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In September 2016, I had attended my very first direct action with Moviment Graffitti.

I remember getting up at the arse crack of dawn to make my way towards Gżira. At 21 years of age, I was already tired of seeing the future of my home country being parceled out and sold off to the highest bidder, which was why I’d gladly accepted Graffitti’s invite to get in on the action.

While this wasn’t the very first time I’d attended something that was organised by Moviment Graffitti, it was my first taste of real defiance, of real contempt towards planning and environment authorities and the private company in question, MIDI, for their god-awful proposals for Manoel Island.

The plan was simple but effective. At the time, access to the shore was closed off with cheap, chicken-wire fencing. Both locals and activists had been demanding that MIDI open up access to the shore for ages, but there was no response. So, we decided to take matters into our own hands. We had a duffel bag full of wire-cutters and plenty of angry grimacing to go round for days.

When we showed up at the main entrance, we found one security guard who transitioned very quickly from ‘bored to tears’ to ‘this is my time to shine’. By the time he was finished calling the police on a couple of us who couldn’t resist clapping back at the man’s incessant haranguing, the rest of the group had already made short work of the fencing. Within a few minutes, Gżira residents had already started showing up in their swimwear, in disbelief at the fact that they could finally access a shoreline they’d been denied for years.

Fast forward to eight years later, and MIDI’s monstrous plans for Manoel Island are still looming large over our heads.

If you are not up to speed about the extent of the irreversible impact of building 323 apartments on what could have been a vital green lung for the locality, MaltaToday’s James Debono wrote an excellent article which you can read by clicking here. What you can see in the photomontages (see featured photo) is a clean, sanitised depiction of a project which will bury any possibility of Manoel Island serving as a reprieve from the relentless, ongoing construction works in Gżira.

What’s really important to highlight about this whole saga is that it is a perfect representation of the tactics deployed by the Labour government in its quest to further its unholy love affair with the property industry.

When we went all-out against the original versions of MIDI’s plans for Manoel Island, we were promised all sorts of concessions and guarantees of public access.

Key figures in the fight against the project – including Gżira mayor Conrad Borg Manche’ and environmental lawyer Claire Bonello – were even appropriated into an administrative council appointed on the strength of the magnanimous ‘Guardianship Deed‘, an agreement laden with promises that public space would be preserved and that public access to key areas like the foreshore would be maintained.

After disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat and his government bent over backwards to diffuse public anger about this travesty of a project, the furor died down over the years as civil society and the general public were forced to pivot towards other horrifying developments occurring pretty much everywhere you look across the island.

In 2021, MIDI finally manages to get approval for 300 apartment blocks. In 2023, it ups the ante, and figures since plans needed to be revised in light of previously unidentified archaeological remains, it could squeeze in a few more apartments in an exclusive gated community to compensate, cutting down public space by 5,000sqm and increasing the privately-owned footprint by 12,500sqm.

As always, all of these deliberate manoeuvres were carried out with the blessing of the Planning Authority (whose case officer gave a glowing review to the latest set of development plans) and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage (which welcomed the revised plans without really batting an eyelid).

One would think that, after eight years of active, nationwide campaigning against this project, someone within the system must have, at some point at least, considered the possibility of yanking the chain of command hard enough to ensure that this project does not go through. It is obvious that the general public has had enough of hearing about it, and any sane, responsible government would be able to see that.

But that’s not how it works under the Labour government. This government, like any other corrupt, totalitarian entity, must crush the opposition. To be clear, I am not referring to the Nationalist Party, but the country’s only real hope – grassroots opposition that is led by civil society and is widely supported by the general public.

The Labour Party knows it cannot win over hearts and minds by listing credible accomplishments, because any accomplishments the party may claim as its own are overshadowed by the never-ending list of scandals which occurred on its watch. The only tools at the party’s disposal are cheap propaganda and abuse of power.

To crush the opposition, the government must go beyond actively targeting dissidents – it must also erase all traces of anything which may be perceived as a ‘win’ for the opposition. For years, we held up Manoel Island as an example of how effective direct action can be, because our direct action, in conjunction with an extensive information dissemination campaign, had stalled MIDI’s plans for years, likely resulting in a significant impact on the initial financial momentum behind the proposed project.

Now, in less than 24 hours, the Planning Authority is set to approve something which was considered absolutely unthinkable eight years ago.

This is the strategy that the government uses – even when resistance is at its fiercest, it will simply shift the goalposts a bit and wear out any and all opposition by feigning a conciliatory disposition whenever brutish dismissal fails to thwart it.

In this case, it took years to wear us all down, but in the end, the private investors behind the project will finally get what they’ve been aiming for all along: an insultingly expensive borough on an islet they have no business owning to begin with, carved out as their own over decades of backroom wrangling with the right men who were in power at the right time.

Joseph Muscat’s administration was largely about striking corrupt deals and personal enrichment.

Robert Abela’s administration is about burying the bodies and silencing the witnesses.

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