Sociologist from Malta

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mosquitoes, rats and governance

Michael Briguglio

The Times Friday, 26th November 2010

A letter of mine regarding a mosquito infestation was published in The Times a few days ago.

Basically, I said that a building site of Montebello Brothers in Depiro Street, Sliema is full of stagnant water and mosquitoes. There were also reports of dangerous tiger mosquitoes, which have not been denied by the authorities. Residents are justly complaining about the situation in view of the precarious state of the unbuilt deep excavations at the site where the former Galaxy Hotel was situated.
Now, the situation is even worse. The site is infested by rats.

The total disregard of the interests of residents by Montebello Brothers is there for all to see. Indeed, the Depiro Street pavement has remained occupied by concrete slabs; the whole area is an unsightly mess (including the developed part).

The area is a total eyesore and an example of weak environmental governance. Part of the pavement has been occupied by concrete slabs for years to the detriment of pedestrians, something I had protested about when I was local councillor in Sliema. During my local council years, I also used to protest day in day out about the working hours of the developers, who frequently used to start working before the permitted time. In this particular instance, and many phone calls to the planning authority later, my protests did manage to stop the developers from working at such inconvenient hours.

The mosquito problem is causing a serious health hazard. Residents have shown me their mosquito bites. My two-year-old son was also affected as he was bitten in his face, arms and legs.

We have to wait and see as to how the rats will add to the misery of the neighbourhood.

I support and endorse the pressure being made by the Sliema local council both on the developers and on the authorities with regard to the precarious situation in the former Galaxy site and I can confirm that at least one councillor – Julian Galea – is working on the issue. A Nationalist MP, Edwin Vassallo, has also tabled a parliamentary question on the hazardous state of this building site and, consequently, legal action has been initiated against the developers. But I would expect the government to take immediate action to improve the state of this building site now because the situation is getting worse by the day. The government should also have prevented this health hazard from occurring in the first place. With regard to the Sliema local council, unfortunately, there is not much more it can do.
The truth is that, with all the talk of decentralisation and subsidiarity, local councils have limited powers and they function at the mercy of government ministries and authorities.

The ex-Galaxy issue is a symbol of the abuse and total lack of respect of residents’ rights by some big developers. This is, of course, not an isolated case as many building sites in various localities pose threats to the health and safety of residents and often disturb entire neighbourhoods.

All this shows the government is indeed very weak when it comes to governance over matters dealing with construction and development. There is a lot of lip-service in this regard but, in practice, developers are allowed to have their way. Look at the debris and loose stone left lying about near construction sites. Look at the cynical way in which they “cover” the works using tattered and over-used green fabric. The lack of enforcement on building regulations is hardly surprising as the Nationalist
Party benefits from the support of construction magnates. This is also true of Labour; so don’t expect any better from this party.

I assume ministers and parliamentarians are already knocking on the doors of Sliema residents in the routine vote-fishing exercise which, once again, totally disregards electoral legislation on expenditure for electoral campaigns. Unfortunately, it is shameless mediocrity that is resulting in the abysmal situation that Sliema residents are facing.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I must say Sliema residents have the elected representatives they deserve because, after all, it is the same residents who elected them. I wonder whether residents tell ministers or MPs the same things they say to me when they stop me in the street to complain about the mess Sliema is in.

As an unelected politician, I can’t do more than lobby within the public sphere, which, for example, I am doing even through this article.

Yet, I can assure readers that, if elected, the Greens will not tolerate such abuse from developers. Our local councillor in Attard, Ralph Cassar, is a living example of constant defence of residents’ rights.

Indeed, residents have a precious tool – the vote – which can be used if change is really warranted If you don’t want the Greens in elected posts, so be it. But then don’t complain if you experience some rat salad…
The author is chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green part

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