I never cease to be amazed at the distances that the Left will travel to spin in their favour, at the expense of truth and human dignity. The death of Folole Maliaga is the case in point.
Let’s look at the facts now in the public domain. Folole Maliaga was morbidly obese. She was suffering from critical respiratory failure, as a result of that morbid obesity. She was released from hospital, with a stiff cocktail of drugs and a breathing machine, to deal with that respiratory failure, and was told that her death was imminent if she did not dramatically change her lifestyle.
Instead of taking the drugs, Mrs Maliaga rejected them in favour of “traditional Samoan medicines”, while continuing to use a very non-traditional oxygen machine. It has also become clear that that machine was not designed or expected to support life.
Mrs Maliaga did not pay her power bill. She also did not pay her telephone bill. What tends to happen, when people do not pay their utility bills, is that they get cut off. There really is little point in having chargeable utility services if nothing happens when people don’t pay them.
When the power to Mrs Maliaga’s home was disconnected, Mrs Maliaga’s family sat around and sang hymns for a period of three hours.
Mrs Maliaga died.
This is a story that can be interpreted in several different ways. The mass media-driven hysteria, emphasised in the blogosphere and among left-wing activists with barrows to push, is also becoming more subdued with a critical eye being cast on what really happened. The "Mercury are Murderers!" brigade is looking more ridiculous as the other contributory factors in Mrs Muliaga's death come to light.
There are already far too many players in this absurd scenario.
When the story first broke, SOE Trevor Mallard called for calm, requested that the public wait for a police investigation into the affair, and refused to comment on the situation. Ducking for cover? Well, not quite. It’s difficult for a Minister without the information to make a useful comment without appearing heartless.
Doug Heffernan from Mercury didn’t help his own career prospects by wading into the argument as soon as the news broke, defending Mercury. When you’ve got an hysterical family member making accusations against the company, it simply isn’t wise for a CEO to even attempt to counter the accusations immediately.
His response should have been: “We are extremely sorry that Mrs Muliaga died. We will be conducting a full investigation into what we did, will cooperate with any police inquiry, and will take full responsibility for any consequences that occurred as a direct result of Mercury’s actions. Our thoughts are with Mrs Muliaga’s family, and we will do anything we can to help them.”
Easy press release to write. It doesn’t accept culpability for her death, doesn’t suggest Mercury will dodge responsibility for it, and gets rid of the beat-up for a bit. The PR guy who thought otherwise should be fired, and Heffernan’s own head will probably roll for his naivety in failing to do just that.
But the two most troubling aspects of the case concern two of the most vocal self-appointed Mercury critics, and the media’s blind, uncritical acceptance of what they have said.
Brenden Sheehan, who has variously been described by sloppy journalists as Mrs Muliaga’s nephew, her son-in-law, and “relative”, is not a media novice. He is the chief shit-stirrer for the Public Service Association. In recent times, he has led PSA strike action against TVNZ, Radio New Zealand, and the Public Trust.
Sheehan is head of the PSA in the Hawke’s Bay. With his very calculated usurping of Mrs Muliaga’s spotlight, and particularly given the nature of some of his public comments, it’s not certain whether Sheehan is pursuing the interests of the Muliaga family, or his own political interests.
It is understandable that when a person dies in tragic circumstances, that family members may seek outside parties on which to scapegoat their grievances. What is astonishing is that the media can allow a seasoned political manipulator such as Sheehan to use the tragedy for downright opportunism.
The second unforgivable personality is Helen Clark.
Clark’s potential choice of targets was broad. They included:
- The hospital that discharged a critically ill woman with an oxygen machine at home, reliant on her continuing to use a complex cocktail of drugs to assist her to breathe. Hard for Clark to take this option, at it would undermine public faith in a public health system that she has poured billions of dollars into.
- The social welfare system that was sufficiently inflexible as to provide the means for a critically ill woman to pay either her power bill, or her phone bill. Again, Clark has championed how much better social services are under Labour, so this isn’t viable.
- Annette King, who as health minister began a vastly expensive anti-obesity campaign, which in Mrs Muliaga’s case, hadn’t filtered through. Difficult to criticise her own Minister.
- Mrs Muliaga and her family, who chose not to call an ambulance when the power was disconnected. Hard for a Prime Minister to make that call without appearing heartless. Given Clark’s historic reputation for warmth and tenderness towards other people generally, it would be out of character for Clark to take this step.
- Mercury Energy. A subsidiary energy retailer of an SOE. Potentially a big, callous, corporate beast that Labour voters love to hate. The risk of criticising the energy retailer is that it will lead to massive shareholder value, but given the public’s general loathing towards utility companies on the whole, it’s much harder for the energy retailer to look good.
Of course, the PM could have simply stayed out of the debate completely, allowed the police to conduct an investigation, and for the facts to rule, but the chance of the media exposure when she needs it most became too good to miss.She did it with a style that only she can manage: she refused to acknowledge Mighty River Power executives outside Mrs Muliaga’s home, and has pointedly ordered Mighty River to apologise for their role in Mrs Muliaga’s death. By doing so, she has effectively jeopardised Mighty River’s legal position before an autopsy has been carried out, and by sanctioning the blame against Mercury before a police inquiry has been carried out, has led to a massive loss in shareholder value in the state-owned company.
For what benefit? A couple of photo opportunities at a time when she needs them most.