Ambaxxati b’daqs ta’ raħal

L-ambaxxata Amerikana nbniet 9 snin ilu fuq medda kbira ta’ art f’ Ta’ Qali li nxtrat mingħand il-Gvern Malti għas-somma ta’  €14.6 miljuni. L-ambaxxata f’Ta’ Qali hi mibnija fuq art b’qies ta’ madwar 4 ettari, jiġifieri 40,000 metru kwadru.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar approvat permess ta’ żvilupp biex tinbena ambaxxata Ċiniża f’Pembroke fuq art b’qies ta’ madwar 2 ettari, jiġifieri 20,000 metru kwadru.  

Għalkemm il-kumpless tal-ambaxxata Ċiniża ser ikun madwar nofs fid-daqs meta mqabbel ma dak Amerikan f’Ta’ Qali xorta hu kbir wisq. L-art li fuqha ser jinbena dan il-kumpless inxtrat mingħand il-Gvern Malti għas-somma ta’ €7,880,000.

Għalfejn dawn il-pajjiżi barranin qed jitħallew jibnu l-ambaxxati tagħhom fuq art daqshekk kbira?  Jekk verament jeħtieġu dan l-ispazju għaliex ma ġewx imħajra biex jirrestawraw xi bini qadim, preferibilment storiku, b’benefiċċju għall-komunità Maltija?

Kemm ser indumu ma jkollna xi talba oħra għall-iżvilupp ta’ kumpless ieħor għal ambaxxata enormi? Forsi mill-Federazzjoni Russa?

Id-dibattitu pubbliku dwar l-Università Amerikana f’Malta suppost li għamel lil ħafna nies iktar konxji. Imma jidher li ma tgħallmu xejn mid-dibattitu pubbliku li wassal biex l-unika parti ta’ din l-Univeristà li illum qed tiffunżjona qegħda flok it-tarżna f’Bormla. Il-bini storiku li kien jifforma parti mit-tarżna ta’ Bormla, l-imħażen tal-Kavallieri tas-sbatax-il seklu u l-workshops tal-Ammiraljat Ingliż tad-dsatax-il seklu ġew restawrati u ħadu ħajja ġdida. Dan kollu issarraf f’ġid ambjentali għall-pajjiż kollu u l-ħarsien ta’ art f’Marsaskala minn żvilupp li kien jeqridha.

Jekk nistaqsu għaliex dawn l-ambaxxati kbar, daqs raħal, qatt m’hu ser ikollna tweġiba onesta. Għax hu ovvju li apparti x-xogħol konsulari normali u l-iżvilupp ta’ relazzjonijiet tajba mad-dinja tan-negozju u mal-komunitajiet lokali, fir-realtà, dawn l-ambaxxati huma “widna” iffukata biex tisma’ dak li qed jiġri fir-reġjun tal-Mediterran.

Uħud iħobbu jiddeskrivu kemm lill-iStati Uniti kif ukoll lir-Repubblika Ċiniża bħala ħbieb kbar ta’ Malta. Ir-realtà hi ftit differenti. Hu prinċipju bażiku tal-politika barranija li l-pajjiżi m’għandhomx ħbieb, għandhom biss interessi! Ir-relazzjonijiet diplomatiċi, imbagħad, iservu biex iġibu l-quddiem dawn l-interessi!

Il-posizzjoni ta’ Malta fil-Mediterran tagħmilha idejali bħala ċentru fejn tisma’ u tosserva. Dan, hu interess ewlieni li minħabba fih kemm l-Istati Uniti kif ukoll ir-Repubblika Ċiniża għandhom bżonn spazju kbir.

Id-dibattitu riċenti dwar il-possibiltà ta’ ftehim li jirregola l-militar Amerikan f’pajjiżna (Status of Forces Agreement : SOFA) hu indikattiv. Il-kummenti li smajna u qrajna jagħtu idea żgħir ta’ dak li kien għaddej madwar il-mejda.  

F’pajjiżi kbar, ambaxxati kbar jistgħu jagħmlu sens. Imma Malta, tista’ tgħaddi mingħajrhom. M’għandniex bżonn ambaxxati kbar biex intejbu r-relazzjonijiet mal-Istati Uniti jew iċ-Ċina.

L-ambaxxata tal-Istati Uniti f’Ta’ Qali issa ilha mibnija u ilha topera 9 snin. Imma l-ambaxxata Ċiniża għadha fuq il-pjanta. MInkejja li għadha kif ġiet approvata l-ambaxxatur Ċiniż għad għandu ħin biex jaħseb ftit dwar kif jista’ jindirizza n-nuqqas ta’ spazju li għandu mod ieħor. Jista’ jikunsidra r-riabilitazzjoni ta’ bini qadima, possibilment bini storiku minflok ma jibni ambaxxata daqs raħal.  

Jekk jagħmel hekk ikun qed jittrasforma problema f’opportunità.

Qatt mhu tard, sur Ambaxxatur.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 1 ta’ Novembru 2020

Village size embassies: are they required?

The US embassy was built some 9 years ago on a large tract of land at Ta’ Qali purchased from the Maltese Government for €14.6 million. The footprint of the Ta’ Qali Embassy is slightly over 4 hectares in size.

Earlier this week a development permit for a new Chinese Embassy at Pembroke, covering an area of around 2 hectares, was approved by the Planning Authority. The Chinese Embassy compound will be half the size of the US embassy complex but it still has quite a substantial footprint. The land to be developed as a Chinese Embassy was purchased from the Maltese Government for €7,880,000.

Why have these foreign governments been permitted to develop their embassies on such large tracts of land? If they really need space, would it not have been much more helpful if they were advised to restore some old, possibly historic building, as a result giving back something to Maltese society?

How long will it take before some other request for the development of another enormous embassy complex is made? From the Russian Federation maybe?

Does the debate on the American University in Malta not ring a bell? Have we not learnt anything from that public debate as a result of which the only functioning campus is at the former Malta Drydocks? The historic properties on that site, namely the seventeenth century Knights’ Building and the nineteenth century British naval workshops have been restored and given a new use. This has resulted in a net environmental gain, in the process protecting land at Marsaskala from development: a portion of our countryside was saved from ruin.

We will never have an honest reply to the basic question as to what all this space in the village size embassies is needed for. In addition to basic consular work and the development of relations with the business and local community these village size embassies are also inevitably an eavesdropping focus for intelligence gathering in the Mediterranean region.

Some tend to describe both the United States and the Republic of China as being very good friends of Malta. In reality it is a well-established foreign policy principle that countries do not have friends: they have interests. Diplomatic relations serve to further these interests.

Malta’s central location in the Mediterranean makes it ideal as a monitoring post and that is undoubtedly one of the basic interests for such large embassies. Ensuring that this interest is well catered for in Malta is a priority for both the United States of America and the Republic of China.

The recent debate on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) relative to US Forces is indicative. Only the naïve would have failed to note the unofficial comments flying around in order to understand what was going on around the negotiating tables.

In larger countries it may make sense to have large embassies. However, in Malta we could definitely do without them. In a small country such as ours, they are definitely not required to improve the relations with the United States, China or any other country.

The Embassy of the United States of America has now been built and it has been operational for the past nine years. The Chinese embassy is however still on plan. Even if it has just been approved the Chinese Ambassador could still give the matter some further thought and consider the possible rehabilitation of some old building or buildings, possibly historical ones, instead of his massive embassy, the size of a small village!

Possibly that could turn the problem of the location and land uptake of the proposed embassy on its head and develop it into a unique opportunity.

It is never too late Mr Ambassador to take note.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 1 November 2020

Simon’s ODZ bluff

Simon Busuttil.Zonqor2

 

20 January is the closing date for the submission of expressions of interest in response to the call by the Privatisation Unit for the setting up of a Motorsports complex in Malta.

During the press conference that launched the call on 29 September, Parliamentary Secretary for Sport Chris Agius emphasised the fact that the choice of location was up to the investors presenting the submissions, even though several sites were proposed in the consultation process leading up to the call for expressions of interest.

However, Sam Collins, writing on 25 April last year on an online motor-racing guide, under the heading Malta eyes Formula 1 with new circuit stated that a “110 hectare parcel of land has been earmarked for the development.”  It is pretty obvious that the as yet unidentified  “110 hectare parcel of land” to be used for this proposed motorsports complex will be situated outside the development zone (ODZ). Each hectare consists of 10,000 square metres, meaning that 110 hectares equals one million, one hundred thousand square metres.

Sam Collins describes the proposal in this manner: “The government documents relating to the circuit’s development point out that part of its purpose would be to attract major international racing series, including Formula 3 and similar classes. The proposed facility would also include facilities for concerts, conferencing and a racing school. A hotel and museum of motoring and transport heritage would also be built on site. Road safety and driver training would play a major part in the facility’s layout, with a dedicated area for these activities. A CIK Kart circuit would also be built alongside the main track.”

The basic question which had to be addressed – but which most obviously has not been addressed so far – is whether Malta can afford to waste this much land. The answer, in my opinion, irrespective of the number of motor-racing car enthusiasts on the island, is clear and unequivocal: Malta cannot waste any more of its limited land.

The sites that have been possibly earmarked are limited in number, as Malta’s size does not present too many options and the impact of the selected site will be substantial, irrespective of its current use.

Development on the  parcel of land selectedcould have a substantial impact on areas of ecological importance that are protected either in terms of local policy or else as a result of EU or international commitments. Knowing that most of the undeveloped land along Malta’s coastline from Bengħajsa right up to Ċirkewwa is protected for ecological purposes, this could be the case, particularly if the identified parcel of land is close to the coast.

The impact could be further increased in view of the possible proximity of the selected parcel of land to residential areas. A specific area, mentioned consistently through the grapevine, would lump these impacts on Malta’s political south, further adding to the disregard for residents’ quality of life in the region accumulated over the years.

There are, therefore, three issues on the basis of which the proposed facility is objectionable: firstly, that Malta is too small for such a development; secondly, that the environmental impact will be substantial and thirdly, that the neighbouring residents’ quality of life, as well as biodiversity and natural resources, will be bartered for short term economic gain.

Depending on the precise eventual location, it may be possible to mitigate and reduce the impact on residents. However, it is most probable that a reduced impact on residents would signify increased impact on natural resources and biodiversity. In my opinion, this signifies that even on the drawing board the project should have been a non-starter.

In recent months we have had the Żonqor “University” debacle. A major sticking point in that case was that the original proposal was to use land situated outside the ODZ and public opinion’s unifying reaction was “No to ODZ development”.

The Parliamentary Opposition, both inside and outside Parliament, took a clear stand against the ODZ Development proposed at Żonqor. Yet in the case of the proposed motor track facility, the Opposition Spokesperson on Sport, David Agius, was invited to be present when the call for expressions of interest was launched. His presence confirms that, notwithstanding Simon Busuttil’s solemn declarations on the sanctity of ODZ land, the proposal for the (ODZ) motor track facility enjoys bipartisan support.

Which means that Simon’s talk on ODZ is just bluff.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 January 2016