Tuesday 07 December 2021

This is the Xarabank legacy: “I’ll shout you down”

This column first appeared in Malta Today

Passionate animal activist Moira Delia walked off the set of a TV programme this week and all around the island, people applauded and cheered her on. After giving the presenter prior warning that if she was not going to be given a chance to speak by her fellow guest Chris Borg (the owner of a zoo) she would leave, she was true to her word, and the next time she was interrupted (which was, basically, throughout) she calmly took of her mic, stood up and said, “ciao, I’m off”.

This is a woman after my own heart who, with this one simple gesture, demonstrated that the best way to deal with a bully is to refuse to be talked down to and badgered into silence. She was not going to be intimidated by Mr Borg repeatedly calling her a liar, with reference to a scientific report she quoted about the harm caused to wild animals by keeping them in zoos. Instead, she showed the nation that the only solution in these circumstances is to stop engaging with the person, especially as the presenter had completely lost control of the programme.

Last week I compared Konrad Mizzi’s performance in front of the Public Accounts Committee to a Xarabank episode, and here we have another example of the sorry legacy which this long-running programme has left us with: the belief that you “win” an argument by being the one who shouts the loudest, and not letting others get a word in edgewise. Maybe Mr Borg thought he would be patted on the back and called a hero, but I saw little if no support online for his appalling behaviour.

We have these types of bullies all around us, doing what they like and getting away with it, but if more people showed the same mettle as Ms Delia, maybe they would not feel so empowered. In one classy move she left him there in the studio (probably still loudly yelling by himself) and everyone watching came to the same conclusion: that he did not have a leg to stand on, which is why he had resorted to raising his voice, not letting her talk and calling her names. After all, if you have a sound argument, you just make your point calmly and without histrionics…it is only when you know, deep down, that you are completely in the wrong that you go berserk and have a meltdown.

This childish display also underlined once again how we desperately need to have decent discussion programmes on TV where people can completely disagree with each other on controversial issues without shouting. The lack of manners and civilised debate is all around us from Facebook to TV programmes to Parliament. Isn’t it time everyone just stopped acting like spoiled toddlers and grows up?

Some people should just stop talking

I’m not sure what it will take for some politicians to realise when they should do themselves a favour and just stop talking.

One of these is Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar who this week was found to be in breach of ethics by the Parliamentary Committee on the Standards in Public Life for receiving thousands of Euros in payment for brokering a real estate deal involving Yorgen Fenech and not declaring it as part of her assets. She also received €9,000 in cash from Yorgen Fenech as a birthday gift which was likewise undeclared. Meanwhile the tax commissioner has confirmed that she is under investigation by the Tax Compliance Unit.

Yet, there she was all over Facebook and Kalamita talking about hate speech and personal attacks. Even if what she has to say is valid, I’m afraid she is another prime example of a politician who has lost all credibility because of her lack of judgement and integrity, and she should just exit the political arena quietly, stage left. But she does not seem to be the type to exit at all, let alone quietly. She will stay there, I’m sure, firmly attached to her Parliamentary seat, secure in the knowledge that her constituents will vote her in once again because she has a very strong hold on the grassroots core vote in Qormi. Unfortunately for the rest of the Labour Party, however, it is these politicians who keep bringing it into disrepute time and again, but who are still hanging on, and tarring everyone with the same brush as a result.

Ms Cutajar had resigned from her post as Parliamentary Secretary pending the outcome of the ethics investigation, so now we await what happens next. The Council of Europe will also be giving its ruling into an alleged breach of conduct by Ms Cutajar during a 2019 debate before the Council’s parliamentary assembly about the rule of law in Malta. (The Labour Party has since removed her from Malta’s delegation to this assembly).

The Nationalist party is calling for her to resign from Parliament failing which it is insisting that PM Robert Abela should expel her from the Labour party’s parliamentary group. The Opposition is correct in doing so – for why should the Labour administration continue to accept such behaviour within its ranks, especially after all it has been through with Konrad Mizzii and Keith Schembri? If Abela does not show some gumption and make it clear that he only wants decent, ethical people around him, then the disenchantment and resentment against a party which promised so much only to renege on its promises, will continue to grow.

On the other side of the political landscape, while it has made some progress, the Nationalist party is still not being seen as a viable enough alternative. You would think it would have made some inroads among the younger generation, but for a variety of reasons it hasn’t yet. According to the latest Malta Today survey 39% of 16-35s trust neither party, 25% will not vote, and only 45% are committed to the PN or PL? As James Debono pointed out, “The survey suggests that a new demographic divide is setting in, one between apathetic or disenchanted young voters, whose partisan loyalties are waning; and the stronger partisan bonds among older voters, particularly among those aged over 50.”

I wonder if anyone is bothering to ask this cohort what they want and expect from Malta’s political parties, and why they feel so unrepresented?

The young and the restless

Meanwhile, a recent survey told us that many young people want to leave Malta and would prefer living in another European country. I’m not surprised by this, because young people have wanted to leave Malta ever since my father’s day when they emigrated in droves. The reasons may vary from one generation to the next (in the 50s it was due to a lack of job opportunities, while today it is because of over development which is ruining the environment), but it always really comes back to the tiny size of the island.

If you don’t travel as often as you can, Malta can be and is stifling and now has been made even more so because of those hellbent on building flats or widening roads on every spare bit of agricultural land they can lay their hands on. If you do not spread your wings and see as much of the world as you can, Malta will make you feel trapped and imprisoned. I have always believed that the best thing any 20 and 30-somethings can do is live abroad for a minimum of a year to widen their horizons and broaden their minds.

Many who have left have stayed away, while others yearn to come back but see no real future here. Others have gone and returned to settle down with their young families, and often wonder if they have made a mistake by doing so. It is not an easy decision to make, and perhaps the worst feeling is that of being caught in a dilemma of whether to stay permanently away from an island which can sometimes drive you mad because of everything that is wrong with it, or to give in to sentiment and family ties to come back to the island which, after all, is the place where your roots are, where your identity springs from, and which you call “home”.

Powered by