‘The best in the world’. Laughable, certainly… BUT…

Are we seriously expected to believe that Malta will become a global leader in environmental protection – the ‘best in the world’, no less – in just 10 years?

Prime Minister Robert Abela
Prime Minister Robert Abela

OK, I’ll admit it is tempting to simply climb aboard the media bandwagon, and write a scathing satirical take-down of Robert Abela’s latest gaffe… even if, to be fair, it doesn’t come anywhere close to some of the more astonishing things the same prime minister has also uttered, in the one-and-a-half years he’s been in that role.

You know: ‘We have won the war on COVID-19’. ‘Waves are found only in the sea’, etc. etc…

But hey, let’s not dig all that up again. The point is, for Robert Abela to suddenly claim, out of nowhere, that “Malta must strive to be the ‘best in the world’ in the next decade” – when we can all see that, in a great many areas, we are quite clearly cruising ahead in the clean opposite direction – is also to pretty much send out a gilt-edged invitation to public derision.

And this time, he seems to have almost literally added an ‘RSVP’, too.  Consider, for instance, the ‘five pillars’ he aims to actually build this Utopic economic vision upon:

“Sustainable economic growth; Infrastructure; Education; Good governance; and… [choke, choke, cough, cough]… the Environment.”

Sorry, but… that’s really asking for it, now.  Without even trying too hard, I could bore any number of holes right through every single one of those pillars… but for the time being, I’ll concentrate only on the one that Abela himself described as ‘the most important’ (also because it reflects on quite a few of the others, too: notably ‘sustainable economic growth’ and ‘infrastructure’… but also ‘good governance’… heck, even ‘education’, now that I think about it…)

‘The environment’. Yes, it certainly is the most important of the lot. But… come on. Seriously. Who on earth does our prime minister even think he is trying to kid…?

On the very same day he said that, the Planning Authority Board went on to commit its latest national outrage: this time, by approving the notorious DB project in St George’s Bay… which will soon dwarf and utterly disfigure the surrounding landscape (whilst also making life hell for all the residents of nearby Pembroke, for years if not decades to come…)

But never mind, for now, that the project is in itself an affront to all accepted norms of proper urban planning, environmental protection, and all the rest. (For too many reasons to be listed out here: but I will mention one, because it is quite frankly outrageous. The viability of this project also depends on an ‘as-yet unapproved’ 1.4km tunnel, to be bored underneath a Natura 2000 site, which will also radically increase the volume of traffic – and with it, congestion, air pollution, more stress, wider roads, fewer trees, etc., etc., etc. – into the entire neighbourhood. And this can only mean that the same tunnel project has itself already been pre-emptively green-lighted… but is merely awaiting the final rubber-stamp of an official PA vote).

Leaving all that aside, however: it is how this project was approved, that makes such an open mockery of all Robert Abela’s new-found commitment to ‘environmental excellence’.

Starting with the fact that the Environment and Resources Authority – i.e., the only institution, in Malta’s entire planning infrastructure, that is actually supposed to protect us against precisely this sort of atrocity – had recused itself from the decision-making process altogether.

And yes: it obviously wouldn’t have made very much difference either way… seeing as how the same ERA had earlier approved a much larger, much more grotesque version of the same project, on the same site….

But put those two observations together, and they tell us something about precisely why the state of Malta’s environment has deteriorated so very alarmingly, in the last few years alone.

It has become a classic case of ‘Environment Last’. Ever since the ill-fated 2013 MEPA demerger – and all the subsequent tinkering of the local plans – the environment has plummeted so far down the scale of national priorities, that… well, you can’t even say it’s on the ‘bottom rung’ anymore. It is, quite frankly, not even on the ladder at all.

And that’s just the start. Somehow, in their mad scramble to finalise their latest ‘fait accompli’, what was left of the PA Board also managed to overlook the three local councils – representing no fewer than 30,000 residents – which had objected from the start… not to mention the unprecedented 17,000 formal objections, filed over the years by the general public.

None of that was even taken into consideration at all, it seems… and what’s more: it turns out that three of the four board members who voted in favour, didn’t even open their mouths once throughout the entire meeting.

Let’s face it: the whole thing was a blatant charade, from beginning to end. And it remains just one project… but one example of countless other cases, in recent years, where the Planning Authority – acting, please note, on loophole-ridden policies drawn up by Robert Abela’s own government – simply doubles up as a revolving door for Malta’s entire construction and development industry… without, it must be said, even bothering to hide the deception any longer.

And… what, we are seriously expected to believe that Malta will become a global leader in environmental protection – the ‘best in the world’, no less – in just 10 years? That we will suddenly manage to not only halt such a rapidly accelerating rate of environmental decline… but actually reverse it altogether…

…which reminds me: how do we even plan to do that, anyway? By demolishing what we have already built, and ‘restoring the area to its original natural state’ (which isn’t even possible to begin with)…?

But that’s just an aside. The bottom line is… are we really (really, though) expected to believe that we can not only ‘reverse this trend’, but actually overtake all other competing nations, to eventually cross the finishing line of the International Grand Prix of Environmental Protection? And in just one decade, too…?

I honestly don’t know what to say. How stupid does Robert Abela even think we are, anyway?

BUT…. and – no offence to those with larger-than-average posteriors – it’s ‘A BIG BUT’… there is also another dimension to Robert Abela’s ‘best in the world’ remark; one that, perhaps, most of his more vocal critics probably can’t even see at all.

Let’s start with the obvious. There is something… shall we say, ‘endearing’ about the sheer boyish over-exuberance Robert Abela always displays on such occasions. At moments, he reminds me of a schoolboy desperately trying to impress his teacher by becoming ‘first in class’. And… well… you wouldn’t exactly want to discourage that sort of ambition in a schoolboy, would you now? (I mean… what sort of world would it be, anyway, if little children didn’t occasionally dream of becoming astronauts… or emperors… or World Cup Winning Goalscorers… or just ‘the best’ at anything, really?)

And by precisely the same token: Robert Abela’s unbridled optimism also happens to chime in with a certain similar yearning, on a much broader level, that can now almost palpably be felt everywhere you turn. If nothing else, it comes after around four years of consistent – relentless, almost – international scrutiny and opprobrium, which… OK, even if deserved, at times… has nonetheless undeniably sucked something out of our national spirit (which, in a bygone era, had earned Malta worldwide accolades ‘For Gallantry’).

I suppose it’s a little like what would actually happen to that schoolboy I mentioned earlier; if his teacher responded to his aspirations by placing him in the corner with a Dunce’s cap, for all the other schoolchildren to jeer at. Let’s just say that, people will eventually tire of being consistently told to their faces, for years on end, that… ‘You? A little squirt like you will never amount to anything, in the end’… (or, in Malta’s specific case: ‘You? You’re just a Mafia State; the most corrupt country in the world’, etc., etc.).

And this never-ending onslaught has not, by any means, been limited only to politics, or the inevitable fall-out of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder in 2017.

No, we’ve been plastered all over the world news for all sorts of other, equally dispiriting reasons: mostly involving immigration, fatal tragedies in our Search and Rescue Area, Moneyval, and so on. And top of it all: in case nobody’s noticed, there’s also been a pandemic throughout the past year and a half (indeed, so far it has coincided almost perfectly with Robert Abela’s entire term as prime minister)… and just like everything else… people are kind of getting sick and tired of all that, too.

Placed in this context – and, of course, viewed only as a purely political gimmick, to add to all the others – suddenly, the idea that Robert Abela would spring up out of nowhere, and brazenly declare (with all the excitement of a ‘teacher’s pet’) that… ‘Hey! Why all the glum faces? Don’t worry, folks: not only are we going to get through all this darkness, in the end (trust me: we just are)… but… you know what? We’re also going to conquer all the known Universe, and become the Masters of Infinity… and Beyond!’

I don’t know. Even if it remains utterly laughable, as a rational proposition… as a schoolboy dream? As a pitch for ‘Toy Story 6’? As a single, discordant note of optimism, in a world that always seems so depressingly inimical…?

Maybe it’s precisely what most people really want to hear, right now. And who knows? Maybe it’s one of the reasons why Robert Abela, in spite of everything, still remains so far ahead in the polls…