I’m starting out a phone rental for visitors to the Foreign Minister

Published: May 12, 2013 at 8:46pm
No phones allowed

No phones allowed

All visitors, including foreign dignitaries, are being asked to hand over their personal mobile phones to a receptionist before entering Foreign Minister George Vella’s office, The Sunday Times of Malta has learnt.
The spokesman said that this ‘security’ measure was imposed by Dr Vella

This procedure, a first for a Maltese ministry, was introduced as soon as Dr Vella took over Palazzo Parisio in Valletta’s Merchants Street after being appointed minister two months ago.

Ministry insiders told this newspaper the minister took the step because he wanted to ensure he was not covertly recorded during the course of private conversations, even though officially the ministry is citing “security reasons”.

So anybody who visits the Foreign Minister in his Holy of Holies has to surrend his or her smart-phone before being allowed in.

This doesn’t only apply to journalists and other such low-life like us, but also to visiting dignitaries who HE has – by definition – invited to visit him.

This doesn’t smack of good manners, now, does it? You invite somebody to your inner sanctum and immediately relieve them of their smart-phone on the suspicion that they might record you illicitly. It strikes me as being quite rude – insulting, really.

Won’t it breach all manner of things if he does this with ambassadors?

When quizzed about this behaviour, the foreign ministry said that the ban on smartphones applies only to the foreign minister’s actual office and not to the rest of the foreign ministry building.

The spokesman described it as a ‘security measure’ and said that it was the foreign minister who devised it because it is not government policy.

When asked to be more explicit about the ‘security threat’ posed by mobile phones in one office only, the spokesman told The Sunday Times: “It’s up to the minister to decide.”

Apparently, he is afraid of being covertly recorded.

But people were being covertly recorded long before the advent of smartphones. My interview recorder, even 20 years ago, was about the size of a smartphone and could record for an hour. I never used it record anybody covertly, but it seems that some individuals did that kind of thing.

In any case, all this is rude, uncivilised and stupid, and nobody should give in to it. Ambassadors and other visiting dignitaries can do what they think is best, but journalists should protest against this level of paranoia and suspicion and join forces in refusing to interview the foreign minister until he learns how to behave himself.

But if for some reason the Institute of Maltese Journalists has better things to do than organise a joint protest against this kind of shoddy treatment (like protecting the interests of Julia Farrugia, for example, as she sobs in front of a camera or three), then might I suggest a touch of subversion?

Keep a dummy phone, give that to the foreign minister’s minders, and take yours in with you.

42 Comments Comment

  1. ciccio says:

    What exactly is the Minister seeking to hide?

    Surely he is not going to hold private conversations in his office about the use of ice blocks in Maltese embassies around the world? Or some Ambaxxatur Laburist?

  2. ACD says:

    They’ve improved a little since then – http://www.dhgate.com/4gb-shirt-button-camera-30fps-button-hidden/p-ff80808138a2e1760138a7b8fb245e03.html

    He may need to ask visitors to remove their shirts for security purposes.

  3. La Redoute says:

    Jose’ Herrera’s office – the one occupied by Manoel Theatre personnel before he turfed them out – has a similar policy. There is a notice outside saying that no mobile phones are allowed.

    How do they ensure that, I wonder. Do they have someone assigned to patting down visitors and going through their bags and pockets?

  4. QahbuMalti says:

    Try this ….. http://www.hotspygadgets.com/Spy-Pen.html and a myriad of other similar gadgets.

  5. maryanne says:

    What about Vella’s mobile phone? How are we going to be sure that he will not record a conversation himself?

  6. H.P. Baxxter says:

    No need to wait for Wikileaks this time. All diplomatic cables will have George Vella down as a giant twat, and Malta as a North African freedom-fearing backwater. Serves us right for electing this bunch.

  7. canon says:

    Cheeky tongues said that George Vella has a “no mobile” sign near his office.

  8. Mary Anne says:

    “In any case, all this is rude, uncivilised and stupid, and nobody should give in to it. Ambassadors and other visiting dignitaries can do what they think is best, but journalists should protest against this level of paranoia and suspicion and join forces in refusing to interview the foreign minister until he learns how to behave himself.”

    Absolutely! I agree. A journalist worth her/his salt would start the protest straight away.

  9. U Le! says:

    Are the journalists relieved of their tablets too? Are we back to pen and paper? We are in the EU but the mentality of most is still 3rd world. Security, my foot.

  10. Edward says:

    What about an ipad? You can just say that it’s to take notes on because you type faster than you write, and then keep the voice recorder on in the background.

  11. Baldrick says:

    Cunning plan!

    Also, make sure you press the red button!

    I hope that our journalists could devise such an idea…

  12. H.P. Baxxter says:

    Even better:


    Would you have me remove my spectacles too, Ministru? Don’t be rude, Ministru.

    • ciccio says:

      No, just take off those false bushy eyebrows. I know you’re hiding a whole outside broadcasting unit of NET in them.

      • H.P. Baxxter says:

        I don’t advise it, man. Eyebrows are your aerials. They pick up signals from the cosmos, and transmit them directly into the brain. This is the reason men with shaved eyebrows are uptight.

      • ciccio says:

        Oh, so maybe that is why Joseph Muscat appointed Dr. George Vella as Minister of Foreign Affars. Maybe he can maintain contact and bilateral relations with inter-galactic aliens through his bushy eyebrows.

  13. Sufa says:

    IPods can be used to record too, and are not banned, are they?

    • rjc says:

      Exactly my thought. Ban iPods and iPads next, what a sham of a government.

      ‘Trasparenza u Meritokrazija’, they said!

      We’re back to the days when even a simple cordless phone with a range of some 50 metres was illegal (not banned, mind you, illegal, and could land one in jail).

  14. giraffe says:

    George Vella should be advised that the best way to avoid being recorded saying something compromising is not to say something compromising in the first place.

    Acting paranoid does not help his image as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

  15. Sandra Shields says:

    Heard that this has also happened at Manuel Mallia’s ministry

  16. ciccio says:

    When the Foreign Affairs Minister asked Mr. Speaker to hand in his mobile phone before entering the Minister’s office, Mr. Speaker stripped off his tie.


  17. Stephen Borg Fiteni says:

    Exactly. Someone wishing to record the minister covertly could easily hide a recorder (it doesn’t even have to be a smart phone) on his person and just leave his phone at the desk. They’d have to conduct a full body search in order to make sure no one will record the minister.

  18. Phili B says:

    Did it ever occur to them that maybe someone may have ” phones. Unbelievable.

  19. Mike says:

    Transparency they said… maybe we misunderstood what they meant, though.

    What a ludicrous farce.

  20. Stefan Vella says:

    This one looks like a keychain.


    Next stop – body scanner at the Foreign Office.

  21. What? says:

    Mike, you beat me to it. You see, first we had Malta taghna lkoll then Meritocracy now transparancy, besides ethics and spite.

    Wake up, PN, because democracy is again in danger of being bulldozed by the PL. The writing was, and is becoming more clear by the second, on the wall for all to read.

  22. tinnat says:

    If the Minister is afraid of being recorderd, then we have even more of a reason to doubt his integrity.

  23. Just Jack (JJ) says:

    Pobably this ‘policy’ is on to avoid the same thing they were doing before they were elected, that is, recording meetings to have ‘scandals’ to uncover.

  24. MP says:

    If the reason is one of “security” I can maybe come to accept that members of the public are not allowed to enter with their mobile phones.

    But I think that it is offensive to invite somebody to your office for a meeting and then divest him of his telephone, which is a blatant way of saying that you don’t trust him and think he has no integrity.

  25. JMM says:

    In all fairness this is a normal procedure for embassies. Anyone who visits Whitehall Mansions, Ta’ Xbiex should leave their mobile phone with the reception.

  26. rcamilleri says:

    Has the minister never heard of pen recorders?

  27. Ramona says:

    You know what, Daphne? Can you imagine if Austin Gatt or Tonio Fenech had done something of the sort? The media would have gone berserk with accusations of “arroganza” and “dittatorjat”.

  28. Lady Oscar says:

    I stand to be corrected but weren’t there pre election promises to curb our on line shopping as it was seen as unfair competition to local shop owners?

  29. TROY says:

    What if ET has to phone home?

  30. TROY says:

    fone free zone.

  31. Dez says:

    For security reasons, I’d have his eyebrows searched first. Anything could be hidden there, from a Kalashnikov to a mousetrap.

  32. pale blue my foot! says:

    So will we have visiting ambassadors, dignitaries etc frisked from now on? That`s an idea……..why not employ more Taghna Llkoll hangers-on as “friskers”?

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