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Crowds gathered in Valletta to protest rampant over-development. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

‘Xebbajtuna’: Crowds fill Valletta to demand end to development greed

Demonstrators flock to capital city for national protest against over-development

Citizens, activists, politicians and social media influencers all came together in Valletta on Saturday to demand action to protect Malta’s environment, change planning policies and increase enforcement.

Right at the front, among those holding the main banner and leading the march, were three Labour Party mayors – Gzira’s Conrad Borg Manche, Qala’s Pawlu Buttigieg and Qormi’s Josef Masini Vento.

Sandra Gauci, who was elected leader of ADPD earlier on Saturday, was also present, making the protest her first public appearance as leader of the green party.  

Others spotted included several PN MPs, independent electoral candidate Arnold Cassola, social media influencers and representatives of local environmental NGOs Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Ghawdix, BirdLife and Din l-Art Helwa, among others. 

As demonstrators made their way to Great Siege Square, the crowd appeared to stretch to City Gate, Valletta’s entrance. The crowd then compressed when speeches began from the makeshift podium, as attendees pressed forward to hear what was being said. 

Demonstrators held a variety of placards with slogans reading ‘We said Green not Greed’, ‘Open spaces, stolen spaces’, Money is your God’, ‘Pigs without scruples,’ and ‘Zero enforcement,’ among others.

 

“We are fighting against big monsters – against the monsters of greed, corruption and injustice. But whoever is fighting this battle should know that they are not alone,” Andre Callus from event organiser Moviment Graffitti told the crowd.

All across the islands we have seen communities unite to save their quality of life – in Qala against Joseph Portelli, in Pembroke against Silvio Debono, in Sliema and Gżira against Michael Stivala, in Santa Luċija against tal-Franċiż [Anton Camilleri], in Marsascala against the Marina in Cottonera against Sadeen in Birzebbuga against the Wied Żnuber airstrip. And in many cases, our communities emerged victorious.

Planning policies were designed by developers and for developers and they exist to facilitate more profits for big business, and not to safeguard the common good, Callus said.

He accused developers of being bullies but said demonstrators will not be cowed. 

You have the power of the money, we have the power of the people. Occasionally the victory will be yours, but we will be fighting you always,” he said.

Photo: Chris Sant FournierPhoto: Chris Sant Fournier

Callus also singled out politicians and the prime minister for criticism, saying they could not hide behind policies or platitudes. 

He highlighted a recent decision to allow illegalities in partially ODZ land to be regularised and said Graffitti would be starting a legal battle to wind that decision back. 

“And to the prime minister I say – the ultimate responsibility for the rapid environmental destruction of our country lies on your shoulders. All that is happening is not the result of the negligence of some individual in some authority, but the result of a political direction that seeks to sell Malta for the benefit of the few.”

‘Mayors are hurting in silence’ – Conrad Borg Manche

Conrad Borg Manche addresses the crowd. Photo: Chris Sant FournierConrad Borg Manche addresses the crowd. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Gżira Labour Mayor Conrad Borg Manche also addressed the crowd, saying he felt disgusted and hurt to see greed ruining the country. 

“Authorities should be working for the common good. Instead, they’re doing the exact opposite,” Manche said, as the crowds drowned him out with cries of “Xebbajtuna” (We’re fed up).

“I’ve been mayor for eight years, and all this time I have been fighting with our own authorities to protect the environment,” he said. “Instead of fighting with me to save what we have for the common good, I had to fight with them to get what I believed the people deserved.”

Photo: Chris Sant FournierPhoto: Chris Sant Fournier

“We need to start taking decisions, today. We need a national masterplan – one created by people in the community, people in councils. People come to us, and we are the ones they turn to for solutions

Manche said he would have liked to see more mayors from other localities at the protest.

“They’re all hurt about what is happening in their localities, but they are hurting in silence,” he said of other mayors.

“This is not a partisan protest, I am not here because of one party of another,” Manche said. “This is a protest by a nation fed up by what is happening to it.”

‘We demand change’ – Marsascala resident

Jacqueline Rotin urged people not to be impressed by big talk about the construction sector's economic importance. Photo: Chris Sant FournierJacqueline Rotin urged people not to be impressed by big talk about the construction sector’s economic importance. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Marsascala resident Jacqueline Rotin said people are demanding real change. A lot has been said about change, but very little was done. 

“What are we going to leave for our children? We sell public land cheaply just so that, in many cases, we build more hotels, which we already have enough of,” she said.

“Meanwhile we tell our children that land in Malta is scarce and expensive and they shouldn’t expect to pig out on it. And so they spend the rest of their lives in a marriage with the bank, paying loans.”

Photo: Chris Sant FournierPhoto: Chris Sant Fournier

“Some people like to make us fear a stagnant construction industry, saying it would impact the economy. What economy are they worrying about?  The one where workers are most of the time treated like slaves? About the questionable quality of new buildings? About the unsustainable, environmentally destructive economy that has buried us in waste? Is this what they are afraid of losing?”

‘ODZ sanctioning a pardon for law breakers’ – BirdLife CEO

Mark Sultana described a recent policy change as the government 'helping friends'. Photo: Chris Sant FournierMark Sultana described a recent policy change as the government ‘helping friends’. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana expressed anger at the “everything goes” approach public entities appear to have adopted. “It is clear that no public entity or government are interested in protecting our open spaces,” he said.

He also hit out at the law allowing the sanctioning of illegal structures on partially ODZ land, describing it as “a pardon for those who broke the law”. 

Sultana also hit out at top developer and Malta Developers Association President Michael Stivala for criticising NGOs and saying they in the pockets of businesses.

Demonstrators walked up to Castille Square before making their way to Republic Street. Photo: Chris Sant FournierDemonstrators walked up to Castille Square before making their way to Republic Street. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

“Mr Stivala, who does not even have one hair in his body that knows what altruism is, does not even have the courage to debate us because he knows he is lying to harm us. I am 50 years old and I have never seen NGOs more united than they are now,” Sultana said.

‘I will continue to fight till my last breath’ – Qala Mayor

Another outspoken Labour Mayor, Gozitan Paul Buttigieg also took to the microphone, urging people to protect the sister island irrespective of whether they are Nationalist or Labour supporters.

Paul Buttigieg vowed to keep fighting till his last breath. Photo: Chris Sant FournierPaul Buttigieg vowed to keep fighting till his last breath. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The Qala mayor said he is meeting high earners who had come to live and work in Gozo but decided to pack their bags and leave when they saw the way the island was being built without control.

“We cannot stand witnessing detrimental decisions being taken following pressure from big developers who are only motivated by money and business,” he said.

Buttigieg said there are “great forces” who are doing all that they can to remove him as mayor, but that he vowed to continue fighting for Gozo, Comino, Qala and Ħondoq ir-Rummien “till my very last breath.”.

He said that despite election promises to safeguard Ħondoq ir-Rummien for the public, more than a year later nothing has been done. There were no efforts from the government to expropriate the land and give it to the people.

“We must save Ħondoq, at all costs. It’s no use crying over it after we’ve lost it.”

‘Car exhaust contributes to dementia’ – Astrid Vella

Astrid Vella, representing Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, said the people’s health is being threatened by bad and corrupt policies.

Maltese children suffer from the highest rates of asthma and obesity in the EU, she said, and it is because the government is only interested in increasing construction and cars that contaminate air quality and destroy trees, she said. 

Contrary to the lies that politicians feed us, construction is not the backbone of the Maltese economy. In a small country like Malta, the economy must rest on industries that provide added value.”

They ruined the jewel that is Gozo and they are going for Comino too now. What else do we have left that they can take? Filfla?

 

Source: Times of Malta