Wednesday 05 August 2020

Once in a while the citizen wins 

This article first appeared in Malta Today

After having to endure wave after wave of bad news, between homes collapsing and another construction worker falling at a site and plunging to his death (the seventh one in the last 18 months) and yet more fatal traffic accidents, this Wednesday came along and it was like the gods wanted to uplift our spirits.  Maybe they realised we could not keep being battered and beaten, as our morale is slowly eroded because the big guns keep getting away with whatever they want.

On Wednesday, the Court of Appeal ruled that the DB project in St George’s Bay (more commonly known as the Pembroke project) has had its permit revoked because of a conflict of interest of one of its board members.

At this news, many of us went through a wide range of a rollercoaster of emotions ranging from disbelief, astonishment, happiness, incredulity and then happiness again.   

Unfortunately, not everyone was as thrilled, and not, I hasten to add, because they had any vested interests, but simply because they were sceptical and cynical about what this really meant. Many were saying it doesn’t change anything because DB group will simply appeal the judgement, alter a few details and keep forging ahead with the project anyway.  However, no matter how disheartening it was to read these sneering, often derisive comments which were mocking this landmark victory, I refuse to be engulfed and drowned by this type of pessimism. 

First of all, it is symptomatic of just how defeatist many have become that they did not really understand the implications of the judgement, or else they did not bother to read it properly. To quote Moviment Graffitti, “Matthew Pace was in a position of conflict of interest, with his real estate franchise selling parts of the development before the permit was even granted. This led to the Planning Board’s decision of 20th September 2018 to be annulled, and the permit revoked.”  

The Court of Appeal also overturned the decision of the Environmental and Planning Review Tribunal and expressed  “surprise” at the way in which the Planning Tribunal – which had dismissed conflict of interest claims – had handled the matter.

That means DB group has to start from the beginning and submit their permit for consideration from scratch to start the whole process all over again. This means that Pembroke and other residents have had a much-needed reprieve as works have stopped (and there will be much public scrutiny to ensure that they have indeed stopped). This means that in this David vs Goliath story, for once David seems to have unbelievably won.  Most significantly of all it is proof that when people forget stupid partisan politics as they did in this case, and work together for a common cause, they can move mountains.  Even those who don’t live in Pembroke instinctively realised that this was a test case, which would set a precedent and many came together to support the residents, whether by filing an objection, contributing to the costs of the court case, or simply promoting the issue as much as they could.  

However it does worry me that there are still those who insist that all this is useless and futile.  Some were quibbling because the decision was declared null over a conflict of interest rather than environmental concerns, but when it comes to fighting injustice in a court of law it is often these technicalities which make the difference. And anyway, does it really matter why a decision is overturned as long as it is overturned? 

The protest against the greed and hijacking of our country by developers on Tuesday saw hundreds turn up to make their presence felt and every single person who showed up deserves praise. Still, it occurred to me from certain comments I saw that not only are we having to combat the developers and the authorities themselves, but more exhaustingly, we are also faced by a towering wall of apathy and indifference by those who don’t see the point of these protests. “It’s useless, things will never change”, they tell you, as they shrug and turn away. Of course, they won’t change if everyone has the same attitude. But if every single person who mouths this phrase had to turn up, the numbers would swell. 

The alternative to not objecting to what is wrong and unjust is to roll over and play dead; an attitude which is incomprehensible to me.  A doomsday attitude towards injustice, in which one constantly moans about the fact that “developers are too powerful”, without doing anything about it is a recipe for disaster.  So many fear that Malta is becoming a one party state and a dictatorship because the Opposition has imploded and the Muscat administration seems omnipotent.  But if it does become a dictatorship it will only be because we have allowed it to become one.  You stop a Government from becoming authoritarian by standing up to it and not by being fatalistic and mumbling under your breath (or among your friends) that “this cannot go on”.  You stand up to be counted by being visible when it matters, especially at protests and not simply behind the relative safety of your keyboard. You make a difference by continuing to fight and to believe that we can make a better world. 

Frankly, I think we deserve to be a little bit happy and optimistic today, after so much bad news. So, if you cannot be happy at least please stop being such wet blankets. Once in a while the citizen wins. Let’s just enjoy the moment. May there be many more.

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