‘Can’t do shit about it’ is not exactly an answer, you know…

So what, if Local Plans drawn up 20 years ago identified only ‘Wied il-Ghajn and Xemxija’ as sites for a marina? That is precisely why they need to be changed again. They are, very clearly, outdated…

That’s funny. I thought it was already universally agreed that we are, at the end of the day, just a nation of ‘Ġaħans’ (or, for those unfamiliar with the dramatis personae of Maltese folklore: just a bunch of moronic, retarded village idiots…)

And yet, it seems that every single Maltese ‘Gahan’ - and his dim-witted dog, too - was perfectly capable of answering Perit Audrey’s mystery competition question last week. Heck, some even derided the whole thing for being ‘too darn obvious’… or for ‘insulting our intelligence’ with such a laughably blatant giveaway…

I, on the other hand, am still totally stumped by it, all this time later. How did it go again, anyway? Four letters, starts with an ‘H’… and it signifies something that you can’t (or are not supposed to) do while driving, according to a particular traffic sign…

Hmmm.  Not really a fair question, is it now? For one thing, it presupposes a certain familiarity with the mechanical complexities of the motor-car, and all that pertains thereto: you know, traffic signs… the Highway Code… the internal combustion engine… car accessories, and safety features…

And while that may indeed be considered ‘easy-peasy’, by the average Maltese Gaha… I mean, ‘automobile enthusiast’… let’s not forget that there are some people out here – starting with myself – who don’t actually understand jack-shit about…

.. cars.

OOOOH! Hang on a sec: I think I’ve got it! Yes, of course! Why on earth didn’t I think of that before?


Yes indeed: that’s our mystery four-letter word, right there! And it makes perfect sense, too. Think about for a second: what’s the one thing you can’t possibly ‘do’ about the traffic situation, no matter how hard you try?

‘Shit’, that’s what. You can’t ‘do shit’ about traffic in Malta: least of all, when you happen to be stuck in it yourself (and that, by the way, is when you’ll be most tempted to perform the action that the sign in question really prohibits… not to mention use a little ‘bad language’ while you’re at it…).

And yes, now I also see why so many people found that same question so idiotically easy to begin with… because ‘traffic’ is not exactly the only issue that we can’t seem to ‘do shit’ about in this country, is it now?

But seeing as we all had so much fun participating in that (shockingly difficult) quiz… let’s do it again. Only this time, I’ll quote from a few random newspaper articles - all published over the last three months – and you try and identify the common thread that runs through them all.

Ready? here goes:

On the proposal to re-designate Hondoq ir-Rummien as ODZ

> “Regarding areas which are ODZ and which aren’t, may I remind everyone that this country’s Local Plans were drawn up in the year 2006. This happened during a Nationalist administration, and this government never changed the local plan […] We are in a situation where the government’s hands are tied by the preceding government…”– Prime Minister Robert Abela, 1 June 2021.

On ODZ development in general

“What happened in this country in 2005 and 2006 was that the Local Plans were changed by another administration of government. It is important to stress that, from that time onwards, the Labour government did not add a single inch to the development boundaries.” – Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia, 4 June 2021

On the Marsaskala marina project

“As government, we are constrained by the Local Plans. The Local Plans say that in this country, yacht marinas can only be considered in two places: Wied il-Ghajn, and Xemxija. […] Now, there are three options: you either halt the registration of leisure boats; or else those boats would have to be brought on land into boatyards; […] or the third option is to build new yacht marinas.” - Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg, 25 August 2021.

Right, I’ll stop there for now: because as you can all already see for yourselves… it’s a tough one, huh? So tell you what: I’ll make it a little easier for you. Let’s just say that, if Perit Audrey were to give you a hint - it would probably look something like:

‘L_C_L PL_NS’.

And, well, this time there are no prizes for guessing the correct answer. It seems – very clearly and indisputably – that our government’s answer to pretty much all Malta’s environmental concerns, can be summed up as follows:

1) ‘It’s not our fault, but the fault of the (boo, hiss) Nationalist government which amended the Local Plans in 2006…

… even though that’s almost two whole decades ago now; and last I looked, Labour has been in power for around eight of those 20 years;

2) ‘The Labour government did not amend those Local Plans, or extend the development boundaries, since 2013’…

… even if… erm… they did, you know. It was, after all, in 2016 – three years into Joseph Muscat’s first term – that the Local Plans were amended to relax building height restrictions in certain areas… and we can all see that this resulted in a dramatic, upward (if admittedly not outward) expansion of the development zones.

And finally;

3) Today’s Labour government is powerless to do what the Nationalists somehow had the power to do way back in 2006, and… um… change the local plans again (only this time, to remove all the mistakes and injustices caused by the 2006 amendments; and which the Labour Party used to complain about so often, and so bitterly, when still in opposition…)

But that’s just the start of what’s wrong with the attitude of three Cabinet ministers who, between them, oversee practically all aspects of Malta’s entire development sector.

Never mind, for now that all three of them gave us a… let’s just say, ‘inaccurate’ interpretation of those particular issues; no, the real problem is that the government’s hands are, quite simply, not ‘tied’ at all.

At any time he likes, Robert Abela could very easily do what he himself claims is impossible; and in exactly the same way as the Nationalists did it in 2006. For instance: there is technically nothing stopping him from tabling a parliamentary motion to, say, reverse the 2006 reclassification of Hondoq back to ODZ.

The only obstacle, as things stand, is Abela’s own stated concern that this would anger certain ‘factions’ (in this case, the developers who bought Hondoq on the understanding that it was ‘developable’)… possibly resulting in court action, etc.

But again: that is not, in itself, a ‘legal impediment’. All government needs to do is proceed with that course of action; fight out any court cases that may arise (as, after all, it is always only happy to do in the case of EU infringements against hunting); and – in the very worst-case scenario – it might end up actually paying out compensation, when (or if) it loses the case…

There: not exactly an insurmountable challenge, is it now? And it gets even easier with the Marskala marina project, too…

For let’s face it: while there may, ultimately, be some merit to Abela’s other argument – i.e., “that the local plans established certain rights for land and property owners; [and] of government were to change the local plan as it pleases, those rights [would be infringed]”… none of that, quite frankly, applies in the case of a proposed yacht marina (which ultimately operates more on along the lines of a ‘concession’, than an outright ‘sale’).

So even if we accept the government’s basic argument, that it cannot simply rush headlong into any far-reaching reform of the Local Plans…. there is still nothing preventing it from intervening in this one individual case; which, incidentally, cannot possibly infringe anyone’s ‘development rights’ anyway...

Besides: Ian Borg’s argument doesn’t hold very much water, either. So what, if Local Plans that were drawn up 20 years ago identified only ‘Wied il-Ghajn and Xemxija’ as sites for a marina? That is precisely why they need to be changed again. They are, very clearly, outdated…

This much was already evident to the Labour Party itself, almost a full decade before those plans even came out. In 1997, a Deloitte report (commissioned by Prime Minister Alfred Sant, no less) not only concluded that a yacht marina in Marsaskala “may spoil the character of the bay”; but it also considered 18 other possible sites, before eventually shortlisting four.

This in turn means that there are far more ‘options’, at the government’s disposal, that just the three mentioned by Ian Borg. There is also the option to revise the local plans again; and this time, draw up a more scientific – and less obviously outdated – policy for yacht marinas in the whole of Malta and Gozo.

But no: the same government that is only too happy to chop and change the Local Plans at will – invariably, to facilitate more (outward or upward) development in this country – suddenly develops scruples about amending those plans in a way that might actually benefit the environment of Malta: not to mention the residents of all Malta’s communities.

And besides: stripped down to their barest essentials… what do those three statements ultimately tell us, anyway, about the government’s ability to actually solve any of Malta’s pressing environmental problems?

‘Sorry, folks, but… our hands are tied.’ And what is that, if not just another way of saying: ‘Sorry, folks, but… we can’t do jack-shit about that one, either…’

Not much of an answer, is it now? Actually, it sounds more like a crock of Ħ___ to me…