Enough really is enough

Government cannot afford to ignore a widespread perception that people are living in fear inside their own homes; and that the situation is being tolerated – if not actively encouraged – in the name of ‘economic growth’

Moviment Graffitti’s call for a national protest against “excessive and haphazard construction” – under the rallying cry, ‘Iz-zejjed kollu zejjed’ (‘Enough is enough’) – touches not just on the environmental, but also on the economic and, above all, social front.

It is admittedly difficult to place one’s finger squarely on the precise root of the malaise. Public concern is by no means limited just to ‘excessive construction’; and even then, there is more to the anxiety than the environmental dimension alone. 

There are also pressing health and safety considerations… as evidenced by a recent spate of collapsed buildings, that left their occupants homeless and dispossessed.

One of the victims of those incidents, who lost her Mellieha home to an adjacent construction site, passed away before even being relocated. It was only the charity of friends and relatives that prevented her from ending her life in abject poverty, without even a roof over her head.

That example illustrates why such matters cannot be restricted only to the environmental perspective. It is not just that we are engaged in a frenzied building spree that sacrifices more virgin land than we can realistically afford to lose…it is also that this is being done with scant consideration for human life and limb.

Government cannot afford to ignore a widespread perception that people are living in fear inside their own homes; and that the situation is being tolerated – if not actively encouraged – in the name of ‘economic growth’.

This is unacceptable. Economic growth cannot take precedence over people’s right to live in safety; it cannot ride roughshod over people’s genuine concerns abut their environment, their health and their quality of life.

Elsewhere, the consequences need not be so personal or dramatic. There is also growing unrest over plans to widen roads to accommodate more traffic: in part due to sentimental attachment to the landscape being lost in the transaction – for example, the uprooting of iconic trees on the Rabat Road – but beyond these arguably nostalgic considerations, there is also mounting exasperation at an official transport policy that seems to be only interested in encouraging more car use, to the detriment of national health.

People are justified in questioning such policy decisions, at a time when government is supposed to be phasing out Malta’s dependency on the private vehicle, and encouraging public transport uptake instead. 

Moreover, government’s own consultants – including the Malta Transport Authority – have warned that widening roads will only result in more traffic congestion further down the line. Yet government persists regardless: raising legitimate questions on why it disregards its own commissioned advice, to favour one particular industry above all else…in this case, the car lobby.

Scratch beneath the surface, and a similar pattern appears in other related areas, too. The rate at which the Planning Authority approves new projects, or turns a blind eye at existing planning breaches – or, for that matter, how the ‘Environment and Resources Authority’ keeps quiet, while the PA approves projects it had openly opposed – strongly suggests that the motives are more economic than environmental. 

Wherever one looks, there is the vague suggestion of collusion between business interests and government/regulatory authorities. And Moviment Graffitti has a point: there is simply too much of it. Enough really is enough.

The protest will be held on Saturday 7 September in Valletta – eve of Victory Day – and the organisers did not pull any punches when it came to explaining the motivation.

“The aim of this protest is to bring together residents, workers, farmers, students and organisations who are fed up of excessive and haphazard construction so as to make their voices heard in opposition to the madness that is consuming our country,” Graffitti said.

“We believe that together we can change this situation and fight the excessive power of the few who treat Malta as their own patch of land through which they can speculate and make profits.”

The protest will also make a number of related demands, mainly to call for a radical change in planning policies so that they respect the interests of the majority, including future generations, instead of protecting the profits of the few.

The demands also include calling for regulators to be free from commercial and political interests. “We want democratic authorities that can truly decide in the best interests of our country,” Graffitti said.

The group will also call for a moratorium on large-scale projects until a comprehensive and serious plan for development in Malta is introduced. “This plan should ensure that these types of projects respect the community and are sustainable.”

Other demands include the regulation of the construction industry to hold developers responsible for the work carried out in construction sites and ensure this does not endanger or disturb people’s lives; and to reconsider the decision to build and widen roads that will destroy huge amounts of trees and arable land. 

“Instead, Government should be working on the creation and implementation of a strategy that truly addresses the traffic and pollution issues, and this strategy should include serious investment in alternative means of transport,” Graffitti said.

These are all entirely reasonable demands, given the extent of the public concern at the situation. Government would do well to listen, before it is too late.