Dr Ian Ellul

The General Election is beckoning, with important variants of SARS-CoV-2 serving as backdrop. In keeping with this, for this issue I considered it opportune to interview HE Dr George Vella, the President of the Republic of Malta. This, for two reasons.

The first point may be aptly illustrated by an excerpt from Woody Allen’s 1977 romantic-comedy movie, Annie Hall. Two elderly women are at a mountain resort, and one of them says, “… the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one replies, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.” How can one complain about the food but want a bigger portion?

In my opinion, such dichotomy, regretfully characterises our endemic parochial mentality, which we have all experienced since we were very young. A fitting example is the festa partiti. The latter has been meticulously detailed by the Dutch anthropologist Prof. Jeremy Boissevain back in 1964.1 The upcoming election will invariably add its fair share of national acrimony due to the polarization which exists in relation to the main political parties; apart from partisan divisions, of course.

This attitude means that when one’s tunnel vision is effectively translated into actions, this may cause conflict and consequentially, harm, whether intended or not. It thus seems that national unity is a can which has repeatedly been kicked down the road for several decades.

In my opinion, through his regular interventions on the matter, HE Dr Vella seems to epitomize a nation’s overdue struggle for unity. The President’s Office’s endeavours have been crystallized through the National Unity Conference held on 27 February 2021. The purpose of the event was to bring together civil society at large and possibly pin down the cornerstones of nationhood … strong political will, identification of mutual goals, and mutual respect. The decision to avoid inviting politicians is commendable. After all, one of the politician’s principal duties is to listen. Period.

The second reason for including such interview is that HE Dr Vella experienced the twin peaks of politics and medicine, being a hardened politician and also, a seasoned family doctor. This is of particular relevance in today’s world, which is challenged and equally overshadowed by COVID-19. Indeed, politics and public health are known to be terrible bedfellows. Nonetheless during these past twelve months we have experienced a unique balancing act aimed at reconciling these seemingly dichotomous fields.

It is way too easy to criticize any decisions taken by the government to surf the pandemic waves amidst the different variants which are sprouting in different regions in the world. Here, we are still experiencing the influence of social media and the rifts which it can generate.

The President’s Office has an important role to play since HE Dr Vella’s political acumen offers a valid tool in the art of kintsugi. Again here, the strife for national unity should serve as antidote for the puerile tit-for-tat attitudes of the main political parties. The perceived management of COVID-19, including obviously enforcement, at a national level has not helped at all, with all its subtle percolations.

Then there is also Malta’s post-COVID recovery, where we will all cross the river by feeling the stones. Nonetheless, it is utterly useless for the government to have a postCOVID strategy but then stop short of collaborating with champions such as worker union leaders, within health and beyond. Of note here are the numerous industrial actions which have been initiated, with some still ongoing, within the health sector by the various unions.

It is a shame that these industrial actions within the health sector have been craftily kindled and incessantly bellowed during the pandemic. I ask, who is to blame? The various healthcare professional sectors by any presumptuous demands? Or the government by its inherent inertia on specific issues? Can, however, the blame rest on specific union leader zealots? In reality, I do not know; possibly it is a cornucopia of these and many other issues which I cannot comprehend. What I do know, however, is that it is way too easy to pass the buck around. In my opinion this clearly shows how easy it is for key opinion leaders to rise in profile to the detriment of one’s gravity. Sadly, it is the patient who ultimately suffers the brunt of our actions as healthcare professionals.

As you know very well, there is no yellow-brick road to national unity, Mr President … believe me, I do not envy your position.


  1. Boissevain J. Factions, Parties, and Politics in a Maltese Village. American Anthropologist 1964;66(6):1275- 1287. Retrieved April 13, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/667987