It took almost two weeks for the Planning Authority to send enforcement officers to Marsascala to check out a report of concrete being poured onto the foreshore but only a few hours to remove anti-government slogans scribbled on cardboard and tied to trees on the Rabat road. Similar posters in Attard, Sliema and St Julian’s were also removed in no time.

More than a farce, the different treatment adopted in the two cases reflects the sad times Malta is passing through at present. It is all right to treat the environment with absolute disdain but it would seem the government has become too politically sensitive to accept sharp criticism and is not prepared to tolerate, especially if it is in a form that shames it publicly.

Malta today has become a country of contradictions. As glaring shortcomings, even by ministers, go unpunished, the government shows signs of increasing restlessness over growing anger at its arrogance.

The anti-government posters mentioned above were meant to coincide with the nine-month anniversary of the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a murder that will keep haunting Labour and the country until those who masterminded the heinous crime are traced and punished.

Pressure groups keep insisting for justice to be done but the government gives the impression it does not like being reminded of this, which explains why swift action is taken to remove posters that attack the delay in finding those who commissioned the killing and other slogans about money laundering and the integrity of politicians.

It would have been better had the planning watchdog issued no statement to try to explain why the posters were removed so quickly. Attempting to pass off the posters as a traffic  hazard that could have distracted motorists is ludicrous considering the multitude of traffic risks that drivers constantly face on the road today.

Since the regulator is, of course, very well aware of this, the real reason, as seen by many, must have been something else, like the fact that the posters might have given government leaders some bad dreams. Clearly, the government does not wish to be  pin-pricked by messages that remind it of the implications of the Caruana Galizia murder; it does not wish to  be attacked over unaccountability, patronage, nepotism and other forms of wrongdoing that continue to plague this administration.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat rarely misses an opportunity to gloss over economic growth but he hardly ever speaks about the country’s problems and when he does it is only to minimise them or to put the blame for them on past Nationalist administrations.

In removing the posters, the authorities may not be suppressing freedom of speech as such because strictly speaking it is illegal to put up posters in a public place without first obtaining a permit. What is palpably glaring though is that, while prompt action is taken to pull down anything that may, even remotely, offend the government, the range of irregularities that go unpunished is widening.

While it would be wise for pressure groups to avoid taking action that could go against the law, their persistent action in exposing the government’s sins of omission and commission is laudable, more so when the party in Opposition appears to have become far too pliable.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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