Saturday 16 February 2019

Nothing wrong that a lot of enforcement won’t fix

You name it, there’s probably a law about it.  But there is actually no use having a million and one laws which are blatantly flouted and broken with cheerful abandon, because people don’t take them seriously.

Granted, the wily nature of the average Maltese person means they have a knack of being told of a new law and immediately figuring out ten ways to get around it through some loophole or other (or preferably through a cousin twice removed who happens to be conveniently working at the relative governmental authority). Easy peasy.

But I think it would be equally easy, actually astonishingly easy, to bring some kind of semblance of discipline to this island if only laws and rules were not just PR stunts but actually, you know, enforced.

Remember how we were once told to send SMSs when we saw a vehicle with black fume emissions? People were furiously texting, doing their bit only to find out months later that no one was brought to book. That’s just one example, and I’m sure you can all come up with many others. Like the law which says you should pick up after your dog and dispose of it properly. Ha, and double Ha.

Or like the big imposing sign warning foolish teenagers that diving from that steep cliff on Comino is dangerous, can cause injury and probable death. 20 (yes 20) spinal injuries later and it is obvious that no one is looking twice at that sign. Perhaps the authorities are waiting to set a Guinness Book record for the most spinal injuries in one summer before someone finally decides that the most obvious deterrent is to have lifeguards patrolling that area, verbally warning teenagers from clambering up those cliffs with a megaphone and slapping them with a heavy fine on the spot if they don’t come down. It’s really not rocket science.

Recently it occurred to me that practically everything that is “wrong” with this country can be traced to lack of enforcement. Everything. From buses which don’t stick to their timetables, leaving people to wait like idiots in the scorching sun, to English language students running amok on early Sunday mornings after a bout of  all-night binge drinking and basically wreaking havoc on other people’s property.  After all, what’s to stop tourists from misbehaving when they can clearly see that here, the arm of the law is lax and the Maltese seem to have no civic pride at all in their country anyway?

Once, over a long rambling lunch with girlfriends, we began to state what kind of enforcement we would rigidly impose, if we were ever in the hot seat of power. As we each announced our pet peeves, we laughed at ourselves for sounding like those irate people who regularly write indignant letters (“Disgusted” from Sliema) to the newspapers:  dog poo on pavements! People on social benefits who abuse the system! Noise pollution! The one thing we did agree on was that we would be almost Fascist-like, no mercy whatsoever, especially in the first few months, in order to whip this nation into some semblance of smooth efficiency. In between gales of laughter, we realized that we were only half-joking.

Seriously, this country does need that kind of shake up if we are ever going to get things right and be able to live in a relatively clean, organized, agreeable environment.

Obviously, by enforcement I don’t mean that we turn this into some kind of police state where every little move is pounced on and fined. But would it really be so terrible to get our act together instead of mindlessly repeating that now stale phrase “that’s Malta for you”? I really hate that kind of resigned complacency; it’s such an admission of defeat.  People in other countries don’t throw litter on the ground not because they are not Mediterranean; it’s because they are told they will be fined, and it’s not an empty threat.

A student from Switzerland once told me she finds her country incredibly boring because it is too efficient – “you see something broken in the morning, when you pass by again in the afternoon, it has already been fixed”, she sighed with utter ennui. I just stared at her in disbelief – we can only dream about this kind of uber efficiency.  I would get down on my knees and give thanks in gratitude if something here was fixed even after one week.

Outside my front door the street is riddled with craters for potholes, one of which resulted in me fracturing my foot last winter and unable to leave my third floor apartment- with-no-lift for almost two months. Every time I pass by this pothole I give it the Evil Eye (don’t ask me why, because I am not normally superstitious, but I am convinced that that pothole is lurking there malevolently, just waiting for me to sprain my ankle again).

Every day as I walk carefully around The Pothole (and its neighbours) to get into my parked car, I wonder just how long it will be before someone decides to finally fix our road (and every other pothole-infested road in Malta).

Why is no one responsible or accountable?

Why do we have to keep accepting atrocious roads?

Why don’t drivers (and pedestrians) get fined for their constant reckless behaviour, endangering their own lives and the lives of others?

Why do I even keep asking these questions?

Well, I guess because despite the Universe conspiring to make me otherwise, I’m still an optimist. I keep hoping that one day, someone, somewhere who is just as fed up as the rest of us with living in a shabby, dirty, rules-are-made-to-be-broken country, will wake up and rather than commissioning yet another useless survey/report/study on things which need to be improved, will actually start enforcing the laws which exist.

So please, for the love of God, enough already. Stop telling us how much money the PN wasted on useless projects, how badly they screwed up and much mismanagement you found – you have ormai made your point.

Whether it’s littering, traffic contraventions or disruptive behaviour which annoys others, most of us who obey the law expect and demand enforcement. So, go on. Enforce.


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