The environment is not just for elections

Residential pockets are continuously frustrated and exhausted by having to show popular opposition to projects that only serve moneyed interests; only to see their demands met, on the eve of an election

(Photo: Movement Graffitti)
(Photo: Movement Graffitti)

Many will be familiar with the saying – originating from a television advert – that ‘a dog (or pet) is not just for Christmas’.  

Just as a decision to adopt a pet will involve both responsibility and a long-term commitment: the same concept can be applied to any other form of responsibility, including the electoral promises made by political parties. 

The ongoing campaign is no exception. Consider, for instance, the government’s recent flip-flops on two environmental issues: the proposed yacht marina in Marsaskala; and plans to build the Marsaxlokk local council offices, in a school garden. 

Clearly, this indicates that Prime Minister Robert Abela is being conditioned by civil society action on environmental issues; but only, it seems, when an election rears its head. 

On one level, the news remains welcome. It suggests that public pressure does indeed pay-off, in such circumstances. But as with all pay-offs, there is an additional cost embedded into the transaction.  

For even if the government’s newfound environmentalist drive is yielding desirable results: it is still contingent on government’s own, short-term needs.  

Specifically in the case of Marsaskala, the Prime Minister said that “it was his government’s duty to listen to the concerns raised.”  

But this only raises the question of why his government had flatly refused to listen to those concerns for so long: with Transport Minister Ian Borg even describing the popular protests as a ‘Nationalist Party strategy’.  

It is therefore clear that, if Abela is now conditioned by environmental pressure – mounted mostly by NGOs like Graffitti: a central protagonist in coordinating residents’ anger and action – it is largely thanks to his own desire to obtain a ‘super-majority’, by not conceding a single vote to Opposition over unpopular causes. 

As such, the election has cynically brought about gains for the environmental movement, reminiscent of Lawrence Gonzi’s Majjistral golf course U-turn of 2008. But, then as now, this is comes at a price: whereby residential pockets are continuously frustrated and exhausted by having to show popular opposition to projects that only serve moneyed interests; only to see their demands met, on the eve of an election. 

Clearly, this is not a responsible, long-term commitment to preserving the environment.  

Nonetheless, Robert Abela should have ample opportunity, in the years to come, to demonstrate that these U-turns are not merely a case of ‘environmentalism, just for elections’. 

PN manifesto: More ‘carrot’ than ‘stick’ 

With no fewer than 500 proposals, the National Party’s electoral manifesto certainly cannot be described as a hatchet-job. 

In the words of author MP Claudio Grech (who penned it shortly before announcing his own sudden departure last week), the PN’s goal is that of creating “a fairer society which rewards good behaviour.”  

There is no shortage of proposals in that direction: mostly taking the form of a ‘carrot and stick’ approach, designed to incentivise good practices, and disincentivise the bad. 

But while the manifesto does identify the correct challenges, and also provide some good ideas, many of its actual proposals are somewhat bland and technical; and some – especially, concerning the ‘living income’ - do not go far enough, to meet their own targets.  

As such, the manifesto reads more like a handbook for ‘techno-fixes’, concerning highly specific issues; while seeming to overlook the ‘bread-and-butter’ concerns of ordinary people in the street. 

For instance: while the PN now recognises that the country can no longer depend on competitiveness based on low wages, and that the present minimum wage is inadequate; its electoral programme falls short on proposing a mandatory increase in the minimum wage, or a mandatory living income (as requested by anti-poverty activists.)  

Nor does it help that Opposition leader Bernard Grech has meanwhile been making other proposals, which seem at a glance to contradict the aims of his own manifesto. For instance, his proposal to waive traffic contraventions “after a six-month period, if no further infractions are committed by motorists.” 

One cannot ‘reward good behaviour’, whilst also encouraging leniency for those who flout the rules and regulations. Otherwise, it will be a case of ‘too much carrot, and too little stick’. 

We stand with Ukraine 

Like all sane, peace-loving people everywhere, this newspaper observed the unfolding events in Ukraine this week with alarm, distress, and a general sense of helplessness. 

This is an understandable reaction, to a despicable act of brute military force. Nonetheless, such events call for more than mere ‘solidarity’ with the victims of Vladimir Putin’s aggression. ‘Helpless’ though we may feel, there are still ways in which even small, peripheral countries such as Malta can contribute in more meaningful ways. 

Malta’s neutrality status may remain a paramount consideration; but it must not prevent us from taking decisive action, in any non-military area where we actually can. 

This certainly includes our practice of selling passports to Russian nationals: which, under the circumstances, has simply become indefensible. 

Likewise, Malta must add its voice to the pressure for harsher sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s regime. Now is the time to stand foursquare with Europe, in a firm response to Russian aggression; as well as by supporting all efforts for peace, and for Ukraine’s defence of its territorial integrity.