Monday 14 June 2021

We need to stop being such bad losers

This column first appeared in Malta Today

One week on and the fallout from the Eurovision continues. Although Destiny placed a respectable 7th, this result seemed to be a calamity for some people.

This happens each and every time: people behind the scenes hype up our entry, whipping the country into a frenzy (“this time for SURE we will win”) only for it to all boomerang and knock us back down to earth with a thud. Cue the wailing cries of “we’ve been robbed!” and subsequent finger-pointing as we agonise over what went wrong.

This year, however, there were some additional twists to the Euro song drama. First there was the allegation that the lead singer from the winning Italian rock group was sniffing cocaine, which was debunked by the EBU after he was tested. To be honest I don’t see what difference it would have made to Malta even if it were true and Maneskin had been disqualified. Perhaps it would have given some people a grim sense of schadenfreude because of the immature squabbles on FB? Some obsessed Maltese fans were so busy spamming every Eurovision-related platform that, embarrassingly, they were warned to stop by the respective admins.

The second, more serious accusation on the other hand, does make a lot of difference to the entire Eurovision roadshow. First it was confirmed that the eye-watering sum of 650k was spent between PBS and MTA to promote the song, prompting many struggling musicians and performers to ponder how much they could do with that kind of cash injection. More worryingly was the allegation that some of this money was used to pay Eurovision bloggers to promote the song, and to finance foreign nationals to place bets on Malta, in order to inflate the odds. The PBS board has asked the Minister concerned to investigate, and an audit on the spending is currently underway. If this turns out to be true, it will go beyond embarrassing but will point to yet another form of corruption (which is all we need).

What both these allegations confirm is that we are a nation which wants to win at all costs, and when we don’t, we lash out. I think the fact that we are such bad losers when it comes to this contest is directly related to the fact that Malta lacks a real sports culture in which we learn from a young age how to compete and take winning/losing in our stride, while accepting the result gracefully. It should be obvious by now that every Eurovision representative goes there to win (not just us) and a contest based on televoting is always going to be very unpredictable. Let alone one which is based on a mixture of expert jury/televoting.

Meanwhile, caught up in the middle of this whole mess is a talented singer whose Eurovision experience has been soured for a variety of reasons, but mostly because too much hype and hyperbole, complete with cringeworthy hashtags, should never have been part of the package. Hopefully, Destiny can now put all the unnecessary drama behind her and really start to work on her music career. Whether diehard Maltese Eurovision fans can ever let go of the drama is another matter….

What issue makes you most upset?

While all the palaver over Destiny/her outfit/the result was dominating public opinion, many kept asking why people do not get as worked up over more serious issues. There is plenty to be upset about: the corrosive, prevailing corruption for a start, including the blatant direct orders to people close to Government, the aesthetically horrendous, badly designed over-development, and above all, the way our environment and landscapes, both urban and rural, are being systematically destroyed by a literally bulldozing Minister who hates trees.

My theory is that (unlike other issues) Eurovision is something which the public feels they have some control over because their voices are actually heard. When it comes to corruption, most have practically resigned themselves to the fact that it is here to stay and can never be completely eradicated. Let’s face it, half the country waits for the time when its party is in power in order to brandish that famous phrase “il-Gvern tagħna u nagħmlu li rridu” (“The Government is ours and we can do what we like”). Even if they may no longer say so openly, in their heart of hearts, that’s what a good section of the population still thinks. Every time there is a change of Government, the supporters of the party which was in Opposition and is now at the helm, know that it will be their turn to demand, and be showered with, the favours which were promised during the election campaign. A lucrative building permit here, a juicy position there and a smattering of contracts which are doled out according to party loyalty. In fact, a cynical electorate knows full well that the best time to demand a political favour is right before an election, when those in Government start phoning people up asking “do you need anything?” It’s so unashamedly in your face (and yet so routine) that Maltese people are surprised when foreigners are surprised by how blatant it all is.

As for the environment, although there is growing outrage at how ugly and disfigured Malta has become, especially when residents like those in Attard find bulldozers outside of their doorstep razing trees to the ground, the anger is only outstripped by the frustration at feeling so helpless. We have no one in Government ready to stand up and fight for our precious land and there is no real entity which is really on our side. The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) is not only a misnomer and a joke but is a dangerous monster, which panders to the Infrastructure Minister and the big developers, altering permits and giving paltry excuses to fit the circumstances.

In a statement by Moviment Graffitti, we were informed that, “After Fortina illegally started works on their catamaran pontoon in Balluta Bay last Saturday, ERA has now rewarded the company’s abusive behaviour by secretively changing the permit conditions, effectively allowing Fortina to carry out works during the swimming season.”

The savage removal of trees in Attard was even more appalling. They happened to be in front of the home of environmental activist Alfred Baldacchino. Despite reassurances that they would not be touched as part of the ongoing Central Link project, Infrastructure Malta went ahead anyway, claiming they were a “danger to drivers”. The ERA permit stated the residents had a month to appeal the decision, but this was completely ignored and the neighbourhood stood by helplessly as the trees were uprooted anyway.

Despite being born and raised in rural Dingli, we all know about Ian Borg’s aversion to anything remotely resembling a twig, but it is a terrible thing when an Authority like ERA also works against the interests of citizens.

Meanwhile, in an appropriate tribute to the Minister of Concrete, a Communist-style monument, costing 30k, has been built in the middle of a roundabout. We will see it every time we pass through that area as a reminder of how he has ruined the environment.

Adrian Delia and the foreigners

Adrian Delia, for some reason thought it would be a good idea to come out guns blazing against “the foreigners” following a story that the catering industry cannot find enough staff. Loosely translated his post read, “When bad times hit, the first ones to leave are the foreigners who leave us to fend for ourselves. When we need them, we don’t find them, so we are hit by a double whammy!”

Hello? Earth calling Adrian.

I’m not sure which galaxy he is on but surely even he must know that the reason so many foreign nationals left was not through choice but because they were forced to do so. Many Third Country Nationals were working without the proper papers because Identity Malta makes the whole process excruciatingly slow (just ask yourself why this was allowed to happen when the Government was selling us the idea that Malta’s economy cannot function without a foreign workforce). With no residence permit, no job, and no hope of getting the wage supplement, they were sent letters that they had ten days to leave the country. Why are we surprised that there was an exodus?

As for Delia claiming “when we need them, we don’t find them”, well if he were in their shoes, would he come back here to work for a miserable wage and even more miserable working conditions? The current Minister of Finance and Employment Clyde Caruana was formerly head of JobsPlus so he is in a unique position to know what was going on at grassroots level, especially as he has always insisted we need a foreign workforce. It is now his duty to ensure that Identity Malta gets its act together, makes the whole process smoother and quicker, and stops treating TCNs like dirt. While he is at it, he should also ensure that their working conditions, including their salaries, are according to law rather than something resembling slave labour.

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