Why I disagree (and agree) with Occupy Justice

Following the assassination of Mrs Daphne Caruana Galizia last year, pressure groups surfaced in Malta to help expose corruption. #OccupyJustice is one of them, perhaps the most active. While I applaud their rationale, I beg to differ on one crucial point.

I

Occupy Justice (I’m dropping the ‘#’ for readability’s sake) has one simple aim – they want ‘to see justice prevail’. I doubt anyone disagrees with that statement.

Who wants less justice?

They’ve done great work since last October. They targeted the Government for its lack of transparency in the face of the allegations that surfaced over the past few years.

One memorable campaign of theirs was when they mirrored the film ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’. They plastered messages around the island overnight in a slick advertising campaign. The one which caught my eye is elegant in its simplicity:

No resignations. No justice – Malta

I can only shake my head at this one, Occupy Justice, even as I support your message.

I don’t agree with this.

I can’t.

I know what you’re thinking.

How can I agree and support them while disagreeing with one of their main points?

II

The government has serious allegations it should answer. The most important ones refer to allegations of money laundering, embezzlement, and conflicts of interest.

Despite multiple allegations of multiple crimes, no one in Malta’s government resigned

In each case, no one resigned and life continued in Malta. Foreigners are shocked at the public’s complacency because this would not be tolerated in other countries. In other countries, no matter which way one votes, one calls for resignations in the face of such accusations. And gets them. (Speak to the Slovakians or the New Zealanders7 for 2 examples)

Life in Malta is too polarised for that to happen, so it doesn’t. Government ministers know they can continue in office without fear of reprimand.

That’s not good.

If they did resign though, we will not get any justice. A resignation will allow the accused to defend themselves. An investigation will follow, as will a court case. The result of the court case will be justice.

The resignation will not mean justice, no matter how you try to think of it.

This is why I disagree with Occupy Justice. It shouldn’t be “No resignations. No Justice.” It should be “Resignations. Then justice.”

I’ve tried explaining this before and the reaction always was an incredulous, “But why should they resign? Aren’t they supposed to be innocent before proven guilty?”

III

My reaction to that is an incredulous, “Exactly.”

I’m not asking for a resignation because I think the person is guilty. I’m asking for a resignation to find out if the person is guilty.

Let’s look at Andrew Mitchell, chief whip for British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government. On 19 September 2012, he was in a hurry for an engagement and grabbed his bicycle as he left 10 Downing Street. He tried to cycle out of the main gate but police officers on guard insisted he dismount and use the pedestrian entrance. Mitchell argued with PC Toby Rowland and, according to Rowland, said, “Best learn your fucking place. You don’t run this fucking government. You’re fucking plebs.”

A media storm erupted and Mitchell resigned a month later. He denied using those words and denied calling the police officers ‘plebs’. (As insults go, this is not the worst insult you can use but in class-sensitive Britain it hits a nerve.)

When resigning Mitchell carefully explained, “it has become clear to me that whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter I will not be able to fulfill my duties […] Nor is it fair to continue to put my family and colleagues through this upsetting and damaging publicity”.

Faced with serious allegations, you shouldn’t continue to hold public office

It took a few months before evidence surfaced that perhaps Mitchell was telling the truth. CCTV footage backed up his version of events.

This shows what should happen in such a situation. Faced with a serious allegation of the sort, Mitchell could not continue to hold public office. Faced with a serious allegation of the sort, he put his nearest and dearest under great scrutiny. Resignation gave him the ability to get out of the public eye, and fight his fight.

This is what I expect in Malta. Resign, fight your battles and return a hero, if you’re innocent.

This is key: Resignation is not your punishment. You should resign to prove your innocence.

Resign. Resign to be able to show you’re innocent.

Do you see why I disagree with Occupy Justice?

IV

Alas, I fear Occupy Justice have now painted themselves into a corner.

If they get their resignations, it doesn’t mean justice of any sort. Resigning is not enough to find out if these allegations are true or not. A full investigation and a proper independent trial will give us justice.

But that doesn’t fit on a billboard.

V

I think the relevant Ministers and people involved should resign. They should take the chance to prove their innocence. They should stop polluting government and the news with these allegations.

I don’t know if they’re innocent, and neither do you.

This is why I simultaneously agree and disagree with #OccupyJustice

Maybe they are. Maybe they’re not.

I’ll let the courts decide.

But if they realise they can obey a pithy slogan, deny us justice and shut their opponents up, we may end up in a worse situation.

Conclusion: Be careful what you wish for, Occupy Justice.

References

  1. About #Occupy Justice; Occupy Justice Facebook Page; (Retrieved 2018-05-31)
  2. Three billboards, one banner mark four months since Caruana Galizia’s murder; The Times of Malta; 2018-02-16
  3. Schembri and Mizzi’s potential money-laundering red flags; Jacob Borg; The Times of Malta; 2018-05-27
  4. ‘Corruption’ flat on sale in spite of court order freezing transfer of property; Ivan Camilleri and Claire Caruana; The Times of Malta; 2018-03-11
  5. PM refusing to tell Parliament aide’s business interests; Jacob Borg; The Times of Malta; 2018-03-05
  6. Slovak PM quits after journalist’s murder but coalition stays in power; Tatiana Jancarikova; Reuters.com; 2018-03-15
  7. I’m the victim of a smear campaign: Judith Collins resigns; New Zealand Herald; 2014-08-30
  8. Police log reveals details of Andrew Mitchell’s ‘pleb’ rant; Robert Winnett; The Telegraph; 2012-09-24
  9. Mitchell resigns over ‘plebgate’; Channel 4 News; 2012-10-19
  10. Andrew Mitchell resignation letter in full; BBC News; 2012-10-19
  11. CCTV casts doubt on account of Andrew Mitchell exchange; Channel 4 News; 2012-12-18

All references were valid and correct when this article was published. Changes to referenced websites or web pages may render some references invalid. If this is the case, please leave a comment below.

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