[WATCH] A child of Labour and Zonqor | Desiree Attard

For the young deputy mayor Zonqor is not just a landscape feature but also an integral part of her identity.

james
James Debono
24 May 2015, 9:10am
Last updated on 25 May 2015, 8:40am
Marsaskala's deputy mayor Desiree Attard • Photo and Video by Ray Attard
Marsaskala's deputy mayor Desiree Attard • Photo and Video by Ray Attard

Video is unavailable at this time.

Marsaskala’s deputy mayor, Desiree Attard, was elected on the Labour ticket with more than 900 votes in the 2013 local elections after being encouraged by the party to contest to inject a “dose of new blood” in the council.

At 22 years of age Attard is taking a principled stance against ODZ development in Zonqor point, which has been earmarked for the development of an American University campus.  

She thinks that by opposing development on Zonqor she is actually doing her party, which she loves, a favour by helping it recover its environmental credentials.

“I am a child of the Labour Party. I was born in a Labour family and I was taught socialist principles. I am still a member of the Labour Party and I think it is very healthy for the party to have someone who disagrees with you internally”

Has her stance against the development at Zonqor soured her relationship with the party?

“I think we are still on good terms… Or at least I hope… For no one has so far spoken to me… I have neither received any reprimand nor been congratulated.”

For her, taking a stance against the proposed development simply means that she is doing her job as a councillor. 

“I was elected to represent the people and protect Marsaskala and that is what I am doing.”

For the young deputy mayor Zonqor is not just a landscape feature but also an integral part of her identity.

“Zonqor is my childhood and it is the childhood of many other Marsaskala residents. We walk there and we swim there. It is so insulting when you hear that this is a dumpsite or that it is ugly. It is beautiful… I have a friend of mine who is currently doing a thesis on the fauna and the ecological value of this place. It is not just an ODZ site… it is a beautiful place.”

One way to deflect criticism on Zonqor is that worse things have been done under past PN-led governments. The Deputy mayor is very clear in saying that two wrongs should never make a right.

“The Nationalist Party did bad things but worse?  I think we are here on the same level. The Nationalist government took ODZ land from us. It seems this government intends to do the same. That is why I can’t agree… the people voted for change. We are expecting change.”

Moreover, the fact that Malta has lost so much under PN governments only strengthens the cause of those who do not want to lose more of our environment.

“This only strengthens our argument. Bad things have taken place in the past. This is one of them. Why are you not against it as well?  Why are you not working with us to stop this environmental disaster?”

She does not object to the fact that the PN is taking a stance even if she expresses a remarkably lucid assessment of the political dynamics involved.

“Well done to the PN for taking a stance against the development… It shows they are willing to listen. I hope the government will also listen. Of course there are political points to be scored… They are jumping on the bandwagon. They are seeing that the people are creating a strong opposition and they want to be a part of it.”

Will people stick to the party line, opposing the project if they are PN-inclined and supporting it if they are PL-inclined?

“A few will… some people will say the Prime Minister said so, so he must be right… but we are lucky that the majority of people in Marsaskala are not like this. This opposition is made of Labourites, Nationalists and environmentalists… we are not thinking about party politics… we are saying that this is a problem for our locality and we are opposing it as it will create more problems.”

She admits that she has been receiving phone calls critical of her perceived betrayal.

“They tell me ‘I voted for you because you are a Labourite and you should stick to what the Prime Minister said’. I tell them I cannot support what the Prime Minister says if it causes a problem to my locality. I am still a Labourite and I believe that we have a government which listens, and which will take note of opposition and that is why I am still part of the Labour Party. But I have received many more phone calls of people supporting my position telling me well done. It really is a huge movement.”

The Labour Party is often accused of not being so progressive on environmental issues. Desiree Attard wants to change this.

“I am sincerely hoping to change this.  I am trying to save the party from committing a mistake. Before the election we said that we care about the environment and that we will protect it. I expect to see this promise fulfilled. This is an excellent opportunity for the government to show that its environmental credentials are better than the credentials of its predecessors.”

The deputy mayor is convinced that most residents are opposed to development at Zonqor.

“They were not expecting such a huge project to be lumped on them so suddenly. The majority is against the development, but not against the idea of a university opening in Malta, only against the place where it is being proposed.”

She insists that while people want investment in their locality this is not the right investment for Marsaskala.

 “We desperately need investment in our area but I do not think this is the right solution and I think most residents agree with me.”

But Attard wants a different kind of investment, which respects the environment and the local community.

“Investment is not the correct word to describe the university campus. Real investment takes into consideration the context in which it is placed. We are not Dubai or Singapore… What we need is investment to help agriculture, families and businesses.  

On the other hand Attard considers the proposed natural park in the same area as a “brilliant idea” whose benefits will trickle down to the residents of Marsaskala. 

“Families will be able to enjoy it… More people will come to Marsaskala because of it and that is the kind of investment we need in Marsaskala.”

She insists that “the whole area” including that earmarked for the ODZ campus should be included in the natural park.

Attard is clearly dissatisfied with the consultation carried out by the government.

“We got to know all about this from the media and five days later we were called at the OPM where we were told what was going to happen and that’s it. They asked us for ideas and suggestions on how things can improve.”

Moreover the council was unfairly treated because even sports organisations were consulted before it was consulted.

“Castille went first to speak to them instead of us… if you want to convince those people to support you fine… but tell us as well. We had no idea that there would be sports facilities… we had no idea about anything.”

She also expects greater maturity from sports organisations.

“Being told that you have the permission to use a football pitch or that you have permission to use a pool is like asking for charity.  Sports organisations should not go down this road. They are not charity organizations. Waterpolo and football clubs have had incredible success in the past years. Why go down this level of saying thank you for such a kind gesture?”

One of the justifications for the project made by representatives of the Marsaskala commercial community is the claim that the project will trickle wealth down to the community. 

“I do not believe that there will be a trickledown effect. Shop owners are being shortsighted as wealth from the project will not trickle down to the people of Marsaskala.”

The ones who will surely benefit from the project are “the landowners, the construction developers and probably the people who will live on campus”.  

Moreover shop owners might benefit but they have to consider that more shops may open, increasing the competition.  “If they are not up to standard they will fail.”

Neither is Attard keen on naming alternative sites, insisting that Zonqor point should be excluded, as it is unacceptable in principle.

“No, I do not think this is my job. This responsibility is not part of my remit. I am not an engineer or a planner. I think MEPA should find an acceptable site.” 

Marsaskala is a diverse community of people who originated in other localities. But Attard insists that this does not weaken the locality’s strong sense of community.

“My family hails from Birgu. Many here come from different areas. But this does not mean that we do not care. Many people joined together in previous campaigns against the location of the Sant’Antnin treatment plant, the Ta’ Monita development… we fight for our locality.”

james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...