This article first appeared in Malta Today
It is obvious that no administration will get everything 100% right – over the course of a term or two, there are bound to be mistakes, grave errors of judgement and sometimes downright blunders. There are instances when the things which are wrong can be attributed to just making a bad call – you think you might be doing the right thing, but it just does not work out for reasons beyond your control.
But when ideas and projects are foisted on the public which have opened the doors to a scenario which no one has voted for, then it becomes a matter of a Government which is forging ahead simply because it has a majority, heedless of what many people feel or want.
The selling of passports, the eradication of green, open spaces and the tearing down of historical buildings to satisfy construction magnates, the chopping of trees and the expropriation of agricultural land in order to widen the roads, and the move towards industries which few understand such as Blockchain and bitcoin. Were any of these laid on the table prior to 2013? I hardly think so.
And yet here we are, hurtling fast forward towards a future which is filled with too many question marks for my liking because so much of it is based on only one ultimate goal: making money in any way possible because the end always justifies the means. Of course, those directly benefitting from the industries and investments mentioned above (or who have been awarded cushy jobs for their party loyalty) are not complaining – they have never had it so good. But that leaves a large swathe of ordinary people who get up every morning to go to the daily grind of their ordinary jobs, and who are being affected by the detrimental effects without really reaping any of the benefits.
Because while the noise and air pollution caused by too much construction and the respiratory illnesses which come with them affect us all, I guess it is slightly easier to accept it if you are earning 10k a month rather than the mere mortals who are earning 1000k a month or less. It’s the price of progress, some tell you with a shrug, which they insist, cannot be stopped. Meanwhile, the growing disparity between the have and have-nots is bound to increase, because it is those at the bottom of the food chain who are making it possible for those who are living the life of Riley to splash around with more money than they know what to do with. It is the waitress serving you, the man collecting your rubbish and the team of construction workers clambering up 8 storeys on flimsy planks of wood.
But it is also true that many are quite comfortable with this Government for various reasons: one cannot deny that several measures and projects have been implemented, and on the whole, they have been successful. Free childcare and free school transport are just two of them. With a few exceptions where children are being made to catch their van unreasonably early, the initial teething problems of the latter seem to have been ironed out. From the feedback I received, it has eased the traffic during rush hour, which was the main aim.
When it comes to major infrastructural projects, the Coast road, the Kappara bridge and now the Marsa Junction Project which is taking shape have also been completed on schedule, as promised. None of these projects have done away with our traffic problems, however, because more lanes just invite more cars and the daily accidents (at least three a day) mean that negligent driving is still the norm. Traffic cops pulling people over for speeding and recklessness are a rare sight. It is also baffling why roads should flood after one afternoon of rain – is it bad road design, the failure to clean the culverts and drains, or the lack of culverts and drains? When you have just spent so much on brand new roads, all of these are unacceptable.
Public transport, despite all the promises that it would be an improvement over the failed Arriva, is still not efficient and reliable. It is a chicken and egg situation where people will not use it because they cannot depend on it to be on time, and buses can never be on time because of traffic and because there are not enough buses to service the busiest routes.
Our free health care system works well, and I have nothing but praise for it. You have to wait, of course you do, but then you have to wait when you go private as well. After all, this is a national hospital which is catering for the entire population of the country; a population which has grown over the last few years.
So, when one balances the ‘good’ this administration has done with what is patently bad and wrong, it is easy to understand why Muscat is still way ahead in the polls. People take stock of how their lives are and when they see what directly affects them (their standard of living) and the things which they feel have nothing to do with them (Panama, the Electrogas contract et al) they weigh the two and are willing to close an eye to what is not quite right. Many also fail to make the connection that when public funds are being squandered and large chunks of money are possibly being pocketed, that this is taxpayers’ money which should be used for the common good and not for the good of the select few who are going to end up millionaires at our expense.