Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Times: Institutions in ivory towers

Tuesday, October 16, 2012 by Kenneth Zammit Tabona

A drunken Somali was fined €3,000 for smashing the window of a bendy bus while a local from Mellieħa was given a suspended sentence after having run over an Australian for having called him gay!

The reasoning behind this bizarre decision appeared to be that, in Mellieħa, being called gay is an insult of such magnitude that it justifies causing grievous bodily harm in retaliation; if not attempted murder!

For many years I have refrained from expressing any direct opinion about the contrariness and inconsistency of the court judgments that are meted out and the deleterious and undermining effect they have on the public’s trust in the law.

Not that, for a moment, I am suggesting that the courts should move in accordance with public opinion as that would be catastrophic; a Kangaroo Court I believe it’s called. But I feel that the courts should remember that, at all times, the public is watching and assessing their every move.

This caution applies to ins­titutions which, since time immemorial, were supreme arbiters in our daily lives; the Church, the Law Courts and Parliament. None of them appear to have come to terms with what the IT revolution has meant and they largely ignore what is being written about them all day and every day in the lively discussions that are held online. At least that is what their lack of reaction seems to imply.

I was still a child when I read 1001 Nights for the first of many times and was always impressed by the great Caliph Haroun Al Rashid who often disguised himself and his Vizier in order to mix with the populace of Baghdad undetected in order to find out what people thought about this that and the other. Especially, of course of the caliph himself.

Today there is no need for the Prime Minister, Archbishop or Chief Justice to disguise themselves and rub shoulders with the denizens of Paceville but all they have to do is switch on their PCs to assess the comments that accompany their every move.

In the last few years entire revolutions have taken place in places, including Baghdad, wherein it was hitherto unthinkable for them to happen. Regimes have toppled. This IT revolution has also transmogrified our own political scenario, undermined the sway of the Church and questioned the reliability of our courts of law.

Parliament today is in a state of flux. Ironically, as Piano’s great big silver box dwarfs the ramparts of Valletta and reduces its buildings to relative insignificance, the incumbents in government have been at war with themselves, split by diametrically opposing forces that have lacerated the PN into monstrous unrecognisability.

Yet, despite ironically being in full election mode without having called an election, the PM carries on regardless forgetting that his actions will be questioned and challenged by an MP who once was considered to be so ‘papabile’ as to eventually take Gonzi’s place but who blotted his copybook with indelible ink during the 2008 election.

This has just happened with the proposed takeover of St Philip’s Hospital. What the other recalcitrant backbencher will do is anybody’s guess. Meanwhile the Opposition looks on, totally gobsmacked, at these shenanigans, hoping against hope that they will never suffer the same ignominious fate themselves.

The silver box itself is the subject of great controversy even as last Thursday the EU assessors went about their work and on Friday pronounced V18 a reality.

What should have happened on the site was the creation of a museum of modern art, an auditorium for orchestral performances and a national theatre: infrastructural lacunae that hamper our cultural development. They would have been a natural extension to what already exists at St James Cavalier.

But no, tragically our modern art collection wallows in storage while the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra has been homeless since 1997 and theatre has to somehow be squeezed in with the variegated programme of the Manoel Theatre, which despite being a 1731 court theatre, every year pulls off an organisational miracle.

The sad thing is that there was a perfectly workable and practical solution at the time when the decision to create the open air joke next to the new parliament house was taken. But of course, we artists were told by Minister Austin Gatt that we must learn that what the Government says goes, as, wait for it, we live in a democracy! I will never forget the quizzical look on the face of the late lamented Professor Fr Peter Serracino Inglott at this bizarre totalitarianism.

But I have digressed and I apologise.I feel that institutions today are in a state of denial and even if they pay lip service to the miracle of IT and its benefits they take very peculiar decisions as to its use. To do this requires a great deal of planning, rethinking and self-examination.

The PN government is far too taken up by its internal problems to stop its electoral express train from taking a flying leap headlong over Dingli Cliffs.

No sooner has the Church recovered from a paedophile scandal than it has to cope with thieving butlers and collapsing financial institutions while the courts, like the Queen, still believe in the time-honoured maxim of “never complain, never explain” with regard to public opinion.

All three institutions must abandon their ivory towers and face the real world before it is too late as, in my opinion, they will, sooner rather than later, have reality forced upon them as more and more people will perceive them to be no more than clay-footed gods that once were.

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