A very common expression in English is “to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted”. This basically means going about a useless task, by trying to prevent something from happening, but doing this too late to prevent the damage from being done.
In a contemporary context, this brings to mind those people who start thinking about safe contraception … only after they have had sex. At this point, it is simply too late.
I get an impression that our government’s behaviour has been taken over by this post-coitus contraceptive mentality.
I have come to this conclusion because there are so many instances where the government promises to take action … but only after the horses, the donkeys, the zebras and the whole zoo has bolted and has already wreaked havoc.
I will limit myself just to a couple of examples.
Example 1: Over the years, successive Maltese governments have allowed Maltese public land and coastline to be taken over illegally by greedy and egoistic squatters. The examples of Armier Bay, of St Thomas Bay in Marsascala, of public land and pathways cordoned off so that hunters can practise their pastime is there for all to see.
After all this public land and coastline has been taken over, thanks also to the complicity and laissez-faire attitude of our various governments, in 2016 parliament passes through the law in defence of public domain. Scope of the law is to ensure that, amongst other things, the foreshore remains property of the public.
Alas, after so much coastline has been taken away illegally by greedy individuals or given away legally by the government to hotels, restaurants and other private establishments, how much coastline is there left for the Public domain law to defend?
Example 2: In 2015 the government had introduced a policy to relocate fuel stations away from village cores. A policy which makes sense because it is not only detrimental to one’s health to have toxic petrol fumes in the centre of a town or village but also because a potential fire or explosion could wreak havoc with the inhabitants.
However, environmental groups were quick to point out that the policy was seriously flawed (in my opinion, intentionally, to favour the usual business interests) since the relatively small petrol stations in inhabited areas were being replaced by gigantic fuel stations, 3000 sq,. metres in size and sometimes even more, replete with car wash, restaurants, shops etc., and all on ODZ land.
The environmentalists, we Greens at Alternattiva as well as many level-headed Maltese all started protesting at this sheer madness. But government ignored our voices. Fourteen applications for development in ODZ land were handed in. And we started seeing the permits being dished out for these business investments one by one: in Burmarrad, in Maghtab and what not.
In April this year, after the horses had bolted, Minister Herrera embarked on a damage limitation exercise by “pretending” he was working really hard to revise the 2015 policy. The aim of the revision, he said, was to safeguard ODZ land. Under the new rules fuel stations would have to be at least 1.5 kilometres away from each other and the footprint was being reduced to 2000 metres.
Of course, nobody in her/his right senses could disagree with this revision. However, one could immediately note the lack of goodwill to have it passed through and enforced immediately. In fact, the Minister was quick to point out that the pending 14 applications had to be examined according to the 2015 parameters!
The reason given was that laws could not be applied retrospectively. Of course, this is the norm. However, when the government and the PN opposition want to twist the rules to favour their catchment areas of voters, they simply have no problems: within a week, they introduced backdated laws in favour of band clubs and against the owners renting out the clubs and they introduced other backdated laws to favour fireworks factories operators.
So Herrera’s excuse that laws cannot be retro-active… is very selective.
And, to prove the ineffectiveness of the proposed revision of petrol station rules, just two months after the new rules were proposed, the Planning Authority approved of another massive petrol station on ODZ land in Luqa.
Basically, Minister Herrera proposes changes in April and the Planning Authority ignores him in May.
The lesson to be learnt, Minister Herrera, is that you have to stop proposing to people that they wear a condom after having had sex.
Prevention comes before the horses have bolted, and not after.
Published on the Malta Independent – 25 July 2018