The Malta Independent 15 June 2024, Saturday
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Our main task: to de-muscatise Malta

Noel Grima Sunday, 28 May 2023, 07:25 Last update: about 2 years ago

The above heading is the conclusion to which this article will build. Those who disagree with the conclusion are kindly asked to get off and stop reading.

My thesis is that the people in 2013 chose Joseph Muscat by a huge majority, attracted by his youth, a slick campaign and scared off by an obsolescent Nationalist party riddled by treacherous and ambitious insiders.

Joseph Muscat promptly put in action the main planks of his administration and these, for a time, gave us a mirage of economic growth and even affluence.

Now, 10 years later, the unblinkered among us are coming to see how each of these policy decisions have led to the impasse we are facing today. We need now to see how each of these policy decisions had a hidden aim and how there were always alternatives to them. And we must understand how important it is to reverse them if we are to build a future for future generations. In other words, how important it is to de-muscatise the country.

Let me start with the focus of yesterday’s national focus Xebbajtuna against the unbridled development that has taken over the country. Muscat came to power riding on a tidal wave of anger about Mepa, building up since PN times.

Consequently, Mepa was split up and rendered innocuous. Development was given its head. Still today, anybody can become a developer – and many have done so, with no training whatsoever except a huge appetite for money.

Even before he entered Castile, Muscat wooed the developers (remember the Fourth Storey that Anglu Farrugia protested about, though that was before he got to be one of the most inadequate of Speakers?)

Obligingly, the PN predecessors had prepared the ground by widening the areas where development was to be allowed and by allowing an extra floor in residential areas.

This is what yesterday’s protesters must understand: it is useless to protest unless the policies are reversed and a modicum of order re-introduced. The Planning Authority must be strengthened and given back its teeth. Politicians must not be allowed to reverse PA decisions. Enforcement must be made to work – and not just with regards to the poor man who opens up a window in the family home.

Developers and contractors must be held accountable for defects in their buildings for at least 50 years. Applications for big, massive, development must be treated as such without the developers being still allowed to get around the rules by splitting up the development. On the contrary, special and more stringent rules must be made to apply.

We have lost a lot but we must at least protect what we still can. This applies to the remaining countryside but also to the remaining open spaces, the beaches, the shores, the sea. And a special regime must be created to protect Comino against the deck-chair barons as well as the seven-star developers. We are not Dubai here.

All this and more along these lines will not be enough to de-muscatise the country.

Let’s remain on the space continuum. Muscat fed us on the myth that more buildings need more residents who need better roads. We have seen, still see, massive development of roads built on the theory of the absolute dominance of the car (with the added bonus going to contractors of course).

There has been little if any encouragement to alternative means of transport, and the upgrade that had seen the end of a wasteful private ownership of public transport has been rendered useless by a system based on people recruited from third world countries.

Go to other countries and see how when people get their heads out of their backsides they can come up with innovative solutions like trams such as one finds in Poland, Strasbourg and Israel. Those systems promote the feel-good factor in the country whereas here mass transport gives users the impression of Dhaka Bangladesh or like that.

Muscat-economics was based on the selling of passports and of the Maltese identity to people who had no link with the country and who many times did not even come here.

It was based on opening wide the doors of the country to people from Third Countries who, today’s finance minister memorably told us, would pay our pension for us. Now that this has proved to be wrong, this is more reason to reverse the trend by reducing the flow to a trickle and by incentivising those who would want to go back.

Then Muscat sold off three hospitals and we are seeing how this operation was mired in deception and corruption that an entire Cabinet was impotent to stop.

Today’s premier, Muscat’s successor, was elected promising continuity. The more he struggles to protect his predecessor from the fall-out of this mad sale, the more he will keep banging his head against the wall. I only add here the case of the Arab university of Cottonera, wrongly called the American University, which has failed to attract students and is still allowed to be open.

Lastly, this week a Reuters report described the failure of yet another Muscat pipe-dream (and not just of Malta), that of “Blockchain Island” and the huge millions that passed through Malta until this was blocked.

There you are. Until and unless these Muscat innovations are reversed, we will not have a future.

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