Saviour Balzan | Sunday, 26 July 2009
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Let us discuss bathroom tiles

The three arguments I can think of right now, in the middle of this summer heat, are about as thrilling and electrifying as a discussion on whether the bathroom tiles should be grey or matt black.
With little else to talk about, surely the subjects have got to be: the parliamentary building according to Astrid Vella; TV programmes on TVM; and the plight of Dr Victor Scerri.
Let’s start with Astrid Vella’s take on Renzo Piano’s parliamentary building. Before kicking off, it has to be said that all this personal, intestinal flak aimed at Vella and her supporters from a truly disturbed blogger is not only disproportionate, but it goes to show what the Gonzi and Cachia Caruana creeps can do best. The fact that no one wants to stop it makes it all the more serious.
This habit of lynching anyone who is associated with Astrid is typical for ‘things’ with nothing better to do. Having said that, I cannot agree with Vella’s views on the parliamentary building and Piano’s plans.
It is not so much her views, but rather the fact that Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar should stick to its remit, and stop playing the role of government. If Astrid does not want a parliamentary building then she should find another forum to fly her flag... not an ecological group.
What does Astrid know about parliaments or theatres in the first place? The same could be said about myself or any other critic.
Yet the idea of having a grand building as parliament is not intrinsically wrong. Yes, yes, it will quench the thirst of Gonzi’s ego, but so what? Since when did Prime Ministers and politicians not have egos?
There is not one capital city in the world where a parliamentary building is not central or omnipotent to the rest of the city’s architecture.
Renzo Piano does to me what laxatives do to the human body. But that is not the point. I might not like Renzo Piano, but I love decisions. I am at a loss when I cannot take a decision. I am at my worst when I take no decisions. And I hate it when decisions are taken for me.
So if the Prime Minister does take a decision to go ahead with City Gate, I will give the nation my biggest smile, and I will hug Lawrence. Now that is saying something... even it means that we are throwing away millions of euros.
Lawrence should at least get Gatt – his erstwhile general – to commit as many small Maltese companies as possible on the project, and to avoid giving the lion’s share to the same companies.
Gonzi’s choice of Piano may not be our choice, but then again, that is what Prime Ministers are for. Anything that replaces the architectural chaos at City Gate would be a Godsend and a plus. Just like anything that replaces this present government would be a breath of fresh air.
It is true that most people state they do not like the idea of a parliament there. But when it comes to politics the Maltese are highly hypocritical. We all know how obsessed they all get about politics, and we all know that they appreciate parliament as the one place that brings together their representatives – whom they support and vote for in droves in every single national election.
Unfortunately, while Gonzi really believes he should invest all his energies into this project and this one building, the real focus should be on the working of parliamentarians: their salaries, secretarial support and ability to dedicate all their time to the workings in the House. Having an innovative building is only one side of the story.
But it is typical of Gonzi, to place all the importance on the image rather than the content. Hence the building itself: not its use or the capacity to maximise the use. The same could be said for Mater Dei. They finished a building without funds and if you really think that Mater Dei is offering a sterling service, have a chat with the medical professionals or the patient and write back with their feelings.
Nonetheless, on this one I really think Lawrence Gonzi should take a friggin’ decision, ignore all the Astrids of this world and get on with the project.
I know that some disturbed bloggers will be panting with joy, but so what? Who cares? The most important thing is that our capital city will look better and our Prime Minister will be a happy man – he may even call it a day and give us a splendid break.
Go for it, Lawrence, I am behind you on this one!

What? Reporter!
Now we all know the disparaging attack on this newspaper by The Sunday Times was orchestrated by someone at PBS, and more importantly, from someone in government.
That should not be too surprising. The people (well known for their political links) who represent The Sunday Times would very much like MaltaToday to be past history.
That the Sunday Times, which today serves as Castille’s official Pravda, tries to spin stories is very predictable. What is not clear to most readers – but is very clear to the editor of that newspaper, Steve Mallia – is that the story was timed purposely when negotiations were at hand for the next edition of Reporter.
It is now evident that PBS, chaired by the politically appointed Claire Thake-Vassallo, will be doing its utmost to end the seven-year-old Reporter. Thake-Vassallo is a very decent person on a one-to-one basis, but I cannot understand why most of the things she expresses in private never get implemented when she gets to board level. In management and business, we have a description for such things.
Losing Reporter is no great loss: in the last months the editorial board at PBS, chaired by political appointee Joe Pirotta, urged the programme to be less controversial and to focus on issues which were in my view best suited for the Fsobian society.
I only wish Pirotta would use his perceived measure of fairness in the same calculating manner when analysing local newspapers on Campus FM.
In the last month, every slight feather that has ruffled the government led to a rebuke from the board, which served more like a Broadcasting Authority than a board. Indeed, Pirotta’s biggest problem is that he is more Catholic than the Broadcasting Authority.
The next consideration against Reporter is Natalino Fenech, the politically appointed PBS Head of News: someone who is highly mistrusted by the Opposition, and rightly so, as his litany of carefully edited and selected news items will attest.
Again, most readers will not realise how controlled PBS is. But then they can always read this column for a reality check.

Resign and be damned
Victor Scerri as we all know has resigned, hours after suggesting he would not.
And everyone, it is said, has expressed their deepest solidarity with him, that beautiful expression of concern you often hear at funerals and other unfortunate episodes in one’s life.
The Maltese have a wonderful habit of inviting you to their home by saying “ejja oqghod”. It is of course not intentional, and never meant literally. Most people would very much hope that you do not suddenly appear on their doorstep with a sleeping bag.
Scerri will be inundated with ‘rogue’ sympathy calls. Yet Scerri should be told that his political career is now over.
Shrinks and psychologists would describe such an attitude as being in denial. Truth is, it is highly unlikely Scerri will ever climb back into politics – with all the kind souls surrounding Gonzi, there is little realistic chance of a comeback.
Yet the most surprising thing in this whole saga is the Prime Minister and MEPA’s apparent inability to be accountable. If Scerri had a good enough reason to resign, I am sure that someone in MEPA should also be held responsible. In a normal scenario, it would be Austin Walker, the executive chairman. But then again, any suggestion that Walker – a former colleague of Gonzi – should “walk” is in itself a sacrilege.
Why should the chairman resign? The clerk, the receptionist and the cleaner, yes, but the chairman, no.
The other person who might perhaps consider resigning is the Prime Minister’s representative on the MEPA board. But then, he too is a nice guy, and the proposal that he should even entertain the idea is to be considered blasphemous.
Having said this, I guess the people at Castille would love to see Robert Musumeci resign from the party; or better still re-enact the steps of a disgraced Japanese businessman, and take that family Samurai sword and shove it right there under the navel.
Victor Scerri had every right to a dream house at Bahrija. I would not want a house there myself, but I know 400,000 other individuals on this island who would. The fact that they do not already have a place there is only because they do not have the cash, the good luck and the land.
Like all other public figures, Scerri’s decisions, likes or dislikes, are open to public scrutiny. The fact that the works at Bahrija came at a time of an election, and just before the MEPA reform, made it all the juicier for the media and critics.
I would like to feel sorry for Victor. But I feel sorrier for all the critics of Bahrija, who seem to have forgotten that the man who is politically responsible for MEPA has once again exited the arena unscathed.
And then they say that God is not Nationalist!

Energy drinks for Labour
Just in case anyone is wondering why I am not hitting out at Joseph Muscat et al, is because Labour have decided to take a long holiday until the next election, and is in permanent hibernation.
The Labour party reminds me of that man or woman who do not have the gall to face the music and tell things to each other’s face and instead resort to using an SMS.
I dread SMSes – they are impersonal, hasty and have no face. The Labour party is doing the same – it is wasting all its energy and time on reports and press declarations, which are as impersonal and faceless as SMSes.


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