The Malta Independent 3 August 2021, Tuesday

The Ghost of Muscat on Taparsi Island

Mark A. Sammut Sassi Sunday, 20 June 2021, 11:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

Let’s take stock of the situation. As everybody can see for themselves, Malta is no longer charming. There’s a sizeable minority of citizens that’s dying for the modernisation, the Dubai-isation even, of the country.

The vast majority and the tourist industry in particular, however, want (and need) to avoid the death of the archipelago’s charming character. It’s that charm more than anything else that draws tourists to these isolated islands and makes living here pleasant. But, despite the dictates of common sense, the country is fast losing its charm and nobody seems to know what to do about it.

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Then there’s the reputational damage endured by our jurisdiction on account of the passport scheme, the Panama Papers scandal, and the undeniable fact that, all in all, the country reeks of moral decay and corruption (whether real or perceived).

The question now isn’t who’s to blame for all this but who has the vision, the skills and the guts to solve the riddles of our foreseeable future: the incumbent or his adversary. The electorate needs to study what each has to offer beyond libertine and neoliberal ideology. Prostitution and cannabis can wait; the environment and the financial services industry can’t.

 

But who’s to blame on Taparsi Island?

Okay, it’s hot and perhaps we should relax a little and give in to the temptation.

Well yes, Joseph Muscat has much to answer for in terms of the environmental and reputational damage done to our country.

Like in a Shakespearian play, when a character has passed on but his ghost stays behind to haunt the others, the ghost of Muscat returns to remind Labour of its sins. Labour sinned when it defended Muscat’s right-hand man, his favourite Minister, and the man himself, who tolerated their hanky-panky right under his nose (at best) if not even participated in it (quite plausibly).

Muscat’s ghost appeared again these past days, as the news hit the headlines that he was given a €120,000 retirement package. The problem isn’t the package; that in itself isn’t reprehensible. The problem is that for whoever took the decision, Muscat’s behaviour didn’t disqualify him.

The retirement package isn’t a reward for having rendered public service. It’s a pragmatic measure meant to help former public office-holders pay the bills until they find new employment. More importantly, it’s meant to allow the passage of time before former office-holders find new employment so that they cannot make use of the contacts and inside knowledge acquired while in office for the benefit of private clients. In other words, the idea’s to avoid former public office-holders becoming consultants who can use all the intangible wealth acquired through the office.

The problem is that nobody saw anything wrong in Muscat getting the package.

This country needs an overhaul – too much here is fishy and sleazy and, consequently, incoherent and unprofessional.

With this kind of hall-of-mirrors situation, it’s no surprise that serious countries like the US, the UK and Germany are out to get us. Malta needs to exorcise Muscat’s ghost if it wants to regain its good standing with the standard-setting countries. Otherwise, we risk becoming a phony country. We think we’re a normal country – when in reality we’re just a tiny, overpopulated archipelago floating in splendid isolation on a sea of delusions. Oliver Friggieri called it, Il-Gżira Taparsi (“Make-belief Island”).

The international system tolerates our independent existence as nothing more than a freak of history. It could easily insist that we join a bigger (“real”) country, but – luckily for us – such insistence could make certain chickens come home to roost, upsetting an equilibrium that serves the big powers well. Instead of treasuring this most unique of gifts Providence bestowed upon us – our sovereignty – for the first time in history, we spit in the air hoping it won’t fall back on our collective face.

This isn’t a question of Labourites and Nationalists; this is a national question. We – the Maltese – have to exorcise the ghost of Muscat. We need to put our national house in order and stop fooling ourselves we can fool the entire world.

 

Quorum matters at the Planning Authority

Wasn’t it three years ago that a Planning Authority board member was flown in from Sicily on a private jet for a vote on the very same project that has now seen a number of board members abstain from voting?

One obvious question to ask is: what’s the rationale behind having a quorum for the Planning Authority? Why not have substitute members?

Again, a hall-of-mirrors country. It’s clear to me that the logic behind the quorum mechanism doesn’t apply to a body like the Planning Authority board, which, instead, should envisage substitute members.

But then this Planning Authority is a bizarre creature, isn’t it? The papers reported this week that the Courts decided on a case involving the denied permit for a garden centre next to the Airport when the Authority then allowed the construction of a supermarket on the same land. The Court expressed its bewilderment, stating that the situation is “illogical” and “contradictory”. Judges (and magistrates) seem to be among the few people in this country who call a spade a spade. Yes, the country is “illogical” and “contradictory”. And we’ve got to put our house in order if we want to be taken seriously and not be relegated to a remnant of the feudal world that disappeared elsewhere with the French Revolution.

In this land-by-the-Airport case, the Civil Aviation and Airport authorities had conveyed their opposition to the garden centre because the plot fell within the airport’s “blue area” and could present a hazard to flying aircraft. Can there be a more persuasive argument? But, lo and behold, when later a permit application was submitted for a supermarket, the case officer reported that “MEPA should not enter into such issues and development could be permitted if it is deemed fit on planning grounds”. Why?! Why shouldn’t MEPA enter into such issues?! If the experts think there could be hazards to flying aircraft, on what grounds does one ignore them?! What’s behind the insanity that drives a public authority to put private profit before people’s safety and lives?!

And then the environmentalists fume at the Authority’s nonchalant attitude toward ugly, soulless buildings replacing beautiful, at times artistic works of architecture!

This is an amateur country. Gżira Taparsi.

A possible remedy could be to send all under-25s to live at least 6-9 months abroad, possibly in North-Western or Central Europe, to catch a glimpse of how affluent, efficient countries function. Otherwise, the mental inbreeding will only perpetuate the current feeble mentality that’s turning the Gżira Taparsi into an even more asphyxiating Gaġġa.

 

Reforestation

It’s not exactly clear how much of our territory is covered by forests. Lovinmalta and TVM reported last March that it’s roughly 1%. In May, The Times of Malta claimed it’s less than 2%. This newspaper’s sister daily reported in June 2011 that back then only 0.5% of the country’s territory was forestland. I don’t know if this means a 100% increase in woodland over ten years, as I couldn’t find anything about this, and with Minister Ian Borg keeping himself so busy it’s difficult to reckon. But even if it really is a 100% increase over ten years – it’s not enough! We need a 100% increase per year.

My point is that we shouldn’t resign ourselves to a preordained destiny of living on an island bare of trees. True, desertification seems to promise to be our ineluctable fate, but I want to tease the environmentalists with an idea.

Many years ago, the University of Malta Press published a selection of deeds of the medieval Maltese notary Giacomo Zabara from the years 1486-88. In one of these deeds, a baker from Birgu engaged somebody to go to Comino and chop down and bring back a load of wood for the oven.

This could mean that Comino was once covered in woodland. Why not attempt a reforestation project on Comino? Could be a drop in the bucket, but still…

 

My Personal Video Library (15)

Zack Snyders Justice League (2021) is four hours long. The latter two brim with drivel, driven by a plotline even a sloth would find banal, and saddled with characterisation so weak it’s like a having a damper permanently on while you’re playing Honky Tonk Train Blues.

So why do I want to discuss it?

Because what the movie lacks in character psychology it makes up for in philosophy. Indeed, if you Google “Zack Snyder”, you’ll find that there’s a lot of talk about this director’s ideology out there. He’s accused of (but denies) being a right-winger and a disciple of Ayn Rand.

It’s common knowledge that movies are awash in left-liberal ideology: the two big comic-book houses that churn out movies based on their “universes” are liberal-progressive and take clear stands in the ongoing Culture War.

My point’s that Zack Snyder’s Justice League is instructive on two levels. One, it showcases the dominant (liberal-progressive) ideology. Two, it demonstrates how to market the ideology, inserting it into silly storylines and settings inhabited by curvy female and muscular male superheroes. A whole mythological universe serves to inculcate liberal-progressive values into an unsuspecting audience made up mostly of adolescents (at least, one hopes they’re mostly adolescents).

Consider the following.

The Flash asks Batman, “What are your superpowers again?” and Batman replies, “I’m rich.”

At the beginning of the movie, Wonder Woman (a strong, independent woman if ever there was one) stops a group of terrorists from causing mayhem; they explain they’re a sect that wants to take the world back to the Middle Ages.

Cyborg’s powers consist in imposing his will on computer networks and all sorts of technology.

Aquaman is the king of the age-old underwater Atlantis kingdom where people can breathe like fish, but, more importantly in my view, where women have been living on the seabed for centuries – even before the tampon or the menstrual cup.

These are but four examples of the ideology concealed beneath a silly story of superheroes who defeat an alien, six-fingered humanoid (called Steppenwolf) and a complex, aesthetically-pleasing computer-generated imagery.

It’s extraordinary how this movie reminds one of Alisdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue. In this book, the Scottish-American philosopher argues that the choice we have today is between Aristotle and Nietzsche.

Well, the Medievalist terrorists are clearly Aristotelian (when Aquinas combined Aristotle’s philosophy with Christianity he reached the pinnacle of Medieval philosophy).

Each superhero is an Übermensch, the super-man of Nietzsche’s philosophy who imposes his will to overcome traditional Christian morality. All doubts about this interpretation are completely dispelled when language and plot intertwine: the resurrection of Superman.

You’d think it’s a silly, shallow movie. Silly it probably is, but it’s not shallow.

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