Monday 21 October 2019

Let’s razzle dazzle them, with some PR

This article first appeared in Malta Today

There’s a recurring theme which by now has become commonplace whenever the public demands action needs to be taken. The Government responds with a flurry of activity and a hastily-put together press conference or statement with the announcement that SOMETHING IS GOING TO BE DONE.   We are then temporarily mollified and blinded by the hype and ensuing PR which gives the illusion that matters are in hand.

But time and again we are let down because either the much-publicised action is not taken, or else it fizzles out like a damp squib. 

For example, in June of last year, the Gzira Local Council closed its doors as a sign of protest after one of its councillors, Jeremy Cardona was threatened by a contractor who allegedly tried to drive over him with his car.  The public uproar was followed by this announcement during a press conference in the presence of the Sliema, Msida and Gzira Mayors: “As from next Saturday, six teams of inspectors will start visiting construction sites in Gżira, Sliema and St Julians, taking note of irregularities. PA CEO Johann Buttigieg said developers will be given 15 days’ chance to regularise themselves. If a second inspection confirms that the illegalities are not fixed, the developer will be fined and a stop notice issued.”

Did you blink and think you missed this clamping down on construction sites?  No, because it just didn’t happen.

And do you recall how speed guns were launched with a great flourish in April 2018?  At first I used to see police officers using them here and there, and by September of last year we were told that they were catching “26 drivers an hour” who were speeding.  However, this idea seems to have died with a whimper even before it could get off the ground. I would love to be proved wrong, but if any reader has actually seen any speed guns being used lately, please write in, preferably with photographic evidence.   I was going to write that perhaps the police are wearing camouflage and sneakily hiding behind bushes and trees, but then I remembered that there are no bushes or trees left. 

In 2016, it was announced with much fanfare that tourism police would be patrolling tourist zones, to ensure a safe environment. I remember praising this as a very good initiative, because when you have a huge influx of people in concentrated areas here on holiday to have a good time and to let loose, it is a very good idea to be pro-active and act on prevention, by having police officers on the beat to ensure that everyone stays safe.  

According to a Times of Malta report at the time it was stated that, “the officers (would have) all the powers and responsibilities of ordinary policemen with the added duty to inform tourists of tourism related offences, as well as be on the look out for such infractions. (Then Home Affairs Minister) Carmelo Abela said the assigned areas were known for particular offences which he hoped would be addressed thanks to continuous rounds by this new force. The officers, who will be working on extra duty, will patrol the tourism hotspots between 2pm and 2am in shifts of four. They will also be given electronic vehicles for use on the beat.”   

The following year, Minister Carmelo Abela was quoted as saying that the pilot project in St Julian’s and Sliema, where 40 specially trained police officers had been deployed, had been “a success” and would be now extended to other areas.  However, don’t get your hopes up too quickly. Because we have now learned from a PQ this week, that the whole project was discontinued in 2017 and that there is an “ongoing review on the results of this pilot project”.   To quote the hapless waiter Manuel from Fawlty Towers, “Que?”

Another example of the project that never was is green wardens, which have been promised for I don’t know how many years. Have you ever actually seen one? Nope, because they are one of those urban myths which people are sure exist, only they don’t. 

This knack of launching new, fancy, well-meaning projects only for them not to be sustained or to just disappear from the radar altogether is one of the many reasons why enforcement and discipline continue to elude this country. Obviously, the buck stops with the Government of the day, which has been entrusted with running things. So while it is true that too many Maltese people lack the inherent civic pride to keep their country clean and to abide by the law, because it is the right thing to do, it does not help matters when they know that when it comes to enforcing the law, the Government does not really mean it.  It’s a bit like parents who continually threaten their children with punishments and dire consequences if they don’t behave, only to cave in and not follow through.  Children who are impossibly naughty and out of control are like that because they know their parents are all talk and no action, and similarly, a population which sails through life breaking every law in the book, also knows that the powers-that-be are very good at making grand statements, which mean one big fat zero. 

No wonder so many look at every press conference and blaring announcement with extreme cynicism as yet another publicity stunt meant to momentarily appease the critics. It’s not surprising that the phrase “It will never happen!” is heard over and over again from an understandably and increasingly sceptical public.

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