After six years, is the Muscat administration facing ‘second term blues’?

Joseph Muscat’s hold on public perception is not eternal and it will slowly but surely be eroded

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at a Labour conference in 2019
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at a Labour conference in 2019

I must admit, I rarely encounter items in the ‘news’ – or in the media – that surprise me. That is why two particular items intrigued me.

Consider Labour MP Glenn Bedingfield’s outburst against the American University of Malta (AUM) proposal “to build a large adjoining dormitory in the only open space remaining between the sister cities of Cospicua and Senglea” – as he put it. And his statement that he is “beginning to doubt” whether they (the AUM) will ever be able to attract the 4,000 students in the promised timeframe.

Remember, Bedingfield is not only a Labour backbencher, but he is also the executive co-ordinator of the Cottonera Rehabilitation Committee.

Meanwhile the Cospicua and Vittoriosa Labour-dominated local councils are objecting to the loss of parking space that this project entails.
Coming from a prominent Joseph Muscat loyalist, I must admit Bedingfield’s no-nonsense approach surprised me. His article in The Times was spot on!

The other item was another article, also in The Times, written by former Gozitan Labour MP Lino Debono – a Labour stalwart, if ever there was one. Consider a recent article of his in which he bemoaned that “the Planning Authority is letting contractors – similar to Hannibal on Rome’s doorstep – destroy our culture, history and way of life. Building monstrosities, such as the ones shown in the submitted photographs, are ruining what Gozo has been praised and admired for until now. How can these monstrous permits be issued for the development of a 10-foot road in the heart of Marsalforn?”

And he continued: “When issuing permits, the Planning Authority does not see or consider the general surroundings or any village core aspects. Instead, it decides only on paper and based solely on architects’ submissions. Laws have been established, but we also need to consider common sense along with people’s regard and their observations.”

And he vents his anger this way: “From two enjoyable summer villages enjoyed by many in the past, Marsalforn and Xlendi have been turned into nightmare summer locations.”

The icing on the cake was this sentence, of course: “Strong action has to be taken by the authorities not to let the sharks and hyenas take over our islands.”

After six and a half years in government, is the Joseph Muscat administration facing the ‘second term blues’?

Yes, this is normally expected... but with a difference – in that the official Opposition to Government is in shambles, giving rise to a sturdier ‘unofficial Opposition’ within the governing party.

I will not indulge in philosophical arguments about how and why every thesis provokes its anti-thesis, although such discourse will probably explain properly this phenomenon.

Instead, a simple assessment from my observations serves to confirm that Muscat’s hold on public perception is not eternal and it will slowly but surely be eroded.

Of course, the lack of an organised Opposition that can be seriously considered as an immediate ‘alternative government’ will prolong Muscat’s dominance on the local political scene, but it is still bound to be eroded eventually, even if only from the inside.

When I first became an MP in 1976, I found myself in the Opposition benches, bang at the start of Mintoff’s second term. The number of parliamentary questions I made at the behest of government MPs and other Labour supporters was not negligible. The cracks always begin to show earlier than people think.

That is why the error of those Nationalist MPs and supporters who chose to attack the PN leader personally – more than they seriously criticised the Labour government on its way of governing – is almost unpardonable.

Joseph Muscat’s second term still has a long way to go and the PN has ample time to pick up the pieces and restore its credibility.

La Paloma – not so blanca

The story about the police raid last Monday on the former La Paloma 3-star hotel in Bugibba, kept occupying a lot of space in the Maltese newspapers, for at least three days. According to the mayor of the Labour-led St Paul’s Bay local council, the amount of rubbish outside the ‘hotel’ had raised suspicions.

By Wednesday, the immigrants were back in their paltry lodgings. According to a report in the GWU daily l-orizzont last Thursday, someone had asked the courts to issue a prohibitory injunction against the enforcement of the eviction notice. This report adds – incredibly – that whoever filed this request in Court was “still not known”. It does seem to me to be a cover-up of a cover-up...

What intrigues me is the obvious: there must be more than one such place were immigrants congregate to be ripped off by unscrupulous landlords. The owner of the place and his representatives were getting some €2,400 per year for each immigrant that was living in the place – from where more than 150 were originally evicted. I bet this is a much better return than the owners of the property had when it was just a hotel!

One does not need much imagination to suspect that this income is not declared and is therefore also untaxed.

Apparently, most of the immigrants were not in Malta illegally and they had documents proving this. A good number had entered Malta from Italy through the normal channels with documents issued by the Italian government. They come to Malta without knowing where they were going to be lodged and then get lost in the cacophony of illegal and legal immigrants from all over the world, which cosmopolitan Malta heartily welcomes.

As far as I know, the Maltese government is entitled to send them back to Italy if they do not find a job within a prescribed period. I wonder how many of them have a job that is legally registered with the authorities. Any other ‘arrangement’ is not a legal job as far as the law is concerned.

There is certainly the need for the authorities to keep track of those who enter Malta in this way – check where they go to live and whether they are eventually formally employed according to law.

This has nothing to do with saving lives at sea – it is government’s duty to track all foreigners who enter Malta legally and then overstay illegally.

After all, as the song goes, ‘la Paloma’ is just a bird in the sky.

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