Enough of the green light and more red cards please

For once, the world of sports – the kind that is gaining a spine and a strong personality in Malta – could not bear to see football being bent to the whims of Joseph Portelli.

Joseph Portelli
Joseph Portelli

Understandably, many on this fair island right now feel that construction mogul Joe Portelli has been quite the buffoon. And that’s putting it mildly. (Oh, hold on... last time I compared someone to Inspector Clouseau, I was fined €3,000... I wonder if the great and good of this country have now won the courts’ favour in being protected against unseemly labels.) 

But to stick to Portelli. Because the story here is that our dear Gozitan developer thinks he has a licence, a golden passport, to do anything he wishes. He thinks he is unstoppable, backed by big-name investors, well known in the business community, embraced by the political class, splashing out his money to sponsor so many community teams and events to sing his praises... he’s got the game all sussed out. Now he promises good returns for his investors, at the cost of permanent scars to our landscape, and brags about his political connections. 

So what if he wants to get off his boardroom chair to play football for Ħamrun Spartans in the Premier League at the venerable age of 43, right? To a guy like him, everything’s a game – president of Nadur FC one day, the next day delegate it to his son, president of Ħamrun a week later, score a championship goal for Nadur the next, and now step down from president of Ħamrun to secure a place on the footballers’ bench! 

What a farce: no sooner was he shown the door at the MFA (thankfully), Portelli was withdrawing his resignation from Ħamrun president to return to the top job. So no prizes for guessing that, his intended ‘resignation’ was all a ruse for him to ‘delegate’ that office to a trusted person while he pulls both the strings at the club while playing at Ta’ Qali! What a laughing stock.

For once, the world of sports – the kind that is gaining a spine and a strong personality in Malta – could not bear to see football being bent to the whims of Portelli. Maybe in the world of permits and construction where only money talks, all Portelli sees is the green light. This time he got the red card.


Not every journalist comes freshly baked out of a journalism school or with a degree to boot, and then again, a good part of the trade that uses its nose to sniff out stories does not really follow some handbook. True, the amount of truth-professing bloggers seems to have multiplied of late, all claiming a sacrosanct right to say what they want in the name of freedom of expression. But the reality of doing journalism tends to be a tad more prosaic, especially when it is burdened by long hours and a less-than-impressive salary. 

But having spent decades now in the trade, when I see the latest issue of the Associated Press handbook, I can sense how the shockwaves of language are harbingers of a deeper undercurrent of change and expectations. 

You may not read about it here first, but apparently, it is now no longer expected to say that someone is homeless, but “houseless”. Forget breatsfeeding, it is now “chest feeding”. The Lancet, the reputable scientific medical jounrnal, carried a front page about “bodies with uteruses”, not women with uteruses. And the American Cancer society refers to “bodies that menstruate”.  

The neologisms of this new world of gender identity that refuse to conform to the binary norms of yesteryear surely come from the right place, but there is no doubt that in certain respects the so-called ‘liberals’ espousing can sound somewhat deranged. I have no problem in saying that I will never be enamoured to such a radicalisation of language – I can leave that kind of mental acrobatics to others to deal with. I don’t need to be arm-twisted by linguists into respecting those who feel they do not identify with male or female, or who feel sexual organs can no longer be attributed to ‘traditional’ genders. 

But if such concepts suddenly turn into purist values for a new generation of voters, I fear that we are missing the wood for the trees here. All this navel-gazing on identity seems to weaken communitarian bonds that are necessary to face existential challenges that concern, say the climate and jobs, real phenomena that are life-and-death matters for some. Does it matter to a ‘homeless’ person that they are now ‘houseless’ and still unable to access mental health care or a job? Does any mother need to be reassured that it is “bodies” that host uteruses before we make sure that we are ensuring equality on parental leave, for example? 

Let’s get real: if this is what young voters are concerned about, without having a proper understanding of facts and history (Maltese in our case), then they will simply misunderstand their present. 

Parents should be rightly concerned for example about our serious lack of reading habits, and the lack of a critical understanding of recent Maltese political history that could help us understand the roots of our modern national identity. Instead we get to be entrenched in stereotypes about historical aberrations where everything is either black or white. Knowledge of our history is crucial to building citizens that are willing to take a stand, offer some altruism. Making history compulsory would give us citizens who could understand why our natural and cultural heritage is in peril when it is besieged by ill-thought-out planning laws and greedy development. 

But we are burdened by our smallness, and a party system that is petrified of shaking the system. And it is that system that has to be rocked. 

Not rocked by privilege, self-entitlement, or contenders for power. Malta hosts so many civil society actors whose passion for change is disinterested in the trappings of power – take Graffitti for one, which campaigns relentlessly against the wrongs in society and the ruthless business psyche and political lethargy of those in power.


And while on that subject, and Graffitti’s latest campaign on the Comino Hotel project, it should be noted that the only reason that the Hili Group gets to move ahead with this project is because the government of the day is sanctioning it. Oh yes: if Robert Abela had to wake up tomorrow, and announce that any such development on Comino would be oh so sacrilegious for Malta... well nobody in the Planning Authority would dare contradict the boss. Because there is no way that a company like Hili would have undertaken such a multi-million investment without a friendly nod from the powers that be – that is the truth. 

Which goes to show, that the planning process, when it comes to the big projects... nudge, nudge, wink, wink... is only pre-determined by the politicians who run this country.