The Envy of the World
According to recent media reports, “a study of Malta’s sewage system showed that about 10 grams of cocaine were flushed down the toilet every day”. Drug expert Godwin Sammut said he too had noted an increase in the substance in recent months.
And Prime Minister Muscat, in his New Year Message to the nation, claimed that ‘We can become the envy of the world’. Insularity and peripherality Apart from the linguistic errors which jar on the ears (for instance, legat to mean legacy, when the proper word in this context is wirt), the Prime Minister’s New Year Message was masterfully shot. The definition was superb and the camera pans were breath-taking. Does this mean that the message itself is exempt from panning?
By no means. The New Year Message was a masterful exercise in obfuscation and selectivity but mostly, hyperbole. The exaggerations were stomachchurning: making you end up with indigestion of gigantic proportions.
The problem is that the message was a professional con exercise, intended to take the people for a ride. Its deviousness and abuse of mass psychology should be the subject of in-depth analysis. Unfortunately, I have neither the space here, nor the methodological and professional preparation to carry out such an exercise.
This is something that the apposite organs of a well-organised Opposition would carry out, by engaging experts in the field to dissect the propaganda and explain how the Government is taking the electorate for a ride and making it, the electorate, foot the bill, to boot. At the moment, the Opposition is unfortunately experiencing a hiatus, which it would do well to get out of without further delay and ado.
In the meantime, the Prime Minister is surfeiting us with hyperbole. Had Malta really reached the level about which the Prime Minister is bragging, we would have succeeded in attracting a significant number of big names that have moved out of Britain (or intend doing so) because of Brexit. Instead, the vast majority have gone to Dublin or Frankfurt.
I want to zero in on transport by mentioning three points, all relating to the problems of insularity and peripherality, which the Prime Minister wants us to forget about as his administration seems either unaware of, or unable to solve, them.
Going to the airport
Despite all the hype, getting to the airport during the day, coming from the Ħal Qormi side, is nightmarish, to say the least. It’s a one-lane tributary flowing into a river of cars coming from the direction of the Freeport. The airport is the principal and only exit out of the Islands. Why is it such an agonising trip to get there?
Let us make a brief analysis by considering two angles: business and tourism.
For the tourist (be s/he outbound or inbound), the stress is more or less part of the adventure. You wake up early, you leave early, you get to the airport early, you are psychologi- cally ready to wait, you are in relaxation mode – it’s all part of the experience. So a delay on your way to the airport is no big deal.
But if you are travelling on business, it’s another story. And, do keep in mind that Joseph Muscat is all the time pitching about business business business (artificial intelligence, bitcoin, crypto-currency, and all this latest new-economy mumbo jumbo, as well as passport-selling and so on).
Let’s compare The Envy of the World Republic with two seriously efficient financial services jurisdictions: London and Luxembourg. In London, you take a small plane (a Bombardier, say) which, despite its dimensions, is exceptionally comfortable and you land at London City Airport. Ten minutes later you are on the DLR and a further 10 minutes later you’re in The City. No traffic jams, no stress, no nightmares. It’s all extremely efficient and timesaving.
In Luxembourg, you land at Luxembourg International Airport, you either take a taxi and, 19 minutes later, you’re downtown or else you take the bus and, 20 minutes later, you stop at the tram station, take the tram and six more minutes later you’re in the commercial centre.
Now, the Envy of the World: you land at The Envy of the World International Airport and you take a taxi and get stuck in a traffic jam. Alternatively, you opt for public transport and it takes you forever to get anywhere. On your way out of The Envy of World, you get stuck in a traffic jam, finally get to the airport and board a Ryanair plane, with no leg space but fully aware that you will be getting the unforgettable Third-Class-Passenger experience.
Going to Sicily
Sicily is the closest land to us, yet getting there can be quite a financial and logistical challenge. I had a look at the Airmalta and Virtù Ferries websites the other day, to see what it takes to book two tickets for the following day. On Airmalta it would have cost €330 to spend one day in Catania; Virtù Ferries did not have the space for any more cars.
Now this is a problem related to insularity. For the Maltese, insularity is not a choice but an imposition. Apart from Cyprus, Malta is the only island-state in the Mediterranean, which means that other islanders have the choice of living on the mainland, should they wish to do so. Thanks to our history, we do not have that ‘luxury’: for us being islanders is not a choice, it’s an imposition.
On the mainland, and thanks to the Schengen Agreement, it is easy to jump into your car and drive elsewhere, with little or no planning. You just need to fill up the tank (incidentally it would cost less – Malta has the most expensive fuels in Europe), and drive. The Maltese cannot do that. They do not have the ‘luxury’ of going any-