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EXPRESS OPINION: Trust is being eroded

EXPRESS OPINION: Trust is being eroded

Thursday 21 January 2021

EXPRESS OPINION: Trust is being eroded

In a year made up of a succession of defining moments, tonight’s media briefing – given once again by the ‘front three’ of Le Fondré, Renouf and Muscat – looks set to stand out.

It comes just 24 hours after the latest release of STAC (the Government’s scientific advisory committee) minutes, which ripped away the last vestiges of cover from the go-to political redoubt of 2020: “We are just following medical advice.”

No - not (we now learn) according to the medics. It has always been a troubling position. If the politicians are just doing exactly what they have been advised to do by the medics, exactly what value are they adding? 

Clearly, their true role is to balance the different responsibilities that their offices encompass, of which health (albeit of major importance in a pandemic) is one. 

That balancing of varying interests is the day-to-day grist to the political mill. 

But that’s not what we have, repeatedly, been told. The position taken by senior Ministers, when challenged on the wisdom of covid controls, has been that they were following medical advice. 

Which deflects criticism - right up to the point when it becomes clear that it’s not always correct. Today.

John Le Fondré Migration conference.jpeg 

Pictured: the Chief Minister will Chair the next public media briefing this evening. 

It would be naïve to argue that in the new world of covid, there are always (perhaps, ever) obviously ‘right’ answers; for nearly a year we have been stumbling in a place when certainties have been eroded, where ‘definites’ have become hidden, and where only judgement remains. 

It is a confusing place, and one where fear spreads more quickly than covid itself; a place where the orgy of opinion scratches out clarity; a place where it is only the charlatans who claim certain knowledge of the best road ahead. 

In that place, trust is our touchstone. The real issue here is that trust is being steadily eroded. It is only through the STAC minutes (which we only have, as Deputy Pamplin forced their publication, and then had to push again for the decision to be implemented) that we learn of the genuine conflicts which were swirling through government policy, at a time when case numbers (and the number of people who had died) were hitting unwanted highs.

As has been said in this column before, something happened last November which kicked December infections into new territory, and it wasn’t just one hotel party. The STAC minutes begin to shed light on the truth of that period, and more details will now emerge. 

Muscat Exponential Boxing

Pictured: STAC minutes show mounting concern about the case numbers through the final months of last year. The above graphic is from a Government media briefing. 

But it is the way they are emerging which is eroding trust. In a similar way, we learnt of the departure of the Government’s Chief Statistician only following an investigation by this publication.

We learnt that it was the departing Chief Executive who authorised the media statement wrongly attributing senior political approval to his extra role, only following an FoI request. 

The strand that ties those disparate examples together is that the way information is needing to be painstakingly extracted on these important issues, colours the way it is then received. 

When the media repeatedly queried the rapidly escalating case numbers through December, we were told by Ministers (and their outriders amongst the Twitterati) that the problem was being over-stated, it was just that we were testing more people compared to other jurisdictions. 

Well, yes...apart from as it now becomes clear, as Dr Muscat MBE himself pointed out to STAC at the time, the test numbers included multiple results for the same person. So, while an important point, it’s not quite the ‘defence’ that was being claimed. 

Senior Ministers may have made the right calls on the restrictions in the festive period, and the recently falling case numbers will certainly be seized on to promote that view.

But amidst the miasma of caveats, equivocations, deflections and waffle, even the correct path later appears to have been misguided. 

Trust, you see. It is the only true political capital there is. 

Read more Express analysis from the latest collection of STAC minutes…

Government didn’t seek scientific advice on initial Christmas guidance

Scientific advisers raised concerns weeks ahead of care home covid spike

Revealed: Ministers' bid to reopen hospitality in December

“More testing does not mean more people being tested”

Top pandemic medic disagreed with Ministers' travel relaxations

Fears over sales crowds contributed to non-essential retail closure

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