Malta’s Shrinking Spaces

Screenshot of Mina's article in the Times of Malta

There are different ways to shrink spaces in society, and the Labour government seems keen to deploy all of them. This has an impact on our physical, political, and social environments. We’ve observed the shrink creep into our lives over the past few years. Since it starts slowly it can be challenging to notice the patterns which connect the many examples of environmental degradation with the unravelling of civil society. Episodes that don’t seem connected are in fact a systemised web cast to centralise control of society at multiple levels. When the main aim is achieved – the control of resources in the hands of the few – favours become easily traded, destructors become saviours, misleading information becomes rampant, and corruption becomes a norm. 

The announcement of the Tran|Sport Malta Charity Marathon is the latest episode aimed at twisting the narrative to paint Transport Malta as a saviour of athletes. It is anything but. If you’ve been following the escalation over the past weeks you would already know that the Malta Marathon Organising Committee (MMOC) have had to call off their annual Malta Marathon. In many big cities across the world, from Berlin to Malaga, roads are closed for a marathon, and there is no issue with this. In Malta things work differently, so in an announcement on Tuesday 15th February the MMOC said that the route proposed by Transport Malta to avoid the usual road closures “has been declared as unacceptable by Mater Dei’s Emergency Department, the Malta Red Cross and the Malta Traffic Police due to safety concerns.” Transport Minister Ian Borg stepped in to promise a solution for the race to go ahead, an attempt to ingratiate the hundreds of athletes who would have participated. While the experts who have been organising the marathon successfully for decades, and who have athletes’ safety in mind, are now painted as uncompromising, and unwilling to find solutions. We shouldn’t fall for this rebranding exercise – Transport Malta shouldn’t be organising marathons. Additionally, not all sports events have to be organised for charitable causes. Sports competition for the sake of sport itself should also be encouraged.

Anyone working and volunteering with NGOs is aware of the shrinking of civil society that impacts our daily work. We are faced with bureaucratic and administrative nightmares that sap the energy needed to work on our aims and priorities. The glaring example of this are the fundraising rules proposed last year, which were remodelled after outcry from 100s of NGOs and bandclubs. While new NGOs are faced with an obstacle course in order to officially register and become operative, including the risk of paying unreasonable fines to the Malta Business Registry, and lots of red tape to open bank accounts. 

Why does there always have to be a mass public outcry for rules and regulations to become more reasonable? Why do government entities make it impossible to organise a marathon for instance, and then step in to do it themselves? And why do green spaces keep disappearing? The impact on our physical, political and social environments is significant, and the shrinking spaces will soon suffocate us all. We need more decentralised governance, more power in the hands of the people.

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