Raphael Vassallo | Sunday, 25 January 2009

The PN? Not consulted? Jeepers...

Great. Utterly fantastic, I must say. So the United States of America gets Barack Obama as President, and at the same time we get... George Abela.
Hmmm. I don’t know, but is it possible that there was some kind of mix-up somewhere? That the US should really have got Abela, while we got Barack?
No? Are you sure? Not even the teeniest, weeniest little chance in hell...? OK, never mind. It was a nice idea anyway... for the 3.5 nano-seconds it actually lasted...

But back to the undisputed centre of the Universe, and of course everybody and his puppy dog is positively elated at the news that the next President of the Republic was chosen from the Opposition ranks for the first time ever. Yes indeed, folks: a Nationalist Prime Minister appointing a Labour President. Who on earth could possibly object to such unprecedented magnanimity? And who on earth would argue against the choice of a man who had opposed going for early elections in 1998, and who – had he been successful back then – would effectively have derailed any hope of Malta ever joining the European Union in the first place?
Who on earth, that is, except... the entire Nationalist Party parliamentary group?

Ouch. OK, so let me see if I’ve understood correctly: Lawrence Gonzi actually gets something right for a change, and what do you know? He also succeeds in seriously (but seriously) pissing off his entire backbench, and arguably the entire Nationalist party grassroots to boot.
This, at any rate, is the impression given by the media – including, but not limited to, this fine specimen of newspaper – and while the precise goings-on within the Nationalist Parliamentary group remain a jealously guarded secret to all but the initiated few, the groundswell discontent was such that it occasionally erupted into high-pitched whines of pious indignation.
David Agius – government whip – lashed out the loudest: “I’m expecting 100% consultation on the issue (of choice of EU Commissioner), unlike what happened with the choice of president,” he told our Midweek edition last Wednesday. Later, he added: “I am 100% sure that the PM got the message and I have backing of the entire parliamentary group.”
(Agius, you see, is not one for 50% measures...)

Equally incensed was a certain Jeffrey Orlando Furioso. No rivers of tears this time round, but he made a heck of a lot of noise on XFM... where he pointed out, among numerous other observations, that there was “consensus” within the parliamentary group that Gonzi should have consulted his minions, instead of letting them get to know his decision from the Sunday papers.
All in all, then, it seems that the parliamentary group unanimously concluded that a decision of such magnitude, and on such an important State matter – and which, incidentally, may be of direct concern to their own political careers – should not have been taken behind their collective backs.

Gee. How sad. Nationalist MPs, presented with a fait accompli? Honestly, I can’t tell you how many pints of blood my heart is currently bleeding for the victims of this grave injustice. But while the PN backbenchers are busy wailing, gnashing their teeth and commiserating each other on this affront to their political sensitivities, they might consider looking on the bright side for a change.

You see, after this bitter experience, 100% of the PN parliamentary group suddenly finds itself uniquely positioned to understand what the rest of us – including all the people they supposedly represent in parliament – have been complaining about for decades.
They might now actually empathise for a change, when citizens awake one fine morning to discover that their quiet little neighbourhood has suddenly been earmarked for a mega-construction project of colossal proportions... condemning them all to years of discomfort and intrusive disturbance, and occasionally even exposing them to risk of life and limb... only to radically alter their entire way of life once the project is complete.
By the same token, perhaps the PN parliamentary group will now appreciate people’s anger and resentment, each time they are promised “consultation” over any of a dozen different developments to affect them directly – anything from traffic management plans, to the licensing of entertainment spots in residential areas, to the extension of cemeteries, to the relocation of a pig-farm on their doorstep, etc. – only to discover that the time period for registering their complaints (made public by means of a skilfully hidden announcement in the Government Gazette, and nowhere else) had elapsed several years earlier.

Or how about the residents of Qui Si Sana? You know, the ones who last year were confronted with irrefutable evidence that Mepa had already quietly approved the controversial Fort Cambridge project... long before actually taking a vote during a “public consultation” exercise?
Even earlier, there was the strange case of the tenant farmers of Manikata: informed, from one day to the next, that the government had suddenly lost all intention of ever renewing their ancestral tithes to the land... simply because Gonzi one day dreamed of turning the entire area into a golf course. (It seems the Manikata farmers were not the only ones to find this life-changing project sprung upon them unawares. So did all Malta’s scientific and environmental pundits, and when they found out about it they rubbished the idea so thoroughly and emphatically, that Gonzi had to sheepishly withdraw it some time later).

Then there are the Marsaskala residents, who were promised consultation after consultation over the Sant’ Antnin waste management plant, but instead got nothing more than a public briefing to inform them of an irreversible decision which had already been taken. And at a stretch, the same could also be said for the extensive “consultation” that took place before government decided to spend around €1 billion of taxpayers’ money to build Mater Dei Hospital... only to belatedly discover what some taxpayers would willingly have informed them for free, had they ever bothered to ask. I.E., that while the country might have afforded a one-off Lm300,000 construction bill – and even that is debatable – it simply can’t afford the Lm1 million a week required to keep the same hospital running. (As it happens, our Minister for Health – or was that Hell? – has just informed us that they can’t even afford to pay the €30 million owed to medicine suppliers. But more of this astonishing revelation some other time...)

And on it goes, until just last month: when the entire country awoke to the news that Prime Minister Gonzi, in yet another case of Divine Inspiration, had unilaterally decided to build a parliament on the site of the former opera house, slap bang at the entrance to Valletta... and, oh look: no public consultation; no discussion; no debate; no exhibition of designs (which, by the way, haven’t even been drawn up yet); no consideration of alternative proposals for the same site... and no acknowledgement whatsoever of the many, many objections to this ghastly fait accompli.
Instead, we have Renzo Piano already taking measurements on site... evidence, if any were still needed, that the Prime Minister intends to get this show on the road as quickly as possible, despite the fact that a clear majority is now against it.

So coming back to the poor Nationalist parliamentary group, still beating its breast and bemoaning the grave injustice of having been left in the dark over the choice of next President, and... well... there is a question I just have to ask.
Do you actually like the taste of your own medicine, now that you’ve had a little forced down your own throats?
No, somehow I didn’t think you would, either...


One last observation before leaving President George Abela to assume office, snug in the knowledge that his appointment has outraged an estimated 100% of the PN parliamentary group (way to go, George!)
If media speculation is anything to go by – and I am the first emphasize the dimensions of the “if” in question – it seems that the dissenters’ objections are based on three fundamental pillars.
1) That George Abela is a (jaqq!) Laburist;
2) That the post had previously been offered to Louis Galea, who is now understandably aggrieved, and;
3) That the time-honoured tradition of kicking an incumbent Cabinet minister upstairs to the presidency would have automatically freed up a ministerial portfolio, to be promptly nabbed by one of their own number.

Well, sorry to have point out the obvious, but... is the PN parliamentary group aware of the supremely ugly implications of the above objections? (Or at least, numbers 1 and 3)? Because, from where I’m standing, it looks for all the world as though Lawrence Gonzi has finally tried to deliver – albeit six years too late – on his original promise of a “new way of doing politics”; only to discover that his own party would much rather if he stuck to the old way instead.
It also reminds of the rumours – quite frankly I’ve never found out whether they were true or not – that former Prime Minister Dom Mintoff had resolved to resign government after the 1981 election result... but was prevented from doing so by his own parliamentary group.

All things told, then, it’s a pity Malta still lacks a divorce court. Otherwise, I suspect the first unhappy couple to file for a divorce would be none other than “GonziPN”... citing fundamental incompatibility as the main reason.


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