The Malta Independent 22 July 2024, Monday
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Sea of madness

Mark A. Sammut Sassi Sunday, 24 November 2019, 10:56 Last update: about 6 years ago

Some days ago, José Herrera made a statement on TV with far-reaching implications: according to the latest calculations, Malta’s population stands at 700,000, while some three million tourists visit annually.

Dr Herrera is Minister for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change – a mouthful of confusion. His role as Cabinet Minister is to pursue policies that safeguard the environment, promote sustainable development and... what? What verb to use for climate change? One assumes that all ministers have a positive mission, a mission to improve public administration. The Finance Ministry’s objective is to ensure healthy finances; the Health Ministry’s, to spend more and more effectively on health services; and so on. So how can Dr Herrera’s Ministry be for... Climate Change? Is its objective to augment climate change? (Then again, who knows?)

I doubt that the stupidity comes from Dr Herrera himself. My impression is that Invictus does not respect Dr Herrera, and this percolates even from the title given to Dr Herrera’s Ministry... the Ministry for Climate Change is the only ministry with silly talk in its title.

Dr Herrera’s talk on TV was anything but silly, though. The country’s walking a tightrope... overdeveloping at breakneck speed while exhausting and depleting resources. Already Dr Herrera’s Ministry seems to have given up on where to dump the country’s gargantuan waste production. Seven hundred thousand people on two islands that in all cover 28km by 14 and 14km by 7! The population density is dazzling. How can there be sustainable development with 700,000 people on such a small landmass? Without factoring in the 3 million tourists who visit annually.

That said, we are obviously contributing to climate change. There’s no doubt about that.

Sarcasm aside.

This population obesity will mean that one day we’ll have national stretch marks. It is difficult for anybody – Invictus included – to guarantee the current rhythm ad infinitum. Eventually, the economy will slim back to its former figure, leaving, as we have said, stretch marks. The many blocks of flats which are ruining landscape, cityscape, and all, will remain as hollow shells of a once-prosperous past. Indeed, Malta’s expansion – unplanned and essentially gluttonous... it’s fat not muscle – will one day shrink, and the country will take the semblance of a ghost town.

What will we do then? Demolish the empty buildings? Straiten the widened roads?

That the environment and sustainable development have been entrusted to a Minister who – it seems to me, but I might be wrong – doesn’t enjoy the Prime Minister’s personal respect can mean only one thing. Invictus is more concerned about short-term electoral victories than long-term strategies for the country.

When this particular sun stops shining, and there won’t be any more hay to make, what will we do? “Who has seen tomorrow?” some will retort in native Manglish. “We will find a solution – we always have.” “We will survive, as we’ve always done.” Nonsense. Ours isn’t a history of constant growth and expansion. There were times when Malta suffered hunger and destitution.  

When that moment comes, when once rented-out buildings will be empty, when the gold rush is over and the country turns into one big, ugly ghost town, Invictus won’t be around to pick up the pieces. He will have built the economy on something as flimsy as population growth, and he will furtively walk off the stage when panning for gold won’t find new veins and the exhausted mines run out of nuggets, when foreigners will flock away leaving behind them a few Maltese who chewed down and chomped, dug in and devoured, gobbled and gulped, tucked into and wolfed, and the many who will have to deal with the postprandial torpor.

The many will have to pay the price (in environmental but also economic terms) of the short-termism of Joseph Muscat’s policies, which have as much to do with sustainable development as Konrad Mizzi’s Panama secret company with his London house rent.

Indeed, one can say many things about José Herrera, like for instance that his Ministry obscenely gave € 130,000 in direct orders to Abela Advocates, the law firm owned by Labour MP Robert Abela (who shed crocodile tears because Labour does not care for the less fortunate; then again, it does care for the more fortunate). But, at least, it seems Dr Herrera hasn’t opened a secret Panama company, unlike his colleague Dr Mizzi. This could be why he does not enjoy the same respect...

Point is, Dr Herrera’s is an impossible ministry – protecting the environment while promoting sustainable development (I’ll leave out the silly climate change part) under a Prime Minister whose only long-term policy is short-termism.

It’s mission impossible when the Minister seems to enjoy so little personal esteem in his boss’ eyes.

Seven hundred thousand people on such a small, minuscule landmass. This is madness.


Equal madness for everybody?

This madness is making some people rich. Some.

A few days ago, this newspaper reported the publication of a Central Bank study arguing that the “rich are getting richer” while “others are being left behind”.

True, the report does date back to 2016, but I think that the trends identified then have only gone on to intensify.

According to this study, between 2010 and 2016 inequality between rich and poor in Malta kept increasing: “the rising cost of living and lower wages are leaving the country’s population worse off than their European peers”. Pensioners “have seen stable pension income”, true, but at the same time they “were left behind” because “stable income” means that “since 2010 ... the 65+ category [is] the only category that did not experience an increase in income”. (I’m quoting this newspaper on the Central Bank study.) If pensions have not increased, but worker income has, then the latter income would translate into an upward shift in prices which pensioners obviously – because of their stable pensions – cannot keep up with. Another study, reported by this newspaper on Friday, highlights that there are problems with “ the long-term sustainability of the public pension system.”

Homelessness has been growing. The Central Bank study observes that higher incomes have resulted in “a booming property market” – but it would seem that “households at the lower end of the distribution may still find it challenging to acquire [property]”.

According to a YMCA study, homelessness is becoming a veritable scourge, resulting in domestic violence, high rents pushing people on the street and into drug abuse.  

This is the Best-in-Europe Malta Joseph Muscat did not promise but still delivered.


In the meantime, the theatrics

Media outlets have long been referring to suspects in the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination and that the powers-that-be were dragging their feet. Then we get the Keith Schembri show in court and suddenly, as if by magic, there is a development in the assassination case which has reverberations across Europe. It’s as if one noise was meant to cover up the other. As if it were all choreographed – a mise en scène on a hitherto-unprecedented scale.

To understand Joseph Muscat we have to analyse how he learnt the ropes. He spent 16 years learning from Alfred Sant, not only what to do (and how to do it) but also what to avoid (and how to do it). Dr Sant served as the unwitting tutor for the person who, during the 2008 campaign, probably gave away the JPO-Mistra scandal.

Let’s remember that Dr Sant has had a knack for theatre since his teenage years, and made use of his playwright skills in the political game – not always with the hoped-for results. Nevertheless, he still taught the possibly theatre-illiterate Joseph Muscat the tricks of the trade, and today we are compelled to admit that the disciple has surpassed the master.

The way the assassination “drama” is unfolding gives the impression that it is being used as a distraction to keep our glances off the potentially  politically lethal unfolding of the Keith Schembri drama.

These theatrics offend the intelligence of the intelligent while serving as a divertissement of sorts for the rest. More importantly, they induce us to make two observations. First, Invictus thinks he can get away with murder (apologies for the ugly idiom). Second, that real power-brokering keeps taking place elsewhere, behind the scenes, away from the centre-stage, where, if things were transparent, it should really happen so that media and public subject it to democratic scrutiny. Instead, centre-stage we have carefully choreographed theatrics, predicated on the premise that, all told, the majority is composed only of hardened imbeciles.


Renewed attacks on organised religion

The Life Network Foundation Malta has just published a Position Paper on Bills 96 and 97 of 2019. Despite a few linguistic quirks here and there (e.g. piż tal-prova instead of oneru tal-prova), the Foundation has issued an impressive high-quality document that serves, like similar initiatives of other NGOs, as a benchmark of what real democratic scrutiny should consist of.

The quality is excellent, but the contents are saddening. Among other topics, all important for the protection of the family and of life, the Foundation highlights the current Administration’s orchestrated attack on organised religion in Malta.

One is saddened because one cannot fail to see the current Administration’s brazen-faced strategy: watering down the influence of organised religion on society to enable its concurrent replacement by the Neoliberal religion.

Let’s not be fooled. It’s not that Christianity being faded out will allow the blossoming of a dream. After Christianity is unceremoniously kicked out of society, it won’t be replaced by “Nothing to kill or die for/ And no religion, too/ ... no possessions/ No need for greed or hunger/ A brotherhood of man” – Neoliberalism does not believe in this nonsense. No brotherhood of man for Neoliberalism – and a lot to kill or die for, and a new religion too! Neoliberalism believes in possessions and greed, and how!

Christianity is a religion based on self-denial, on seeking moderation, on avoiding lust and gluttony and greed, on contenting oneself with modesty and restraint. Now let’s be frank: these are ideals to aspire to; what is achieved in sinful reality is another story. But here we’re talking about ideals one strives to live by (and probably keeps missing while one’s on the way). Neoliberalism, on the other hand, is a “religion” based on cynicism, self-interest, profits-at-all-costs, survival of the fittest, and accumulating wealth for wealth’s sake. (If it were not like this, there would not be Panama and similar tax havens that allow the über-wealthy to stash their money away, avoiding the taxman who would, in theory at least, use that money to help the vulnerable and underprivileged.)

Neoliberalism is Christianity’s sworn enemy, because their respective ideal objectives are so different. And mind you – Neoliberalism is just a new name for an old tendency, so aptly described in that observation that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a... well you (should) know how it ends.


My Personal Library (76)

Catherine Nixey’s The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World (2018) narrates how, upon embracing Christianity as State Religion, the Late Roman Empire embarked on the annihilation of the “pagan” past, destroying temples and statues, burning pagan “theology” books, etc.

The book is stupid on two counts.

One, it fails to distinguish between Empire and Christians. The Empire would have done the same had it embraced Mithraism as State Religion. What Ms Nixey describes is the destructive fury of imperial totalitarianism. Why, even if we look at our own Maltese Islands: didn’t the British destroy one of the Catholic Knights’ auberges to erect in its place a temple of their Empire’s own State Religion?

Two, it fails to compare Christian values with Pagan values. Christianity embraced the intrinsic value of life, the inherent equality of all men, even the consent to marriage – all values that Pagan Antiquity denied.

But the book is important because it implicitly reflects our own age: the Neoliberal destruction of the Christian World. A darkening age indeed.

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