A mandate to govern doesn't mean we must accept everything

Where it gets questionable are those major decisions which were technically on the electoral manifesto, but were not explained and elaborated on fully enough for us to understand the implications

I have often come across the sentiment expressed by diehard Labour supporters, for whom this administration can do no wrong, to the effect that, “Labour won the election, they have a mandate to govern, so let them govern”.

This type of reasoning is unacceptable to me because it presupposes that one has to accept anything and everything lock, stock and barrel, no matter what. Last time I checked we were a democracy not a monarchy.

That mind-set also implies that politicians never lie to us, or hide their true intentions or try to push through controversial policies without our noticing. (Ok, get a grip, you can stop laughing now).

That Labour won the election not once but twice, with an overwhelming majority, cannot be disputed. The reasons for its continued popularity despite being hit by several scandals and corruption allegations, are also not that difficult to understand: there is basically no real Opposition which can put up a decent fight as a viable alternative, because after almost six years, the PN is still splintered and is fighting too many battles on too many fronts. With no other real government-in-waiting, many voters look around and see that there is no other choice, and shrug in resignation, “What can you do, ey?” I remember the same exact feeling when the PN was unassailable and Labour was a mess.

There are other reasons, of course, for Labour’s continued dominance at the polls. Just enough people are making very good money to be perfectly happy with the way things stand. I am not just referring to the construction magnates who have Malta basically at their feet, with a free hand to do what they like, but also secondary beneficiaries; people who are renting out a second property at high rates, thus bringing in a healthy second family income.

Those on a normal salary on the other hand, seem to have taken the carpe diem philosophy to heart – after putting in a 40-hour (or more) week, they are out there every weekend, spending their money, wining and dining. Gone are the days when people put aside money to save for a rainy day, and instead many have decided, why bother? When their pay cheque runs out, they simply whip out their credit card instead. Of course, there is also a lot of cash being flashed around because of undeclared income and more worryingly, an increase in underground criminal activities as the recent drug busts have amply shown.

The Labour party has also delivered on several promises which affect people’s lives such as the decision to offer IVF at Mater Dei, free childcare, free school transport and other measures. So far, so good.

Where it gets questionable are those major decisions which were technically on the electoral manifesto, but were not explained and elaborated on fully enough for us to understand the implications. Forget not reading the fine print – there was NO fine print.

Let’s take the promise to improve/rebuild Malta’s roads within the next seven years – judging from the simultaneous roadworks all over the island that promise seems to be well on its way. That our roads were crying out to be properly upgraded, resurfaced and generally improved goes without saying. The only problem is that no one told us that roads would also be widened all over the place, sacrificing scarce agricultural land as a result. I have looked back at the press conferences during the 2017 election campaign and this was never mentioned.

Just to take one example of many, in February of this year, it was reported that the road leading to Ramla Bay Hotel had been widened by encroaching on virgin land, destroying rubble walls and gates in the process. No planning permission had been sought and Transport and Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg explained away the decision by saying that “it had become too narrow for safe access to the hotel”. He added that expropriation talks with the Lands Authority were still underway so it appeared to be a case of get the roadworks going first and obtain the permits and answer questions later. Similarly, works to widen roads at Tal-Balal and Hal-Farrug were also started before permits were in hand.

It seems that Minister Borg has taken it as his personal mission to plow through the entire country, widening every road in sight, gobbling up land in the process, as a way to ‘solve’ the traffic problem. The only commendable measure is that as the roads are being widened, rubble walls are being re-built everywhere, but that still does not compensate for the unspoiled land which is being lost forever. it is also patently clear that the widening of so many roads is never going to alleviate the daily increase of more cars. It reminds me of Parkinson’s law: "work expands to fill the time available for its completion”. Likewise, the number of cars will expand to fill the width of roads available.

I also become exasperated when ‘the Government has a mandate’ is quoted to justify such highly controversial issues as the Gozo tunnel. As was rightly pointed out by an editorial in this paper earlier this year, “The introduction of a fast ferry service was also part of the Labour Party’s 2013 electoral mandate. For some mysterious reason, however, Gozitans were never given the chance to experience such a service.”

When the Labour Party’s 2017 manifesto was unveiled in May 2017, it was reported that “Government has pledged to start the Gozo tunnel project, stating that over the past four years, a lot of work has occurred, and today we are in the most advanced position we have ever been on this project. A number of technical and scientific tests have occurred both from foreign companies and the University of Malta, and an Italian University… We are currently undergoing geological tests called ‘investigative coring’. The manifesto reads that a Social Impact Assessment occurred and that the next stage is for an Expression of Interest to be issued.”

Well, we are now almost two years down the line from that statement, and six years down the line from when these technical and scientific tests were purportedly carried out. So where are they? The environment, geological and the social impact assessments likewise seem to be floating around in some mysterious alternative universe. Warnings by geologist Dr Peter Gatt, of dangerous faults in the rocks between the islands, have gone unheeded. Just this week Minister Borg (yes, him again) was reported by TVM as saying that all the various studies, including cost-benefit analysis and the viability of the project would be published “soon” after which public consultation would be carried out.

It is all very well to keep repeating the mantra that this administration has been given a mandate to build the tunnel, but a vaguely worded paragraph in a 171-page manifesto is simply not enough when one considers the magnitude, the costs to the taxpayer and the repercussions of this project. Without proper, full information and publication of every single study, people cannot be expected to make up their minds. So what is the plan exactly? To flood the public domain with hefty, complicated technical studies all at one go, making it impossible for them to be properly understood and assessed by Joe Public in a short period of time? We have seen this kind of underhanded tactic before.

And if the Government is determined to keep going ahead with the tunnel “because it has a mandate” than what is the point of a public consultation about something which seems to be a fait accompli? Trying to give voters the illusion that they are being listened to is just adding insult to injury. I would also like this administration to give us an estimated figure of how much the toll will be to cross the tunnel – it should not be too difficult to let us know, seeing that this project has been studied so thoroughly and meticulously (to quote the Minister) for so many years. So, come on, give us a ballpark figure and let those who commute regularly work out for themselves just how much it is going to cost them (apart from the cost to every single taxpayer since building this tunnel is coming out of our taxes).

The devastating, irreparable, irreversible cost to the environment of course, is another matter altogether because you cannot attach a price tag to something so valuable. But no one ever puts something like that in their electoral mandate, do they?

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