The most disturbing video I saw after the house collapse in Ħamrun a few days ago was posted by Janet, one of the victims who has been left homeless due to improperly regulated excavations next door. In it she berates the builder for continuing works even when the signs of collapse were already evident. The video continues after the collapse, with Janet’s breaking voice telling us that it happened just as she feared it would.

What really made me angry was the builder’s nonchalant misogynistic arrogance. In the video he is clearly treating Janet’s protestations with the humorous contempt that the hysterical rants of a mara injoranta  obviously deserve. This man knew that there was real danger to real persons, but he carried on working regardless in the smug certainty that he could get away with it.

This is the real story behind the recent string of building collapses. The kuntratturi knew they could get away with abusing every loophole of the regulations. The architects knew they could get away with saying that they had given the workers their instructions, and it was not their fault if the workers changed things without telling them.

The PA could get away with saying that this was a monitoring and policing issue, not a policy issue. The Building Regulations Office could get away with saying that it was understaffed and it was up to people to speak to their lawyers.

Sandro Chetcuti could get away with saying that when you make hay whilst the sun shines, you have to expect an accident here and there. The Prime Minister could get away with saying that not all kuntratturi should be tarred with the same brush of a few cowboys.

Janet Walker knew something was wrong - but she was ignored. Video: Chris Sant Fournier

In this obscene game of Pass The Time Bomb no one is really accountable. This is the direct consequence of the rot of non-accountability that has set in over the last six years when minister after minister, official after official refused to do the right thing when their sins of commission and incompetence – in procurement, employment, appointments, planning, permits, Daphne’s murder, stashing funds abroad, you name it – were revealed.

Non-accountabilty is now the default national commandment. Thou shalt turn a blind eye, and we shall all make a fast buck.

In this context, the sudden flurry of activism in Castille is not the sign of leadership but the confirmation of institutional collapse as worrying as that of the houses in Ħamrun, Gwardmangia and the rest. The Prime Minister did not even bother to go through the motions of having the right office issue first the stay of excavations, and even that order apparently has dubious legal grounds and could be challenged. The optics of Strong Leadership, of Joseph il-Mexxej, were more important.

Had there been effective monitoring mechanisms in place, had the whole infrastructure of administrative oversight and sanction not been consumed from within over the last years by cronyism, nepotism and partisanship, Janet would not have been left helpless, unsupported and terrified, waiting for her house to collapse.

There would be no overwhelming need for new regulations or a new committee, the politician’s classic sop to divert attention from the ineffective application of what is already in place. Will a twenty-fold increase in fines increase the rigour and integrity of enforcement? Tgħid mhux hekk.

Nursing that Sugar Rush

A week or so ago the nurses’ union MUMN threatened action if the inalienable right of its members to get fat and have cardiovascular disease was denied by the “dictator state”.

Non-accountabilty is now the default national commandment. Thou shalt turn a blind eye, and we shall all make a fast buck

How dare Supreme Leader Fearne impose a healthy food policy in the hospital canteen for nurses? What next, expect police not to commit crimes, or army officers not to be racist?

But Fiendish Fearne could go even further. What if he were to ban sugars and carbs in nurses’ own personal food as well? What if government has a secret plan to install two-way surveillance systems in Mater Dei to catch errant nurses trying to dig into an illicit Mars bar? Imagine the humiliation of hearing: “PARASCANDALO! NURSING OFFICER 6079 PARASCANDALO! YES, YOU! REPORT IMMEDIATELY TO THE SUGAR ABUSE CORRECTIONAL UNIT!”

Now let’s get serious. The real story here is not State over-reach. It is the blatant abuse of the nurses’ monopolistic position at Mater Dei. When a health-related union feels entitled to stamp its pudgy feet in public to demand that the Heath Ministry break its own health guidelines, said union has lost all sense of perspective.

In the UK before the tide finally turned against organised labour in the 1980s, governments and the general public had already started losing patience when unions were perceived to prioritize their members’ perks and entitlements at the expense of the people they were meant to serve. The result was an inexorable erosion of labour rights over three decades.

This food fight is but the latest and most public example of MUMN practices that could well be perceived as promoting its members’ narrow self-interests rather than patients’ needs. If the MUMN thinks it is so securely ensconced in Mater Dei that it is immune from danger, let me whisper four little words: Malta Shipyards Workers’ Council.

In future nurses may well discover that their Mars bar had come with a steep price-tag. 

Our Lady of Salvini

The recent document by the Maltese Church that strongly rejected any connection between a lived Catholic faith today and racism is welcome, although a tad late in the day. On the other hand, perhaps the Church felt the need to state the obvious since it is no longer obvious to an increasing number of the faithful.

I first wrote about the normalisation of racial prejudice even during a Sunday Mass homily five years ago – and I had received a barrage of hundreds of comments that violently disagreed with me. A few days ago another priest saw fit to repeat the nativist bilge of ‘Catholic Malta for Catholic Maltese’ whose most recent champion was Maurice Mizzi, when he was Guardian of Future Racial Purity.

The Church’s position has resonance beyond our shores. One of the pre-EP pieces of political theatre that got lost in the general hubbub was the ‘consecration’ to the Madonnina on top of the Milan cathedral of Italy and Italians by Salvini, Europe’s surging far-right conservative Catholic leader.

Of course, such rhetoric is not unheard of in Malta, as recently as the divorce referendum campaign in 2011. But Salvini’s gimmick took the hypocritical appropriation of faith and its symbols to a new low of political chicanery.

Then again, this could all just be one big misunderstanding. After all, Salvini was referring to the Madonnina, that twee golden statuette imprisoned on top of the Milan Duomo, forever unable to ascend properly to heaven. It has nothing whatever to do with Mary the migrant who had to flee her home and land with her family to escape a murderous king 2000 years ago.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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