There is hope after all

Graffiti’s show of force at Blue Lagoon is a reaction to decades of treating the Blue Lagoon as a postcard destination when in fact it is a veritable latrine, serving locals and foreigners alike but offering a small group of Gozitans and Maltese with a very healthy cash business

They are remarkable for being unswerving imbued by a great sense of purpose that makes them unique. They are renowned for being consistent, vocal under all political administrations. Notable for not being obsessed with protagonism but to serve as the voice of those who do no have the courage or the time to speak up. They are non-violent, express their opposition and concern with their unique posters of rebellion-aesthetic, and certainly have no patience for protocol. They come by the name Graffitti, the most independent and respected of all the civil society groups.

Graffiti’s show of force at Blue Lagoon in Comino on Saturday is a reaction to decades of treating the Blue Lagoon as a postcard destination when in fact it is a veritable latrine, serving locals and foreigners alike but offering a small group of Gozitans and Maltese with a very healthy cash business.

No one has really cared to take action in Comino. The small and big operators have continued to do as they please. And since there is no limit to how many deck-chairs, kiosks or pleasure yachts appear in the area, Blue Lagoon has been deflowered. No one, it seems, has realised that special areas need special attention.

Blue Lagoon is not the only locality in Malta and Gozo that has been seriously messed up.

This state of affairs is the result of political lethargy, indifference and of reverence to those who have made localities such as the Blue Lagoon their cash cows. Or better still, to those who have a zero EQ when it comes to open and green spaces.

Tokenism is not the solution in addressing these problems. So far the environment remains relegated to the fourth division by this and previous governments. And though one cannot imagine Prime Minister Robert Abela stopping to think of this problem as a real issue, he needs to start considering that the management of the country is not only about reacting to people’s demands before elections, but addressing concerns that have an impact on quality of life.

Abela needs to start to realise that the country needs his attention. And one cannot do this if he is detached from these problems. There is a feeling – and this has nothing to do with being in the middle of August – that the government is simply on auto-pilot. Labour MPs are facing a disquieted constituency and some are brave enough to ask where the government is. Most are publicly silent for now, but Abela should realise that the nervousness and exasperation in the Labour camp is beginning to slowly surface.

We have a problem of empty spaces in Malta and a massive environmental deficit. You can just see the mindset. Politicians gather round small green spaces in the middle of cemented town centres. They boast of having created a “green lung”, a misnomer to stand in for sanitised urban garden. As they speak, hectares of land are either bulldozed and our country become smaller and smaller.

And though green lungs in city centres are not a flawed approach to greening our country and offer open spaces in urban areas, we need to protect and preserve the little pristine countryside or shoreline we have.

Graffitti are the voice of many. They bring to the fore the concerns of common folk, of those who wish for a better country. A small over-populated country that is very impressive when it comes to economic and fiscal statistics or postcard-pictures, but one which in truth is claustrophobic, ugly, dirty, cemented-over, neglected and managed by those who believe that the first thing that counts is business and the rest, a very remote second.

* * *

Air Malta has, for as long as I remember, been the national hot potato. If there was a mistake earlier in the year it was when finance minister Clyde Caruana dispassionately explained the desperate situation at the national airline and the decision to transfer Air Malta workers to the government sector.

There were three problems to this: the first was that it was a perfect example of State Aid that would definitely raise an eyebrow in Brussels; secondly it would also distort the pay structure in the civil service which has far lower wages that those at Air Malta; and thirdly that it would be transferring the problem from the government-owned company to the government – illegal in the EC’s eyes.

Caruana has now taken the route of voluntary retirement. This will cost the airline €50 million against the €15 million bill a year that Air Malta forks out for these workers. Is it the way forward? Perhaps. We are trying to save an airline by injecting steroids and at the same time removing chunky fat from around the waist.

The MEA, an employers’ association whose shrill voice often tends to follow on from the Nationalist dog-whistle, has come out crying wolf about tax-payers’ money being thrown to the dogs. They were manifestly absent when government splashed millions in COVID supplements to many of their members, enabling them to retain their companies operational and surprisingly, profitable in the COVID months.

Caruana has many challenges in the coming months. When I asked him about the future of Air Malta months ago, he said that the future was not in his hands. “We will do what we have to do, but it is Europe who will decide in the end.”

In the coming weeks, the future of Air Malta will be overshadowed by the future of energy prices in Malta. Will Abela’s government and his minister Caruana realign energy prices? And if so by how much? And if not, what is the catch in retaining heavily subsidised energy prices? How can it make sense in the long run without the rest of us stepping up to share the burden (or at least, switch the lights off at night...). It could make as much sense as the voluntary retirement at Air Malta. Pleasures yet to come.

In the meantime, most Maltese are taking some time off. They should not be too worried; our politicians have been doing that for some weeks now. Perhaps for too long. Some are in their usual holiday patch in Sicily, others in a roving caravan on mainland Europe, and others faraway in some forgotten corner of this planet away from the hustle and bustle of Malta.

Sooner, rather than later, we will be back to ground-zero and needless to say, the issues that we have perhaps forgotten or erased from our short memories will resurface... and I fear that some of them will be haunting us in these columns.