So, in amongst the daily litany of some new scandal or two and the general dysfunction of a failing state, news of collapsing buildings has hit the headlines over the last few weeks. When the first block of flats collapsed, our prime minister and various others were quick to point out - from a very defensive position, I thought - that this event couldn’t be used to characterise the building industry as a whole. Also, third parties were hectored and told that they needed to chase any concerns themselves with a lawyer, an architect, the BRO...
After 9 years of being back in Malta, I don’t think I can ever say any more that I feel angry about a specific situation. I feel angry every day. I have been angry every day for years now. I don’t imagine that being angry is good for your health so I vent on Facebook and write a blog or two to release that anger.
I also can never say now that I am ever surprised or shocked as I learn about some new abusive, perverse administrative system.
I am pretty good at extrapolating. So clearly if we endured abuse as a result of the Maltese utility billing system, the ACL billing system, the discrimination against mobile teachers, the free for all private rental sector..., of course I am not going to be surprised that the rot extends everywhere into all spheres of every day life in Malta.
Did people listening to the prime minister as he swung the responsibility on to the victim think ‘this is not acceptable’? Did people notice this? Or is it that they don’t understand that this is not normal behaviour of a prime minister?
The idea that we shouldn’t worry about the aberration, the minority because it is an aberration or a minority..., - when did this become acceptable? Or has it always been acceptable because people tend to be complacent and smug about how their lives and the lives of their families will always be hunky dory?
Stop making a fuss - It’s only 20% of the population who are tenants. Stop making a fuss - it’s only 3.5% of Teachers of Maths and Maltese who are being treated unfairly. Stop making a fuss - only a few teachers have lost out on tens of thousands of euro in salary payments.
Why do we have a government at all, if this is the case? Is it acceptable for an administration to only look after the majority, the non aberration? Are we happy with having mob rule?
And then - just like that - the prime minister and everyone else changed their tune as the first collapse was followed by another collapse of a Mellieha block of flats and then another collapse in a wall on another Hamrun block of flats.
We also had Janet Walker - one of the victims - who had documented the cracks in the walls, her concern at the shaking of the building. In fact this was a news item on national television on the 10th May. She consulted an architect at her own expense. She followed the warped system as the PM told her to. Where did it get her? Did it stop the wall collapsing? Did it stop her and all the occupants of the block becoming homeless overnight and losing all their belongings in the process?
So the government changed its tune to 'this is now not an aberration, not a minority'. Now many people are living in fear. We’ve got to do something now because this is the majority.
Malta desperately needs administrative systems that work, that make sense, that do not leave anybody by the wayside, especially literally by the wayside.
Nowhere else was this abnormal behaviour of successive administrations more evident than with the story of the Vella family who suffered the trauma of the death of their mother in the collapse of a Sliema block of flats NINETEEN YEARS ago. They’re still in court and they’ve been billed for court costs of 9000 euro. The compensation awarded to them for this unimaginable pain and suffering? The criminal court fined each of the contractors 4000 euro. The civil court case fined the contractors 40 000 euro.
The reason for the collapse of this block of flats NINETEEN YEARS ago? Why, this was attributed to the contractors breaking the law and cutting the foundations without leaving a mandatory two and a half feet away from the third party property.
In the photos of the Mellieha collapse of a few weeks ago you can see there is NO two and a half feet gap between the collapsed building and the excavation.
What stands out for me from over the last few years is that people around th world seem to have lost the art of putting themselves in the shoes of others. Could it be that as these people have become richer, as we have less and less meaningful interactions with each other, the ability to feel empathy with others is being lost? If so, this is dangerous. Not just for the people in trouble. But for everyone. Because life is unpredictable. Who knows when trouble will hit next? If we don't even show solidarity with arbitrary people who overnight have lost their homes and all their belongings in such an arbitrary fashion, will there be anyone left to speak for us when troubles come for us?