If you want to have a healthy democracy in a country, it is essential for citizens to participate in the discussions that impact the country’s future. Today, one such discussion was held in the auditorium of the Junior Lyceum in Ħamrun in the form of a public consultation on the future of a controversial luxury Hard Rock Hotel development.
However, if you thought these public consultations were in any way shape or form fun or exciting – maybe you had seen this footage and got your hopes up – then you would be sorely mistaken.
These tedious, soul-consuming meetings are set up in such a way to disincentive the general public from raising their voices or indeed even attending.
Worse off, they show a clear imbalance in the way “big business”, as it were, is treated differently than the general public, the actual soul of a nation, throughout these meetings.
(PS: The development was approved by the end of the meeting)
Registration isn’t always enough
A larger-than-usual police presence greeted attendees outside the school Thursday at 10am. A medium-sized tent had been set up to check and scan everyone entering, behind which many security and police stood.
Some people who looked like they were opposed to the development were given a hard time when trying to enter today’s meeting, even though they were among the 4,500 registered objectors to the development.
“First we were told it’s full and there’s no space, even though we had emailed to be able to enter. Then they realised some of those who emailed were registered objectors, and they let us in,” one person attending the consultation told Lovin Malta.
They were eventually let in – and that’s where the fun really began.
All the hot air
Beyond the businessmen, architects, and PR people talking their talk, the actual air inside the room at Junior Lyceum was more akin to the sauna room inside DB Group’s Seabank spa than a school’s auditorium.
Hundreds of people were stuffed into this room on the last day of summer 2018. White fans were placed around the room and the main stage, where the members of the Planing Authority sat.
Mobile air-conditioners were brought in and placed right next to open doors so as to draw the hot air out of the room via a long plastic pipe. This was very much needed, and appreciated by one and all.
However, after about three hours of ongoing talking, someone realised that most of the plastic pipes had not been placed correctly, and were indeed just blowing the hot air from the room back into the room.
When one worker noticed, he sheepishly placed the pipes in the correct position. Thankfully, no one really noticed him making the arrangements, as by this time they had already been beaten into submission and couldn’t speak to being so parched.
Media, can you not?
Members of the press and cameramen had gathered near the front of the stage, as members of the media were mainly sitting in the left front row; members from DB Group were sat in the right front row.
One camerawoman was making the rounds, taking photos of the crowd, the Planning Authority on stage, and other scenes of interest.
As she was taking photos of the stage – not the first to do so, nor the last – Vince Cassar, the Planning Authority’s chairman, asked that no one take photos from behind their backs, as there were seats for everyone in the front.
The camera people looked at each other quizzically, and resumed taking photos of the PA members’ backs.
Get ready for a whole lot of information you’ve already heard
One easy way of boring people into wishing their eyeballs were Improvised Explosive Devices (IDEs) in the off-chance that something exciting would happen to them, is to present statistics, numbers, and information that they’ve already seen and heard before.
This is exactly what happened, with representatives of DB Group taking over two hours to go through an admittedly lengthy presentation. They also backed up their presentation with new comments from organisations like Transport Malta.
Full of energy and opinion and ready to have their voices heard just hours prior, many attendees were soon sucked into a lethargic drowsiness brought one by the droning voices, stuffy heat, and ACs blowing hot air on them.
You can’t sit – or drink – with us, but please don’t faint
After two hours, and with the presentation still ongoing, people started to leave the auditorium for fresh air, or indeed, air of any type other than the very warm type.
One elderly woman straggled out of the auditorium, went up to the first policeman she saw and asked for water. He directed her to the shop across the road, and reminded her she couldn’t bring the bottlecap back in.
Though water bottles were allowed in, all members of the public had to go all the way outside to get replenished, before having to go through security when coming back in.
However, the thirsty people who didn’t want to lose their seat or miss anything in the meeting could do nothing more than stare at the school’s security and policeman, gathered around several large bottles of ice cold water near the stage, living their best lives.
One Maltese journalist on the front row, clearly at the end of her liquid tether, stood up and literally stole a glass of their water when they had walked away, such was the quiet desperation in that room.
The singular entrance/exit to the auditorium led to a small forum with some “motivational” photos hung up. As people walked out to get their water, they looked at the sweet pictures of student-favourites, like Cristiano Ronaldo and Ariana Grande, talking about achieving success and the like.
Too bad they were full of typos, just to really crush your soul.
Who needs good acoustics when you aren’t supposed to be listening anyway
While attendees could (kind of) make out what the speakers were saying, by the time you hit hour four of the meeting – it lasted nearly six hours – the low volume, droning voices, and reverb in the long hall made you wish you had tinnitus, just so you could hear something real again.
Pictured: The crowd prepares to give their comments after the presentation
And did you think you were going to make a difference anyway?
Even though no other development in Malta’s modern history garnered so much opposition, with halls packed with people, residents marching, and security being beefed up to deal with it all, the development for the 37-storey tower was still approved.
To be fair, there were a number of people from the public who spoke out in support of the development during the meeting, saying it was going to bring a spotlight to an area at risk of becoming a “slum”, where drunk tourists relieve themselves after leaving Paceville, and some streets remain in the darkness without even one spotlight.
Either way, with thousands of people mobilising to oppose this development, accusations of “illegal hidden state aid”, and a final consultation that saw mayors, councillors, NGOs and shadow ministers oppose the development, today’s consultation just goes to show that even after you spend months protesting, writing, and planning, and even after you sit through nearly six hours of hell, big business is still probably going to get its way in Malta.