Having seen the MEPA reform document as proposed by government I think that it is a positive effort which can generate a fruitful discussion. A number of positive proposals are being put forward. Other proposals should possibly be reconsidered as a result of the public discussion on the proposals which will now commence.
Whilst it has to be stated that MEPA was never a policy maker (it always drafted policies for the consideration of government) I consider that the detachment of MEPA from policy formulation/drafting is a positive proposal. Likewise the shedding by MEPA of responsibilities which can now be shouldered by other bodies set up since 1992 (the year the Planning Authority was set up) is a positive development.
I applaude the insistence of the reform document on the need to channel negotiations on proposals for development at Directorate level and away from the Development Control Commission.
However limiting the DCC to a Chairman and two members could be too small in size especially in respect of the DCC dealing with UCAs, ODZ and major projects. The latter DCC would require expertise in more areas that could reasonably be covered by three persons.
The proposal to appoint a full-time DCC has its merits in addressing conflicts of interest of current part-time DCC members who are practising their profession or other calling. The basic issue of the manner of selecting of DCC/Board members has however not been addressed by the reform document.
AD had proposed in the run-up to the 2008 General Elections that whilst government should retain the power to appoint the MEPA Board and DCC members these should be subject to a public hearing by a Parliamentary Committee to ascertain their suitability, a procedure similar to that adopted by the US Senate to vet high level appointments by the US President. All the appointments to the DCC and the MEPA Board are appointments of considerable importance which in my view merit such a procedure.
Government is proposing the presence of a representative of Environmental NGOs on the MEPA Board. I do not doubt the good intentions behind such a proposal however I think that there are better ways of involving environmentalists in the decision taking structures of MEPA. Already in 2006 the Chairman of an eNGO was appointed to the MEPA Board, but he resigned not much later. Even officials of eNGOs can have conflicts of interests between their duties as representatives of the eNGOs they lead on the one hand and as members of decision taking structures on the other hand. The two functions are oftenly in conflict.
Government is insisting on retaining the environment and land use planning as part of the same authority. AD has expressed reservations in the past on such an administrative solution. These reservations have been based on the limited resources which in the past have placed the Environment Directorate of MEPA in a position of severe weakness in the MEPA structures, in particular in a position subservient to Land Use Planning.
These are my first reactions. There are other areas in the document which merit an in-depth discussion but it is considered that the above highlights the major areas of concern.