Opinion: Orders are orders

“I was just following orders” is an easy excuse.  It’s been used since 1474 when Peter von Hagenbach argued that he was only following the orders of the Duke of Burgundy when he committed atrocities during the occupation of Breisach.  But his defence was rejected, and he was convicted and beheaded.

Since then, many opportunists have risen through the ranks by simply obeying the orders of those in power and used the “just following orders” excuse to justify their sycophantic compliance without question.

Leaders always have a choice when selecting people to run key institutions and authorities.

They could appoint highly competent people who maintain a high level of integrity and who will only accept to execute morally right and fair decisions. People who will more readily resign their post than be tainted by decisions that are harmful to the interests of the country. 

They are true patriots who are ready to give up their positions, status, and income before they comply with orders that risk the lives of their fellow citizens.  They will speak up where they see wrongdoing, advise against and resist the appointment of incompetent loyalists to key positions.  They will stand up to authority.

Rotten leaders don’t choose persons of integrity; they choose people they know will blindly obey orders without question through dumb loyalty or sycophancy. Rotten leaders choose yes-men, spineless bootlickers who will do their master’s bidding – no matter how harmful, how dangerous, how reckless and then claim ‘superior orders’ as their defence.

Superior orders, also known as the ‘Nuremberg defence’ or ‘just following orders,’ are pleas used in court that a person should not be considered guilty of committing actions that a superior officer or official ordered.

But the Nuremberg Principle IV, ‘defence of superior orders,’ established in 1946 that ‘the fact that a person acted under order of his government or a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was possible to him’.

Some eight decades later, an ambitious man, Perit David Xuereb,  received an order from the highest authorities, and he executed it. As chairman of the Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA), he was ordered to recruit Dr Josianne Cutajar as CEO.

Dr Cutajar is not an occupational health physician, she’s a GP with no qualifications or expertise in the field. Yet Perit Xuereb followed his orders and signed her contract.

The OHSA is under intense scrutiny after its abject failures were exposed at the Sofia inquiry. Perit Xuereb testified, admitting OHSA’s staffing is seriously deficient and its resources mediocre.

The OHSA is responsible for ensuring that workers’ lives are safeguarded.  OHSA failed that responsibility.

Jean Paul Sofia lost his life. So did several other construction workers. Many others sustained serious injuries.

Instead of appointing experts in the field who will drive the vital changes necessary to prevent further loss of life, Labour appoints incompetent loyalists. 

Labour knows full well that appointing incompetent loyalists to the OHSA will lead to more deaths of construction workers, so does Perit Xuereb, yet he simply complies – orders are orders.

We see lives being lost with a chilling regularity as a result of Labour’s cynical appointment of total incompetents to lead critical institutions. Every one of those lives is precious, but not to Labour and their collaborators, it seems.

Josianne Cutajar’s contract remunerates her as though she’s still working as a doctor. Despite being paid tens of thousands of euros for a CEO role she’s unfit for, she’s still permitted to continue with her private medical practice. That alone indicates where priorities lie.

The OHSA CEO should be entirely focused on the job.  She shouldn’t be thinking about how to make more money outside her CEO role. Perit Xuereb knows full well the severe deficiencies of the OHSA and how much hard work is required to fix them.

Yet he signed that contract, allowing the new CEO to continue to be distracted with her private work.

Cutajar should never have been appointed OHSA CEO. If this were a normal country, she’d be the subject of police investigations and possible prosecution. The NAO singled her out for her central role in the “illegal award” of a €250 million contract to DB and James Caterers at Saint Vincent de Paul (SVP) when she was the politically-appointed CEO.

The NAO concluded that Cutajar negotiated directly with the consortium and assigned the quarter-billion direct order without Finance Ministry authorisation. She only sought to determine the costs of the direct order after she’d already committed the government to award the contract to DB and James Caterers without considering market rates.

Those rates, €22 million annually, were inflated and flawed. The deal was concluded without approval by cabinet or the responsible parliamentary secretaries.

The NAO found SVP “acted in breach of legislative provisions” and broke public procurement regulations. The deal could potentially be deemed invalid. Dr Josianne Cutajar was responsible.

If Labour had introduced Unexplained Wealth Order legislation as the Caruana Galizia inquiry recommended, Cutajar’s assets would be examined, her and her spouse’s bank accounts would be forensically scrutinised, her electronic equipment seized and her communications analysed.

Instead, she’s been rewarded with another plum job for which she’s entirely unqualified. But that could only happen because Perit Xuereb complied. “The appointment is made by the Minister after consulting the board”, he commented when challenged, absolving himself of all responsibility. 

That’s his “just following orders” excuse. Indeed, the board should have objected fiercely. Surely, he should have had the courage to resign rather than sign that dangerous contract.

David Xuereb is not alone. There are hundreds of opportunists whose complicit cooperation enables the execution of Labour’s fatal diktats.

Labour’s self-declared political system of clientelism ensures that Malta is drowning in yes-men.


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Peter Paul Pace
Peter Paul Pace
2 months ago

The story is deeper than that. David Xuereb s wife was a Director at the very same department that issued the tender. So after an intense campaign by David Xuereb to rid himself of the previous OHSA CEO Mark Gauci, he put in his own lacky at OHSA who worked with his wife. And all this so that he can continue covering up at OHSA for his contractor buddies.

2 months ago

Well said one cannot follow an order which goes against the interest of the country or ones own ethical and morel values

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