Three weeks ago, I got a call from the National Book Council. They informed me that the National Book Prize would be awarded on December 18 and the book I co-wrote with Carlo Bonini and John Sweeney, Murder on the Malta Express: Who Killed Daphne Caruana Galizia (Midsea Books), would be awarded the prize.

I confess I was pleased. This is the first book with my name on it and it will surprise few people to learn that my bruised ego enjoys a cuddle from time to time. I was also a little surprised. The executive chairman of the National Book Council and I do not run a mutual admiration society and, in any case, all government agencies or entities have stayed as far away from Daphne’s story as they could manage.

There have been many occasions when it occurred to me that Mark Camilleri was unsuitable for the position of executive chairman of the book council. His appointment was another act of trivialisation in the grand Mintoffian tradition. His most significant qualification for the post was having irritated a Nationalist government with some, entirely justified, noise over a case of administrative over-reaction to lit-porn distributed on the university campus.

Justyne Caruana first demanded Camilleri's resignation, then changed tack.Justyne Caruana first demanded Camilleri's resignation, then changed tack.

In office, he delighted in shooting his mouth off. It would be hypocrisy for me to criticise someone for inflicting their opinions on the rest of the world. But I’m not a government appointee to an executive public position. Camilleri is, though it was touch and go there for a while.

Consider a recent example. Last October, Camilleri was, rightly, annoyed by the somewhat qualified reaction of the local Imam to the beheading of Samuel Paty, the French teacher killed for showing his students a cartoon of the Prophet to make a point about free expression.

Camilleri overreacted like a headless university administrator unsure of what to do with bootleg porn literature. In a Facebook post, he told the Imam “to stop killing us” even though Muhammad El Sadi is not suspected of harming a fly.

And Camilleri also told El Sadi “you should be deported... to Saudi Arabia” even though he has lived in Malta most of his life, is Maltese and for whom Saudi Arabia is where one goes for the hajj.

This government has made verbal violence a job requirement for its hired hands and has reduced the desire for justice for Caruana Galizia to the status of taboo- Manuel Delia

That would have been a good occasion to ask Camilleri to resign. But he didn’t, because the government never minded having senior government officials indulge in a bit of critic-bashing that would be popular with the rank and file.

Consider Tony Zarb, paid advisor on Konrad Mizzi’s staff, calling Occupy Justice activists whores more fitting in Strait Street than Castille Place. Consider Jason Micallef, culture czar, twisting Daphne’s last words to say a drunken street party is more important than the killing of a journalist. Consider Mario Philip Azzopardi, artistic director of the Capital of Culture events, trolling an activist and calling her a “bitch”. Consider Neville Gafà recruiting stalkers to haunt Daphne’s private life right up to the last hours before her death. Consider Josef Caruana, OPM official and MEP candidate, pushing the notion that Daphne was killed by the hand of her sons. Consider Glenn Bedingfield.

None of these was fired from public positions of authority despite the abuse they dished out to government critics.

Where did the government draw the line? When Camilleri pushed back on unsolicited private correspondence from a lawyer acting for the man accused of masterminding Caruana Galizia’s killing.

Yorgen Fenech is unsurprisingly investing all his resources towards his acquittal. From his point of view, it is insufficient to fight his battle in court. He needs to fight his battle outdoors as well for a host of reasons. In a country like Malta, the jury pool is narrow and easily contaminated with some smart PR. The Labour Party has, in the past, been successful at poisoning the atmosphere to ensure an ally charged with complicity in an attempted political assassination, of a prime minister’s closest advisor, is acquitted. They’re working for Fenech now.

But the boss is not leaving anything to chance. He has hired people to try to bribe journalists. And in Camilleri’s case, he hired a lawyer to bully him – and to threaten him with dismissal from his official position – because he dared suggest that the public independent inquiry into the killing of Caruana Galizia should be allowed to take its course.

Of course, you get all the shrinking violets who say they think that a government official slandering Matthew Caruana Galizia with the mad notion that he had had a hand in the killing of his mother is protected “free speech” but then express shock and horror because Camilleri, who heads an agency that the law says should function autonomously from the government anyway, told a lawyer to roll up her letters and stuff them up her arse.

“Unexemplary”, a permanent secretary called him. “Consider your position,” Education Minister Justyne Caruana told him. Then she reconsidered hers. She, the one whose husband was known by Fenech’s children as “Uncle Silvio” because of his proximity to the man he was supposed to be charging with murder. “Auntie Justyne” came to Fenech’s aid in his time of need.

I do not approve of public officers inflicting their personal opinions on the public. I also understand governments would not want to be embarrassed by their officers going rogue.

But this government has made verbal violence a job requirement for its hired hands and has reduced the desire for justice for Caruana Galizia to the status of taboo. Camilleri defied that. It makes the award his council gave to our book a little bit sweeter.

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