Opinion: Touch Labour and burn

He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon is a 14th-century proverb coined by Chaucer in his Squire’s Tale. Centuries later, it remains relevant today. Ask poor Olvin Vella, president of the National Council of the Maltese Language.

Vella touched Labour and quickly burnt to cinders. Minister Owen Bonnici threw him under the bus and crushed him into the tarmac, his reputation in smithereens. You must pity the poor academic. How can he possibly face his colleagues and his students again?  Labour used him, squeezed him dry, then exposed him as a liar.

When Bonnici’s Culture Ministry shamefully announced it was creating a “Centre of the Maltese Language” which would be headed by former TVM head of news Norma Saliba, Vella told The Times, “I did not know about the new Centre, I did not know about the new legal notice”.

He added: “I do not know who Saliba is; I cannot judge her as I never watched TVM news and do not know much about her work”.

All hell broke loose.  The whole country knew Norma Saliba wasn’t remotely qualified to head the Maltese Language Centre.  Everybody knew Bonnici was just trying to appease a dangerously disgruntled loose cannon.

Even Bonnici knew that the whole nation saw through what he was up to. It wasn’t his passion for the Maltese language that spurred his precipitous botched creation of the Maltese Language Centre.  The whole thing was so rushed that the legal notice even quoted the wrong law.

Bonnici understood what he was doing was wrong, so he needed all the help he could get.  He picked on Olvin Vella.

The minister’s permanent secretary and communications officer flattered Vella with their WhatsApp messages.  His ego sufficiently massaged, Vella was sucked into Owen Bonnici’s vortices. Bonnici needed somebody on his side to ram through such a brazen move, and Vella seemed to be easy prey.

When Bonnici’s ministry informed him that a Maltese Language Centre was being set up, the council president Vella didn’t even bother to tell his fellow council members. 

He didn’t call a council meeting until far too late.  When he was informed Saliba would head it, he tacitly consented. He gave his go-ahead when he was sent a copy of the ministry’s statement before publication. Not once did he let the council know what was going on.  He was complicit in keeping the whole affair secret.

When Bonnici announced that Saliba would head the Centre on 11 August, Vella said: “I am pleased with the pleasant surprise”.

He also expressed his confidence in Saliba to fulfil the role Bonnici deviously bestowed on her:  “Judging by her experience, I am sure she has the capacity for such a role”.

All was going so well for Vella, winning brownie points with Owen. Then he made the fatal mistake by going off-script. “I did not know about the new centre. I did not know about the legal notice,” he said.

Suddenly realising his words must have displeased his minister, he quickly added, “But I agree with them. Yes, I fully agree with both”.

He sealed his fate with his ultimate blunder: “I do not know who Saliba is. I cannot judge her as I never watched TVM”. Horror of horrors. Not knowing Saliba, Labour’s favourite news anchor, and not watching TVM news exposed Olvin.

Vella was a sitting duck.

He claimed he didn’t know about the new centre or the legal notice, but it became clear he knew about both. On 8 August, Bonnici’s Permanent Secretary, Joyce Dimech, sent Vella a copy of the legal notice.

Vella saw it.  “Will call to update you pl,” he wrote. Presumably, “pl” meant ‘please’ not ‘Partit Laburista’.

Bernice Farrugia, Bonnici’s communications officer, sent Vella the full text of the proposed public statement on 9 August.  She asked him, “Can I go ahead?”. “Yes, of course,” he replied.

Vella knew all along and failed to inform his Council colleagues. So when the Maltese Centre and Saliba’s appointment were announced, he pretended he did not know anything.

That put Bonnici in the crosshairs. He was roundly criticized for breaking the law by setting up the centre without consultation with the Council. It was time for Vella to be sacrificed.

Those damning WhatsApp messages with Dimech and Farrugia were leaked to the press.  The Times of Malta published those messages, proving Vella a liar.

He was finished.  His position as President of the Council is untenable. His academic post should be on the line. He has lost every shred of respect and dignity. He deceived his council colleagues, communicated secretly with ministry officials, failed to protect the interests of the Maltese language and lied.

The Council should be demanding his immediate resignation, seeing he hasn’t had the decency to announce it himself.

But what about the minister’s  staff – Permanent Secretary Joyce Dimech Dimech and Communications aide Bernice Farrugia? Why were private chats released?

Vella has learnt his lesson.  If you touch Labour, you’ll be destroyed. May others learn Vella’s lesson before it’s too late.

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Mark Cassar
Mark Cassar
18 days ago

Its the reputation he deserves.

Joe l ghasfur
Joe l ghasfur
17 days ago

Artiklu tajjeb bhal dejjem Kevin,prosit. Jekk ma tkunx yesman ma dan il gvern zgur li se tibqa l art. Viva il lebiralizmu viva l ugwaljanza.

Joseph Tabone Adami
Joseph Tabone Adami
17 days ago

What a miserable, nay ignoble figure for an academic to make!

Anthony Buttigieg
10 days ago

Dawn in-nies ma jisthu minn hadd u minn xejn, l-40 elf telaw ghar rashom u qed jaraw lill hullhadd dubbien, jahsbu li huma intokkabbli imma jasal zmien ghal kulhadd jkollu jilbes iz-zarbun taz-zghir bhal ma wasal ghal ta qabilhom.

joseph tedesco
joseph tedesco
9 days ago


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