The Malta Independent 12 July 2024, Friday
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When a comment completely crosses a big red line

Owen Bonnici Friday, 3 May 2024, 14:26 Last update: about 3 months ago

The Opposition’s choice for the Education Ministry, Justin Schembri, believes that Indians are to be equated with “filth and shabbiness” which, in his view, are taking over our island.

Posting underneath a ONE news coverage of the Prime Minister Robert Abela’s visit at the Cleansing and Maintenance Directorate, he wrote that the country was full of filth, shabbiness and Indians.  “Whoever thinks otherwise, should take a good look around them,” he said.

I believe that the one who should take a good look around him is the Opposition Leader Bernard Grech for choosing to appoint Schembri, who is clearly not fit for purpose, as Education Shadow Minister in the first place.

What Schembri said is so wrong on so many levels.

First of all equating a whole group of people to “filth and shabbiness” simply because they belong to one nationality and not another is completely unacceptable and crosses in a big way a huge red line.   

Secondly, what Justin Schembri said goes against our values as a nation of tolerance, unity in diversity and equality.  His party, supposedly, is a Christian Democratic Party.  Since when Christian values allow for this kind of dangerous and populist discourse?  What is there democratic with people equating Indians with filth and shabbiness?

 Thirdly, the Indian nationals working in Malta are actually contributing to the economic success Malta is going through.  Be it in health care and medicine, be it in technical fields, in culture, hospitality and a whole list of sectors, the Indian nationals working here so far away from their home are doing so brilliantly.

They put in a lot of hard work, they are law abiding citizens and treat their host country very respectfully.  And to the Indian nationals who were so hurt by what Justin Schembri wrote, I tell them that we are thankful for the contribution they make to sustain the plethora of social and economic services that we as a country provide.

 Malta the socio-economic success it is today, also in part to their contribution.

 I had the opportunity to attend two very beautiful events which the Indian community organised: first the Durga Puja and then the colourful Holi celebration.  I really enjoyed attending to both as I met with so many lovely and honest people.

 Now some political thoughts.

I am very worried and distrought at how an ultra-populist politician Justin Schembri, who God help us is an educator by profession (!), can climb up the ladder within the Nationalist Party and become the Shadow Minister for one of the most important and essential Ministries in the Government: Education.

It is clear that Schembri did not face any political consquence or discipline from his own party over what he wrote.  So much so that when the Opposition Leader Bernard Grech was asked about the whole thing, he simply replied – with half a smile dancing on his face - that he had spoken to “Justin” and that Justin promised to clarify his statement.

I went to see what the clarification was about and the Education Shadow Minister, who one time had even lauded Salvini, clarified only thing: that he stood fast on this point and that he believes every word he said.  He only said things to the effect that this was “a generic comment”.

Schembri’s was not a generic comment.  It smacked of racism through and through.  And the thought a person who equates Indian nationals with filth and shabbiness might, at least on paper, be some day leading the Education Ministry sends chills down my spine.

 What is worse is that the Opposition Leader did absolutely nothing.  Zilch.  The clarification, if anything, reinforced Schembri’s wrong beliefs. So, the follow up question is very natural: why does Bernard Grech tolerate these types of comments with his Parliamentary Group?  Why did Grech some one as populist as Schembri Education Shadow Minister in the first place?   And most importantly, why on earth is he keeping him there?

I think society at large deserves a reply.

I thank all the NGOs who spoke openly and clearly about how wrong Schembri’s statement is. I believe that if we stand united against unacceptable comments which smack of racism such as this one, what is good, what is fair, what is just, will win the day.

 

Government Secures Future of another band club

Another day, another final acquisition of the premises of another musical band club which was at risk of eviction: the Sede of Soċjetà Filarmonika Santa Marija of Mosta.

The Ministry for National Heritage, the Arts, and Local Government which I am politically responsible for bought the premises of Soċjetà Filarmonika Santa Marija Mosta, the ninth premises of a musical bandclub acquired by the government. The other eight properties acquired by the Government are the premises of the Marija Reġina Marsa Music Society A.D.1977, Stella Levantina of Ħ'Attard, Circolo San Giuseppe Sacred Family Philharmonic Society of Kalkara, Santa Liena Band Duke of Connaught's Own Music Society of Birkirkara, Antoine de Paule Band club of Paola, Stella Maris of Tas-Sliema, St Peter in Chains Musical Society of Birzebbuga, and Anici Socio-Musical Society of Ħal Qormi.  Now Government is the full owner of the main properties from which these societies operate.

There are also three other promises of sale agreements pending relative to another three muscial societies (one in Lija, one in Hamrun and one in Zebbug Malta).  These twelve societies were all at serious risk of eviction due to the legal situation related to the pre-1995 rent laws.

Band clubs play a crucial role in the cultural development and social progress in our communities. It is often said that activists within the musical societies drive initiatives promoting arts, education, environmental conservation, and social aid at the heart of the various communities and for free. These associations heavily rely on the spaces they occupy to carry out their work effectively in the heart of communities, and therefore, eviction not only affects their operations but also jeopardizes a crucial element in the organization and primary work of their respective Festa.

Our work is not only to salvage the capacity and talent of these individuals, but we must also continue to sustain the fundamental values of diversity and cultural expression for future communities which are richer in culture.

The Santa Marija Mosta Philharmonic Society was acquired with a total investment of €360,000. In total, the government expects to invest €19 million when considering the amount already invested in the acquisition of the mentioned nine properties and the amount to be disbursed when a final contract is made regarding the remaining three properties.

Approval

In a significant move, Malta's Parliament has given unanimous approval for the ratification of three pivotal international conventions aimed at safeguarding cultural heritage from an international perspectives. These conventions, along with related protocols, proposed by the Government, address the protection of cultural property during armed conflict and combat the illegal import and export of cultural artifacts on the international stage.

I wanted to emphasize the vulnerability of cultural heritage during times of conflict and warfare, citing unfortunate instances globally where cultural treasures have been looted or displaced by occupying forces.

Under the ratified agreements, Malta will formally adhere to key international instruments:

  • The UNESCO Hague Convention of 1954 and its Protocols for the Protection of Cultural Property in Armed Conflict, offering comprehensive safeguards for movable and immovable cultural heritage during both peacetime and war.
  • The UNESCO Convention of Paris of 1970, which aims to prevent the illicit import, export, and transfer of ownership of cultural property.
  • The UNIDROIT Convention of 1995, complementing UNESCO's efforts by addressing the return of illegally excavated or exported cultural property under private international law.

I would like to note that Malta's acceptance or ratification of a total of eight international instruments relative to the UNESCO conventions and protocols since 2013 reflects a very positive record for the Labour Party in Government in this realm.

The ratification process aligns Malta with a comprehensive set of global principles, harmonizing its national regulatory framework with that of partner countries. Many of these principles are already integrated into Malta's laws regulating cultural heritage.

This move underscores Malta's dedication to preserving its rich cultural legacy and contributing to global efforts in protecting cultural heritage for future generations.

 

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