Monday 21 October 2019

That’s some legacy you’re leaving behind, Ian

This article first appeared in Malta Today

I wonder if those in power actually go to sleep soundly at night, patting themselves on the back that “all is good” because of a few yes men and lackeys around them showering them with accolades and writing “prosit Ministru” every chance they get?

Does someone like Minister Ian Borg honestly wake up every morning, flexing his pecs and thinking “I’m the man!” because he “gets things done” as his FB page boastfully tell us? Well, if you surround yourself with enough people who are willing to massage your ego by assuring you in soothing tones that you are doing the right thing, then I suppose it is easy to get swept away by your own hype. The entourage around a politician is usually a wide one, extending beyond his own Ministry and Secretariat to canvassers and others who have directly benefitted, so I’m not surprised that there are many out there whose job it is to ensure that Mr Ian remains in power, because their own political future is inextricably linked to his.

Yet, I still wonder about those last few minutes before he closes his eyes and whether he has any self-doubts or misgivings, especially over the last few days after the Central Link Project was given the go ahead, when many people were leaving scathing comments on his sponsored FB ad, telling him exactly what they think of him. From my experience of observing politics and politicians over so many years, they all share one thing in common, no matter their hue. They all want, and desperately need, to be universally liked. Even if their party’s majority means that they cannot be toppled, on a personal level, they live for those approval ratings, and when discontent starts raising its head among the populace, they sulk and pout, with a trembling lower lip, like toddlers whose parents have scolded them.

Quoted recently, the Minister petulantly said that, “no matter what the government does, someone always complains. In this country, if we widen the roads we complain. If we do not widen the roads enough people complain. If we arrange the bicycle lanes, we are criticised.”

The bicycle lanes he was referring to are the preposterous, confusing green ones at Tal-Balal junction, one of which literally take you straight into a wall (unless you are expected to carry your bike from there on). The Bicycle Advocacy Group pronounced them as having an unsafe design, apart from the fact that the slippery green paint is unsuitable for cyclists. Ian Borg, however, was not for turning:

“The lane is there to help you go around the roundabout and to cross the road. If people are saying that the lane ends at the wall just to comment or make fun, then it is in their hands to say so.”

As usual, we have a case of another politician who is too touchy and simply does not get it: when you have screwed something up it is much better to raise your hand and say, ‘mea culpa’ rather than keep defending what is blatantly, uhm, stupid (and dangerous). But Ian Borg is not to be contradicted, because Ian Borg is the Minister, ta.

You especially are not allowed to contradict him on the Central Link Project, which was given the go ahead on Thursday by the spineless people on the board of the Planning Authority, including the Environment Resources Authority chairman Dr Victor Axiak (paid from our taxes to protect the environment, a bitter irony if there ever was one) who apparently had nothing to say for the full four hours of the meeting. The fait accompli was compounded by this little lecture on Ian’s FB page:

“The Aleppo pine trees from Saqqajja Hill to the Chapel of Our lady of Victories in Attard, contrary to the misinformation which has been circulated, are not going to be touched. To be precise, only three trees are going to be uprooted, and 125 other trees will be planted instead of those which have died or which were ripped by the recent storms.”

(For the full effect you must see the original in which the Minister thought it was appropriate to use emojis like a 12-year-old). He then goes on to brag about how widening the road is going to make it better for everyone (except of course for the farmers who will be losing more land, and the families who live in this area whose quality of life will plummet even more).

Only he didn’t even get the number of trees right. According to the Environmental Impact Assessment obtained by activist Cami Appelgren, 549 trees are to be uprooted while a further 237 trees are to be transplanted, which sounds good on paper but does not guarantee that they will survive. In fact, transplanted trees rarely do.

Then, on Friday we learnt that three of the PA’s board members had resigned. The announcement was made by Minister Borg himself, “I thank them and all those who serve on such important boards where crucial national decisions are taken. it is not easy to serve and be exposed to criticism, and in these roles, yes, one has to be ready to receive constructive criticism, but at the same time the attacks we saw in the last few hours are not acceptable.”

I’ll tell you what is not acceptable, Ian. It is not acceptable that you treat Malta as your own personal property, ignoring the pleas of everyone who just wants to preserve what is left.

It is not acceptable that Dr Axiak had the audacity to post a photo of his sojourn in the unspoilt area of Spello in Italy’s Umbria region, a mere week before he was mutely sitting in that room in Malta, and then voting in favour of the destruction of more land and trees.

It is not acceptable that everything has to be pulled up, torn down and mowed over because of the Almighty car on a tiny island which is already groaning under the weight of so many vehicles.

Some lamented that the ‘attacks’ (i.e. criticism) were becoming too ‘personal’…well sorry, but this is very personal. It is personal because we are the ones being choked by dust and fumes. It is personal because we are the ones who don’t have any shade on our roads as tree after tree is chopped down. It is personal because children and adults alike are suffering from unprecedented levels of asthma and respiratory diseases. It is personal, because we pay your salary and you are only there as a temporary custodian of this nation. It is personal, because your decisions affect us and the political is always personal.

Dr Borg is not the only politician who seems to be living on another planet (probably one covered in trees). The disparity between the public announcements of those in charge and what they are actually doing is surreal. The same day that the Central Link project was approved Environment Minister Jose Herrera bizarrely posted a quote which said: “when all the trees are cut down, when all the animals are dead, when all the waters are poisoned, when all the air is safe to breathe, only then you will discover, you cannot breathe money”.

I had to look twice to make sure it was not another example of Bis-serjeta’s brilliant satire – these days it’s becoming hard to tell what is real and what is a piss-take.

But it was real all right. Let us just say that the public was not too happy with what seemed like yet another slap in the face, and the comments poured in, telling Herrera exactly what he could do with his inspirational quote. It baffles me that he could post something like that without a trace of shame because it means he truly has no idea just how angry people are; if he did then he would never show his face again. And please spare us the hypocrisy of ‘it has nothing to do with him because the PA board gave the approval’. The PA is a sham.

The buck stops with you Environment Minister, and you are the only one in a position to actually do something – except for the Prime Minister, of course. but we all know he is much too busy telling us how much our quality of life has greatly improved. He would say that wouldn’t he, since he gets away from the island as often as humanly possible, and I would not be surprised if he were probably still trying to leave it permanently by clinching some cushy job.

So, in a nutshell, what we have is a group of decision makers who are living in their own little bubble of denial. While their supporters keep propping them up, they are busy escaping as fast as they can pack an overnight case, to vacation in nearby countries which are not hell-bent on self-destruction. Before they dash off to catch their flights, however, they make sure to post some snappy quote from the Internet, or regale us with hashtags and throw in some emojis for good measure, trying to make us swallow the tripe which they perhaps by now have come to believe themselves. Despite so many voters publicly telling them otherwise, they keep wanting to push the propaganda that all of this is really being done purely for our own benefit (and that we are mere ungrateful sods).

Some time in the near future when we are choking in queues of traffic, car fumes and pollution on our widened roads, while walking around with Japanese-style surgical masks every time we venture out of our own front doors, we really must keep reminding ourselves that our lives have never been so good. Really, it’s true – it must be, because that’s what the politicians keep telling us.

And you know that they never lie.

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