ignores orders to do so, and insults our intelligence by redacting or sometimes omitting enormous chunks because of “commercial sensitivity”.
The Malta Labour Party and everyone in it has a deep dislike of any journalist that asks difficult questions or tries to hold them to account. So to receive a response four years after sending it has to be some kind of joke. Or perhaps Bonnici has been trying out some of that stuff that he’s so keen to promote.
After my initial email and a follow-up, the response acknowledged that it had taken four years to answer and announced that “the upcoming reform on cannabis, which was all over the news, will finally legalise completely [sic] CBD products.”
Bonnici cheerfully added, “should you need any clarifications, let me know,” before signing off as simply, “Owen.”
Really? And wait another four years?