Times of Malta, 19th April 2008

Nothing is Sacred Anymore

It is now an open secret that our island home is up for sale. The outrageous statements by the chairman of the Malta Tourism Authority, a parastatal body, in favour of the Mistra development has sent shock waves through the environmental lobby. “Breathes there a man with soul so dead” to the extent that he fully endorses a development project outside development zone, quoting financial considerations as the main reason.

The MTA’s “very favourable” report for the Spin Valley project is symptomatic of the insensitive attitude adopted by the top echelons of some parastatal institutions that believe that the protection of the environment is solely Mepa’s remit. The Ramblers’ Association of Malta strongly believe that the environment is the responsibility of us all and we should all strive hard to stop the rot before it is too late as the rape of our countryside continues unabated.

With sickening regularity, prime agricultural areas with unrivalled scenic beauty have been taken over by Malta’s new mulas (feudal lords) for their exclusive use and, in the process, they have usurped previously-public paths used for generations of Maltese. Unlike our redoubtable ancestors who rebelled against such situations, an indifferent nation is impotently witnessing the same phenomenon. In medieval times, the most outstanding incident was when in 1427 the Maltese rose against their feudal lord Gonsalvo Monroy and took full control of these islands without much difficulty. Eventually, the impoverished Maltese raised 40,000 florins for the redemption of their own native land. Should we be compelled to do the same?

What we are witnessing in the countryside is a complete disintegration of our basic rights, a terminal breakdown of law and the abnegation of civil responsibility. And I speak (or write) from personal experience by just quoting examples from one single segment.

Our repeated pleas to the authorities to give back to the people secluded coves and beaches, which by birthright belong to them, have gone unheeded. The state has all the means at its disposal to reclaim the panoramic bay of Fomm ir-Riħ (limits of Mġarr) characterised by the rugged and scenic beauty of its idyllic surroundings. Four years ago it was queried in this paper (May 30, 2004) whether Fomm ir-Riħ was private property as the only manageable path to the bay was “incorporated within a development that has gradually sprawled across most of the headland overlooking the beach. If it is still a public beach is it legal to block access to it, as it is clearly at present ?”

In spite of our requests at all levels for accessibility to Fomm ir-Riħ, there has been complete silence from the ministries concerned. In the meantime, various enforcement orders have been issued on this site but the illegalities continue with impunity as appeal follows appeal in the hope that we give up.

Unfortunately, the situation is not better on the tongue of land overlooking Ras ir-Raħeb, a Bronze Age village considered as the last phase of Maltese Bronze Age (c900-700 BC) complete with silos and other features. An established public path running across the spine of this massive promontory offering a spectacular view is now permanently closed. Those who dare are threatened with intimidating tactics to which ramblers have become used. Apart from other considerations, this site, once a village inhabited by our forefathers, should remain the patrimony of us all.

With the support of the European Ramblers’ Federation, and the strong determination of our members, we will be intensifying our campaign to retrieve land that has been so blatantly usurped. Only people power can stop the rot.