The State's duty is to protect rights, not violate them through informal agents
01 March 2023
The Maltese State has a positive obligation to uphold and protect the fundamental right to freedom of association, freedom of assembly, and freedom of expression. Yet, an agent of the executive branch of the State is attacking a protestor for exercising those very rights and freedoms.
On Monday evening, protestors gathered outside parliament, outraged at the fraudulent deal between the Government of Malta and Vitals Global Healthcare, and later with Steward Health Care, which has syphoned off several hundred million euros in public funds.
Following the protest, Matthew Bongailas, a self-declared “proud member of Prime Minister Robert Abela’s team” in the ruling party’s 2020 leadership contest, singled out a protestor and identified him and his restaurant in a Facebook post that included the protestor’s photograph. In a chilling parallel with the campaign by the ruling party against Daphne Caruana Galizia (see page 350), Bongailas’s post triggered a string of insults to the protestor and calls to boycott his restaurant.
Bongailas, a self-declared “proud member of Prime Minister Robert Abela’s team” in the ruling party’s 2020 leadership contest, is the beneficiary of around €2 million in public funds through 15 direct orders unfairly awarded over the span of a few months by the government agency, Infrastructure Malta.
The threatened boycott triggered by Bongailas’s post has produced a backlash by the well-intentioned who are promising to patronise the restaurant. However, the protection of rights should not be left to market forces or the dynamics of social media. Protestors should be free to rally behind banners of their choosing to voice their opinion about government malfeasance without fear of reprisal. The duty to protect that freedom rests with the State, including the executive headed by the prime minister.