The Malta Independent 17 June 2024, Monday
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Opposition ‘stagnated and politically bankrupt’ – Glenn Bedingfield

Andrea Caruana Sunday, 5 May 2024, 09:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

Parliamentary Secretary for Public Cleanliness Glenn Bedingfield tells The Malta Independent on Sunday that public cleanliness involves a number of entities not all of which fall under the same umbrella, resulting in overlapping of duties. The former journalist also spoke about what he says is the Labour Party’s “historical” media deficit and how he countered the PN-dominated internet arena

The opposition is “stagnated and politically bankrupt”, and does not have a feel of what the people want, Parliamentary Secretary for public cleanliness Glenn Bedingfield said as the country heads towards another electoral test – the European Parliament and local council elections of 8 June.

We are not a perfect government, he said in an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday, and we have our faults. But when ones weighs things, the good the Labour government is doing overcomes the wrongs it did, and this is why “we have an advantage” over the Nationalist Party, he said.

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 “We keep on moving in parallel with society. Society moves and evolves, the PL does the same with it,” he added.

When asked to point out the differences between the current Prime Minister Robert Abela and the Leader of the Opposition Bernard Grech, he said that whilst the PM says that he has a plan for Malta’s future and goes on to say what the proposals are and their end-goals, he recognises where we must correct ourselves. On the other hand, according to Bedingfield, the Opposition Leader and his party think that they are the most perfect and clever people in politics, and while they say they have a plan for the future, they never say what it is.

“How can the Maltese people have faith in people who sow only sadness, who enjoy trouble and problems?” Mentioning Malta’s low unemployment rate, Bedingfield said that the PN isn’t pleased when the country does well when the Labour Party is in government. 

The PN has been negative towards every Labour leader following the Second World War, but more recently, from Simon Busuttil’s time, it has been accentuated further, Bedingfield contended. He added that in spite of the repeated defeats of the past years, they remained with the same people and the same sadness, sometimes even “bitterness”.

“They remained anchored behind the pace of society and they didn’t evolve with it. And as long as they do this, they will keep on losing,” he said.  

Bedingfield, who had served as an MEP for a short stint between 2008 and 2009, pointed out that PL MEPs defend Malta’s position, as opposed to PN MEPs who “always take a side against the country”. This is not fair for the Maltese people, he said. One must safeguard Malta’s interests and the PN MEPs are not doing this.

When it was pointed out to him that PL MEP Alex Agius Saliba made a request for Maltese industry to be investigated for raising prices by the European Commission, Bedingfield said that he didn’t go against Malta or the state, but against what he thought could have been a price cartel. “He simply made a request.”

Journalism

Before making it to Parliament, Bedingfield for some years worked as a journalist, and for a time he also ran a blog which was used to support the Labour Party while also serving to counter Daphne Caruana Galizia’s own blog.

Bedingfield denied having had an open feud with Caruana Galizia, who was assassinated in 2017, and said that he never had any qualms with her or anyone else, but politically he was attacked and he had attacked back. And when questioned if, in hindsight, he had done anything wrong, he said that he could have at times been less “heavy handed” in his blog.

When asked about why he had set up the blog, Bedingfield said that the Labour Party had and still has a deficit in online presence. He said that he wrote what he did because he felt he had to and tried to give a voice to whoever didn’t have a voice online.

Elaborating on the Labour Party’s media presence, Bedingfield said that the party, historically, always had a media deficit with its only paper being KullĦadd and the other paper that sympathises with the party’s socialist principles is that of the GWU. He added that other newspapers show the media deficit of the Labour party via their editorials.

Bedingfield said that one only needs to see the front pages of newspapers in English “as proof that the Labour party has a media deficit”.

When questioned about the recent allegations that PBS is a “propaganda machine” for Labour government, he said if one had to compare how PBS was run in the past with today, today’s are “amateurs” to how it used to be. He added that it is as though we just discovered the fact, under Labour government, that PBS is state-run and it “seems like a sin” when what happened in the past was worse.

When questioned about his breaking through what he had described as an online monopoly of the PN, he attributed the success of his blog to his courage to start writing.

Bedingfield said that the Labour government did much more for journalists than any other government had before them. When asked about the promised media reform following the public inquiry of Daphne Caruana Galizia and how no white paper has been presented in parliament so far, he said more consultation is needed.

He said the government consulted with a committee of experts, spoke to Caruana Galizia’s family and then presented bills, these were not accepted. The government is now working on a white paper.

“If you legislate they will say you didn’t consult and if you consult they will say that you are dragging your feet. Somehow, it’s always Labour’s fault,” Bedingfield said.

When questioned about the ethics of the act of blogging whilst being politically appointed as a person of trust by then prime minister, Joseph Muscat, he said: “There is no ethics saying you cannot speak”. In his contract at the time there was no clause saying he couldn’t speak.

He said there was no conflict of interest with his blogging and position at the OPM, as he had not been a public officer. He added that there are many public officers who, during work time, write on the internet against the government

When questioned about closing his blog and deleting it online, Bedingfield said that the blog died a “natural death” as he had less time and motivation. Furthermore he deleted everything in the same manner that when you close a shop you don’t just leave it with the door open, he said. He reiterated that his only regret regarding his blog is that at times he “was too heavy handed and may have hurt someone inadvertently, but whoever knows me knows I’m not vindictive or violent.” 

Portfolio

When asked why he entered politics, Bedingfield said that whoever is in politics loves being of service. And whilst he may not agree with many people, including his colleagues in opposition, as he believes government’s road is the best one, he said that all politicians can give something back, often at the expense of their family.

Bedingfield said his appointment as Parliamentary Secretary for Public Cleanliness was the second position the PM entrusted him with, the first being as Labour parliamentary whip. When questioned if he saw it as a starting point or otherwise he said: “it is not something I decide, but rather it is the Prime Minister’s prerogative, and I am very happy with the trust he showed in me.” He added that he went into this portfolio with the commitment to make a difference and believes that he, with everyone’s help, is on the right track. 

He said that as a Cleansing Division “we cannot do anything on our own”, despite having 700 employees, and that a national effort is required. He added that we need to look after our country together; it can’t only be the Cleansing Division alone, but every Maltese citizen.

Bedingfield disagreed with the notion that all it takes to show Malta is dirty is a gust of wind that carries dust and rubbish into the air. However, he acknowledged that we can keep Malta cleaner.

He said that such problems are due to a lack of citizens cooperating with the regulations of domestic waste. He elaborated that technically, as a division, the government is not the entity responsible to collect rubbish as that is the remit of the regional councils. 

The chief responsibility of the division for which he is responsible is the maintenance of distributary and arterial roads, Bedingfield said. He added that they sometimes start cleaning a street and upon reaching the end of it somebody has already littered again at the other end, or they may go to pick up an illegally dumped mattress one day, only for it to be replaced by a dumped sofa the next.

“Public cleanliness is a little fragmented,” said Bedingfield. He said that public cleanliness must be a collective effort as cleaners cannot be in every street; furthermore, street-sweeping is under the jurisdiction of local councils who outsource the work to private companies.

These private companies, he said, sometimes fail to supply enough sweepers relative to the area. In response, Bedingfield said that the government has started a pilot project which offers five local councils the services of the Cleansing Division with its own workers. He added that in these five localities, grievances “drastically” went down.

When questioned about the fact that the portfolio of Public Cleanliness being under the Ministry for Tourism inadvertently makes one think that public cleanliness gives priority to tourists over the Maltese, Bedingfield said it was a misconception. He said that though their main responsibility is to keep distributary and arterial roads clean, they go into many other areas despite other entities being responsible for them. “Rest assured, that though we are under that Ministry, our work is spread further than touristic areas,” he said.

With reference to the continuous littering in public places, Bedingfield said that there are areas that need more attention than others. More attention is needed in areas where residents remain quiet and are less vociferous on social media, he said, and gave the example of Siggiewi where construction trucks regularly pass and leave construction debris behind them.

He added that enforcement of regulations is important, but handing out fines is only part of the grander scheme of things.

Honing in on his comment that public cleanliness is “a little fragmented”, Bedingfield said that better coordination is needed as public cleanliness, as a whole, involves various government entities that don’t fall under the same umbrella such as local councils, Ambjent Malta and ERA. He said that all the involved entities, via the coordinating unit, sit round a table and ensure that governmental resources are used effectively.

It is a logistic issue, he said, pointing out that he had only been in the position for three months and that it is not an easy problem to resolve due to the pressure of being especially in the public eye, for example, if someone if someone sees a bag of rubbish, the government will get the blame as opposed to the person who took it out on the wrong day.

Bedingfield said that the government has invested and will continue investing in public cleanliness, not only in advanced cleaning technology but also in studies with the University of Malta. One of them is an AI pilot project to single out secluded areas where there is illegal dumping, and another is an evidence-based study planned to see how the separate entities involved in public cleanliness can work better together and improve their coordination.

When asked about rat and pigeons infestations in certain areas, Bedingfield, while pointing out that pest control does not fall under his remit, said there should be better coordination of entities. He said that in certain areas of public cleanliness his hands are tied as all his division can do is clean up the waste.

When asked about the nationality and work conditions of the employees of the Public Cleanliness division, Bedingfield said that all, approximately 700, are Maltese though in rare instances private companies are hired for extra help via the framework agreement. He added that he was not informed that any of these companies utilise cheap labour and that workers of all nationalities should be paid the same; indeed, he finds cheap labour unacceptable and asked any information of such instances to be passed onto him.

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