Landfills are forever
The Times, 1st August 2003.
For all of history, for as long as a trace of it remains on the face of the
earth, our generation will be remembered as the one that has made the most spectacular
technological progress and the most harm to the planet.
The Maltese are a part of history, typical of their generation. We have achieved
a level of affluence and social progress undreamt of by any of our ancestors.
We, more than any generation that has walked these islands before us, have permanently
devastated our home beyond recognition.
For those who can admit these awful facts to themselves there remain the options
to accept fate and shrug off responsibility or to be part of the solution of
the awesome challenge, however futile any attempt to address it may seem. A
sense of history, an intellectual loyalty to the human race and a modicum of
self-respect leave no choice at all.
Chance experiences sometimes tip the balance: as a 16-year-old I helped to excavate
a Punic tomb at Mtarfa. Sir Temi Zammit had already done so many decades before
us. We had the unenviable task of clearing the debris of the 20th century from
the shaft: sheep carcasses, beer bottles, barbed wire, car parts and construction
debris. We were rewarded: Sir Temi had rushed through and missed a libation
channel which yielded a saucer and a little urn that had not seen the light
of day for over two millennia. Our mentor, ex-US Consul and amateur archaeologist
Harrison Lewis, consigned our finds to the Museum authorities according to his
It had taken several days of very hard work. Every day we climbed deeper into
the tomb shaft placing our hands in handholds chipped out of the rock by the
builders. A bond was made with the ancient gravediggers and inevitably with
all who may follow.
I remember those handholds every time I hear the sound of a JCB hammering away
at this sacred island. If a scratch lasts for two thousand years, when will
we be forgotten and how will we be remembered? The list of monuments to our
philistinism perpetrated over the last 30 years is too long to include in this
Technological progress and economic growth have not been matched by political
evolution. The Maltese do not own Malta. There is no ownership of the state
by the citizens, there is no common ground beyond party politics, no sense of
personal responsibility for national actions or events, even patriotism is a
In our minimalist democracy one party takes total control of the apparatus of
state without achieving any significant power to enforce laws to safeguard the
most basic common goods. Half the country is exonerated from responsibility
and the other half defends anything done by "its" government/party/state with
a blind loyalty engendered by a continual state of siege. Total nominal power
is mocked by its dependence on a sliver of votes and reduced to actual impotence
but defending its dignity with irrational savagery.
The siting of Delimara power station was the result of an arm wrestle between
the contenders for non-power. Ninu Zammit won and is proud. He shall forever
bear responsibility for wrecking Marsaxlokk to put the MLP in its place. He
bears the unenviable distinction of being the only Maltese known to have driven
an endemic species to extinction. The power station could have sat quietly at
Benghisa out of harm's way.
Delimara power station took me into politics. Collecting signatures in protest
from Marsaxlokk residents for Zghazagh ghall-Ambjent (now FoE) I came face to
face with Nationalists who refused to sign saying they wanted the monster on
their doorstep. I would never have guessed it was possible. Creating awareness
is not enough, the system must change.
A parallel experience was the division on party lines over the Ark Royal visit:
the MLP exploited the issue to flex its muscles and PN supporters ended up saying
they wanted nuclear armed vessels in their harbours. The issue has been a no
go area ever since. The system has not changed.
God forbid that we end up in the same mess over the Mnajdra landfill. The MLP
that remains responsible for having turned most of our garigue areas into disguised,
uncontrolled landfills through its misguided land reclamation projects, is warming
up to the idea of a political arm wrestle over the Mnajdra outrage and posing
as the greenest of greens. They are very welcome of course but not if they drive
the Nationalist government to dig its heels in and defend its dignity beyond
Delimara bloodymindedness has cost taxpayers Lm300,000 in damages awarded to
ex-PM Dom Mintoff and irreparable harm to the landscape around our foremost
fishing village. The court's asides on the choice of the site explode the claim
that Delimara was the only possible choice.
Another tantrum from Ninu Zammit provoked by our Tweedledee and Tweedledum political
system could engineer the wreck of Mnajdra. Any politician making such a proposal
would be pilloried in any civilised country. A neat, controlled and fully engineered
landfill at Stonehenge? It's unthinkable. At Mnajdra? That's Malta, let's see
My personal insignificance was brought home to me as I lifted a small earthenware
saucer from its bi-millennial resting place. It has driven me to ensure that
my infinitesimal spark of life will not be spent in making things worse than
they have been passed on to me. When my son asks me where I was when the Delimara
monster saw the light of day I can answer unashamedly. There will be no shame
over the Mnajdra landfill either. If we can defeat our political paralysis and
take personal responsibility on this issue none of us need ever be ashamed.
Jeffrey Pullicino Orland has set a shining example to us all by slipping out
of the straitjacket of party politics to bear his responsibility as a member
of parliament regardless of party affiliation. There is no such thing as a temporary
landfill and posterity must come before party.
Dr Vassallo is chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika - The Green Party