Investing in our heritage
All of us care about the way our islands look. And about our heritage, especially the wealth of superb architecture, buildings and fortifications inherited from the Knights. These and our ancient temples are what make our islands unique.
However, while the embellishment of our roundabouts and traffic islands is making a great difference to our islands' attractiveness, the time has come to find (and fund) a new way of sustaining our heritage.
The government cannot - and should not - single-handedly carry the burden of sustaining the costs of restoring our heritage and a way must be found to involve local business and industry in both restoration and upkeep.
The sterling work taken on by Heritage Malta with its brief to manage and market 24 museums and the worthy work carried out by Din l-Art Helwa over the years should be complemented with help from industry and commerce.
Making people pay for visiting our sites and monuments will not generate enough money to sustain these sites. And the money coming initially from the EU is earmarked only for Hagar Qim and Mnajdra (Whatever happened to Ggantija?).
So what next?
Maybe it could be as simple as creating a system where large or even small companies pay a percentage of their company tax into a fund to be administered by a committee set up to monitor and allocate the money received.
I know it is yet another committee but this one's role should be the allocation of funds for the restoration of buildings and monuments not yet taken properly in hand and, most important of all, for the maintenance of these prized sites. They must be kept in good condition. Obviously, it would have a government representative.
Not long ago the Mizzi Group placed a billboard on the Ghallis Tower explaining what they were doing as they returned the dilapidated tower to a good state.
But have a look at it today and see the state its surroundings are in. You could say money was poured down the drain. Glory was reflected on the company but because of its environment the tower looks as sad as ever. It is useless restoring a monument unless one continues looking after it and maintaining the place.
Perhaps the Mizzi Group could have been given a tax incentive to carry on looking after the place and also make use of it. In other countries, tax incentives are offered to companies which use their money for environmental works. Why should we not do this here?
I am sure that when members of the Mizzi Group drive past their tower, they are upset to see the state their project is in now.
So how about giving tax advantages to industry and commerce involving themselves in the restoration and maintenance of historical sites? They are as important to us - and to tourism - as are our fine museums, palaces and churches.
That sad relic of the Roman Baths is just one place crying out for help. It is poorly maintained with an obvious lack of enthusiasm. Perhaps it is forgotten. Yet, it could easily be supported by one of our commercial enterprises.
The Roman Baths is only a small site and could easily be sponsored by one local company - with new perimeter fencing, landscaping and signs indicating how the baths functioned. How many visitors know about the communal lavatory where nine Romans could sit and chat? Or that running water ran through the latrines? By all means, let the company doing the work put up a board claiming they are sponsoring the site, but let them maintain it too.
In 1989 I wrote to the authorities about the need for the restoration of Zabbar Gate. Nothing happened under successive governments. The authorities were willing to allow the Old Edwardian Association to invest thousands of liri in the Gate's restoration but were unwilling to let them maintain the building and use it for events like exhibitions and conferences or even an audio-visual show promoting the heritage of The Three Cities.
Now the place has been given over to Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna. Fine, but the Old Edwardians would have had it ready years ago at no cost to the government. Fondazzjoni do a good job generally but I suspect they do not have the kind of funds available that we could have had then through the various OEs' commercial interests.
When a large company wins a big tender, a clause should be inserted into their lucrative deals requiring them to restore part of our heritage. With so many building contractors winning so many government contracts, is it not possible to make arrangements with them to carry out some heritage works at no cost to the taxpayer or the government, such as, for instance, the rebuilding of the boundary walls at Hagar Qim?
The government has given over to the Knights the upper part of St Angelo. Again, fine, but what did they do? They improved their living quarters, that's all. The rest of the fort has been abandoned and can now be described as "a national disaster and embarrassment". We should take it back and let the private sector look after it.
And look at their embassy in St John's Cavalier. It is perfect inside, complete with a penthouse. But look at the outside. This magnificent building is occasionally cleaned but it has never been restored. Why do they have a right to this building if they cannot look after it?
The French embassy bought a palazzo in Valletta and restored it beautifully. So have many businesses, lawyers, importers and restaurants. I would suggest that if the Knights cannot afford to restore the superb edifice, they hand it over to someone who can.
In the 1990s, Dubrovnik was heavily bombed but look at it today. The Croatians got their place in order and now tourism is booming. Why? Because although people go to the Adriatic for the sea and sun, they also go to see Croatia and its fine historical heritage.
We, on the other hand, have spent the past decade or so improving essential services - building a much-needed power station, setting up state-of-the-art IT facilities and so on, a definite step in the right direction. Not exactly so, however, if all is done at the expense of our heritage which, of course, cannot be replaced.
Our heritage is better! We have wonderful sea and sun. We need to find new ways of funding the restoration and maintenance of our islands so that we, and future generations, can see and enjoy them. Let industry and commerce invest in our heritage too.