The jury is out – on what?
A surprising statement by the Prime Minister somehow went by unnoticed. Lawrence Gonzi was asked about the President: was he convinced he had done the right thing in nominating George Abela, a Labour Party stalwart, for the position?
The question was placed in the context of a political speech the President’s son, Robert, had made at a Labour Party function. The speech, as expected in the run-up to the general election was critical of the Prime Minister.
For some reason this was converted into polemical material. It was not as if a new situation had been created. Two former Presidents had sons who, legitimately, were elected in the Nationalist Party’s interests while their father was head of state.
I am not aware that they held back from performing their political function as forcefully as they could. Nor am I aware that Beppe Fenech Adami or Mario de Marco, the worthy sons in question, held back from stoutly criticising their political adversaries. Why should they have done that? They speak for themselves, not in the father’s name.
This parallel passed Gonzi by. Instead of making it himself, he showed that he had been riled by the remarks made by Robert Abela.
The Prime Minister was as always, full of praise for the way George Abela fulfils his presidential duties. He couldn’t have been otherwise. The whole of Malta, bar a few Nationalists, admires him for the way he goes about doing things.
It was, therefore, surprising that the Prime Minister felt he had to qualify his answer to the question put to him. The jury is still out, he said. What jury, for heaven’s sake?
Gonzi had taken his decision to nominate George Abela for President after much careful calculation. He was in duty bound to recognise that the electorate had given him a tiny-tot majority.
He had to demonstrate that he had the minimum humility to recognise that restriction. He expressed his recognition in the least harmful way to him and his party. In fact, in a way that benefitted them both. At a stroke he appeared bold – Presidents have always been selected from the governing party’s side, except for Sir Anthony Mamo. He also removed from the Labour ranks an adversary who could have played, had he wanted to, a key part in Labour’s restructuring.
Gonzi was his own man in making the careful decision. So what jury is he talking about now? Unless he means a jury about him, in which case one has to ask, what does he stand accused of?
It is strange that a single speech by a political rooky – Robert Abela is not even a candidate for March 9 – should irk the Prime Minister so much as to make him seem to show unusual disrespect for President Abela.
But then, Gonzi seems to have developed an ego which, besides displaying regular arrogance, seems to make him believe that he is above restrictions that bind lesser mortals.
Take the way he dealt with the news that the police had charged Tancred Tabone, a businessman who had served as chairman of a government corporation.
The case is framed in a politically-charged situation. That does not give anyone an excuse not to observe basic rules.
They include the presumption of innocence – one is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, even if he is accused of the most heinous of crimes committed before 100 witnesses.
Such presumption of innocence is not something an accused has to ask – it is an embedded right. That notwithstanding, as soon as the police charged Tabone, the Prime Minister came out guns blazing leading to an easy conviction that he has already found the businessman guilty.
It is also one’s right to reach a conclusion before a trial is over. But it is surely unbecoming for that someone to be Prime Minister and so heavily influential when he speaks, as the defence lawyers for the accused mighty still plead in good time.
• Now there was a man, admired and loved for his varied qualities by most of those who knew him.
Noel Zarb Adami lost his battle with illness after a last bout of some eight months in hospital.
His death shocked those not aware that his illness was life-threatening. I too was shocked, though his wife Adriana had alerted me a few days earlier that the end might be near.
I believe one can only have a few real friends. In my case Noel was one of them. My wife Vivienne and I first met Noel and Adriana at Oxford. We became intimate friends in Malta, sharing many thoughts, laughs and some tears with the rest of our small circle – Francis and Doreen Cassar, Bobby and Anna Tua, Jeffrey and Louise Cutajar. We lost Francis barely a year ago. Now Noel is gone too.
A man so alive in all circumstances leaves behind him memories which others can share beside Adrian and their children, Christian and Raina.
He was a capable manager of industry and personnel as well as a respected academic. In 1987, then the Nationalists took over, he suffered the traditional consequences of government change.
A high flier during the Labour years, he was cast in a corner and left there to rot.
He did not rot. He did not stop smiling. He took it on the chin and moved on, exploiting the renowned Zarb Adami intellect in other areas.
That was the stuff Noel was made of.