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Spot the difference - Petra Caruana Dingli

Now that the magisterial inquiry report about the offshore company Egrant has been concluded, one thing seems beyond doubt. Everyone agrees that, had Egrant been shown to belong to the Prime Minister, this would have been completely out of line and politically unacceptable.

The Prime Minister has publicly shed tears of relief that the company was not shown to belong to him or to his wife. He had even said he would resign if he was linked to it. He said the story was a nightmare for him. We still do not know who owns Egrant, or whether any financial transactions were made through it. But the main point is now the fact that the Prime Minister has not been connected to it.

Everyone sees that it would be entirely objectionable for the Prime Minister to set up such an offshore company registered in Panama, particularly since taking up the reins of government in 2013.

Now, on the same lines, surely it is equally inexcusable for a minister in his Cabinet to do the same thing. But we know that Konrad Mizzi did so, no doubt about it. His offshore company Hearnville was revealed in the Panama Papers in 2016. He has not denied this fact. In this sense, I don’t see that much difference between Egrant and Hearnville or have I missed something? But there he is, still in a senior Cabinet position, two years later. 

Elusive gardens

The plans by Renzo Piano for the Valletta city gate area included turning part of the ditch into a garden. In 2013, we heard that these plans were shelved as part of a cost-cutting exercise. In 2015, we were told that the plans were revived.

Then the garden was scheduled to be completed for the start of Valletta 2018. Then it was supposed to be ready by this month. Now we are told that it has been delayed by a further six months.

One thing is clear, the completion of this garden is not a priority. Come to think of it, when has any new garden ever been a priority in recent years? In this country, gardens are much more likely to be destroyed than created.

The government (including local councils) is prompt and efficient when it comes to removing trees and greenery in urban areas, but much less so when it comes to creating new green urban spaces. Mature trees growing in soil in the ground are replaced with pitiful specimens which struggle to live in dry, dirty pots. Others disappear overnight, apparently transplanted in unknown locations, never to be seen again.

I don’t see that much difference between Egrant and Hearnville or have I missed something?

Urban life is not a bad thing. We don’t all prefer to live in the countryside or in quiet villages. Apartments are also not the evil they are sometimes made out to be. It is impossible and environmentally unsustainable for each household to take up the footprint of a spacious house, as there simply is not enough land area on this tiny island.

But urban life is so much more pleasant with some greenery, occasional parks with flowering bushes and hedges, or perhaps a few trees and benches. It would be good if the government could invest some of our taxes into creating green spaces within the development zones, instead of just pouring money into roads without a leaf in sight. Every garden within the development zones is potentially under threat, just waiting silently for a permit allowing it to be ripped out and doused in concrete.

The palace of books

The chairman of the National Book Council has reminded us that Valletta is the only capital city in Europe without a bookshop that doubles as a cultural space. He is absolutely right. Even ordinary bookshops in European cities attract people who sit, browse and linger. Coffee shop chains run cafés within bookshops, and larger shops often host regular talks and cultural events within their walls.

The purchase of books on the internet is so efficient and easy that it is understandably difficult for bookshops to be viable. Both regular and second-hand bookshops struggle to do well.

In Malta, we hardly have any bookshops at all. When I want to buy a particular book, I can count my options on one hand. Summer is the perfect time for catching up with some reading, with everyone lounging around on beaches and boats or near swimming pools, but the search for a good book does not appear to be much of a priority. Let’s face it, Malta does not have a strong culture of reading, or of writing.

This is a great pity. Promoting books is not just about an economic sector, it is much more than that. The Book Council chairman is correct to insist that the local publishing industry is a main seed from which the intellectual and cultural development of a nation can grow. Reading (and writing) encourages critical thought, and we do not have a surplus of that.

The Book Council has been allocated a 16th-century palazzo in Valletta by the government, to set up a ‘book centre’ with a museum of literature, literary activities and a bookshop. This is a great initiative and a cultural milestone not to be overlooked.

petracdingli@gmail.com

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