‘Everyone’s responsible, except whoever’s responsible’

... and of course, ‘more complaints from disappointed tourists’ (many of whom end their tirade, with a resolute promise to ‘never visit this dump of an island, again!’)

Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo had to react to news reports about how Comino (and in particular, the Blue Lagoon) have fallen to prey to ‘negative tourism ratings’
Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo had to react to news reports about how Comino (and in particular, the Blue Lagoon) have fallen to prey to ‘negative tourism ratings’

There seems to be a rather consistent pattern, developing within the fantasy universe in which our Prime Minister – together with most (but not all) of his Cabinet members – currently resides.

It goes something like this:

1) Things go horribly wrong with certain government policies (or projects);

2) Government blames everyone but itself, for the failure of those policies/projects;

3) When government runs out of other entities to blame... it simply shifts the blame onto US: the people of this (admittedly undisciplined) country, who are are just too darn ‘irresponsible’, to ever follow the rules properly...

Right: I suppose you’ll be expecting a few examples now, won’t you? OK, here goes:

Remember that time – in May of this year – when Robert Abela was asked to comment about ‘road safety’: in the wake of a much-publicised traffic accident, which had cost a 17-year-old girl her life?

Now: before reproducing his answer, verbatim... it is worth remembering that the accident had occurred on the Central Link Bypass (inaugurated in January 2022): a project which had previously been criticised for ‘encouraging motorists to speed’; and for ‘lacking certain basic safety features’.

Even before the tragedy, Attard local councillor Victor Galea had been “highly critical of Transport Malta for having failed to install speed cameras in the ‘black spot’, where there have been other serious crashes, despite the council’s pleading.” (The Times, May 23, 2023)

And yet – in the same article, please note – a spokesman for Transport Malta said that: “the road safety audit [for the Central Link Bypass] was in its ‘final stages’.” This, incidentally, was the reason given for the lack of speed cameras, too: “Transport Malta [was] waiting for the recommendations of an external safety audit on the Central Link road before installing safety features that it says could include speed cameras...”

Lastly, TM also confirmed – as had long been predicted by critics – that the Central Link Bypass had, in fact, ‘ecouraged motorists to speed’.

The TM spokeman was quoted as follows: “the Attard local council had alerted Transport Malta to potential speed problems during the construction of the Central Link, before it was opened in January 2022. We agreed to carry out traffic studies, speed studies, particularly to see what the problem is and where the problem is.”

Those studies had concluded that: “motorists were on average driving 10 km above the speed limit. The highest speed measured was 157km/h in a 60km/h zone.”

And already – just from those few details - we can see that:

1) In its mad haste to inaugurate this project, the government disregarded all previous safety warnings: and chose to open the Central Link Bypass to traffic, almost two years before a proper safety audit had even been carried out.

2) Eighteen months later, the bypass still lacks proper safety measures: a state of affairs Transport Malta blames on the entity entrusted with the external audit – “a highly experienced UK-based Road Safety Audit team”, we are told – indirectly arguing that its own hands were tied, until the audit was completed [Note: sounds suspiciously similar to the excuse Robert Abela had originally come up with, when asked for a public inquiry into the death of Jean-Paul Sofia. Remember? ‘We will wait until the magisterial inquiry is concluded’].

3) Since its inauguration in January 2023, this poorly-planned (and seemingly unfinished) bypass has already been the site of numerous ‘serious accidents’ – including, but not limited to, the fatal one of May 2023 – and, oh look: most of these accidents just happen to have been ‘speed-related’.

All things considered, then: it would be safe to classify the Central Link Bypass as one of those government projects that ‘went horribly (but HORRIBLY) wrong’. So, um... how did the Prime Minister answer that earlier question, about his government’s entire ‘road safety’ strategy?

Well... the first thing he said was, ‘installing more speed cameras will not automatically solve all road safety problems’ (a line that was lifted, word-for-word, from a Transport Malta statement issued the previous day); and he followed that up with:  “increased road safety measures alone will not work, unless people do their bit by driving more responsibly.”

Got that, folks? So apparently, these things we call ‘safety measures’ don’t actually ‘work’... unless we all keep ourselves ‘safe’, to begin with!

Erm... sorry, but that’s a bit like saying: ‘Medicine doesn’t work, either... so long as you somehow manage to keep yourself from ever actually ‘getting sick’, in your entire life... and therefore, end up never actually NEEDING ANY, in the first place!”

And besides: by the same reasoning, why bother even having such things as law-enforcement agencies – such as the police, or the law-courts (or, dare I say it: tax-collection agencies, such as the Inland Revenue Department) – at all? Let’s face it: none of that would even be remotely necessary... if only the people of Malta and Gozo would all be just a little more ’responsible’, and... erm... STOP COMMITTING SO MANY CRIMES, DAMN IT!!!’

Honestly, though: how does our Prime Minister even get away with saying such outrageous stuff? And how does he manage to just shirk off his own government’s responsibility, for having made our roads manifestly more DANGEROUS that they ever were before... by somehow shifting the blame, onto US?!

But no matter: because Robert Abela is hardly the only member of his own Cabinet, to resort to that line as an automatic ‘defence’, every time they are criticised.

This week, Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo became the latest example of this pattern in action: when he issued a statement, in response to news reports about how Comino (and in particular, the Blue Lagoon) had fallen to prey to ‘negative tourism ratings’... on account of the sheer amount of garbage (and rats) generated by the ‘conveyor-belt’ style of mass-tourism, favoured by his own government’s tourism policies.

Once again, a little background context may be in order. If you’ll remember: last summer, NGOs like Moviment Graffiti, Friends of the Earth, FAA, Birdlife Malta, Wirt Ghawdex, and many more, had all complained about the mass-tourism exploitation of Comino (which, by the way, is supposed to be a ‘protected, Natura 2000 site’).

They reminded Minister Bartolo that the Natura 2000 Management Plan for Comino – which was supposed to have been fully implemented, by 2014 – included specific ‘management actions’, such as: “To plan and implement a tourism carrying capacity assessment of the Blue Lagoon, [...] including at least: seasonal variability of number of tourists, landings of tourists by ferries, entrance fee-options, zoning and wardening.”

They also drew the minister’s attention to the fact that there are supposed to be measures against ‘noise and light pollution’, in place: but those measures were constantly flouted, by the same handful of privileged tour-operators who have practically hijacked The Blue Lagoon, for themselves (including not just the ‘kiosk-and-deckchair’ operators... but also the ferry services, that shuttle literally thousands of tourists to that beach, in the course of a single summer.)

But – predictably enough – the same NGOs this week complained that: “Unfortunately, this plan has never come to fruition, except for a few promises by tourism minister Clayton Bartolo. Both in 2021 and 2022, the minister promised that a plan would be in effect for the following year. Earlier this year, he mentioned that some changes will be implemented for this summer, but again the ‘holistic plan’ remains altogether inexistent.”

“[...] This shows that the system – or lack of it – used in Comino is completely insufficient and inadequate, as it only focuses on the economic aspect. This lack of planning is not only harming the environment, with the increase in noise, light and general pollution, but also the economic aspect”: pointing to negative Tripadvisor reviews on the shabby and run-down ‘touristic’ areas of the island.

Now: given that most of these complaints are now coming directly from the tourists, themselves... Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo cannot so lightly ‘brush off’ those accusations. For it’s true, you know: he DID promise us the implementation of a holistic management plan, for Comino... both last year; and the year before that.

And yet we can all see, with our own eyes - just by visiting the place (ideally, with a peg on our noses) – that all he has really succeeded in delivering, to Comino,  is: ‘more mass-tourism’; ‘less enforcement’; and consequently, ‘more shabbiness; more neglect; more garbage; more vermin; more filth’...

... and of course, ‘more complaints from disappointed tourists’ (many of whom end their tirade, with a resolute promise to ‘never visit this dump of an island, again!’)

So, um... what do you all think the Tourism Minister’s answer will be, to the question: who’s to blame, for all this?

To tell you the truth: it’s so painfully predictable, I’m almost reluctant to even reproduce it here, at all.

But... yup, you guessed it! "The Ministry would also like to draw the attention to the fact that while [The Blue Lagoon] is for everyone to enjoy, bathers, contractors and users alike need to respect the environment and look after the beach, as well..."

In other words: absolutely EVERYONE’s to blame, for the sorry state of Comino – including you, me, the tourists, the contractors: presumably, even the rats themselves (I mean: can’t they even see they’re not wanted, there? Why don’t they just... um... GO AWAY??)...

... everyone, that is, except the only person, in the entire country, who really IS directly responsible for Comino’s management: as both a tourism destination, and a Natura 2000 site.

You just...

... can’t

... make

... this

... shit

... up.