8 October 2003

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Of public cleanliness, government and civic sense

Malta Hotels & Restaurants Association Secretary General Dr Hugh Peralta commemorates the recent World Tourism Day with a keynote address in which he calls for a number of Malta’s tourism maladies to be cured

Intermittently the issue of "cleanliness" publicly crops up. The general conclusion is simple: No, the Maltese have no pride in keeping Malta clean. And let us add: nor any pride in the varied and valued historical sites, with which we have been so copiously blessed.
The disgraceful attitude – "Keep your home clean, but keep Malta dirty" – (and the issue is one of mentality and lack of education) is part of a wider malaise. Lack of public cleanliness is an important element in a bigger setting. In generic terms the wider picture is lack of pride in and love of one’s country, and an inter-relationship devoid of respect to one’s person. The question is one of values and of a standard of living: it also forms a part of the nation’s "culture".
In short are we what one may term a "civil" society or are we still in a backward uncivil inter-personal relationship?
Together with the lack of public cleanliness, we must also refer to the inherent indigenous fundamental lack of a civic sense. This term is definable – hereunder we list some of the components.
Regretfully we must concede that we have no (or little) respect for each other. We are not considerate to the others’ rights or needs: ours is mainly an egoistic mentality. Do we respect our elders? Authority in general? The other drivers? Aren’t we always right? Ready to be rude in inter-relations? Of course it is not our fault that we think in this manner: we are not taught this ethic in schools – or by our parents. Indeed our parents themselves need to be taught this attitude – and how to bring up and educate their children.
These statements are general conclusions – happily with exceptions abounding: however I think it extremely difficult for the contrary to be sustained.
But let us return to cleanliness. The Malta Hotels & Restaurants Association (MHRA) is very much aware of this problem and has – as many others, similarly ignored in the past – raised its plaintive voice in the wilderness. In Sept 2002, on the occasion of "World Tourism Day" the undersigned obo the MHRA stated on "cleanliness" inter alia other environmental issues, as follows:
"But the most fundamental and important element, which gives the tourist a good impression of Malta, is that old adage of keeping Malta clean. It is inconceivable how central road strips have papers, cigarette butts, bottles, plastic cups and all other paraphernalia mushrooming on a daily basis. The same applies in general to public areas. This is a clear indication of the mentality that allows the throwing of such objects. And the mentality is a clear result of a lack of an educational campaign in this regard. The recent "give way at a roundabout traffic" campaign bore its fruit and this rules is now in general obeyed."
What the MHRA would like to see is a persistent, consistent, persuasive, pervading campaign in schools, villages, towns, cities on radio, television and press educating the young, the middle aged and the old that Malta (and not only their residence) is their home, and that keeping it clean and tidy is a must.
Placing more litter bins all over, is another must. Attempts have been made and admittedly there are today more litter bins than in the recent past. But these must be increased and their maintenance well kept.
Why is it that when going to picnics and barbecues the car (the ubiquitous family car) must be parked right up to the site – even if this means driving onto beaches and fields? Why is it that rubbish left after barbecues and picnics should be the trademark of "clean" fun?
Why is it that we cannot divert the unproductive labour element into a productive force to keep the island clean and tidy at all times?
These issues relate to the standard of living in our country. MHRA is also very much conscious (and hence its persistent pressure) that successful tourism depends heavily on same:
But what does the MHRA have to do with a "civic sense"?
As a national body the MHRA is democratically entitled to voice its concern on national issues. Why shouldn’t we Maltese enjoy living happily with each other? But more closer to home, a mature and considerate civic sense – which does not allow fleecing a tourist; or over charging; or not giving the tourist value for money; or not making him feel unwanted and being outright rude to him (do the words "please" and "thank you" exist in common / official parlance – whether said by the waiter, policeman, bus driver, passport control officer – and whether accompanied by a costless smile?) – is essential for tourism. This friendly attitude for which we have been known – more in the past than the present – does not cost anything. Yet it is priceless. A "smile" a "good morning" puts donor and recipient in excellent mood. Unfortunately I often feel that we are at the end of the opposite spectrum: verging on or outright being rude. Where are the good manners – exemplified in the taxi/bus drivers, or so many others, often in public service? Your reply is as good as ours.
And whilst we are at it shouldn’t honesty be taken into the equation? Do we treat the others as we expect – or would like – to be treated? Isn’t it imperative that we do – both for our own sake and as a tourist promoting island?
And shall we omit noise pollution? Evident lack of education – of respect and concern for others are often the ruin of a quiet and peaceful well-deserved rest or serenity. Why should one not be taught from infancy not to blare out to the world what should be heard in privacy? Why disturb others? Get deaf on your own – in your soundproof room or through your private earphones!
At this stage one may well ask: Where does this state of affairs stem from?
This situation may be in part attributed to the colonial past. The colonised has no pride in his past: the coloniser has no interest in implanting any.
Yes, the Catholic Church as a leader in Malta is also partly responsible and very much so especially when social mores are involved. The pointing finger is the obvious lack of knowledge (profound or otherwise) Maltese have of the Catholic religion with the concomitant genuine respect and love such a religion preaches at a social and cultural level. Much is lip service – superficial and unreasoned. How can one not so conclude when surveys indicate many are apostatising and marrying into other Faiths; that replies state that religion is not important and when general dissatisfaction is reflected in everyday public life? Many have expressed negative comments: the style and content of some old fashioned long-winded impractical Sunday homilies; lack of leadership in crucial moments. That something has gone wrong between the Catholic Religion and the Maltese is undoubted. Nor is it consoling to contend that this situation is practically universal.
But definitely since 1964 (and this is the crucial start off date) the responsibility lies fully with successive Maltese Governments. A generation and a half has since peopled our island – yet the educational process: the pride in our land; the love of our cultural heritage; the step forward in our quality of life is non-existent.
Yet "good" morality and values have to be imparted – and who should (and will) bear that role?
Clearly the Catholic Church has an important social role to play and we are sure that it will rise to this challenge so that her teachings will instil in the Maltese a sense of giving unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and so that Maltese act out their personal inter-relationship in a truly Christian manner.
The Government is however the greater bearer of this obligation.
But do those in power care?
In certain areas and periods some care has been shown. Can we compliment enough the joint embellishing campaign recently carried out flowering our centre strips etc? On the other hand judging from unfortunately past inaction and the state of affairs, few politicians seem to care.
The short lived "Xummiemu" and "Keep Malta Clean" campaigns can bring results if carried out as above suggested. Therefore with educational indoctrination, and infrastructural requisites (e.g. availability of bins, barring of cars from picnic/beaches/historic sites; persistent presence of competent wardens backed by real judicial deterrent etc) positive results will be obtained. It is the perception of this "value" that is missing and has to be taught. Yes we are now in Europe – but this negative nonchalant attitude will not thereby change, unless and until we (i.e. the competent and responsible authorities and the private sector) do something about it.
It is this attitude that we have to change if we Maltese are going to have the leap forward. After all we are talking about substantially bettering our standard of living – which is not gauged only materially. Furthermore giving the tourist a hospitable and value for money holiday – is fundamental to successful tourism. And in turn to all those – including MHRA members – dependant on tourism. Hence MHRA’s vested and justified interest in Malta’s civic sense.
Accountability ensures that those rendering a service receiving (or not) payment are responsible for their actions. It affects all walks of life; at all levels; from the bottom to the top and vice versa. It is very evident abroad; it is alien to Maltese practice. Yet it is a must. Leadership is another essential concept in the running of a country. Vision and execution must go hand in hand. Both concepts must be delivered by the top echelons of our political/establishment hierarchy. We quote an apt Maltese proverb: il-huta minn rasha tinten.
The MHRA is – like so many other true lovers of Malta – frustrated and desperate. The MHRA has carried out campaigns in furtherance of the above - and will continue to do so. Accordingly this plea must end with a friendly though serious challenge. Our plea and challenge is to the present Minister of the Environment, The Hon Ninu Zammit, who is faced with this problem – to carry out the above suggested educational campaign imparting values – coupled with a practical nationwide clean up. If necessary this can be done with the co-operation of other Ministries, who after all in some manner or other depend on Tourism (if such a consideration has to be taken into account).
We pledge our full support.
We are sure that all political parties other national (and non) associations, the Church and the general public will welcome and support this idea and effort: let it be our good year resolution – and action – in the year Malta joins the EU.
Time will tell, and the monitoring will be there. And accountability in all spheres – not to the MHRA – but to history and to the Maltese, has now become a must. We too dream of a clean Malta, and of a country where life is more civilised.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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