Votes before Principles…and a ticking time-bomb. Malta Diary
The Mother of all Civil Wars is looming in Malta and Gozo.
An ex-Malta Government Minister responsible for Lands, recently writing about his administrative functions during his ministerial term in Government stated “slowly but surely I began to learn the lesson that votes come before principles”.
As an architect as well as a Minister, he was referring to a decision he had taken on principle and for legal reasons that all foreshore encroachments – which have become a plague and an eyesore in Malta – were to be instantly removed. When he announced his decision at a Cabinet Meeting, his decision was blown to smithereens by his fellow Ministers.
There are hundreds of illegal encroachments throughout the two islands. Their removal would have agitated and fermented chagrin amongst several thousand voters. The consequences would be loss of votes, bearing in mind that generally during Maltese General Elections the two main parties are normally separated by a few thousands votes demarcating the difference between winning Government and shunting off to the Opposition benches.
Malta has been an independent albeit small country for 50 years. Land, any land, is precious and enormous legal disputes have often been legally and bitterly contested in Law Courts, often just involving a few metres of private land, or a right of passage from one piece of land to another. Family and neighbourly disputes are frequent and may end in violence.
However, Government land is looked upon as No Man’s Land and therefore fair game. After all, the Government is the People and the People are the Government.
On two main and small islands encircled by the Mediterranean Sea, its blue water is never far away, in fact just a stone’s throw away. Notwithstanding, the rich, titled and famous have always had a town house and a seaside residential bolt-hole to escape the ravages of hot summers. The rank-and-file could only wish and dream.
However, by the middle 1950s, the more affluent middle class were also branching out and having a seaside retreat which was naturally a great plus in oneupsmanship. The green-eyed human trait of jealousy reared its ugly head and by the mid 1970s Government decreed that what was good for the goose was equally good for the gander and allocated a hill sloping the main seaside bay of Mellieha for the erection of small wooden tenements for the “not-so-well-off”.
The land was gobbled up instantly and soon a shanty town sprang up crowding the slope. Legislation was quickly introduced to limit the size of each tenement and to ensure hygiene and cleanliness as well as to enforce that all huts were to be painted green as an environment blend.
That was just the start, even though it was legal and did not infringe the international right of free access to the national foreshore.
In Maltese there is a saying which states that once you have given a finger, the rest of the hand is quickly and completely snatched, in other words once Pandora’s Box is opened …
And that is exactly what happened.
Like mushrooms in a fertile dung heap the spectre of “boat-houses” blossomed, many of them infringing the foreshore in many seaside localities. Ostensibly built to house boats they did everything but that – some have never even housed a boat. They became studio apartments with a bedroom/sitting room/dining room combined and to boot with a shower cubicle and chemical toilet. Whole families spend their summer there, sleeping rough and inviting friends and relatives for parties, barbecues, picnics and overnight sleep-ins.
There was now no stopping the flow. A number of seaside hotels secured adjacent parcels of foreshore, walling it off and converting into a seaside spa with swimming pools, palm trees, toilets and changing room facilities. The Government turned a blind eye on the basis of it “being good for tourism”.
As if that were not enough all sorts of constructions such as restaurants, bars, snack bars and what have you took root on the sands of what are really small sandy beaches. This spread to umbrellas, deckchairs and sun-beds – all of course on a rental basis and all blocking the foreshore. Non-paying intruders exercising their “right” to the foreshore are ensured an unpleasant day and a rough time by the so-called “franchise” owners.
Throughout, the Government has turned a blind eye despite a multitude of complaints, particularly from an ever-growing environmental lobby over the last ten years.
Not only that but elaborating on the theme that votes are more important than principles, fresh water and electricity was supplied, despite the vast illegalities. Some boat-houses progressed vertically from a ground floor to a first floor extension.
Time and again in pre-electoral campaigning, the political parties have tried to appease the protesting lobbies with promises of “firm action” which promises are of course very quickly forgotten after the election.
It has now transpired that many such shanties also have an electricity supply but do not pay charges because they have no metre! In some areas, the “boat-house” owners have also constructed a playground and a small chapel.
Protests are growing daily and now the Government has decided that all must have an electricity metre and pay for electricity or otherwise face prosecution.
Boat-housers challenge that when the Government removes hotel foreshore encroachments and remove the umbrella rentals on sandy beaches, they will agree to dismantle their own constructions. The hotels however have a strong lobby too, as well as the umbrella and sand encroachers.
Fingers point to each other and successive Maltese Governments have enabled a veritable hornet’s nest but civil war is imminently looming.