Sociologist, Local Councillor, Activist from Malta

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The Zonqor Consensus - Michael Briguglio

Times of Malta, 8 January 2018

Last year was a very dark year for Maltese politics. Of course, it had its winners, most notably Joseph Muscat and the Labour Party. Malta also witnessed economic growth and other positive indicators. But the general aura was negative, confrontational and divisive. The brutal murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia cast a cloud of depression, disbelief, sadness and despair among many people.
At the same time, a recent survey in the newspaper Malta Today showed the majority of Maltese people have a positive outlook for 2018. Surely, this is a major challenge for the Nationalist Opposition. It must serve as a strong opposition particularly on issues which are crying for change, such as corruption, transport and security.
But it should also not appear as a nagging spoilsport amid the Labour celebration. It should also show that one other side of glad majorities is made up of people living precarious lives.
The PN should also take a leaf out of its past successes and of Labour’s own media strategy by focusing hard on how to set the agenda. By this I am not only referring to the agenda in media bubbles, but also to the plural agendas of people in their everyday lives.
In this regard the PN started off the new year with a sound political move that can help bring internal and external consensus on issues with wide public support.
Essentially, the PN is calling for the transfer back of public ODZ land in Żonqor, Marsascala. The land is currently being leased to Jordanian investors for the construction of part of the private American University of Malta.
The other part of the university, which is situated in Cospicua, has so far been a spectacular failure. It has a grand total of 15 students, and the promised lucrative jobs to academics are crumbling. Hence, it is only logical to argue that Malta should not sacrifice ODZ land for what increasingly looks like a white elephant. Indeed, why on earth should a university be developed on the coast on protected land?
This is why the Front Ħarsien ODZ, environmental NGOs and Opposition parties protested against the original plan for a university on Żonqor in the biggest-ever environmental protest, in 2015, resulting in the reduction of the area of ODZ development.
Now the government can go a step further and agree with the PN’s parliamentary motion and declare the reopening of negotiations so as to reclaim the public land in question.
Indeed, wouldn’t it be great if 2018 started off with a sign of goodwill from politicians from all parties, environmental NGOs, local councillors and the public so that the area in question became part of the National Inwadar Park?
We’ll wait and see.
Hopefully, some Labour parliamentarians will be ready to discuss this within their party’s parliamentary group.
Not that the Labour Party has given them time to reflect on the PN’s proposal. Its communications office immediately reacted to the news by saying that the Nationalists were “hijacked by negative people” and that the AUM should start with the campus in Cospicua.
I cannot see what is negative about the Nationalist proposal, but I do see that the Labour reply does offer space for manoeuvre without losing face.
It would be a win-win situation if Malta really had another successful university and if this did not require the destruction of ODZ land for its success.
As far as I know, it is academic criteria and sustainability that dictate the success of a university, and not panoramic sea views.
The Żonqor issue is showing that the Opposition has a vital role to play in 2018. It can also show that coalitions of the willing can be formed on specific issues for the common good. God forbid that political parties and civil society agree on every issue: this is usually the stuff of dictatorships under the premise of false consensus.
But consensus on specific issues characterised by win-win scenarios could and should be pursued.

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