Saturday 16 February 2019

It’s just not done

The news everyone was talking about yesterday was that in October 2012, the President had suggested to the Community Chest Fund board that a member of his staff (and secretary to the board) be reimbursed for her studies abroad which she had undertaken on her own initiative in June of that year.

The subject of her specialisation was eating disorders, which fell neatly into line with a project which was  earmarked by the CCF to provide care and help for those suffering from the disorders. The name of the project is Kenn ghal Sahhtek and according to an official press release, work on it began in August 2012.

There was just one slight, niggling detail:  Darleen Zerafa, the young lady in question, just happens to be the sister of the President’s daughter-in-law.

Sure, as the song from Porn – the Musical famously told us “Everyone in Malta is related”, but while that song elicits a rueful chuckle and a shrug of hapless resignation, this story has stunned and deeply disappointed many people. Once again it has been brought into sharp focus how often people in official positions blur the lines of ethical behavior when it comes to employing or giving special favours to members of their immediate and extended family.

Some things are simply not done, and it exasperates me no end when I have to spell it out to people who (in all seriousness) ask why. There is a line, and it should be obvious when that line has been crossed, as in this case. Having to explain why it’s wrong makes me think that maybe we should be teaching basic ethics in schools as part of the curriculum. And if I hear one more time that “the Nationalists did it too”, I will start stabbing my own arm in sheer frustration.

When you have been elected or appointed to a high position your behaviour must be so above board it should be able to withstand the most intense scrutiny. You have to be scrupulous when matters arise which can put you into a position of a conflict of interest. This will mean that anyone related to you (and yes, in Malta that can be quite a long list) should not be seen to be gaining any special advantages simply because of the family connection.  If we are truly serious about weeding out this ingrained culture of nepotism, we have to stop making excuses or justifying it just because the party we support is doing it.   (Indeed, after the Labour party spent so many years constantly haranguing the Gonzi administration on this very issue, it should hang its head in shame that many of its members are now doing exactly the same thing.)

Unfortunately, this story has not only tarnished the reputation of the President, but also of the CCF itself. The public donates a lot of money to the CCF on the premise that the funds will be used by those who are in dire straits, but now many are refusing to donate to this charity any more.

Below is a list of all the members on the board – according to the leaked minutes, out of all these people, not one objected or abstained when it came to the vote on whether Darleen Zerafa should be reimbursed from CCF funds. I find this equally shocking because it seems that no one had the gumption to raise their hand and say that what they were about to do was unethical.   It doesn’t matter if  the suggestion was coming from the President himself, because in my view if you are on such an important, potentially sensitive board, you are answerable to the public who is giving you the donations.

If no one on that board could see (or was willing to point out) that this decision was in complete breach of what the CCF stands for, then maybe lessons in ethics should be made compulsory for everyone.

Community Chest Fund Board

Chairperson: H.E. Dr. George Abela
Deputy Chairperson: Mrs. Margaret Abela
Secretary: Ms. Darleen Zerafa
Treasurer: Mr. Harry Fenech
Assistant Treasurer: Mr. Ian Azzopardi
Public Relations Officer: Ms. Marica Mizzi
Assistant Public
Relations Officer: Mr. Josef Camilleri

Appointed Members:
Ms. Sonia Camilleri
Ms. Christina Galea Curmi
Mr. Richard Dimech
Mr. Anthony Fenech
Mr. Joseph Borg Galea
Mr. Joe Gerada
Ms. Anne Grech
Mr. Alfred Mangion
Dame Blanche Martin
Mr. Franco Masini
Mr. Charles Messina
Mr. Ronnie Micallef
Dr. Dione Mifsud
Mr. Godfrey Testa
Dr. Antoine Vella
Dr. Andrew Azzopardi

Representative Members:

Mr. Joseph M. Camilleri
Ms. Connie Carabott
Mr. Victor Carachi
Mr. John A. Huber
Ms. Joyce Grech
Ms. Rita Law
Mr. Andrew Psaila
Mr. Mario Spiteri
Mr. Ryan Mercieca
Mr. Josef Grech

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