Adrian Delia has been vulnerable to ejection ever since his election, and was on shaky ground long before, not least from factions within his own party. But nothing compares with the recent allegations made by his wife in a sworn reply to his application requesting an access order. These documents form the subject matter of the couple’s separation proceedings. 

Which brings us to the Family Court. A horrid place where reputations are lost and (never) won, and where truths and untruths clash in open session. The double standard sometimes favours the husband, sometimes the wife. Generosity and vindictiveness characterise both sexes. And children and money are invariably the battleground.

 Are the allegations sufficient reason for Delia to do the honourable thing and fall on his sword? Some have argued that he should, and should have done so already. It’s a persuasive argument. But the counter-argument has some mileage too. Because if you want to remove someone from office, that’s precisely how you go about it. And if the individual wants to clear his name, well that means five to 10 years of legal limbo (assuming there’s no appeal). Suing for libel takes years, the damages are negligible and there’s still no reinstatement.

 But back to Delia. Public figure and public interest notwithstanding, I won’t be writing about his personal life, let alone speculate on the  rights and wrongs. After all I extended the same courtesy to Simon Busuttil, Owen Bonnici, Jason Azzopardi and others, although the details surrounding their marital break-ups remained for the most part undisclosed and unknown. Their cases  may have been quite different from Delia’s but whatever the precise circumstances, they remained private and were not hung out to dry in the mainstream or social media. This is not to say that the grounds for those high-profile separations were of no concern or that acrimony and abuse were necessarily absent.  The integrity, honesty and ethical standards of those involved might well have been compromised.  We are often cruellest to those we love the most and within our own personal ‘archives’ there lurk dark, ill-advised and unsavoury moments we’d rather forget. Moments which, if played out in public could bring about personal embarrassment and professional/political ruin. 

I require that all outrage directed at a particular politician’s shortcomings should be principled and consistent

 There is always the temptation to speculate. But I won’t. Prudence and caution come first and nowhere more so than when dealing with accusations and allegations in the context of a personal separation, even those sworn under oath. Which means that I’m always wary of (and somewhat astounded by) the simplistic convictions of others, especially when it’s clear they’ve been relying on others and have little grasp of the case and of the workings of the Family Court. Of course I can understand perfectly the argument that those in public office should be held to higher standards of conduct than the rest of us. Just as I believe that politicians, as agents for change, should lead by good example. 

But if I accept that, I also require that all outrage directed at a particular politician’s shortcomings should be principled and consistent. It cannot be selective or partisan. Those who insist that Delia should resign argue that the allegations levelled against him are the more serious because they derive from a sworn judicial document – the kind that simply can’t be trivialised or dismissed. They insist that, once these allegations have entered the public domain, Delia should suspend himself until the issue is resolved and his name cleared.

 And it gets worse. Many now clamouring for Delia’s resignation are the same people who brushed things aside when formal accusations of drug-taking were levelled, just a few months ago, at Nationalist MEP David Casa – serious allegations likewise made public under oath, in a sworn affidavit. In fact, if you wanted to compare legal notes, you could possibly argue that a sworn affidavit forming no part of any court process carries more weight than a sworn reply. The argument being that the former plays no direct part in any court proceedings, while the latter is a strategy within the immediate context of a bitterly adversarial separation case, drafted by a shrewd lawyer. 

When the drug allegations surfaced, they were categorically denied by Casa - a gesture that was deemed sufficient. The story therefore never took off, and I don’t recall anyone taking the Nationalist (or Labour) Party to task for failing to condemn the MEP’s alleged misconduct or call for his immediate resignation. On the contrary, the PL was accused of manufacturing the said allegations and Malta Today was attacked for publishing the story. As for the PN, it appeared to take Casa’s word. Messages of support rolled in.  He was hailed as both a victim and a hero. 

 These of course are the people who have come out strongly against Delia and deem him unfit to lead the Nationalists. Where, in the name of consistency, were their reservations regarding Casa? If the matter is really one of principle, integrity and perception, and if what is morally right and legal really matters, then there can be no room for flexible ‘interpretations’. 

 Neither should private feelings prevent us from being consistent in public. Which is why I’m always wary of incriminating accusations, at any level.  This was a point I made when the Egrant allegations came to light, and I was eventually vindicated. I made the same point when the drug allegations against Casa were doing the rounds, and today - although it’s never an easy call to make - I’ll extend the same protection to  Delia arguing once more that allegations, even those confirmed on oath, should not automatically trigger a resignation. 

 This has nothing to do with my own private feelings one way or the other; nor is it an attempt to make light of the allegations. It’s about consistency and the danger of setting some very disturbing precedents. At the present time, we all need to pause.

michelaspiteri@gmail.com

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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