Friday, April 22, 2016

NGOs, council to appeal Sliema development decision

Times of Malta 22 April 2016

Video: Matthew Mirabelli
Several voluntary organisations have joined forces with the Sliema council to appeal a planning authority decision to allow the building of 15 apartments, two penthouses and more than 50 underground parking spaces in Hughes Hallet Street, Sliema.
The development, they said, would see the destruction of three art deco houses of architectural value.
Edward Said from the Sliema Heritage Society compared the different treatment reserved to old houses in Mdina and Sliema. Mdina houses were protected, but the latter were not.
Councillors Michael Briguglio and Paul Radmilli said the council met to discuss the decision this week and agreed to oppose it.
However, the council wanted to open a dialogue with the developers to encourage them to retain the façade. Should this be done, the project would be acceptable to the council.
Mr Said, together with the other opponents, who included Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar andDin l-Art Ħelwa, said they would not appeal the decision if the façade was retained.
Mr Said pointed out that cases where an application for development raised questions about the cultural heritage of the building should automatically be referred to the Superintendent for Cultural Heritage. This had not been done in this case.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Panama Paradox

Times of Malta 18th April 2016
There is so much to say about the global Panama Papers controversy. It is the talk of town everywhere you go around Malta. Really and truly, it seems to be part of the perfect storm of bad governance overshadowing the Labour government.
In a way this is a pity, when one considers that despite its situation, Labour does have a good number of decent politicians within its ranks. Some of them are standing up to be counted on Panamagate, others are probably working behind the scenes or are being conspicuous by their absence from the everyday spectacle of politics.
Arguably, the more Labour procrastinates in taking concrete action on the mess it is in, the deadlier will be the blow on its long-term electoral prospects. But the political context of Malta’s Panamagate is so fluid and volatile that things can change by the day, if not the hour.
There is another aspect of Panama Papers which I find so striking. And Malta fits in squarely within this framework.
Indeed, isn’t it ironic that while so much money is being hidden, laundered, recycled, what have you, and while so much tax is being avoided or evaded, Malta has a Third World infrastructure?
Take the state of Malta’s roads. Were it not for EU funding, most of Malta’s arterial roads would be in a terrible situation, as is the case with many residential roads. One main reason for this is that local councils simply do not have funds to cope with the requirements of proper road resurfacing and maintenance. Henceforth, we end up with roads which are carried out with inferior materials, or with roads which are partially resurfaced in their most damaged parts. And these are the lucky roads.
Isn’t it ironic that while so much money is being hidden, laundered, recycled… Malta has a Third World infrastructure?
The same can be said with pavements. Some pavements are simply not fit to walk on, courtesy of damages by contractors and heavy vehicles, sundry signage and obstacles, and do-it-yourself substandard works. Once again, local councils simply do not have the funds to fix all pavements, so yet again, some pavements end up being more equal than others.
Unfortunately, local councils – even those which are efficient in their management – end up bearing the brunt of residents who demand adequate infrastructure in their localities. Isn’t it paradoxical that local authorites are deprived of funds while millions of euros are hidden in the clouds?
A cursory look at the terrible state of various public sports facilities, from Marsa to Mtarfa, as well as their surroundings also confirms this trend.
What about the general shabbiness of the Maltese islands? Wires galore, abandoned buildings, cars fit for scrappage, and aesthetic incongruence. New mega pro-jects surrounded by substandard infrastructure, ramshackle practices, the odd brick here and there, and innovative methods to occupy parking spaces.
Not to mention the disparity of financial realities. Only last day, a friend of mine was speaking about the few euros extra costs incurred due to the new bus ticketing scheme. Another day, I overheard other parents speaking about costs and making ends meet. Not to mention pensioners who tell me that their pensions are simply too low.
I can also mention the precarious situation of patients who rely on television shows and voluntary organisations to collect donations. Or the exploitative situations of workers – from Ukraine to North Korea – in precarious employment or in modern-day slave labour courtesy of pseudo-massage parlours, gentlemen’s clubs and not-so-leisurely clothing.
All this is carried out in a global context of Panama Papers and other similar cases. Governments lose millions and billions in revenue, and common people lose out. Peanuts give you monkeys. In Malta it gives you Third World infrastructure and more.
And yet, Joseph Muscat boasts of Malta’s economic growth.
The Panama Paradox is therefore not only about politicians who should be responsible and resign from their posts, but also about a global context of huge inequalities which are played out in the everyday life of citizens in their respective societies. And while money flies freely out to tax havens, people cross borders, fleeing war and misery, in search of a better life. Only to find closed borders.