Government’s hands are not ‘tied’ by the 2006 local plans

Either way, it seems that government does have the power to revise the local plans, and come up with alternatives sites to Marsakala. All that is lacking, therefore, is the political will

The underhanded move by Transport Malta, to issue a tender for a yacht marina in Marsaskala on the eve of the Santa Marija feast, was probably intended to go unnoticed during the lull of the summer holidays.

Interestingly, however, no government minister seems to want to take paternity of this development, which is clearly being driven by private interests close to the Labour administration.

The strong public reaction against the proposed marina, culminating in a Moviment Graffitti’s protest attended by hundreds of Marsaskala residents, seems to have caught the government wrong-footed.

Only Infrastructure Ian Borg, whose portfolio includes Transport Malta, came close to defending the project: citing the “enormous number of Maltese residents who are buying pleasure boats” as justification for new marinas.

Yet even Borg stopped short of taking full ownership of the project, by shifting the blame on the 2006 local plan: which had identified Xemxija Bay and Marsaskala as the only two localities which can be used for the development of marinas.

In a further indication of Cabinet complicity, instead of putting the brakes on his colleagues, Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia came up with the most absurd defence of the yacht marina yet: comparing a private concession, for pleasure-boat owners in Marsaskala, to essential national infrastructure projects like the airport, freeport and waste plants of the early 1990s.

In the face of opposition - including that from the Labour-led local council Prime Minister Robert Abela is giving the impression that no final decision has been taken, while attributing paternity of the project to local plans approved by the Nationalist administration in 2006.

Yet as Abela himself recognised on Sunday, this does not oblige the present government to follow suit, and issue a concession. For in reality the government is under no obligation to carry out all the projects mentioned in the local plan. Otherwise, what would be the use of electing a Labour government, if it is bound to carry out the decisions taken by a Nationalist government?

Moreover, Labour itself had disregarded the local plan when it transferred land for the development of the Jordanian-owned American University on land zoned as a ‘national park’ in the plans.

And in the case of Marsaskala, the same local plan also links the proposed marina to residential and commercial development, as part of the regeneration of the former National Swimming Pool pitch site. This raises the question on

whether the present government is also bound by this part of the approved local plan, which will only impact the locality further.

Either way, it seems that government does have the power to revise the local plans, and come up with alternatives sites to Marsakala. All that is lacking, therefore, is the political will.

Despicable, and dangerous

The Institute of Maltese Journalists (IĠM) was perfectly correct in describing the recent spate of cyber-attacks on journalists and bloggers as a “not only despicable, but outright dangerous.”

In recent weeks, unidentified hackers have inundated the local press – including this newspaper – with fake email threads impersonating blogger Manuel Delia, MP Jason Azzopardi, and Opposition leader Bernard Grech; and, in an intensification of this strategy, news agencies such as Newsbook, Net News, Lovin Malta, Strada Rjali and One News have all been victims of spoof ‘mirror websites'.

Even Prime Minister Robert Abela said he had been a victim of a similar tactic on 15 August: suggesting that no one can be considered ‘safe’ from this particular line of attack.

But while these acts of sabotage appear to be haphazard, there is nonetheless an unmistakable common thread running through the strategy. The main targets so far – especially Manuel Delia and Jason Azzopardi – suggest that the overall intention is to silence, or otherwise intimidate, certain voices in the country; and its methods are to exploit today’s communications technology, specifically to disseminate falsehood.

As such, the real victims of this strategy extend far beyond the likes of Delia, Azzopardi, Grech or even Abela. Everyone is, to a certain extent, impacted; for the intention is quite manifestly to sow doubt in the public’s mind, as to the veracity or otherwise of anything they read in the online media.

What is at stake here, then, is nothing less than the ability to distinguish ‘real’ from ‘fake’ news. And as author Immanuel Mifsud perceptively notes, this takes us right to the heart of a dilemma that has plagued mankind for millennia: the eternal battle between ‘truth’ and ‘falsehood’.

Clearly, then, we are faced with – as the IGM puts it – a “clear attempt to weaken the fourth pillar of the country’s democracy”. What remains to be seen is whether the Prime Minister’s condemnation of these cowardly attacks – while both timely, and commendable – will be followed up with concrete action, to protect journalists in an increasingly dangerous, hostile environment.