Malta’s Nine Ghost Towns

The 2005 Census had revealed that 53,136 residential units in Malta were vacant. This was an increase of 17,413 units over the 35,723 vacant residential units identified during the 1995 Census. Faced with an increase of over 48 per cent in 10 years, a responsible government would have contained the development boundaries as existing supply can satisfy the demand for residential accommodation for many years to come.

In 2006, just nine months after the 2005 Census, the Nationalist Party-led Government defied common sense and, instead of applying the brakes, it further increased the possibilities for building development through three specific decisions. Through the rationalisation process, the PN-led Government extended the boundaries of development in all localities. Then it facilitated the construction of penthouses by relaxing the applicable conditions. If this were not enough, it increased the height limitations in various localities, intensifying development in existing built-up areas.

As a result of increasing the permissible heights, sunlight was blocked off low-lying residential buildings in the affected areas.

These residences were using sunlight to heat water through solar water heaters or to generate electricity through photovoltaic panels installed on their rooftops.

They can now discard their investments in alternative energy thanks to the PN-led Government’s land use policies!

The result of these myopic land use planning policies further increased the number of vacant properties, which is estimated as being in excess of 70,000 vacant residential units. (Mepa chairman Austin Walker, in an interview in June 2010, had referred to an estimated 76,000 vacant residential properties.)

The estimated total of vacant residential properties is equivalent to nine times the size of the residential area of Birkirkara, the largest locality in Malta, which, in 2005, had 7,613 residential units.

These ghost towns over the years have gobbled up resources to develop or upgrade an infrastructure that is underutilised. Spread all over the Maltese islands, these ghost towns have required new roads, extending the drainage system, extending the utility networks and street lighting as well as various other services provided by local councils.

The funds channelled to service ghost towns could have been better utilised to upgrade the infrastructure in the existing localities over the years.

The above justifies calls for an urgent revision of development boundaries through a reversal of the 2006 rationalisation exercise where land included for development in 2006 is still uncommitted.

Similarly, the relaxation of height limitations and the facilitated possibility to construct penthouses should be reversed forthwith.

All this is clearly in conflict with the efforts being made by the Government itself, assisted with EU funds, to increase the uptake of solar water heaters and photovoltaic panels.

I am aware of specific cases where decisions to install photovoltaic panels have had to be reversed as a result of the development permitted on adjacent property subsequent to the 2006 height relaxation decisions.

In its electoral manifesto for the forthcoming election, AD, the Green party, will be proposing a moratorium on large-scale development in addition to the reversal of the above policies as it is unacceptable that the construction industry keeps gobbling up land and, as a result, adding to the stock of vacant property.

The market has been unable to deal with the situation and, consequently, the matter has to be dealt by a government that is capable of taking tough decisions in the national interest.

Neither the PN nor the Labour Party are capable of taking such decisions as it has been proven time and again that both of them are hostages to the construction industry.

The slowdown of the activities of the construction industry is the appropriate time to consider the parameters of its required restructuring. It is clear that the construction industry has to be aided by the State to retrain its employees in those areas of operation where lack of skills exist.

There are three such areas: traditional building trades, road construction and maintenance as well as marine engineering.

Traditional building skills are required primarily to facilitate rehabilitation works of our village cores and to properly maintain our historical heritage. Our roads require more properly-trained personnel so that standards of road construction and maintenance are improved and works carried out in time. Our ports and coastal defences require a well-planned maintenance programme and various other adaptation works as a result of the anticipated sea-level variations caused by climate change.

The construction industry employs about 11,000 persons. It is imperative that its restructuring is taken in hand immediately.

In addition to halting more environmental damage, a long overdue restructuring will also serve to mitigate the social impacts of the slowdown on the families of its employees through retraining for alternative jobs both in the construction industry itself and elsewhere.

The so-called ‘social policy’ of the PN and the PL have neglected these families for years on end.

 

published in The Times on 29 September 2012

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Out of Phase ?

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini in his last interview published posthumously described the Roman Catholic Church as being 200 years out of phase!

Whilst there are quite a few examples in Malta which prove the veracity of Cardinal Martini’s statement there is the occasional oasis which points to the contrary. A Maltese Roman Catholic think tank by the name of Converse at Palazzo de Piro yesterday Thursday 27th September 2012 launched a document entitled “What kind of society would you like to live in?” This document is the result of an initiative of a group of individuals inspired by the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching. They held discussions which they describe as dialogue sessions, with civil society: unions,  business, scientists, religious communities, educationalists, artists, the media and political movements over a number of months.

A team from Alternattiva Demokratika and Ceratonia Foundation (AD’s Educational Foundation) participated in one of these dialogue sessions in summer.

The document developed into a 64 page booklet which is an invitation to participate in an open-ended dialogue as to the society we want. Serious discussion is unfortunately very lacking in these islands so much that when one starts asking questions many an eyebrow is raised. This is one of the most basic defects of this democracy which will shortly be 50 years young.

In this short post I cannot do justice to the document but it would suffice if I were to reproduce its conclusion hereunder :

“It is only through a process of dialogue, which is marked by clarity, attentiveness, humility, prudence and sincerity, that we can come to see which social, legal, educational, economic and religious structures could be truly just in our contemporary society. The very practice of intelligent dialogue inculcates the desirable personal and communal character traits that contribute to a well-ordered and harmonious society where the pursuit of truth, goodness, justice and beauty are both possible and enhanced. Hence, it is not only because our new challenges are so multi-faceted and multi-layered that they demand that representatives from all spheres of society come together in dialogue. It is also because a culture of dialogue realises what it enacts: a social dimension characterised by authentic human development.

The task ahead is a mammoth one. Yet, since the task of deliberative dialogue that leads to prudent action must be shared among all, the burden is also a collective one, made easier through everyone’s responsible participation, just as the fruits to be reaped would benefit us all.

This document is just a humble beginning of the discussion to which we invite one and all to contribute. What kind of society would you like to live in?”

Well Mons Martini was not 100% right. Not all of the Church is 200 years out of phase!

originally published in di-ve.com on Friday 28th September 2012

 

M’hemmx bżonn ta’ kuċċarina

Franco Debono qed jagħti l-messaġġi bl-imgħarfa biex ikun ċar li dak li jgħid jinftiehem kif intenzjonat.

Jiena da parti tiegħi kont iktar ċar minn hekk ftit inqas minn ħames snin ilu. Xi wħud forsi insew.

F’ittra li kont ippreżentajt lil Joe Saliba, Segretarju Ġenerali tal-PN ta’ dak iż-żmien kont tajt raġunijiet dettaljati għala kont qiegħed nirreżenja minn membru tal-PN wara iktar minn tletin sena imsieħeb.

Dak li għidt dakinnhar jibqa’ validu anke illum. Anzi jassumi sinifikat addizzjonali.

Fost oħrajn kont għidtlu li “Meta sseħibt fil-Partit Nazzjonalista kont nidentifika ruħi bla diffikulta miegħu. Iżda illum ilni żmien nagħmel sforz nistaqsi lili nnifsi jekk il-PN għadux l-istess Partit li jiena sseħibt fih fis-snin 70. Qiegħed nasal għall-konkluzjoni illi kieku kelli nagħmel l-għażla illum ma kontx nagħżel li nissieħeb.”

Illum hemm bosta oħrajn li qed jgħidu l-istess. Li l-PN inbidel. Il-bidla hi għall-agħar. Tajjeb li waslu għall-istess konklużjoni, avolja 5 snin tard.

Il-bażi ta’ dan kollu, kont għidt f’Jannar 2008 hi nuqqas ta’ kontabilita’ vera tal-Gvern lejn il-Parlament. Għax il-Parlament hu bla snien u ser jibqa’ bla snien sakemm jibqa’ kompost biss minn żewġ partiti. Għalhekk hemm bżonn li dawk kollha ta’ rieda tajba jsaħħu t-tielet partit.

Illum il-ġurnata jiena imsieħeb f’dan it-tielet partit li hu Alternattiva Demokratika. Dan għamiltu għax filwaqt li dehrli li kelli nerġa’ nibda ninvolvi ruħi fil-politika l-Partit Laburista rajtu fjakk fl-2008 u huwa iktar fjakk illum. F’ħafna aspetti ma jingħarafx mill-PN u huwa prattikament konservattiv daqsu.

Dak li seħħ matul dawn l-aħħar xhur inissel fija dispjaċir wieħed: li fil-PN u fil-grupp parlamentari tiegħu hemm bosta persuni validi li huma kritiċi tat-tmexxija attwali imma sabuha diffiċli ħafna li jikkordinaw bejniehom reazzjoni komuni. Saru diversi kummenti validi iżda sfortunatament kulħadd spara għal rasu u għaldaqstant ftit kien hemm ċans li jkun hemm suċċess għat-twettieq ta’ dak li kien qiegħed jintqal.

Min irid jifhem jifhem. M’hemmx bżonn ta’ kuċċarina!

( Nota: l-ittra ta’ riżenja tiegħi hi riprodotta fit-tweġiba għall-mistoqsija numru 4 f’intervista li kont tajt lil Andrew Azzopardi u li issibha hawn)

Smart meters and Alfred Sant

Smart meters have been advertised as being required for ARMS Limited to be able to issue bills for our water and electricity consumption in real time.  Differential billing depending on consumption patterns would now be possible. Visits by a meter reader will no longer be necessary.

The smart meters, we were told, is all positive for the consumer.

Through the smart meters ARMS Limited, Enemalta Corporation and the Water Services Corporation collect information on our households and businesses continuously.  They know what we do in the privacy of our homes. They know when we are in, whether we are on holiday or whether we are at work. They know when we switch on our television. When we switch on our air conditioner.

This is a major issue of privacy. We need to be assured that the safeguards protecting access to this massive data is in place and that it functions properly.

Unfortunately there have been a number of instances in the public sector where substantial doubts have arisen on the non-functioning of data protection safeguards. I will give two examples.

Early in 2008 just before the general elections a direct mail shot was sent by the PN Leader Dr Lawrence Gonzi  to employees in key sectors of industry. One such worker who received this mail shot was identified specifically in the letter sent and signed by Dr Gonzi as an employee in the pharmaceutical sector. Now as far as I am aware the information is available in the databases of ETC (Employment and Training Corporation) and the Inland Revenue Department. As it is improbable that the employer made his list of employees available to a political party it is logical to conclude that the PN had access to sensitive information notwithstanding  data protection safeguards.

The second example concerns former Labour Leader Alfred Sant who on the eve of the 2008 elections had detailed information on his state of health splashed on the media. The source of such information could only be the medical file held at Mater Dei Hospital. This information ought to have been protected in terms of data protection legislation as well as medical ethical standards. Yet it was not.

Faced with the above who can ensure that data protection standards are applied as it seems that the Data Protection Commissioner was ineffective.  The Smart meters will track much more then energy and water consumption unless the Data Protection Commissioner is wide awake!

This was first published in di-ve.com on Friday 21st September 2012

It-tradiment tal-Labour Party

Qed jgħidulna li min iħaddem, jiġifieri l-Malta Employers Association (MEA) qed jaqbel mal-Partit Laburista. Tafu dwar xiex? Għax il-Partit Laburista ma jridx li jirrevedi l-paga minima (ħlief għal żieda dovuta għall-għoli tal-ħajja).

Issa jiena naħseb li ħadd ma hu ta’ subgħajh f’ħalqu. Hu ċar għal kulħadd li l-Partit Laburista immexxi minn Joseph Muscat aċċetta l-posizzjoni ta’ min iħaddem li ma jridux li l-paga minima tkun reveduta.

Iżda mhux hekk kien jgħid Joseph Muscat meta kien jinsisti li għandu jkun inkoraġġit l-kunċett ta’ living wage għax il-minimum wage m’hiex biżżejjed.  Issa għal Muscat u l-Labour Party, dak li jippretendi li hu progressiv, l-minimum wage tidher li hi biżżejjed.

F’Marzu li għadda, għal min jiftakar, il-Caritas Malta ippubblikat rapport intitolat: A Minimum Budget for a Decent Living. A Research Study by Caritas Malta focusing on three low-income household categories. Fost id-diversi rakkomandazzjonijiet tagħha f’dan ir-rapport il-Caritas kienet irrakkomandat dwar il-ħtieġa li l-minimum wage tiżdied bi 13.8% u ċjoe minn €158.11 għal €180 għal ġimgħa ta’ 40 siegħa xogħol.

L-aħħar punt: il-Labour qed jgħid li flok ma jirrevedi l-paga minima fi ħsiebu jraħħas il-kontijiet tad-dawl u l-ilma. Jiġifieri l-Labour Party daħal f’alleanza man-negozju u l-industrija biex bl-iskuża li qed iraħħas il-kontijiet għan-nies tal-paga jissussidja l-kontijiet tad-dawl u l-ilma tal-industrija u n-negozju.  Dan mhux biss hu populiżmu ta’ l-agħar tip talli hu r-riċetta preċiża biex ikompli jitkisser il-pajjiż. Għax biex iraħħas il-kontijiet mod wieħed għandu : jżid it-taxxi biex jagħmel tajjeb għall-ispejjes tal-Korporazzjoni Enemalta.  U dwar dan m’hu jgħid xejn (għalissa).

Mela issa għanda żewġ partiti konservattivi f’Malta : dak ta’ Lawrence Gonzi u dak ta’ Joseph Muscat li t-tnejn qed ifittxu li jaqdu mill-koxxa lill-big business. Il-Partit Laburista bil-posizzjoni li ħa dwar il-paga minima qed jittradixxi n-nies tax-xogħol u daħal f’alleanza mal-big business.

New Labour! La progressiv u wisq inqas moderat!

Ħofra fit-triq: il-Kunsill Lokali għandu jħallas l-ispejjes

 

Il-Kunsilli Lokali issa jridu jagħtu iżjed każ tal-ħofor fit-triq.

It-Tribunal għat-Talbiet iż-Żgħar ordna lill-Kunsill ta’ Ħal-Balzan biex iħallas danni ta’ €180 lil persuna li spiċċat b’tyre tal-karozza li kellu jinbidel wara li r-rota tal-karozza spiċċat f’ħofra ftit fonda fil-wied ta’ Ħal-Balzan.

Il-każ ġara nhar it-18 ta’ Jannar 2012 u l-ħofra ma kienitx tidher għax kienet mimilja bl-ilma tax-xita. Il-Kunsill Lokali, irrappurtat it-Times online tal-lejla mhux biss naqas li jieħu ħieb adequat tat-tiswijiet meħtieġa fit-triq talli naqas ukoll li  javża lis-sewwieqa b’sinjali ħdejn il-ħofra.

Din hi deċiżjoni importanti li l-Kunsilli Lokali kollha għandhom jagħtu każ.

Forsi xi darba kulħadd jibda jerfa’ r-responsabbiltajiet tiegħu.

 

Xkupilja għal Lawrence Gonzi

Interessanti l-iżviluppi ta’ l-aħħar sigħat dwar il-kandidati tal-PN għall-elezzjoni ġenerali.

L-aħħar waħda hi l-kandidatura ta’ David Casa li ser jikkontesta fuq d-distrett elettorali li minnu tela’ Franco Debono fl-aħħar elezzjoni ġenerali.

Meta wieħed iqies li Gonzi kontinwament jgħid li għandu l-obbligu li jibqa’ hemm sa’ l-aħħar, inkluż li qed jippjana li jippreżenta l-budget għal Novembru hu inevitabbli l-ħsieb li dawn huma kollha manuvri intenzjonati biex tqanqal ritaljazzjoni ta’ Franco Debono fil-Parlament.

Ħadd ma jaf eżattament x’ser jagħmel Franco meta jiltqa’ l-Parlament f’Ottubru. Kien hemm diversi dikjarazzjonijiet imma l-iktar li jispikkaw fosthom kienu tlieta.

L-ewwel li m’huwiex lest li jappoġġa Gvern li għandu lill-Austin Gatt bħala Ministru.

It-tieni li min qed jagħtih bis-sieq m’għandux jippretendi appoġġ da parti tiegħu.

It-tielet li fi ħsiebu jippreżenta mozzjoni ta’ sfiduċja fil-Ministru tas-Saħħa Joe Cassar.

Kummenti f’dan is-sens hemm kemm trid fil-blog ta’ Franco.

Sadanittant l-Awtorita’ tax-Xandir sejħet laqgħa mal-Partiti Politiċi biex ikun diskuss programm ta’ Xandiriet politiċi għall-elezzjoni ġenerali.

Għad hemm xi ħadd li jaħseb li l-elezzjoni ġenerali m’hiex wara l-bieb?  L-unika ħaġa mhux deċiża hi min ser jieħu t-tort talli tissejjaħ kmieni. Jekk jerfax il-piz Gonzi jew inkella jekk jippruvax ifarfar fuq Franco.

“L-iskandlu” ta’ Marsaxlokk : il-proposta oriġinali

Diġa inkiteb ħafna dwar dan l-hekk imsejjaħ “skandlu” ta’ Marsaxlokk.

Fuq il-blog tagħha  Daphne Caruana Galizia nhar il-Ħamis 13 ta’ Settembru 2012 ippubblikat il-pjanta finali li kienet tiddetermina ż-żona ta’ żvilupp f’Marsaxlokk. Il-pjanta ippubblikata hi dik bin-numru 73 u turi l-art ta’ ulied il-Perit Mintoff b’faċċata fuq Triq iż-Żejtun bil-kulur maroon li jindika “terraced development” u quddiemu linja safra li juri li hemmhekk hi proġettata triq. Qed nirriproduċi din il-pjanta hawn fuq. L-art fiċ-ċirku aħmar hi dik tal-aħwa Mintoff.

Din il-pjanta li ġiet ippubblikata kif għidt kienet id-deċiżjoni finali li ttieħdet fl-1989.

Pero, żmien qabel, il-Gvern kien ippubblika proposta ta’ pjanta għal konsultazzjoni pubblika. F’din il-konsultazzjoni l-Gvern permezz tal-Ministru li dak iż-żmien kien responsabbli għall-ippjanar : Il-Perit Michael Falzon, kif ukoll it-Taqsima tal-Ippjanar tad-Dipartiment tax-Xogħolijiet (Public Works) stieden kummenti, osservazzjonijiet u sottomissjonijiet. Niftakar li kien possibli li jkun propost permezz ta’ formola apposta u siteplan annessa magħha li xi art li ma kienitx inkluża fil-proposti li saru ikunu ikkunsidrati.

Issa araw din il-pjanta ta’ hawn taħt. Din hi l-pjanta oriġinali dwar l-iżvilupp permissibli f’Marsaxlokk. L-art fic-cirku immarkat bl-aħmar  turi l-art propjeta ta’ ulied il-Perit Mintoff. F’din il-pjanta hu ċar li meta l-Gvern fl-1988 ippreżenta l-pjanta li turi l-iżvilupp permissibli f’Marsaxlokk l-art ta’ ulied il-Perit Mintoff kienet eskluża. Kienet eskluża għax it-tekniċi fit-Taqsima tal-Ippjanar kienu tal-fehma li din l-art ma kelliex tkun żviluppata.

Mela dan hu l-punt reali tat-tluq tad-diskussjoni. Xi ħadd wara li ħarġet din il-pjanta iddeċieda li l-art ta’ ulied il-Perit Mintoff kellha tkun żviluppata. M’huwiex xi sigriet li din id-deċiżjoni ttieħdet mill-Kumitat Magħzul tal-Parlament immexxi mill-Ministru ta’ dak iż-żmien il-Perit Michael Falzon.

X’kienu ir-raġunijiet għal din id-deċiżjoni? S’issa ħadd ma jaf.

Nistennew.

Dom u Daphne : l-ewwel miraklu ?

Kellu jkun Dom Mintoff u l-art li nnegozjaw uliedu Yana u Anne biex Daphne tikteb artiklu imqanqal dwar l-ambjent. Dwar art li kellha tibqa’ barra iż-żona ta’ żvilupp imma daħħluha.  Mhux soltu li qalba taħraqha għall-ambjent! Miraklu?

Talbet inkjesta għax hu skandlu kif art li sal-1989 kienet barra miż-żona ta’ żvilupp, mill-1989 il-quddiem setgħet  tinbena. Il-pjanta l-ġdida ta’ kif setgħet tinbena l-art fiha bħal ħotba, qiesha riedu jdaħħlu biss l-art tal-familja tal-Perit.

Naqbel 100% magħha li dik l-art qatt ma messha ġiet permessa li tkun żviluppata. Imma jiena u Daphne motivati minn raġunijiet differenti.

Il-motiv ta’ Daphne hu Mintoff: għaliha dak li għandu x’jaqsam miegħu Mintoff hu kollu ħażin.

Il-motiv tiegħi hu ambjentali: jiena motivat  mill-fatt li m’għandniex bżonn bini ta’ iktar residenzi għax għandna iktar minn biżżejjed. Bħalissa għandna il-fuq minn 70,000 post residenjali vojt u żgur li m’għandniex bżonn iktar.

L-art b’faċċata fuq Triq iż-Żejtun Marsaxlokk daħlet fl-ischeme tal-bini fl-1989. Dakinnhar  iddaħħlu fl-ischeme tal-bini kwantitajiet kbar ta’ artijiet imxerrda ma Malta kollha. Uħud kien jagħmel sens li jidħlu. Oħrajn le. Irrispettivament ta’ min huma. Mhux ta’ ulied il-Perit Mintoff biss. Ta’ l-oħrajn ukoll.

Għalhekk mhux skandlu. Iżda skandli. Plural mhux singular. Jiena u Alternattiva Demokratika interessati fil-plural, mhux fis-singular. Imma Daphne hi interessata biss u esklussivament fuq il-każ ta’ Marsaxlokk. Hekk jidher ta’ l-inqas.

Dawn l-iskandli ma sarux biss fuq art f’Marsaxlokk. L-anqas ma saru biss fl-1989. Saru ukoll taħt id-direzzjoni ta’ George Pullicino fl-2006 b’dak il-proċess magħruf bħala “rationalisation”. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan il-proċess kompliet tiżdied l-art li tista’ tinbena madwar Malta kollha.

Anke dwar dan saret spekulazzjoni.   Anke hawn kien hawn pluralita’ ta’ skandli. Imma dakinhar il-miraklu kien għadu ma sarx. Alternattiva Demokratika u l-għaqdiet ambjentali biss fetħu ħalqhom!

Ħaddiehor żamm għajnejh magħluqa, meta messhom huma miftuħin beraħ il-ħin kollu. It-tnejn li huma.

Imma l-miraklu ta’ kuxjenza ambjentali ta’ Daphne għalissa jidher li hu limitata għal Triq iż-Żejtun Marsaxlokk.

Progress? Ma nafx!

A Green Vision – 50 years on

50 years ago Rachel Carson published her seminal book “Silent Spring”.

In 1962 Carson, a zoologist, argued that the use of pesticides had unintended consequences as whilst pesticides targeted pests they ended up affecting birds and their offspring. The result being a decrease in the bird population brought  about by intoxication as a consequence of the poisoning of the food chain.

Rachel Carson was the first person to give a popular voice to ecological concerns. In so doing she laid the foundations of environmentalism. It can be safely stated that her Silent Spring was the trigger of popular ecological awareness in the United States and Europe and to the consequential setting up of environmental NGOs as well as Green Political Parties.

Today’s generation is indebted to Rachel Carson for a powerful environmental movement in the four corners of the earth. We owe to her the popular awareness and understanding of nature’s fragility.

But obviously awareness and understanding is not sufficient. It must be our motivation to act. Planet Earth, fifty years after Silent Spring was published, is in a much worse state then ever. It has a temperature, it is warming up. Sea levels are rising. The climate is changing to one of less frequent but more intense storms which leave a trail of havoc in their path.

Water resources are declining.

Waste is not sufficiently understood as an underutilised resource.

The sea has also been heavily polluted and its resources plundered.

Consider the following observation made by Callum Roberts oceanographer at York University.

“The seas are the ultimate sinks. Chemicals get washed out of the soil and into streams and rivers. They should settle on the sea bed and stay there. However, fishing has become so intense, with boats dredging up scallops and bottom-welling  fish all the time, that we are constantly ploughing up these toxins, including DDT, and stirring them back into the water.”

The environment movement was born 50 years ago to make a difference. It was born out of a love for nature but is not restricted or limited to nature.  It has set out to implement  a green revolution : bettering our quality of life and as a result bequeathing a planet earth in a better state of health to future generations.

 

published on di-ve.com on 14 September 2012