Tagged: politics

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.

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?