Category: Malta

Joseph and the Legend of Sustainable Development

"Tkun imħajjar tibni xi università, kellimni" Photo: DOI
“Tkun imħajjar tibni xi università, kellimni” Photo: DOI

From comparing environmentalists to developers, to making claims on sustainable development and investment, there is much that doesn’t figure in Joseph Muscat’s talk about the “south”

This week, the prime minister announced that a deal had been reached to build a campus for an American university in the so-called “south” of Malta. The Maltese government has offered land– 90,000 m2 – to the Jordanian investors.

The reasons for this? The “south”, apparently, could do with some more development. Two power stations, a Freeport and a couple of massive landfills (remember Wied Fulija, anyone?), and SmartCity clearly aren’t enough.

Ever the strategist, Muscat also announced the development of a nature park in the same breath as this considerable development project – because clearly, even a natural park will require some form of construction.

The Times of Malta reports: “It was evident that not everyone agreed with decisions taken – whether it was environmentalists with regard to the educational institution or developers with regard to the natural park,  but the government was seeking a balance based on sustainable development, Dr Muscat said.”

Meanwhile, MaltaToday reports: “Previous governments were reluctant to take any decisions out of fear that it would upset a lobby, be it developers or environmentalists.”

Developers or environmentalists? Putting the two on the same level is naive, ridiculous, and offensive. Developers, a relatively small group, are people who stand to make serious money from any project, as indeed they have, countless times. They make the money for themselves, and they give some of the money to the political parties.

Indeed, what Muscat is calling “balance” could probably be read as “keeping developers sufficiently happy, but not so happy that we couldn’t give them another stretch of land to build on in the next 15 years”.

Incidentally, I recall that a few months ago, the Malta Developers Association had laid claim on the very strip of land our Prime Minister has offered up to the Jordanian investors.

Meanwhile, there is no money in it for environmentalists. Indeed, there is nothing in it for them personally as much as there is for the entire nation, particularly when we have to point out that building on virgin land by the sea is probably not such a good idea when the rest of the island is already built up (and some of its buildings empty).

Muscat continues:

“However, decisions must be taken for the sake of Malta. The economy must grow sustainably but there will be a sustainable development and not a concrete jungle,” Muscat argued while speaking during an interview on One Radio.

Last I checked, the concrete jungle was already there. Sticking to the south: Marsaskala itself is quite the concrete (and franka) jungle, Smart City is as concrete as it gets (rather than the abstract concept that the PN used as election fodder in 2008), and looking further north, Tigne Point is a concrete oasis.

Malta has lost the right to talk about “sustainable development” on its own soil twenty years ago, when admittedly the term wasn’t in fashion. At this stage, any development which does not entail the replacement of previous structures cannot be called sustainable.

Moving on from the environment, let’s talk about money, because if there’s anything that can justify further development is the magic word: “investment”.

“‘We want it to be set up in the south because on average, the income of families in the south was the lowest in Malta, with families earning some €2,500 below the average,’ he said.” “He,” being H.E. Dr Joseph Muscat.

It would be interesting to hear how exactly this project will help raise the income of these low-earning “families”. Will these low-earners be employed with the university and get paid €2,500 more p.a.? Will their current employers decide that, given they’re from the south, they deserved a pay rise? Or will the high-ranking university staff living in the area raise the average so much that it makes up for the shortfall?

Indeed, what could possibly happen is that the project will increase the desirability of the neighbourhood, particularly for apartments, and the increased demand could in turn hike up the price of property in the area – as has been the case around the world, and which we are seeing happen in Malta, thanks to the influx of high-earning expats who are pricing out locals in the more desirable areas of the island.

It’s also worth asking the question: who is actually going to be employed at the university? Most probably, many of the low-ranking jobs will be given to local workers – cleaners, canteen staff, security, possibly administration. But as for the higher-paying jobs, it is likely that the posts will mostly go to people with no ties to Malta whatsoever – as recent experience in other sectors has shown.

Muscat claims all this will benefit Malta; whether that Malta will belong to its people by that stage is another matter altogether.

Rescinding Peter Andre’s Cultural Ambassador title might be better for Valletta’s reputation

His Excellency

So, apparently the luminaries at the Valletta Local Council (Malta’s capital city) have decided that the latest person to be named Cultural Ambassador for the Unesco World Heritage Site is none other than a reality-TV star who is best known for marrying a glamour model with assets the size of Mosta. His prior claim to fame was his 1995 hit single “Mysterious Girl”, which is admittedly quite catchy (in a syphilitic way).

Andre was in Malta ostensibly to attend the Malta Music Awards, where he performed three numbers while the ITV crew filming his reality show recorded the proceedings. How a reality-TV star 18 years past his sell-by date as an artiste would have added any street-cred to the ailing festival’s reputation is anyone’s guess, but that’s beside the point.

At one point before the singer’s jaunt through the island, someone whose only encounter with culture was when he/she ate live yoghurt decided this tabloid star would be a perfect ambassador for our little capital, her with the baroque buildings and the Piano-designed parliament. Instead of keeping this thought to themselves, this person decided they would propose this at the council meeting, where the gaggle of yoghurt-eaters thought Peter Andre, with his tanned complexion and washboard abs would make the perfect ambassador for Valletta’s culture.

Before anyone could rush in to explain that Valletta would not be the European capital for bacteria which make Stilton the best cheese on the planet and which turn milk into yoghurt, but rather of the culture which includes music, the visual arts, architecture and theatre among many others, the council unanimously voted in favour of the motion.

The reasons given by IT laureate and Valletta mayor Alexiei Dingli were, (and here I quote Teo Reljic’s timely report on the matter):

“Valletta will feature prominently in his show on iTV which has an average viewership of 1.7 million viewers and a peak viewership of 1.9 million viewers. An additional 300,000 viewers watch reruns of his show.”

Now, I am not a particularly voracious reality-TV viewer, but surely if a production company is happy enough to film a reality TV star carrying out mundane tasks such as speaking on the phone and going shopping, a visit to a beautiful city in the sun would rank highly on the filmability stakes, regardless or not of whether Mr Andre is bestowed with honorifics.

Instead of Andre and his viewers being inspired to aspire for higher achievements than just being himself by Valletta’s grandeur, the city stooped down and made him her representative.

I’m going to make a bold assumption here. If at least a third of the 1.7 million viewers have a relatively functional intellect and take Andre for what he is, i.e. the ex-husband of a woman with massive tits who scored a summer hit sometime in 1995, chances are they don’t take him seriously.

And if that is true, they are likely not to take any city council presenting him with awards any more seriously either.

In the same interview, Dr Dingli “deemed Andre to be an adequate celebrity to represent Valletta, citing the fact that Valletta’s nomination as European Capital for Culture in 2018 promotes a wide-ranging sweep of the definition of culture: ‘from high culture to pop culture and even particular niches’.”

Now I’m sure that Andre will have many good things to say about Malta, and I’m sure he’ll be able to say them well. He is, after all, someone who is making a living just being himself, and that means that he probably isn’t stupid. But sadly, the non-anthropological understanding of culture (which is the one presupposed when speaking about “capitals of culture” and “cultural ambassadors”) does not normally stretch wide enough to include reality television.

By appointing Andre as the ambassador of something he is no longer involved in, the Valletta Local Council is risking making a laughing stock of the city (or at least of itself) in what is more narrowly understood as the cultural sphere.

If anything, the derision expressed by many in the local cultural sphere is proof enough that Culture is alive and well outside of the Valletta Local Council offices. If this derision can get the council to revoke its award, or at least make enough of a noise, Valletta’s reputation may yet be saved.

Or we just might get a handful more ITV viewers to our shores.

Mintoff is Dead. Malta, Rest In Peace.

Yesterday, Dom Mintoff, aka Il-Perit, Is-Salvatur and a host of irreproducible expletives, died aged 96. Without doubt one of the greatest leaders (qua leaders) Malta has ever seen, his death, much like his life, has been met with mixed reactions – most of them strong, and most of them extreme.

On one end of the spectrum, devotees to Is-Salvatur, whose walls were adorned with a fading photo of Mintoff, perhaps with one of his bespoke belt buckles, and a candle burning underneath, went out into the balmy August night in a vigil for the man who made things better for the lower classes when first in power.

At this end of the spectrum, people brought up in Labour households saluted Mintoff through their Facebook profiles, ascribing everything from the welfare state to the invention of sliced bread to the recently deceased Rhodes Scholar.

At the other end of the spectrum, you had people like Daphne Caruana Galizia, who sounded out a long-anticipated (elsewhere on her blog she stated she had a bottle of champagne ready for the occasion) “allelluia” upon hearing the news, wishing he rot in hell and counting him lucky for not dying as his ally Gaddafi did.

To her, and to many people of her generation who won’t touch Labour with a barge pole, Mintoff symbolizes lost opportunities, state-endorsed violence and Mars bars and toothpaste smuggled in from Sicily. Daphne’s contemporaries might not be airing their opinions for all to hear, but she is not alone in breathing a sigh of relief.

In death, as in life, Il-Perit is, as he was, a divisive figure. His rift with the Maltese Church decades ago is still fresh in the collective memory, one generation inheriting the festering wounds of the other. If you think otherwise, think back to last year’s divorce referendum campaign. Better still, don’t.

On this spectrum, there is a middle ground, invisible, inaudible, because those standing there would rather shut up than reiterate what should now be history.

Some of us want to unlearn Mintoff’s legacy, want to see others in shades other than red or blue, and yearn for the day when electoral campaigns are fought on what happened in the past five years, not 25 years ago.

While Joseph Muscat looks keen to capitalise on Mintoff’s large following, going on to contest on his district and fielding Dom’s daughter in the forthcoming (?) general election  – the Nationalist Party is keen to remind Daphne’s generation of the Karmenu Vellas and Alex Sceberras Trigonas which have somehow managed to survive from Dom’s cabinet into the 21st century.

His framed portraits may have faded from his ’70s heyday, his candle may have been spent, but his mark on Malta looks set to stay.

Mintoff is dead. He may rest in peace, but may Malta?

Patriotism gone wrong

I love my country, I really do. I am proud that my forebears were hard workers who kept their heads high when under foreign rule, I am proud of the courage and resilience they showed when the world was at war, and I am even more proud that their descendants – including myself – can count themselves part of a union which sprung out of a desire for unity between nations which years before were at each other’s throats.

Among the things I love about my country are the sea, the food and the fact that because of our small size as a nation, we think of ourselves as a unit more than bigger nations do.

Because I love my country, I am even more saddened and frustrated by the things that aren’t quite up to scratch. Unbridled development, ignorance and the state of public discourse all make me very, very angry. Did I not love my country, I would not let this get to me. I am, if you will, a bit of a patriot.

But before being patriotic, I am human, and because I am human, I strive to be humane. This means that I will never let the love for my country get in the way of being kind or compassionate to other people who need it. My country, after all, is made of people too.

Which is why I was pretty shocked to read a Facebook conversation between a Maltese emigrant living in London and the administrator of a page called “Reżistenza Nazzjonali (Malta)”.

The emigrant in question said:

“As a Maltese who left Malta to live in Europe, I exercise my right to live in 35 nations freely. May that right eventually grow for me to live wherever I want (just as birds do)! May that right be the same for any African who wants to go wherever!”

To which the “patriot” replied:

then like birds coming to malta (sic.), may any of your africans (sic.), entering here illegallly(sic.), be met by led (sic.) coming out through the barrels of a thousand shotguns. hunting season is open guys.

The administrator of the page must have probably felt quite smart with his response to the avian analogy employed by his interlocutor.

But his answer is a clear incitement to violence and hatred, the likes of which do not belong in a civilised society which needs to be protected from the “subtle African invasion” it is currently undergoing – if this page’s credo is to be taken seriously.

This supposed patriotism is nothing but a (thin) veil masking the xenophobia our island mentality breeds, which when you think of it is strange, particularly when you consider that Tripoli is closer to us than Rome is, and that Maltese is the only Semitic language written in the Latin alphabet. It is this marriage of what lies to the north and south of us that makes us truly Maltese – and a true patriot should not ignore that.

 

Update 14/06/2012: The post in question has since been removed; I don’t know whether it was an epiphany on behalf of the admin or a slew of reports that did it, but it’s gone. Good riddance, I say.

Electioneering

when the same when the same
flesh and blood flesh and blood
groups up in two groups up in two
opposing opposing
symmetrical symmetrical
lumps lumpsa valley of darkness
in between

we call it a butt,

bum,

derrière,

posterior,

sorm.

And once every 5 years, we call it politics,

or in an elegant twist on the vernacular,

Elezzjoni Ġenerali.

Happy voting, everyone.

(Don’t forget to flush).