The latest building collapse in Santa Venera is a graphic depiction of the rule of law in Malta.
When homes collapsed last year in Gwardamangia, Hamrun and Mellieħa due to total incompetence and greed, everyone shrugged their shoulders and said, “Madonna! What happened? Thanks God no one was killed.”
Joseph Muscat ordered demolition and excavation to be stopped for two weeks. Sure, it continued anyway, and someone nipped inside a shattered house and looted what was left of Anthea Brincat’’s belongings. But I guess the lure of short term gain was just too good to pass up.
Sandro Chetcuti mumbled excuses, citing the usual few bad apples. Some papers were shuffled, and a few regulations were scribbled in haste. Contractors would have to fill in a few more reports, and fines were increased for developers who breached the law.
And as usual, nothing was enforced.
And now someone has been killed. Miriam Pace was crushed to death under the rubble of her home. She was 54 years old.
Think about that for a moment. Think about your life being cut short at 54, all the things you’d never have the chance to do or say. Think about losing your wife or mother or sister like that.
Robert Abela rushed to the site to tell us all how angry he was, and that he won’t tolerate anyone dragging his feet on the accident investigation.
A few low level contractors were duly arrested: an architect, a couple of workers, the site’s technical officer. Just three among many from an industry that has long operated with total impunity.
Ian ‘Getting Things Done’ Borg chimed in, too. The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Capital Projects took to Facebook, criticising those who were “trying to profit personally” or gain votes from Miriam Pace’s death — all the while trying to profit personally and deflect political blame.
Captain Cartoon of the Billboards, playing politics with one hand while he submits yet another application to build his swimming pool on ODZ land with the other. Do you really expect justice from elected officials prepared to bend the rules to benefit themselves?
But all this shrugging and finger pointing evades the main issue.
The State didn’t just fail Miriam Pace. It actively colluded in her death.
The construction industry — represented by MDA Head Sandro Chetcuti — has long acted with total impunity, building wherever they want, flaunting safety regulations, and donating to both political parties to keep politicians firmly under their thumb.
And so excavators are lifted onto roofs with abandon, mobile cranes tip over like siege engines from the time of the Knights, and workers fall to their deaths from building sites, but they’re just migrants anyway, plenty more where they came from.
We even heard how the now disgraced traffic police were running a protection racket, taking money from construction companies to look the other way on enforcement.
But why shouldn’t they pad out their bank balance a little? Everyone else is doing it, too.
And so contractors pay the police to look the other way.
Film Commissioner Johann Grech promotes some businesses and not others, and when he’s caught, he just laughs, denies it and cashes another government paycheque.
Konrad Mizzi resigns from Cabinet in disgrace and is given a secret €80,000 government consulting contract, paid off with taxpayer money.
But it isn’t just these Big Dogs who do whatever they want and get away with it.
The average person flouts traffic laws with impunity, and you can count on a large percentage of drivers to be drunk behind the wheel on Friday or Saturday nights.
Want to fulfil your god-given right to a beach house? No problem! Just build a shack wherever you want like they do at Armier Bay.
Laws are meant to be gotten around in Malta rather than obeyed. And if you get caught, you’re not guilty. No, you’re just unlucky. “What about Charlie? He did it, too! Why are you punishing me?”
Where do you even start trying to fix this when the problem pervades every corner of the culture?
Robert Abela knows what he has to do. He just doesn’t want to do it.
Sorting out this colossal mess means starting at the top with the untouchables: men like Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi, and Joseph Muscat. The guys who signed the big deals. The ones who are hiding behind endlessly stalled magisterial inquiries.
The law was always elastic in Malta, but it went out the window entirely during the reign of the Kickback King.
He’s still there too, of course, sniffing for opportunities in the shadows, whether that’s lobbying for a continuation of the corrupt Vitals hospital deal, speculating on a precious goods free port for the art laundering market, or slinking into the Embassy of Ghana for who knows what.
The Kink of Kinks stage-managed his own disgraceful exit even as the OPM was being implicated in the murder of a journalist, proving that you can get away with anything in Malta as long as you have enough money and the right connections.
But you won’t find any justice if your house falls down due to a builder’s incompetence and greed. Too many people are benefitting from that cash cow. The sun is still shining, and there’s still hay to be made — at least until they blot out the sun with another concrete monstrosity.
If Robert Abela really wants to fix this mess, he can start by putting an end to impunity. Not just for the guys holding the shovels, but for his colleagues in parliament, and the oligarchs who treat them to coffee and cookies, and to vacations on their yachts.
Citizens like Miriam Pace don’t deserve to die like this.
When the rule of law fails in a country, it fails all the way down.
A protest is being organised by Moviment Graffitti on Saturday at 10.30am, starting from St Thomas More College (near Misraħ il-Vittmi Ħamruniżi) in St Venera and moving towards the site of the tragedy where some speeches will be held.