My article today on Malta Today
When a soldier was filmed using colourful language to mock a redundant gate erected by the authorities near the Pembroke shooting ranges, he probably never imagined it would go public. “You see”, he said as he drove easily around the gate, “all you have to do is pass from here and that’s it, you’re through”. This, of course, was embellished by quite a lot of very creative, admittedly hilarious, Maltese vulgarity which is completely untranslatable. The person filming as well as the others in the jeep, presumably also soldiers, can be heard guffawing in the background.
However, in yet another salutary lesson which proves that nothing posted online is ever really private, the footage which was filmed on a mobile phone and circulated between friends on What’s App ended up being uploaded on FB, and immediately went viral.
Now, in normal circumstances, I would say that some form of harsh disciplinary action would have been justified. Working against him was the fact that the soldier was in uniform and was ridiculing his employer, the Army, while alleging that thousands (16,000 Euro according to him) had been spent on the gate. This unsubstantiated claim was compounded by the further claim made by the soldier that in contrast, the Army routinely refuses to provide clothing supplies to its soldiers.
Not only was the soldier disciplined, however, but in an uncharacteristically drastic fashion, he was immediately sacked. A spokesperson for the AFM told MaltaToday that “the soldier in question will appear before the AFM commander with a decision to be taken on the basis of the provisions of the Armed Forces Act. It is unclear whether any action has been taken against other colleagues involved in the filming of the video”.
Meanwhile, a FB group in solidarity with the soldier was set up and quickly attracted over 2000 members. My impression is that public opinion was mostly in support of the soldier, although as always there were those who agreed with the action taken against him for purely partisan reasons. For you see, he had the temerity to criticise something which was plainly wrong, and even downright ridiculous which put the Army (for which read the state, for which read a Labour Government) in a very negative light. However, it did not to stop there. As if to prove him unintentionally right, just after the video came into the public domain, a boundary wall was erected, and suddenly the silly, little stand-alone gate did not look as silly any more, although as was pointed out, the low wall would still not keep anyone out.
I mentioned “in normal circumstances” earlier for a reason. If you had to take a look around at the countless infringements and infractions made by those in uniform, from police officers to wardens, you would have to start sacking a lot of people. We have all witnessed illegal parking and other traffic violations, smoking and drinking while in uniform, and even speaking in a manner which brings disgrace to one’s role within the disciplinary forces. I would even go so far as to say that slovenly, dishevelled police officers and wardens also dishonour their uniforms because in my eyes anyone who is in the services should always look smart and well-groomed, rather than looking like they have just rolled out of bed.
But that’s not all. Let’s keep going even higher up, and look at those who have been elected to represent us, who are paid from taxpayers’ money and who are supposed to be setting an example. Shocking language in Parliament, appalling behaviour during televised debates, and unacceptable comments on social media. If we had to use the same yardstick and start firing everyone who truly deserved it, the bloated size of the House of Representatives, the number of local councillors and mayors, all the positions of trust, as well as those holding fancy titles at all the quangos would quickly be whittled down to size. I yearn for the day when drastic action is taken just as quickly as was taken against this soldier when any of these public officials act in a manner which is unbecoming and out of line. Unfortunately, too many members of the public are willing to excuse all these transgressions by using the completely irrelevant argument of ‘freedom of speech’ when what is at issue here is having certain standards and maintaining your dignity because of the public role you have. If you want to swear and scream and post the first comment which pops into your head on Facebook then maybe you should stop leeching off our taxes, go back to being a private citizen and make your own way in life instead.
Acting appropriately and ethically also extends beyond day-to-day behaviour and includes that part of ourselves which is often kicked to the kerb: our moral compass.
Are we really serious about firing people who behave badly? Then let’s keep going straight to the top where a Government Minister and the PM’s Chief of Staff are still in office despite holding secret bank accounts and making complicated arrangements for money to be transferred just as Labour got elected. This is apart from the dubious way in which the Electrogas contract was awarded (as flagged by the recent Auditor General’s report), and the damning links to the secret company, 17 Black, owned by businessman Yorgen Fenech, who forms part of the Electrogas consortium. Kumbinazzjoni.
Compared to all this, the AFM soldier is small fry indeed. But perhaps the need was felt to make an example of him in an attempt to pretend that the authorities mean business when it comes to doing things by the book. On the other hand, it could also have been a knee-jerk reaction by those in charge who were not amused that the whole country was laughing at them for that pathetic gate in the middle of nowhere. Either way, the fact that a soldier lost his job over an amateur video which pointed out something which was true, is not only out of proportion, but in the light of everything else, seems downright insulting to the public’s intelligence.
Reprimand the soldier, sure, or take other disciplinary measures which do not entail him losing his job. Because compared to everything else which is going on in this country, such as contractors responsible for the death of workers through negligence and greed and politicians who have deceived and betrayed every person who voted for them, a foolish decision to film some joking banter about a gate seems a really trivial reason to punish someone.