In this small country of ours, we often find ourselves wondering whether we have any concept of common good, or as it is more commonly known – public good. Some of you might say that we have a social welfare system that, despite its many faults, ensures that a common good of sorts prevails in our country – and from that perspective, it is indeed the case.
It is sorely lacking, however, when it comes to our own pockets, especially where land and environment are concerned. We quickly forget all semblance of common decency to our fellow man when we can make the quick buck. “Don’t be stupid – tear down that old building and build a block of fletisjiet.”
Similarly, we are encouraged to believe by our political parties of all shades of red and blue (don’t be naïve enough to think one is morally superior to the other) that everything is a fait accompli. From Żonqor to Paceville, we are told that investments are for the good of us all. Mammon, before all else. Our economy is booming. Joblessness is in free fall. We are in an economic golden age. Or a dystopia – depends which side you’re on…
Unless you are awake of course. Because, you see, what most of us alive have experienced in the past generation is a swift decline in quality of life. Our GDP has grown beyond our wildest dreams – but who, indeed, is enjoying this economic boom? Most of us are not earning wonderful wages… (Unless we work in the gambling industry, of course, moral qualms put aside).
Our environment is in precipitous decline. We are often told that an area is ‘shabby’ and in need of ‘refurbishment’ and before you know it, its character or rurality is gone for good. Countryside villas for the elite, disguised as ‘agritourism projects’ are currently being built or are planned. Past illegalities are given amnesty, even though it encourages future illegalities. Ziggurat-like structures adorn the once stark and beautiful hills of Xemxija, which now looks like a half-finished child’s lego project.
We dream of high-rise towers as if they’re the way to go, so we close an eye, “because all other countries have it”. We strew our green areas with rubbish because it’s not our problem, it seems, and we mismanage our dwindling green areas. Yet, despite all this mismanagement we talk about “land reclamation” (land reclamation – from what?). Shouldn’t we learn to manage our land before building new land in the sea and choking marine life?
Aren’t open spaces a common good? And by open spaces we are not referring to concrete spaces with some swings, but real green, breezy open spaces that don’t feel as confining as your summer flat-block shaft. Don’t we all deserve a healthy environment, where we all have a place to roam, perhaps even a place where we can find Malta’s scarcest resource – silence? Don’t we deserve a healthy biodiversity, and more green in our country? Don’t we deserve to protect the heritage that our forefathers have left us?
Can we stop looking back to the past and long for a nostalgic Malta that once was, and look forward to a Malta that can be liveable, and beautiful? Perhaps not, given current trends. I shudder to think of all the beauty we have lost in the past few decades. We must never give up hoping for a better future, but unless we reclaim a sense of common decency to one another in the most contested resource in Malta – land – then we are only deluding ourselves.
I shudder to think that Malta, the supposed jewel of the Mediterranean, is being led by a political elite hell-bent on turning us into an ugly imitation of places like Dubai and Singapore, which most would agree are pretty soulless or artificial places to live in given they had little in way of identity prior to the late 1970s.
Beware of the wealthy member of the elite class promising trickle-down wealth. At most, we can only expect a few drops from the cornucopia of abundance that they enjoy, which few to none of us can ever aspire to achieve in a country with very limited space, and in a planet with finite resources. Quoting Laudato Sì, we are called to “Care for Our Common Home”, not aspire to take all we can from it and leave a depleted, poor imitation of our inheritance to the generations to come.