Sunday, 18 May 2008

Columns and hot air

Columns and hot air
Published in the Malta Today of 18th May 2008.

Your columnist Pamela Hansen (11 May 2008) went all sanctimonious over RAM’s (Ramblers’ Association of Malta) statement on the Armier squatters ‘solution’. While she agreed to all but one point made by RAM, and even expressed admiration for the Association, she felt she had to go so far as to accuse its leaders of “showing fascist tendencies” and that they have allowed “a little power to go their heads”. She even solemnly warned “RAM is running the risk of getting too big for its boots.” All this because RAM brought the local Church into the equation.I would say that RAM’s statement, far from indicating “big-headedness”, reveals a sense of helplessness in the face of this Armier situation; a feeling shared by, I would say, some 90% of the population, apparently including Hansen herself.What is so wrong in asking our spiritual leaders to help the general public fight for its rights when this is a question of barefaced theft of public property? Haven’t the Armier squatters stolen land which belongs to all of us by birthright? Or is this not a sin by The Hansen catechism?Dr Gonzi is now ready to concede to the squatters the enjoyment of this ‘stolen’ land for three whole generations; and therefore to deny it to us law-abiding stupid others who patiently cart our chairs and tables to all corners of the country to enjoy a day by the sea. Just in case you have not noticed, he is also denying it to our children and to our great-grandchildren. As if this were not enough, the lease he is asking for is a joke: €233 (Lm100) per annum. This sum would not get you a sunbed for two months these days, let alone in 2075, when the lease ends. Some 15 years ago government sent its bulldozers and the army to sweep these illegal constructions off the map; and just 7 years ago, the then Nationalist PM demanded a Lm4,000 fee to compensate for past illegal use, and a Lm250 lease per annum valid for just 10 years. And he had most of the country behind him. How things have changed! And how fast! Has the cost of property decreased since 2001? Now, squatters are no longer to be penalised; indeed they are to be rewarded.There’s more: it is quite possible that the government (which of course means ‘we others’ who are simply being deprived of part of our birthright for three generations, at least) will have to contribute to the relocation of the pre-1992 sh anties: new buildings plus supply of roads, electricity, water and drainage. Is it possible not to feel incensed at all this?Can Ms Hansen not be dismayed at the complete silence of the bishops? Does not this most unchristian act constitute for them a theft of property? Do they not consider our government’s agreement unjust to us who believe in the rule of law? Have they ever told the grabbers that their act is sinful? Or is this kind of theft perfectly understandable to the Church and is smilingly condoned? By spreading its pastoral work among people breaking state and Church laws our bishops are eloquently expressing a disregard of the rights of the vast majority of the Maltese. We obviously have no sympathy for governments who force the Church into silence, but nor are we happy with a Church which keeps silent out of convenience. By securing an agreement on the eve of a general election the boathouse people might even be guilty of the sin of blackmail; unless, of course, it was Dr Gonzi himself who approached them with the offer. How ironic! Now the ‘boathouse’ people will no longer even need the Church’s forgiveness for their transgression. Dr Gonzi will see to that himself. We knew he could change laws, now we discover that even the remission of certain sins is his remit. Maybe our bishops will want to correct me on this delicate moral issue. On the other hand, I have no doubt that most Nationalists do not particularly appreciate this aspect of Dr Gonzi’s strong hands.Does it have to be only the NGOs who fight this injustice, this illegality? What avenues are open to these organisations? The EU? A national referendum? How can we others stop this outrageous practice before the Armier ‘solution’ spills over to the Ghadira, Gnejna, Valletta, San Tumas, Bahar ic-Caghaq and other areas? Can we at least hope for a statement from the Curia’s Environmental Commission?Or perhaps good Ms Hansen could take up the challenge herself…? Her regular column, from which she sermonizes to the powerful and the powerless every Sunday, apparently gives her the feeling of wielding more than “a little power”. Or is she too heady with power to realise that her strong criticism should be levelled at others, not at RAM and its leaders. The NGO is not even remotely interested in power; it has only one interest: standing up for the rights of the powerless.

Joseph Agius
St Paul’s Bay

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