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LETTERS | Sunday, 15 June 2008

Using and abusing Sette Giugno

Dr Antonio Cassar Torregiani's letter (8 June) to his grandchildren on the riots of 7th June 1919, and what led up to them, reflects honesty and sheds a new light on these events.
Any number of articles were written at the time, and since, on those events which have also featured in books referring to those times, official enquiries were held, and documents in the London archives, now available to researchers, should long have settled the real nature of those events. The relevant question for today is "Do the events of 7 June 1919 deserve the status of a national holiday, and if the answer is in the affirmative, what are we really celebrating?"
I happen to know from close quarters that the inclusion of Sette Giugno as one of our five national days was meant to maintaining a balance between the views of the two main political parties who could not agree whether Independence Day (21 September), or Freedom Day (31 March), should be Malta's National Day. The background to this debate is that on Malta attaining independence in 1964 on 21 September, this day was designated Malta's National Day. When Dom Mintoff became prime minister in 1971 he was determined to obliterate a number of feasts celebrating Malta's religious and historical past, substituting them with his own political achievements. First he eliminated Independence Day and created a new national day, the traditional 8 September, which, however, was renamed Regatta Day so as to eliminate its religious/historical significance: that of the lifting of the 1565 Great Siege on the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady (Il-Bambina), also known as Il-Vitorja. 
The national day was changed again to commemorate Malta's new status as a republic, and once again when the British military base was closed down. When Eddie Fenech Adami became prime minister in 1987 he rightfully restored 21 September to its deserved historical significance. However, negotiations that went on between the two political parties represented in parliament, failed to agree on Malta’s National Day. Each side maintained that their political achievement merited this significant honour. The outcome was the creation of five national holidays, which our diplomatic posts abroad were instructed to observe, irrespective of local conditions and practice, so as not to offend either political party. Sette Giugno was included in a futile attempt to create a balance.
Thus is history revised.
Dr Cassar Torregiani's letter underlines the complicated nature of the Sette Giugno's riots. It is a fact that those events hastened the granting of self-government in 1921, but it is highly debateable whether the mob which attacked Maltese, rather than British, interests had that noble aim in view. The letter also reveals that there were hidden local hands behind the mob, motivated by jealousy and business rivalry rather patriotic fervour. The pity is that these hidden hands, the inability of the police to maintain order, and the ineptitude of the military personnel that replaced them, produced four innocent victims. Malta has always and rightly grieved these victims, and commemorated them in a dignified grave of high artistic merit in the Addolorate cemetry.
However, whether the present monument in Palace Square, and the elevation of the riots to the status of a national day is merited, is questionable. Given the local political scene I do not foresee that any one would dare to rock the boat by reflecting history truthfully.  
 
Evarist Saliba
Via email

Religion for life

As if having a B. A. in religious studies qualifies you to teach religion. Religion should never be taught as a subject with exams at the end of the year. It should be a guide for life. Religion should be lived and children should be assessed not examined. I have seen religion teachers with all the necessary qualifications who were a disgrace to their profession, arriving late for lessons, depending solely on notes and never giving a decent lesson, even reporting sick then being seen on campus in the evening to attend their B.A. Religious Studies lectures. Fortunately these are the few but they need to be weeded out. A religion teacher should be a role model, nothing less is acceptable.
 
Joseph Grech
Ex Head of School.
Sent by email

Sex and the (Vatican) City

On reading the piece by Pamela Hansen last Sunday, I can't help but feel a strong and real sense of anger build in my stomach. The general attitude portrayed by those in power, unfortunately from all major political representatives, is not only hypocritical, but shameful to still be prevalent in this day and age of science and understanding, with more information, and increased availability of. Thereby allowing us to make more informed decisions. 
This problem is sadly symptomatic of a much larger problem that has plagued our island for far too long. I strongly feel it is time to open our eyes and realize that the political influence of the Roman Catholic Church is the single and most destructive force operating upon our society. The ignorance of its policy towards contraception, takes on a much stronger form here, due to the church's unparalleled (in modern western states) and unwarranted influence on our governing system. 
It is time for reason to be used as the tool to determine policy. How long before members of the medical profession take a stand in the name of facts, data and reason, and pressure the health department to expediently initiate a proper and well informed campaign on condoms and their use. For that matter, the department of education should also stand to attention and realise that this is a failure of education, and in turn create a curriculum on sex education. Might I point out, that this should be done without any participation from the clergy. 
For those of you who perhaps see your religious belief under attack, I would like to make it clear, that if you choose to believe in fairy-tales, then that is your choice, but under no circumstance should fairy tales, whether believed or not, be allowed to hold influence over policy making directly. 
I urge you not to be scared, remember the last time this happened, we discovered that the earth rotates round the sun, and everything else that ensued. 

Gavin Attard
Via email


Home and away

Please refer to the article by Mr Matthew Vella, ‘Home and away’ in the MaltaToday issue of Sunday 8 June 2008.
For various reasons, my interview was not reported in its entirety. Coupled with this is the fact that the excerpts from my interview, are juxtaposed to comments and remarks made by the interviewing journalist. This obviously could lead to, saying the least, a certain amount of confusion and lack of clarity.
Not to take a lot of space and time, I will limit myself to just one point. In doing this I am prompted by a sense of responsibility and fairness. I am referring to the parts of the article where my predecessor, Mr Charles Buttigieg, is mentioned.
In the revised version of the interview transcript I had written down:
“I took over in July 2007. I was lucky in two ways. Firstly, my predecessor can be considered as the pioneer of refugee matters in Malta. Mr Charles Buttigieg, before becoming Refugee Commissioner in 2002, was local representative for UNHCR and he saw single-handedly to all the interviews and evaluations for many years. Secondly, because I was nominated Refugee Commissioner when it became obvious that this phenomenon (irregular migration) will be a yearly occurrence, and that therefore we should cater for it. So I found all the support that was needed from my superiors.”
Moreover when some figures were given comparing the first six months of 2007 to the first five (six) months of 2008, I introduced the statistics as follows:
“Owing to the fact that the staff complement has increased and we have had improved material resources and organisation, the number of closed cases for the first five months of 2008 went up to 808 compared to the 410 of the first six months of 2007...”
The above shows clearly that I sincerely believe that if the Office of the Refugee Commissioner is today showing positive results it is due to two main factors: the solid foundations given to the Office by Charles Buttigieg during his term, and the availability of human and financial resources, which were not previously available.
One must also remark that Charles Buttigieg has been asked, and has accepted, to continue giving his invaluable advice to this Office. Buttigieg, through his vast experience in refugee matters spanning various decades, has accumulated a thesaurus of wisdom and knowledge in this field, which is second to none in present day Malta. In fact Buttigieg has been advising me since my nomination and has also been seeing to the ongoing training and formation of the staff. This he has been doing at great personal sacrifice and all along he has always expressed his joy and satisfaction at seeing the various improvements being witnessed.
Thank you, Mr Buttigieg, and I sincerely hope that one day Malta will honour you for all the hard work that you have done over and beyond the call of duty.

Mario Guido Friggieri
Refugee Commissioner

Editorial note:
Mr Friggieri's comments are unfair. Mr Friggieri demanded to give MaltaToday a different set of answers once he saw the raw transcript of his own interview, which was supplied to him as a gesture of good will. After doctoring the transcript, MaltaToday agreed to include some of his amended replies in a bid to clarify his answers. His interview was generously amended within the constraints of time and space. As is the tradition with all MaltaToday's interviews, journalists engage and challenge their interviewees, not simply report them; which is why Mr Friggieri's answers were given the usual critical treatment. Matthew Vella has been covering asylum issues and legal developments in refugee law for the past five years.


UNHCR undermines Malta’s interests

I was shocked to read the revelation by Dr Michael Frendo, former foreign minister, that UNHCR had stopped the transfer of 400 refugees from Malta to Finland. First, I would like to thank Finland for realizing the scale of Malta’s problem. Other countries took a handful of our refugees; Finland offered to take a very substantial number. Secondly, I would like to ask Dr Frendo. Why did he not make the revelation when he was still Minister, and wait until he was eased out of that post? Of course, diplomacy has its obligations, but such a major attack on Malta’s national interests should have been outed before.
We keep being told about the three-pronged approach to the problem of illegal immigrants: border control, repatriation and burden-sharing. Now we find that a United Nations agency of which Malta is a member has been actively thwarting Malta’s efforts at having friendly countries share our burden. This is not the first time that UNHCR has acted against Malta’s interests. The report by Judge Franco Depasquale on the Hal Safi incidents of January 2005 states that the UNHCR representative in Rome, Dr Michele Manca de Nissa, who happened to be visiting Malta at the time, made two fiery speeches to the detainees the day after the incidents. Mr Charles Buttigieg, then Malta’s Refugees Commissioner, expressed his surprise that the UNHCR representative should have been so irresponsible in those difficult circumstances. The Depasquale Report should be compulsory reading for all those who want to understand the roots of the problem.
In addition, Laura Boldrini and Pablo Arditi, two UNHCR officers, have from time to time visited Malta and criticized the Maltese government before the press. My contacts assure me that this goes against the rules that United Nations staff members are expected to observe. This, of course, brings me to the most crucial question. Should UNHCR, which represents Member States, behave like an NGO? We have the best known example of Dr Neil Falzon, described as UNHCR representative or head of office in Malta. Should he not be Malta’s advocate before his organization on such a crucial matter as burden sharing? What was Dr Falzon’s role in the case revealed by Dr Michael Frendo of UNHCR blocking the transfer of refugees to Finland?

Malcolm Seychell
Birkirkara


Armier theatrics

If in the 8 March election there were no absolute winners, because the Labour party did not get the majority of votes, and the Nationalist party only just scraped the line to govern. The Armier squatters became the real winners in this election, after years and years of fighting against eviction from government land: i.e., prime land which belongs to the people.
I remember years back, when the government or its agencies had sent the army and the police force with heavy machinery to pull down these slums, but as everybody knew it was a fiasco for these forces as these were met by another force. Perhaps this was a mission which was intended to abort on arrival, because these slums had taken years to be built, but the authorities were happy to accommodate.
Few weeks after the election the people got to know that the squatters are going to stay and the illegality became legal overnight. To make matters worse I saw, with all due respect, our Prime Minister in a photo with these people.
The excuse this time was that it was found that many had already a title, and being supplied with electricity and water. In my opinion being supplied with electricity and water is no excuse at all. One can always cut these services to illegal premises, but if these became legal by having a title, this matter should not stop there, the government is in duty bound to know who gave that title, and the person or persons should be prosecuted. Could be that I am wrong, but am I wrong to say that the government should bring the matter up in Parliament when negotiating public land? This is not the first time that public land has been sacrificed, not very far away, but then made up by paying... as in this case, I suppose.
I say it again, after Armier there is Gnejna, White Rocks, St Thomas Bay... although perhaps at St Thomas Bay they are in private land. This squatting business should never be encouraged, if there is a need that this place should be built, it should be built in orderly way, and paid for the land they built on, because it is not true that these are boathouses, but villeggiatura.

Joseph Muscat
Mosta


Horrific Mistra project

Upon seeing the photomontages attached to the Mistra Village project article on Malta Today (8 June), one horrific doubt lingers on my mind. Are the residents of Katerina Vitale Street about to be buried alive? According to those photomontages, the residences of this street are about to be wrapped inside this enormously intensive development! Are these citizens not entitled to daylight and airspace? Please, all authorities concerned, take heed and more importantly... take action!

Brian Borg
Via email


Students paying the price

Without a doubt the university staff and unions should stand up for their rights.
Nevertheless, how come we are being made to pay the price of their disagreements? Furthermore, I am sure that not one student was asked his/her opinion as regard their results being delayed.
I believe that we have a right to get the results we worked hard for on time, especially considering the fact that we have played no part whatsoever in this dispute.
 
Alana Attard
By email

Mistaken student

I refer to Ursula Farrugia’s letter published on the 25th May, 2008. I would like to point out that I handed in my resignation as lecturer on the 22 July 2007, that is two months before the start of the current academic year. One hopes that Ms. Farrugia will carry out better research for her imminent examinations.

Dr Stephen Tonna Lowell
Via email


Tax on medicines

After all the promises before the election the new GonziPN government is hedging around to escape from these promises.
Now that the election is over and the Prime Minister is settling in Castille, he has got to face the problems ahead of us.
He just cannot blame it all on the price of oil or cereals – the signs were there all the time. The PN was so desperate knowing that they were losing the election that they promised everything to everyone - not only the Armier Squatters.
With the expense of Mater Dei now in full swing, Social Policy Minister John Dalli is already looking for means to reduce this huge expense And rightly so: free medical service is very costly and just before the election all doctors and nurses were given a raise. Free medicines are untouchable; however the cost is escalating astronomically.  I am not against free medicines but to give free medicines to all is not acceptable to me.  Here is an idea that can be introduced which will have a dual effect.
Medicines are now dispensed from private pharmacies, therefore I suggest that the government dispensary issues an invoice for each lot of medicines that are allocated to a patient. This way the patient will see the cost of those few boxes of medicines and maybe it will touch his/her sense of justice so as not to hoard them in some drawer.
The cost of the medicines will then be added to the Income Tax return of each individual. In this way the government would at least recover some tax on this benefit. After all even pensions are liable to income tax. So why should this benefit not be liable to tax? This will not hurt the lower income pensioners, but some tax will be recovered from those people that can afford it.
 
George P. Zammit
Via email

Scheduled and protected zones

I am writing this letter regarding a scheduled and protected zone of natural beauty which lies between Triq it-Tonn and the foreshore at St Paul’s Bay.
Residents feel frustrated by the fact that a developer continues to apply for development inside this area when several similar applications have been refused.
The fact that MEPA accepts such applications is absurd, because they should not even be considered in the first place, even more so when they have already been previously refused. Actually, heavy fees should be imposed on those who apply for development in scheduled and protected zones. Acceptance of such applications ultimately results in waste of time and resources because of procedures, board meetings, site inspections, preparation of reports etc. that MEPA has to perform. In fact on 16 May 2008 an Appeals Board is to decide on a similar application no. 04286 / 99.
If the suggestion mentioned above was applied, no time would be wasted and such boards could concentrate on other things, besides saving public money which could be utilised for better causes.
It seems that the developer is playing for time and waiting for the right opportunity. I wish to quote MEPA’s auditor Mr Joseph Falzon who said in a recent interview with a local newspaper: “He who has financial and political strength is already at an advantage as he has all the necessary means. In the majority the strength is economical as he has the means to make more pressure.”
Such a declaration should make one worry, because I believe that law and policies should be the same for all. It is not fair that developers, because of their economical strength, get what they want at the expense of others.
I would appreciate if the Prime Minister Dr Lawrence Gonzi, who is now responsible for MEPA and taking the environmental issue very seriously, would take personal interest and see that no development is permitted in this scheduled and protected site. Unless it is not for the benefit of the Maltese people (and not for a particular individual) applications inside these zones should not be considered outright and that due consideration should be given in the coming MEPA’s reform.

John Mifsud
St Paul’s Bay.


The secret history of Christianity

May I recommend a new book I have just read that correlates all the facts given in the Da Vinci Code? The book is titled “The Secret History of Christianity” and follows the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the 2000-year-old mystery of how the Church of Rome suppressed the marriage of Jesus, as portrayed in codes in the medieval paintings of Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci. 
The book follows the trail for the descendants of Jesus and then moves to the crusaders and the origins of the Knights Templars and how they were manipulated by their political arm: the Priory of Sion, which is still with us today. The narrative covers the French suppression of the Knights Templars and the Catharii people in the south of France which then follows through into investigations into the Holy Grail. The links between the Templars and Scottish history are outlined, which embraces a detailed description of the Templars’ discovery of America that happened 100 years before Columbus. The author spent a considerable time in the Lanquedoc researching the intriguing mystery of Rennes le Chateau and how the descendants of Mary Magdalene were integrated into the French nobility.
Lateral thinking in a chapter on alchemy puts forward a case that Saunière, the priest at Rennes le Chateau, got his wealth from alchemy but the author presents a case that he may have been blackmailing the Church of Rome. The author presents a good thesis for the theory that there are hidden codes in the medieval paintings of Leonard de Vinci and Botticelli. The book finishes with theories as to what may have happened to the Templar treasure, and ends with the author's conclusions to “The End Times”.
A must-read book for all enthusiasts of the Da Vinci Code. Hope your readers enjoy it as much as I did.

Majinka Brocklehurst
Lancashire, UK


Russian debts revisited

During the parliamentary sitting held on the 23 April 2007, Dr M Axiaq tabled question no. 25439 to Dr Austin Gatt, then Minister for Investments, Industry and Information Technology. The question tried to establish the progress achieved regarding efforts to recover the monies owed to Malta by Russia, in respect of the Timber Carriers built by the MDD for the Muscovite company Sudoimport, which at that point in time exceeded at least Lm45 million.
(The first question of a series of questions, was no. 5564, tabled by Dr Axiaq on the 6 May 2004.)
In parliamentary sitting no 519, held on 30 April 2007, Dr Austin Gatt replied that an answer would be given in the next sitting.
It is a good thing that I did not hold my breath waiting.
Other monies, amounts as yet not made public, are due to Malta from Russia. These include repayments under the Malta-Soviet Union trade Protocol of 1987-1990 and the Malta-Russia Trade Exchange Protocol of 1992. Interest accruing on these funds has no doubt increased the sum due considerably.
Recovering these huge amounts of monies would definitely give the Maltese economy a boost.
That Russia has the funds there is no doubt, given the fact that she has recently honoured her pledge to cancel U$2.2 billion dollars of debts of poor African nations.
What is keeping the government of the Russian Federation, as ‘State Continuer’ of the former Soviet Union, from honouring payment of the debt? Can the Russian ambassador to Malta inform us in lieu of the local authorities?
The arrogance shown by the authorities, which steadfastly refuse to inform us, the public, about the results of their efforts, if any are being made, in trying to recover this huge amount of money from the Russian nation, is incredible.
On the other hand they repeatedly request us taxpayers to make sacrifices which, more often than not, are a direct result of lack of good management compounded by a good dollop of incompetence.
The Maltese government should seriously get its act together and maximise its efforts in trying to recover this money or given the current scenario, obtain settlement in kind. Oil, petroleum products and allied derivatives would not be a bad idea.

Alfred W. Mifsud
Birkirkara


Gozo Republic

Knowing that the bus drivers do not accept the “Kartanzjan” in Gozo: does this mean that we are going to have different ways for running the bus service? Not forgetting that two weights, two measures is discouraging. It is a fact that Gozo has a high price for the Maltese visitor.

Michael Neville Cassar
By email


Parking at Naxxar Road, San Gwann

Every time I drive through Naxxar Road, San Gwann, close to the Police Station and not so far from MaltaToday’s offices, cars or even big vans are parked outside Aroma and Champs Pastizzeria, at the narrowest bottleneck of this main arterial road, allowing only one vehicle to pass upwards or downwards.
This road is meant to have two lanes, as the rest of the road.
Whilst traffic wardens patrol the rest of the street well, this dangerous spot is left permanently unchecked, even though, amazingly, it is right under the police’s nose.
Excuse me for pointing this out but something like this would not be tolerated in European civilized countries. I have lived there for a number of years, even passed a tough license test learning a proper highway code.
Hope some action will be taken.

Albert Cauchi
Via email


A LIDL disappointed

On Friday at 11am I received a flyer showing what's on sale at LIDL and the price. One hour later I went to the San Gwann outlet to get six of the items mentioned. Of these, only one was available. This happened to me on another occasion and when I enquired after the item I was told it was "finished", when these items were supposed to be on sale for a whole week.
It is clear that these flyers are being used as a bait to trap customers. Don't you think that the consumer is being taken for a ride by a foreign company? 

Joseph Micallef
San Gwann



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