Wednesday 19 February 2020

Highlighting the rubbish problem….by using rubbish

This column first appeared in Malta Today

It does get wearying sometimes trying to argue with people who cannot admit to what is staring them in the face.

The fact that we have a rubbish problem is an undeniable fact which greets us every time we step outside our front doors. As we navigate through the empty plastic bottles, cigarette butts and styrofoam takeaway containers, in between sidestepping choice lumps of dog excrement, only those who are truly in denial will refuse to acknowledge the truth.  The island is dirty and up to its eyeballs in discarded waste, made worse every time we have a few windy days like we’ve had recently.  Despite free garbage collection on designated days and despite constant campaigns, there are those who persist in ignoring them. Others just casually toss whatever containers they have been drinking or eating from on the ground with careless abandon.  Even as you drive you will see used cigarettes being flicked from the driver’s window and empty packets of Twistees being thrown out of the passenger windows. I’m done with it, who cares? Out it goes.

As long as I can remember there has been a distinct lack of civic pride in Malta, and this is the root cause of why we cannot get to grips with the trail of waste which accurately pinpoints the locations where people have munched away at a pizza, sat down to have a picnic or taken their dog for a walk. Like some cockeyed remake of Hansel & Gretel, the rubbish strewn in our streets precisely depicts where people have passed from, and it is not surprising that those who come from countries where littering is severely frowned upon, are taken aback by such a senseless disregard towards keeping our own country clean. 

This week, a Russian photographer who has been based in Malta for five years, who goes by the name of Katrin de Rusko, decided to have a model pose among the rubbish she has seen in our streets, at the beach and even in the sea.  The striking images were so effective and drove the message home so forcefully that I suggested they should be used as part of an awareness campaign.   But, predictably, not everyone who saw these photos was a happy bunny.

The usual defensiveness kicked in, and instead of admitting that her keen photographer’s eye was portraying reality, we got the usual gibberish about “a foreigner trying to make Malta look bad”.   And while it is true that some photos were staged for artistic purposes, it is not as if she had to scrounge around and look too far afield to find some rubbish.  Speaking to the The Times she said, “Yes, in a couple of the photos – such as the one with litter in the bush – I did arrange the items to capture the photo, but I didn’t have to bring any garbage with me as it was already lying around. When it come to the photo of the model lying on the sand or in water, we didn’t have to change a thing.”

But with almost tedious predictably came the outrage  “Why did she come to live here?”  “She just wants to put Malta in a bad light.”  “She just wants publicity.” “She took the photos before the rubbish trucks passed by.”  It would be laughable, if it were not so tragic.

It is clear she has hit a raw nerve: obviously, no one likes to have the worst aspects of their country being given such prominence.  Ideally we would all love every single visitor or person who relocates here to simply sing Malta’s praises and leave out all the bad bits. But that is hardly realistic.  So rather than blaming her for capturing what she has seen around her, we should be directing our anger at those who go around dirtying the island in the first place.  If she is holding a mirror up to Maltese society to show how the environment looks, then don’t shoot the messenger, but ensure that you are not part of the problem. Hold on to your rubbish until you have found a bin to dispose it in.  If your organic, mixed waste or recycling bags have not been collected or you missed the truck, simply take everything back into your home until the next time. Treat the outside as you would treat the inside of your own home. 

The dichotomy on the issues of hygiene and cleanliness in Malta has always puzzled me. How can the same people who have such an aversion to dirt that they force visitors to take off their shoes before entering their home, be the same people who have no compulsion with simply dumping waste and rubbish outside without a moment’s hesitation?  They might not be the same people I hear you say, but then again, they might.  Many keep saying it is due to a lack of real enforcement, which is true, but it is also a completely oblivious attitude towards the concept of the country being “ours” and being proud enough of it to keep it clean. 

It’s funny how our hackles only seem to rise and we only get all patriotic when some “bloody foreigner” criticises us, but then that same patriotism does not translate into ensuring that we do not leave assorted piles of rubbish in our wake everywhere we go. 

Should he stay or should he go?

How do you solve a problem like Delia?  How do you convince this man who is clearly not wanted that the longer he clings to power the longer it will take for the PN to be a truly credible Opposition?   

It is true that he was democratically elected but it is also true that the surveys (like Shakira’s hips) don’t lie.  If he could not even manage to muster more support for the PN in these last few months when Labour was going through one of its worst crisis ever, then I don’t know what it will take.  Things were already looking bad, but they turned downright ugly this week when he promised his parliamentary group that he would take some time to reflect on what was said to him during the five-hour meeting and come back with his decision, only to walk out of the meeting and blithely tell the media that he wasn’t going anywhere. I sometimes think that the problem with the Nationalists is that they never really come out and say what they mean; there is too much pussyfooting around and too many euphemisms in the classic Maltese habit of no one wanting to look like the ‘bad guy’.  Sometimes in life you have to be blunt.  “You should re-consider your position” just does not cut it. 

According to Jason Azzopardi it was a “no holds barred” discussion, but something tells me that no one at that meeting really told Delia to his face that if he didn’t resign, they would force him out. (In contrast, I can completely imagine the Labour parliamentary group saying exactly that to Muscat).

Instead, they all seem to communicate via Facebook or secretly to the media which quoted 17 MPs on “condition of anonymity” although MaltaToday tentatively named some names. So first we had Jason coming out with his “I feel so betrayed” post (betrayal seems to be the latest buzzword). Then other statements (some more oblique than others) followed in quick succession by Theresa Comodini Cachia,  Robert Metsola, David Casa, Louis Galea and the MZPN.  Kristy Debono and Robert Arrigo resigned their respective posts on Thursday and literally as I was writing this on Friday afternoon Clyde Puli also resigned from his post as Secretary General. 

With the Opposition now facing up to its own crisis which was finally out in the open, the President even sent for PN MPs but the meeting was cancelled because as quoted by Malta Today, he had to have concrete proof that Delia had lost the majority support of his Parliamentary group before he could remove him, as obliged by the Constitution. It was also pointed out that the statement released by the rebel MPs, which was not even signed, did not constitute a formal vote of no confidence.  

So until enough Nationalist MPs find their spine and openly hold a no-confidence vote in Delia, the stalemate and disintegration of the party will continue. In a surreal turn of events, as everything was falling apart around him, a defiant Delia was on NET TV’s fundraiser celebrating Eddie’s birthday. Meanwhile, the question many of us have been asking since Day One when it was made clear Delia was rejected by a chunk of Nationalists, still remains: who will be the person to replace him?  

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