Go on, Sandro: make hay while the sun shines!

Nobody in the Labour camp seems to have any trouble believing their party would approach someone like Sandro Chetcuti with a candidacy offer

Sandro Chetcuti (right) is the president of the Malta Developers Association
Sandro Chetcuti (right) is the president of the Malta Developers Association

What on earth happened to Malta’s good old-fashioned sense of entrepreneurial opportunism, I wonder? We used to have a reputation for that sort of thing; and proud we were of it, too. Maltese businessmen were always regarded as being a cut above the competition, when it came to mercenary exploitation of any opportunity to make a killing. 

But it looks to me like we’re losing our touch. Our entrepreneurs are going all soft on us all of a sudden. Consider Sandro Chetcuti, for instance, the chairman of the Malta Developers’ Association. Just yesterday, he claimed that both the Labour and Nationalist Parties approached him to contest the next election on their ticket. And – wait for it – he said no.

Can you believe it? Sandro Chetcuti – the man who recently told us all to ‘make hay while the sun shines’, and who described the two parties as ‘supermarkets’ for the benefit of the construction lobby – has just turned down an opportunity to make more ‘hay’ than Arthur Fonzarelli managed to make in 200 episodes of ‘Happy Days’. I mean, hey! That’s just nuts, if you ask me. 

Think of all the ‘happy days’ Chetcuti has just denied himself with that single (well, double) ‘no’ of his. He said ‘no’ to automatically becoming part of government, no matter who actually wins the election. He said ‘no’ to a virtual guarantee that – come what may next November – by December, he would himself be part of the entire machinery which dishes out building permits in this country. 

And he’s one of Malta’s leading developers, too. I mean, it wouldn’t be the same if the offer was made to someone like me. The only thing I’ve managed to develop in recent years is permanent neck-pain, on account of sitting at a computer too long.

But for people like Sandro Chetcuti, it’s a different story. That sort of opportunity doesn’t exactly grow on trees... which is probably just as well, as ‘trees’ here have a habit of being uprooted to make way for luxury apartments, casinos, garages, shopping centres, and at least one boutique hotel. (Oh, and office space for gaming companies. Can’t have enough of that, now can we?)

Honestly, it is hard to even conceive of a more classic case of ‘heads I win, tails everyone else loses’. So why on earth did he turn both offers down? 

Ah but wait; I know what you’re all thinking. But how do we know it really happened? So far, all we have is Sandro Chetcuti’s word for it. He could be lying, for all we know...

Hmm, yes, indeed he could. Even though he does tend to be somewhat brutally honest in his general way of going about things (as attested by both his ‘hay’ and ’supermarket’ comments, quoted above). 

But isn’t it interesting that this reaction has so far only come from one side of the political divide? Nobody in the Labour camp seems to have any trouble believing that their party would approach someone like Sandro Chetcuti with a candidacy offer. And while everybody in the media immediately rounded on Simon Busuttil to demand a clarification... nobody even bothered to do the same for Joseph Muscat.

Why is that, I wonder? Is it such a foregone conclusion that Labour is already deep in the pockets of the construction lobby? And what could have cemented such a pervasive impression, I wonder? Could it be simply because the Labour government has managed to capitulate even more to the construction lobby in four measly years, than the PN did in quarter of a century? 

Whatever the case: it is only the Nationalist pundits who (just in time for Easter, too) are suddenly behaving like so many Doubting Thomases. This becomes even more interesting when you remember that many of these same pundits were recently willing to accept without question a perfectly unsubstantiated bit of gossip, simply because it was passed off as ‘fact’ by a blatantly biased political blog. 

Strange, isn’t it? A single-source story about Chris Cardona visiting a German brothel was received as Gospel Truth just a few weeks ago... by the same people who now demand to poke their fingers into the nail-wounds, before believing an equally single-source story which doesn’t chime in with their political prejudices. How very surprising...

As things stand, however, it should be fairly easy to establish the truth. Did the PN ask Sandro Chetcuti to contest on its ticket, or didn’t it? Judging by the widespread reaction of shock and horror (and derision, and exasperation, etc) among Nationalists, you’d think it was in the PN’s own interest to tell us. It is, after all, rather important to have at least a rough idea what kind of party you’ll actually be voting for in seven months’ time.... and you can get more than just a rough idea by knowing the sort of candidate that party would consider worth approaching as a potential candidate.

Yet Simon Busuttil refused to answer the question when it was put to him point-blank. He didn’t deny it; but he didn’t confirm it, either. So I suppose we are all expected to play along with this little guessing game. How shall we decide, then? What do all the Doubting Thomases suggest? Should we toss a coin, or spin a bottle? Hang on, I know: the PN can file multiple lawsuits against Sandro Chetcuti, and freeze his bank account... (No, wait, bad idea... that way, they wouldn’t be able to approach him for a donation afterwards would they?).

But in any case: there is a level at which it doesn’t really matter if it’s actually true or not. And it is for much the same reason that I honestly think – without a trace of irony or sarcasm, promise – that Sandro Chetcuti should really reconsider his position, and accept both offers (whether or not they were actually made).

Earlier, I asked the question: why did he refuse? Well, there is only one logical reason any businessman would turn down a business proposition as seemingly advantageous as that. Because he already benefits from the same advantages on offer, without having to do any additional work (or make any additional investments) to reap the reward. 

Sandro Chetcuti doesn’t need to be part of a government to ensure that it continues to capitulate to his lobby... all Maltese governments in the past 30 years (which is the limit of my own memory) have done precisely that anyway. As things stand, the developers represented by Chetcuti’s association already virtually dictate Malta’s land-use policy to their own advantage: and they’ve been doing it for decades.

But (no offence, or anything) that kind of reasoning is incredibly selfish, you know. There is more to this issue than whether Sandro Chetcuti – or any other individual businessman, for that matter – improves his own prospects or not. There is also the honesty and integrity of our country’s electoral system at stake.

Allow me to put forward a different perspective. All these years, we have been encouraged to vote for two supposedly antagonistic parties, each claiming to pursue different (and, of course, better) policies than the other. Yet with each and every single election, what happens is always the same. The party in government yields ever more land to be gobbled up by the construction lobby.... while the party in opposition leads its supporters to protest en masse in the streets.

We saw this with the ODZ extension in 2005, with the Zonqor Point university issue in 2015... and I can stop there, as those two cases alone represent a complete reversal of roles between the two parties. Labour protested against the Nationalists over ODZ; and sure enough, the Nationalists went on to protest against Labour over the exact same issue 10 years later.

Then, this happens. Someone finally gets a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expose this ridiculous charade once and for all... in no uncertain terms, for all to see and gawk at for all eternity, etc... by actually contesting with both parties on behalf of the same lobby. 

Just picture it for a second: just consider the options that would actually be facing you on the ballot sheet. Vote Labour, and you’ll be contributing to the continued stranglehold of developers on both parties. Vote PN, on the other hand... and, woo-hoo! Exactly the same thing. 

And yes, we all know that’s how it always pans out in practice anyway. But for once in our lives, we’d have been honest about it. For the first time ever, the two parties would have had to advertise themselves for what they really are: two supposedly ‘competing’ supermarkets, which just happen to sell exactly the same products to exactly the same customers... while all along expecting us to never notice.

So come on, Sandro. Don’t be shy, now.

The sun doesn’t shine much brighter than that, you know. So what are you waiting for? Make as much hay as you can, while the happy days last... 

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