The widespread dismay greeting the plans to build a McDonalds’ outlet on undeveloped land in Żabbar, the outcry about turning agricultural land in Żejtun into an extended industrial zone and the alarm about large fuel stations gobbling up ODZ areas are all due to one reason – the decreasing amount of open space.

There is a justified feeling that there are too many incursions on ODZ land, that urban sprawl is out of control and that the strategic open gaps between towns and villages is disappearing. Even groups which are not automatically associated with the environmental lobby – such as fireworks enthusiasts and hunters – are acknowledging the fact that the obliteration of the countryside spells the death knell of their traditions and pastimes.

The lack of coherent policies encouraging clustering, the elastic interpretation of others to allow development even in rural areas and the fact that there are policies which allow for building high-rises without freeing up footprint, means that we are heading for a situation where Malta resembles the walled City of Kowloon. It is no exaggeration to say that a policy review is needed to prevent this happening.

So this week I walked into Valletta to find three differently-sized cow sculptures balanced on top of each other. On closer inspection it turned out that this was one of a series of installations set up for Valletta 2018. The installations are the literal translation of Maltese proverbs into a sculptural format.

There is a justified feeling that there are too many incursions on ODZ land

There are others dotted around Valletta – ranging from a pig without a tail to a giant hand holding a chick. The sculptures are quirky, smile-inducing and can serve to instil curiosity about Maltese proverbs in a much more attractive way than forcing students to study them by rote. I wasn’t quite prepared for the sound telling-off I received when I said so. The sculptures were dismissed as vulgar, unimaginative and appealing only to uncultured yobs. I suppose I have to rank with the many uncultured yobs in continuing to love the installations and maintaining that this hypercritical, stroppy dismissal of anything which appeals to a wide audience is ultimately self-defeating.

The case of Victoria – the seven-year-old Nigerian girl who was found dead some weeks ago – is a heartbreaking one. It’s also one which imparts a lesson about the dangers of rushing to judgement before verifying all the facts. In the early hours after Victoria’s death was reported, the only facts that were published in the media amounted to the following. Firstly, that a Nigerian child had been found dead in unexplained circumstances. Secondly, that she had been living in premises owned by a religious order. These meagre facts were enough to fuel a social media frenzy and wild allegations about the cause of death.

The authorities were accused of a cover-up for not revealing “the truth” at once. They were accused of being heartless and for allowing a vulnerable member of society to fall through the cracks. Somehow, word got out that Victoria starved to death and a shudder of self-revulsion rippled through Maltese society. In a country where fast food outlets will soon outnumber trees, where gargantuan meals are in the norm and where brides sue caterers because wedding guests only devoured 1kg of food (an actual court judgment delivered this week), the thought of someone starving to death is unheard of. The collective breast-beating and mea culpas grew louder. Everybody got a little bit of blame – from allegedly hypocritical Catholic people who were not willing to succour the weak, to cold, unfeeling officialdom which had not responded quickly enough to cries for help, and the not-so-subtle insinuation that racism had also been at play.

Following the postmortem, the cause of Victoria’s death was published. It resulted that she died of aplastic anaemia – a rare blood disorder. In half, the cases the cause of this disorder is unknown. It can develop quickly and it can be brief. It may also become chronic or lead to death. Many of the symptoms of aplastic anaemia resemble those of other illnesses, making it difficult to diagnose. The disease is not caused by malnutrition.

The accusations made fit into the narrative of the evil, powerful establishment ignoring a vulnerable child. It’s the classic set piece – an effective, emotive message eliciting a kneejerk reaction – perhaps a tearful emoji on Facebook and a rant against the authorities. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reflect the cold, hard, medically-certifiable facts – that a girl died because of a rare disease which could have easily escaped notice. It’s democratic and perfectly fine to rail against the authorities and hold them to account. We should do it all the time. But crying wolf before waiting to ascertain the facts does not achieve anything. It only serves to place blame unfairly on public authority employees – such as social workers – who are doing the best they can in the circumstances.

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