Sunday 15 September 2019

Ian Borg’s sounds of silence

Photo credit: DOI

This column first appeared in Malta Today

I try to refrain from picking on him too much, I really do (Scout’s honour), but Ian Borg is the gift that just keeps on giving. 

There I was really behaving myself when he comes along this week and tells us solemnly, and without a hint of irony that, “While others took to social media others to voice their concern, the Ministry has in silence been planting trees in various locations round the island.” 

The look of wounded pain at being so misunderstood was etched all over his face.  He sounded so hurt that I was already reaching for a box of Kleenex.

But, hang on.

He was speaking at a press conference which he called at 9am surrounded by, presumably, a number of Infrastructure Malta staff, just days before Saturday’s national protest against the destruction of the environment. If that is working in silence I would like to know what blowing your own trumpet looks like. As for social media, his sponsored ads and the frequency of posts on his FB page, not to mention the proliferation of emojis and hashtags, are a sight to behold. 

Meanwhile, Ian Borg’s press conferences have become so incessant that it is hard to keep up. So let’s just make a brief timeline of all the deafening silence.

Friday 6 September – press conference to inaugurate ONE KILOMETRE of road joining Luqa with Santa Lucia. (I hate to think what he would do if it were a 100 mile highway). 

Friday 6 September – press conference to launch a public consultation exercise about a reform in the public service garage sector (to be followed presumably by another press conference once the consultation is complete).

Wednesday 4 September – press conference to announce the planting of 6,700 trees…(ssshh, it was all mimed, because you know, this modest Minister works in silence).

Monday 2 September –  press conference to launch public consultation exercise regarding regulation of eScooters

Saturday 31 August – press conference because he visited ongoing works on a public garden at Għar Lapsi 

Saturday 21 August – press conference because the last beam was put into place on second flyover at Marsa.

Well, you get the drift, and if you scroll back through his FB page there is an account of every single nut and bolt which was put into place as the building of the flyovers continues…riveting stuff, if you will excuse the pun.  

So while Ian likes to portray his role as Minister as a kind of stoic, ‘let my work speak for itself’ kind of thing (“silenzio, parla Agnesi”) the truth is he cannot let a day or an afternoon go by without calling the press to cary out some kind of coverage. I can imagine the collective groans in newsrooms all over the island, “Oh God, not him again!”  Never one to miss a photo opportunity, like Flash Gordon, Saviour of the Universe, he is here, there and everywhere all in a single day. 

This all makes me wonder what we have in store for us when the first flyover is ready. Will it be declared a National Holiday (Marsa Junction Flyover Day) as champagne corks are popped, and he unveils the obligatory plaque with his name and date for posterity?  Will children get a day off from school in order to wave tiny flags with Ian Borg’s face stamped on them? Will prisoners have their sentences reduced?  Will McDonald’s inaugurate their latest burger, the new Ian Mac?  Will a new hipster mobile juice van parked just off Aldo Moro road announce the introduction of Ian’s Junction Juice? The mind boggles, and so do the possibilities. 

He has adopted the hashtag #GettingThingsDone and this is quite apt because never has a Minister simply and literally bulldozed his way through the country, doing what he set out to do, without caring one fig what anyone thinks.  What he cannot claim, however, is that he is doing any of it in silence.  His PR team works round the clock to keep him in the news via social media, videos and press calls. What they are failing to do, however, is keeping him from talking too much and saying the wrong thing, unless someone is deliberately letting him loose so that he can sabotage his own publicity campaign.    

Obviously, those of us who live for satire are not complaining about the gaffes.   On the contrary, keep them coming.  But on a more serious note, it is rather rich for a Minister who has ploughed ahead and chopped down mature trees to announce with a lot of fanfare that he has planted trees (for which read, saplings) and then expect us to whimper our gratitude.  

The man really has no shame, or maybe it is just because he has no clue. 

As I was writing this on Friday afternoon, I spotted another Ian-ism.  “When we talk about unbridled construction, [this] is the result of the fact that in 2006, when the PN was in government, it added wide stretches of land to development zones, so I understand why environmentalists don’t want to be joined by people from the PN,” Borg told MaltaToday when asked to send a message to people who will be protesting in Valletta tomorrow.”

You cannot make this stuff up. Is he picturing himself in his mind’s eye as some kind of man of the people who “understands” environmentalists? By trying to make this about the (admittedly disastrous) environmental decisions of the Nationalist administration, you would think he was about to join the Saturday protest himself.  As a friend quipped, he wouldn’t blame him if he were to protest against himself (although I doubt he would even notice that he was doing so).  In fact, he would probably show up as long as the cameras are there – never let it be said that he was one to waste a good photo opportunity.  

There is another aspect, of course, to Ian Borg’s relentless self publicity. He is in the running…. (no, not for America’s Next Top Model, although with him, one never knows)….for a possible leadership bid, if and when, Muscat steps down. Although he insists that the amping of his PR exposure has nothing to do with this, it does seem to have been cranked up quite a few notches lately.   This, of course might also be due to several other factors: either because he has been the brunt of a lot of criticism for his Blitzkrieg on trees, or because he has become the favoured target of delicious satire (he keeps providing the material to us on a plate), or else because of the increasingly well-frequented protests which are objecting to more environmental destruction in which he has had a major hand. 

Yet, the most likely explanation, and one which has been touted a lot, is that he is the court ‘favourite’ to take over from Muscat. This would not surprise me because it is clear that Joseph Muscat does favour the younger, brasher breed of politicians rather than those who have moved up the political ladder gradually, gaining experience, gravitas and diplomacy along the way. He also clearly likes Ian Borg’s brand of “come on, let’s get on with it, it has to be done” decision-making, because that is how Muscat is himself. 

He wanted to sell citizenship to the highest bidder? He did it as soon as he took office.  He wanted an ‘American’ University? It’s done. He wanted blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Crypto currency and all that jazz?  It’s here.  He believed giving carte blanche to the construction lobby is the lynchpin to a booming economy? Well, just take a look outside your window.  Gozo tunnel?  They are preparing for it as we speak. 

So I can see why Muscat takes one look at Ian “GettingThingsDone” Borg and firmly believes that is the way forward. But in the same way I cannot understand why people prefer to speed and crash and possibly die in road accidents, I likewise cannot understand why there is this persistent need to do everything fast and rashly when it comes to the country’s national policies. The Nationalists were notorious for talking and talking and publishing White Papers which were shelved and never getting anything done, but this lot are on the other end of the spectrum.  It’s like something is chasing after them and they need to do everything as quickly as possible before….before I am not sure exactly what.  

All I know is that while Ian Borg likes to act as if he were suffering in silence while he works tirelessly despite an ‘unappreciative’ nation, we are the only ones who really cannot afford to be silent any longer.

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