Suddenly, we are half a million!

The question now is whether Malta intends to press the brake at some point, or better still, whether our territory should be loaded with a bigger population considering its sheer small size

Suddenly, we have found that today we are half a million. What about tomorrow and the next day? Meanwhile we have no economic planning, no demographic planning, no physical planning – no planning of any sort
Suddenly, we have found that today we are half a million. What about tomorrow and the next day? Meanwhile we have no economic planning, no demographic planning, no physical planning – no planning of any sort

On the occasion of World Population Day on July 11, the National Statistics Office (NSO) published the latest Maltese population figures. Many were shocked to learn that in 2018 our population increased by some 18,000 to reach the figure of 493,559. Six months past the end of 2018 cut-off date, the Maltese population has undoubtedly reached – and probably surpassed – the half a million mark.

This news came as a shock to many – the many who could not understand the ‘rush’ for the increase in new residential units – attributing it to the greed of developers without realising that there was – and still is – a demand for residences...

To say nothing of stable complexes used illegally as residences by African migrants who live off precarious illegal jobs. I wonder whether these people are included in the NSO’s statistics or whether they are also off its radar.

In any case, the ballooning population number is behind many statistics that we were aware of: the number of cars keeps increasing, the numbers of passengers carried by the public transport system keep increasing, the loads on our infrastructure – electricity, water and sewage disposal system – keep increasing.

I would be surprised if anyone has the gumption to say that the country was prepared for this sudden increase in population.

One can easily argue that planning to the least detail is a non-starter. The first (and only) Structure plan for Malta, published in 1992, failed miserably on certain aspects because it was based on obsolete statistics and the assumed projections proved to be incorrect. In short, the planners did not envisage the sort of economic progress that we experienced in the late 90s.

Envisaging the sort of economic progress and demographic earthquake that Malta experienced since 2013 would also have proved to be an impossible task.

However, abandoning planning as a concept is not the answer, as one can surmise when one fully realises the economic changes that Malta has experienced in the last five or six years.

These changes were undoubtedly mostly positive but our preparedness for them was zilch. Take the provision of electricity, as an example.

The PN used to argue that the new gas power station – including the infamous gas tanker parked at Marsaxlokk – were superfluous to the country’s needs. Very much by hindsight, it is now obvious that they weren’t. This is no reflection on how the whole development took place, of course. That was another issue – except that introducing the issue of the ‘non-existent’ need for more electricity generation in the equation did not help the PN’s cause.

The provision of water was also secured by the excess provision of water reverse osmosis plants for which different PN administrations were responsible. One could easily have made the argument of excess and unnecessary provision twenty years ago, but – in this case as well – overprovision proved to be providential.

The reform in our public transport system was also providential in this sense. The fact that the Arriva contract went awry and the reform process was in shambles is actually irrelevant to the argument. In the end the reform actually happened. One can hardly imagine the old privately-owned individual buses that made up the old public transport system carrying the number of passengers that use public transport today.

On the other hand, our health and education services cannot really cope with the demographic explosion we have experienced.

One can look at every other sector of our infrastructure that was, practically, unprepared for the population explosion that we have had in Malta.

More important, however, is whether there is such a government policy that aims for an ideal number for Malta’s population. The question now is whether Malta intends to press the brake at some point, or better still, whether our territory should be loaded with a bigger population considering its sheer small size.

Suddenly, we have found that today we are half a million. What about tomorrow and the next day?

Meanwhile we have no economic planning, no demographic planning, no physical planning – no planning of any sort.

Will our population keep on increasing until the country bursts to the seams, so to speak... without government adopting specific well-thought-out policies to stem the tide?

Theresa’s last hurrah

I was positively impressed with Theresa May’s last major speech as British Prime Minister, when she railed against the forces of ‘absolutism’ in politics, and condemned the rise of populist parties around the world, not to say anything about her lamenting her inability to secure Britain’s exit from the European Union.

May was addressing an audience at the Chatham House think-tank last Wednesday.

In a final attempt to establish her own political legacy, May targeted politicians of the far left and urged a softening of political discourse from leaders and the public alike – suggesting that an entrenchment of extremist positions doomed her repeated attempts to achieve Brexit.

She also criticised isolationist world-views and stressed the importance of protecting the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran Nuclear Deal, in what was a not so subtle rebuke of US President Donald Trump’s foreign policy and his scepticism of international alliances.

“The spirit of compromise in the common interest is also crucial in meeting some of the greatest global challenges of our time,” she added, attempting to promote for a final time her own mantra of pragmatism and moderation.

Consider this excerpt from May’s speech: “Today an inability to combine principles with pragmatism and make a compromise when required seems to have driven our whole political discourse down the wrong path. It has led to what is in effect a form of absolutism – one which believes that if you simply assert your view loud enough and long enough you will get your way in the end. Or that mobilising your own faction is more important than bringing others with you.

She insisted that this sort of attitude is ‘coarsening public debate’, with some ‘losing the ability to disagree without demeaning the views of others.’

This part of her speech bears comparison with the attitude of the PN rebels towards their leader, Adrian Delia. But I digress...

Ah... the freedom to say what you really think... that is beyond the wildest dreams of all active politicians!

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