17 September 2014

Just Answer, ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or ‘Undecided’

 - Sunday, 19 February 2012, 00:00

by Pamela Hansen

Surveys are meant as indications and although one has to appreciate that they will by no means give you the full picture, they do point at what people are thinking, albeit in a generic way. And there lies the rub; it is their non-specific nature that causes scepticism, at least with me.

They rely mainly on the “Yes”, “No” or “Undecided” principal. It is all black, white or grey. There is no room for any colour and I am not talking fashion or partisan colours (red, blue or even green) here, but anything that could stimulate further discussion or clarify a point.

I got a phone call the other day from someone conducting a survey. He assured me it was not on behalf of a political party and wanted to ask me a few questions regarding the forthcoming local elections.

First of all, I do not trust phone callers I do not know. They could claim to be Barack Obama or Peppi tal hobz, unless you know the caller, he could in fact be Jack the rip-off artist. But I had a few minutes to spare and thought I could have a bit of fun.

First question: “Are you going to vote?” My answer was “I am not sure, since excepting for Michael Brigulio, I had no idea what the other candidates in my area stood for.”

Although it seems that general election candidates are already doing the rounds, I have not seen any local election candidates door-stepping. And have not got any relating bumf in my letterbox.

“So you are undecided,” he told me. “It is not that simple. The answer is: one cannot be expected to vote if they did not know what they are voting for,” I replied.

“So you are undecided,” he repeated. The guy just wanted to tick the box. He could not care less on the raison d’être of voting in the first place.

Apparently, that is all politicians care about too, since they take surveys quite seriously. They are not interested in any in-depth analysis. All they want to know is whether you are going to vote for them or not and whether you are undecided.

As for the latter, they should know by now where the indecision stems from. But more on that later. Since I refused to concede that I was an “Undecided”, let alone a “Yes” or a “No” to that question, he ploughed on.

“Who did you vote for last time?” was his next question.

After telling him that that was none of his business, I told him to tell whoever made up the survey questions that they should have a rethink.

Really, the question should be the one I saw on a cartoon doing the rounds on Facebook: “Who are you not going to vote for?”

Now for another survey, results this time from a known source – the Euro barometer – that found that “Most feel corruption is a major problem in Malta”.

The culprits were institutions, namely that which grants building permits, aka Mepa, and the judiciary and politicians. Sixty per cent mentioned Mepa as having most corruption, followed by politicians (52 per cent) and the judiciary (49 per cent).

So the figures for Mepa and politicians should give some indication why there are undecided voters. The discontent with Mepa is nothing new. It hits the news almost daily. Yet, despite repeated promises from the government on transparency, many just look around at the horrific structures marring our coastline and elsewhere and bury their heads in desperation. None of us want to live in a concrete jungle.

What I cannot understand is why, since tourism is our bread and butter, the powers that be are doing their utmost to shatter our golden egg? People might be interested in reading: “Nobody goes there, it’s too crowded” in The Economist. http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2012/02/urban-design

“Unlimited rapid development leads to the annihilation of the very characteristics that made a neighbourhood such a desirable location in the first place.”

I know that construction is vital for economic growth, it is the kind of development that is concerning voters. That was made very clear in the comments replying to the article “Owners do not have right for views from their properties – developers” in The Times of 9 February.

“But they charge extra for property with views, am I right?” Said one. And another “Owners don’t have the right to views... ergo developers don’t have the right to views... ergo the people they sell them to don’t. Do developers ever sell a property having just obstructed a view saying, great views?”

This commentator quoted the developers’ own code of conduct: “MDA (Malta Developers Association) code of ethics says ‘Members shall act in a manner that shows due respect to the rights of owners and or occupiers of properties neighbouring sites that they develop or intend to develop.’ What a joke!”

But forget about neighbours for a minute and let’s widen our perspective. This is what another opined, “This ‘industry’ has been the ruin of a nation. Once a valley is built over, nothing will ever bring that valley back again. Add to this the ghastly tiny apartments, and there you have in a nutshell why foreigners do not consider Malta when choosing a second home, so the hundreds of empty properties will only end up to be giant white elephants, to join the rest of the herd.”

But perhaps what more than hints at corruption was the following: “When a huge commercial garage was illegally built in a residential area of Mellieha, Mepa kept postponing a final decision until the regulations were amended to suit the illegal developer. Then when the approved increased height of the garage door was not high enough to satisfy the developer, Mepa sent a high employee to persuade us to close our eyes to the infringement!”

And for me the most succinct: “It is futile to expect the government and the courts to come to our rescue, the amount of money at stake is enormous.”

What one must consider is that enormous developments do not only take views away from other buildings, but also from every street overlooking that specific area.

Let me clarify what I mean, I used to love walking along Sliema’s back streets catching glimpses of the majestic Valletta Bastions as I reached street corners. Now all one sees are walls and armies of tanks. Now forget about me, but think about the tourists walking from the Palace Hotel down to The Strand, for example.

Back to the Euro barometer on perceived corruption, this comment really says it all: “Whistleblower act is still in the works. Party Financing Bill, still in the works. Accountability in Government, still in the works. Accountability in Institutions such as the Police Force, still in the works. Information freedom, hindered by an inefficient Public Service, still in the works. Auditor General issues reports but no concrete answers are seen.

Permanent Commission against Corruption formed of four people, two of which retired, according to MJHA website, do you call this seriousness?”

As regards the perceived corruption within the judiciary. I was surprised that The Times did not seek a reaction from the Administration of Justice. It is after all the institution that is supposedly the judiciary’s watchdog.

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