Malta Diary €90 million poorer – but all pals together for a little while
Call me misery guts, by all means label me a pessimistic miser but when the country is €90 million poorer, I insist on having my say – particularly when the first cost estimate was stated to be €45 million and then re-appraised to €80 million and finally rounded off at €90 million and many months overdue.
Malta has at last inaugurated its new Parliament building and from the merry month of May is now Malta and Gozo’s official House of Representatives, a separate entity in its own right for the first time in a century of representative sittings with a chequered history.
Since 1921 when the first sitting known as The Assembly was held, parliamentary sittings were always held at The Palace in central Valletta. Malta was then still regarded as a colony in the British Empire and The Palace was the established office of the British Governor General who no doubt desired The Assembly to be close to him to closely monitor the goings on.
Parliamentary sittings were all held in the Tapestry Room, splendidly hung with an array of priceless Gobelin Tapestries, a resplendent panorama of wall carpets depicting exotic scenes in a blaze of colours. These are not unique to Malta but their uniqueness is the fact that this is the only full set of ten of such remaining tapestries world-wide. Equally importantly they were originally woven in the Gobelin Factory in Paris, a manufacturer later duplicated by a similar factory in Flanders. More of those in a later article however.
Following Independence in 1964 and then a Republic on 13th December 1974, the British Governor General was replaced by Malta’s first President, Sir Anthony Mamo whose official office also was The Palace. By then, The Assembly had become the House of Representatives but the Tapestry Room was decreed to have become too small to house the increased number of MPs comfortably and in 1976 the House was subsequently shifted to what was then The Armoury (more about that later too) which was shifted elsewhere.
The important point to emphasise here is that from 1921 to 2015, Malta’s representative MPs always met in the same building occupied by the office of the representative head of state. The move to the new parliament slap bang at Valletta’s entrance is the first time that people representatives and the representative head of state have occupied different buildings.
In real terms that has no particular significance because Malta’s President has no legislative-creating power but merely rubber stamps House approved legislation. However, some have pointed out that there may be logistic problems between the albeit short distance between the two buildings.
The entrance to Valletta had long been a sore point because of the beggarly arch that replaced the splendid architectural entrance that stood in colonial times which was unceremoniously dismantled to make way for a replacement eye-sore.
For years and years successive governments had promised to one day replace the eye-sore and also restore the Opera House a few steps away, a house that had been partially destroyed by enemy bombing during WWII. All the promises were not kept until the previous Government under the premiership of Dr Lawrence Gonzi which was voted out of office in 2013 decided to do something about it at last.
Top-notch Italian architect Renzo Piano was commissioned to plan the building to conform to Valletta’s mainly baroque structures and also to plan a new House of Representatives and restoration of the Opera House.
When Piano revealed his projections there were immediate “love it” and “hate it” responses but the then Government decided to “love it” and work went ahead.
Work started in 2011 and was expected to be completed by 2013 but dragged on and on and extended to 2015 during which time the cost had escalated to €90 million to yield a new parliamentary chamber, chambers for The Speaker, various administrative offices and offices for Members of Parliament.
Throughout, the complete project has been fiercely debated, mainly regarding cost but the structures themselves also caused great controversy. The assembly chamber has already been declared to be “too small” whilst The Speaker Dr Angelo Farrugia has lamented that because of several entrances, the building’s security is a “nightmare”. The Opera House has been transformed into an open air theatre, retaining its original standing columns.
Come what may, the official inauguration day by Malta’s current President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca went off very smoothly with Government and Opposition MPs all pals together – for a few hours at least. Guest of honour of course was former PM Dr Gonzi, now retired. The Government had officially invited him to inaugurate but in a gentlemanly manner he declined stating the ceremony should be carried out by The President as head of state.
Amidst what I call mainly public indifference the entire parliamentary ensemble vacated the old premises and walked the short distance up Republic Street to the new building, not exactly linking arms but suitably jovially friendly, where the President snipped the ribbon and Malta’s new Archbishop sprinkled his holy water to bless the building.
The next day normality was resumed with both Government and Opposition slanging each other hammer and tongs.
Noteworthy that architect Renzo Piano declined to attend the inauguration citing “being held up in New York on business”.
So, here we are, €90 million shorter in pocket but certainly an improvement of sorts at Valletta’s entrance. There are some aspects that I cherish, particularly the splendid public staircase on the Valletta entrance left and the lovely public square that has given a new dimension to the walk behind the parliament building towards the Office of the PM at Castile. I don’t mind the “new look” Opera House either but as far as I am concerned the building itself is a quango and an eye-sore and the whole cost vastly excessive to Malta’s needs.
Still, what’s done is done and hopefully, that is that.
However, what would/could I have done with €90 million? I would have left the Parliament where it is and had a new replica arch constructed to resemble the original one and at a fraction of the cost. With the money saved I would have legislated a massive pension rise to persons like myself….and that I guess is why I am not and have never been in the politics game.
And the three-legged horse that stood sculptured in front of the parliament building for many months (see article, 18/2/15) ….well, it’s legged it somewhere and is no longer there. God knows where it’s gone to.