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Raphael Vassallo

With a ‘safe pair of hands’ like that…

My immediate reaction, was: ‘Wheeeee… DOO-I-NNGGG!’

Raphael Vassallo
1 May 2012, 12:00am
In one of his recent articles, Michael Falzon – the Nationalist former minister, not that other guy from Labour – popped what I thought was a rather pertinent question. Where has Gonzi’s safe pair of hands gone, he asked?

To which my immediate reaction, was:

‘Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee… DOO-I-NNGGG!’ (Or however one transcribes the sound of a penny being dropped into an almost bottomless well).

OK, let’s start with the good news. Finally, it seems to have dawned on someone that the celebrated ‘pair of hands’ is not, at present, anywhere to be seen. On the contrary, the cold light of day reveals a rather different image: that of the good ship ‘GonziPN’ adrift, rudderless, in a sea of troubles, all of its own making. And if any ‘pair of hands’ is at all visible, it is not on the tiller; but down in the cargo-hold, busy making off with whatever goodies it can loot.

But still, Falzon’s question remains flawed. It’s a point of grammar, you see. As any TEFL qualified teacher will surely attest, “Where has Gonzi’s safe pair of hands gone?” makes use of the present perfect tense… and as such, presupposes that the ‘safe pair of hands’ actually exists (or at least, existed until fairly recently).

Well, perhaps I am myopic, but I, for one, have never seen any evidence to support that hypothesis. And trust me, I’ve been looking pretty damn hard for some time now… ever since 2004, in fact, when Lawrence Gonzi first came into office.

This is (roughly, and in no particular order) what I’ve seen to date:

A) A failed crusade to entrench Malta’s abortion ban into the Constitution.

Ah yes. Abortion. Hugely consequential issue, I would have thought, in a country where the practice is already illegal… and ALL political parties happen to agree that it should remain that way. But Gonzi, it seems, thought it was important to transform the country into a living embodiment of his own Catholic fantasies… to the point that he neglected all other truly pressing matters, to invest improbable amounts of energy and resources into something that nobody (other than a bunch of wild-eyed fanatics with whom the Prime Minister very unwisely consorted) actually thought was a national priority.

Strangely, nobody seems to want to remember this particular episode anymore. I wonder why? Could it be, perhaps, because – in the light of more recent developments – it represents the first of several indications that the ‘safe pair of hands’ actually wanted to drag us all, kicking and screaming, back to the distant 1950s… at a time when we had only just voted to join Europe, and as such were understandably far more interested in moving forward instead of backward? If so, it would explain quite a few things, including:

B) Gonzi’s failed opposition to divorce

By far the most severely damaging of Gonzi’s many failures, this one – incredibly – involved dragging the entire party down with him, and forcing it to publicly acknowledge that its cherished ‘principles’ are actually things which change with spectacular suddenness, when-so-ever political expedience so demands.

No need for any lengthy recaps; suffice it to say that, in his zeal to defend his personal Catholic obsession against his own country’s interests, Dr Gonzi made the astonishing miscalculation of umbilically conjoining the Nationalist Party with a largely extremist anti-divorce lobby (remember? Kristu Iva, Divorzju Le?) by means of a ‘declaration of principles’ aimed at convincing Nationalists to vote no. Eight months and one lost referendum later… oh look! The same PN comes out with a ‘new’ statement of principles, urging us all to forget the last statement of principles, because this one – unlike the previous one – is actually the real thing.

Excuse me, but… they said the same thing about the last one, too. How, then, can we be expected to believe that the new ‘secular’ PN is any less illusory than the old ‘confessional’ one? Who’s to say that this same set of new principles won’t also be flushed down the toilet of expedience, the moment it serves the PN’s electoral interests to dump it? And besides: if the PN now acknowledges its past ‘principles’ were WRONG… why did 96% of its delegates vote to retain as leader the selfsame man who tied his party to those same principles?

C) The extension of development boundaries

Coming so soon after Gonzi’s declared intention to focus on the environment, this particular initiative – i.e., sacrificing the equivalent of Siggiewi’s surface area, spread out across the entire country, to Malta’s unending development nightmare – stands out as the single most inexplicable of around half a million U-turns, little and large, to have characterized Gonzi’s early reign and Prime Minister.

With hindsight, it also spells out a pattern of behaviour that has been remarkably consistent ever since. A pattern whereby Gonzi delivers pretty much the opposite of what was previously promised; while also failing to achieve his own objective, and simultaneously antagonizing people who would otherwise be his foremost supporters.

In this case, the (undeclared) objective was pretty clear: to satisfy his party’s own financial contributors, many of whom were building contractors. In so doing, Gonzi managed to piss off an army of environmentalists who, in their vast majority, were all traditionally Nationalist voters. And to add insult to injury, he didn’t even manage to keep the contractors on board… or so a little bird tells me, at any rate.

D) Gonzi’s failed plans to build ‘at least two new golf courses, one in Malta and the other in Gozo’

Believe it or not, that was indeed an official Gonzi government policy. Yes, I know it sounds bizarre, but (just like the abortion issue, etc) Lawrence Gonzi – for reasons known only to himself, and maybe a couple of his consultants – simply woke up one fine morning and unilaterally decided that we had to litter the goddamn country with golf courses. And he pursued this objective with astonishing drive, by the way… even evicting farmers from the Manikata landscape: which he (again, unilaterally) simply decided had to make way for the golf course of his dreams.

Well, that golf course was destined to remain firmly in his dreams. Two years and a few hundred thousand euros’ worth of consultancies later, Gonzi was forced to concede that the golf idea was actually rather daft. And that was the end of that… in fact, I invite you all to count how many golf courses have been completed in accordance with Gonzi’s declared policy, announced with much fanfare on Radio 101 in 2005. (By my count, the answer is… oh, never mind.)

E) Failure to build even a single, solitary wind farm

If Gonzi’s inability to develop a single golf course stands out among his many glorious achievements, it simply pales into insignificance compared with his abject failure to produce even one (1) single wind turbine anywhere on (or off) the Maltese islands.

This because – unlike the arbitrary golf idea– the need for renewables is very real and very pressing, and dictated by an EU-imposed commitment to produce at least 10% of our energy through renewable sources by 2020.

Well, that deadline expires in just under six (6) years’ time, and Gonzi has had just over eight (8) years to potter about with the various possibilities. The result of his efforts? One single, solitary rooftop is now covered in photovoltaic panels: producing the grand total of 0.0002% of our total energy output. But wind farms? Blowing in the wind, I’m afraid. Oh, but wait: having proved incapable of installing a single wind turbine in eight years, we are now expected to believe that – after the next election, naturally – the same Gonzi will miraculously produce, not one, but a veritable space station composed of dozens of floating wind farms, all merrily producing millions of mega watts of energy out at sea.

Erm. Yes, of course. I believe it utterly myself. Don’t you?

Right. I’m going to stop there, because the full litany of Gonzi’s achievements would probably take up the entire newspaper. Among the highlights I have left out are: the ‘artificial islands’; the Freedom of Information Act, which spectacularly failed to ever materialise in practice (the law having never been ratified by parliament); the Delimara power station extension, with its STENCH of foul play; the brilliant political strategy of increasing his own and his colleagues’ salaries, while spectacularly omitting to inform anybody… and of course, the ingenious way in which government managed to earmark a staggering €80 million to build a new Parliament that (like the golf courses, the artificial islands, the abortion amendment proposal, etc.) was all along nothing but the fruit of Gonzi’s own personal fantasy…. And oh look; having already begun paying out that money, it turns out we still don’t know where it’s actually going to come from.

Oh, and I nearly forgot: allowing himself to be out-manoeuvred and ultimately cornered by a 38-year-old backbencher will surely stand out as one Gonzi’s own most unlikely accomplishments.

Now: read through all of the above, and answer me honestly. do any of you see evidence of a ‘safe pair of hands’ at work in any of the above? Because if so, your faculty of vision is a damn sight better than mine…