Environment Minister George Pullicino does not know this, but way back in 1992, the first time I was eligible to vote, I gave him my number one vote. He was not elected then, but he made it to Parliament following the 1996 election. Again, he had featured high up in my list of preferences. I don’t remember the exact order in which I jotted down my list of preferences, down to the very last candidate (as we had been firmly instructed to do by numerous street leaders and exhortations from on high), but I do remember the party I voted for – invariably it was the Nationalist Party. Then it was the natural choice, the only choice. Who else could I vote for? For a girl who had been brought up living and breathing stories of the greatness and integrity of the exponents of the Nationalist Party there was no other option.
At the age of eight I was a member of PiNu club – the club for PN tykes. I still have the yellowing membership card with its cartoon mascot grinning across it. During the church schools issue, when my school was closed down because of the Labour government of the day, I slipped into friends’ houses for lessons which were held in secret. Our weekend entertainment consisted of attending meetings or rallies in every locality in Malta. Some of them turned out to be bloody and violent. We read the Nazzjon, The Times and The Democrat. We boycotted Xandir Malta and the products which were advertised on the station of the regime. When the Labour government refused to recognise the Feast of St Peter and St Paul (Imnarja) as a public holiday, we holidayed anyway. We all went to Ghadira and ran into the water as Eddie Fenech Adami entered the bay on a small boat. As hundreds of hands waved in greeting, he was borne above the waves to an enthusiastic welcome – a saviour come to shore. And when we filled the Empire Stadium before the 1981 elections, and lit it with the glow of a thousand lighters, and sang “We’re Ready For Eddie” to the leader of the Opposition being driven through the masses, on top of a sturdy land rover, we really thought that we could be saved.
We believed that by voting the Nationalists to power we would be freed from the yoke of political tyranny, untrammelled and unchecked bullying, and people who broke the law with impunity. We didn’t want to have two classes of people – the ones who scoffed at the law and got away with it, and the rest – mere mortals, unprotected and unloved by the authorities which where duty-bound to protect them, but who laid into them instead. Most of all, we didn’t want Lorry – Lorry, who symbolised the excesses of a regime – Lorry, who meant favours for the few. Lorry, who was all-powerful and untouchable. This is why we voted for the Nationalists in every election, since 1981. We did not ever want to return to an era when might was right, where fortune and government favoured the lawless, where ministers hobnobbed with the law-breakers giving them their official seal of approval, where unholy alliances were the real sources of power.
To prevent this ever happening again, we voted for the Nationalists, time in and time out. And we have been disappointed and let down. Let down by a government which is under the thumb of the building industry. Let down by a government which allows a contractor to build on public land and forgive his planning sins. Let down by a government which allows a contractor to run up 82 stop and enforcement notices with no consequence or penalties. Let down by a government which allows one of its greatest party supporters to wreck Xemija hillside illegally. Let down by a prime minister who consorts with such people. Let down by a government which is intent on sacrificing the last few stretches of greenery and who lambastes anybody who criticises it. Yes, we have been let down by the same persons who told us we would not be getting more of Lorry. But we have. Vote George, get Lorry. Lorry can be replaced with the name of your average law-breaking contractor. What’s the difference?
I do not believe that any pressure was brought to bear on any member of any NGO to disassociate themselves from my “Vote George, get Lorry” poster. Then again, I do not believe that wardens have quotas of the number of tickets which they must issue. What I do believe, however, is that anybody who is more mature than a three-year-old is flabbergasted to observe the prime minister and friends in the throes of poster paranoia. There they are at Castille, telling a representative of an NGO, that NGOs should deny having anything to do with a poster which they had not painted, carried or borne at all. Then they marshal all hands on deck and get their media flunkies to direct an aggressive barrage in my direction. With the tourism industry floundering, with practically every constituted body opposing Cabinet’s building zones extension, with the Xemxija disaster hanging over our heads, the only thing that the prime minister can think of is a 40 cents poster hastily painted up in between watering the plants and buying the newspaper. While the country is cracking up with laughter, Alfred Sant must be ruing the consultancy fees paid to Phil Noble before his last successful election campaign. He’s just realised that a flimsy cardboard poster has got the Nationalists wheeling out their big guns only to shoot themselves in the foot. Some big savings on consultancy fees could have been made there.
I am told that the mental health of the people who oppose the extension of the building zones is being questioned by people in the Nationalist camp. I don’t know how insensitive remarks to this effect can be reconciled with a statement which George Pullicino himself made in 2002. When being interviewed by Miriam Dunn for this paper, George Pullicino said, “There is no need for us to eat further into our agricultural land. Rather, we need to develop better the zone already earmarked for development. If we redevelop buildings which have become derelict and make use of the vacant property in Malta then we have enough housing stock to help us for the next 20 years.” So much for consistency. Four short years ago, our environment minister was telling us that we don’t need to gobble up more of the countryside and that we should be rehabilitating old buildings. Now we are quoting his own words back to him, and being branded as raving loonies.