The Malta Independent 15 November 2018, Thursday

Best Week in Europe?

Mark A. Sammut Sunday, 2 September 2018, 09:24 Last update: about 3 months ago

This has been quite an eventful week for our little island which, for me, means I have to ditch my plans to focus on one topic, and shift to Plan B: flitting from one topic to another.

 

Wake-up call

No, I mean literally. Not the “wake up and smell the coffee” meme but, literally, waking up the Environment Minister to tell him that Magħtab is burning! The fire broke out at 5 am on Friday morning but, according to the Minister himself, he was only informed at 7.30 am. The Minister fiddled with his toast and coffee while Magħtab burned!

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So how does it work? Do Environment Ministry officials have instructions not to disturb His Majesty before 7:30 am? What’s the intra-ministerial communication protocol for national emergencies? Is there no procedure to determine what is and what is not a national emergency?

Whatever the answers are, the situation is pathetically amateurish.

Earlier in the week, the media quoted a scientific report that implies that the smoke belched out by cruise liners hugely reduces intelligence levels. Just imagine the smoke churned out by burning Magħtab! Anyway, this is probably a wake-up call for the Minister to come up with stiffer regulations to reduce air pollution caused by cruise liners. If His Majesty the Minister is reading this after 7:30 am, could he do something about it, please?

The Guardian quoted Xi Chen at Yale School of Public Health in the US, a member of the research team which produced the scientific report, as saying: “Governments really need to take concrete measures to reduce air pollution. That may benefit human capital, which is one of the most important driving forces of economic growth.” So, yes, we – ‘human capital’ – are one of the most important driving forces of economic growth! We are not human beings but human capital! Thank you so much, Neoliberalism.

 

AUM

The American University of Malta was meant to be a hit. Instead it keeps repeatedly hitting the wall. This week the media has reported that even this year the AUM failed to attract enough students to make it a viable tertiary education institution.

I must admit that when the idea of a second fully-fledged university was floated some five years ago, I was filled with overwhelming enthusiasm. It’s good for a flourishing intellectual environment to have more than one source of academic research. But when I realised that not only did the project not pan out, but also that it was wrong from its inception, my enthusiasm was dampened and I for one was sorely disappointed.

If the idea really is to rid the country of academic monopolies, then the whole AUM sham should be shut down and replaced either by a new university (a public-private partnership) or by a radical change in the constitution of the University of Malta, transforming it from a monolithic structure into a federation of colleges allowing for competition in the realm of ideas and knowledge. An added benefit would be that Malta would then be able to compete in the international tertiary-education market and attract serious numbers of foreign students, contributing not only to the economy but also to the intellectual climate in the country.

Now that’s some good neoliberal ideology instead of the dark version we have to contend with.

 

Neoliberal uncharitableness

The new director of that admirable institution, Caritas, was interviewed this week and shed new light on the abominable darkness spread by this Government’s neoliberal politics. These are Anthony Gatt’s words: “Caritas acknowledges the economic development and prosperity of part of the population, however the gap between the rich and the poor is growing. There are growing bands of society that are at risk of poverty, including those depending on pensions or non-contributory benefits, those with mental health issues, those completing a drug rehabilitation programme, young separated people who cannot make ends meet and elderly people who are not homeowners.”

You would think we have a Thatcherite government! Instead we have a government calling itself a Progressive Movement! If this is progress, then let’s regress to whatever there was before.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Poverty is not something that punishes only the poor; it punishes society in its entirety. More poverty engenders more crime and disorder. Christian democracy is good because of the left-wing aspect of Christianity – giving is indeed receiving.

But these post-Social-Democrats we now have in government think that taking is, well, taking.

 

Towers in Mrieħel

Mrieħel is one plural of merħla, meaning herd (another one being merħliet). In our collective memory, the herd evokes images of the undulant fever, the deni rqiq eradicated thanks to the research and discovery made by Temi Zammit.

I would say the country has been taken over by the herd instinct and by deni oħxon – the herd is being shepherded to allow the wolves in its midst to devour, gobble up and guzzle down, with no end in sight, in a frenzy of high-fever irresponsibility and short-termism. I would really like to know what will happen once the present phase of the economic cycle is over. What shall we do with all these ‘developments’?

I recently heard an interesting idea expressed by the Italian philosopher Diego Fusaro. We are experiencing something new and interesting. The cost of ‘development’ is treated in a communist fashion: the public foots the bill. But the profits are treated in a capitalist fashion: they all go into private pockets.

 

5-Star Grill

The two anti-establishment parties now in government in Italy are considered controversial. I would agree with that description. However, the controversy is, to my mind, beneficial to the people. I spent some time this week listening to a recent interview with 32-year-old Luigi Di Maio, one of Italy’s two Deputy Prime Ministers.

Mr Di Maio does not seem hard-bitten; he seems to draw his strength from idealism. How he will deal with the Genoa Morandi Bridge tragedy, and the Benetton family who owns Italy’s highways management company, will show us whether he’s a real idealist or a realist in idealist’s clothing. 

That said, there is a lot to learn from this young politician, particularly about tricks performed in Italy’s House of Representatives, where politically despicable deeds are concealed in otherwise honourable bills which, however, the honourable deputies do not read but only skim through. Admittedly, the Italians are more inventive than the Maltese when it comes to hiding political misdemeanours. This might be because over there, the police do something about it. Sometimes, at least.

Mr Di Maio was, in 2009, one of the founders of Friends of Grillo, the political movement which later evolved into the 5-Star Movement. He thus spent almost a decade learning from Beppe Grillo, a stand-up comedian who made a career out of biting political satire.

I also watched Mr Grillo being interviewed by Enrico Mentana in 2014 (you can find the full interview on YouTube) and again I could understand why Mr Di Maio (Mr Grillo’s disciple) is sharp and why 33 per cent of Italians voted for his 5-Star Movement. That percentage should be understood in the context of Italy’s free-for-all political arena, swamped with an endless number of parties and movements. You may agree or disagree with his political agenda, but you have to concede that Mr Grillo not only makes things extraordinarily clear for everybody to understand, but his analysis is prophetic. You listen to what he said in 2014, and you look back at these four years and see events unfold before your own eyes according to his words.

I follow Italy closely not only because they are our closest neighbours but also, and more importantly, because throughout history, Italy has served as an open-air political laboratory.

 

My Personal Library (20)

When I was at secondary school, we were given Ġużé Ellul Mercer’s Leli ta’ Ħaż-Żgħir (1938) to study. Mr Ellul Mercer was a Labour politician, who probably really believed it was right to help the workers improve their lot and the poor get out of their plight. The PN became electable again when it embraced these Christian values to the full.

Essentially, Leli ta’ Ħaż-Żgħir is a tale of how ignorance is the forbear of exploitation. It seems to me that the 1980s experiment to inculcate this important moral in the heads of students failed abysmally. Had it been a success, the current Administration would not be having such a field day.

In our times, Ħaż-Żgħir (‘Little Village’) thinks it’s becoming Ħal Kbir (‘Big Village’) when, in reality, it’s on its way to becoming Ħal Miet (‘Dead Village’). Too sudden, too much is deadly.

 

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