Go chase the real cowboys!

Go chase the real cowboys!

Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

It was the biggest planning infringement in the history of this law-abiding country and the authorities had no choice but to put up a show of force.

A team of about 10 police officers and officials from the Malta Tourism Authority swooped down on a Gżira restaurant and insisted German owner Ferry Jehle remove the offensive structures within an hour.

Besides having no permits, the wooden cowboy statue and wagon wheel benches were an eyesore to the unspoilt surroundings. Jehle was, after all, a repeat offender. Just a month earlier he had the tenacity to put out a promotion chalkboard on the street, for which he is expected to face court proceedings.

Forgive my ironic tone but I could only shake my head in despair when a colleague told me that the wooden statue of the cowboy outside Good Thaimes restaurant had been ‘evicted’ by the authorities.

I do not condone illegalities of any kind and if the police clamped down on the illegal structures, kudos to them. I yearn for the day this becomes a daily reality in Malta.

But this infringement is a speck compared to the barrage of much bigger and obscene illegalities permeating Malta and Gozo. And most of them are taking place right round the corner from Good Thaimes.

Several establishments along the Sliema/Gżira promenade have encroached along the pavement to such an extent that it has become an extension of the bar area, rendering it a veritable obstacle race to meander past the beer-guzzlers.

For too many times, our newsroom has grilled authorities on whether all permits were in place for such establishments. For years, our requests were met with a wall of silence.

Further along the front, a galleon-shaped kiosk that in January was slapped with charges for being parked in the same spot for months remains there to this day.

We know the ‘anything goes’ mentality is becoming the norm more than ever.

Unsightly gazebos have sprouted all over the country, most recently in Valletta. Hundreds of illegal boathouses still blotch the north. Hundreds of structures were built illegally, only to be sanctioned later. Scores of illegal billboards have littered our streets. We have wasted too much print writing about an illegal zoo in Ħal Farruġ. The list is endless.

So why did the authorities single out a restaurant owner in Gżira? Is it because he’s foreign and doesn’t happen to know the right people (politicians?) in authority?

I am not saying or implying that restaurant owners who forge ahead with illegalities are corrupt. But let’s just say that the likes of Jehle are easy targets, so easy that we can afford to deploy 10 of our severely depleted enforcement officers.

Sadly the planning authority, the police, the tourism authorities are showing little willingness to clamp down on the disgraceful infringements happening right in front of our eyes.

No wonder too many law-abiding citizens no longer have faith in our authorities and institutions.  No wonder many people are resigned to the fact that the big fish have morphed into untouchable modern-day cowboys!



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