The duty of candour

If you aren’t prosecuted and found guilty of serious crime, you can do whatever you like as a Maltese MP. Ever reluctant to resign, politicians often believe themselves indispensable.  The same sort of ego that makes them believe they will triumph at elections makes them think they can outlast any scandal. The fact so many managed to cling on, despite atrociously obscene indiscretions, gives hope to others they’ll get away with it too. This is why the sudden and unexpected news of Silvio Grixti’s resignation left people stunned.

ONE news reported Grixti’s resignation just before Christmas, quoting his Facebook post. He commented that he was resigning because his priorities lay outside politics.  He claimed he did not want to occupy his seat when he couldn’t focus fully on representing his constituents. And concluded the country needs Labour and Robert Abela to continue leading it.

This was no explanation. Apart from his vague Facebook post, Grixti made no statement. Neither did his Party. As news and disbelief spread, there was complete silence from Mile End.

The Times of Malta reported that Grixti was interrogated by police from the Financial Crimes Unit but was released on police bail. Grixti allegedly signed fraudulent medical certificates.  His lawyer, Franco Debono, said his client had no comment to make. Weeks later and still deafening silence from Grixti and Labour.

Resignation is a critical ethical decision. In the context of MPs who remain wedded to their seat despite the humiliating revelations of their wrongdoing, Grixti’s decision stands out. The option to resign can reinforce integrity, buttress responsibility and support accountability. While some of his colleagues have denied responsibility for their errors, some even contesting irrefutable facts in order to cling on, Grixti departed swiftly. While some of his fellow MPs retained their seat after committing the most horrendous violations of the norms of office, Grixti didn’t think twice.

Grixti’s decision to resign may be commendable. But his failure to explain himself to the electorate is an abysmal failure.

Healthcare professionals, like Grixti, have a professional duty of candour.  Clinicians must be open and honest when something goes wrong, particularly when it causes others harm or distress. They must apologise, offer an appropriate remedy and must explain fully what happened. They must also be honest with their colleagues and their regulators. Grixti did none of this.

His lack of openness about the real reasons for his resignation and his failure to apologise is contemptuous of the public, particularly his constituents.  While understandably tough, honest disclosure of the circumstances and a heartfelt apology would only have increased the respect he enjoys.

But Grixti’s reticence and secrecy are hardly surprising. The Party he forms part of wallows in secrecy.  Labour’s motto is minimal disclosure, maximal delay.  As much as possible is held from public view – from the secret lost-and-found Vitals Memorandum of Understanding to the Vitals and Electrogas contracts, Labour goes to incredible lengths to conceal the truth.

Freedom of information requests are routinely turned down. It resorts to outright lies claiming data requested does not exist.  When the Data Commissioner found out that this was untrue and ordered the government to release the information, Labour still refused, claiming the Commissioner was not entitled to issue such an order. To conceal the amount of taxpayer money paid to Saviour Balzan, Labour mounted a legal challenge against the authority of the Data Commissioner.

Labour vehemently refused to publish a list of persons of trust funded by taxpayer money.   The Office of the Prime Minister refused to reply to questions about whether the disgraced Justyne Caruana will be paid €30,000 in termination benefits.  Caruana had already benefited from €28,589 in termination benefits after her previous dismissal in 2020.

Labour, having made a song and dance about the €500 pay rise for ministers, refused numerous FOI requests about the terms of the termination scheme for ministers.  Joseph Muscat changed it twice for his own benefit, collecting €120,000 on stepping down.  No information about the scheme has been released. It remains shrouded in total secrecy.

Silvio Schembri refused to publish the contract for lease for office space for the Malta Business Registry.  Schembri misled parliament claiming that the lease would only cost taxpayers €8.4 million. The NAO found the deal is costing taxpayers as much as €31 million.

Robert Abela himself refuses to publish his tax returns while denigrating his adversary for late payment of taxes.  Abela failed to declare his income in his latest declaration of assets. He fails to answer legitimate questions about his wealth, including ownership of a luxury yacht.

Why is Labour so desperate to hide the truth from its own people? If it is so convinced of its own competence and benevolence why the secrecy? And didn’t Labour promise transparency? Is it too much to expect Labour to keep its key electoral promise?

Political parties and politicians, especially those in power, have a duty of candour.  They must be open and honest with the public.  But Labour cannot afford to. There are simply too many skeletons in its closet. By opening that closet Labour risks becoming interred in its own bones. This is why the Party and its leaders expend so much time, energy and resources concealing the facts from the nation.

But this is our country. It is to us that Labour’s government should be accountable. It is to us Labour owes the duty of candour.

There is a moral relationship between the person and the office he holds.  That office comes with responsibilities – acting with competence, obeying the law, respecting due process and agreeing to accountability. By striving desperately to conceal facts Robert Abela refutes accountability. The fulfilment of the duties of office depends upon integrity, which is why those duties remain disturbingly neglected and abandoned.

The lunacy of Labour’s obsessive secrecy seems normal to people whose standards have been warped by exposure to such grotesque abuse. There is nothing normal about the unjustifiable or its attempted justification.

                           
                               
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viv
viv
3 months ago

Here’s a slogan for the bogans – ‘Everything Built On Sand’.

Joseph Tabone Adami
Joseph Tabone Adami
3 months ago
Reply to  viv

Gold-dust rather than sand, one would say.

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