An un­equal so­ci­ety

Malta Independent - - LETTERS - G. De­bono Sliema

In the in­tro­duc­tory pas­sage to his opin­ion piece en­ti­tled Is MIDI pay­ing its an­nual ground rent to Gov­ern­ment, (TMID 26 Septem­ber), Si­mon Mer­cieca made a num­ber of as­ser­tions about the on­go­ing rape of Sliema which are in­deed highly de­bate­able.

He rightly says that the de­struc­tion of the nice colo­nialpe­riod houses that lined the Sliema seafront started when Lorry Sant was re­spon­si­ble for PAPB (Pub­lic Works Depart­ment) but that the change in gov­ern­ment did not bring any fresh ap­proach to this pol­icy – with the de­struc­tion of th­ese houses con­tin­u­ing in earnest. This was in­deed the case with the Na­tion­al­ist Gov­ern­ment ad­min­is­tra­tion which came into power in 1987 and was al­most cer­tainly a con­trib­u­tory fac­tor to the loss of the 2013 elec­tion.

The present ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pur­suit of money and its sub­servience to prop­erty de­vel­op­ers is now clearly worse: it has en­sured the con­tin­u­ing de­struc­tion of what was once Sliema.

Mr Mer­cica’s opin­ion that “it is use­less to pro­tect the re­main­ing few sur­viv­ing build­ings” and that the Sliema res­i­dents are “too old now to protest” is a very un­fair com­ment be­cause it sim­ply ig­nores the sheer power of Big Money be­hind the con­struc­tion in­dus­try, aided and abet­ted by the gov­ern­ment, which has ren­dered protest pow­er­less. It also fails to take into ac­count the con­tin­u­ing sys­tem­atic degra­da­tion of the res­i­dents’ qual­ity of life and health.

Mr Mer­cieca is partly right in say­ing that, de­spite its con­tro­ver­sial na­ture, the Sliema project to build tow­ers has failed to at­tract a strong pub­lic outcry. There was a pub­lic protest, but such protests are now up against such mas­sive odds that they make lit­tle im­pres­sion. There is ‘lack of pub­lic protest’ sim­ply be­cause peo­ple have be­come weary and in­creas­ingly aware of the fu­til­ity of ob­ject­ing. All that pre­vails now is a feel­ing of help­less­ness and a fa­tal­is­tic at­ti­tude that noth­ing can be done.

The sphere of in­flu­ence of con­struc­tion mag­nates now seems even to have per­vaded other news­pa­pers, with the con­struc­tion in­dus­try ap­pear­ing to get pref­er­en­tial treat­ment in some news­pa­pers while ob­jec­tions sub­mit­ted for pub­li­ca­tion are be­ing ob­structed.

As Mr Mer­cieca says, the re­cent ac­tion against MIDI sug­gests that the voice of the com­mon cit­i­zen is start­ing to pre­vail. This would in­deed be en­cour­ag­ing if it were re­ally the case. The cit­i­zen’s voice might pre­vail in ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances where a sit­u­a­tion can be ex­ploited po­lit­i­cally, as in the present MIDI ex­am­ple but, over­all, it re­mains the case that peo­ple feel pow­er­less and can only watch help­lessly as their once-beau­ti­ful en­vi­ron­ment con­tin­ues to be sys­tem­at­i­cally ex­ploited. There must be many who think that their only hope is that Malta’s cur­rent fre­netic pace of spec­u­la­tive con­struc­tion will re­sult in an im­plo­sion of the prop­erty bub­ble, but that may come too late – the dam­age has been done.

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