This article first appeared in Malta Today
You know how in those courtroom dramas, a lawyer instructs his assistants to send the opposing legal team boxes and boxes of documents pertaining to the case in order to “bury them in paperwork” and prevent them from making any headway?
Well, more and more, it seems like the Muscat administration is using the same ploy. As massive development projects are announced in rapid fire succession, we hardly have time to catch our breath, let alone understand the real implications of what is going on because there is just too much information to absorb. When the Government does release information, it is page after page of complicated material and legalese which the average citizen cannot be expected to understand. It is only when determined environmental activists pour through the plans that the real nuggets of crucial information are discovered and it is not long before they find something which is not quite right and bring it our attention.
Such as the much-promoted Paceville Master Plan, which looks very glitzy, shiny and bright, but when it is looked at more closely, one finds that in order for all this to happen, private property will be expropriated. This has come as a huge shock to residents and small businesses whom this will affect, who were not consulted (unlike, apparently, the developers concerned).
As James Debono reported on Wednesday “One of the most contentious issues discussed in the consultation meeting was the expropriation of private residences and businesses which, according to the plan, stand to be handed over private companies for re-development, when expropriation usually involved property taken over by government or for public use. The meeting was called by Kamp Emergenza Ambjent (KEA) and the St Julian’s local council and was attended by around 200 people, with many residents – Maltese and foreigners – expressing their disbelief and anguish at many of the proposals included in the master plan.”
But should this really have to happen? Should we live our lives feeling wary and always on our guard, fearing that the Government is out to dupe us at every turn, slipping in provisos behind our backs. Whose side are they on anyway?
Certainly not on the side of the average Joe, but very much on the side of anyone who has far-reaching business interests. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with being “pro-business”, that phrase should not have to mean “anti-environment” or anti-the-common-man-just-trying-to-get-by. Is it really that difficult to encourage investment and create jobs without ruining the country for everyone else as a result? This is not an ”envious” rant against those who are making money, but what simply amounts to a not unreasonable demand: making money should not be at the expense of other people’s rights to enjoy a decent quality of life.
It is not just mega developments though which are gobbling up every spare foot of space in sight. This week I read that a new Planning Authority permit now makes it possible for catering establishments to extend their tables and chairs out on to the road, basically removing the already limited number of parking spaces, apart from hindering pedestrians and drivers. Instead of improving things for residents, the Government is bending over backwards to accommodate what can only be described as greed. It is obvious that the main priority behind every decision these days is always the business sector and everyone else can just lump it.
It is a very clever, albeit highly cynical approach to running a country, because it taps into the human being’s insatiable thirst for making money hand over fist. Just splash permits around and let businesses do whatever the hell they want to keep them happy. Again, there is nothing wrong with making money per se, of course, but when you cross the line and that pot of gold becomes the only thing you think about from morning till the night, then everything else takes a back seat. Whether it is consideration for other people’s health, their right to peace and quiet, or even their right to earn a decent wage.
Because the ultimate bitter irony of all this is that, while all these businesses are flourishing, investment is pouring in and the Government crows about economic growth, with the same breath you have employers sharply shooting down any suggestion that there should be an increase in the minimum wage.