Djun tal-PLPN: theddida demokratika

Matul il-ġimgħa l-oħra kien hawn delegazzjoni f’Malta mill-Parlament Ewropew biex tistħarreġ dwar il-progress li sar fil-konfront tas-saltna tad-dritt (rule of law) fil-pajjiż.

Wieħed mill-kummenti li għamlu kien dwar id-djun esaġerati tal-partiti politiċi parlamentari! Iddeskrivewhom bħala ta’ theddida għas-sisien demokratiċi tal-pajjiż. Id-djun akkumulati tal-partiti politiċi parlamentari li jlaħħqu miljuni kbar huma ta’ theddida għad-demokrazija għax jorbtuhom fit-tul mal-karru tal-flus u poġġuhom f’posizzjoni kontinwa kompromettenti.

Aħna mill-ADPD ilna nitkellmu dwar dan u dwar il-ħtieġa ta’ qafas serju ta’ finanzjament pubbliku tal-partiti politiċi.

Madwar tmien snin ilu inħolqot leġislazzjoni dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti politiċi. Liġi li fiha toqob iktar minn passatur.

L-ewwel nett hi l-Kummissjoni Elettorali li tiffunzjona ta’ regolatur f’dan il-qasam. Issa l-Kummissjoni Elettorali hi magħmula minn rappresentanti tal-PLPN. Kif jistgħu dawn jirregolaw lilhom infushom?

It-tieni ħallew barra minn dan kollu lill-kumpaniji tal-partiti politiċi. Toqba kbira din għax qed tiġi użata biex d-donazzjonijiet politiċi jinħbew bħala taparsi servizzi li jinxtraw mill-kumpaniji tal-partiti politiċi. Dan ta’ lok għall-każ magħruf bħala tal-invoices foloz jew għall-każ l-ieħor ta’ servizzi fittizji. Meta wieħed iqies li l-kumpanji tal-PLPN ilhom snin kbar ma jippreżentaw l-audited accounts tagħhom wieħed jista’ jifhem iktar kemm huma moħħhom mistrieħ li l-abbużi li qed isiru jibqgħu misturi għal ħafna snin.

Ma’ dan kollu jeħtieġ li nagħtu każ tal-kontijiet li jammontaw għal miljuni f’arretrati tad-dawl u l-ilma mhux imħallsa mill-PN u l-PL u l-kumpaniji tagħhom.  Anke ħlas b’lura tal-VAT għandhom li jmur lura għal ħafna snin.

Ex-Ministru kien iħobb jikkwota qawl Ruman li hemm liġi għall-bnedmin u oħra għall-annimali. Hekk ġiebuh il-pajjiż. Hemm liġi għalihom, li jippretendu li jagħmlu li jridu (u fejn jaqblilhom iħokku dahar xulxin) u oħra għall-bqija, għalina lkoll.

Għalik li iddum ma tħallas il-kont tad-dawl u l-ilma malajr tirċievi theddida ta’ qtugħ tas-servizz. Imma dawn b’miljuni ta’ arretrati jibqgħu għaddejjin qiesu ma ġara xejn.

Hemm bżonn leġislazzjoni sura dwar il-finanzjament tal-partiti li tagħti każ dan kollu. M’għandhomx jibqgħu taparsi qed jirregolaw lilhom infushom.

After the agricultural fair has ended

The onslaught on agricultural land is continuous. It is unfortunately many a time abated by land use planning operatives. It would be an understatement to emphasise that they should know better.

Among the countless examples faced on a continuous basis I can list the following: the over-development of road infrastructure, quarries, boatyards, solar farms and fireworks factories proposed in rural areas and in lieu of agricultural land. Added to these examples one can add the craze of changing the use of agricultural land into picnic or barbeque areas. This creation of recreational areas is squeezing out agriculture! All this would not happen without the complicity of the Planning Authority and those appointed to lead it.

The agricultural fair organised last week exposed another aspect: the anguish of the farming community. A discussion organised within the precincts of the grounds of the agricultural fair focused on food security. The spiralling cost of imported animal feed fuelled by the Russian invasion of Ukraine as well as international business pressures are adding to the problems of those involved in animal husbandry.

Farmers are being pushed out of the land they have been tilling at an increasing rate. No one in his right senses would dare invest in the modernisation of an agricultural holding in such a climate. The banks, on the other hand, emphasised the farmers who took part in the discussion, are not forthcoming with loans to facilitate matters, most probably as they consider the risks involved too high.

In the meantime, eviction of farmers from the land they have tilled for generations continues unabated as government takes too long to come up with a reform of the agricultural lease legal setup.

Government has, for all intents and purposes, abandoned the agricultural community. In addition, it has repeatedly carved agricultural land into new or widened roads. The irrigated agricultural land at Attard had to make way for the so-called Central Link. Shortly more agricultural land on the outskirts of  Qormi will make way for improvements to the Mrieħel bypass project.  Add this to the planned havoc continuously emanating from the Planning Authority and you can easily understand what the agricultural community has to bear.

It is indeed ironic that a government which boasts of a programme which is intended to create more open spaces is at the same time determined to ruin more natural open spaces on the outskirts of our towns and villages.

It is clear that government has taken a basic political decision: cars have a priority over agriculture. This decision is clearly manifested in the manner of operation of Infrastructure Malta which is gobbling up extensive agricultural land which stands in the way of its projects. It is further manifested in the absolute silence of the Agricultural Ministry when it is faced with this behaviour. The agricultural minister is apparently more interested in our heritage which leaves him little time to focus on the needs of agriculture and the farmers who depend on it for their livelihood.

Given the ever-increasing population on these islands it was always very clear that local agriculture could never, on its own, suffice to cater for our needs. Supplementing local agricultural produce with imported produce should be done with care as there is always a danger that the local market can be flooded with low priced goods which make the life of our farmers more miserable than it already is!

The organisation of the agricultural fair was a good idea. It must however be supplemented with a heavy dose of good faith which is missing in the attitudes of the holders of political office in the Ministry of Agriculture through the rest of the year, that is when there is no agricultural fair!

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 May 2022

Beyond electric cars

Minister Miriam Dalli is partially right when stating that green transport schemes should focus on fully electric options. She made this statement when queried about subsidies for hybrid cars. Emphasising that zero-emission vehicles will be the only ones in receipt of funding assistance is the correct way forward.

But are electric cars in reality zero emission vehicles? In actual fact this is dependent on the source of electricity used when they are charged. When renewable energy is used to power electric vehicles, than we can state that they are zero emission vehicles, otherwise they are not.

There are other important considerations which need to be made. Green transport policy should be much wider than schemes subsidising zero-emission vehicles.

Only approximately 10 per cent of the energy utilised in the Maltese islands is renewable energy generated in Malta, primarily solar energy. The rest is either generated at the gas-powered Delimara power station or else imported through the interconnector with the Sicilian mainland. Plans are in hand to commission a second interconnector primarily to cater for the anticipated substantial increased demand for electricity as a result of the car electrification process.

Is this sustainable? Government is apparently ignoring this consideration.

Malta will be increasingly dependent for its immediate electrical energy needs on the interconnectors with the Sicilian mainland. Failure of the interconnectors to operate for more than a few hours would render most of us immobile as there will not be enough electricity to charge our cars! This is not a far-fetched possibility as we have experienced many a time when the interconnector was out of action, for a variety of reasons. A case in point being when the interconnector was damaged as a result of its being entangled with the anchors of a tanker during a storm.

In parallel with car electrification plans it is essential that the extreme dependency of our population on car ownership is addressed. This can be done through various initiatives.

Increased use of public transport is an initiative which is already being tackled. The announcement that as of October 2022 all public transport will be free of charge can be helpful if its efficiency is enhanced. If public transport is regular and sticks to the planned time-tables it can, over a period of time, contribute significantly to addressing car dependency. One has to underline the fact that car dependency in Malta and Gozo has primarily developed as a reaction to an unreliable public transport. As a result, there is still a reluctance to trust public transport. It still has to continuously prove itself, even though there have been significant improvements in the service provided.

Car-sharing schemes can be helpful in reducing cars from our roads. Currently in Malta we have one company offering the service of 450 cars which are available for shared use (against payment obviously). Using one of these cars instead of owning your own helps in reducing cars from our roads. Having just 450 cars being subject to shared use is however too little. Fiscal incentives including subsidies to those opting to share cars rather than to own them could be helpful.

We should continuously remember that in most cases, in Malta, we travel for short distances. Having less cars on our roads will also contribute to more road safety and consequently this would encourage more walking and cycling, especially when the distance involved is small.

Electrification of our roads on its own is not sufficient. It is just one of a number of tools which need to be applied in transport policy to contribute to a reduced climate impact, attain safer roads, achieve cleaner air and also to ensure more sustainable mobility.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday: 22 May 2022

Ikla tajba tiftaħ l-aptit ta’ Bernard Grech

Ikla tajba tiftaħlek l-aptit sewwa. Hekk jidher li ġara lill-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni Bernard Grech f’ikla li kellu waqt il-kampanja elettorali ma’ numru ta’ negozjanti. Hi ikla li għaliha mar bis-sasla biex jiġbor flejjes kbar. Għax għandu bżonn il-miljuni. Ġew imwegħda somom kbar, mid-dehra. Imma jidher li kien hemm ukoll il-kundizzjonijiet.

Intqal li hemm min ried proklama għal tal-familja. Hemm min ried jagħlaq ħalq uħud mill-kandidati tal-PN. Għax qed idejquh!

Diġa saru dikjarazzjonijiet dwar dak li ġara, għax uħud li kienu hemm, għall-ikla, tkellmu.

Il-verità kollha mhux ser inkunu nafuha qabel ma jkun hemm min jgħid l-istorja kollha. S’issa nafu biss biċċiet. Kull min tkellem qal il-biċċa li taqbillu.

Li jkun hemm min jagħmel talbiet lill-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni bħal dawk li issemmew hu possibli. Li hu ta’ interess pubbliku iżda hu x’wieġeb il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni għat-talbiet li sarulu. Kemm dawk (it-talbiet) li nafu bihom kif ukoll dawk li għad ma nafux!

Iċ-ċaħda li saru t-talbiet ma tantx titwemmen. Għalhekk hu iktar importanti li tingħata spjegazzjoni ċara ta’ x’ġara eżattament. Illum jew għada nkunu nafu, imma l-verzjoni li toħroġ bil-mod qatt ma tkun preċiża, dejjem tkun imlewwna. Il-kuluri żejda, kif tafu, ma jagħmlu ġid lil ħadd.

It-trasparenza u l-kontabilità vera jesiġu li Bernard Grech jagħti kont ta’ għemilu. Illum qabel għada.

From Dubai to Singapore

Last week, the President of the Republic, laying out the programme for the new government in what is known as the speech from the throne, emphasised that the environment is a core value for this government. Reading through the speech prepared by government, his Excellency was clear by dwelling on a number of different topics of considerable environmental importance.

However, Dr Vella was unfortunately not advised as to how and when the government intends to address its continuous contradictions in its drive to shift its focus from the infrastructure to the environment.

The elastic environmental politics presented by this government ranges from more flyovers to achieving carbon neutrality, simultaneously being dependent on two interconnectors tapping the Sicilian energy market.

Previous governments led by the Labour party had sought to transform Malta into another Dubai, that is a land of high rises and extensive land reclamation . The attempt at Dubai-ification embarked on by the Muscat led government will apparently now be transformed into a Singaporization as emphasised by infrastructure Minister Aaron Farrugia. This is the implementation of the policy of continuity which his Excellency was apparently not sufficiently advised about.

The current crop will do their best to outshine their predecessors. Since there is not much more land to ruin, they have therefore turned their gaze towards the sea which they will be ruined in due course.

Preliminary studies carried out in the past had identified the areas in Maltese waters where land reclamation could be considered, subject to more in-depth studies. The coastal areas identified and studied are those along the  Magħtab/Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq coastline and the Xgħajra/Marsaskala coastline. These are the coastal zones which have to be watched and protected.

The basic question to ask before embarking on planning any land reclamation projects is: what do we need land reclamation for? In the past land was reclaimed to construct the Freeport or to protect the coast at Msida, Gżira and elsewhere.

If any new pressing need is identified one should carefully consider them.

The Netherlands used land reclamation successfully to adequately manage its low-lying land. Hong Kong made use of land reclamation to create high value land required for its airport on the Chek Lak Kok island. Through land reclamation Singapore expanded its container port, an essential cornerstone in its economy.

The way to go about tackling land reclamation is through serious public consultation. Labour in government has, so far, only consulted developers on land reclamation. It has, in the recent past, only consulted those who were seeking new ways to make a quick buck! These are the fourth-floor guys who are only interested in making hay while the sun shines.

If government is serious about land reclamation it should immediately publish a list of its proposed projects. This should be accompanied by a draft national land-reclamation strategy for public consultation. At this point consultation should not be with the speculation lobby: it has already been extensively consulted. Consultation at this stage should primarily be with environmental NGOs and the coastal communities, in particular those directly impacted.

Having said the above I do not think that land reclamation is or should be a priority. Rather, the priority should be the restructuring of the construction industry: specifically cutting it down to size and putting it to good use.

The country would be economically, environmentally and socially much better off if the construction industry is assisted in its much-needed restructuring. It would undoubtedly need to shed labour which can be absorbed by other sectors of the economy. Retraining would be required to ease the entry of the shed labour force into other economic areas.

After years of haphazard and abusive land-use planning, land reclamation is the last thing we need!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 May 2022

Għal Albert Buttiġieġ il-bieb tiegħi miftuħ

Bħalkom segwejt dak li qal Albert Buttiġieġ: li kien infurmat li uffiċjal mhux elett tal-PN, f’laqgħa ma spekulatur fl-inħawi ta’ San Ġiljan ħadha fuq spallejh li jwarrab lil Buttiġieġ u jassigura li jagħlaq ħalqu. Għax il-ħidma ġenwina tiegħu bħala Sindku ta’ San Ġiljan qed iddejjaq lil min qed ipappiha sew.

Albert Buttiġieg ma għalaqx ħalqu u għamel sewwa. Imma l-bsaten fir-roti fl-elezzjoni kienu bosta, kif spjega hu stess.

Issa tkellem l-oraklu, Ray Bezzina, l-id il-leminija ta’ George Pullicino fil-passat u ta’ Bernard Grech illum. “Mhux jien” qalilna! Talab li jkun investigat Albert Buttiġieġ biex jikxef dak li jaf.

Albert diġa qal li mhux ser jikxef l-identità ta’ min tah l-informazzjoni, u jagħmel sewwa.

Imma fuq insistenza ta’ Ray Bezzina il-PN ser jiftaħ inkjesta interna!

Il-PN qiegħed fir-rokna u jaf li ma jistax joħroġ minnha. Daħħluh fiha dawk ta’ bla skrupli, dawk li fid-deher juru wiċċ ta’qdusija, u fil-magħluq kollha konfoffi man-nies tal-flus.

Ma’ Albert tkellimt. Nifhmu. Nifhem minn xiex għaddej. Fil-ġimgħat li ġejjin il-PN ser jipprova jagħmlu kkapuljat.

Għal min hu ġenwin bħal Albert, il-bieb tiegħi miftuħ.

Planning is for people

Land use planning should, and can, be developed into an effective tool to combat the impacts of climate change. This can be done by effectively encouraging development which contributes to reducing climate change impacts.

Apparently, it is too much to expect from our authority responsible for land use planning.

The development of large commercial centres may make economic sense, but do they make environmental and social sense?

This is what sustainable development is all about: that economic development must continuously factor in environment impacts as well as social considerations. The term sustainable development is on everyone’s lips, but it is definitely and continuously ignored when push comes to shove. When decisions are taken, unfortunately it is the euros which take a priority over sustainability.

It is not just about the actual land to be developed, or the buildings to be redeveloped. Much more has to be taken into consideration in each and every decision taken.

Consider for example the Lidl network or another multiple supermarket competitor chain currently planning an alternative network in Malta. Their impacts are multiple. There is definitely an impact on the existing commercial community which can be gauged by a retail impact assessment. There are however also widespread social and environmental impacts which are generally minimised or ignored by all the decision takers.

The social impact definitely needs a meticulous assessment. The changing nature of our residential neighbourhoods through the squeezing out of the small outlets, both commercial and artisanal, and consequently forcing all residents to look far beyond the community and its neighbourhoods for their needs, at times even their basic daily needs, is a major impact. This has and is still transforming our localities and consequently our communities such that at times you need to travel from one locality to another to satisfy your basic needs. This is not a positive development, yet it has been continuously ignored.

A direct impact of all this is that the expense to satisfy our needs is now increased to include the environmental impact of travel with the consequential contribution to climate change. Expenses are not only those which are paid in euro. These specific expenses are a charge debited to our ecological account.

Sustainable land use planning can put an end to all this. Unfortunately, it is not, as climate change impact has not been embedded as an essential element to be addressed by local land use planning!

Current land use planning practice needs to be turned on its head in order to prioritise community needs and impacts on the ecology over the requirements of the economy.

This is what the 15-minute city concept is all about! In reality it is nothing new as it signifies having our basic necessities close by, as in times gone by, when our localities were smaller and alive with vibrant communities. Small is beautiful we were told some years back by Erst Schumacher. The full title of his opus is more revealing: “Small is Beautiful. Economics as if people mattered.” People should be the focus of all our activity. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

I still vividly remember the phrase “planning is for people” in one of the André Zammit’s first urban planning lectures I attended at university. It was a phrase lifted from the UK Skeffington report drawn up in 1969 and examining the participation of the public in land use planning!

Where are the people and their needs in our land use planning? Following the various land use planning cases as they develop, it is clear that as practised locally, land use planning is more a compendium of rights relative to property development than a process regulating the use of land for the ultimate benefit of the whole community. Planning is for people, not for profit!

Land use planning: as if people really mattered!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 8 May 2022

Chernobyl revisited

Chernobyl in Ukraine on 26 April 1986, 36 years ago, was the site of a major nuclear disaster. All that came to mind once more when the Russian and Byelorussian forces invaded Ukrainian territory over two months ago.

The invading forces took over the Chernobyl nuclear power station site. Troops were observed excavating trenches around the site where the nuclear accident happened 36 years ago. It was only this week that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that the radiation levels at Chernobyl, after being tested, have been certified as being within safe limits; but it is definitely not safe for a picnic!

The nuclear clean-up at Chernobyl is ongoing. Starting immediately in 1986, it is scheduled to last at least until the year 2065. Possibly much beyond that!

36 years on, Chernobyl is still of concern not just to those living in its vicinity, but to all of Europe.

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster had brought many to their senses as to the dangers of nuclear energy, notwithstanding the sophisticated technology utilised in the industry. This was further reinforced by the Fukushima disaster, much closer in time on 11 March 2011. In the aftermath of Fukushima various countries opted for a phase-out of their dependence on nuclear energy. Germany led the way, our Italian neighbours to the North opting for a nuclear free future through a referendum in June 2011.

All this had a particular significance for Malta as it meant that plans for the construction of a nuclear power station at Palma di Montechiaro along the southern Sicilian coast, less than 100 kilometres to the North of Gozo, were mothballed. Southern Sicily as we know is an earthquake prone zone.

Occasionally there are rumblings of a renewed interest in the use of nuclear energy. The French government has for years been acting as a nuclear salesman all around the Mediterranean. It is known that agreements to set-up and operate various nuclear plants exist relative to various North African countries. Nicholas Sarkozy had even arrived at an agreement with Gaddafi just weeks before he was ousted.

Within the EU the debate is ongoing, at times spearheaded by the fact that the generation of nuclear energy emits relatively little carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of electricity generated. Nuclear energy does however cause significant environmental negative impacts through the waste streams which it generates, namely spent nuclear fuel, rock waste at uranium mines and mills and the release of large amounts of uncontrolled radioactive emissions whenever accidents occur. The Chernobyl, Fukushima and the Three-Mile Island nuclear accidents are irrefutable testimony that the environmental damage resulting from nuclear accidents is not just enormous but also at times difficult to control.

The IAEA reports that as of 2022 there are 493 nuclear power reactors in operation in 32 different countries.  We tend to be aware of the major nuclear accidents at Chernobyl (1986) or Fukushima (2011), and possibly that at Three-Mile Island in the US (1979). Countless other “minor” accidents have however occurred over the years. In some cases, the accidents were under control just in time, avoiding their development into a major accident.

Our neighbours rejected nuclear energy twice in two different referenda, one in 1987 after Chernobyl, the other in 2011 after Fukushima. In 2011 the Italian government was planning to construct 10 nuclear reactors. These plans were only thwarted as a result of the 2011 referendum.

It is a responsibility of the Maltese government to be on the alert as these plans could be reactivated in the near future.  This would be a danger developing on our doorstep.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 1st May 2022