Minor footnote to 1980s talks

Much has been written about the meetings between Dom Mintoff and Guido de Marco prior to 1987 on finding ways in which to solve the constitutional crisis resulting from the 1981 perverse electoral results.

During these meetings Mintoff and de Marco undoubtedly also discussed various other matters as they considered appropriate. At one point, I too formed part of their agenda.

It was early in October 1984 and I was carrying out duties of architect and civil engineer at the then Public Works Department. Called to the office of the director, I was informed that, in view of my articles published in newspapers of the Nationalist Party, my employment was being terminated forthwith.

Being without a job was further compounded by the fact that the then Labour government had also withheld my professional warrant.

I initiated human rights proceedings claiming that my right to freedom of expression and protection from discrimination on political grounds had been breached by the Director of Public Works and his minister, Lorry Sant.

The first session of the court case was fixed for early November 1984. Witnesses were heard and submissions made.

Some time in April or May 1985, de Marco called to tell me that he had a message for me from Mintoff. My dismissal from the Public Works Department had cropped up in one of his meetings with Mintoff who had suggested that he would be prepared to take me on board as a civil engineer on the Freeport project, then under his wings and in its early stages.

However, this proposal was subject to the conditions that I had to halt legal proceedings against Sant and, in addition, I had to bind myself not to write any more articles in newspapers.

My response was a clear no.

We met a second time at the request of de Marco, presumably as Mintoff was pressing for an answer. But I did not budge. In view of my refusal, the message was relayed through two alternative routes. De Marco had asked two high-ranking PN officials to persuade me to compromise. Fortunately, they fully understood my position and did not press the matter any further.

On June 27, 1985, just weeks after receiving Mintoff’s message, the case was decided by Mr Justice Joseph Filletti. He concluded that my freedom of expression and my right not to be discriminated against on political grounds were breached by the Director of Public Works. The director, the court ruled, had to shoulder administrative responsibility for the happenings in his department on his own.

Mr Justice Filletti had exonerated the minister!

Subsequent to Mr Justice Filletti’s decision I received a phone call that a senior army officer attached to Mintoff’s office at Kalafrana wanted to speak to me.

I clearly remember that it was an August afternoon in 1985 when I called at his office. This army officer, eventually a colonel, told me that I should not count my chickens yet because, while I had a favourable first decision from the law courts, it was inevitable that it would be reversed on appeal.

He prodded me to accept Mintoff’s proposal and stop legal proceedings. I told the colonel that I had already refused the proposal and that I had no intention of changing my mind.

In the meantime, the Constitutional Court had fixed dates for hearings of the appeals submitted. I myself had submitted an appeal because, in my view, the minister should have been found responsible together with the director for breach of human rights. Proof had been submitted that the instructions for my dismissal had been issued by the minister himself.

The Constitutional Court decided the case on January 29, 1986. It concluded that Sant had, in fact, issued the instructions for my dismissal himself. It further acknowledged that proof of the minister’s direct involvement had been submitted through the evidence of various witnesses.

The Constitutional Court decided that both Sant and the director were responsible for political discrimination.

As to freedom of expression, the Constitutional Court reversed the first court’s decision and concluded that those in public employment sign away their rights of freedom of expression. By accepting public employment, the Constitutional Court held that you renounce your freedom of expression.

As it turned out, it seems that the colonel was most probably bluffing after all.

It was clear to me that Mintoff was trying to find a way out for Sant.

When my name cropped up in the de Marco-Mintoff talks it seems that I was considered as a pawn that could be easily sacrificed in the quest for the larger prize.

Fortunately, matters developed differently in this minor footnote to the de Marco/Mintoff talks.

published in The Times (Malta) 8th September 2012