I’m not sure the family of Jean Paul Sofia had spent much time in Parliament’s Strangers Gallery before Wednesday. But that night they looked like they owned the place. I would normally feel queasy about people shouting down at Parliamentarians. It would make me think with some distaste of deadly episodes from the French Revolution. We elect our MPs to represent us and trust their consciences above the voices of special interests and angry and hurt individuals, or so the theory goes.
But the MPs on the government benches on Wednesday showed that conscience has nothing to do with how they do their job. You could see some of them still had a conscience as they morosely pissed on it. Some of them could not hide their embarrassment at the way they voted. You could see in some of them the envy they felt for opposition MPs who were free to speak their mind, to call for an inquiry to establish the facts about how and why this young man was killed, and to mock those who would block it.
The opposition’s fine moments are rare and far between. But PN MPs showed a clarity of mind, a balanced sense of tact and respect for Mr Sofia’s family, and an argumentative forcefulness that was just what the country needed of an Opposition to speak on its behalf in the face of the government’s stonewalling.
There were times when it did not happen but when the country looked for the PN to do its job, MPs this time were not found wanting. As a result, Parliament was reduced to a zero-sum game. The Nationalists were the good guys. Labour the bad. But it was really their choice, Labour’s choice.
We know they were aware of the simple legitimacy of the call for an inquiry. We know because we overheard their heated discussions behind closed doors. Some of them dared whisper outside, apply in their timid way some counter-pressure against the instruction they had to vote against a public inquiry.
Whatever they may have said internally, they have no claim to decency because ultimately what matters is how they voted and they all voted against the inquiry. This is just not the way decent people behave. Frankly, even if they were convinced the government had done no wrong, a government that turns down calls for its conduct to be looked into independently is in bad form.
Consider the general meeting of a band club where a few members ask for the committee’s accounts to be audited by someone from outside. What terrible form it would be for the committee to reject the call for an audit.
This is what Robert Abela and his MPs have done. They have refused to submit themselves to the scrutiny of someone outside them, especially because that scrutiny will be conducted in public view.
I wrote more about this for my Sunday Times article coming up in a couple of days and there’s more we’ll need to think about over the coming days.
Apart from all the thinking, feeling is entirely justified though and that needs no words. All it needs is the stirring sight of a mourning family taking to their feet in Parliament and looking at a government in the eye. Jean Paul Sofia’s family, moved no doubt by their horrific loss, is doing what too many of us are afraid to do most of the time. They are dispelling fear of consequence, rising above unjustified loyalties, doing right not merely by their departed loved one but by all the people who will be losing relatives to construction disasters but do not yet know it. For all you know they’re fighting for you.
The country has seen that. The ground-swell of anger is perceptible in the sweat of people going about their business but wondering when this charade will end. People are asking themselves why their government is again expecting them to ignore the facts and support them blindly despite just how dangerous such a prospect is, even having some well-connected criminals build concrete shacks that can fall over your head anytime.
Jean Paul’s family is calling for a protest on Monday evening. Before that, on Sunday, we’re meeting in Valletta at 5pm for Daphne’s vigil. And then Monday we’ll walk behind another family whose loss is personal to them and tragic for all of us. Those 40 MPs must understand that when they voted against a public inquiry they represented nobody but their boss. They did not behave as the people’s representatives but as accomplices in the people’s oppression.
Those 40 MPs must understand that while the Opposition did a sterling job of quizzing them and putting them on the spot challenging them to accept a motion that would have the result of allowing scrutiny of the government, the people had other representatives in that chamber on Wednesday who represented the public’s mood far better. They were Jean Paul Sofia’s family. We’re as angry as they are and we’re grateful for the chance on Monday to show just how angry we mean.