Saturday 18 August 2018

A whole lot of issues make one big issue

This article first appeared on Malta Today

There are a lot of single-issue causes and lobbies making the news in the country, each of them with their own FB page, and activists who post tirelessly and indefatigably about the topic close to their heart. This is understandable: we tend to be the most passionate about those things which affect us the most directly, and which upset us greatly precisely because they interfere with our quality of life.   Of course, one person’s heartfelt passion is the next person’s blasé “who cares?”, but when you list them altogether, it is clear that a lot of people really do care, and this cohort is growing.

A cursory look at my newsfeed this week brought up a whole list of these groups:

The Bicycle Advocacy Group – which is claiming that the recently announced Central link project linking Saqqajja hill to the Mriehel bypass has completely neglected road safety for cyclists.  As if to (unfortunately) drive their point home, a cyclist was tragically hit by a car and killed on Friday near the Kappara flyover.  The cycling group issued a statement calling for the need of better designed road infrastructure which includes safe routes for bicycle commuters and pedestrians. It pointed out that people who wish to commute by bicycle have very few options but to use main thoroughfares in order to reach their destination, putting their lives in danger as a consequence because of poorly-designed infrastructure and in many cases, the absence of continuous cycle lanes which adhere to international safety standards.

Swieqi residents – citizens who are concerned about their community have all set up their own pages, and one of the most active is that dedicated to Swieqi, and for good reason. This once quiet, peaceful area has been particularly prone to rampant over-development and they are livid after months of living in torn up roads, and relentless construction sites. Things came to a head this week when two ambulances could not enter a road to reach a sick resident, because it had been closed for over two weeks for asphalting. Triq il-Giżmin is home to hundreds of residents but has no side road access, and roadworks have been ongoing for a whole two months, causing frustration and great inconvenience.  On Thursday, machinery was left blocking the road and workmen were not on site, so the police had to be called in. Photos showed paramedics wheeling the stretcher down the road to reach the patient; a scenario which many had predicted would happen with the road closure.

The Gzira local council is also very active on social media, especially because of the Manoel island saga. However, this week it was in the news for another reason, when it was reported that a contractor tried to run over one of the councillors while he was walking along The Strand. The council has now very rightly closed its doors in protest over this incident, convinced that this act “occurred due to the egoism and negligence of certain contractors working within the construction sector”, which was causing considerable inconveniences to residents. A police report was duly filed, but the implications of this incident are incredibly alarming: have we got to the point where a councilor doing his job is going to find his life under threat because a contractor is unhappy for whatever reason?

Malta Clean-up  – the battle against littering and dumping of rubbish is slowly but surely infiltrating the public’s consciousness through the positive action of this group, which posts before and after photos of cleaned up areas. The mounds of rubbish collected and waste separated speak louder than any megaphone possible could, and each clean-up is attracting more members of the public who are eager to do something to clean up their town or village . 

There are also a number of environmental lobbies and NGOs fighting the onslaught of the seemingly unstoppable takeover of public land.  Their voices are loud and becoming stronger as they join forces and gain more of the public’s support to fight against the constant encroachment. Whether it is the Suq tal-belt, which abusively took over the outside area for its tables and chairs (rather than the proposed exhibition space) and has now had it conveniently rubber-stamped by the Planning Authority, or the petrol stations which are being built on ODZ land, public anger is growing.  

North, south, east or west, no matter which area is at risk of being swallowed up by insatiable development greed, I am sensing that everyone has cottoned on to the fact that we are all on common ground (until that last piece of ground is sold off from under our feet that is).  We have had groups calling to save Zonqor, save Pembroke, save Gozo and save Marsaskala, and any number of other places which desperately require saving. The fact is we need to save Malta from those who would think nothing of mowing down every last tree, and pouring buckets of concrete through the entire breadth and length of the island from one end to the other, so that they can build flats and lay down cement on which they can then plant huge umbrellas (at a charge) to provide us with the shade which the trees they have uprooted used to provide perfectly well. 

If you add up all the thousands who are in these groups, it means that (contrary to popular perception) many people really do care about the island. For every person who shrugs and says ‘so what?’ there are others who are saying, ‘no, this indifference and apathy has to stop’. For every person who tries to mock others by saying they are just a bunch of moaners who like to peevishly complain about anything simply to ‘damage’ the Labour Government, there are many more who have realized that if we do not object, then we might as well roll over and play dead. Yes, there is strength in numbers, as can be seen by the campaign to ditch the straw from schools, which started with one person, and one school, and snowballed into so many that the Environment Minister had to step in to ensure that the scheme would be revised and the use of plastic straws and containers would be minimized. That is civic-mindedness in action; that is what encourages those who are not defeatist to keep plugging away, doing what they can to keep moving forward.

Sometimes I think the biggest threat to Malta (apart from over-development and lack of enforcement) is complacency. For complacency is a dangerously seductive state of mind – after all, it is much easier to throw in the towel, kick back and let others get all worked up and agitated about the things which need to be changed and improved.  But that complacency might be your own downfall when the next building to be torn down is situated right next to your home, and you find your residence has incurred structural damage through negligence, while your peace of mind is destroyed because of the constant eardrum-bursting noise and limitless dust which comes from living next door to a construction site. 

It has to be pointed out that complacency also poses a risk to those who are at the helm of the country. If I were in Government, I would not get too complacent about the much touted feel good factor, because man literally does not live by bread (or cash) alone.  If I were in any position of decision-making power, I would be sure to keep my ear to the ground, because when the rumbling from different quarters starts mounting, you can easily wake up one day and find that everyone who claimed to adore you, has started cursing you instead.

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