Roamer attacks MAM again (31st July) - 31/7/2005

link to article in The TIMES

Roamer's Column
Drugs and drunks
That the drug scene in Malta continues to thrive is borne out by the supply to meet the demand for it on the street. Six and a half kilos of cocaine discovered on a container packed with spare parts confirms that there are users out there urgently waiting for their killer habit. As it confirms, of course, a supply network that is dealing in hundreds of thousands of Maltese liri to bring the stuff into the island. A street price of half a million liri was being banded about.

Coming as this haul did, hard on the heels of seven kilos of heroin, nabbed a few weeks ago by the police, it remains abundantly clear that the price of victory in the war on drugs is eternal vigilance, and then some more. This means that we should acknowledge these and other impressive hits by our police force. The pre-emptive decision to make arrests before the drugs can be traced up the hierarchical structure is something else again.

It has been some time since statistics were published to give us the true measure of the drug scene in Malta. An annual comparative study of what has happened in Malta since, say, 1964 (if records go that far back) would be enlightening and help to give us an idea of how well the police are faring, the size of the market (consumers) and the money required by pushers and their suppliers to service a market of habitual users and so-called experimenters. It would give us a clearer picture of whether the war is being won.

Perhaps the police, Sedqa, our rehab units and all the organisations involved in mitigating the spread and use of drugs could get together and publish just such a study: numbers by gender, their age, prison sentences (if any), whether the habit became crime-inducing (to support their intake), the users' social background, educational standard - the aim should be to provide a profile.

The drama of drugs may well stay with us for a long time. Merchants of death exist to make sure it will. Young men and women keen on new experiences will, once they are hooked - and it takes little time for that stage to be reached - continue to fuel demand, even though many of them had friends who left this world because of one high too high. There is something unbelievable about mourning one day and trudging off the morning after for their daily 'bread', perhaps for an appointment with death.

It is almost 20 years since Boy George admitted his addiction to cocaine ("He simply couldn't handle it," was the judgment among his peers). Before then, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jimmi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, to name but four, had already kept their absurd rendezvous with death. The rock scene is packed with mind-blown role models.

How much these influenced the local scene and continue to do so cannot, in all probability, be accurately established; perhaps our home-grown addicts are not so much imitators of the 'music' scene as young men and women who started off with a peer complex ("my friends do it, why can't I?" And not forgetting, of course, straight from the horse's song: "It's my life and I do what I wan'"; Sure, man) only to discover they had embarked on the agony and the ecstasy - and could not disembark.

And as if the scourge of drugs were not enough, there is disturbing evidence that our under-sixteens are shrivelling their tender livers with alcohol. The future becomes more fraught.

Oh, dear
Apparently, I 'have done it again'! The President of the Medical Association of Malta has written to the editor, reacting furiously to my piece about the MAM losing its marbles. I am charged with jumping to conclusions, regurgitating government's statements, providing "garbage in, garbage out" material, repeating the same old arguments, being anti-MAM when it tried to improve doctors' pay three years ago, taking a pro-government stance now "but using exactly opposite arguments". MAM presidents in the past were not wont to be so hysterical.

The current holder of the post does not acknowledge that he erred by a third when he went public and put Mr Manché's salary at Lm45,000 net of tax. He does not inform readers why it has taken him and his association ten years to cotton on to Mr Manché's "discriminatory" earnings (perhaps because Mr Manché's contract is up for review?), why, if the government is breaking Maltese law, the association has not hauled it before the Courts before now, why he deliberately missed out on the fact that nowhere in my contribution was there a single word to suggest that other specialists should not earn a commensurate salary (although there may be a financial case to be made against, and a question to be asked: how many of them would like to be limited to a Lm35,000 packet and disallowed the benefits of private practice?).

Why he ignored altogether my reference to the corrupt practice of some doctors to levy a disgusting charge of Lm35 for a home/hotel visit in daylight and my suggestion that MAM would have been better advised to discover why such a fee was levied.

My crime was to sing Mr Manché's praises and praise his attitude to service. I plead guilty. Of course, once the cardiac unit at St James's hospital is up and running, Mr Manché may well be tempted to go there and earn many times his present salary. But here I may be jumping the gun, jumping to conclusions and providing more "garbage in, garbage out" material.

One last remark. Let me be kind and say that Dr Fava's recall is faulty when he writes: "However, when MAM had a dispute with government some three years ago over this very issue (doctors' salaries and conditions) Roamer took a pro-government, anti-MAM stance". If he is referring to the shindig between MAM and government towards the end of 2001, let me refresh his memory. Then I wrote:

"What is at issue is not whether MAM's demands are reasonable as to whether this reason extends to the directives that the Association ordered, last week (December, 2001). Understandable though the Association's irritation may be, it remains the fact that the public has no evidence at all as to what is being demanded in terms of better pay and conditions. There is no evidence as to what Government has been prepared to offer, if anything.

There is no evidence as to where the sticking points are. Given all this, one would have thought that before issuing a single directive, MAM should have taken its case somewhere, anywhere - to an industrial tribunal, to mediation - anywhere at this moment in time except where it affects any patient.

"It must be galling that workers in other sectors, the dry-docks for example, are molly-coddled, but doctors are... a special breed... By this I do not mean that they do not fight for whatever is theirs by negotiated rights, but that they do so in a more responsible manner, in a manner that continues to place the patient before all else. This places on Government the duty of seeing to the doctors' demands and informing the public what its reactions to them are - and why these are what they are."

As to the remark that "now Roamer is again taking a pro-government stance but using exactly opposite arguments", I scoured the piece for hours and found not a single pro-government utterance in last Sunday's contribution. Unless Dr Fava is referring to another occasion, which I have been unable to dredge from the recesses of the computer's innards, there is a four-letter word that fits him to a 't'. I will refrain from using it.

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