Interview | Sunday, 04 April 2010

Bookmark and Share

Airstrips, antennas and abortions

Equally passionate about defending the Gozitan environment as defending traditional values, Justyne Cutajar represents a counterweight to Labour’s latest promise to ‘consider an airstrip’ in Gozo, while also putting spokes in the wheels of Joseph Muscat’s free vote on divorce

Justyne Caruana’s latest proposal, presented in parliament’s Social Affairs Committee, has irked the sensibilities of those who (like myself) feel that the abortion issue is being pushed down our collective throats.
Basically, she suggested creating a legal mechanism which would allow husbands to stop their wives from performing an abortion: a plan immediately shot down by family lawyers and women’s rights associations as ‘impractical’ and ‘extremist’.
But as soon as I raise this issue, Caruana immediately points out that she has been ‘misunderstood’. Her intention, she insists, is not to stop women from travelling abroad, but that of giving husbands legal recourse to stop their estranged wives from having an abortion, irrespective if this is performed in Malta or abroad.
“There are cases where women have threatened an abortion if the husband does not accommodate their demands in separation cases. My concern is to ensure that in these rare cases and circumstances the husband can protect the unborn child.”
Caruana insists that in such cases the husband should have a right to issue a warrant of prohibitory injunction “to stop the wife from performing an abortion”, and not to stop her from traveling abroad.
She makes it clear that she is not inventing the wheel pointing out that Article 170 of the Civil Code speaks of a “kuratur ad ventrem” to protect the unborn child’s inheritance rights.
Caruana wants to apply the same principle to protect the interests of the unborn child in separation procedures.
“In this context despite the women being pregnant, it is currently impossible to discuss issues directly affecting the unborn child such as parental access and maintenance.”
In the same way, according to Caruana, this legal procedure can be used to protect the unborn child’s life through a warrant of injunction.
She points out that this mechanism has already been used in a case where a father represented by present Labour Deputy Leader Toni Abela managed to stop a woman from travelling abroad to prevent an abortion.
But would this not violate the women’s freedom of movement, which is protected by EU laws and the Charter of Human Rights?
Caruana insists that since “the warrant of prohibitory injunction will be issued to prevent abortion, which is a crime in Malta,” this would still be a legitimate instrument.
What if the woman rejects the paternity claim made by the husband seeking a warrant of prohibitory injunction against her?
Caruana points out that in our legal system there is a presumption that children conceived in wedlock are held to be the children of the mother’s husband.
“Any declaration by the wife that the husband is not the father is not sufficient to exclude paternity. Therefore such declaration must be sustained by evidence in court.”
But is it not ironic that the Labour Party’s spokesperson on equality is proposing measures which can be seen as reinforcing male authority over women?
Caruana turns the tables, arguing that it does not make sense to encourage fathers to contribute more to family life by taking parental leave to enable women to continue their careers while excluding them from fundamental decisions regarding the future of the unborn child.
“This is like shooting ourselves in the foot. Either we promote a culture which makes fathers more responsible, or we send a message that fathers should be excluded.”
But should not women be sovereign over their own bodies?
Caruana is taken aback by this question, which embodies the whole spirit of postwar Western feminism.
“Let’s make it clear that, for me, abortion is wrong in all circumstances. It is inconceivable for me that a woman contemplates abortion.”
I express my concern that, by making it more difficult for women to perform a safe and legal abortion abroad, the risk of dangerous backstreet abortions being performed in Malta would increase. It might also be the case that abortion is still not an issue in Malta because the problem it exported abroad.
“What guarantee do we have that abortions are not taking place here already?” Caruana interjects.
While she expresses strong views against abortion, Caruana disagrees with the thesis that the introduction of divorce would pave the way for the introduction of abortion, as claimed by the Church hierarchy.
“I do not see a link. Both are sensitive subjects, but there is a profound difference between the two. Abortion is murder. Divorce is a way of terminating an important bond.”
On the subject of divorce: Joseph Muscat has undertaken a commitment, if elected Prime Minister, to present a divorce bill and give a free vote to his MPs. Caruana has already made it clear that she would vote against.
“I disagree because we are hardly coping with annulments and separations. With the introduction of divorce we will face even greater problems. Let’s address the problems we have today, before considering something else.”
Caruana regrets that the divorce question is being politicised and condemns the fact that those advocating divorce are being demonised.
Is she taking this conservative stance because Gozo is a conservative constituency?
“This is absolutely not the case. I am married to a Maltese. I studied and lived in Malta for quite some time even after I graduated to exercise my profession. It has more to do with my sense of family values and the way I was brought up.”
While on moral issues she is in synch with the more conservative Gozitans, her denunciation of clientalism seems to go against the grain of small island politics. She despises the “notorious system of clientelism.” But is clientelism a way of life in Gozo, and don’t people get the politicians they deserve? .
“Gozitans were not like this in the past. It was only in last 20 years that they have been reduced to this.”
Echoing the slogan coined by Michael Frendo in the 1980s – “drittijiet mhux pjaciri” – Caruana contends that clientelism has become endemic in Gozo because of lack of distinction between rights and favours.
“When Gozitans are granted something which is theirs by right, they are often given the impression that they are being granted a favour for which they should remain obliged. There is a system through which people need the intervention of politicians to get something from a government department. I am totally against this way of treating people.”
Clientelism has also aggravated the economic crisis facing Gozo. “When businessmen, even local ones, try to invest in Gozo, they face a number of hurdles and costs. This is aggravated during a time of recession. The consequence of this is fewer job openings and deteriorating conditions of work. This has repercussions on workers’ rights and the wellbeing of families. I am not the only one saying this. Even Gozo Bishop Mario Grech is speaking about this in very clear terms.”
To redress the situation Caruana proposes a reassessment of the Gozo Ministry’s role. According to Caruana, decisions affecting Gozo are still taken in Malta, with the Ministry for Gozo being involved in a token manner.
“The Ministry is involved in practically every nook and cranny but when it comes to the crux of the matters it has no real power, the Ministry should be the focal point were decisions effecting Gozo are taken”.
In the past the Labour Party was quite sceptical about having a Minister for Gozo and under both Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici and Alfred Sant Gozo affairs fell under a parliamentary secretary working directly under the Prime Minister. But over the past years, the Labour Party has accepted the need for a separate Ministry.
According to Caruana, the most important thing is that Gozo is given full attention. She even credits former Nationalist Minister Anton Tabone for dedicating full attention to Gozo: something which reflected positively on the lives of Gozitans. “When Anton Tabone was Minister the situation was much better than today.”
One thing for sure: as far as Caruana is concerned the role of the Gozo Minister should not be that dispensing favours to constituents.
Moving from one controversy to another: the Gozo Business Chamber has for years been proposing an airstrip as a panacea for the island’s double insularity. Recently Labour’s spokesperson on planning, Roderick Galdes, also announced that the development of an airstrip was one of the options a Labour government would consider to ensure better connectivity between Malta and Gozo.
In what seemed an attempt to please business without alienating the green lobby, he qualified his party’s stand by adding that any decision will take into account “economic, social and environmental considerations.”
Caruana insists that she cannot pronounce herself in favour of such a project in the absence of socio-economic and environmental studies.
“I do not feel comfortable expressing myself in favour of the project before I put my mind at rest that these aspects are considered. One should not exclude anything. But one should not automatically say yes.”
Caruana makes it clear that her constituency is not keen on having an airstrip on their doorstep.
“Before we pronounce ourselves on this issue we should take note of what these people are saying… I am very close to the people of Xewkija, who already feel the burden of hosting a waste service station and most industrial development in Gozo. They have become Gozo’s dumping site.”
She also expresses concern that an airstrip would also require a lot of infrastructure in an archeologically and ecologically rich area.
“What will happen to the cart ruts and the Mgarr ix-Xini valley?” she asks.
Caruana also expresses doubts on whether an airstrip would be compatible with the whole idea of Eco-Gozo: a concept that she claims has failed to materialise, to her disappointment.
“The Eco-Gozo document presented in the budget includes proposals which should have been in place long ago, and which are badly needed, but have no relation to the Eco-Gozo I expected.”
“I thought that this would involve a complete revamp of sustainable development in Gozo. But I asked myself, is it possible to reconcile this concept with the pressures exercised by speculators behind unsustainable projects like Ramla, Hondoq ir-Rummien…”
She also refers to the structure earmarked for a restaurant disguised as an interpretation centre in Dwejra.
“This is nothing but a monstrosity. How can we promote Dwejra as world heritage site when we ruin it by allowing such a large concrete mass? How can we allow a such a structure in an area which contains no permanent structure apart from the boathouses?”
Caruana believes that Gozitans are becoming more aware of environmental issues.
“When one looks at how Xlendi and Marsalforn have been transformed one realises that we cannot continue on the same path. People are understanding that future generations stand to lose from environmental degradation.”
One of the issues raised by Caruana in a number of parliamentary questions is the proliferation of mobile phone antennas. Recently, this issue was also discussed by parliament’s Social Affairs Committee.
Caruana is concerned that all one needs to set an antenna is a simple Development Notification Order from MEPA.
“It is true that the Communications Authority establishes standards regarding emissions. But what is happening is that instead of one antenna, one finds as many as three antennas on the same block or road. The MCA measures the emissions from each antenna separately ignoring the fact that these should be multiplied according to the number of antennas found in such a limited space.”
She makes it clear that she is not a medical expert but expresses concern on scientific literature furnished by experts at the Social Affairs Committee that links exposure to radiation from these antenna to a decline in fertility and other diseases.
In Gozo, Labour’s support in the general elections between 1971 and 2008 had always hovered between 40% and 46%. The party’s aspirations for a Gozitan victory have always been undermined by the traditional supremacy of the Nationalist Party on the sister island.
But with the notable exception of 1987 (when it lost government), Labour always ended up winning the general elections when it secured more than 45% of the Gozitan vote. Caruana concurs with the view that general elections are won and lost in Gozo.
“I believe in this a lot. In the counting hall one always needs to see how things are going in Gozo to see how a party is faring.”
In the 2008 general election Labour won 42.9% of the Gozitan vote – an increase of two percentage points over its 2003 tally. Caruana still considers this shift as a very significant one.
“I am personally satisfied. This was a result of the collective efforts we made.”
But given the very narrow margin between the two parties in last general election, Caruana, while accepting the outcome of the electoral result, still has lingering doubts about the electoral process.
She substantiates her unease, claiming that 100 votes had vanished from her pigeonhole.
“I never said this before. When they counted my first-count votes, I had around 3,300. I went for a coffee as I was very tired. When I returned, two packets of 50 votes were missing. I am not crazy… I saw all my packets with my own eyes and the others who were there with me also saw them and we counted all the packets together with the commission, because there is a sort of ritual whereby each packet is counted in a chorus-like manner”.
Caruana has reported this incident to the Electoral Commission.
“I asked for an explanation and they told me that they had made a mistake and realised about it at reconciliation stage. When I complained, they promised to write an apology for this mistake, but they have never sent anything.”
While doubting that this was indeed a mistake, as she insists on having seen the votes which were later deleted from her tally, Caruana does not attribute any political motivation for this incident. But she contends that this was not the first time something like this happened in the Gozo district.
“I clearly remember that in my very first experience in the electoral process, as a sub delegate for my party in local elections, votes for Labour candidate Paul Attard were put in the pigeonhole of a Nationalist candidate with the same surname.”
She acknowledges that the vote counting process is a tedious one both for those following and those counting the votes, but she is sure that if votes are re-opened many mistakes would emerge.
How can Labour win next time round?
“We are already convincing people... many people feel betrayed by broken pre-electoral promises”.
But won’t the Nationalists promise the same things again? Caruana acknowledges that despite being promised the same things before every election some voters do no not lose hope.
“The greatest misfortune of politics is that the most vulnerable people end up being the most gullible.”
But Caruana is convinced that people are suffering so much now that they won’t be fooled again by PN in three years’ time.
“It is not just the recession, because Gozo has been in decline long before that. Hotels, factories and businesses have been closing down, and working conditions deteriorating, long before the recession.”

Any comments?
If you wish your comments to be published in our Letters pages please click button below.
Please write a contact number and a postal address where you may be contacted.



Download MaltaToday Sunday issue front page in pdf file format

Download the MaltaToday newspaper advertising rates in PDF format


Serving God and Mammon

MT Surveys


We asked.... Do you know what Vision 2015 is? 89% said ‘no

Labour leads, but Gonzi makes slight recovery

Survey confirms unpopularity of commuting


Who’s the most trusted nanny in Gonzi’s cabinet?

Consumers fishing around for better deals

Robert Arrigo ‘most wanted’ for minister

Cabinet thrives, but Fenech and Gatt hit rock bottom

Bleak times – depression at the Grand Harbour

Budget 2010 – Raise taxes or cut benefits?


So near and yet so different

Only 35% will be taking a holiday this summer

The wiser, grey pound

Shopping in the City

Corned beef? a matter of class

Labour poised for absolute majority

Turnout drops to 79%

Labour Party heading for absolute majority


Copyright © MediaToday Co. Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016, Malta, Europe
Managing editor Saviour Balzan | Tel. ++356 21382741 | Fax: ++356 21385075 | Email