Tuesday 22 May 2018


How one Swedish woman is cleaning up Malta

This article first appeared in Malta Today 

If there is one thing I have absolute admiration for, it’s initiative and action. The older I get the less time I have for people who just sit behind a PC and complain…because if complaining alone could get us anywhere, we would have a perfect country. I think if there is one thing we can agree on is that when it comes to moaning, we have perfected it to an Olympic sport and we would probably make a clean sweep of all the gold medals, hands down.

So when someone like Swedish national Camilla Appelgren comes along, who is after living her for a few years is on a one-woman mission to clean up the island and is being pro-active about it by actually organizing the whole thing, I think the correct response by everyone, from the authorities to your average Joe, is to bow down before her and tell her, “we’re not worthy”.

The idea is simple and ingenious, as all good ideas always are. She has asked the public to nominate three spots in every town/village which are in dire need of a clean up, asking for 50 volunteers per spot to pitch in, and roping in all local councils to nominate their own spots, help out by donating a skip and have someone from the council in attendance on the day.

The average Joe part is coming along, because when you read the comments it is clear: the public in general is yearning for a cleaner island, they want to participate and they want their councils to participate. It is the attitude of some of the local councils however, which continues to baffle me. Or correction, not so much as baffle, as exasperate me. Because the excuses some of them are making (or what is worse, the complete lack of communication with Ms Appelgren who has sent them countless emails to which they have not replied) is, I’m afraid, your typical attitude of some people once they are elected or appointed in some kind of official capacity.

In a few words, it becomes all about “me”.

So, instead of welcoming this massive clean-up initiative which is being planned, some local councils are digging in their heels and ignoring the requests to join in, which is tantamount to adamantly refusing to take part (or maybe just hoping it will all go away and be flop?). Now why would you refuse something which is being organized FOR you, complete with logistics, volunteers eager to help and the resulting media coverage? You would think that they would be welcoming Ms Appelgren’s campaign with open arms. The only reasons I can think of for this type of attitude is that some petty bureaucrats are peeved that (a) someone else might get the credit (b) the clean-up is showing them up for not doing their job right and (c) it is all being organized by the worst type of person possible, “a foreigner”.

One of the councils even went so far as to point out that they had already organized a clean-up thank you very much, thanks to a sponsor, and a contractor was going to be engaged “to clean up the roads.” But, as they say in Italian, “che c’entra?” Do they honestly think that cleaning up the roads is the real issue or that a one-off clean up is enough? We are taking about constant, relentless dumping of rubbish and unwanted items everywhere you look. Obviously, the clean-up is not enough if the next day, people who probably live in pristine houses, continue to litter and dump their garbage wherever they see a pocket of unused land, but at least let us start with this. Perhaps the resulting mounds of pure rubbish collected on the day will open everyone’s eyes as to how lacking we are in civic pride and love for our country. After all, you wouldn’t open your black rubbish bag and strew the contents on your living room floor, now would you? So why do it outside? Obviously, after the clean up, enforcement of heavy fines need to follow.

What I would really like to see is politicians coming to the clean-up, to see with their own eyes why so many describe Malta as filthy (you know, just in case every time their official driver takes them round they are averting their eyes from the rubbish). What would even make it better is to see politicians roll up their sleeves and pick up all the muck too, side by side with the public. Local councillors especially need to show up and pitch in, because you were not elected simply to pose in a suit and award meaningless prizes during some Gnejnafest.

So come on those remaining councils who have not joined up, this what you have been elected to do: to listen to your constituents. They want their towns and villages cleaned, so make like Nike, and just do it.

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