‘Balancing’ is the job of a circus acrobat, not a cabinet minister

Two small issues immediately arise, even at a glance. (On top of the third I already mentioned: i.e., that Aaron Farrugia evidently got his job description all muddled-up)

Oh, all right, I know what you’re all probably thinking. What’s the difference, anyway? Aren’t ‘cabinet ministers’ (and politicians, in general) also ‘acrobats’, in their own right? Don’t they all do a little ‘juggling’, from time to time? And why else would they keep ‘bouncing’ and ‘swinging’, from one policy-direction to another; if not because they’re all engaged in precisely the same sort of ‘trapeze act’, that we normally associate with… ‘The Circus’?

And let’s face it: it’s an association we all tend to make, far more often than we probably even realise ourselves. Consider, for instance, that every time one of you describes a certain politician (or all of them, for that matter) as a ‘Pulċinell’ – like most of you did this week, when Parliament unanimously voted to allow 16-year-olds to become mayors – you will be:

    a) using the Maltese word for ‘clown’, and;

    b) name-dropping a fictitious personality from Italy’s ‘Commedia Dell’ Arte’ tradition (in many ways, the medieval progenitor of Italy’s contemporary ‘Circo Orfei’…)

In other words: I am hardly the first – and certainly won’t be the last – to draw a comparison between ‘politicians’, and ‘clowns’ (or ‘trapeze-artists’), for purely satirical purposes. But then again… that’s not exactly what I’m doing, right now.

No, indeed. Because it turns out that there’s precious little difference, in this scenario, between ‘satire’ and ‘reality’. After so many years of their antics being derisively compared to all sorts of circus ‘stunts’… it seems that some of our Cabinet ministers have actually started to embrace the role wholeheartedly, as their actual ‘political vocation’.

Simply put: they are beginning to believe that they really ARE the ‘jugglers’, ‘clowns’, and ‘trapeze artists’, that they have so often been likened to in the pas (and – more worryingly still – that they really DO possess the sort of ‘superhuman skills’, that are required for the impossible tasks they are now setting for themselves…)

Examples, I hear you ask? Well: I’m almost reluctant to point the finger too directly at Transport Minister Aaron Farrugia – even if he did confirm my suspicions, in no uncertain terms, in last Sunday’s MaltaToday interview – for the simple reason that I don’t even consider him to be the most ‘skilled’ of Robert Abela’s ultra-talented ‘Cabinet of Acrobats’ (not by a long shot, in fact...)

He does, however, make a rather good example; so without further ado, onto the interview itself.

At one point – while Kurt Sansone was quizzing him on the subject of the ‘bicycle-lanes’ he once promised (and which seem to have performed something of a ‘vanishing act’, since then) – Farrugia had this to say:

“Every day, I receive contrasting and diametrically opposed messages - cycling enthusiasts tell me not enough is being done, while others urge me to remove cycling lanes to allow cars to pass freely. The country needs to move forward and I have to find a just balance between the differing opinions…”

Erm… see what I mean? It’s almost as though Aaron Farrugia himself genuinely believe that his own job, as Malta’s Transport Minister, is… well, identical to that of any circus tight-rope walker, in the ‘Circo Orfei’.

That is, to maintain a precise ‘balance’ between the two extremities he is trying to navigate; without ever giving any undue ‘weight’, to either one side or the other…

At the same time, however: Aaron Farrugia is not exactly the only Maltese Cabinet Minister, to have evidently misunderstood the nature of the responsibility that has been heaped upon his shoulders.

You could, in fact, almost literally change the ministerial portfolio to any other of your choosing – and place the above words (with all relevant issues ‘updated’) into the mouth of whichever other Cabinet Minister it corresponds to – and nobody, in the entire country, would ever even notice.

Robert Abela, for instance, is on record (over and over again) telling us that his government needs to somehow ‘strike a balance’, between ‘the environment and the economy’ - here and there, varying to ‘economic growth, and quality of life’ - and every Environment Minister we’ve ever had (including Aaron Farrugia himself, when the role was his) has likewise argued exactly the same way, for ‘hunting and birdlife conservation’.   

And in case you were wondering: this is one of the many, many areas where there doesn’t seem to be any difference at all, between Malta’s supposedly ‘polarised’ political duopoly. I’m old enough to remember former PM Eddie Fenech Adami saying exactly the same thing as Robert Abela (in exactly the same words, too)… not once, not twice; but countless times, throughout the entire 10-year buildup to EU membership: from the mid-1990s, to 2004.

Even as we speak, Bernard Grech still insists that part of his own vision, as PN leader, is to somehow strike a balance between ‘limiting immigration’, and ‘meeting Malta’s current labour-force needs’ (for all the world as though any such thing were even remotely possible, to begin with…)

And I can assure you, the list goes on and on: ALL our politicians, it seems, share this absurd delusion that their own role is merely to ‘try and appease all sides’, in any given issue: by simply ‘drawing a straight line down the middle’…

… instead of what their job, as Cabinet Ministers, is all along supposed to be: i.e., to try and actually steer the country in a consistent policy-direction (which, quite frankly, hasn’t happened since Malta’s aforementioned EU accession bid, more than 20 years ago).

But like I was saying earlier: though not perhaps the best example, Aaron Farrugia does nonetheless embody this delusion better than most. So let’s go back to what he told Kurt Sansone last Sunday, shall we?

Two small issues immediately arise, even at a glance. (On top of the third I already mentioned: i.e., that Aaron Farrugia evidently got his job description all muddled-up.)

The first is that the ‘success’, or otherwise, of any given Cabinet Minister, is invariably going to be measured by their ability to actually deliver on their own, stated agenda. And in Aaron Farrugia’s case – though I freely admit it is a daunting (though not impossible) task – that agenda involves, inter alia, addressing Malta’s many, endemic traffic congestion problems… and also, ‘making Malta’s roads safer to actually use’.

Now: I could, very simply, end this article right here: by pointing towards various recent NSO statistics, which amply confirm that neither of those objectives is currently being reached, in practice. But to be fair: I reckon it would be just slightly ‘unreasonable’, to lay ALL the root-causes of all Malta’s traffic woes, directly at Aaron Farrugia’s door.

Nonetheless, I do think it should be bleedingly obvious, that those two objectives – i.e., to simultaneously reduce both traffic congestion, and traffic accidents – can never realistically be achieved, by a policy which aims to somehow placate both the ‘automotive industry lobby’, and the ‘pedestrian-cyclist perspective’, at one-and-the-same time.

And I don’t think I should even have to spell out why, either. One of those lobbies wants ‘more space for cars’; the other, ‘more space for people’. And this, in a country where – in case no one’s ever noticed before – ‘space’ just happens to be the one, single commodity that we most sorely, and desperately, LACK…

Put all that together, and see where it takes you in the end. Meanwhile, however, one thing should be abundantly clear: in a scenario like that, ‘drawing a line down the middle’ is simply NEVER going to work. (And ironically enough: it is precisely for this reason, that the job of a cabinet minister is NOT to simply ‘juggle between two incompatible views’, in the hope of finding a non-existent ‘balance’…)

But this only brings us to the second little problem with Farrugia’s circus act. Even if were to accept his own, manifestly-flawed definition of ‘what it means to be a Transport Minister’… where, exactly, is this ‘balance’ that he is supposed to have struck, between ‘cycling enthusiasts’ and (equally enthusiastic) ‘automotive lobbyists’? And how did this supposed ‘balancing act’ manage to result in a newly inaugurated road network – the ‘Central-Link’ project - in which:

    a) bicycle-lanes were omitted entirely, to accommodate ‘wider lanes for traffic’, and;

    b) Farrugia himself even told journalists that bicycle-lanes had become an ‘afterthought’, for his government; and that he was now more interested in ‘keeping traffic flowing, at speed…’?

Even by his own standards of ‘political acrobatics’, then: Aaron Farrugia has not been very successful at ‘walking the tight-rope’, has he? He wasn’t very mindful, of the all-important need ‘to maintain a perfect balance, between the two extremities he was trying to navigate’… and, most damning of all, he certainly DID ‘give undue weight (and quite a lot of it, at that!) to one side, over the other’…

Now: we all know what would happen, if a ‘circus tight-rope walker’ – a real one: like you’d see in the ‘Circo Orfei’ – were to somehow ‘lose balance’, while dangling precariously above a great height…. but what the heck? I’ll give you all a little hint, anyway.

They’d go: ‘Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-SPLAT!’ (You know: just like Aaron Farrugia’s traffic-management policies did, over the past couple of years…)