I think Malta Book Council Chairman Mark Camilleri is doing the right thing by calling an election for his post after the Education Minister Justyne Caruana asked him to resign.
Yes, he said some words that should have been said differently. And he uploaded a private conversation to Facebook which should make us feel uneasy (though it was a hostile comment from Yorgen Fenech’s lawyer so it probably needed to be addressed).
But even so, should he resign?
If he were a minister, we would probably say yes.
His actions were undignified for a public officer and it’s ok for us to demand better.
And we shouldn’t justify his wrongdoing by pointing at others doing worse things. We know where those strategies take us.
But as the story of Justyne Caruana shows, even extremely compromised politicians are sometimes needed in top positions in Malta because the talent pool is so limited.
Many believe that Caruana’s now ex-husband’s close relationship with the man suspected of killing a journalist should preclude her from being Education Minister.
And in a normal country it would.
But we need all the talent we can get and if she’s among the best potential Cabinet members from Prime Minister’s limited pool, we may have to compromise.
So what did Mark decide?
Since the outspoken chairman he has no regrets for the harsh words he told Yorgen Fenech’s lawyer, Mark Camilleri emailed his members to encourage them to come forward if they feel they have what it takes to replace him. And he will gladly subject himself to an election and accept their verdict.
Personally, I vouch for the great work the National Book Council is doing.
I’ve worked closely with them on various paid campaigns, as well as for the launch of our Daniel Holmes book. I found the whole team to be professional, organised and purpose-driven. And it shows in their work. Plus, Camilleri gave a huge contribution to writers and artists in general with his campaign against censorship.
I remember being told the same things about Justyne Caruana when she was forced to resign. And as someone who always felt we didn’t have enough women in Cabinet, I accepted Abela’s decision to reappoint her after she left her husband. I felt it was an affirmative action in favour of much-needed diversity in decision making.
And even though one could question her suitablity for the role of Education Minister, perhaps her call to invite Mark Camilleri to rethink his position was an educated and educational one.
Yes, maybe our Education Minister should demand better language and behaviour from a public official.
I don’t care if others do worse. It’s ok for us and our Minister to demand better, even from good people like Mark Camilleri.
And it’s a precedent I’m glad she set because I expect that behaviour to now be carried into the rest of her term.
But I can also understand Mark Camilleri’s frustration about the Prime Minister’s threat to the Public Inquiry who is insisting they conclude their work immediately.
It must have been especially infuriating for Camilleri to see Abela’s actions defended by Yorgen Fenech’s lawyer, showing an uncomfortable alignment between the state and the journalist’s murder suspect – which is what the whole inquiry is trying to establish in the first place.
Which once again casts a spotlight and brings into question Justyne Caruana’s position due to her uncomfortable closeness with the suspect. Suddenly her asking Camilleri to resign is not above suspicion.
This is why clearly compromised politicians should not hold public office even if there is a limited talent pool.
But perhaps foul-mouthed chairmen of book councils is something we can live with…
Unless, of course, there’s someone better for the job.
Which is why I agree with Mark Camilleri’s mature decision to hold a contest and let his members decide, rather than a compromised politician.
It also shows that perhaps he is the right man for the job.
He’s foulmouthed and brash, and he makes mistakes, but he takes good decisions when it counts.
Maybe we need more political appointees like Mark Camilleri.
At the very least, it’s refreshing to see someone speak truth to power – even if he did it in an uncouth Marxist asshole way.
Just as it was refreshing to see him call out the mafia state when so few other left-leaning academics and thought leaders had the courage to do the same.
Malta would be in a much better position if truth was spoken to power earlier.
One last thing. Last month Mark Camilleri got Alfred Sant and Salman Rushdie to debate each other at the National Book Festival.
If someone thinks they can beat that, bring it!
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