A rose with thorns
Today I was driving in the rain, stuck in traffic and struggling to get to work on time, despite leaving home earlier than ever. It gave me time to reminisce on the state of our nation. Statistics show that our economy is booming, we have record employment, more women than ever are working, more and more foreigners are coming to look for work in this pot-ofgold-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow. In a nutshell everything is rosy. But is it?
I am a doctor, an employee, like most of you. I work with and come across people from all walks of life and all levels of income.
Those who are lucky and already own a property can consider themselves very lucky indeed. Rentals are rising due to the pressure for accommodation from those coming to these islands. They have doubled in five years. With bank interest rates a joke in a booming economy, people who already own a property and who want to get a return on their investment are re-mortgaging their homes to buy- to-rent. This phenomenon is now beginning to drive property prices up as well.
So what of those not on the property ladder and with marginal incomes? By that I mean those with a take home pay of less than €1200, not far off the national average wage. Well, they are now becoming caught in a vicious spiral of being unable to borrow enough to buy a decent property and yet need to spend up to 50% of their income just to have a roof over their heads.
No matter, we have mega projects on the drawing board with higher and higher skyscrapers about to dot our landscape. Surely they will alleviate the pressure on accommodation? Projects in Paceville, Sliema, St Julian’s, Santa Venera and God only knows where else are approved, seeking approval or on the drawing board. But will they actually help? Not at all; they are all aimed at the high end of the market, for foreign and local investors looking to make a killing. And who will pay? The developers? Not likely.
All these huge structures will need an even huger investment in infrastructure to service them; parking, roads, drainage, water, transport and electricity. Again, who will pay for them? You guessed it, not the developers.
It will be you and me, the average tax payers, who get stuck in the traffic every morning and spend less and less time with our families – traffic further aggravated by the construction process and further aggravated by people servicing these structures. It will be those poor residents living nearby who will suffer the noise and air pollution generated by their construction, the loss of sun and daylight as they tower over their properties, the reduction in value of their homes as they are swallowed up by ever bigger developments.
Even worse, in the case of the Paceville Master Plan, residents’ homes will be sacrificed on the altar of further development. Residents who have braved thirty years of disruption, noise and every form of inconvenience, and stayed put despite everything because it is their HOME, are now threatened with the prospect of eviction because big business wants to ‘rationalize’ the use of Paceville.
As the traffic crawls along and I realize I will be late for work once again, I think of the statistics and then look at the reality. What is the point of wonderful economic figures lauding the enormous progress Malta is making when our quality of life is going south? We, the vast majority of people who walk this land; who love, live and die on these tiny sea surrounded rocks, are seeing the very things we love shattered by the greed of the few and their political cronies. Our heritage, our way of life, our values, mean nothing if they get in the way of ‘progress’.
So I ask you all. Are rising GDP figures and the number of people in employment making our lives better, or worse? Is nothing sacred if it hinders profit? Do we smile more, or less, this year than the last? Should we take a deep breath and assess where we are heading to? Is it what we really want? A rose is a beautiful flower, but it does have its thorns. Are we experiencing the flower or the thorns?