Il-qerda aċċelerata tar-raba’

Aħna ngħixu f’eko-sistema li qed tinqered ftit ftit. Dan hu rikonoxxut minn kulħadd.  

Ħarsu ftit, per eżempju, lejn l-ewwel sentenzi tal-White Paper intitolata Riforma fil-qasam tar-Raba’, White Paper ippubblikata għall-konsultazzjoni mill-Ministeru għall-Agrikultura f’Ottubru li għadda.

Dakinnhar kien intqal li: Il-ħarsien tar-raba’ huwa fundamentali biex niggarantixxu s-sostenibbiltà tal-biedja, il-produzzjoni tal-ikel, u l-ħarsien tal-ambjent rurali. Huwa għalhekk li meta jkun hemm problemi f’dan il-qasam, dawn ma jolqtux biss lill-bdiewa, iżda għandhom impatt qawwi fuq il-provista u s-sigurtà tal-ikel, u l-kwalità tal-ambjent li jista’ jitgawda mis-soċjetà.

L-art agrikola għandha valur: valur imma li mhux biss wieħed ekonomiku. Għandha valur ambjentali u soċjali. Dan hu rikonoxxut anke mill-Ministeru għall-Agrikultura. Għalfejn, mela, nistaqsu, dan il-Ministeru ma jieħux posizzjoni iebsa kullmeta Ministeri oħra jagħtihom l-estru għall-qerda ta’ art agrikola?

B’mod kontinwu, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tirċievi u tipproċessa applikazzjonijiet għal żvilupp li jeqred art li tinħadem jew li kienet tinħadem. Dan isir għar-raġuni sempliċi li l-pjani lokali huma msejsa fuq filosofija tal-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art li tonqos milli tħares il-valur intrinsiku tal-biedja.  Tqis li l-biedja hi xi ħaġa ta’ bla siwi u li nistgħu ngħaddu mingħajrha. F’din is-sitwazzjoni l-Ministeru tal-Agrikultura jibqa’ sieket, kontinwament!

Sfortunatament, l-uniku valur li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tifhem u tapprezza hu dak li jiffaċilità l-ħolqien tal-opportunitajiet għal min irid idawwar lira ta’ malajr. Kontinwament, l-Awtorità  tal-Ippjanar hi kompliċi fil-qerda gradwali ta’ kull ma hawn madwarna.

Xogħol mhux meħtieġ fuq l-infrastruttura tat-toroq, tul dawn l-aħħar snin, qered meded kbar ta’ raba’. Is-settur privat ilu għaddej jittrasforma ammont mhux żgħir ta’ raba’ f’art għar-rikrejazzjoni privata, għal xi barbeque jew għal xi picnic. Bħala konsegwenza ta’ dan qed jeqred komunitajiet ta’ bdiewa. L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, minkejja li għandha is-saħħa legali li dan kollu twaqqfu, ma għamlet xejn.   Hu biss dan l-aħħar, wara l-għagħa li rriżulta minn numru ta’ deċiżjonijiet tal-Qorti dwar il-qbiela li l-Ministeru għall-Agrikultura qam minn raqda twila u ma baqax sieket!

Jiġu f’moħħi żewġ applikazzjonijiet għal żvilupp, applikazzjonijiet li għadhom pendenti: waħda f’Ħal-Qormi biex jinbena u jkun operat supermarket fuq art agrikola barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp (ODZ). L-oħra dwar il-bini ta’ skola f’Ħal-Għaxaq, anke din fuq art agrikola.

Għaddejna minn dawn l-argumenti diversi drabi, b’mod partikolari fid-dibattitu nazzjonali dwar l-eżerċizzju biex tintgħażel l-art għall-Università Amerikana f’Marsaskala xi snin ilu! L-argumenti ta’ dakinnhar għadhom jgħoddu anke illum. Ma nistgħux nibqgħu nissagrifikaw ir-raba’. Għandna ftit wisq raba’ u jeħtieġ li nibżgħu għall-ftit li għandna.

Il-formola tal-applikazzjoni biex tinbena l-iskola f’Ħal-Għaxaq tgħid ċar u tond, bl-iswed fuq l-abjad, li l-użu tal-lum tal-art hu wieħed agrikolu. Dan jgħodd għal kull wieħed mill-35,970 metru kwadru li hu propost li jinbnew. Il-formola tal-applikazzjoni l-oħra dwar is-sit f’Ħal-Qormi, min-naħa l-oħra, tgħid li l-art f’dan il-kaz b’qies ta’ 4708 metru kwadru u li hi pproġettata li tkun żviluppata f’supermarket, bħalissa mhux użata!

Dawn l-applikazzjonijiet tal-ippjanar għadhom fi stadju bikri avolja dwar l-iżvilupp propost f’Ħal-Għaxaq għadu kif ġie ippubblikat studju dwar l-impatti ambjentali (EIA) reċentement.

F’dan l-istadju l-mistoqsija toħroġ waħedha: hemm ħtieġa għall-iżvilupp propost? It-tweġiba, fil-fehma tiegħi, hi ċara: le ma hemmx ħtieġa. M’għandniex bżonn iktar supermarkets. Pjuttost li diġa għandna iżżejjed minnhom!  

Dwar l-iskola proposta f’Ħal-Għaxaq l-istorja hi ftit iktar kumplessa. Imma xorta mhux iġġustifikat li tkun issagrifikata art agrikola. Għandhom ikunu esplorati soluzzjonijiet oħra, avolja naf li ilu żmien mhux ħażin isir (bla suċċess) tiftix għal sit alternattiv.  Is-soluzzjoni tista’ tinstab fl-iżvilupp mill-ġdid ta’ bini mitluq u dilapidat, li minnu għandna bosta, mxerred mal-gżejjer tagħna.

Neħtieġu fuq kollox politika koerenti dwar il-ħarsien tar-raba’. Flok ma jorqod, u kultant jistenbaħ, il-Ministeru għall-Agrikultura għandu jkun fuq quddiem nett f’din il-ħidma. Jista’ jibda billi jassigura li l-proġetti pubbliċi u l-politika tal-Gvern jagħrfu l-valur intrinsiku tal-biedja. Minn hemm irridu nibdew għax jekk is-settur pubbliku ma jkunx ta’ eżempju xejn mhu ser jinbidel: nibqgħu għan-niżla!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 8 ta’ Jannar 2023

The accelerated destruction of agricultural land

We live in an eco-system which is being slowly destroyed. This is recognised by one and all.

Consider, for example the introductory sentences in the White Paper entitled Acquisition and ownership of agricultural land published for public consultation by the Ministry for Agriculture last October. We were then told that: Controlling the acquisition and ownership of land is fundamental to guaranteeing the sustainability of agriculture and food production, as well as the protection of the rural environment. For this reason, whenever there are issues in this area, these not only affect farmers but also have a strong impact on the supply and security of food and the quality of the environment that can be enjoyed by society.

Agricultural land has value. Its value is not just economic. It has an environmental and social value. This is recognised as a fact even by the Ministry for Agriculture. Why then, may we ask, does the Ministry not take a robust stand whenever other Ministries embark on a spree of accelerated destruction of agriculture land?

On a continuous basis the Planning Authority receives and processes applications for development which seek to obliterate agricultural land. This is done for the simple reason that the local plans are buttressed by a land use planning philosophy which fails to protect the intrinsic value of agriculture. It is deemed to be expendable. The Ministry for Agriculture, in this situation, is conspicuously silent, continuously!

Unfortunately, the only value which the Planning Authority understands and appreciates is that which facilitates “making hay while the sun shines”. It has been continuously an accomplice in the gradual destruction of all that surrounds us.

Unnecessary road infrastructure has gobbled up considerable swathes of agricultural land over the past years. The private sector has been transforming considerable agricultural tracts into barbeque or picnic areas squeezing out the farming community in the process. The Planning Authority has the legal remit to stop this but it has continuously failed to act. Until the recent public outcry in response to a number of Court decisions relative to agricultural leases, the Ministry for Agriculture has been silent on this matter too!

Two specific planning development applications (currently still pending) come to mind: one in Qormi to construct and operate a supermarket on agricultural land Outside the Development Zone (ODZ). The other relative to the construction of a school on agricultural land at Għaxaq.

We have been through the relative arguments many a time, in particular when debating the site selection exercise for the American University at Marsaskala some years back! The arguments made then are still valid today. We cannot keep sacrificing agricultural land. We have too little of it and we have to take care of the little we have.

The application form for the Għaxaq school declares black on white that the current use of the site is agricultural: each and every one of the 35,970 square metres of the site. The application form for the Qormi site, on the other hand states that the site measuring 4708 square metres which it is proposed to develop into a supermarket is currently “un-used”.

These planning applications are still in their early stages, even though an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) has been produced for the proposed Għaxaq development.

At this point we need to query: do we need the development proposed? The answer, in my opinion is a clear no. We definitely do not need more supermarkets. There are already too many of them.

As to the proposed school at Għaxaq the issue is much more complex. It does not however justify sacrificing more agricultural land. Other solutions should be explored, even though a search for an alternative has been going on unsuccessfully for quite some time. The solution lies in the redevelopment of existing dilapidated buildings of which we have quite a number.

We do however need policy coherence in respect of the protection of agricultural land. The Ministry of Agriculture should be at the forefront in such an exercise. It could definitely start by ensuring that public projects as well as policies factor in agriculture’s intrinsic value. This is the required starting point. The public sector sets the benchmark. If it fails to turn the page, matters will definitely change from bad to worse!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 January 2023

Inħarsu l-art agrikola: kollha

Tul is-snin il-Gvern dejjem kien fuq quddiem fil-ħidma biex tinqered il-biedja. Kontinwament il-Gvern jagħmilha iktar faċli biex art agrikola tingħata għall-iżvilupp. Huwa l-Gvern li kontinwament jidentifika art agrikola tajba għal toroq ġodda (mhux meħtieġa) inkella biex jestendi toroq eżistenti.

Il-White Paper li ippubblika iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa l-Ministeru tal-Agrikultura, intitolata Riforma fil-Qasam tar-Raba’  tfittex li tirregola l-assalt tas-settur privat fuq l-art agrikola. Imma ma issemmi xejn dwar l-assalt li għaddej mis-settur pubbliku: dak għall-Gvern hu aċċettabbli! Imma m’għandux ikun għax ir-raba’ kollha teħtieġ li tkun imħarsa.

Awtoritajiet eżistenti, bħall-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, diġa għandhom il-poteri bil-liġi biex jieħdu passi u ma jħallux l-art agrikola tinbidel f’art għall-picnics jew għall-barbeques! Imma tul is-snin din l-awtorità ma għamlet xejn minn dan. Għalqet għajnejha.

Id-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura imbagħad, dejjem jispiċċa jiddefendi id-deċiżjonijiet tal-Gvern favur il-qerda tar-raba’ għal toroq inutli. Is-Central Link hi waħda mill-aħħar eżempji li miegħu aħna familjari. Hemmhekk raba’ saqwi f’Ħ’Attard inqerdet fl-interess tal-karozzi. L-għixien ta’ numru ta’ bdiewa inqered. L-anqas ħoss mill-awtoritajiet fid-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura ma nstema’ biex jiddefendu lill-bdiewa li laqqtuha.

B’dawn it-tip ta’ awtoritajiet li mhux kapaċi jaħdmu, x’sens hemm fil-ħolqien ta’ iktar awtoritajiet bħalhom? Mhux aħjar li jitneħħew is-sriep mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar u mid-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura u flokhom ikunu ngaġġati persuni kwalifikati u motivati biex jaħdmu? Għax jekk l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar u d-Dipartiment tal-Agrikultura jitħallew jaħdmu sewwa, bi tmexxija tajba u kapaċi, parti mdaqqsa mill-kontenut tal-White Paper ma jkunx hemm ħtieġa għalih!

Lejn l-aħħar tas-sena 2021 l-Imħallef Wenzu Mintoff, f’deċiżjoni tiegħu dwar applikazzjoni kostituzzjonali fuq raba’ fil-Qrendi kien emfasizza li l-valur realistiku tar-raba’ għandu jkun rifless ta’ dak li l-istess raba’ tista’ tipproduċi. Dan hu punt li l-White Paper tibni fuqu meta titkellem dwar il-valur esaġerat li r-raba’ qed jinbiegħ jew jiġi stmat kif ukoll dwar kif għandha tkun ikkalkulata l-valur tal-qbiela. Il-White Paper fil-fatt tipproponi li l-qbiela għandhom ikunu 1.5 fil-mija tal-valur realistiku tar-raba’. Għad irridu naraw, iżda, kemm dan kollu ser jiflaħ għall-battalji legali li inevitabilment ser ifaqqsu da parti ta’ min ma jridx din ir-regolamentazzjoni.

Punt interessanti li joħrog mill-White Paper hi l-introduzzjoni ta’ taxxa li hu propost li titħallas fuq ir-raba’ li ma tibqax tintuża għal skop agrikolu. Din il-proposta hi simili għall-proposti tal-partit tiegħi dwar taxxa fuq propjetajet vojta liema proposti saru f’diversi manifesti elettorali tul is-snin.  

Safejn niftakar, din hi l-ewwel darba li l-Partit Laburista qed jipproponi li jagħmel użu mit-tassazzjoni bħala għodda biex jilħaq oġġettiv politiku: f’dan il-każ il-ħarsien tar-raba’.  Ma naħsibx li din il-proposta partikolari ser timmaterjalizza u dan minħabba li l-Partit Laburista kontinwament jitkellem b’ċerta qawwa kontra l-użu tat-tassazzjoni bħala strument politiku fi kwalunkwe forma. Imma l-fatt li l-proposta qed issir, minnu nnifsu hu pass tajjeb.

Il-proposti fil-White Paper fuq ir-riforma meħtieġa dwar ir-raba’ huma l-ewwel pass lejn diskussjoni serja u matura. Imma għadhom il-bogħod  minn dak li hu meħtieġ.  

L-ewwel pass għandu jsir biex ikun stabilit element ta’ rieda tajba. B’dan il-ħsieb nistieden lill-Gvern biex jippreżenta mozzjoni fil-Parlament biex iħassar l-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni approvat mill-Parlament fl-2006 u li permezz tiegħu eluf ta’ metri kwadri ta’ raba’ spiċċaw tajba biex jinbnew. Naħseb li l-Ministru tal-Agrikultura tal-lum, Anton Refalo, għandu l-kredibilità biex jagħmel dan il-pass. Hu wieħed mill-ftit Membri Parlamentari li għadhom fil-Kamra u li fl-2006 kienu ivvutaw kontra li din l-art tingħata għal-iżvilupp. Għamel dan flimkien ma sħabu tal-Grupp Parlamentari Laburista ta’ dakinnhar!

Bħala t-tieni pass il-Ministru responsabbli mill-Ippjanar għall-Iżvilupp tal-Art jista jħaffef ftit il-pass li bih għandhom ikunu reveduti r-regoli dwar id-diżinn għall-iżvilupp rurali (Rural Design Guidelines). Forsi, ma tafx kif, jingħalqu darba għal dejjem it-toqob fir-regoli, li bihom qed ikun imħeġġeg l-iżvilupp fil-kampanja.

Imbagħad, kieku dan kellu jsir, il-Gvern ikun kredibbli fil-proposti li qed jagħmel dwar il-ħarsien tar-raba’.  Għax ir-raba’ kollha teħtieġ il-ħarsien mingħandna. Dan hu meħtieġ dejjem, mhux biss meta jkun politikament konvenjenti.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 9 t’Ottubru 2022

Protecting agricultural land: all of it

Over the years government has been actively at the forefront in the assault on agricultural land. It continuously makes it easier for agricultural land to be developed. It also takes up good quality agricultural land in order to develop new (and many times unnecessary) roads or else to extend existing ones.

The White Paper published earlier this week by the Ministry for Agriculture, entitled Agricultural Land Reform seeks to control the private sector assault on agricultural land. By omission, the assault being carried out by the public sector is being deemed acceptable!

Existing authorities like the Planning Authority already have the legal powers to stop agricultural land being transformed into picnic or barbeque areas. Yet it has done nothing to stop this over the years.

The Department of Agriculture always ends up defending the uptake of good agricultural land by Government for unnecessary roads. The Central Link is one of the latest examples as a result of which naturally irrigated agricultural land at Attard was destroyed in order to make way for more cars. The livelihood of a number of full-time farmers was destroyed. Not even a whimper from the authorities at the Department of Agriculture was heard.

Faced with existing authorities which are not functioning properly what sense does it make to create more authorities, as proposed by the agricultural reform White Paper? Would it not be better to remove the snakes from the Planning Authority and the Department of Agriculture and replace them with suitably qualified and motivated personnel? If the Planning Authority and the Department of Agriculture are allowed to function properly, with suitable leadership and expertise, most of the contents of the White Paper would not even be required!

Towards the end of 2021 Mr Justice Lawrence Mintoff, in his decision on a constitutional application relative to agricultural land at Qrendi had emphasised that the realistic value of agricultural land ought to be a reflection of what that agricultural land can produce. This is a point validly taken up by the White Paper when discussing the value currently being attached to agricultural holdings. The White Paper also proposes that the rental value of agricultural holdings should be determined at 1.5 per cent of their realistic value.  It remains to be seen whether and to what extent these limitations on the determination of value and rental value will be able to withstand the legal assault which will inevitably follow once the White paper proposal in this respect is implemented.

An interesting point made by the White Paper is to introduce a tax on agricultural land which is not being used for agricultural purposes! This is similar to the proposals which my party repeatedly brought forward relative to taxes on vacant dwellings!

This is the first time, as far as I can recollect, that the Labour Party is proposing the utilisation of taxation as a tool to attain a political objective: the protection of agricultural land. I do not however think that this proposal will materialise as the Labour Party has been vociferous over the years against the use of taxation as a political instrument in any form or shape. However, it is positive that the proposal is being tabled.

The proposals in the White Paper on agricultural reform are definitely a first step towards a mature debate. They are however very far from what is required to protect agricultural land.

The first step should be to establish an element of good faith, which is currently inexistent. In this line of thought I would invite government to present a motion in Parliament to cancel the rationalisation exercise approved by Parliament in 2006 as a result of which thousands of square metres of agricultural land all over the islands were defined as being suitable for development. I believe that the current Minister for Agricultural, Anton Refalo, has the credibility to do it. He is in fact one of the few remaining Members of Parliament who way back in 2006 had voted against adopting the rationalisation exercise, together with the rest of the then Labour Party Parliamentary Group!

As a second step the Minister for Land Use Planning could accelerate the revision of the Rural Design Guidelines, thereby closing the loopholes which continuously encourage the urbanisation of the countryside.

Only then, maybe, can government be credible in its proposals to protect agricultural land. All agricultural land needs our protection. This is required all of the time, not only when it is politically convenient.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 9 October 2022

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

Il-karozzi iddominaw ħajjitna

Hi sfortuna li tul is-snin ħallejna ħajjitna tkun iddominata mill-karozzi.

Għaddejna minn kontroversja wara l-oħra dwar l-infrastruttura tat-toroq. Sfortunatament jidher li minn dan kollu l-awtoritajiet għadhom ma tgħallmu xejn.  L-aħħar każ hu dwar il-proposta għal fly-over ġdida għall-Imrieħel: fly-over oħra li mhiex meħtiega.

Il-proposta tal-Imrieħel għadha qed tkun imfassla. Ma hemmx wisq dettalji li huma magħrufa, s’issa, ħlief li probabbilment ser ikun hemm impatt sostanzjali fuq madwar 20 tomna ta’ raba’ saqwi. Minn dak li hu magħruf s’issa  Infrastruttura Malta bdiet tiltaqa’ mal-bdiewa dwar dak li eventwalment ser ikun propost.

Mhux meħtieġ li nkunu nafu d-dettalji ta’ dak li hu ppjanat, kif qed jgħid il-Ministru għat-Transport Ian Borg, biex nikkritikaw il-programm tal-Gvern dwar l-infrastruttura tat-toroq għax dan hu oġġezzjonabbli fil-prinċipju.  

M’għandiex bżonn iktar toroq. Imma għandna bżonn inqas karozzi fit-toroq li għandna.  Tnaqqis ta’ karozzi mit-toroq jwassal għal tnaqqis fil-konġestjoni tat-traffiku u titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja, inkluż iktar sigurtà fit-toroq tagħna għal kulħadd.

It-toroq tagħna mballati bil-karozzi. Għal din ir-raġuni l-Gvern qabbad esperti bex jistudjaw il-problema. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, bl-għajnuna ta’ fondi għall-iżvilupp reġjonali tal-Unjoni Ewropea tfassal Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport (Masterplan) minn konsulenti barranin. Il-Kabinett approva dan il-pjan fl-2016, imma kontinwament qiegħed jonqos milli jassigura li dan ikun implimentat.

Waħda mill-osservazzjonijiet bażiċi ta’ dan il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport hi li nofs il-vjaġġi bil-karozzi privati jdumu inqas minn 15-il minuta, jiġifieri huma vjaġġi għal distanzi qosra. Bla ebda dubju hemm bosta mezzi sostenibbli li jservu għal mobilità alternattiva: il-karozzi privati bla ebda dubju nistgħu ngħaddu mingħajrhom għal dawn id-distanzi qosra, fil-parti l-kbira tal-każi.

Il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport iwissina dwar in-nuqqas f’Malta tal-ippjanar għat-trasport: ippjanar li jħares sal-ponta ta’ mnieħru għax ma jħarisx fit-tul.  Bħala konsegwenza ta’ dan  ftit li xejn jeżistu miri ċari, hemm nuqqas  ta’ direzzjoni strateġika kif ukoll nuqqas ta’ kapaċità li jkunu ndirizzati materji diffiċli bħat-tnaqqis ta’ karozzi mit-toroq. Il-Maltin huma konservattivi wisq, jgħid il-pjan (There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change) u dan f’kuntrast mal-ħtieġa għal azzjoni fil-komunità biex tkun indirizzata l-problema tat-traffiku, kemm kif inhi illum kif ukoll kif għad tista’ tiżviluppa.  Dan, ikompli jgħid il-pjan tat-trasport approvat mill-Kabinett, iwassal biex is-sewwieq Malti jippretendi li kulħadd għandu jaddatta l-mod kif jivvjaġġa biex hu jkun jista’ jibqa’ jsuq il-karozza tiegħu! (This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.)

Il-politika dwar it-trasport ma jistax ikun li tibqa’ ippjanat biċċa biċċa, mil-lum għal għada. Jeħtieġ ippjanjar olistiku. Dan hu l-iskop li sar dan il-Masterplan: biex ikollna pjan olistiku u nibdew inħarsu fit-tul. Biex pjan bħal dan ikun implimentat, imma, hemm bżonn deċiżjonijiet iebsin li għandhom iwasslu għal tnaqqis fin-numru esaġerat ta’ karozzi privati li hawn fit-toroq tagħna.  

Il-problema reali li qed iżżomm l-implimentazzjoni ta’ dan il-pjan hi li l-Gvern m’għandux il-kuraġġ li jieħu dawn id-deċiżjonijiet. Ma jridx jirfes kallijiet!  

Irridu nifhmu darba għal dejjem li ċ-ċokon ta’ pajjiżna jagħmilha possibli li permezz ta’ transport pubbliku organizzat sewwa nilħqu kull rokna tal-pajjiż f’ħin qasir.

It-trasport pubbliku f’Malta għamel progress kbir f’dawn l-aħħar snin, imma dan mhux biżżejjed. Għax it-trasport pubbliku ma jistax jikkompeti ma’ Gvern li kontinwament  jinkoraġixxi l-użu tal-karozza privata b’toroq ġodda u flyovers li flok jirrestrinġu iż-żieda tat-traffiku fit-toroq tagħna jagħmluh iktar faċli.

Għal żmien twil, Gvern wara l-ieħor kien skjav tal-karozza. Il-politika tat-trasport kienet u għada politika favur il-karozzi li jikkundizzjonawlna ħajjitna. Hu dan li għandu jinbidel.

Jeħtieġ li l-politika tat-trasport tpoġġi lin-nies l-ewwel, qabel il-karozzi.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 27 ta’ Diċembru 2020

King of the Road

It is indeed unfortunate that over the years we have allowed the car to control our lives.

We have gone through too many controversies related to road infrastructure. Unfortunately the authorities have not learnt anything in the process. The latest case being the proposed Imrieħel bypass improvements through the construction of yet another unnecessary fly-over.

The proposed bypass improvements apparently are still on the drawing board. No details on the proposals are available except that most probably there will be a considerable impact on irrigated agricultural land, measuring around 20 tumoli, that is approximately 22,500 square metres. From what is known, recently, Infrastructure Malta has sounded farmers which may be impacted by the proposals.

Contrary to what has been stated by Minister for Transport Ian Borg, criticism of government’s road infrastructure programme does not require details as it is objectionable on a point of principle. We do not require more roads, but rather less cars on the roads. Such a reduction of cars from our roads would reduce traffic congestion as well as have a marked improvement in everyone’s quality of life, inclusive of an increased safety for all.

Our roads are currently bursting at the seams. Government has commissioned studies to study the matter. As a result, a Transport Masterplan has been produced by foreign consultants paid through EU Regional Development Funds. Cabinet has approved this Masterplan in 2016, yet it has repeatedly failed to ensure its implementation.

One of the basic observations in the said Transport Masterplan is that 50 per cent of the trips we make with private cars are for distances taking less than 15 minutes, meaning that such trips are local in nature. We can easily be served with more sustainable options to address this basic observation: use of private cars is certainly not one of them.  

The Transport Masterplan admonishes us as follows: “………… it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint. There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal actions to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.”

Transport policy needs to be looked at holistically and not in a piecemeal fashion. That is the purpose of the Masterplan: to take a holistic view and lay out a long-term roadmap. Obviously to implement such a roadmap tough decision-taking is involved which would reduce and restrict can ownership. The real problem of Transport Policy implementation is that government does not have the balls to take such tough decisions.

The point to be addressed is that the relative smallness of our country makes practically every corner of the islands within easy reach even through public transport if this is organised properly.

Public Transport in Malta has made gigantic steps forward, but these are not sufficient. Public transport cannot compete with a government which is continuously encouraging the use of private transport and making it continuously easier through massive funds made available for unnecessary flyovers and underpasses!

Government is continuously mishandling transport policy. It is about time that it is placed back on track.

It has been government policy for more than the past twenty-five years that the car rules over our roads. We should change that. We need to reclaim ownership of our roads (and streets) placing more emphasis on the needs of the pedestrian who should be the real king of the road.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 27 December 2020

It-tnaqqis tal-iskart iġġenerat, jipproteġi l-art agrikola

Ir-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa jilmentaw dwar it-tniġġiż mill-ħsejjes iġġenerati mill-Port Ħieles. Ir-residenti tal-Furjana jilmentaw dwar l-impatti tal-cruise liners fuq il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħhom, kemm minħabba t-tniġġiż tal-arja kif ukoll minħabba t-tniġġiż akustiku. Ir-residenti tal-Gudja, Ħal-Luqa, Ħal-Kirkop u tal-irħula tal-madwar huma effettwati mill-operat tal-uniku ajruport li għandna. L-impjant ta’ Sant Antnin għat-Trattament tal-iskart qatt ma tqies ġar eżemplari mir-residenti ta’ Wied il-Għajn.

Ħadd ma jixtieq miżbla wara biebu. Miżbla jew faċilità għall-immaniġjar tal-iskart wara l-bieb, tfisser iktar minn impatti negattivi jekk teħodlok ukoll l-għodda ewliena tal-għixien tiegħek inkella teqridlek darek. Dan hu l-każ tal–bdiewa u r-residenti tal-Magħtab.

Il-miżbla tal-Magħtab ilha topera mill-1977, meta l-miżbla f’Wied Fulija (Iż-Żurrieq) kienet qed toqrob li timtela.

Il-bdiewa tal-Magħtab ilhom jaqilgħu fuq rashom żmien. Wieħed mill-bdiewa li ltqajt miegħu l-ġimgħa l-oħra spjegali li lill-familja tiegħu, fl-1975 kienu ħadulhom 75 tomna raba’ li kienet tinħadem, ftit iktar minn 84,000 metru kwadru, biex jiffurmaw parti mill-miżbla li nħolqot dakinnhar. Illum ser jeħdulhom 25 tomna oħra biex ikabbru madwar 28,000 metru kwadru.

Kif nistgħu nevitaw li l-kumpless tal-iskart fil-Magħtab ikompli jikber billi jibla’ 254,144 metru kwadru ta’ art, primarjament raba’ li tinħadem, kif qed tipproponi l-Wasteserv?

X’ġustizzja hi li sezzjoni waħda tal-popolazzjoni tkun mistennija li ġġorr waħedha l-piż tal-impatti li lkoll kemm aħna nikkontribwixxu għalihom? Ma jkunx iktar ġust li l-piż jinqasam? Fejn ser niġbdu linja?

Jekk nillimita ruħi għall-materja presentment taħt il-lenti, dik tal-immaniġjar tal-iskart, neħtieġu ppjanar sew u dan fil-kuntest tal-għodda ta’ politika kurrenti li tikkonċerna l-iskart. Imma jeħtieġilna li nimxu mal-miri ta’ ħidma stabiliti, għax inkella ma naslu qatt.
It-tnaqqis tal-ħolqien tal-iskart, li dan jintagħżel (is-separazzjoni) u li jkun riċiklat huma tlett għodod bażiċi fil-ħidma li ssir biex l-iskart ikun immaniġjat. Jekk dan isir sewwa l-ammont ta’ skart li jispiċċa fil-miżbla għandu jonqos b’mod sostanzjali. B’riżultat ta’ hekk jkun hemm inqas ħtieġa ta’ art biex tkun kkonvertita f’miżbla. Dan hu l-iskop tal-leġislazzjoni ambjentali tal-Unjoni Ewropeja li suppost li ilna nsegwu sa minn meta fl-2004 isseħibna fl-Unjoni Ewropea.

Il-politika dwar it-tnaqqis tal-ħolqien tal-iskart tfisser tnaqqis ippjanat tal-iskart iġġenerat. Inizjattivi dwar amminsitrazzjoni elettronika huma passi posittivi f’din id-direzzjoni. L-amministrazzoni elettronika hi waħda bla karti, avolja xi kultant din twassal sempliċiment biex tnaqqas l-użu tal-karta minn uffiċċju u żżidu f’ieħor. Anke it-tnaqqis fl-iskart li joriġina mill-ippakkeġġjar ukoll jikkontribwixxi b’mod sostanzjali għall-iskart iġġenerat. Fi djarna hu possibli ukoll li nnaqqsu l-iskart li nipproduċu. F’dan il-kuntest kampanji ta’ informazzjoni u edukazzjoni għandhom rwol importanti.

Imma hemm kontradizzjoni fil-politika tal-Gvern f’dan ir-rigward. Id-deċiżjoni li jkollna inċineratur tirrikjedi ammont kontinwu ta’ skart biex jitma lill-inċineratur. Filwaqt li suppost li qed ninkoraġixxu t-tnaqqis tal-ġenerazzjoni tal-iskart, l-inċineratur jirrikjedi l-oppost: il-ġenerazzjoni kontinwa ta’ ammont sostanzjali ta’ skart. Mingħajru l-inċineratur ikollu jagħmel id-dieta.

Is-separazzjoni tal-iskart tinvolvi l-għażla ta’ tipi differenti ta’ skart. Dan jiffaċilita li l-iskart li jkun intagħżel ikun użat u mhux mormi. Is-separazzjoni tal-iskart organiku, per eżempju, jiffaċilita it-trattament ta’ dan l-iskart biex minnu jkun prodott kemm l-elettriku kif ukoll il-kompost. L-iskart organiku jammonta għal madwar 50% tal-iskart iġġenerat fid-djar. Imma fl-industrija tal-catering l-iskart organiku jammonta għal porzjon ferm ikbar mill-iskart iġġenerat f’dik l-industrija.

Skond il-Wastserv, 27,000 tunellata ta’ skart organiku inġabru mid-djar matul l-2019. Dan jista’ jiżdied għal 70,000 tunellata fis-sena jekk f’kull dar nagħmlu sforz ikbar biex l-iskart organiku jkun separat. Il-Wasteserv ma tipprovdix informazzjoni dwar l-iskart miġbur mill-istabilimenti tal-ikel. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan in-nuqqas ta’ informazzjoni l-Wasteserve qed tindika li ma tafx x’qed jiġri f’dan il-qasam. Lanqas ma hu ċar jekk l-iskart organiku mhux ipproċessat li dan l-aħħar deher imħallat ma skart ieħor f’ritratti u filmati dwar l-operat tal-miżbla tal-Magħtab hux inkluż fl-informazzjoni ippubblikata mill-Wasteserv.

Li niġbru l-iskart organiku b’mod separt u li nipproċessawh ma jfissirx biss li jkun hemm inqas skart li jmur fil-miżbla: ifisser tnaqqis mhux żgħir fil-gassijiet serra (greenhouse gases) attribwibbli lil Malta u allura tnaqqis tal-impatt Malti fuq it-tibdil fil-klima.

Ir-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart f’Malta għadu lura meta mqabbel ma dak mistenni minna. L-unika qasam li qabad huwa dak li jirrigwarda l-iskart tal-ippakkeġġjar. Iż-żieda meħtieġa fir-riċiklar ukoll tnaqqas l-iskart li jinġabar fil-miżbla u għaldaqstant meta naslu biex inżidu r-rata tar-riċiklar il-Wasteserv ikollha inqas ħtieġa li tuża’ art agrikola biex testendi l-miżbla tal-Magħtab.

L-għajnuna li nistgħu nagħtu lill-bdiewa tal-Magħtab biex ikunu jistgħu jibqgħu jaħdmu ir-raba’ tista’ timmaterjalizza biss jekk inkunu kapaċi innaqqsu bil-kbir l-iskart li nibgħatu fil-miżbla. Għandna niftakru li l-istrateġija kurrenti għall-immaniġjar tal-iskart fil-gżejjer Maltin għandha l-mira ta’ skart zero sas-sena 2050. Għadna lura biex naslu!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 1 ta’ Marzu 2020

Reducing waste generation protects agricultural land

Birżebbuġa residents complain about the noise generated by the Freeport. Floriana residents complain about the impact of cruise liners on their lives through depleted air quality, as well as acoustic pollution. The residents of Gudja, Luqa, Kirkop and other villages in the area are affected by the operations of our only airport. The Sant’ Antnin Waste Treatment Plant has never been considered a good neighbour by the residents of Marsaskala.

Understandably, no one wants a landfill on his doorstep. In addition to bad neighbourliness, matters are even worse if the projected landfill (or a waste management facility) takes over your means of making a living. This is the case that the Magħtab residents and farmers are emphasising.

The Magħtab landfill has been in operation since 1977, when use of the landfill at Wied Fulija (Iż-Żurrieq) was being scaled down.

The Magħtab farmers have been at the receiving end for quite some time. One particular farmer, whom I met last week, told me – way back in 1975 – his family was dispossessed of 75 tumoli (over 84,000 square metres) of agricultural land that was taken over for the then proposed landfill. Today, another 25 tumoli (around 28,000 square metres) of agricultural land worked by the same family will also be taken up.

The point at issue is whether the proposed take-over of 254,144 square metres of additional land, mostly agricultural, to be absorbed into the Magħtab landfill complex, can be avoided, in whole or in part.

Futhermore, is it fair – or even ethical – for one section of the population to be expected to bear the brunt of impacts to which each one of us contributes? Should the burden not be spread, thereby ensuring that all communities shoulder part of it?

Where do we draw the line?

Limiting myself to the current issues of waste management, the problems to be faced have to be first resolved on the drawing board, on the basis of the policy options available. Subsequently, we need to ensure that the established targets are scrupulously observed in practice.

Waste minimisation, waste separation and waste recycling are three basic waste-management tools which should be used properly. Adequate use of such tools would reduce substantially the amount of waste going to landfill. As a result, if properly utilised, these policy tools would lead to a substantially reduced demand for land to be used as a landfill. This is the objective of the EU acquis which we ought to have followed since 2004 on EU accession.

A policy of waste minimisation involves a planned reduction of waste generation and initiatives relating to electronic government are a positive step in this direction. Paperless administrative processes reduce paper waste, for example, although sometimes they just shift the generation of the waste from one user to another. Reducing packaging waste also contributes substantially to waste minimisation. Even in our homes we can ensure that we minimise the waste that we generate: educational campaigns play a much important role in this respect.

There is, however, a contradiction in government policy in this regard: the decision to develop an incinerator requires a steady flow of waste to feed it. While we should be encouraging waste minimisation, the incinerator would require the opposite, waste maximisation – otherwise it would have to go on a diet.

Waste separation at source involves identifying and separating different streams of waste. This facilitates dealing appropriately with such waste. The separation of organic waste, for example, makes it possible to treat such waste in an appropriate digestor, thereby producing electricity and compost. Organic waste accounts for approximately 50 per cent of domestic waste. It does, however, account for a much larger portion of the waste generated by the catering industry.

Having a separate collection of organic waste has, according to Wastserv, resulted in a substantial amount of organic waste being collected from domestic households: 27,000 tonnes during 2019. This has the potential to grow to around 70,000 tonnes annually, if every household makes an effort in the separate disposal of organic waste. Wasteserv, however, does not provide data regarding organic waste collected from catering establishments, thereby indicating that this is not of any significance. Nor is it clear whether the unprocessed organic waste seen mixed with other general waste at the Magħtab landfill is included in Wasteserv’s published statistics on collected organic waste.

The separate collection of organic waste not only contributes to a substantial reduction in the amount of waste going to landfill: it also contributes to a reduction in released greenhouse gases, thereby reducing Malta’s contribution to climate change.

Waste recycling in Malta is still far behind what is expected. Malta’s recycling rates are still very low, except in the area of packaging waste. Adequate recycling would substantially reduce the amount of waste going to landfills, as a result reducing the uptake by Wasteserv of agricultural land for use for this purpose.

We can only help our farmers keep their agricultural land if we reduce – and eventually eliminate – waste going to landfills. We should remember that the current Waste Management Strategy for the Maltese Islands has targeted the attainment of a zero-waste objective by 2050.

Our performance to date is not encouraging.

Published in the Independent on Sunday : 1 March 2020

Il-Wasteserve: fil-Magħtab qed topera bla permess

Diversi bdiewa fil-Magħtab ġew mitluba biex jikkuntattjaw il-Wasteserve sa tmiem dan ix-xahar biex ikun iffaċilitat aċċess għall-art li qed jaħdmu u dan bl-iskop li din tkun eżaminata, “bil-ħsieb li possibilment tiġi akkwistata għal skop pubbliku”. L-avviż legali numru 1261 li kien ippubblikat fil-Gazzetta tal-Gvern tas-17 ta’ Diċembru 2019 jgħid li hemm tmien biċċiet art fil-Magħtab li qed ikunu ikkunsidrati. Din l-art għandha qies totali ta’ 254,144 metru kwadru, jiġifieri ftit iktar minn 226 tomna. Il-parti l-kbira minn din l-art għadha qed tinħadem minn bdiewa minkejja ċ-ċirkustanzi diffiċli li nħolqu kemm ilhom joperaw il-miżbliet fil-Magħtab sa mill-1975.

Xi ħtieġa għandha l-Wasteserve għal din l-art? Hemm tlett materji ewlenin dwar l-iskart li huma pendenti.

Il-miżbliet tal-Magħtab dalwaqt jimtlew. Bla dubju din is-sitwazzjoni wasalna għaliha qabel ma kien antiċipat minħabba li qed jintrema wisq skart. Ir-riċiklar għadu f’livell insinifikanti. Il-ġbir tal-iskart organiku b’mod separat għadu fil-bidu. Hemm ħtieġa urġenti biex in-nies tagħraf iktar il-ħtieġa li tnaqqas kemm l-iskart kif ukoll l-ammont tiegħu li qed jintrema fil-miżbliet.

Il-Gvern, probabbilment li qed iħejji biex jimplimenta l-wegħda elettorali dwar l-egħluq tal-impjant ta’ Sant Antnin li jittratta l-iskart. Din hi l-wegħda numru 27 fil-Manifest Elettorali tal-Partit Laburista fl-Elezzjoni Ġenerali tal-2017. Probabbilment li dan ukoll jispiċċa fil-kumpless tal-iskart tal-Magħtab li l-Wasteserve tirreferi għalih bħala iċ-Ċentru Ambjentali tal-Magħtab.

It-tielet pendenza hi dwar l-inċineratur li hu ppjanat li jibda jopera sa mhux iktar tard mill-2025.

Il-Wasteserve teħtieġ l-art għal dan kollu li ser iwassal biex il-Magħtab ikun ikkonvertit permanentement fiċ-ċentru tal-iskart fil-gżejjer Maltin.

Il-Wasteserve, fuq is-sit elettroniku tagħha tiddeskrivi l-kumpless tal-Magħtab bħala ta’ daqs komparabbli mal-Belt Valletta, li hi mifruxa fuq 600,000 metru kwadru.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Aaron Farrugia, Ministru għall-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar, li hu politikament responsabbli għall-Wasteserve, spjega, waqt intervista mxandra fl-aħbarijiet, li l-estensjoni ippjanata għall-miżbla tal-Magħtab teħtieġ 145,000 metru kwadru ta’ art filwaqt li l-inċineratur propost u “faċilitajiet oħra” jirrikjedu 105,000 metru kwadru addizzjonali. Il-facilitajiet oħra hi referenza għall-wegħda elettorali tal-Partit Laburista biex jingħalaq l-impjant ta’ Sant Antnin għat-trattament tal-iskart.

Meta tgħodd din l-art kollha għall-proġetti tal-Wasteserve fil-Magħtab ifisser li d-daqs tal-kumpless għall-iskart ser jikber għal madwar 850,000 metru kwadru, meta l-proġetti jkunu kollha mplimentati. Dan ifisser li l-254,144 metru kwadru ta’ art, primarjament raba’, imsemmija fil-Gazzetta tal-Gvern tas-17 ta’ Diċembru 2019 tista’ isservi bl-eżatt. Xejn ma neħodha bi kbira, iżda, jekk il-Wasteserve, bħal Oliver Twist, tkun trid iktar.

Meta nfittxu fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA) niskopru li l-permessi magħrufa bħala IPPC permits għall-miżbliet fil-Magħtab ilhom ftit li skadew. Dan ifisser li l-Wasteserve qed topera fi stat ta’ illegalità.

Dawn il-permessi imsejħa IPPC permits (Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control) jinħarġu mill- ERA skond kif tistabilixxi direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja u dan wara li jkun hemm studji dettaljati dwar l-attività (f’dan il-kaz miżbla) u l-impatti tagħha. Skont is-sit elettroniku tal-ERA il-miżbla għal skart mhux perikoluż Ta’ Żwejra fil-kumpless tal-Magħtab qed topera fuq bażi ta’ permess li skada fl-24 ta’ Lulju 2018 (permess IP 0001/05). Min-naħa l-oħra l-miżbla għal skart mhux perikoluż tal-Għallis, ukoll fil-kumpless tal-Magħtab, qed topera fuq bażi ta’ permess li nħareġ f’Jannar 2013 u li suppost li skada fil-bidu tal-2018 (permess IP 0001/06).

Jekk il-Wasteserve mhiex kapaċi tosserva liġijiet bażiċi ambjentali, ħadd ma għandu jeħodha bi kbira li sezzjoni tal-pubbliku jimxu fuq l-eżempju tagħha.

Għaliex ir-regolatur ambjentali, l-ERA, tittollera dawn l-affarijiet? Ic-Chairman tal-ERA, l-Professor Victor Axiaq, għandu jispjega x’inhu jiġri. Messu ilu li rreżenja.

 

ippubblikat fuq Illum :Il-Ħadd 23 ta’ Frar 2020