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Sunday, June 27, 2004

Who benefits from electoral reform in Malta?

I was delighted to read in today's news that Malta's Green Party (Alternattiva Demokratika) has requested the other two political parties in Malta to hold discussions on electoral reform. I was equally pleased to see that both the PN and the MLP have already expressed interest in discussing such reforms.

In the light of the huge support the Green Party received from voters in the recent European Parliament and Local Council elections, it stands to reason that the current electoral system is not adequate in reflecting a democratic representation of the people's current will. I've been perplexed for many years as to why Malta still uses a system inherited from the British colonial days, when the system is not even used in Britain any more!

Let's hope that the PN sees this as an opportunity to gain the credibility it clearly lost in this year's elections. And let's also hope that the MLP is still jubilant by what it considers to be its natural drive towards a huge victory in the next general elections. In these respective frames-of-mind, both major parties are perhaps at the most advantageous position in considering electoral reform, which can give 10% or so of the Maltese population the right to be represented in parliament, both nationally and on the continental level.

If the ultimate question is who benefits from electoral reform in Malta, I would say that it is everyone. I say this without hesitation or partisan sentiment because I strongly believe that when minority voices are heard loud and clear, democracy is broadened. The broader the sense of democracy is in any society, the more pleasant it is to live within its fold.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Illegal immigrants or refugees?

A friend of mine (who knows much more than I do about the way things are with illegal immigrant and refugees) wrote me an email pointing out that things are not as bad as I think they are. She also said that Amnesty International has not done much more than simply criticize Malta in terms of the way refugees and illegal immigrants are dealt with.

To be quite honest, I am somewhat confused about all this. Not only is it hard for me to imagine how things are at detention centres in Malta (did you know that there are others besides the one at Hal Far?), sitting here in New York, but I also wish that things went so well in Malta in this regard that none of this would ever need be reported as news.

Here are some of my friend's comments (loosely translated):

"I imagine that your comments are linked to the controversy over the people who came from Eritrea in 2002. They were allegedly tortured after they were repatriated away from Malta. I doubt whether Amnesty International is really following what's going on now in detail with regards to the investigation and evidence being heard by the law courts. [...] Amnesty International criticised Malta's detention policy more than anything else, and this goes beyond what the Refugee Commission does. The refugee commissioner and the entire commission examines each case on an individual basis and the Eritreans were sent back to their country because they voluntarily didn't want to apply for asylum. UNCHR was not opposing their return and they were actually themselves sending people back. [...] People are detained if they are not granted refugee status. They are also detained whilst they await for their appeal decision. And the Refugee Commission does not get involved in the work of the Appeals Board."

Sounds like bureaucracy at its best to me!

Still, I appreciate that my friend has broadened (or should that be sharpened?) my perception of the way things are with non-European people who land in Malta without any intention of going back to the country they originally came from.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Welcome to Europe, have a nice day!

The first substantial amount of illegal immigrants to reach Maltese waters since the country became a full member of the European Union were brought to dry land earlier today. A total of 72 people, most of them men from Somalia, who made it ashore are now housed at the Safi detention centre. They join the 30 other men from Somalia who arrived at the beginning of June.

Malta's refugee policies and procedures with asylum seekers in recent years have already been criticized extensively by Amnesty International. One hopes that these new arrivals will be dealt with in a manner that is more in line with EU regulations.

Meanwhile, it was interesting to note today that Malta has twinned up with The Netherlands to launch a National Focal Point for Drugs and Drug Addiction. This project provides the framework for technical assistance and training. Let's hope it also brings to the fore the fact that there is also a serious problem with the handling of the recreational drug culture, which has been growing and growing in the Maltese Islands for the past 30 odd years. But somehow I doubt that Malta will discriminalize recreational drug use in the same way that The Netherlands did many years ago, even though one of Malta's former Prime Ministers suggested this a few years ago.

Welcome to Europe and have a nice day, indeed.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Silvio De Bono is back!

After an 11-month hiatus, Silvio De Bono is back with his weekly commentary on the MaltaMedia Online Network!

I was just getting ready to blog my comments about the election carnival when I realized that Silvio raises some interesting points about this in his commentary. I don't always agree with what he says, but I really like the way he makes his arguments.

In many ways his commentary is like a blog, but it retains many of the conventional aspects of a radio commentary or a newspaper op-ed. I have a feeling that between the Commentary by Silvio De Bono and this blog we will be encouraging more people to have their say about what's going on around them vis-a-vis Malta during the coming weeks and months.

So, to get things started perhaps I should share my thoughts about the elections now that the major activities related to this event are over. I'm no Basho, but I've decided to do this in a haiku:

Labour makes comeback
People gave PN a clue
Cassola times ten

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Back to life

OK! The MaltaMedia Online Network server system is now back to 90% functionality and so I can resume with the rest of my life.

For anyone not familiar with the complexity of back-end web technology a DoS attack like the one we had a few days ago may not sound like something that can take 5 days out of your life. Well, that's exactly what I've just experienced: a number of days where I could think about or do little else.

But first a little human sustenance, because there's plenty of time for that other navel gazing stuff...if things are really back to normal.

It's time to bake some fresh bread.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

MaltaMedia hit by DoS attack

Over the past 3 days I've been itching to share my comments on the MEP Election in Malta with the regular readers of my blog. Unfortunately I was unable to do this because the MaltaMedia Online Network web server system was hit by a Denial of Service attack late Saturday evening, as the ballot boxes headed off to Ta' Qali.

I have plenty to say about the elections, but that will have to wait another day or so. Meanwhile, I would like to officially offer my apologies to the regular followers of the MaltaMedia Online Network for the skeletal output we provided over the past couple of days. Fortunately for our news team, little else of note was going on in the Maltese Islands these past couple of days...and that part we managed to cover. Most significant at this time were the efforts of our friend and partner Dr. Ing. Saviour Zammit, who worked with me and others for many long hours to restore as much as possible of the data and services we have on our server system within a reasonable period of time. Without him we would probably have had to migrate to a new server system, which is a different kind of ordeal altogether.

We will be installing a new backup system very soon to avoid a repeat performance of the technical nightmare we went through these past couple of days. Our new backup system will be much more robust than the one we've had for the past 5 years.

Thank you for your compassion and all your support. We really appreciate it!

I'll be back with comments about the election very soon.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Day of quiet reflection

What a coincidence! Today is a day of national reflection both in Malta and here in the USA. However, the reason for the quiet pause is very different. Malta is legally bound to have a quiet day of reflection on the eve of any election day. The USA is holding a day of mourning for former President Ronald Reagan; today is the day of his funeral.

I have always been fascinated by the day of quiet reflection mandated by Maltese law on the eve of political elections. This law was clearly written at a time before the advent of the Internet. Those were days when the media could be controlled: no propaganda or political messages can be printed or broadcast for a 24-hour period before people go to the polling booths. How quaintly 20th century is that?

For anyone who doesn't take politics too seriously, perhaps today still deserves to be a day of quiet reflection in honour of Ray Charles, the musician. He passed away yesterday. And I couldn't help but notice that he was 20 years younger than Ronald Reagan.

Our own cartoonist, Gattaldo, has had his own personal brush with mourning this week. So it is most fitting that his cartoon for this week deals with the theme of death. For someone with a witty sense of humour there's always a twisted approach to all the morbid emotions that surround the loss of life.

May all the dead rest in peace.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Sette Giugno 1919 in context

The 7th of June 1919 was indeed a remarkable day in the history of Malta. The death of Guzeppi Bajada, Manwel Attard, Wenzu Dyer and Karmenu Abela as a result of the riots against the British colonial government undoubtedly marked the bloodiest steps towards self-rule and independence for Malta.

Our country did the right thing in designating this day as a national holiday. It is as significant as any of the other national holidays, even if the monument in honour of the victims of the Sette Giugno 1919 riots in Valletta was only unveiled in 1987.

This year marks the 85th anniversary of the 1919 riots. This Sette Giugno anniversary comes at a time when the world is observing the passing of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who died a couple of days ago. Although 85th anniversaries are not usually marked with any special fanfare, I've been thinking about how the 7th of June has played out in history since 1919.

For instance, it is most interesting to note that the Vatican became a sovereign state on 7 June 1929. In the broader context of the Sette Giugno since 1919, one could also mention D-Day, which occurred on the 6th of June 1944, just in time for the 25th anniversary of the 1919 events.

Keeping the focus on Malta: the dismantling of the Upper Barrakka Lifts, inoperable since 1973, started on this day in 1983, because it had not been declared as a public holiday at that time, for interesting reasons I won't go into here today. And it is very ironic that on the 7th of June 1990 four Maltese men were reported missing aboard their yacht Esmeralda, 20 miles South-East of Sardinia, Italy.

This type of contextualization for major events such as the Sette Giugno is something I do quite often because it puts things in a different light than that chosen by the weavers of our major narratives.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

A warm welcome

I am very touched by the warm welcome my blog has received over the past few days since it was launched on the MaltaMedia Online Network. I created this blog over a month ago, and waited a few weeks to make sure that the technical aspects and logistics of such a project were straightened out before asking people to read whatever I had to say.

The blog was announced in the June 2004 Newsletter from, which was published last Tuesday. Since then I have received a number of emails from people who have welcomed my public return to the Maltese media, as well as a couple of old friends whom I had lost touch with.

There will be a new post on this blog at least once a week, but I know that there will be weeks when I'll be contributing here more often than that. I'd also love to have your comments, either here, directly under my writing, or through the online contact form.

Thank you for the warm welcome!