The Malta Independent 15 August 2018, Wednesday

Can’t see the future for the dust

Noel Grima Sunday, 13 May 2018, 10:56 Last update: about 4 months ago

We at the Independent now cannot say we are exempt from the problems of the country.

Over the past weeks, they demolished two one-storey homes (on top of Balsons). For some months, they have been digging up the small parking space underneath the Regional Road bridge to build a petrol station.

Now, yesterday, suddenly, workers turned up and proceeded to pull down the two villas across the road in a cloud of dust. The corner villa was an imposing residence once the home of the former Director of Agriculture. The next villa used to house Russian ladies. At one point, the empty residence suddenly became full of Filipinos who disappeared as suddenly as they had come.

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I have no doubt that in time the petrol station will be a gleaming affair, far better than the old shoddy one across the road. And I have no doubt either that the Balsons site, as well as the former residence and the villa next door will become gleaming apartment buildings just like the one that has been built next door.

For now, we will be lumped with the dust, the noise, the traffic and parking chaos.

People who live in Sliema, Mellieha and anywhere taken over by the construction industry know what we are in for. Welcome to the Brave New Malta.

It is not just the (hopefully) temporary inconveniences that ought to worry us but the long-term effects. These new flats add to the many that are being built across the island. Each week, the Government Gazette publishes a supplement listing all the new applications and permits that are being issued. This supplement has been growing and growing ever since the floodgates were opened and permits started to rain down from heaven.

With all this construction going on, it is inevitable that we will need further and further immigrants to live in these apartments. There will be no stopping the flood and we will have no say on the colour, the race, the nationality, even the religion of whoever comes in. We need them more possibly than they need us. Without them, our economy will collapse. And our economy will be led not by what is best suited for our needs but by fear that if we do not do this or that, the economy will collapse. It will be an economy built on fears.

There is no stopping the construction industry and its ancillary trades – until we hit the wall. On the contrary, we are seeing the emergence of new companies on the scene.

People glibly speak of new gaming companies flooding in without realizing these are fly-by-night ventures. And even all the new gaming companies will be unable to take up all the new apartments that are being built. The Maltese, it is now clear, will be unable to afford the new rents that will be asked –in fact the government has acknowledged this by belatedly promising to build government housing even though the promised units amount to around half of what is being applied for.

This, in turn, is only one aspect of the economy that we repeatedly hear is the ninth wonder of the world – an economy based on fast growth that does not know where it is going. It is based on a fragile foundation that can easily hit a submerged rock and that, as the experience of Greece, Ireland and Spain teaches us, can quickly turn into a recession.

The drivers of the economy are too unsustainable on which to risk our future– and meanwhile we are constantly eating into our very limited countryside and Outside Development Zones. This type of growth is good, maybe, for the first five years but then risks turning upon itself. And what will happen then to the budding construction magnates and their gleaming towers?

Get it into your heads; we cannot become a Frankfurt without the hinterland, nor a Singapore or any other model that is too facilely bandied around. With our third world roads, our massive traffic jams and our bloated government sector we can at most aspire to become a Caracas suburb.

 

ngrima@independent.com.mt

 

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