Tuesday 17 October 2017

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What kind of Malta do we want to live in?

This article first appeared in Malta Today 

During an election, I always wonder what happens to those families where political beliefs diverge. Because unless you come from one of those ‘Stepford wives’ type of clans where everyone is moulded exactly in the same way from birth and no one is “allowed” to marry into the other tribe at the risk of being shunned like some twisted version of an Amish community, chances are that as the family tree grows, there are going to be some differences of political opinion. With today’s many divorces and re-marriages, the chances of that happening have been multiplied even further.

Which is why when I imagine the kind of Malta I want to live in, it is one where it is perfectly OK not to agree on which political party one supports, without turning it into the end of life as we know it. Should being on opposite sides mean that we have to become hostile, vicious and unbelievably nasty? Some look at political beliefs as some kind of badge of identity which brands you like a branding iron and pigeon-holes you for life. But the reality is that as time goes by, allegiance has become more fluid and transient, and this trend is growing, which is why that elusive band of floating voters or “undecided” has probably caused the political leaders to choke on their breakfast every time they read the polls.

Whoever is elected on Saturday will be facing a (once again) tragically divided Malta where spiteful words-you-can-never-take-back have been spoken, friendships have been irrevocably shattered and even marriages which have taken quite a beating. So good luck whoever you are, for the first Herculean task which lies before you will be to try and patch up all these fissures and wounds in our national psyche.

But national unity is just the tip of the iceberg; what we are faced with right now is also a nation which needs to take a long hard look at what it understands by ethical behaviour, good governance, and the checks and balances which can only be achieved through truly independent institutions. While it is imperative that correct behaviour needs to start from the very top, I think that there is also a crucial need to ask ourselves: do we, as a people, truly want that kind of Malta or not? Look deep into your own lifestyle and understand the implications of what this means: it means no more evading taxes or VAT, or not declaring your lucrative rental income, or publicly voicing your outrage at the citizenship scheme while slyly making a good chunk of money out of it on the side. It means little things like trying to wriggle out of a traffic citation because you have a friend who can ‘fix’ it for you, or slightly bigger things like getting a cushy job or political appointment through your network of important, powerful friends for whom you were busy canvassing all over social media during this last month. While the incredibly big things like possible kickbacks and corruption at the very top have rocked this nation state during this campaign, let us not be hypocrites and at least acknowledge that it is even the ‘little things’ we try to get away with ourselves every day which have eroded our concept of right and wrong.

If we are truly serious about tackling this malady of nepotism and cronyism, that reassuring wink and slap on the back which signifies “nirranġalek” (I’ll fix it for you), and above all, about instilling in our politically exposed persons the mantra that, now that they hold public office, there are some things which are just not done, then let’s start on the right track from day one of whichever new administration we wake up to on Monday morning.

The PN proposals I have read on this issue sound very reassuring, but they always do during a campaign, don’t they? So I really look forward to the day when something concrete is actually done to restore the faith in our institutions which has been smashed into smithereens. The trust has been completely eroded, and it will take a very determined PM to restore this trust, which can only be done through completely ditching the status quo and starting over.
This will also require bi-partisan co-operation. No Government can bring about the changes which are desperately needed without the Opposition being on board: and this holds true for a wide range of issues.  A united front on protecting Malta’s economy (rather than taking a perverse delight at the prospect that it might crash) comes to mind.

In the Malta I want to live in I would also like to see a real strengthening of the police force and the courts when it comes to helping domestic violence victims emerge from their nightmare as swiftly as possible. We have studied the problem long enough, meanwhile women are being beaten black and blue, are being forced to leave their own homes destitute, and children are growing up watching all this unfold, with the real possibility of this being the blueprint for their own future.

We have not heard enough about safeguarding the environment, which everyone seems afraid to touch, despite the fact that flags were unfurled on balconies and the name of Malta used as a catchy slogan. I saw tucked away in the PL manifesto a promise that citizens will be empowered to preserve public domain sites – but why wasn’t this given more importance and explained better at all the rallies and mass meetings? Constant public empowerment is something for which we all yearn, because as things stand, having a vote every four or five years just doesn’t cut it.

Some argue that the “winner takes all” nature of our elections means that, inevitably, each time an administration changes, there are those in the shadows and in the wings, waiting, expecting and demanding to be given “something” because “I helped get you elected”.

Will this mindset every change? In the ideal Malta I want to live in, yes it should and could. Both in the public sector and the private sector your job should not hang on the line just because you openly express your voting preference. The question is: do enough people really believe that? Ask yourself that question, and be honest with your answer.

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