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Just not good enough

The news that the president of the Malta Developers Association, Sandro Chetcuti, was asked by both major political parties to run for election on their ticket was as shocking as it was revealing.

That Mr Chetcuti has turned down both invitations from the Nationalist and Labour parties comes as a relief to many, given the construction industry’s already strong lobby with politicians.

Labour’s invitation was not surprising because Mr Chetcuti’s past political loyalties are well known, as is the party’s links to the construction industry. There is no doubt the industry is going through good times, as epitomised in Mr Chetcuti’s own (infamous) words: “Make hay while the sun shines.”

High-rise is the next big thing, developers are scrambling to cash in but the boom has brought hardship through higher property prices. High-rise does not usually cater for the average-income family but, rather, to rich foreigners and the well-off.

It was, however, the PN reaction to the news that was incomprehensible. Perhaps finding himself in an awkward situation, party leader Simon Busuttil neither confirmed nor denied that Mr Chetcuti had been approached. He pointed out that candidacy was discussed with the individuals concerned.

The party in opposition is still reeling from the db Group fallout and the accusations that ‘advertisements’ on the party’s media were veiled donations from big business. Dr Busuttil stood firm in the face of that and said he would not be bought but the party came out bruised.

That it has now emerged that, according to Mr Chetcuti, the PN approached him as a potential candidate, is shocking to whoever wants to see a stop to the wanton destruction of this country’s built and natural heritage. Mr Chetcuti often speaks with reason and gives a human face to an industry that has committed many sins and may be planning more.

After the awful launch of the Paceville master plan, the building lobby has suggested a similar plan for Buġibba and Qawra. And while profits from the industry are reported to be up, average wages have gone down, thanks to a foreign pool of workers on low wages.

Why would the PN want to bring the building lobby into its own ranks? It is a travesty of what the party has been promising: environmental protection and a stop to excesses.

One understands the realities of the political game but Dr Busuttil has been promising something different. The influence of the building industry must be curtailed. It is not sustainable. Alternative industries are needed to ease the islands’ dependence on this sector.

Dr Busuttil must know the hardship that a prime Nationalist stronghold, Sliema, is going through. Street after street is being taken over to be redeveloped, in ways that are wiping out the remaining characteristics of this once charming residential area. A tower is even set to be built in Qui-si-Sana.

People in Sliema and similar localities receiving the full brunt of unbridled development expect more control of the industry.

In the countryside, the situation looks just as bleak, with Planning Authority building permits in areas outside the development zones on the rise.

People expect a stop to all of this and when asked whether the PN had approached Mr Chetcuti, the answer they expected from Dr Busuttil was a clear no.

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