‘The dog ate my government’

In just a few words, Robert Abela effectively exposed the sheer non-existence of a government that allowed itself to be ‘gobbled up’ by the wolfish greed of a handful of unscrupulous profiteers

You’ve got to hand it to the Prime Minister, though. Very clearly, he is not a man to be ‘outdone’ by his subordinates: so when, last week, Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo came up with what can only be described as the lousiest, most ‘dog-ate-my-homework’ excuse, in the entire global history of ‘lousy, dog-eating-homework’ excuses… 

… well, Robert Abela evidently felt he had to go one better. Only this time, it wasn’t just his ‘homework’ that got devoured by the Abela family pet - actually, it couldn’t have been: because he very clearly didn’t do any, on this occasion… 

Oh, no: it was his entire government – from policy-formation, to implementation, all the way down to law-enforcement stages - that got itself ‘wolfed down’ in one, greedy gulp. (And let’s face it: what else could you possibly expect, when the same government also allowed itself to just ‘go to the dogs’ like that?)

But I’ve raced ahead of myself as usual, haven’t I? So tell you what: let’s take a small step back, and give ourselves more room to admire this latest (and lousiest) excuse in all its magnificent, ‘dog-eat-dog’ glory. 

As we all know: on Saturday 18 June, members of Moviment Graffiti – that’s right, folks: the same environmentalist NGO that was recently branded (by the Environment Minister, no less) as ‘extremist’ – descended upon Comino’s Blue Lagoon, and took it upon themselves to finally do what Robert Abela’s government had so far repeatedly ‘promised’ to do; but never got round to actually doing. 

They cleared the area of all the illegal deckchairs and umbrellas that had encumbered every square-inch of the entire Blue Lagoon foreshore; and in so doing, they performed precisely the sort of ‘enforcement action’ that the local authorities – in this case, the MTA – are theoretically tasked (and paid for) to perform by the general public; but which they somehow always fail to perform… whenever it gets in the way of someone’s ‘dog-given’ right, to exploit the natural environment for their own personal gain.

In other words: exasperated by decades of government inaction (not to mention ‘collusion with private interests’, etc.), Moviment Graffiti simply ‘took the law into their own hands’. There is no other way to describe it, really; and besides, we all know precisely WHY they resorted to such ‘extreme’ action, too.

It’s not just because all the regulatory authorities that are supposed to enforce the law on Comino (and elsewhere), have spent the past six years studiously ‘looking the other way’: resulting in precisely the same sort of ‘Wild West’ scenario, that would have gone on indefinitely… had Moviment Graffiti not intervened to put a stop to it, once and for all. (Or to put that in classic ‘Scooby Doo’ terms: “And they would have gotten away with it, too… were it not for the intervention of those pesky, meddling ‘extremists’!”) 

No, it’s also because those authorities actually did the OPPOSITE of what they were meant to do, according to their own obligations at law (not to mention the terms of their own 2016 ‘management plan for Comino’; and the Blue Lagoon in particular).

For instance: where the 2016 plan recommended “a tourism carrying capacity assessment”, with a view to “capping the number of pleasure boats and tourists arriving in the Blue Lagoon” … not only was the recommendation itself shelved for over six years; but the government even commissioned various ‘infrastructural works’ to facilitate easier access (by more people) to the same bay.

Among other things, they surfaced a dirt road leading to the Blue Lagoon through a (supposedly protected) Natura 2000 site – without, of course, even bothering to apply for a planning permit beforehand. And they even poured concrete over parts of the lagoon foreshore itself: ostensibly, to “ensure visitors’ health and safety”…  

… even though we can all see, with our own eyes, that it only served to maximise the available space for EVEN MORE deckchairs and umbrellas, to accommodate EVEN MORE tourists in future; while simultaneously creating a ready-made, custom-built ‘pool-deck’…. you know: just in case Joseph Portelli one day applies for his own, private ‘Blue Lagoon Resort’. 

(Honestly, though: how stupid do these people think we are, anyway?)

But by this point, I’d say a clear enough picture has already emerged, to explain exactly why an ‘extremist’ group like Moviment Graffiti would one day put its foot down, and say (ironically, quoting the late former GWU secretary, Tony Zarb): ‘Issa Daqshekk!’

All that remains to complete the picture, is the subsequent revelation that… oh my, who would have ever guessed? The net beneficiaries of all this lawlessness, include at least two companies – one involved in ‘ferrying tourists to Comino’; and the other in ‘providing deckchairs and umbrellas’ (Doink!) – which happen to belong to family members of the Gozo, and Tourism, Ministers respectively. 

That’s right: the same two ministries that were behind most of the above-mentioned ‘embellishment works’ on Comino… with the latter being directly responsible for ‘clamping down on abuses in the tourism sector’, to boot.

In any case: the same government that is responsible for this (let’s face it) hideously shambolic state of affairs, also owes us a few… let’s say, explanations. And naturally, this brings us right back to those two ‘dog-eat-homework’ excuses I mentioned earlier. 

Enough has already been said (and written) about Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo’s contribution: so I’ll keep this part brief. 

But if he really expected us all to believe that – in his own words - “The same day Graffitti carried out the action, MTA officials were going to carry out inspections and ensure the situation is fixed…”

… sorry, but he may as well have just stuck with ‘the dog ate my homework’ line. 

For one thing, it’s a heck of a lot more credible than his actual excuse [Note: dogs do, after all, have a propensity for devouring the unlikeliest of things: including, in at least one case I know, an entire sofa]; and for another… well, it’s a bit like that classic Humphrey Bogart line, from the movie ‘Casablanca’:

“Of all the gin-joints, in all the world… she [Ingrid Bergman] walks into mine…” (Which, translated to fit this particular context, becomes: “Of all the days, in all the summers, of all the past six years in which the authorities took no action at all on Comino… the MTA just happened to choose the one when a bunch of activists were destined to ‘beat them to it’.”)

Erm… yeah, right! (Or, to quote the rather apt name of one of those two companies: ‘OH, YEAH!’) 

But still: it remains a good deal more acceptable, insofar as excuses go, than the one Robert Abela came up with next. Because when the Prime Minister was asked to comment about this same fiasco, only yesterday…

….he said that: “the removal of some of the sunbeds and umbrellas at the popular Blue Lagoon should serve as an example of how things should be done all over Malta and Gozo.”

Huh? What? Come again, please? Did our Prime Minister really just tell us, there, that what we all witnessed on Comino last weekend – that is to say, ‘civil society taking the law into its own hands, when faced by years of government inaction’ – is not just entirely acceptable, in and of itself… but also… ‘IDEAL?!’ And much more beside: ‘An example of how things should be done… ALL OVER MALTA AND GOZO (??!!!)”

If so… well, like I said at the very beginning: you’ve got to hand it to Robert Abela. Think about it for a second: there can’t be THAT many Prime Ministers in the world, who would so candidly admit that - in terms of the impact it actually has, on all the areas it is supposed to govern (‘from policy-formation, to implementation, all the way down to law-enforcement stages’, remember?) – quite frankly, his own government may as well not even exist… AT ALL!

For let’s face it, folks: if it’s so very ‘ideal’, for civil society to ‘step in and clean up the mess’, each and every time our government fails to shoulder its own responsibilities… well, what’s the next logical step in that progression, if not to simply appoint Moviment Graffiti to govern in Robert Abela’s place… and just get it over with?

But there you have it, I suppose. In just a few words, Robert Abela effectively exposed the sheer non-existence, of a government that allowed itself to be ‘gobbled up’ by the wolfish greed of a handful of unscrupulous profiteers…. to the point where it not only fails to clamp down on even the most blatant of illegalities; but actually ends up ‘aiding and abetting’ those illegalities itself. 

And in a sense, that also makes the Prime Minister’s excuse – lousy though it may otherwise be – perfectly true, in the end.

The dog really DID eat Robert Abela’s government, damn it! (In fact, it’s probably burying the bones somewhere in the Abela family garden, even as we speak…)