Friday 23 August 2019

Thank you, next

This article first appeared in Malta Today

The fact that politicians expect gratitude simply for running the country (which is what they were elected, and are paid, to do), goes a long way to explain why there is such a disconnect between us and them.

Joseph Muscat recently went on the radio and complained that people are not saying, ‘thank you’ for the Central Link Project. “The Attard main road has been suffering for years. Balzan and Attard residents have been complaining continuously about the traffic issues in their locality. Now that the government is implementing the project, we are still getting stick. You can’t please everyone. The government doesn’t get any thanks for it.”

Muscat has to be careful as he is starting to sound too much like a sulking, needy boyfriend whose girlfriend is not paying enough attention to him.

Thanks, for what, exactly? When he talks like this, the Prime Minister reinforces the impression which many have that the Government is acting like an omnipotent force which magnanimously bestows crumbs to the little pople on a whim. We pay taxes in order to have good roads which do not disintegrate at the first rainfall, and yet potholes the size of craters can still be seen on many uneven, bumpy main streets and side roads alike. And please don’t give me the usual rigamarole about the PN not doing anything for 25 years because that is so not the point. I prefer to live in the present and the point is that we should not be expected to worship the ground a politician walks on, whispering “we’re not worthy” in veneration just because he is doing his job.

Proper infrastructure and good roads should be taken as a given, and not be cluttering our news bulletins in an endless ream of press releases and photo opportunities every time a metre of tarmac is laid. In any case, the approval which this Government seems to crave so much was given to it in the form of two successive elections when it was elected and re-elected in 2013 and 2017 and, more indirectly, by the fact that Labour Party MEPs and Labour local councils made a clean sweep this year (but more of that later).

This weird expectation that we should ‘thank’ the Govenrment also smacks too much like a Master demanding that the people he lords it over, be forever indebted to him. But I just checked my history books and the last time we were a colony was in 1964. That is, I think, a long enough time to shake off the shackles of what it means to be under the thumb of someone who doles out favours, for which we are expected to doff our caps gratefully like deprived peasants.

I bring up the fact that we used to be a colony because it might explain why so many are still hampered by a cloak of inferiority when it comes to the powers that be. This is especially true of those in my age group, who still remember a time of “Marsa ta’ l-Ingliżi” and other areas which were designated for the sole use of the British forces and their families; places where Maltese nationals were not allowed. When my family returned to Malta in 1976, I could still detect this high-handedness by some British ex-pats of a certain age who spoke to anyone Maltese with the kind of haughty “know your place” dismissive tone which really rubbed me the wrong way.

When Malta became independent and started enjoying self-rule, the acquiescence which the people used to show towards the British was transferred towards Maltese leaders and Prime Ministers instead. Anything “il-Gvern” did was hailed as manna from heaven, and most of our successive Prime Ministers, no matter which party they came from, were put on pedestals so high that it was downright unhealthy and just plain wrong. Politicians should be treated with irreverence, because they are, after all, simply ordinary people made of flesh and blood just like you and me. When they are no longer in power they will fade into the shadows as if they had never existed.

We elect them, they are there to serve, we do not have to say thank you. I suggest this sentence is repeated as much as possible by every man and woman in the land and even taught to schoolchildren, until the Maltese nation finally wakes up and begins to understand how democracy works and that the power is really in our hands; we just need to take hold of it. Next month, Independent Malta will be 55 years old…it’s about time it grows up.

And now a little word about the last elections

The fact that the MEP and local council elections held earlier this year continue to be used as a litmus test of how “popular” the Labour Party is, is something which needs to be put into perspective. “Well, that’s what the majority voted for” I am told time and again whenever I criticise any given Government decision. This response gets on my nerves because it fails to take into account that any election result has to be analysed for what it is. First of all, I was under the impression that we were choosing MEPs and local councillors. We were not voting on the chopping down of trees to widen the roads, or giving a thumbs up to the unabated and unsafe construction, and the issuing of permits for new developments which are being distributed like fresh pastizzi hot out of the oven.

This lame, defeatist reply also does not acknowledge the fact that the PN did so badly because there was a strong protest vote by those who did not wish to endorse Adrian Delia and who stayed at home. It also does not factor in a similar protest vote by Labour supporters who wished to make it clear they were not happy with the direction Muscat’s administration was taking. The widened gap between the parties is explained by these non-voters. It is not necessarily because more people are supporting Labour but because the PN (and even third parties) have failed to inspire enough voters to vote for them instead. One also cannot dispute the fact that some Labour local councils actually did a good job for their town or village and were re-elected. That does not mean you can take that result and twist it to mean that, “people are happy with the way things are”.

And even if one did vote Labour a third time, it still does not mean that one unilaterally approves of everything: why are we shifting the onus of blame on the voters when it is the politicians who are cocking things up by even refusing to listen to their own many vociferous supporters? Nowhere in any manifesto was the chopping down of mature trees ever mentioned, and if this administration wants to get its head out of its behind and actually protect the Malta it claims to love, why doesn’t it figure out ways to retain and protect mature trees rather than putting us through an environmental version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

Keep calm and ignore the trolls

The satisfaction of a good turnout at last Sunday’s “For Our Trees” protest was slightly dampened for me when I kept seeing screenshots lifted from other FB groups and pages, of comments whose sole aim was to simply criticise or ridicule the demonstration.

I fail to see the point of giving this type of trolling further attention. 1000 people from all walks of life came together on a hot summer morning, not because a political party used them to stage a protest for its own partisan aims, but because they all genuinely care about their country’s environment. So why throw cold water on the successful protest by parading a succession of ill-informed, blinkered comments and urging everyone to read them. “Look, look what they are saying about us!” some exclaimed, almost with a thrill.

I don’t get it, I really don’t. I prefer to focus on the positive, encourage more people to set aside their political allegiances and concentrate on how we can put a stop to all this. We are not going to do it by targeting those who don’t agree with us by displaying their profile photo, and inviting slurs and insults against them. That distasteful, childish tactic never worked in the past and will certainly not work in this case.

Let’s not poison a good thing, but keep the momentum going so that more will be encouraged to show up next time to voice their protests at what is happening. For a Government which seems to thrive on constant approval, the growing numbers who will just not put up with this environmental rampage is something it cannot ignore forever.

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