“I’m barely getting any sleep…”. I guess I’d complain of insomnia, too, were a government agency to suddenly appear on my doorstep waving a piece of paper, telling me a road will be passing through my fields, through my water reservoir, through my peace of mind; through my life.

This, for some families in Qormi/Mrieħel, was Christmas 2020 – if you want, a sort of sick cherry on the particularly dark cake that was last year. Instead of looking forward to some rest after another year of toil, these farmers have spent the festive season looking for ways to defend their patch – literally – from another Infrastructure Malta assault.

Farmers, residents and landowners in Mrieħel only discovered what the road-building goliath had in store for them by chance. Notifications about the “intent to develop on your pro­perty” have been delivered, haphazardly, and to just a few farmers in the area. Deceased people in uninhabited properties were notified while the living were given the shock of their lives.

Besides the selective notifications sent out by IM, no information was made forthcoming. Minister Ian Borg recently said in the media that “he was informed” of two meetings held bet­ween farmers and the agency; this is only partly true and Borg’s economic use of the truth implies he’s trying to paint the real victims of this story in a corner.

Farmers were forced to chase IM executives for shreds of information, ranging from “we’ll take this land here, here and there and maybe take a few more hectares too…” to mysteriously leaked blueprints of the plans themselves. All those who had the misfortune of visiting IM’s headquarters in search of information about their own property will tell you stories of wanton arrogance, with executives using petty COVID-related excuses to avoid meetings and a barrage of diversionary parley.

In one instance, a resident asked the reason for the proposed flyover. An IM architect bumbled a few statements before letting go of the fact that “there are the towers now…”

Ah, right from the horse’s mouth.

Infrastructure Malta, in spite of the furore and protests, seems intent on pushing ahead with plans that appear more than finalised, even after a meeting with the Qormi local council (that would later pass a unanimous motion against the project).

There’s a limit to how much bullying people will tolerate- Wayne Flask

This also jars with statements Borg gave to this paper recently, wherein he tried to belittle former PL leader and current MEP Alfred Sant. Sant had insisted that if IM’s plans involved sacrificing arable land for tarmac, protests would be justified.

On December 21, Borg tried to defuse criticism by saying no plans existed, but a set of drawings dated December 14 contradicts this claim squarely: the public was made aware of the plans only on December 19, on the farmers’ own initiative.

IM has also defended the project, citing an accident blackspot. Which is true; however, the agency is unwilling to consider alternative designs, deciding to press ahead with the take-up of around five acres for the flyover and more than another eight acres for a cycle lane.

The Qormi council has indicated alternative possibilities that do not necessitate the take-up of agricultural land, as have numerous residents in a meeting held last week; possibilities that IM is obliged to study instead of rushing to the PA with its once-secretive plans.

And IM’s deceit also lies in the way they’ve tried to use cyclists as an excuse to rob us of more greenery; as if they were pitting bikers and farmers against each other, while dividing public opinion to justify which of the two groups should lose out in this, and in all future decisions, for the sake of more tarmac.

Cyclist NGO Rota, however, indicated its displeasure at the proposals, arguing that the bike lane will be built on the wrong side of the road, against their previous advice. Rota didn’t mince its words about the issue: the direction of the bike lane means that IM has the sole intention of taking up more land and, therefore, also use the bicycle lobby as a pretext.

Sadly for him, Frederick Azzopardi has become rather predictable. Infrastructure Malta’s cloak-and-dagger approach is becoming predictable after similar misbehaviour in Burmarrad and Dingli; and those are the ones we know about.

Lengthy press statements after being caught red-handed doth butter no parsnips and there’s a limit to how much bullying people will tolerate. Which is also why, in a recent statement, we’ve asked Qormi residents – but it could be any one of you, really – to remain vigilant and watch over goings-on since this reptilian government agency can slither dangerously if left unchecked.

I am also at a loss as to how the prime minister has not intervened on the Mrieħel flyover issue. It will come as no pleasure to the man tasked with the cleaning up from the previous administration to learn that farmers and residents in his own hometown have to lose their properties to infrastructure that services, of all people, Tumas and Gasan.

And his hometown’s local council spoke clearly, and without half a hiccup – a unanimous motion condemning the project, with alternatives to the massacre engineered by Azzopardi and his people.

The PM would be unwise to stand back and let things roll in this struggle between farmland and tarmac; it is, beyond this, another instalment in the fight between green lungs and pollution or between our food supply and unsustainable development.

But it is also the well-being of Qormi against the interests of the wealthy, for whom farmland and clean air are of no concern and whose wheels of greed are well oiled as they run freely on the smooth tracks laid for it by transportation, public infrastructure and capital projects, funded by the taxpayer, and which only raises a silent hum.

Not too silent, maybe. It’s loud enough to keep some of us awake at night.

Wayne Flask is a member of Moviment Graffiti.

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