Dura lex, sed lex

Damn. Why can’t I enjoy my holiday in peace? I was trying to have a little break from blogging but the Transport Federation’s activity these last days begs many a comment. I doubt many people are out of the loop on this one but for the benefit of the readers still stuck in the Benelux who count on J’accuse for their pill of information, the news in a nutshell is: Government starts liberalise sectors of Public Transporrt, all PT operators group into a Federation, Federation strikes.

Liberalisation is overdue. Even in sectors where liberalisation is questionable (like the hearses – due to market size) we have long had decisions by the local “authority” stating clearly in black on white that the market operators can no longer be exempted from Competition Law (vide Case Ex 1/2001 “Funerali”). Competition law is essentially what most of this is about. The MLPN style of government can no longer afford to ignore the issue – it has sat on, and appeased, the current transport system for too long and now is forced to act. Once again it is not an intelligent, planned move but definitely the rabbit staring at the headlamps and twitching into limited grotesque action. EU laws on competition do not allow the current state of affairs and it was only a matter of time before we would have had another set of cases on our hands.

Hence we are off to liberalising hearses, taxis, minibuses and buses. Music to our ears but this action, courageous as it may be does not win  points with the arrogant, intelligent voter. The list of culprits is long. It begins with Mintoff, salvatur ta’ Malta, who gave us roads, hospitals, running water (more not than often) and a peek at Minister’s colour televisions. It was under Mintoff for example that an ingenial solution was found for buses and bus drivers. At some point it was noticed that buses are uninsurable – maybe because they are driven by wreckless oafs and ex-criminals (not all mind you). So what did Salvatur do? He forced the insurance companies to create an insurance fund that would be OBLIGED to insure buses that would otherwise only be considered insurable by an insurance agent on drugs.

The net result is basically that inefficieny and wrecklessness was encouraged. Twenty years into the nationalist government and the fund is still there. So no blaming Mintoff please. Then there were the different sectors. Each given licenses to work, each guaranteed a monopoly and each given assurances that they would be there forever. Evviva l-vot. MLP is the next big culprit. Yes, MLP with its NO Campaign. A ridiculous campaign that led to the PN having to cut deals with the devil and his brother in order to achieve a YES vote for the EU.

These are the truths of the effect of joining the EU. That inefficiencies like our whole transport system would crumble under an effective legal regime. That’s the law… a harsh law. Which is why to the intelligent person, hundreds of blue clad drivers yelling insults at the poor overworked police and army (immigrants, youth in paceville and now bus drivers.. when is their hell going to end?) are just a bunch of cowboys. The drivers are in an ironic situation because their argument that under an efficient competition system they would go bankrupt is true. And it is just because it is true that it is so desperately needed. Because competition is an incentive for getting your act staight – just like in the political party field, so it is in most other markets – competition is healthy because participants need to be at the best in their game to attract business.

And given the choice between a troglodyte driven creaking bus with hopeless routes and a potential new system with educated drivers, clear planning and efficient deliveries… whose side would you be on?

There’s much more to write but the beach beckons. It’s as far from Valletta as I could get… feel free to use J’accuse to vent your frustration at the eejits. The newspaper sites seem to be blocked so I guess one site is as good as any other.


9 responses to “Dura lex, sed lex

  1. danny attard

    Indeed so much to be discussed…what I like about this blog is that one can ignore clichés and go against current rhetoric…

    I suppose we all agree that:

    1. Public transport must be liberalised
    2. The present set-up needs to be drastically improved
    3. We have all applauded Dr Gatt for bringing this issue to the fore, expressing faith in his style of negotiation that will see no further sweeping of issues under an unmagic carpet.

    Now, with events and pieces of info that have emerged these last few days, my faith in Gatt has seriously shrunk (and I am saying this at the pinnacle of the new Austin cult). And may I hope that my experience will be proved horribly wrong and that Gatt will carry the day.

    These last few days we have moved from talking the bold talk to walking the bold path. And what do I see?

    1. Commitment to reform: Gatt says – The liberalisation of mini-buses and taxis had not featured in the government plans. And as for the buses, he had already had talks with the president of the Bus Owners’ Association, Victor Spiteri in view of EU requirements. mmm is it more hold than bold?

    2. Strategy. Ok let us look for something more tangible. Gatt again: the EU had presented three alternatives – a service run by SMEs, a state-run service, or a service awarded after an international tender.

    The government had originally opted for the former in association with the Public Transport Association, but the EU had rejected that, viewing it as a way to circumvent directives. OMG. Gatt who rides his stallion banner flapping in the wind against the barbarian hoards …is suspected of circumventing directives to appease said hoards?

    Negotiating Skills: with faith already seriously tested, we were given a glimpse of Gatt’s negotiating skills: Dr Gatt said he had gone to Cabinet about the liberalisation of licenses for hearses after talks with the association representing the owners of hearses, where no agreement was reached.

    OK, for any lover of love-stories that spells either war or walkover by the hearse people. When you go to war you must be prepared.

    How prepared was Gatt? Quote: He (Gatt) was surprised by the industrial action taken by the owners of mini-buses. Taxis and route buses.


    Way out : Perhaps Dr Gatt has some sophisticated plan that he will unleash in the transport community in the coming hours.

    If he does not have one, please end this action now and start afresh with a good negotiator by Dr Gatt’s side.

    1. The government is in favour of liberalisation wherever it benefited the country and consumers.
    2. Labour’s position is exactly the same

    3. The Transport Federation has also accepted the concept of liberalisation.

    So what is the problem?

  2. I am all for liberalization where there is the opportunity for competition.

    An innocent question, mine: how does one get competition in public transport? Would different companies’ buses compete for the same routes? You see, the privatization of Britain’s train system did not introduce competition irrespective of the fact that it is run by different companies and is still unworthy of a rich country such as the UK. Train tickets are some of the most expensive in Europe and staff treat commuters like dirt. In the case of British rail, it is only the government (read tax payer) that can invest long term in modernising the system and building new routes.

  3. danny attard

    I agree totally Gattaldo. We need a reformed public transoport service. Liberalisation is but a representative of such need and is mentioned loosely (part of our mediocrity culture).

    Government can not, for example, liberalise the Rabat/Mgarr route because it does not make economic sense. Moreover, liberalisation can only apply in Taxi and Mini-van sector. Bus-routes will still be operated as a ‘heavy regularised’ monopoly subject to periodical review of tender conditions. This process will also mean higher prices and subsidies.

    Much thought and vision is required. Pity that our energies are spent on ego messaging exercises creating gods out of hay.

  4. Dura lex, sed lex xi tfisser? … Qatt ma smajtha fl-ghalqa din.

  5. @Reuben: the law is harsh (hard) but it’s the law. And Jacques, there is no use for commas in the construction of a precise Latin sentence. Dura lex sed lex.

  6. @Daphne: Welcome back from Gaul. Hope the holiday was nice. Like many others I still like to think of Latin as a living, useful language and as such there are many instances in which you can speak of modern usage. A case in point is the Dura Lex, Sed Lex, which as you rightly point out can very well be written without a comma. You will however come across many instances in modern usage where the comma is inserted, without any detrimental effect to the overall meaning.

    Revera linguam latinam vix cognovi, but in any case, the comma does come in handy when writing some hilarious phrases like: Catapultam habeo. Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immane mittam.

    Acta est fabula, plaudite!

  7. Atque memento, nulli adsunt Romanorum qui locutionem tuam corrigant

  8. @fek: LOL Damn right there aren’t 🙂

  9. Ghax jekk ma tafux Daphne ghandha degree fl-antropologija u l-arkeologija kif ilha tghidilna ad nauseaum fil-gazzetta (imbasta titkaza ghax hemm minn jghid l ghandu degree jew ghandu l-ittri wara ismu) u hadet ukoll xi credit fil-latin – f’dan ta l-ahhar tkaxkret biex ghaddiet u ghalhekk ma tantx tghidilna fuq kemm hu “fascinating” – pero xorta tipoppa biex turina kemm taf.

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