Dad, sociologist, local councillor, drummer, columnist from Malta

Monday, August 22, 2016

Where is the consultation?

Some old Labour nostalgics argue that Joseph Muscat is very different from Dom Mintoff. Their narrative states that Mintoff looked to the political left while Muscat looks to the right. Mintoff gave primacy to social justice, Muscat is in the pockets of big business. And so forth.
I think that things are not so clear-cut. Yes, there are differences between Mintoff’s and Muscat’s respective Labour parties. For example, Muscat has opened up to various middle-class concerns. Gone are the days of the glorification of boiler suits and workerist relics. Though one can also argue that it was Mintoff’s Labour government that constructed the middle class in the first place.
Yet, to say that Mintoff’s Labour had no relationship with big business is far beyond the truth. This narrative is so typical of socialist mythology of some golden age of socialism, which, in reality, never existed. Society is never so simple.
The similarities between Mintoff and Muscat are prominent in their top-down leadership styles. The leader and his team are seen as the enlightened supreme decision-making body. Some members of this team might have disproportionate influence, as was the case with Lorry Sant in the 1970s and 1980s and Konrad Mizzi today.
This Mintoffian hangover is indeed present in Malta today, even though we are living in an age of multilevels of power, ranging from the global to the European, from the national to the local and from the party political to civil society.
I would like to mention some recent examples of the top-down decision-making culture under today’s Labour government.
The similarities between Dom Mintoff and Joseph Muscat are prominent in their top-down leadership styles
Due to lack of space, and for the sake of consistency, all examples involve the Transport Ministry/Transport Malta combination. These cases also involve democratically-elected local councils which, incidentally are made up of different political representations. In all cases, the government practically ignored local councils.
First: Ta’ Xbiex – Transport Malta imposed new traffic arrangements which, in many cases, led to a tight bend bang in the middle of a quiet residential area. The mayor of the locality made it clear that his local council was not involved in this traffic diversion.
Second: Mellieħa – The Transport Ministry wants to establish a floating water fun park at Golden Bay. A tender has been issued by the government and the Mellieħa local council only got to know about it after it was published. The locality’s mayor has expressed his opposition to this and has called for the commissioning of proper studies before the plan proceeds. NGOs have also raised concern on the environmental repercussions of further commercialisation of this blue-flag beach.
Third: Sliema – In the past months I had the opportunity to write about the lack of enforcement against drivers dangerously zig-zagging on the bus lane and on the parking fee situation at the public car park at the Ferries.
It would be much better if such fees are collected by the local council and used for public needs rather than by individual parkers. In both cases, the Transport Ministry acts as if local concerns are inexistent.
Sliema now has to bear the brunt of another unwise decision by the Transport Ministry/Transport Malta: the permanently orange traffic lights at the Ferries. This is confusing drivers and pedestrians alike in what has become a dangerous free-for-all situation on this busy road.
Transport Malta has been alerted to this and its official justification has to do with the Kappara road project. Fair enough but, again, why not consult with the Sliema and Gżira local councils?
Just a few days ago, a 26-year old man was hit by a car on this road and he passed away a few days later. I hope this has nothing to do with the new traffic lights arrangement.
I could go on and on with other examples in other sectors.
It is very unfortunate that subsidiarity and consultation are not being given importance by a government that was supposed to be one that listens.
Well, it might be listening to pre-electoral lobbies and to the people high up the party ladder but it really needs to pay more attention to the proposals, concerns and views of democratically-elected local councils and civil society.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Mid-summer political reflections in Malta

(Appears in Malta Today as Labour – bad governance and all – is winning the strategic game, 18 August 2016)

I believe that as things stand, Labour will cruise to victory in the upcoming general elections in Malta. 

Joseph Muscat's government and party is using winning tactics, the economy is doing relatively well, and the opposition is not seducing voters' imagination.

The PN is missing the wood for the trees in basic consistuency issues like Sliema's overdevelopment.  Simon Busuttil is busy doing everything but mobilizing his consistuents. Genuine Nationalist councillors and activists in Sliema who are speaking up for residents are conspicuous by their solitude within the PN ranks. And many Nationalists have already given up on the chances of winning the next election. 

From what I see the PN is attempting to look 'new' by focusing on soft issues like animal welfare and sports, but is not daring to confront established oligarchs. One can say that the PL is doing this too - but the PL is also adopting many liberal (and popular) issues and is governing over good economic results, albeit characterised by social inequalities and questions of sustainability. Electorally, Labour's strategy seems to be paying off. 

The small parties, AD and PD, very often speak truth to power and have no political debts to big business interests. But both have very little chance of parliamentary election, though this could change with pre-election coalitions: something which has its opportunities and risks, yet which nobody seems to want. 

As things stand, the power of AD and PD is based on the 'threat' of winning votes which could go elsewhere. This is no small power, but maybe one should investigate other electoral strategies too. And AD's relative successes in local council elections should be built upon.

Within the social media there are all sorts of opinions about what is to be done in Malta. Some opinions represent widely-shared concerns on different issues or the general political scenario. 

Others are not so representative, despite their vociferous claims. Some critics of the big two parties find it very easy to criticize the small ones, yet somehow shy away from being active themselves in party politics. Some also speak of the need of some radical socialist messiah or some right wing populist to clean Malta up. Let's not go there please, unless we are delving into fiction. Politics takes place within a context. And I see no magical encounter which will suddenly displace the 2 party system. This could produce a nice novel though. 

Labour - bad governance and all - is winning the strategic game. It has so far managed to survive the Panama Papers scandal and other bad governance issues ranging from the new power station to social networks in politics and big business. 

Maybe most voters in Mediterranean Malta do not really give prime importance to such issues. Or maybe Simon Busuttil's opposition is not credible.

In the meantime, Labour is hinting at some progressive social measures in the upcoming budget. And I wouldn't be surprised if the Government finds reasons to stop some controversial development projects. This would be a political masterstroke which once again would outdo the current PN's slow, bland and unimaginative way of things.

Of course, a week is a long time in politics, and many things can happen before 2018. We will wait and see. 

Before someone rushes to conclusions, I am not a Labourite and I have no intention of contesting the upcoming general elections.  I  leave front-line party politics to others who are specialized in the field, and I am saying this out of respect. I prefer being active the way I am: as a Green local councillor, a progressive civil society activist and a public sociologist.

Happy summer to everyone!

More info on Malta election results: