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raphael_vassallo
Raphael Vassallo

Make it a bit more obvious, why don’t you?

The rules were making voters unhappy; so the rules had to go. In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a balder, blunter and more blatant admission that our elections are simply bought through the power of incumbency

raphael_vassallo
Raphael Vassallo
13 April 2017, 7:26am
So what better way to solve this issue, than simply to relax that little rule about not parking in places where you’re not meant to?
So what better way to solve this issue, than simply to relax that little rule about not parking in places where you’re not meant to?
That there’s an election’s coming up, I mean. Some of us out here might be a bit slow on the uptake, you know. We don’t all necessarily get subtle hints, fine-tuned nuances and cryptic comments. I might be generalising here, but I reckon most people prefer simple statements of fact: and the balder, the better.

Something like: ‘There’s an election coming up, folks! And you all know what that means: it’s Christmas every day from now to November! That permit you applied for a dozen years ago? Don’t worry, it will be out in no time at all. And all those annoying traffic rules and regulations you had to follow until now? Well, you can go ahead and just ignore the lot of them. (Just don’t go getting yourself killed on the road in the next seven to eight months... otherwise you won’t be able to vote for us). Etc, etc.’

There: just spell it out, in plain and simple terms. That way, even if we do have the dirtiest and most corrupt electoral process in Europe... at least we’d be honest about it for once.

But anyway. That part about the traffic regulations? It’s perfectly true. There are now at least six traffic infringements that were previously punishable by an on-the-spot fine... but which you can all expect to get away with between now and November. For the record, these are:

1) Cases of defective lights

2) Damaged lights

3) Road licence not affixed to the windscreen

4) Defective silencer

5) Vehicle not in good condition such as missing side mirrors, front grille or mudguard

6) Cases of illegal parking, except in the case of illegal parking involving the obstruction of a garage, a space dedicated for blue badge holders, or when a vehicle is obstructing the road

Got that everyone? You can now drive in the dark with ‘defective lights’. They can be too dim, too bright, aligned to point in the wrong direction... or simply not work at all. Oh, and they can be ‘damaged’, too. Just in case the word ‘defective’, on its own, wasn’t enough to get the point across...

And about time, too. Lights are, after all, an unnecessary extravagance when driving at night. Just think of all the precious energy we’ve been wasting all these years every time we turned on our headlamps. And the light pollution, too. Why, don’t you know that the glare of those lights might confuse a passing migratory bird..? 

That’s the problem with you motorists. You never think of things like that. You only ever think of your own (and everyone else’s) safety. How selfish can you be? Who cares if you crash headlong into that oncoming truck, because both vehicles were driving with ‘defective’ headlamps? Or run over a dozen children on a zebra crossing, because it was too dark to see?

Get your priorities right, people. There’s an election coming up: it’s more important that government is seen to be doing things to please people, than for those same people to actually survive on the road.

Meanwhile, if you forgot to renew your road licence this year, or decided to spare yourself the expense – or what the heck? If you just never applied for one to start with – well, that’s no longer considered an impediment to driving on the road. For the duration of the election campaign, licences are no longer even mandatory (for let’s face it, if you don’t have to display your road licence on your windscreen... who’s to say you actually have one?) 

Oh, and just in case your vehicle was due for a VRT test between now and November... well, you no longer need to bother with that, either. Your vehicle doesn’t need to be ‘in good condition’ any more. In fact, it doesn’t even need to have side mirrors...

Personally, I’ve always considered side mirrors to be slightly overrated anyway. As a driver you’re meant to keep your eyes on the road, aren’t you? That’s what Jim Morisson always used to say. But how can you do that if you have to keep checking what’s behind you every 15 seconds?

And besides: why even bother? It’s not like it’s important to know that a motorbike might be trying to overtake on the outside lane, when you suddenly decide to swerve to the right without indicating (which I suppose you don’t need to do anymore either: indicators are ‘lights’, too...)

Then there’s the small matter of parking wherever the heck you like. Ask any motorist in Malta, and they’ll all say the same thing. Parking is the single most irritating thing about driving in Malta. And the most difficult... even when you do have side mirrors to look into (just imagine when you don’t).

Either way: there you’ll be, circling the same four streets endlessly in slow-moving traffic, with your eyes peeled for an empty space large enough to manoeuvre into... and when you do you spot one, it’s either immediately claimed by the car in front of you... or turns out to be marked with a double-yellow line.

So what better way to solve this issue, than simply to relax that little rule about not parking in places where you’re not meant to? Sheer genius, if you ask me. I suggest they take the same concept one step further: we all know traffic tends to get deadlocked only on the road... so why not relax that other little rule about ‘not driving on the pavement’? It would make everything so much simpler...

Oh, but wait. There are exceptions to this particular exception. You can’t park absolutely anywhere you like, it seems: you can only park your car illegally if it doesn’t bother anyone else directly. On a double yellow line? Sure, that’s no problem. Last I looked, double yellow lines were not eligible for Maltese citizenship, so they don’t have a vote in this election (though you can never really tell, the way they’re dishing out passports these days).

But garage owners? That’s something else entirely. If you block someone else’s garage, that guy might get pissed off. And it is widely known that ‘pissed off people’ are statistically less likely to vote for the party in government than people who have nothing to complain about. So no, we have to draw a red line here. After all, the whole point of this exercise is to limit the causes for popular anger and frustration... not to create new ones.

Erm... hang on a second, though. What WAS the point of this exercise, anyway? OK, we can all see that it was a somewhat blatant vote-catching ploy of the kind that happens before every election... but you’d hardly expect a government to actually come out and say so, would you? 

So how did the government actually justify its decision to relax traffic regulations... at a time when the one thing that is needed with urgency on Maltese roads is more discipline, not less?

This is how Stefan Buontempo (the parliamentary secretary for local councils... and not, as you’d expect, the minister responsible for traffic) justified the measures at a recent press conferences: 

“We do not consider wardens to be a money-making machine.  We wanted to address a barrage of complaints from motorists who had been slapped with a fine for minor offences like stopping in a yellow line for a couple of minutes to pick up medicine from a pharmacy. Though this is wrong, we wanted to give them a second chance.”

‘Address a barrage of complaints’, huh? Looks like I was wrong. They really did ‘just come out and say so’. The official reason for relaxing the most basic road safety regulations in the Highway Code – or at least, waiving any penalties for first-time offenders – is that when the party in government gauged public opinion (as per standard preparation procedure before any election)... it discovered that people were complaining about the rules. 

The rules were making voters unhappy; so the rules had to go. In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a balder, blunter and more blatant admission that our elections are simply bought through the power of incumbency. 

So as I was saying earlier: make it just a little more obvious, why don’t you?

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