Thursday 19 October 2017

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Complacency will be our downfall

This article first appeared in Sunday’s edition of Malta Today

I will state right off the bat that (to my shame) I did not attend the public hearing by the Planning Authority on Thursday which met to decide whether to approve the Imriehel Towers and Townsquare projects.

Even though i am not a Sliema resident, this was a crucial hearing which affects everyone because it is a precedent of things to come. But I had other things I was already committed to – it’s no excuse, of course, but there it is. Unfortunately, like me, I am sure that there are many others who always MEAN to attend important meetings or events like this, to make their presence felt, to show their support and to demonstrate a united front. Yet, in the end, we fail to turn up.

Instead we console ourselves that we have shared an article and clicked like on FB or that we have signed an online petition, or that we have expressed our outrage in a carefully worded status update or a scathing Tweet. But, as has often been pointed out, the allure of social media is that it often gives us the illusion of having “done something”. It makes us feel warm and fuzzy and righteous to show our overwhelming support for a cause online, but when you get right down to brass tacks, it always comes down to the sheer number of people who will physically show up to be counted which really matters. And yet, it is precisely when it comes to the crunch that the numbers showing their support dwindle at an alarming rate.

I have often wondered about this lack of enthusiasm from members of the public when they are asked to show up (except for when their political leaders snap their fingers) so I’ve compiled a list of the Top Ten reasons. I am sure we have all been guilty of the following excuses at one time or another:

1.Someone else will go – all those thousands clicking ‘like’, surely there are enough to make up the number and they don’t need me there?

2. There’s no point, these meetings and protests are useless and the permit (or whatever) will go through anyway

3. I am loyal to my political party and will not criticise it openly in public (although I might mutter my disapproval among friends).

4. I have a lot to lose if I stick my neck out, what if a potential employer, client, neighbour, relative or someone I might “need” in the future sees me and labels me as a trouble-maker. Better keep a low profile.

5. Every issue ends up being politicized and I find politics too boring

6. What’s in it for me?

7. I’m too busy

8. It’s too hot

9. It’s too much of an effort to get there, to find parking etc.

10. And finally, who cares? It has nothing to do with me.

Unfortunately, all ten excuses are the reason that we are being bulldozed when it comes to the environment. It is a national complacency best described as the “Better not get involved, let someone else take the flak” syndrome.

Of course, there are those who are quite happy with the way things are unfolding in the construction and development sector; they will read all this and wonder what on earth we are always complaining about. This is business! This is investment! This is proof that under a Labour Government we have never had it so good, because everyone is falling over themselves to build, build, build thereby creating more jobs!

Best of all (they will tell you) it is the best possible response to all those Nationalist haters who predicted doom and gloom with their scaremongering “Labour won’t work” billboards in the last election. Huh! take that, in your face!

The problem with this mindset is that it is (yet again) allowing partisanship to take over reason and what is blatantly staring us in the face. I know that this is an excruciatingly different exercise for many to do, but just imagine for a brief moment, that no political parties existed in Malta. No Labour, No Nationalist, No Alternattiva, and No Orange Party (although I’m still very hazy about what it actually stands for). Just like John Lennon once sang about “nothing to live or die for” let us briefly imagine that we have no political party to fight over or defend. For a few minutes, let us try and shake off the shackles off what conditions and moulds how we look at this country, and look at it purely from the perspective of one question: do we want to protect what makes Malta beautiful and unique or not? Because, shorn of all the finger-pointing of who did what when, it really is quite that simple.

Are high-rise towers plonked in the middle of an already crowded urban landscape which already cannot cope with the burden of basic infrastructure that has been strained to its limits, really the answer?

Now I know, from personal experience, that there are many who get quite annoyed with people like me, who consider themselves left-wing, because we are not lining up to cheer this Government on and are not falling over ourselves to praise its every decision. But leave aside your blinkers for one minute; the ones which have you programmed to nod automatically and clap on cue every time Joseph says something. How can we applaud decisions which go so violently against the very ethos of social justice? How can we sit back and say nothing (so that we do not appear to be “criticizing the Government”) when what is at stake is the future of our very nation? This goes beyond party politics and if only people could get that through what seems like a thick skull, the better.

One administration after another has ridden on this wave of partisan support, secure in the knowledge that once it is in power, it can dispense favours and pay back those who have financed their campaigns. They are smug in the knowledge that supporters will turn a blind eye to all the paybacks because that is the price they have to pay to get “their” party elected. But, seriously, think about about. Why are you putting up with this state of affairs?

As the same fat cats get even fatter, gobbling up whatever they can lay their hands on while pretending to do it for “the economy”, do you really think that any of them care about how your life has been affected? As As diggers drill through concrete, pounding against your brain, and thick dust fills the air we breathe, while traffic gets snarled even more to try and get round the inevitable cranes, do you really think that the big developers give two hoots that you are there, bearing the brunt of it all?

I may have been amiss for not attending that hearing, but what I cannot understand is how every single person in Sliema was not there, shouting and protesting and making their voice heard. It is useless growling against the politicians, against the Planning Authority and against the big construction magnates, if two huge projects such as this which will directly impact your daily life can be voted through just like that, with only the the Sliema Local Council, the indefatigable NGOs and the valiant efforts of their very dedicated lawyer Claire Bonello fighting the cause.

Representatives, no matter how passionate, are not enough, it is sheer numbers which make a visual impact. But the numbers were missing, because complacency won. Yet again.

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