More Voodoo Planning

The proposed Mepa legislation fails to address basic issues bedevilling land use planning and environment protection. It is basically a consolidation of current legislation with some amendments. Important provisions in the Environment Protection Act, such as reference to the National Commission for Sustainable Development, are being repealed. While acknowledging that they may crop up in other legislation, the government has not to date publicly indicated its intentions.

After almost two years of consultations I expected something quite different. There has been no attempt at ensuring that appointees to the Mepa board are at least conversant with planning and environmental issues. If past appointments are any indication of what to expect we will have more voodoo planners. Appointing one Mepa board member from an environmental NGO area of influence will not solve anything. We have been there before with the appointee resigning after a few weeks.

Appointment of architects to boards and commissions is no guarantee that Mepa will function within current policy and legislation. Censurable decisions have been taken by DCCs chaired by architects. Some resigned their posts as a result.

There will always be those who err. In addition to human error, some will err as a result of incompetence and others as a result of pressures applied. In the past, some members of the DCC and the Mepa board have taken up the practice of voodoo planning: discarding their role of applying policy, opting instead to create it.

This is the result of not being aware of their role and not being familiar with planning and environmental policy.

Voodoo planning is also a reaction to pressures applied or perceived in the so-called closed-door meetings. Mepa’s executive committee, for example, has developed the role of advising DCCs as to the manner of deciding particular applications. This unacceptable intrusion into the DCCs competence does not feature in the proposed legislation. It is to date left unregulated.

Through its Select Committee, Parliament should develop the role of a permanent monitor: a spotlight focused on Mepa. It should also have a role in screening the government’s nominees to the Mepa board and DCCs, which screening can be carried out through subjecting such nominees to public hearings. Such hearings can weed out most undesirable appointees. Those with a glaring conflict of interest and those whose only qualification is their political allegiance would be the first casualties. A system through which Parliament’s Select Committee screens potential appointees can also nudge the government into discarding the tradition as a result of which competent individuals not close to the government of the day are not considered for appointment.

MPs should not be able to decide specific planning or environmental applications. Hence, I query whether Parliament should continue appointing two of its members to sit as voting members of the Mepa board. MPs would fulfil their role as representatives of the community much better if they develop Parliament’s monitoring role. Parliaments in other jurisdictions function very effectively in this manner.

Up till 2002, the government was still considering the setting up of a separate authority dealing exclusively with the environment and had, in fact, commissioned and received draft legislation on the subject.

The issue of having two separate authorities, one dealing with land use planning and the other with environmental protection, is not one of principle. It is rather one of ensuring that the environment protection function is not stifled as has been done to date. The environment protection voice has been continuously suffocated, available resources withheld or diverted, with appointments to sensitive environment posts being dished out to persons whose competence and experience was in other fields, primarily land use planning. Coupled with the appointment of boards and commissions insensitive to environmental issues, these attitudes have led to the current state of affairs.

If the government persists in its policy of retaining the environment protection function within Mepa, the least it can do is to embark on recruiting qualified personnel at all levels, thereby reversing the accumulated negative legacy. This includes the need to appoint more members of the Mepa board equipped with a suitable knowledge of environmental protection issues.

A positive aspect of the proposed reform is that the government has re-dimensioned its role in forward planning. While rightly affirming that policy decisions are the role of the politician, Mepa’s role in policy formulation has been retained. In addition, the Ombudsman’s comments on fine-tuning of the consultation process as explained in his report dated April 2007, titled The Duty To Consult And The Right To Be Consulted, have been taken on board.

Land use planning and environmental protection will always be controversial. These are surely not the paths to popularity. Parliament needs to take a more active role as an overseer. While the government has a role in leading the way, Parliament has the duty to ensure that the country’s resources are used in a sustainable manner, holding the government to account in the process.

Ir-Riforma tal-MEPA : Azzjoni Popolari

 

Il-liġi l-ġdida dwar il-MEPA li qed jipproponi l-Gvern fiha żewġ artikli (meħuda mill-Liġi l-qadima dwar il-Ħarsien tal-Ambjent) li jitkellmu dwar il-prinċipji ambjentali li fuqhom għandu jimxi l-pajjiż.

L-artiklu 3 jgħidilna li hu dmir ta’ kulħadd li jħares l-ambjent.

L-artiklu 4 min-naħa l-oħra jgħidilna li hu dmir tal-Gvern li jħares l-ambjent għall-benefiċċju tal-ġenerazzjonijiet tal-lum u ta’ għada. Imbagħad l-istess artiklu 4 jagħtina lista ta’ għaxar (10) miżuri li l-Gvern għandu l-obbligu illi jagħmel.

Imma sfortunatament dawn huma dikjarazzjonijiet biss. Għax l-artiklu 5 jgħidilna illi dawn huma biss prinċipji li iżda ma tistax tmur il-Qorti dwarhom. Qegħdin hemm biss biex jistabilixxu direzzjoni għall-Gvern.

Din kienet il-posizzjoni sal-lum. AD jidhrilha li m’għandhiex iżda tibqa’. L-artiklu 3 u 4 m’għandhomx jibqgħu biss dikjaratorji. Għandhom iservu ta’ bażi għal dritt ta’ azzjoni popolari biex jekk f’xi żmien il-Gvern jonqos mid-dmirijiet ambjentali tiegħu ċ-ċittadin ikun jista’ jmur quddiem il-Qrati f’Malta li għandhom ikollhom s-setgħa li jordnaw lill-Gvern li jaġixxi u jaqdi dmiru.

Sal-lum għandna r-rimedju li mmorru Brussels għand il-Kummissjoni Ewropea u dan għamilnieh diversi drabi. Imma naħseb li jkun għaqli li l-Parlament Malti jipprovdi rimedju f’Malta stess.

Il-MEPA u l-Parlament

 

L-abbozz ta’ ligi li ppreżenta għad-diskussjoni l-Gvern m’hiex ir-riforma tal-MEPA. Hi l-għodda li permezz tagħha trid issir ir-riforma. Fil-fehma tiegħi m’hiex l-aħjar għodda. Tista’ tkun ħafna aħjar.

Il-Parlament għandu rwol importanti f’din ir-riforma. Il-Parlament m’għandux jibqa’ parti mill-MEPA iżda għandu jkun fuq il-MEPA. M’għandux jibqa’ jaħtar żewġ membri minn tiegħu biex ikunu membri tal-Bord tal-MEPA. Għandu iżda jaħdem biex jissorvelja lill-istess MEPA. Dan jista’ jsir billi lill-Kumitat Magħżul tal-Parlament dwar l-Ippjanar tal-Iżvilupp u l-Ambjent jiżdiedulu responsabbiltajiet li  jissorvelja lill-MEPA kontinwament u perjodikament jirrapporta lura lill-Parlament dwar dak li jirriżultalu u dwar dak li jidhirlu meħtieġ li jsir.

Il-MEPA teħtieġ trabbi l-kredibilita’. Dan tagħmlu mhux biss bil-ħidma tal-impjegati tagħha iżda fuq kollox il-krediblita’ takkwista mill-ġdid jekk it-tmexxija tal-MEPA tkun aċċettata minn kulħadd (jew mill-parti l-kbira). Hawnhekk li għandu rwol kbir x’jaqdi l-Parlament. Ma jistax ikun li l-Gvern jibqa’ jżomm kontroll sħih fuq il-proċess kollu li bih jaħtar it-tmexxija tal-MEPA. Din il-funzjoni l-Gvern għandu jwettaqa flimkien mal-Parlament. Dan jista’ jsir billi qabel ma jinħatru l-membri tal-Bord tal-MEPA u l-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll tal-Iżvilupp dawn ikunu soġġetti għal smiegħ pubbliku bl-iskop li jistabilixxi jekk humiex addattati għar-responsabbiltajiet tagħhom. B’dan il-mod il-Gvern ma jaħtarx waħdu iżda jkollu jħoss l-obbligu li dawk li jressaq isimhom ikunu nies kapaċi u aċċettabbli. Għax ngħiduha kif inhi, dawk li nħatru fil-passat la kienu kollha kapaċi u wisq inqas kienu kollha aċċettabbli.

Dan kollu jfisser li l-Parlament ikun sieħeb tal-Gvern fil-mod kif taħdem il-MEPA. Il-Membri Parlamentari fil-Kumitat Magħżul jistgħu b’dan il-mod jagħtu kontribut ferm ikbar milli jiddeċiedu fuq applikazzjonijiet individwali. Għax  il-Membru tal-Parlament għandu jara li l-MEPA tista’ u tkun qed tagħmel xogħolha.

By carmelcacopardo Posted in MEPA Tagged

A Green New Deal is required

published January 9, 2010

by Carmel Cacopardo

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In the aftermath of the Copenhagen Climate Summit, fingers have been pointed at China and the US as the perceived culprits for the summit’s failure. The real fault lies elsewhere as the culprit is subservience to competition policy. Economic efficiency on its own does not lead to the right choices as the choices required are not just of an economic nature. They are in addition and simultaneously of a social, environmental and ethical nature.

Human beings are an integral part of an ecological system. This basic fact has to be the constant point of reference in all decisions taken. Unfortunately, it is however continuously ignored.

Subjecting nature to the economy is not possible in the long- term. Nature reacts whenever it considers that this is necessary in order to restore its ecological balance.

In the process, it wipes out of existence all that lies in its path. This has been going on for ages. Climate change is just the latest manifestation of this basic rule: nature always reigns supreme.

The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are limits to growth, which should lead developed countries to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

This is a policy issue the United Kingdom Sustainable Development Commission is discussing. It is addressed in a study authored by Tim Jackson from the University of Surrey and is entitled Prosperity Without Growth: The Transition To A Sustainable Economy.

The pursuit of economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base and the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for survival.

While economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity, it has instead delivered climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to water and an ever-increasing global inequality. These are all issues whose tackling cannot be postponed to the next generation.

Progress is measured through the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.

It is just concerned with material wealth ignoring in the process our health, education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society… It includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of progress as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

In an EU-sponsored conference in 2007, entitled Beyond GDP: Measuring Progress, True Wealth And The Economic Well-Being Of Nations, a common thread running through the proceedings was that decision-making requires a vision based on the role of the human person within an ecological setting. If all humankind lived as the developed world, the resources of three earths would not suffice. This is the challenge of the emerging economies: they want their fair share of the earth’s resources.

The insistence of China, India, Brazil and South Africa reflected in the Copenhagen Accord (subsequently adopted by the US too) that the principle of common and differentiated responsibility should be the basis of a post-Kyoto agreement signifies that equity not competition should rule the roost.

The Copenhagen accord, though noted by the international community, is non-binding and will not be easily accepted by Parliaments in the developed world as an equitable tool to tackle climate change.

The principle of common and differentiated responsibility was successfully applied in the Montreal Protocol of 1987 relative to the elimination of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and the protection of the ozone layer.

When this principle is applied to climate change, as proposed by the Copenhagen Accord, it signifies that the international community recognises that each and every state is contributing to the accumulating disaster but that the responsibility to act differs.

The differentiation depends on the manner in which countries have contributed to the problem.

Those countries that have been emitting greenhouse gases since the industrial revolution should shoulder a larger share of the global cost of mitigation measures.

They also have the duty to assist other states in adapting not just by financing the changes required but also through facilitating the transfer of know-how and technology.

Commitment of billions of euros in aid has been made by both the EU and the US. Throwing monies at problems has never solved them! What is required is a green new deal, an integrated policy approach to the multiple crises the earth is facing. It is an approach proposed by the European Green Party during the 2009 elections for the European Parliament calling for the ecological transformation of the European economy.

Addressing the impacts of climate change cannot be divorced from the need to restructure the economy to one which is not dependent on carbon: an economy that considers its ecological impacts on the drawing board and not as an afterthought.

This is the only way forward.