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frank_psaila
Frank Psaila

A police force in need of a radical shake-up

Heads must roll, rotten apples must be discarded, and we need an overhaul within the police force

frank_psaila
Frank Psaila
12 August 2015, 7:28am
Police Commissioner Michael Cassar has a mammoth task. He has to restore the credibility of the police force at a time when its reputation is flat on its back.

It’s been a long time coming. This country has a habit of addressing, at times serious shortcomings, through internal inquiries and stopping at that. Internal inquiries are of course useful, but they are not enough – especially when they take ages to conclude, as was the case when former Police Minister Manuel Mallia took ages, and it was his successor who actually published the inquiries into decisions taken by the former Police Commissioner following an argument at the Zabbar police station a couple of years back.

The police force has been embroiled in far too many controversies, especially recently, which have caused untold damage to its reputation and the way it is perceived by the general public. Promotions within the force are often highly questionable. Police Commissioners have been asked to step down [when they should have never been promoted in the first place] but no meaningful changes have taken place to tackle problems at their very root.

Whether Police Commissioner Michael Cassar succeeds in clearing this mess depends largely on him but not least on Police Minister Carmelo Abela, who succeeded Manuel Mallia after the latter was sacked by his Prime Minister.

Minister Abela comes across as a well meaning politician.  However, and unless he takes full control of the situation, he too risks making a meal of his portfolio. Police Commissioner Michael Cassar is no newcomer to the force. He’s a long serving police officer, and knows the intricacies and the internal politics of the police force. He is aware that his force’s reputation is at an all time low.

Unfortunately, it’s always the case of the rotten apple which spoils the entire cart – and that is precisely what’s happening within the Malta police force, although there seems to be more than one rotten apple which has been allowed, if not encouraged, to rot by people in high places. Press statements and declarations of good faith, at times highly questionable, won’t do the trick. Bold action is needed and fast.

Heads must roll, rotten apples must be consigned to the dustbin and an overhaul of the practices within the police force is needed – not least the promotion of police officers to senior positions looked into, and duly examined by a truly independent Commission – if we are to rescue what is evidently a very messy situation within the Malta police force.

***

What has always been a problem has now become a nightmare. Malta is one huge traffic jam. Heavily clogged arterial roads are the order of the day. You’re surprised when, on very infrequent occasions, you manage to breeze through. It’s rush-hour twenty four-seven and it’s getting worse.

In a densely populated island, this is bound to happen. Malta has an enormously high number of cars for the size of our roads. Unfortunately, people are not encouraged to make use of public transport because it has always been a very inconvenient way of travelling. It did not start with Arriva; it’s been a long time coming. Arriva did not help; on the contrary it seems to have complicated matters further.

This government was elected on the back of a promise to address this problem. Three years later, things got out of hand and public transport was and remains one big mess. As political parties trade charges on the state of public transport and the traffic situation in Malta, thousands of people – and tourists, are stuck in traffic, or stranded on un-sheltered bus stages in this scorching heat and on buses with a malfunctioning air-conditioning system.

People are definitely not amused – they are frustrated. Press conferences and press statements do not help to solve what has become an everyday nightmare – neither does a Transport Minister who seems to have absolutely no clue about how to tackle the situation. Joe Mizzi has been telling us of his plans to ease traffic congestion in Malta – at one point he even mentioned the possibility of having an underground train system. In 2013, a few weeks after taking the helm of Malta’s transport system, he assured us that he was taking traffic congestion ‘very seriously’. Now we know that Mr Mizzi has failed miserably and people no longer take him seriously.

Millions of euros in EU funds and taxpayers’ money is invested by successive administrations on new arterial roads but even that is not enough to address traffic congestion in Malta. Harbour ferry networks, to enable easy travelling in between harbour destinations on both sides of the harbour, have been introduced. Large roundabouts have had their size reduced to allow for a better traffic flow. But nothing seems to have worked out to ease Malta’s traffic congestions. 

What is lacking is a comprehensive strategy which takes into account a multitude of factors. There is lack of foresight and lack of planning. Problems have been allowed to accumulate and they have now reached crisis proportions. Traffic congestions are having serious effects on our health, the environment, on the tourism industry and on Malta’s national productivity. The stats given by a recent editorial carried by MaltaToday are worrying – to say the least. Traffic in Malta is costing the country €274 million a year and predictions are that by 2020, this cost will reach euros 317 million.

It is often said that the fact that factories, offices and schools open doors at the same time – usually between 7am and 8.30am, resulting in huge traffic congestions starting as early as 6.30am, only serve to complicate matters further. Admittedly there are no clearcut solutions to this.

On the other hand, common sense seems to be in short supply. When arterial roads are closed for maintenance or re-building the whole island is clogged with traffic – as happened most recently due to the re-building of the Coast Road in the north of Malta. As people start looking for short cuts, usually through secondary roads, the situation worsens – not least because they are not able to cope with a heavy flow of traffic – and haphazard parking serves only to complicate matters. Large vehicles in the morning rush hour – especially when they break down, do not help, creating huge traffic jams. At times, bus lanes only serve to make things worse – as is often the case in Marsa.

Malta is paying the price for having failed to have a long-term traffic management and infrastructure strategy. Public transport has long become a political football and has, to the frustration of thousands of Maltese and tourists alike, gone from bad to worse.

Unfortunately, there seems to be neither the foresight, nor the right people to address what is by far Malta’s biggest problem – traffic.

frank_psaila
Frank Psaila, a lawyer by profession, anchors Iswed fuq l-Abjad on Net TV. He was formerly...
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