The Prime Minister who cried: ‘It’s the Wollof! It’s the Wollof!’

Like Lambkin, Prime Minister Robert Abela will very soon discover the ultimate limits of his own credibility... if he hasn’t done that, already

Remember that old Aesop’s fable, about a cute little lamb named, um, ‘Lambkin’... who was constantly stalked by a Big Bad Wolf named (ahem) ‘Mildred’... and who kept crying out, “IT’S THE WOLLOF! IT’S THE WOLLOF! That’s who it is, folks! THE WOLLOF!”...

... until his trusty protector, an Old English Sheepdog named ‘Bristle Hound’, would invariably show up, just in time to foil Mildred’s plans? (As a rule, by yanking the Wollof off-screen by the neck, with his shepherd’s crook)?

Hang on, wait. That’s not the original Aesop’s fable entitled ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’. That’s what happened to that story, after someone at Hanna-Barbera thought it might make a good basis for a children’s cartoon...

But oh well: it’s still a variation of that same, archetypal allegory... so I may as well stick with cartoon version, for now: with the proviso that my re-telling of Hannah-Barbera’s ‘It’s the Wolf!’ series (which ran on TVM back in the 1970s) is going to be... well, slightly closer to the original.

Let’s say, for instance, that in one episode, Mildred fails to actually show up, as usual. After a while, little Lambkin gets bored... and decides it would be a good laugh to just cry out “It’s the Wollof! It’s the Wollof!”, anyway.

Naturally, Bristle Hound would still come charging to Lambkin’s rescue, as usual... the first time. And yes: the second time, too. And most likely, also the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth AND tenth times, on the trot (sheepdogs are, after all, known to be extraordinarily ‘trusting’, even by canine standards)...

... but, well, there must be a limit to how often even a dog would keep falling for that same old trick. In fact: I reckon that our version of Hanna-Barbera’s ‘It’s the Wolf!’ might actually be way too ‘dark’, even for a 1970s children’s cartoon.

It would probably end with Bristle Hound deciding to just skewer little Lambkin, once and for all; and then inviting Mildred to a lamb-cutlet barbecue, carved straight off the spit (a fitting end, I might add, for one of the most annoying cartoon characters in TV history...)

Ah, but where does the Prime Minister fit into all this, you might be wondering? How am I going to yank Robert Abela off his political podium... and thrust him headlong into our evolving allegory?

Simple. It goes like this:

  • Robert Abela takes the place of little Lambkin;
  • “It’s the Wollof!, It’s the Wollof!” represents all the things he consistently says, to deflect criticism of his own government’s policies;
  • And good old ‘Bristle Hound’ represents US: i.e., the long-suffering Maltese electorate (and especially, I would say, the large majority that voted Labour) which has now put up with three whole years, of a Prime Minister who keeps telling us things that we all know are patently untrue... and yet, expects us to keep believing him, all the same.

Sorry, but... once again, there’s a limit to how often that strategy can work (and for Prime Ministers, I should think, it’s a lot lower than for cartoon characters).

Now: I won’t bore you with a full list of ALL the times, that Robert Abela has said things that ended up being, strictly-speaking, ‘false’: either (as in the Abortion Amendment debacle) by initially raising expectations of a liberal, progressive, and potentially life-saving reform... only to dash those hopes, by caving to every single conservative demand;

Or else, by doggedly insisting that there is no need to change any of his government’s (clearly ineffective) policies: on the basis that “they would all work, just fine... if only everyone else just ‘did their bit’, more.”

Examples of the latter approach would include his recent tirade against ‘speeding motorists’: when he told us that there was no need to introduce traffic-calming measures... because, erm, ‘drivers should be more responsible’. (Gee, thanks!)

But I’ve already written about that case, and others like it, before... so let’s take a look at the latest example.

At the time of writing, our front-page headline is: ‘PAMA proposes ODZ garden, with underlying shopping mall’; and in the story, we learn that “PG Holdings, the owners of the Pama supermarket, have presented new plans for an extension on adjacent ODZ land to create a new underground shopping mall. [...] plans also foresee the excavation of three underground floors to accommodate 9,970sq.m of retail and catering space and a massive car park catering for 359 cars...”

Significantly, we are told that “The Environment and Resources Authority has consistently objected to the plans to develop the ODZ site, fearing that this could set a new precedent for similar developments resulting in further urban sprawl.”

In brief, then: it seems that yet another Maltese company – this time, a supermarket chain – has decided to simply ignore all existing planning regulations: by applying for development, on land that is entirely ‘ODZ’ (which, by the way, stands for ‘Outside the Development Zones’: just in case you, like Robert Abela, didn’t already know that).

So technically, the entire application should not even be up for consideration by the Planning Authority, at all. And yet... as we can all see with our own eyes: PAMA did not hesitate even one millisecond, to apply for a development that would be completely IRREGULAR (if approved). Likewise, the PA has evidently allowed this irregular application to stand: and will discuss whether or not to grant the permit, despite the objections of its own ERA.

In any case: I thought I’d point all that out, because it all happened less than a week after the Prime Minister gave an interview on One TV, in which (and I quote):   

“Abela had harsh words for developers that submitted applications that did not respect the planning regulations. ‘Applications that do not conform to the regulations should not be submitted. This serves only to anger and antagonise the community.’

“He added that applications in the village core had to convince the community that they were an added value. ‘There are still those cowboys who believe they can force their position,’ Abela said.

“There should be a balance between economic growth and sustainability. If you own a private property, you can’t do whatever you like with it. Bring forward sustainable projects that make sense, and you will have our backing...”

Hmmm. I suppose you can already see, for yourselves, a certain resemblance with ‘Lambkin’, there. Only it this case, the ‘wolf-calling’ dynamic works the other way round.

Where Lambkin tried to convince Bristle Hound there WAS, in fact, a ‘Wollof’, to be abruptly ‘yanked away’... Robert Abela is hell-bent on insisting that there is no such ‘Wollof’, at all (in other words, “there is no problem whatsoever with Malta’s planning department; everything would work out just fine... if only developers also ‘did their bit’, like everyone else.”)

Either way, however: the outcome remains the same. Like Lambkin, Prime Minister Robert Abela will very soon discover the ultimate limits of his own credibility... if he hasn’t done that, already.

Because let’s face it, folks: nobody is believing him, anymore. The developers certainly aren’t: that’s why they’re so candid, and open, about submitting “applications that do not conform to the regulations” (like Abela don’t them not to do, just last week).

The Planning Authority don’t seem to believe him, either. Clearly, they haven’t rejected the application outright (as the Prime Minister implicitly expected them to). And who can possibly blame them, either: when you also remember that – by definition – the PA is actually a Constitutionally-appointed body, that is supposed to be autonomous from the executive arm of the State?

Simply put: unless the government itself effects any changes, to Malta’s planning policies and regulations... the Planning Authority is powerless, to reject those ‘irregular’ applications. It can only interpret, and apply, the regulations that are currently in place.

And contrary to the Prime Minister’s repeated assurances: those planning policies DO permit ODZ development to take place: partly, by doggedly refusing to ever backtrack on the Nationalist Party’s decision, in 2005, to extend those development boundaries...

... and partly, by ensuring that the planning regulations themselves remain riddled with loopholes (to be duly exploited, time and again, by any well-connected developer you care to name).

Those are the problems within the planning department, that the government REALLY has to address: if it genuinely wants to ensure that there are no more ‘cowboys, who believe they can force their position’.

Because those cowboys will most definitely continue to exist – and will continue believing they CAN, in fact, ‘force their position’ – for as long as the system allows them to keep getting away with murder.

Meanwhile, the only person who CAN, effectively, change that system, is... well, the same one who’s telling us it ‘doesn’t actually need to change’, in the first place (and expecting us all to believe him, too!)

And this is why I very much doubt there is anyone left, at all - even within the Labour Party’s own support-base - who still believes Robert Abela, when he consistently tells us that there’s no ‘Wollof’, to be alarmed about... even though we can all see that darn ‘Wollof’, huffing and puffing away, practically everywhere we look.

Moral of the story? Well, just look at what happened to poor little Lambkin: torn apart and devoured... not by the ‘Wollof’, in the end; but by what was previously his most loyal, trustworthy ‘protector’...