Eighty-seven per cent of voters said they have always voted for the same political party. That was one of many statistical considerations under scrutiny during the State of the Nation conference under the patronage of the President. Not being a firm believer in state-sponsored distraction manoeuvres, I did not follow the exercise in intellectual onanism and stuck to the online reports of the goings-on.
Last February I had explained in ‘Unity: The New Opiate of the People’ how the President’s conference was on par with other propagandistic efforts that, whether intentionally or otherwise, would prevent us from keeping a critical eye on the ball. “We do not need a conference for national unity. We need a conference for national awakening – one where the citizen stands up to the empty rhetoric, the propagandistic spin and the lies” – was my conclusion at the time.
There is of course nothing wrong with the idea of a conference that should hold up a mirror to our society and ask whether we are choosing to move in the right direction. There are better ways though to understand the state of the nation than feigning a passing interest in some form of “national unity”. All we needed to do was look around us and what was happening while the State of the Nation conference was making all forms of assumptions.
Take for example the Gozo courts. Lawyers plying their trade on the sister island registered their disapproval at what was obviously an omnishambolic situation that was not only hindering the dispensation of justice but was managing to grind it to a halt. All this was happening while Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis had been all over the place trumpeting the magnificent reforms in the field of justice.
Zammit Lewis travelled to Gozo and gave reassurances that the problems would be “fixed” prompting the lawyers to lift their boycott. We must thank God for this government of fixers surely. What will remain a mystery is how the state of justice in the nation is made out to run on a gold standard if you believe the government when the goings-on in the courts seems to point in the other direction.
Another shambles over the last week was happening with the newly launched fast ferry service between the islands. Millions of public money had been poured into rapidly ‘fixed’ terminals by what is fast becoming the number one enemy of the islands: Transport Malta. It turns out that not much planning was made around how exactly the competing companies would use the terminals and this resulted in doubling the travel time for commuters.
As news of congestion in the new arteries of our road network hit social media pages we got the confirmation that Transport Malta’s destructive obsession with covering the surface of the islands with tarmac was anything but a viable solution. Yet the “prosit ministru!” brigade are out in full force and will be even more now that the disparity between parties is increasing. All that a common citizen is supposed to do is shower praise on the benevolent dispensers of public treasures – anything else is deemed treacherous and contrary to the good of the nation.
This brings me to that genius of a Labour propagandist whose idea of green policy is putting up planters in Parliament Square. The franco-german TV station Arte published a short documentary chronicling Malta’s uglification. Jason ‘Planters’ Micallef took umbrage at the fact that Claire Bonello conceded an interview to the Arte crew. In a vitriolic Facebook post, he accused Bonello of being a traitor of the nation.
Micallef is not the first to resort to vacuous nationalistic rhetoric – Alex ‘Tander’ Saliba comes to mind with his clumsy outrage reserved for those representatives of the nation who dare criticise Malta in European fora.
Still. Micallef, oblivious to the irony of calling a traitor someone who was pointing out the distressful state of a nation’s environment under siege, is the kind to plough on mercilessly comforted by the fact that a large part of the audience will dance to the tune. And that is where the problem lies.
It is a problem that no number of conferences by the President can paper over. It lies in the fact that as a people we are unable to be objectively critical. They will applaud the turning of the Public Accounts Committee into a farce for political expediency. They will re-elect a compromised cabinet of disgraced ministers. They will wallow in the manufactured reality without so much as a pause for thought.
The State of the Nation is not to be found in surveys at conferences but in the absence of critical thinking that is so badly needed in these critical times.