The late Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici could be described as a ‘failed’ politician. He was unable to exercise any real control when he was prime minister between late 1984 and mid-1987. It was also on his watch that some of the worst political atrocities and violent incidents occurred. The buck has to stop with him.

Yet, even his political adversaries sang his praises on his demise last week, and not merely as a matter of convention or courtesy, or to let bygones be bygones.

At his funeral Mass, Auxiliary Bishop Joe Galea Curmi said his uncle was a man of conviction and not of convenience, who fought hard for the most vulnerable in society. So while some of his actions were unpardonable and he committed some grave mistakes, he cannot be labelled as disgraced, much less corrupt. His ‘road map’, if he ever had one, was not charted to lead to personal gain or glory. The record shows he was upright and he appeared to be genuine in making decisions that he believed would be good for the country and its people, especially workers.

Those who worked with him or dealt with him in any way, would attest to the truth of the auxiliary bishop’s words: that Mifsud Bonnici was determined to be of service to the country and never to abuse his position.

His ethos is perhaps best captured in his description of himself: that he was born a Nationalist but free choice and conviction made him a Labourite.

As a nationalist, he was devoted and loyal to his country. Labour issues, particularly workers’ rights and well-being, were not only his specialisation as a lawyer but also his main mission in life. His mistakes and misguided decisions could have been the result of his unbending resolve to put country and workers first, come what may. If anything, this is what made him a ‘fundamentalist’, as some define him.

What is sure is that he strove for what he believed in. As a student, he was an active member of the Catholic Social Guild and of the Young Christian Workers Movement, also serving as a member of the editorial board of its newspaper.

That, no doubt, often put him in conflict with Dom Mintoff who, ironically, would years later choose him as his successor. That turned out to be a dark period in his life. In his determination to serve and not be served, and to say what he believed needed to be said rather than what he thought the people wanted to hear, Mifsud Bonnici lost hold of the reins of power, with regrettable consequences.

Truth be told, he did not get much help from his own party. Indeed, history may eventually show that some within helped him dig his own hole.

To serve the country and its people in the best way possible should be the main objective of any politician. Regretfully, we are now inundated with stories that paint a bleak picture of what truly motivates today’s so-called politicians.

Prime Minister Robert Abela has said Mifsud Bonnici would remain an example for many. But that would entail many people to descend from their lofty ivory towers, drop their populist rhetoric, stop seeking self-glory, and realise that being in politics is not like running a profit-making business.

Notwithstanding his serious flaws as a prime minister, Mifsud Bonnici’s main motivation was to serve. In this sense, he hailed from a breed – inspired by conviction not convenience – that risks extinction.

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