Parliament house is not a necessary evil like a latrine

Published: July 4, 2009 at 5:27pm
Gordon, the people have decided we should decamp to a bunker in Greenwich and turn this building into a multi-purpose arts centre and public garden

Gordon, the people have decided we should decamp to a bunker in Greenwich and turn this building into a multi-purpose arts centre and public garden

Before I pop up upstairs to watch something banal on television and then go off to celebrate a friend’s wedding (yes, people are still getting married), I’m going to post this casual observation.

Lots of people in Malta, even those from socio-economic group A, who have had – supposedly – the full advantages of a privileged education, are completely in the dark as to the significance of parliament.

If I read one more letter or comment describing parliament house as a place to house MPs in Renzo Piano comfort and glamour while those who paid for the building sweat outside, I shall….never mind.

MPs are the representatives of the people. You know – The People, the ones Astrid & Co and all those whiners and whingers writing from Sliema and its environs drone on about. They are the people we have elected to represent us. They are in parliament because we – The Ruddy People – put them there.

Those who speak of parliament as though it is an inconvenience best shoved into some existing and ill-suited building in which MPs can camp out and make the best of a bad job reveal that they have next to no understanding of democracy. In their minds, The People express their wishes and defend their interests not by means of electing other people to represent them in parliament but by writing letters to The Times of Malta and The Malta Independent and posting sub-literate remarks on online comments-boards. If democracy is a lot of people shouting in the media, then what in heaven’s name is parliament?

Some people who should know better, but clearly do not, have said that ‘we shouldn’t have a parliament house at the entrance to the city’, that ‘the first thing people see on entering Valletta shouldn’t be a parliament house’, or that (and boy, do I love this one) ‘of course we need a parliament house’ – you know, like we need a public lavatory – ‘but please, not at the entrance to Valletta.’

They speak of the House of Parliament as though it is some unpleasant but entirely necessary latrine or cess-pit, and not the highest possible architectural expression of democracy.

Of course parliament house should be at the entrance to the city, given that it cannot be placed at the city’s highest point because that is occupied already by the Auberge de Castille – which is too small to house parliament and too precious to be destroyed and replaced by a parliament house.

What astonishes me most is that several of the people making such inane and disparaging remarks about parliament are from very privileged backgrounds and, presumably, have travelled widely. They cannot have failed to notice, but then again, perhaps they have, that the house of parliament is invariably one of the landmark buildings in Europe’s capital cities. On my first visit to Budapest, a city that values democracy all the more for having been deprived of it for so long, I mistook the house of parliament for the royal palace. It is grander, vaster, more ornate and prominent than the quite ordinary palace.

I cannot decide whether it is hilarious or just sad that some of these individuals are clamouring for a garden rather than a house of parliament on the grounds that a garden is a more important priority to The People than a parliament house. Even if this were really the case, I can’t understand why they are not ashamed to admit to such seriously worrying sentiments.

If they would rather live in a place with plenty of opera houses, concert halls, theatres and gardens but no parliament house and all it stands for, then I suggest they turn back the clock and decamp to the USSR, a place that people did their utmost to leave.

Because it’s not until you’re deprived of democracy that you realise just what parliament house stands for.

16 Comments Comment

  1. John Azzopardi says:

    I must admit, I was not too keen about a parliament house being built instead of the ruins, but Renzo Piano solved the problem admirably. We are to have both.

  2. Vanni says:

    Dear Daphne,
    I think that I can see the point of the argument being argued by the ‘other side’.

    Firstly, and to clear the air. Yes politicians deserve an appropriate building, and it has to be an adequate place, and not a kerrejja. However, it strikes me that the the argument you are using has been used by the Church to build so many ostentatious buildings.

    Your argument, if I understood you correctly, puts a parliamentary building on the same footing as a church, or a mosque, ie a symbol. Do you consider Maltese people need a grand symbol? Are the Maltese so unsure about their democracy that they need to be reminded that they are in a democracy?

    [Daphne – Aren’t you missing the crucial difference? Religions are a matter of choice. In a democracy, you get to choose your religion. You can no more compare democracy to religion than you can compare, say, a polar iceberg to a can of tomatoes.]

    Personally, I can relate to a theatre, open or closed, I can relate to a library, I can relate (and very easily) to well kept gardens, but hesitate to accept a symbol. Not unless I am so unsure of my democratic credentials that I require a constant reminder.

    [Daphne – It’s not about a constant reminder. It’s an architectural expression of esteem: you house democracy in a beautiful and prominent building, in the same way that, in the pre-democratic age, you would have housed the sovereign in a palace. Unfortunately, lots of people don’t seem to grasp the difference in concept between housing democracy and housing MPs, so they are equating their MPs with those sovereigns of yore, and it’s bringing out their French revolutionary tendencies.]

    • Antoine Vella says:

      Vanni, every building – especially a public one – is a symbol. Archaeologists can tell a lot about a civilisation just by studying the plans of its cities and the ruins of its buildings. Tucking parliament away in a fort literally at the farthest tip of Valletta or in some other nook would mean that we don’t care how the country is run and that we expect – want, even – lawmakers to be cut off from society. It is ironic that those who clamour most to be “heard” and heeded by MPs are the ones who would banish parliament to the outskirts or even outside Valletta.

  3. Marvin Vella says:

    Most of those who comment negatively on the Renzo Piano plans on do so because they want a Labour government to build it. They already tried it in 1996 with the “projett tal Millenju” i.e. the multicutural plaza with shops and one floor reserved for culture.

    Renzo Piano’s plans, if you see them with neutral eyes, are basically a big compromise so everybody gets a piece of what they want and that’s why I think they are the only solution for Valletta. Everybody gets a piece of the pie.

    The opera people get a venue. Parliament gets a new deserved home. The ugly entrance is removed. The Valletta symmetry goes back to what it was. The cultural people get a Piano masterpiece.

    So everybody loses some and wins some, except the Labour fanatics who want a Labour government to build it. That’s why Astrid and Co have shut up they do not have the support of the pale blue klikka and they do not want to lose them because they want their backing for when the P.N. government slips up, Intelligent move from her side.

    Astrid Vella and Saviour Balzan, who have on their agenda the election of an MLP government are the reason the PN is losing votes in the 9th and 10th districts.

  4. Steve says:

    I agree with you about democracy, and not appreciating it until you’ve lost it and all that, but ‘the people’, and not just in Malta, are beginning to realise that all (ok, most) politicians stink! Most are there just to further their own interests, or at least it seems that way.

    So people end up voting not because they want X to represent them, but because they DON’T want Y. So even though X has been chosen by the people, he/she is not really the people’s choice, just the best on offer.

    In short, democracy stinks, but the alternatives stink much more. I’m sure someone else, much wiser than myself, said something similar…maybe Churchill?

    [Daphne – “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” – Winston Churchill]

    • Tonio Farrugia says:

      “In a democracy everybody has a right to be represented, including the jerks.” Lord Patten, former Governor of Hong Kong

  5. il-Ginger says:

    They think on the lines that if they can’t use it then nobody can.

  6. Marc Antony says:

    When Westminster Palace (the building, to those who do not know, pictured above) was bombed and the Commons Chamber destroyed during the London Blitz, Winston Churchill ensured that it was restored to the same standard as before, despite calls that due to the war effort, spending on the chamber should be minimal. He did so for the reasons you’ve mentioned. A wonderful article.

    • John II says:

      A very good argument for rebuilding the opera house as it was before it was bombed, Marc. Thank you.

      [Daphne – Thick as two planks, aren’t you? Churchill was highlighting the importance of parliament. He wouldn’t have felt the same way about opera.]

      • John II says:

        The expression is “as thick as two short planks”. :o)

      • Antoine Vella says:

        Westminster Palace was not destroyed completely like the opera house. Only part of it had to be reconstructed and the works can be considered as a repair job rather than the building of a replica.

  7. “Of course parliament house should be at the entrance to the city, given that it cannot be placed at the city’s highest point….”

    Quality, Daphne. I’m sure the Carmelites could lend you an inch tape or two.

  8. E.Muscat says:

    Your picture shows a den of thieves:read the daily telegraph once in a while!

  9. E=mc2 says:

    The legislative organ of state is the president in parliament just as the Crown in parliament (under God, as is sometimes added) is the legislative organ of Great Britain on whose constitution ours is largely modelled.

    The Constitution says: There shall be a Parliament of Malta which shall consist of the President and a House of Representatives.

    Some have a vision of parliament as a debating society with frequent trading of insults but, apart from the behaviour of some individual MPs from time to time, the House of Representatives is an expression of the rule of law which guarantees democracy. Without it, there would be autocracy or arbitrary rule or rule by the divine right of kings.

    Parliament legislates and, in so doing, curtails the powers of the rulers (the executive) over the people by enacting what can and cannot be done. And, since MPs are elected by the people, the people are ruling themselves by delegating legislative powers to their representatives. The laws are then applied by the executive (the government) and can be enforced through the courts in case the executive does not apply them as parliament intended.

    It is therefore good and proper that this institution should be housed in a building that expresses its importance as the ultimate power of the people. It should be prominent and visible so that the people can identify themselves with it because it is the source of their power. It is not the house of MPs but the house of the people.

    Everyone has the right to go personally and see what parliament is doing and that is why there is the strangersi gallery – an unfortunate term as the people should not consider themselves “strangers” in this place.

    One is aware that the above is stating the obvious but sometimes the obvious is not immediately visible to all.

  10. david says:

    I was really happy that finally the government has embarked on major projects like the Valletta entrance and opera house.

    These projects will surely induce economic growth to the private sector which is much needed, and my advice is that the government shall move on fast, rather than listening to unprofessional critics. We cannot please everyone on such projects, but if executed properly a lot of positive change will come about.

    I am still saddened by the St. John Cathedral project rejection.

    Regarding the opera house, it is impossible to build it to its original glory, we do not have the resources, manpower, craftsmanship and time frame.

    [Daphne – Of course we do, and that’s not the reason it shouldn’t be rebuilt.]

  11. Malcolm says:

    When the opera house was first built, it burnt to ashes. When it was rebuilt, it was bombed to bits. Let’s face it guys, the building just isn’t supposed to be there. Rebuilding it again would be just begging for an earthquake or a meteor or a giant foot to come stomping down a la Monty Python.

    Parliament is the driving force of any country and a very important place. Just like the kitchen (and not the latrine) is the most important room in a restaurant. But still, nobody wants to see the kitchen as soon as they walk in do they?

    Still some kitchens ARE nice to look at and if anyone could design one worth looking at – Mr Piano has. All we need to do now is teach our politicians to flambe’.

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