Disinformation Watch: Framing the Sofia public inquiry narrative

Following the publication of the Jean Paul Sofia public inquiry last week, which called on the State to shoulder responsibility for “failing to keep aware of the mess in its Executive,” Prime Minister Robert Abela has attempted to soften its criticism and divert blame.

Abela has tried to downplay government failures in press statements, parliament discussions and political events while reframing his opposition to the public inquiry by co-opting some of its findings and recommendations.

The public inquiry was published last Wednesday. It probed the death of 20-year-old Sofia in December 2022 when a would-be timber factory built on public land granted by Malta Enterprise and INDIS collapsed, killing him and injuring others.

Shrugging responsibility off the state and its executive

In a press conference just a few hours after the report was presented, Abela called for the resignation of those specifically highlighted by the inquiry but did not name them.

He did not address the State’s failings and has not demanded the resignation of any of the ministers responsible.

By watering down the issue to just a few bad apples in the various government boards and agencies highlighted by the inquiry, Abela tried to downplay the systemic state failure confirmed by the inquiry.

“The issue is that Jean Paul Sofia died in a site that was controlled by no regulatory authority,” the inquiry said, calling it “a depiction of huge errors for which someone must shoulder responsibility.”

“That someone should be the State, who failed to keep aware of the mess in its Executive, where everyone operates according to their own rules without any accountability,” the inquiry concluded.

Reframing opposition to the public inquiry

The public inquiry into the tragedy was launched in a U-turn decision last July by Abela after widespread calls from Sofia’s family and the public.

Abela had heavily opposed the inquiry, mirroring disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s opposition to a public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Most of the recommendations resulting from that inquiry have not been implemented, with the same tactics deployed.

Abela had claimed it would be a partisan exercise and would hinder a then-ongoing magisterial inquiry – the same line his predecessor, disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat, had used to prevent a public inquiry into the journalist’s assassination.

Addressing journalists’ questions last Wednesday, Abela attempted to reframe his objections to the public inquiry, claiming he had always made decisions that “favoured justice.” Pressed by further questions, Abela admitted that his initial apprehension was due to the Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry.

He cast doubt on the “integrity” of the methods employed by the Caruana Galizia inquiring board led by former Judge Michael Mallia, who was chosen to lead the inquiry by the government.

Just like the Sofia inquiry, that inquiry had found the State should shoulder responsibility for Caruana Galizia’s murder.

At several points during the speech, which immediately followed the Sofia inquiry’s publication, Abela noted his agreement with the inquiry’s findings and recommendations. Aligning himself with the inquiry’s findings, he emphatically called for an end to amateurism in the industry, covering up his previous objections to a wide-ranging systemic probe.

His ostensibly ‘strong’ stand redirected attention away from the State’s failings and toward developers’ practices.

Dredging up old wrecks

Speaking at a political event the following Sunday, Abela again did not address the State’s responsibility. Instead, he compared the government’s public inquiry into the Sofia incident to previous governments’ handling of workplace deaths.

He made references to the 1995 Um-El Faroud tanker explosion, which killed nine, and a 2004 construction collapse, which killed two, saying public inquiries were not launched in both cases.

The incidents were used as a relative measuring stick to paint a more positive picture of the Labour Party government’s response to the Sofia tragedy, conveniently glossing over his own opposition to a public inquiry, once again.

In a mirrored move, the 2004 incident was brought up again by a One News journalist the following day in a question to PN leader Bernard Grech.

In both the 2004 incident and the 1995 explosion, the State was not found to have been responsible.

Kurt Farrugia and the letter of intent

Apart from diverting blame away from the Executive, Abela also deflected calls for the resignation of other officials, such as Malta Enterprise CEO Kurt Farrugia.

In response to journalists’ questions during Wednesday’s press statements, Abela shut down mentions of Farrugia’s resignation. He said Farrugia had not yet been appointed CEO at the time of Malta Enterprise’s signing of the letter of intent for the ill-fated project.

Farrugia was announced CEO of Malta Enterprise in July 2019. He failed to implement any oversight of the project, which was only rubber-stamped by the industrial parks agency INDIS some 10 months later.

‘50-year-old problem is not our fault’

During the same press statement last Wednesday, Abela said, “As the inquiry states – a point which struck me – we are talking about a sector in which we have to regain 50 years’ worth of mistaken outlooks.”

While the inquiry does note that the construction industry “has been left to its own devices… for the past 50 years”, it does not alleviate the current government’s shouldering of responsibility for Sofia’s death.

While the construction industry has indeed been left largely unregulated by successive governments, a documented expansion of the industry, the ‘construction boom’ over the last ten years, has been allowed to proliferate without parallel increases in regulation and enforcement.

In testimony for the inquiry, the board also heard how laws and regulations drafted years ago to regulate the construction industry had been blocked by the Cabinet so the Labour Party would not lose votes from the contractors’ lobby ahead of the 2022 elections.


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1 month ago

The Prime Minister has been caught out in his own lies.
He even keeps uttering legal stupidities , which makes anyone doubt his knowledge of the law and how he was made a lawyer.

saviour mamo
saviour mamo
1 month ago

Unfortunately greedy developers along with the government are exploiting our limited natural resources. The development of this country is unsustainable and it is the duty of the government to stop this over development.

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