Plucking up the courage

Malta’s weak environmental and planning policies are too problematic to ignore

Environment minister Aaron Farrugia at one of his political activities with FKNK president Lucas Micallef and FKNK CEO Lino Farrugia
Environment minister Aaron Farrugia at one of his political activities with FKNK president Lucas Micallef and FKNK CEO Lino Farrugia

Every so often we all wake up in a terrible mood, a feeling that can only be wiped away (in my case) when I think of having the fortune of having such a loving and healthy family.

But these last days have made me very uncomfortable. I cannot mince my words anymore.

The decision to issue permits for the extension of a horrendous development for Joe Portelli, a frontman for so many rich investors in property and construction, at a site next to the once picturesque village of Sannat in Gozo, is one such episode that causes me immense discomfort.

And please note that soon after this permit’s issuance, Mr Portelli’s company issued another multi-million bond for his Mercury House development!

Malta’s weak environmental and planning policies are too problematic to ignore. The shocking, last-minute decision to open the hunting of the endangered Turtle dove (gamiema) in Spring, even though Brussels has issued letter of complaint against Malta warning of infringement procedures, is yet another decision that has raised my dander.

And then the straw that broke the camel’s back, were the €100 and €200 cheques issued to all and sundry: money literally thrown at people before an election, without even assessing people’s financial status. They are illogical and silly – not even a simple means test for such a generous spend!

And if you have not noticed, all my concerns are linked to the Labour Party. Because this is the party that has, in historic terms, been closest to my beliefs and the reason why I have still not got myself to consider the Nationalist Party as the alternative I could vote for (save of course, the all important EU referendum election).

It does not mean that people should NOT vote for another party. Yet, like so many others, I am still too affected and hurt by what I viewed the apartheid politics prior to 2013 by the Nationalist Party. And when I see the war of attrition by the PN’s own mercenaries and allies in the media, that continues to this day treating anyone who is in favour of Labour as some mortal sin, it just pushes so many people away.

The disastrous blunders of the Muscat administration and certain policies of this administration, couple with the the latest events I mentioned here, make me seriously consider not to vote. It will be the first time since 1981. I was then disgusted by the politics of Dom Mintoff and his thuggery, but never quite accepted the PN as an alternative. My father, always calm and composed, a man born and bred at the dockyard, had told me that the parties will know that I did not vote: “Just go, cast the vote, do whatever you want but you cannot not vote.”

I was then 18, and I did not question my father’s wisdom. Today I am close to 60, and the problems I see today are substantially different from 1981. At 18, my concerns were primarily the same themes: corruption, environment and hunting. As I think aloud, it seems not much has changed in this regard.

In 1981, the environment faced several problems but we had hundreds of thousands of square metres of undeveloped land and countryside, and less cars or roads, and more open spaces.

Today we have a population which has incremented by nearly 170,000 (not including foreigners) since 1981 and a car population that makes driving a veritable nightmare.

Environment has become a buzzword but the construction industry remains the biggest influencer of politicians. And a force to be reckoned with.

And on a micro level, the hunters’ lobby has become more political, openly endorsing government ministers, including the environment minister Aaron Farrugia who openly declares, when questioned about hunting, that Malta’s hunting tradition comes first, not Brussels’s declared ban on spring hunting, a statement completely not in synch for a minister who should be upholding the EU’s values.

To many people, whether Wied Znuber or the promontory at Sannat gets obliterated, is of no concern at all. To many, the most important thing is what is left in their pocket, and politicians know this. They know that most Maltese and Gozitans will look the other way as vast tracts of land are deleted by the likes of greedy Joe Portellis.

The icing on the cake has to be the proposal to create gardens in the centre of urban centres, costly projects which will draw up so called green belts, but really and truly are just tokens of greenery in areas surrounded by heavy development.

There is a silver lining.

More people are angry with our politicians and their superficiality.

Young people and young families want authentic greenery and that can only be if we protect our natural environment from developers and greedy investors, if we change policies and stop bending over to the whims of big business.

Prime Minister Robert Abela, who next Sunday will probably still be prime minister, has said that changing local plans would open a Pandora’s box and lead to massive compensation. So what! With all the money being dished out in this campaign, I cannot understand why a €100 million cannot be set aside to save more land. What is the big deal?

If we really understand the importance of future generations and really mean what we say when we come to talk about the environment, then a €100 million fund or perhaps money from the tainted passport scheme to save mother nature would not be such a bad idea.

But then I am just dreaming.

Which is why I am in such an awful mood, and that this time round, my father is unfortunately not around to tell me how to act in the next election. At age 59, it is about time I pluck up the courage to do what I should have done a long time ago.

It might after all bring back the smile to my face.