Tuesday 23 January 2018

cars02

The story of an unlicensed parker says it all

This article first appeared on Malta Today

What separates civilized society from complete anarchy are laws and respect for rules. Without regulations and order, everything falls apart, and man descends into his most primitive state, where the survival of the fittest prevails and those who are unable to fight back are trampled upon and squashed.

It is for this reason that those who regularly flout the law, acting as if it was not intended for them at all, make most decent people see red. Here we are, doing things by the book because that is how we were brought up and what was ingrained in us, and yet on a regular basis we see another species altogether: the flagrant lawbreaker.

Nothing encapsulated this for me more than the story of the man who was posing as a parker without having the requisite license and official tag issued by Transport Malta. It seems that one fine day this man decided that it would be a great way to make some money if he just stationed himself at the Valletta public car park, and stuck out his hand to all the drivers coming in to park their car. Maybe, occasionally, he would gesticulate vaguely towards a vacant spot, or at the most give the driver instructions on how to park (ikser kollox xbin, idħol bil-mod, OK, OK, tajjeb hekk). Easy peasy.

According to news reports, this had been going on for a while. Transport Malta had repeatedly warned him to desist from this practice and had even filed two Court cases against him. The man simply ignored them, and ignored the Court as well. If the whole thing wasn’t so preposterous and unacceptable, you would have to almost admire his chutzpah. Almost, but not quite, because the sheer gall of this man embodies everything that is wrong with the me ne frega attitude which is often so prevalent in this country.

However, after TM submitted even further evidence against the unlicensed parker, the forces of law and order finally caught up with him when Magistrate Joe Mifsud put his foot down, fined him 500 Euro and banned him from being anywhere near the car park for the next six months – if he disobeys the ban, he faces a jail sentence. I almost felt like standing up and doing an appreciative slow clap in front of my laptop screen when I read this Court decision.

For, despite the fact that it may seem like a minor infringement when compared to the more serious laws which are regularly broken, the unlicensed parker symbolizes the essence of the problem. If you can get away with doing something illegal, especially if you can make some money out of it, what the heck, it’s worth giving it a shot. Maybe no-one will notice. Grab some land near the beach and turn it into a summer house. Encroach on public pavements with tables and chairs from your cafe. Extend your umbrellas and deckchairs all over a public beach.

Whatever, wherever, who cares, right?

And it is this attitude which also zeros in on the heart of the matter when it is the Government itself which does not do things by the book, and instead shrouds its wheelings and dealings of state-owned property in layers of mystery and dubious contracts whose full contents never make it to the light of the day. That is taxpayers’ money you are dealing with dear Labour administration – it is not your own personal treasure chest of funds to dispense with as you please, no questions asked.

Take the fact that Vitals Group has now sold its 30-year concession to run three of the country’s hospitals to Steward Healthcare. According to the public-private partnership agreement, Vitals was meant to invest heavily in the hospitals, while making money from a certain number of beds which it would be using for medical tourism. The Government, meanwhile, would be paying Vitals for the use of beds for public use which was already debatable enough in itself. When you have the Health Minister Chris Fearne himself being quoted as saying that Steward Healthcare “is the real thing”, are we being given to understand that Vitals was not? The quick turnover to another healthcare group has obviously raised eyebrows, with the most pertinent question being, who exactly made money off this deal at our expense?

Another case in point is the American University of Malta located at Cospicua’s Dock One, the subject of so much hype (and which led to so many environmental protests because of the land grab at Zonqor) which ended up with a meagre 15 students and has now (reportedly) fired all its staff despite the spring semester scheduled to begin on 15 January. What is going on and what will happen next? We have a right to know. Most of all why should Zonqor still be part of the ‘deal’ when it is clearly not needed? In fact the PM and Education Minister Evarist Bartolo have both gone on record saying that works on Zonqor should only start once the campus is full. Since the likelihood of the latter scenario is appearing more and more unlikely, perhaps the Government should now man up and declare that the entire premise was a folly to begin with. When projects such as the AUM start off on the wrong foot from the get go, precisely because the real intentions behind the negotiations were dodgy to begin with, the wisest course of action is to cut one’s losses and admit your miscalculations and bad judgement. Being stubborn about it, or calling the Opposition ‘negative’ because it is pointing out what is glaringly obvious to everyone, will not work.

Property and land which belongs to the Government (for which read, us) are not like those little squares and red and green board pieces on a Monopoly board game where big business can swoop in to turn a profit, grab the cash and run, leaving ordinary people to wonder whether we have been royally screwed over. What belongs to the public should remain just that, and any administration is simply a temporary caretaker. If there is going to be a ‘public-private partnership’ then the clauses and conditions need to be laid out clearly and openly because it is our right to know all the details. We should not be made to play a cat and mouse game, forever suspecting that the country’s assets are being sold from right under our feet for peanuts, while shadowy figures are profiting from it all.

Otherwise the Government will be acting just like that unlicensed parker, who took over a public car park and treated it like it was his own personal property without having any right to do so.

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