The essence of leadership is that of service to the community. The Valletta 2018 Foundation had the critical task of projecting Malta as a hub of culture and the Maltese as committed believers in the values of European civilisation. Whether V18 has enhanced Valletta’s reputation as the European Capital of Culture is in serious doubt because of the unacceptable behaviour of the Foundation’s chairman Jason Micallef.

The crisis that has plagued the V18 celebrations for some months reached its climax when on St Patrick’s Day Mr Micallef posted a picture on social media of the big crowd celebrating in St Julian’s. He twisted the last words written by murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia by writing: “St Patrick’s Day in Malta. The situation is desperate. There are happy people everywhere you look.”

This brazen and callous disregard of the sentiments of the family of a murdered journalist was rightly described as “outrageous” by a group of international writers including the world-renowned author Salman Rushdie. They wrote to the European Commission to protest about Mr Micallef’s derogatory comments in his official capacity as chairman of the EU-sponsored V18 celebrations.

They said Mr Micallef’s attitude “is far from appropriate behaviour for an official designated to represent the European Capital of Culture, and serves to further the interest of those trying to prevent an effective and impartial investigation into the journalist’s death”.

Seventy-two MEPs and various local and EU civic organisations expressed equally damning words about Mr Micallef’s behaviour. It is undeniable that Malta’s image in international circles is tarnished with allegations of money laundering, corruption by politically exposed persons, and inept management by people in a position of trust. The last thing the country needs is an insensitive public official who believes that it is his right to insult the memories of a murdered journalist on the pretext of freedom of expression.

Calls for Mr Micallef to resign or be removed have, not surprisingly, been ignored. He knows that at the end of the day his political friends will do nothing to disassociate themselves from his offensive behaviour as this would not be politically expedient for the Labour Party.

Former Prime Minister Alfred Sant practically condoned Mr Micallef’s behaviour by saying that what he did was “not out of this world”. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and the Parliamentary Secretary of Valletta 2018 Deo Debattista implied that as a public figure, Mr Micallef’s right to freedom of expression is more important than his duty to be discreet and respectful to others.

This incident is a sad reflection of what is seriously rotten in this administration. No electoral mandate gives anyone the right to tolerate the kind of behaviour that Mr Micallef has shown in the last several months as chairman of the supposedly non-partisan V18 celebrations.

People in a position of trust must respect the diversity of political opinions that exist in Maltese society and refrain from ridiculing the memories of the dead.

Mr Micallef is unlikely to resign. But his legacy to Malta’s international reputation after V18 is over will not be one that should make him proud.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial


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