Ask a serious question, get a silly answer…

In all honesty, though: how on earth can anyone not be ‘disillusioned’, by a cop-out of such staggering proportions?

If you wanted any further proof of just how badly Malta’s political system has so far failed the country… you need look no further than a ‘government event’ that was held in Zabbar last Thursday.

Ostensibly, it was a press conference to announce the latest ‘greening project’ (or ‘greenwashing’, more like it) for that particular locality. And this, presumably, is why it was addressed by a number of speakers who, between them, happen to represent the three most crucial areas of any government’s interactions with its citizens.

First up, there was Clyde Caruana… and yes, I know it looks like I’ve been ‘picking on him’, of late; but he is the Finance Minister, you know; and as such, he is still the ‘go-to’ man for all questions regarding the economic direction and development of the entire country…

Then there was Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia: who – notwithstanding the loss of large chunks of the environmental portfolio, back in January 2020 –remains responsible (on paper, at least) for the preservation, and sustainability, of all Malta’s urban and rural environment…

Lastly, there was Alex Muscat: parliamentary secretary for (inter alia) ‘communities’… which also implies that he is ultimately concerned – or should be, at any rate – with any social repercussions that may arise from his own government’s actions and decisions.

All things told, then, we are talking about three government representatives whose responsibilities cover pretty much all aspects that are of most direct, immediate, concern to Maltese citizens: the economy, the environment, and social welfare.

And there they were all were, slap-bang in the middle of one of the largest social hubs in the south of the island: you know, the one region which the present government has vowed to focus its energies upon, after decades of neglect… and which happens to be (traditionally, anyway) a major Labour Party stronghold to boot.

I mean: what on earth could possibly go wrong?

Well… for starters, someone could very easily seize that opportunity to ask some searching, probing questions, of the kind that governments in general – and this one in particular – don’t normally like being asked (still less, being forced to answer).

And in so doing, that ‘somebody’ might also succeed in sweeping the entire carpet right from under the present government’s feet: if nothing else, by graphically exposing its newfound ‘environmental conscience’ for the shambolic travesty it really is…

Ah, but let me guess: the above possibility never even remotely crossed any of those Cabinet members’ minds, did it? No, not even after surveys have repeatedly indicated the emergence of a groundswell of popular discontent – precisely in the south of Malta, and concerning precisely the environmental (and economic, and social) degradation of communities in that area… and not even when they themselves are, collectively, responsible for so much of this disillusionment to begin with…

Honestly, though. Who is even advising our Cabinet of Ministers, anyway?

But never mind that, for now… because, well, who would have ever guessed?

The unpredicted went on to happen, in the end… and with spectacular aplomb, too. (Indeed, things couldn’t possibly have turned out more ‘symbolic’, had they been scripted and directed by Ingmar Bergman…)

Let’s start with the fact that a single, solitary question – asked by one of only a handful of people to have actually attended the event – ended up being the only aspect of the whole press conference that even got a mention in the press at all. So much so, that the newspaper article didn’t even bother informing us what the original ‘greening initiative’ even was to begin with. (Was it a bird-bath? A playing field? A ‘vertical garden’? I guess we’ll never know…)

But there is a good reason why that single question completely overshadowed the original purpose of the event itself: because, in just a few words, it sliced right through all the acres of ‘greenwash’, and homed in directly onto the crux of the entire matter.

“Is the Marsaskala yacht marina project going to happen: yes, or no?”

There, that’s more like it! Never mind all the newly inaugurated ‘family parks’ and ‘dog-friendly playgrounds’; never mind all the flower-beds on centre-strips, and all the newly-planted trees by roadsides (which, in any case, are only intended to block our view of the latest environmental calamity to have engulfed our neighbourhoods, a little further down the road…).

No: what many people in the south of Malta – and pretty much everywhere else, too – really want to know is: how long is this insanity going to continue? How much more of what is ours – our townscapes, our countryside, our social well-being, or collective memories, our public spaces, our health, our peace of mind, etc. – is going to be taken away from us, to be unceremoniously carved up and distributed among the wealthy few… while local communities are consistently left out of the equation altogether?

Or to put it in the words of the actual follow-up question (repeated over and over again): “Are you [government] going to just continue riding roughshod over the people… like you always do?”

In any case: so much for the question. By the luck of the draw, it fell to Finance Minister Clyde Caruana to try and actually answer it; and to be fair, it’s not as though he was given very much chance.

For some unearthly reason, it seems that the gentleman asking those questions was instantly dissatisfied with Caruana’s reply, after just a few seconds. And who knows? Maybe it had something to do with the words our Finance Minister managed to say in those few seconds… which, to my ears, sounded a lot like:

“I am not the most competent minister to answer that, because the Marsakala project doesn’t fall under my own ministerial portfolio… nor that of my other two colleagues here…”

Erm… yikes! I guess that already gives a partial explanation, as to why there seems to be so much ‘disillusionment’ – specifically targeting today’s Labour government (if not those three cabinet members themselves) – to begin with. For let’s face it: we’re not exactly talking about ‘a few trees being chopped down’ here; or even a single, isolated development project that may ruin someone’s rooftop view.

No, the Marsaskala yacht marina project represents a truly transformational threat, to the entire character and purpose of what is still – in spite of everything – a charming, and much-loved, local seaside community.

The plans that we saw (and which Caruana was unwise enough to remind us of, in the rest of his reply) envisage the uptake of a total of 12,000sqm for land reclamation, and berthing structures for over 700 yachts: which would quite literally take up every square inch of the entire bay, to the detriment of the thousands of residents (and visitors) who quite rightly regard it as their own backyard.

And quite apart from all the obvious, self-evident environmental and/or social impact this would have, on townscape and residents alike… there is also the undeniable fact that this same project – placing, as it so clearly does, ‘yachts’ before ‘people’ - is all-too emblematic of the entire economic direction being taken by the country as a whole.

Even the fact that we are discussing the possibility of a yacht marina in Marsaskala at all – in and of itself – arises directly from the present government’s (and yes: also the past’s) economic policy decisions.

It is, in no uncertain terms, a product of Caruana’s own stated policy roadmap: part of an established socio-economic model, that exploits our limited resources – a bay, in this particular case: but it could just as easily be a valley, a historic village centre, or acres of agricultural land anywhere else - to enrich a tiny minority, at the expense of (quite literally) everybody else…

And to cap it all: it is also an economic direction that Caruana himself – shortly before last month’s budget – had promised to ‘change’. Remember?

“Malta must change its economic model by shifting away from construction and find new ways of generating growth that do not damage the environment,” he said.

“For too long, we have relied only on construction projects to give a short-term boost to the economy,” he said.

“All this has to change,” he said…

But… well, just look at what he’s saying now. A project like the proposed yacht marina in Marsaskala – which would, as that man put is, simply ‘fill the entire place up with yachts’ – is in no way connected to any of those three, pivotal ministerial portfolios… you know: the ones which regulate, and direct, all the most important  areas of any government’s interactions with its citizens.

The Finance Ministry, the Environment Ministry, and the Ministry for Citizenship and Communities… not one of them, it seems, has anything at all to say, about an issue which threatens to erode public trust in the institution of government itself (not to mention, singlehandedly undermine all its patient efforts to hoodwink us all, with all those ‘embellishment projects’ and ‘green-washing initiatives’…)

Small wonder, I suppose, that the gentleman who asked that question would constantly interrupt the minister with scornful, jeering taunts… only to eventually walk away in a huff: as disillusioned as he was before.

He was, after all, just informed – directly to his face – that his own concerns are of absolutely no consequence whatsoever to the present government; and, by exactly the same token… so were we all.

In all honesty, though: how on earth can anyone not be ‘disillusioned’, by a cop-out of such staggering proportions?