Category Archives: Anthony

A garnishee order against journalism

The party I represent, Partit Demokratiku, has come out strongly against the precautionary warrants issued in the names of Chris Cardona and Joseph Gerada against Daphne Caruana Galizia. Not because we are fans of Caruana Galizia. To be honest, we are not. We find her style too abrasive and her judgement often tainted by political bias and a personal hatred for one particular political party.

At the same time, it must be recalled that it is thanks to her that we were made aware of the Panama Papers scandal and several other abuses of power by this current government, stories that otherwise might have gone by unnoticed. We will not even comment on the veracity and merits of her revelations regarding Cardona’s visit to Germany. The courts will do that when the libel case is heard.

What concerns our party is that the garnishee order issued by the courts has very serious implications for journalism in Malta, the freedom of the press and our democracy itself.

I will explain why.

Journalists need the freedom to do their job unhindered without the prospect of having their financial assets frozen. Most journalists are not exactly rich; it is a pretty thankless job done by some very dedicated individuals. In order to obtain information, they often rely on people who will give it to them off the record. The journalist knows that the information is correct but cannot, for various reasons, reveal exactly where it came from. They will, however, defend their story in a court of law if sued for libel.

By issuing a garnishee order, freezing financial assets equivalent to the maximum possible fine that can be imposed, the courts have in effect brought about the situation where the journalist is guilty until found innocent. Caruana Galizia may be able to afford to ride out such a financial blow; she certainly can do so now with the funds collected by the public on her behalf. For most other journalists, however, it would mean financial ruin. They would think very hard before publishing a story, and we the public would be the losers.

Justice is best served not by intimidating the press but by ensuring that it is delivered promptly and fairly.
The free press is a pillar of our democracy. With the main Opposition party in disarray, it may be the most important pillar of all. If journalists believe what has been done to Caruana Galizia could also be done to them, we may find that revelations of corruption, graft, nepotism and political coercion will lay gathering dust. Politicians are very sensitive to public opinion. That opinion cannot be made if the public are not properly informed by the free press. Malta will be the poorer for it.

I am a doctor. If doctors treated patients only with the prospect of litigation on their mind, those patients would be hard done by indeed. Two years ago a woman came to my place of work in the process of suffering a major stroke. She couldn’t speak and was completely paralysed on one side of her body. I initiated a treatment which, at the time, was not yet endorsed by the medical advisory committee of the hospital. There was a risk. I was actually mildly chastised for taking that risk. Fortunately, the treatment worked, and the woman concerned left a few days later not as a bed-ridden cripple but as an articulate lady on her own two feet.

Now imagine if my judgement had been influenced not by my concern for the woman’s well-being but by the thought of ending up in court. I would have done what was safe, not what was right. Who would have ended up suffering?

Think of the free press as the caregivers of our democracy. Do you want them to play safe, or do you want them to safeguard that democracy?

What was done against Caruana Galizia has opened a can of worms. The garnishee order was not against her, it was against journalism itself. Next time it could be a pro-PL, pro-PN or independent journalist that gets targeted, with the person filing for a precautionary warrant knowing full well it could take years for the funds to be released.

We have libel laws to protect victims of abuse and slander, be it from the media or individuals. Those laws allow the victims to seek redress and compensation in a court of law as well as a public admission from the perpetrator who is bound by the courts to put the record straight.

That this system does not work quite as it should is not the fault of the law but the fault of the courts themselves. Cases often take years. In the meantime victims of libel could see their careers ruined, reputations destroyed and personal lives put on the rack until justice is done. Only one magistrate is appointed to hear such cases.

Partit Demokratiku proposes that more magistrates should be assigned to deal with them, and the cases given priority. They should be heard as a matter of urgency and the truth upheld as soon as possible.

Justice is best served not by intimidating the press but by ensuring that it is delivered promptly and fairly. It is in the interest of the public, the press and our very democracy that this be the case.

Anthony Buttigieg is the deputy leader of Partit Demokratiku.

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Towards a coalition of hope

Recently there has been much talk of a coalition against corruption between PN and the smaller parties, a concept touted by PN Leader Simon Busuttil.

The idea is interesting but as deputy leader of Partit Demokratiku, I take exception to the idea of a coalition against something. Why such negativity? If there are to be coalitions, they should be there to build something new, not halt what already exists.

Politics in Malta is all about negativity and exclusion. Many people do not vote for a party, but rather against one. And why is that? We are bombarded every election cycle with news and accusations of corruption by the ruling party, and yet, never, since Independence, has a minister been brought to account.

It leads us, the people, to conclude either that the accusers have been lying all along and have been taking us for a ride, or that both major parties are in private collusion with each other to hide their corruption to the benefit of both.

I will leave you to judge which is more likely. In the meantime, we choose between what we perceive is the lesser of two evils.

Yet the people are disgruntled with the current political system. They are fed up with the politics of contrast; fed up of the mentality of us and them; fed up with political parties who put themselves and their members first, and the country and its citizens second; fed up with the rotating door culture where, when one party is in power, half the population benefits and the other half suffer.

We are one very small nation; we cannot afford to waste talent, hinder initiative and growth, promote the undeserving and exclude anyone from contributing to our tiny country moving forward.

People are fed up with the politics of contrast; fed up of the mentality of us and them; fed up with political parties who put themselves and their members first, and the country and its citizens second; fed up with the rotating door culture

However, does it need to be that way? A survey conducted by the University of Malta about what people thought was most important in their lives found that it was not material gain, nor career progression, it was family and hope. People need to feel that there is something better over the horizon, not much of the same. They want to see greener pastures, not the arid landscape of déjà vu we are dished out every five years.

Is it possible? Why not? Despite our small size, Malta is blessed with a wealth of talent that remains untapped because everything spins on the merry-go-round of our two-party political system.

Recently I have met with dozens of people eager to contribute their expertise to the benefit of the nation. And yet, because by their very nature they are hardworking and honest, they do not want to be tarred with the current political brush.

What is needed is to get them and the general public to believe once again that politics and politicians are there to serve not to be served. They must believe that neither of the two parties care more about power than progress and that they are willing to share that power for the benefit of all. And when I say share power, I mean not only with other political parties, but with civil society, the NGOs, the unions.

If all were to contribute in a spirit of cooperation towards a common goal, it would be in everyone’s interest. We could work towards a genuinely inclusive society; a balanced economy where wealth is distributed in a just and fair manner; a less stressful and flexible education system; a proactive not reactive health service; a bold solution to our transport infrastructure not patchwork stop-gap ideas and, most importantly, true good governance. We could guarantee the preservation of what is left of our natural environment for future generations and work together to vastly improve the urban one and our well-being with it.

Yes, Malta does need a coalition, but not only of political parties in an attempt to stop the current government being re-elected. That will not work. Malta needs a coalition that offers something new, thinks outside the box, is willing to share power with all the stakeholders in our society. Is able to listen, learn, co-operate and compromise. It needs a coalition that embraces us all. Politicians or otherwise. It needs to inspire all sections of society to contribute something to our country.

It needs to offer that something intangible we all live in. It needs to be a coalition of hope.

Anthony Buttigieg is deputy leader of Partit Demokratiku.

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A water policy for political hope

This evening I attended a talk about the situation of the fresh water supply in this country. I will not go into technical details, but believe me the situation is dire. Malta is blessed with an aquifer.

Basically, thanks to the fact that our country’s bedrock is limestone, deep underground, beneath our feet, lie caverns and hollows full of fresh water, or at least they were once full. For several decades, we have been sucking this aquifer dry through overuse, unlicensed bore holes and over irrigation of agricultural land. As a result of this, the water level in the aquifer has reached critical levels and the quality of water left is substandard.

This did not happen overnight, successive governments have been fully aware of the situation, and have implemented stop-gap measures to rectify things such as reverse osmosis plants. Yet they have not been enough. The demands of a growing population, an expanding tourism industry and increasingly intensive farming have resulted in demand far outstripping supply.

To compound the problem, due to over-development most of our rain water simply runs off into the sea.

And to further complicate matters, Malta is obliged to replenish an aquifer we seem determined to drain dry within a certain timeframe, by an EU directive, or face some very hefty fines.

Solutions are available. I am not a water engineer, I am a doctor of medicine, I will not deign to override people far better qualified than myself in proposing those solutions. There are several reasons, however, why neither of the major political parties have moved to implement them, despite being aware they exist for many years.

Firstly, the subject of water is not sexy, it does not grab attention or inspire the imagination, we take it for granted. Politicians like sound bites and boring, mundane, everyday things don’t give them that.

Secondly, the solutions to the water problem, although they may be necessary, will probably prove unpopular to certain sections of society, and we all know politicians hate anything that risks losing votes.

Thirdly, governments work on election cycles.  Water management, however, does not. The solution to our fresh water problem will not take one election cycle to implement, probably not even two, but much more than that.

For these reasons, neither major party have been willing to address the water supply situation in the way it deserves.

Driving home, I began thinking. Solutions to the problem exist and are known to the people who run our country. Yet, politicians are in the business of being elected. They don’t like taking decisions and implementing measures which may be necessary, but also risk losing them an election. How to overcome that hurdle?

Then it struck me. If no one party felt it could take the political risk of addressing our water problem, how about all of them? This is a collective issue, it needs to be tackled collectively. If all parties, large and small, worked together to come out with a long-term policy document on water management, agreed upon by all, the responsibility shared by all, then the political hit to all would be negated.

For once our politicians would be perceived to be working, not for themselves, not for their party, but for the benefit of our country. Trust in the current political class is at an all-time low, this is one of the reasons PartitDemokratiku was formed. What I am proposing may actually be construed as working against the interest of my own party. But, you see, we are not in this to gain power, we are in this for the good of the country.

If all the political parties in this country could work together toward a long-term solution for this issue, could it be far-fetched to hope the same template could be used on other problems of similar magnitude facing this country?

Could we finally address other serious concerns like transport, land management, a living wage, sustainable development, good governance? Could our politicians stop being politicians and start being statesmen? Could a national Water Policy give us political hope?

Anthony Buttigieg

Deputy Leader

PartitDemokratiku

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Sometimes It Needs a Doctor’s Touch

Yesterday a bill was moved in parliament by Dr. Godfrey Farrugia and co-sponsored by Dr. Deo Debattista to enable doctors to examine and treat 16 and 17 year olds without parental consent, only if they were deemed able and mature enough. This is a bill long in the coming and absolutely necessary to address certain anomalies in our legislation.

Ever since I graduated as a doctor, and believe me that was not yesterday, I have come across situations where the need for youths of that age to get parental consent for treatment of a medical condition bordered on the ridiculous.

In my time at the emergency department I treated two youths with traumatic amputation sustained at a place of work, both were sixteen. As the injuries were not life threatening, we needed their parent’s consent to treat them. Where is the sense in that? They were old enough to work, they were old enough to be put in harm’s way, yet they were not old enough to consent to treatment for their injuries.

One incident was even more mind boggling. A seventeen-year-old mother, accompanied by her 17-year-old husband presented with appendicitis. She could not be operated until we got hold of her parents to sign the consent. This girl, whether you agree or not, was old enough to marry, old enough to have a child, and yet was unable to decide how she could be treated.

Any doctor worth his salt knows that three-quarters of the road to reaching a correct diagnosis comes from taking a good history from the patient. This law enables 16 and 17 year olds to be able to speak to a physician in the knowledge that they will not be obliged to reveal what has passed between themselves to the parents of the patient. I understand that this may raise the hackles of many a parent. But think of it. I have a sixteen-year-old daughter, and just like any other father or mother, getting her to express her concerns and troubles can be as difficult as extracting a tooth from an elephant. If young people like her visit a doctor feeling free to discuss their symptoms and concerns in the full knowledge that what has been said will remain confidential, aren’t they more likely to unload what is troubling them completely? Isn’t it then more likely they will be treated properly?

This may seem like an over liberal law to some, but in some countries a child of ANY age can request a parent to leave a consulting room to speak confidentially to a doctor. If the doctor deems the child mature enough to do that, the parents are obliged to accede to that request. I am not saying that we should go down that pathway, I am mentioning it just to show how unradical this law and just how archaic our current system is.

Some concerns were voiced in parliament about how is it possible to analyse the maturity of a patient within a ten-minute consultation. I honestly cannot understand that concern. I think any physician, teacher or other adult used to dealing with people can judge the mental age of someone within minutes of speaking to them. Until now the biggest problem has been getting them to speak, as more often than not the parents don’t give them a chance.

Every now and then our politicians move bills in parliament that will deliver no political or personal gain. They are moved out of necessity, not out of some grand design. I say chapeau to Godfrey Farrugia for moving this bill, chapeau to Deo Debattista for co-sponsoring it, chapeau to both sides of the house for engaging in a lively but constructive debate, and chapeau to each and every individual member of parliament for passing it through its second reading unanimously. Would there be more occasions when I could say the same. Parliament itself needs a good dose of medicine, it seems that sometimes it needs a doctor’s touch to make it function well..

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Child pawns of a political system

Some of you may not like what you are about to read, but then, I was never one to care about saying what is popular, it was always about saying what I believed is right.

In the past few days Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela stated that the government will not give Maltese citizenship to children born to migrant parents. I and the political party I am part of believe this decision is fundamentally wrong both on moral and humanitarian grounds.

I will explain why.

This decision was not made according to any consistent stand against migration made by this government, or the previous one for that matter. If that was the case, we would not have thousands of Libyans living here as bogus directors of bogus companies funded by money taken illegally out of their country.

We would not have hundreds of illegal workers from eastern Europe in the construction, hospitality, entertainment and agriculture and fishery industries artificially driving lower end wages down and not contributing one cent to the government’s coffers.

We would not have hundreds of wealthy people buying our passport for the sole intention of avoiding paying taxes in their own country. We would have none of that.

This decision was taken out of pure political expediency. The Labour Party is worried it will lose votes to the anti-immigration right wing parties forming in this country and decided to make a gesture to pander to people who may switch support to them. So what did they do? Emulating an increasingly consistent pattern of behaviour, they picked on the most vulnerable to show their strength.

The Nigerian parents of the children being denied citizenship have been living here legally for years under a government programme for failed asylum seekers called Temporary Humanitarian Protection Status (THPn).

Thanks to this programme, unlike some of the groups mentioned earlier, they were working legally, paying taxes and national insurance just like you and me, and generally contributing to our society.

This programme has now been terminated. Fair enough. It is a decision a government has the right to take. However, in a few cases, as the people affected have been here for such a long time, children have been born to them.

The only country these children know is Malta, in some cases the only language they speak fluently is Maltese. They know themselves as Maltese children of foreign parents. If they were born to foreign parents with residency in Malta, they would be eligible to a Maltese passport. As THPn is not considered this they do not have that right.

Yet they have no alternative country to be citizens of, they are not registered in the home country of their parents, the parents themselves have no documentation to legally go back to their country of origin. The end result of this is the government is condemning these children to a life of stateless limbo.

Even if this was not the case, to wrench children from the only society they have known as a result of a cynical political gesture goes against everything that makes us Maltese. Where is the Christian tradition in that? We boast of our generosity, we boast of record amounts of money collected in L-Istrina, and yet collectively we deny a few, and it is a very few, children the fundamental human right of having an identity and belonging to a country.

Before the xenophobes and ‘patriots’ get ranting it will open the flood gates to more coming here so their children get Maltese citizenship, the government can easily draw a line and make it clear that from now on this will not be the case. Those that came before were not told this, and in effect built a life under an illusion perpetrated by the authorities. We have done wrong by them by giving them the impression they could stay, we must do right by not harming the innocent product of that illusion, their children.

Partit Demokratiku was founded on the principle of protecting the vulnerable, encouraging sustainable development, fighting corruption and enforcing good governance. It was not founded on the everything-goes-for-a-vote concept.

All the other political parties have been deafening in their silence on this injustice, we will continue to do what is right, not what is popular. We will not let child pawns be the victims of our political system.

Anthony Buttigieg

Deputy Leader

Partit Demokratiku

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