Friday 22 June 2018

Don’t give us any leeway, because we just can’t handle it

This article first appeared in Malta Today 

Rules and the Maltese psyche definitely do not mix.

I think the only people I meet who adhere to regulations and the law in general are those who either were brought up in quite strict, disciplined households where the parents themselves did things by the book, or those who in some way worked with the British forces when they were based in Malta, or those who have lived for some time abroad.

The rest, I’m afraid, live their lives with the maxim, ‘give me a rule and I’ll show you 1001 ways to break it’. It’s a school of philosophy which creeps in, even in the most mundane ways. Is there a deadline by which an application has to be submitted? You can be sure there will be those who don’t even register the deadline date in their consciousness as they are filling out the form and will submit the application late with the self-assuredness of the completely oblivious. They are then stunned and surprised when they are told, ‘sorry, you’re too late, you missed the deadline’, and will proceed to try and shift the blame: “What do you mean? You can’t be serious? Oh come on, it’s just a couple of days, what difference does it make?”

It doesn’t just happen with important applications such as jobs either; I’ve seen this over and over again in various activities I have been involved in, from people applying to audition for a show, to those applying to take part tennis tournaments. It’s the sheer cheek of it which always bugs me, as you invariably got those who high-handedly expect, as a matter of course, for rules to be bent just for them. It sticks in my craw even more when those in charge actually proceed to allow the rules to be bent, which is when I really see red. What is the point of having rules if you yourself are going to break them? It also jars with my sense of fairness, because really, why should those who flout a rule be given such special treatment? In my view, once you start making exceptions to a rule, no matter how small and trivial, you are making a mockery of your whole set of rules so you might as well just chuck the whole rule book in the bin and let everyone do what they like (which is what they are doing anyway). It also particularly irks me because it is slap in the face to those who have followed the rules all along.

This is just one of the reasons why the decision by the Government to “relax” enforcement on certain minor traffic contraventions is such a preposterous idea.

Ok, let’s start with the obvious: “relax”? Our enforcement could not be more relaxed. Even when these particular contraventions were still applicable you still had people who continued to break the law, and even if they received a fine, they would come up with some ingenious way to get out of paying it. It happens right across the board: remember the VAT scandal, where VAT officials were taking kickbacks to grant refunds? And the tampering with Enemalta metres as people found a way to steal electricity? The VRT racket where VRT mechanics were accepting bribes to pass cars which shouldn’t have passed. “Getting out of things” is rife, it’s everywhere, it’s in the social fabric.

So when the Government comes along and basically tells you, look I know you broke the law because your vehicle is not entirely roadworthy, but that’s OK, no problemo, just tear up any citation you might receive (and make sure you get that headlight fixed, yeah?) Only, here’s the hitch. You can forgive me for being skeptical about that headlight ever getting fixed, because you know, nudge, nudge..u iva!

Put succinctly, it is not a very wise idea to give this nation any sort of absolution, or amnesty or waiver, when it comes to breaking any law, because from an inch we will take the proverbial mile. We simply cannot handle it. Especially when one considers that rules and laws are not really our friends and enforcement is a word we look at as something which is interesting in its abstract form (but is not really meant for us). We live to break the law. I’m convinced there are people who stay up at night figuring out ways to skirt regulations, avoid paying fines and generally, getting away with it. So why, pray tell, should the authorities themselves now be telling us quite openly that it’s OK not to do things by the book, because we will just send you on your way with a warning. We already knew we could get away with it, but now they’re just making it too easy.

And people boast about it too. You get them openly saying that, for example, they were over-speeding at 68kph in a 60kph zone and wondering whether they should contest the traffic fine. Huh? What part of ‘the speed limit is 60kph’ is so difficult to understand? But, come to think of it, who can blame them for giving it a shot? We enact laws, and make a big show of doing so, but when it comes down to brass tracks, we simply have a mental blockage when it comes to obeying them.

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