The initiative of the Bishop of Gozo to raise funds for a ventilator in Gozo is of course commendable. This crisis requires a national effort and though the government must lead, we should all pitch in to the best of our ability. There is nothing wrong with charity and private initiative as long as they don’t make us lazy as a society.
What do I mean by lazy? I mean by that, that we let the formal and legal structures of our state get away with falling short of the duties they exercise on behalf of all of us.
Here’s the rub. Should it be necessary for there to be a charitable initiative for there to be a ventilator in Gozo? I say no. I should imagine that if there are three ventilators in Malta one of them should be in Gozo. I admit that’s a poorly informed and superficial assumption. Doctors who have looked deep into this may argue for example that there are benefits for Gozitan patients that intensive therapy is concentrated on the main island even with the transportation factor in play. I’m allowing for that possibility because the last thing I want to do is claim expertise in viral management.
But all things being equal, and if common sense knowledge is valid enough in this case, I think I can presume to be surprised that we need charity to have a single ventilator on the island of Gozo. Gozo is a smaller island and the state must be taking that fact into account no matter the circumstances, even a viral pandemic. Especially a viral pandemic.
Of all the objections against the privatisation of some of our health service since Labour came to power in 2013, one of the most important and often neglected objection is that that privatisation included the one and only hospital in Gozo. For being the only hospital, Gozo General is of an even more strategic importance than the other two hospitals that now belong to a for-profit American business.
A ventilator costs around €50,000. If Ram Tumuluri hadn’t given himself a €5 million bonus for driving Gozo General and two other Maltese hospitals to the ground there’d be enough money for Steward Health Care to buy 100 ventilators. On this scale the politics of envy make sense.
I find the prime minister renouncing a months’ salary for that little drop to be lost in the ocean of public funding as purely gestural. Something Jesus would have berated the Pharisees for. But Ram Tumuluri’s vile take home pay is a material loss to Gozo’s ability to treat its own patients.
This is what I mean by charity making us lazy. We do not express the right outrage and take the right action as a people when a swindler takes €5 million from us but then our charitable heart strings have to be pulled to collect €50,000.
By all means, give money to Bishop Mario Grech’s fund. By all means, set up your own and collect money to contribute to the massive cost of fighting this war and emerging from it.
But please remember that we have a state that has the job of doing this. It should be able to raise enough money from taxes and to spend that money wisely to help us through peace and wartime. If that’s not enough or if charity can boost that effort, so be it.
But a ventilator in Gozo? You’d think that’s a bare necessity.