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Wednesday, 19 May 2010 Issue. 164
Following the antics of both sides of the House on Thursday 6 May – a date that may well go down in Maltese parliamentary history for all the wrong reasons – the events of the last few days have served only to deepen the aura of popular incredulity surrounding local politics in general. On Sunday, news headlines were dominated by calls for an apology by parliamentary secretary Mario Galea, who felt aggrieved at comments by Labour whip Joe Mizzi that he ‘shouldn’t have had a whisky’ before the May 6 parliamentary sitting. The following day, the duly presented public apology by Joe Mizzi and Opposition leader Joseph Muscat came to dominate headlines again, in what is fast emerging as a recognisable pattern of spin and counter-spin by certain sections of the press. Predictably, echoes of Elton John’s ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’ reverberated across the word wide web, as political observers made satirical capital out of the situation. And rightly so. Clearly we have reached a point where political machinations are given more prominence than the underlying issues our parliamentarians are supposed to discuss. But let us for a moment examine the precise sequence of events. Everything started with Mario Galea’s so-called ‘lapsus’ on Thursday May 6, when the former PN whip accidentally voted in favour of an Opposition motion against the Delimara power station project. By way of contrast, Joe Mizzi’s ‘whisky’ comment came on the TV programme Bongu the following Monday – four days later – and again, the precise circumstances warrant revisiting. Mizzi was not, after all, talking in a vacuum. He was responding to a statement by PN party whip David Agius on the same programme, to the effect that the Opposition was ‘taking advantage’ of Galea because of his health problems. This changes the scenario completely. Taken out of context, Mizzi’s comment was almost entirely harmless. After all, suggesting that Galea may have had one whisky before the session is a far cry from implying (as he was later accused) a ‘drinking problem’ on Galea’s part. It is only in conjunction with Agius’s earlier observation – i.e., that Galea was suffering from a depression – that the comment assumes its full weight. And herein lies the irony. For while Mario Galea demanded a public apology from Mizzi, he made no such demands of his own parliamentary colleague, David Agius. And yet, Agius’s comment was in itself far more serious, in that it brought to public attention matters that should theoretically remain confidential – Mizzi’s “illness” as he described his struggle with depression. Speaking to MaltaToday last week, Galea himself indicated that he had been irked by Mizzi’s indiscretion on TV. One would therefore be justified in asking why his separate reactions to the comments made by Agius and Mizzi were so wildly different. But there is more. Last Wednesday, Galea also came close to confirming with MaltaToday that Mizzi’s suggestion was indeed correct. “I cannot drink on these pills,” he said about the antidepressants he was taking at the time. “I may have had one whisky, and a coffee at the parliament’s bar.” Furthermore, Galea also revealed that Mizzi had already apologised to him personally over the remark: “But I did call Joe Mizzi about what he said about me on TV, and he apologised straight away.” Not only that, but Mizzi even repeated this apology in an interview with MaltaToday last Sunday – the same day that both he and his party leader were once again pressured into issuing the same apology again, only this time in public. Faced with all this, one can only wonder how many apologies Mario Galea actually requires, to forgive a comment which, by his own admission, was arguably nearer the mark then he would now like us to think. Having said that, the real issue at stake here is not whether an apology was even due in the first place. It appears that we are dealing with an increasingly uncomfortable situation whereby political parties are more content to inhabit the lazy world of media spin, than they are to perform the duties they have been entrusted with by the electorate. This is true both of the Nationalist party – which has a habit of seizing on silly mistakes by the Opposition in order to divert attention form the issues that really matter – and also of the Labour Party, which under Joseph Muscat is proving to be so ultra-sensitive to pressures by the government-leaning media, that it has consistently fallen prey to even the most predictable and childish political ploys. All things told, if anybody really deserves an apology it is the Maltese public, whose time and patience is constantly abused by puerile behaviour of the kind we all witnessed this week.