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Landfills are forever

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  • Ralph Cassar
    Landfills are forever Harry Vassallo 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
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 1, 2003
      Landfills are forever
      Harry Vassallo

      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
      dig permit.

      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
      small space.

      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
      party whore.

      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
      who wins.

      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
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