Lax security

▪️ Lax security ▪️ It’s not the economy, stupid ▪️ Peace, that’s dull; give us bananas ▪️ Enjoy your retirement, Sophie ▪️ Before you blow the whistle

The inauguration of Dr Myriam Spiteri Debono as President of Malta made the headlines for the wrong reason when it was revealed that three vases and a clock worth €13,000 were reported missing from the Grand Master’s Palace.  The Police said the items were ‘probably’ not misplaced during preparations for the inauguration but were stolen.  Four weeks from the start of investigations, we haven’t heard anything more.

By now, those vases are probably adorning the Maltese chest of drawers in some home, while the clock has pride of place in a sitting room, the happy owner listening to the tick-tock of the clock and congratulating himself for having a piece of heritage in his den.  I bet he or she is rooting for the President.

In March a man was charged with posing as an Education Department official to steal medals worth around €400,000 from the maritime museum in Birgu.  Thank God, the precious pieces are back in the museum, under better protection, we have been assured.  That may be so, but security was surely lax in the first place.

The National Audit Office and Heritage Malta come across missing objects every year, but these seem to be off the radar.  It’s not surprising that historical objects or heritage items go missing, given the ease with which different people   ̶   be they employees, visitors, or contractors’ workers   ̶   can enter government buildings.  The Government has an army of security officers but most of them know as much as security as a five-year-old toddler.

In reality, security is very lax.  When are government offices, schools and other premises going to be equipped with controlled entrance systems for employees and visitors, identification tags for all on the premises, scanning devices, etc?  Why should visitors and workers be allowed to roam all over the premises without controls?  Is the thinking in today’s world, where mental stress seems to have become ingrained, that an employee or visitor could not carry a knife, a gun, or an explosive device into the premises?

One day, rather than the theft of a couple of vases, there is going to be a violent incident where people might be killed.  Then, the Prime Minister will appear on TV and weep for the victims, launch an investigation where all concerned will absolve themselves of responsibility or blame someone else, an inquiry might be set up to report and recommend within four months (no doubt to be extended “as necessary”), and then another committee might be set up to amend legislation or whatever.    

Does it have to be like that?

It’s not the economy, stupid

President Bill Clinton once said, “It’s the economy, stupid”   ̶   a phrase that became famous in political lore.  Politicians everywhere took note and kept falling over themselves in prioritising the economy over everything else.  Joseph Muscat famously copied it 20 years later and it worked like a bomb.  Now, it works like a squid.

Despite the economy picking up where it left before Covid and continuing its strong upward trend, disquiet over the general outlook has persisted since spring 2023, when public mood shifted dramatically and the number of people saying that the country was on the right track plummeted from 65% to 28%.  Now it’s somewhat better, but 48% still say that the country is headed in the wrong direction.   Only 31% say things are looking up.  Mind you, the Maltese are less pessimistic than those in most other EU countries, with 60% of Europeans saying that things are looking bleak for them.

These results show that, compared with the previous survey in the autumn, the gap between the optimists and the pessimists in Malta has narrowed from a negative 25 percentage points to a negative 16 percentage points, but it is still a far cry from the positive gap of 47 pecentage points in spring 2022.

The bleak figures about the outlook in general contrast sharply with those about how people feel about their own individual trajectory, where over 80% of respondents in Malta say that their personal situation is looking up.  Youths are particularly optimistic, with 88% of people under the age of 24 saying that this is the case.

It’s hard to decipher what is going on.  We have a situation where almost half of all Maltese respondents (46%) expect the country’s economy to get worse within a year  ̶  with less than one in five believing that things will get better; and where twice as many people expect their standard of living to get worse over the next five years (39%) compared to those who predict that it will get better (20%). So, how can 80% say that their personal situation is looking up?  Are people optimistic for themselves but pessimistic about the whole country?  It seems so.

Although these figures make for dismal reading, many of them are an improvement over the findings last autumn, where only 7% were expecting their living conditions to improve within the year and just 11% believed that the country’s economy would take a turn for the better.

What can we conclude?  As I said, I am somewhat at a loss.  But of one thing I am sure: “it’s not the economy, stupid”.  The government, we were told, is noting that it’s not all about the upward trajectory of the GDP.  Yes, people want to earn more and spend more, but they want other things as well   ̶   they want less noise, less pollution, less construction, less traffic, less immigration, less corruption; they want more open spaces, more assurance that their hard-won income is not eaten away by inflation, a better environment.

It is the other things that seem to be prevailing.  Every now and then, one sees signs that the government has realised what is going on.  But those signs, alas, are far and in between.  It seems to me that, for every two steps forward, we make three steps backward.  I know that it is not easy to change direction, because that involves a revolution in the mindset of policy-makers, but does it need to take us years to do so?

Editor’s note: This blog was written prior to the publication of the Eurobarometer on Public opinion in the EU regions, published earlier this week by th European Commission.

Peace, that’s dull; give us bananas

Recently, Frans Camilleri wrote in this journal about what he claimed to be a certain ambiguity about Malta’s neutrality in the context of today’s geo-political situation, and particularly recent calls for more spending on EU defence.  He as much as said that the Maltese want to have their cake and eat it, being keen on defence   ̶  including for themselves   ̶  but not if they had to pay for it or participate in an EU defence force.

The same Eurobarometer survey mentioned above revealed that Maltese voters do not consider defence and security to be the top priority during the campaign for this June’s European Parliament elections, bucking the trend across many other EU countries. Just 17% of Malta’s respondents said that the EU’s security and defence should be the main talking point in the campaign, far below the 31% of EU voters who believe this to be the case. Defence is the top priority for a third of all EU member states, with nine countries listing it as the top priority they want discussed during the campaign.

The EU’s position on defence has been a key talking point in recent weeks, with Prime Minister Robert Abela frequently criticising European leaders for fomenting conflict.  Many MEP hopefuls in the PL have similarly been sounding off, trying to ride on the peace bandwagon.  Most people want peace, but it would seem that campaigning for peace is not likely to make people that enthusiastic.

Instead, what is on people’s minds is the question of migration and asylum, with half of Malta’s respondents in the survey saying so   ̶   more than twice as many as voters across the rest of the continent but close to the 41% of Cypriots who are similarly concerned about it.   This seems to be an issue with adults, considering that younger respondents under the age of 24 are less keen to hear about it, listing it third in their list of priorities behind health (41%), poverty (38%), and climate change (33%).

Unlike most other European voters, Maltese respondents said that the EU should focus on food security and agriculture to strengthen its position, topping the list at 37%.  It seems that the provision of wheat and bananas is more important than peaceOther top items in the list were climate and the reduction of emissions at 32%.   A little over a third said that human rights were the value most at risk, while just over a quarter of respondents listed the rule of law and democracy as the two values the EP needs to safeguard.

It’s a mixed bag of wishes.  How the political parties interpret these results and exploit them may make the difference between victory and defeat.  But one thing is certain: the bull in the room seems to be Norman Lowell and his band of xenophobes.  Will the two main parties respond in the way they have done so far? – with the PL cynically co-opting some of Lowell’s followers by sounding tough on illegal migration while quietly working to bring in much-needed foreign workers, while the PN takes …. I was going to say the high ground, but recent pronouncements by the Leader of the Opposition make him seem keen to copy a leaf from Labour.

Ah well, it’s going to be an interesting few weeks.

Enjoy your retirement, Sophie

I feel I have to congratulate Sophie for the sterling service she rendered in the Customs Department for more than five years.  Her “exceptional” skills, obedience and achievements earned her an award in an annual wars ceremony.  Sophie has now retired.  So, I really wish her well.  By the way, Sophie was one of the most esteemed canine officers working with the Customs Department.  She is a Labrador Retriever. 

Throughout the years on the job, Sophie demonstrated exceptional olfactory skills, obedience, and tenacity in detection, according to the Customs Police. She bagged 106 positive hits, 51 of which were related to cash seizures, detecting almost €1 million in undeclared cash. Her biggest achievement was intercepting €165,318 of undeclared cash in a single find, at the Malta International Airport. Sophie also sniffed out 28 other cases leading to tobacco seizures, including 15,600 cigarettes, the administration said.

Sophie has been adopted by her dog handler.  She surely deserves some treats.

Before you blow the whistle

A Boeing whistleblower told a US Senate committee recently that supervisors subjected him to retaliation and threats after he raised concerns about the manufacture of 787 and 777 jets, a case senators cited as part of a pattern of Boeing setting aside safety warnings from its own employees.  Sam Salehpour, a Boeing engineer who worked on the two aircraft, said that his boss once told him “I would have killed someone who said what you said.”

Photo: Bill Clark/Zuma Press

Far-fetched?  Not when another Boeing whistleblower committed suicide after being fired.  Many other whistleblowers all over the world have either ended their lives, saw their lives and their families destroyed, or disappeared under very weird circumstances.  Close to home, we had of course the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Whistleblowing is a very dangerous business, and anybody thinking of embarking on it should think twice.  Pity.

Main illustation: The vases and the clock that went missing from the Palace. Photos: Heritage Malta.

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