This column first appeared in Malta Today
As I was looking back at everything that happened this year I was reminded of those people in top management who keep employing the wrong type of staff over and over again.
Rather than learning from their mistakes, seeking out diligence and competence, they are drawn with hypnotic intensity to the bad boys (and girls) who, like bad news and a bad penny are always lurking, ready to pounce. Rather than providing these slackers with training to at least improve the service they are providing, the management washes its hands of the human resources issue and allows the whole entity to fall into disarray. Then the top brass is surprised because their company has earned a bad reputation and is suffering a brain drain with a constant turnover of staff, as those who have been mistreated find more rewarding positions elsewhere, where they are respected and appreciated.
On similar lines, despite all the things we were supposed to have learned in 2020, the year 2021 has just brought more of the same. Covid cases spiked sharply again around Christmas time because the authorities did not clamp down fast enough where they should have. The news that a green pass will become mandatory as from 17 January for a wide range of activities is welcome, but hopefully it’s not another example of too little too late. I fail to see the reason behind all this hesitation, after all, Italy introduced this a while ago and most people got used to it. Meanwhile, despite assurances to the contrary by the Health Minister, parents are still fearing the worst because schools have sent textbooks back home with children for the holidays which has been interpreted as meaning that online learning is possibly on the ominous horizon, as it was last year.
This time last year our hopes were raised with the imminent arrival of the vaccine and today many of us have been double vaxxed and “boostered” – and yet the news last week that two men in their 50s had died of Covid and that a whopping 733 cases were reported on Thursday, plunged everyone into a mixture of panic, dread, despair and sheer frustration.
Don’t socialise, keep family gatherings small, self-isolate if you feel sick, don’t hug your relatives – the usual admonitions we have been hearing for almost two years have become depressingly familiar. Even people who don’t follow the news could tell you that the highly contagious Omicron variant was obviously already in Malta, accounting for the ferocious spread and exponential growth, but it was only confirmed during Thursday’s press conference. Not for the first, time many saw this as a delaying tactic to avoid dealing a blow to businesses over Christmas, but ultimately it only served to perpetuate the perception that the authorities cannot be trusted. How long have we been saying over these two years that open communication and honesty are essential in a pandemic?
It is anyone’s guess when we will see the end of this situation but, as happened in 2020, those who were determined to keep living as if nothing had happened have continued to do so, while those who for health reasons are more wary and cautious, have accepted with resignation that they have to put certain areas of their lives on hold. Over the last six months especially, the resumption of travel, socialising, and attending every event possible despite the surge of crowds was the norm for a large chunk of the population. And while the daily bulletins announced that cases were multiplying again, out there in the streets (from photos I have seen), many seemed oblivious, as if they were determined not to get sucked into staying indoors again, but carried on with an almost mad frenzy, defying warnings, defying the restrictions and defying Covid.
This week’s press conference has also stirred up further questions: how will we know that the green pass will actually be enforced by everyone once it comes into effect? What about exemptions for those who cannot take the vaccine for genuine health reasons? And more crucially, in order to give us some perspective, how many who are in hospital/ITU and those who have died recently were vaccinated and had taken the booster? The authorities cannot keep repeating the same mistakes of giving us insufficient information and expecting a different outcome. Otherwise, like the above-mentioned bad managers, it can no longer be called a mistake but becomes a deliberate decision.
And speaking of bad decisions …
Politicians behaving badly, conflicts of interest, unethical behaviour…and very reluctant resignations. Prime Minister Robert Abela has not had a very good year when it comes to his Cabinet and backbenchers.
These kind of things keep happening in our political landscape because when unacceptable actions are allowed to slide, they become contagious, and people in high office keep pushing the envelope to see just how much they can get away with. Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri are perhaps the classic example of this. They were allowed to stay, and they hung on until the very last possible second with their bare knuckles but, ultimately, they had to go. We are still feeling the repercussions of the destruction they left in their wake. Further down the totem pole there were others with perhaps milder transgressions but which were no less serious when one is a Politically Exposed Person. And if we are going to keep taking out a measuring stick and saying, “but our corruption was not as bad as yours”, we will continue to find ourselves mired in muck.
What alarms me even more is when I hear the man in the street saying, X’fiha b’daqshekk? (What’s so wrong with it?). It’s bad enough that so many politicians on both sides of the spectrum have no moral compass but when voters shrug and casually brush it off like a piece of lint, I become more convinced that we should stop obsessing so much about exams, and start making it obligatory to have ethics lessons taught throughout formal schooling all the way up to University level if need be. It is even more paradoxical when put into the context of such a “Catholic” country where we have a list of sins and what is right or wrong drummed into our little heads from birth. Fat lot of good that seems to be doing.
I have found myself having to explain why Justyne Caruana should never have been reinstated after her (then) husband was found to be a bit too familiar with Yorgen Fenech, who is suspected of masterminding the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. For her to then turn around and hand over a juicy €15,000 contract to her close friend, a footballer with no qualifications, to carry out a study on the National Sports School which he was clearly not competent to do was mind-boggling. Did she really think she would not get caught out? And how does she have the gall, after taking so long to resign, to say that she is going to legally contest the decision by the Commissioner for Public Standards? She’s either living in the Twilight Zone or has convinced herself, like so many before her, that she has done nothing wrong.
Similarly, not everyone was able or willing to grasp the concept of why the Nationalist Naxxar Mayor had a conflict of interest when she voted in favour of a massive residential and commercial complex in her home town. It later emerged that Anne Marie Muscat Fenech Adami is a company secretary in a firm partly owned by Edwin Mintoff, the project’s architect. To me these things are blinking obvious – but we have a serious problem because so many see nothing wrong with it.
The fight for the environment continues….
Despite some environmental victories this year, it is still heart-breaking that we as a people still have to fight those in charge in order to save Malta from being buried under a heap of concrete. It should not have to be this hard to have a beautiful country. It should not have to come to a point where energy, human resources and finances have to be expended to prevent fat cats from becoming even fatter while they ruin our nation forever.
The objections, the petitions, the demonstrations by residents and activists will continue because there is nowhere on the island which has not been scarred by ugly, unnecessary over-development. I may be hoping in vain, but I keep hoping for even a few Labour and Nationalist politicians to show some integrity and start standing up for their constituents on the right to live in peace, the right to retain the unique character of our towns and villages, and the right not to fear having our homes collapsing on our heads.
Where are these politicians? Who knows, maybe they will find their spine in 2022.