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New burst of civic activism

Civic activism is suddenly taking a new life as greater awareness builds up about allegations of corruption, sleaze, nepotism, maladministration and the unrelenting onslaught on the country’s green environment and heritage. It comes as a refreshing change and suggests that, in the light of the indifference shown by the government, the urge to hold the administration and the country’s institutions to account is getting stronger.

In a political environment largely fashioned by a government that is obsessively concerned with just increasing growth at all costs, this new burst of civic activism is bound to make more and more people realise the need for the administration to change its ways and take a more realistic view of the country’s long-term development. After all, man does not live by bread alone.

Besides the string of very serious issues over corruption and maladministration, increasingly shaming this government and the supposedly independent and autonomous institutions across all four corners of the world, the other most challenging problem facing the island is how to check a construction drive that appears to be running out of control, ruining so many urban localities and eating away at the little remaining open spaces.

The national anger building up against this uncontrolled development is reflected in the reaction of the thousands of people who shared the feelings of the Grafitti Movement members who, a few days ago, protested at a Planning Authority meeting called to discuss an application for the building of a fuel station on pristine land. It proves yet again that standing up to be counted can be and is usually effective.

Images of the protest captured the imagination of thousands, who, like many others, were outraged by the sudden rush by developers to grab land outside development zone for the building of petrol stations. Relocating petrol stations from densely-urban sites to other open spaces is a good idea but taking up more precious pristine land was not.

In a belated policy review, the Environment and Resources Authority is now recommending that petrol stations should not be built outside development zones. This is good news, that is, if the review is accepted by the PA executive council. The bad news is that, if approved, the new policy would not apply to pending applications. Have any ‘promises’ been made to developers?

Activists are now seeing a window of opportunity in the rising social tension with regard to overdevelopment in general. They must surely know they are facing an uphill struggle, with greedy, “cowboy” developers pulling all the strings.

The activists may have been encouraged by the outcome of the efforts made in Gżira where the developers at Manoel Island have now agreed with the local council to ensure, through a guardianship deed, that the heritage buildings, foreshore and green park spaces there are preserved for the community.

Manoel Island, a gem of an open space in a heavily-overdeveloped locality, should have never been given over for development in the first place. However, the guardianship deed will, if followed to the letter, at least salvage part of the island for the community.

Occupy Justice have a harder task than the environmentalists but their admirable activism is yet another torch that ought to light the way towards greater justice and accountability.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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