You know Robert Abela is drowning when he sits for an interview with someone he doesn’t employ. He told himself he needed to look contrite after he watched himself on TV marching out of parliament with a growling escort of toughies walking past a grieving mother like she was a terrorist threat. Even though he is pathologically insensitive to the feelings of people outside his head, he could see how bad his behaviour looked.

MaltaToday’s Kurt Sansone asked Abela if he regretted following up the cruel vote against a public inquiry into the death of Jean Paul Sofia with a party and a concert at the residence in Girgenti. Abela was prepared for this one. Like the protagonist of a school play at the end of the second act, he had echoing in his cavernous cranium the last instruction of the teacher in the wings: “look sad, pretend you mean it.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have gone,” he said, following up his reluctant mortification with some hollow rhetoric. “What could I do? Cancel the concert in the last minute?”

Last minute, how? The vote had been scheduled for several days. The outcome of the vote was exactly what Abela had planned even before the debate had started. We know that from what he and his colleagues said at the debate.

For several days, Abela knew his diary for Wednesday night said: “Vote against Jean Paul Sofia public inquiry and pretend to be sad”, followed by “Party with the Love Island babes at Girgenti and pretend to have fun”.

Except for emotional outbursts by other people that Abela’s sociopathy is incapable of foreseeing, the prime minister had everything planned.

He whipped all of his MPs to vote with him, many of them in spite of their conscience. There would be no back bench rebellion. Not one of them would break ranks. Of course, they are to be held responsible for their vote. They’re not sheep. Abela’s bullying cannot physically force anyone to press the ‘nay’ button when every fibre of what is left of their morality tells them to press ‘yay’. Some of them were reading up on their Evarist Bartolo to plan how they will justify this vote when they retire and want to distance themselves from their record.

He mobilised One TV, who immediately branded Wednesday’s vote as “a vote for justice”. They then proceeded to wheel out obscure, barely pubescent lawyers to explain why a public inquiry would be a bad idea. Expect them to accidentally stumble on a government post in the shortest time.

That, Abela thought, is usually enough. A version of the truth on One TV, a unanimous vote by the Labour parliamentary party, a TV interview and throw in a few trolls to brand Sofia’s mother a closet PN politician and another crisis is averted.

Not this time.

The swell of anger in the public mood is palpable, perhaps even more obviously than the anger after Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed and the government insisted that the arrests of three hitmen were all the authorities needed to do.

Labour MPs are to be held responsible for their vote- Manuel Delia

The fact is that the Sofia story piles on the country’s experience with Daphne’s case. The two individuals couldn’t be more different: their background, the circumstances of their death, the extent of the public’s awareness of their existence before the campaigns to win justice for them.

But consider this. When Joseph Muscat resisted for two years calls for a public inquiry into the killing of Daphne, few people even knew what a public inquiry does. Not so this time.

The public knows that much of what we learned as a country from the Daphne inquiry would never have seen the light of day. And there would never have been the raft of recommendations that the government needed to ignore to the country’s bemusement.

Abela says public inquiries are “toothless” but that’s only because he ignored the work of the one we’ve had. Why is he afraid of another “toothless” inquiry then?

Because, unlike the Daphne inquiry, this one will not find his predecessor responsible for an unlawful death. This one will find him responsible.

It will find how he ignored the lessons from other deaths on construction sites. It will find how the decapitation of civil service autonomy and integrity at the agency administering government land has allowed shady people to build the tomb that buried Jean Paul Sofia. It will find how Abela’s personal friends and associates were given a free hand by a government that should have stopped them.

Comparing anything to the Chernobyl disaster sounds silly although the number of people killed on construction sites in Malta in proportion to the country’s size and population is not too far from nuclear meltdown. But compare the administrative and political aftermath of both circumstances.

After Chernobyl, the Soviet Union ensured the engineers on duty were sent to prison. They promoted that as justice while they furiously covered up the cut corners and false economies the politicians had made to build nuclear reactors that sloppy engineers could blow up. But the people figured out what was going on and within five years the USSR imploded and was no more.

Sofia’s mother did not stay home to cry her loss. She took to the streets to hold to account a government that allowed her son to die and to make sure that no mother would have to follow her in mourning. It may or may not be in her plans but if we follow her, before you know it, this will be Abela’s Chernobyl.

Tonight, remember Daphne Caruana Galizia at a 5pm vigil in Valletta. Tomorrow at 8pm march for Jean Paul Sofia. Free your country of this rot.

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