Friday, 2 October 2009

Where Has Quality Gone


2nd October 2009

The Malta Independent - Friday Wisdom

Alfred Mifsud

I am two days short of my 58th birthday. Something strange is happening to me as I approach retirement age. I am becoming more cynical, restless and hard to please.

Whether this is due to my accumulating age or whether there is a bug which is affecting everybody irrespective of age I am not sure, but I am suspecting it has much to do with the latter than the former.

The impotence of this government seems a perfect recipe for cynicism and restlessness. We are having day to day proof that this government is expired, rotten from the core with internal disagreements and has lost the zest to execute its election mandate. Open criticism from normally friendly quarters is becoming all too frequent to disregard as mere personal grievances.

This is not an easy time to be in government. That is granted. The sudden onset of a very deep recession has eroded government’s normal sources of revenue leading to structural deficits in the context of a weak economy which allows little room to manoeuvre with tax increases. However the results of elections last weekend in Germany and Portugal show that electorates can still reward incumbent governments for doing a decent job in difficult conditions. But over here the electorate is approaching a state of despair with government’s inertia. The warning the electorate gave to the PN in the March 2008 elections seems to have been completely lost. The wafer thin majority was meant to warn government to pull itself together and put on its best act if it means to stand any chance of re-election by 2013.

The opposite happened. Internal strife has reduced government manoeuvrability to zilch and it seems that government has practically abandoned all hope of getting re-elected. PL Leader Muscat is astutely adopting a low key critical poise letting the PN stew in their own broth rather than unite the warring factions by giving them a defiant common enemy. In so doing Muscat is avoiding the need to spell out in detail his own policies, allowing the spotlight to remain on government’s deficiencies rather than on the merits or otherwise of the opposition’s alternatives.

It takes only a short walk from the Floriana car park to the Main Guard Square to understand how government lethargy is rubbing on poor quality standards everywhere, even on our primary Main Street.

Trash cans are infrequent and where found they are in disgusting state. On the Floriana side trash cans are rusty metal bins set in tatty wooden structures that have not seen a lick of paint for ages. Outside City Gate the bins are dirty twisted sheet metal cans covered in pigeon droppings. Inside Valletta the structures are solid cast iron which must have looked nice when new but they have not been serviced or washed since they have been fixed. I long for Stockholm where you can find a trash can with monotonous regular intervals not exceeding 50 metres and believe me, you could eat dinner from them. Heavy cast iron cans get regularly replaced and sent for re-painting so they look permanently clean and shiny.

The pavements at City Gate bus terminus are not even third world standards. Does it take the world to keep the pavements in this most critical spot outside our main city gate in decent shape on a continuous basis? And does it take a Ph.D. to enforce regulations so that pedestrians can walk normally into the city rather than having to zigzag between taxis, horse cabs, and merchandise irregularly overflowing from the kiosks to the pavement?

But the cherry on the cake is found in St George’s Square (Main Guard) which is currently undergoing major upgrading works. I know the design has received mixed reception and there are many others much more qualified than I am who have expressed serious reservations on the suitability of the modern uniform being vested on this historic piazza. But that’s not what irks me. I am prepared to accept new ideas and to judge on completion.

What irks me is the boundary protection that is surrounding the site whilst works are going on. The intentions are good. To make the boundary attractive it is covered with large photo-boards showing details of the architecture in the square and some finished product simulation of the project. If it were done professionally enough it could have been an attraction requiring only some legend or narration to explain each photo-board in different languages.

I could not find a single photo-board hanging properly as it should be. Many photos have come off the metal structure and are just standing idly against it. Others have lost one or more of the make shift plastic belts so most photo-boards are hanging lopsidedly rather than horizontally.

How can such lackadaisical approach be tolerated when we are talking about the main square in our capital city standing right in front of the Presidential Palace and Parliament building? Where has our pride gone? Or have we all become so used to low standards that we have lost all sense of what genuine quality really is?

If government cannot keep decorum of good quality standards on the Main Street just imagine how much we can expect it to perform the restructuring that our economy badly needs. This is a hard job in the best of times and much more painful during a recession. If government has lost zest for keeping our Main Street looking decent can it conduct effective restructuring to keep our health services and pensions sustainable, or can it undertake capital project with good transparency standards in the adjudication and award stage and constant invigilation in the execution and delivery stage? The ramblings at Enemalta regarding the extension of the Delimara power station is not exactly a certificate of efficiency and good governance.

The unsuccessful attempt to move the national agenda to discuss choosing 21 September as the national day shows how desperately government is trying to regain control of agenda with superficial issues, and how incompetent and pitiful these attempts are.

If we have three more years of this inertia you will have to forgive me for turning more cynical, restless and hard to please.


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