Mqabba: vittma ta’ sklerożi tal-istituzzjonijiet

Madwar għoxrin sena ilu, l-awtorità responsabbli mill-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art, dakinnhar imsejħa l-MEPA, kienet ippubblikat pjan dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-minerali fil-gżejjer Maltin. Dan id-dokument bl-isem Minerals Subject Plan for the Maltese Islands iġib id-data ta’ Mejju 2003.

Kif mistenni, dan il-Pjan hu dwar il-qafas regolatorju essenzjali biex issir l-estrazzjoni tal-minerali minn ġol-art. Primarjament dan jikkonċerna l-operazzjoni tal-barrieri biex tkun estratta l-ġebla Maltija. Dan hu qasam tal-kawbojs, qasam fejn ir-regolamentazzjoni hi skarsa u l-infurzar prattikament ineżistenti.

Fl-ewwel linji tiegħu, dan il-pjan jitkellem ċar ħafna billi jitkellem dwar il-kunflitt inevitabbli li jirriżulta mill-operazzjoni tal-barrieri. Jemfasizza li fi gżejjer li huma żgħar u b’popolazzjoni li hi iffullata hemm kunflitt mat-turiżmu u l-industrija, kif ukoll kemm mal-iżvilupp kummerċjali kif ukoll dak residenzjali. Hemm impatt ukoll fuq il-ħarsien tar-riżorsi naturali u ta’ dawk kulturali. Li jinħoloq bilanċ bejn il-ħtieġijiet tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni għar-riżorsi minerali f’kuntest ta’ żvilupp sostenibbli hi sfida ewlenija, jgħidlina l-pjan. Dan flimkien ma kunsiderazzjonijiet ta’ ippjanar ta’ użu ta’ art u konsiderazzjonijiet ambjentali.

Il-pjan dwar il-minerali jitkellem ukoll fid-dettall dwar l-impatt fuq terzi: jiġifieri l-impatt fuq in-nies, kemm residenti kif ukoll dawk li jkunu fil-viċinanzi, hi x’inhi r-raġuni għal dan: dan jinkludi t-tfal tal-iskola primarja. Specifikament jikkunsidra l-impatti riżultat tal-istorbju u tat-trab li huma ġġenerati mit-tħaddim tal-barrieri, mhux biss mill-ħidma biex ikun estratt il-ġebel, imma ukoll minn attività anċillari.

Il-pjan jirreferi għall-ġenerazzjoni tal-istorbju u jgħid li l-permessi ta’ żvilupp għandhom jindirizzaw dan l-inkonvenjent b’diversi miżuri, fosthom permezz ta’ ilqugħ adegwat (acoustic screening), kontroll tal-ħinijiet tal-operazzjoni tal-barriera, li jkun stabilit il-massimu tal-istorbju permissibli u li l-attività storbjuża tkun l-iktar il-bogħod possibli minn żoni sensittivi.

Il-pjan jitkellem ukoll dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-ġenerazzjoni tat-trab. L-attività li tiġġenera t-trab għandha tkun il-bogħod kemm jista’ jkun minn żoni sensittivi. Hu rakkomandat ukoll mill-pjan li meta jinġemgħa fuq is-sit kwantità ta’ prodotti tal-ġebla (stockpiling) dan ikun mgħotti: dan inaqqas it-tixrid tat-trab u allura jgħin biex ikun indirizzat l-inkonvenjent.

Għandi kopja elettronika ta’ dan il-pjan li kont niżżilt minn fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar xi snin ilu. Meta din il-ġimgħa erġajt fittixt, sibt li dan id-dokument sparixxa minn hemm: illum m’għadux aċċessibli fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-awtorità!  Safejn naf jien dan il-pjan għadu fis-seħħ imma, mal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar diffiċli tgħid: għax qatt ma taf fejn int!

Ftakart f’dan kollu meta f’dawn il-ġranet ġejt ikkuntattjat minn residenti fl-Imqabba minħabba applikazzjoni tal-ippjanar (PA 0350/22) li daħlet reċentement dwar barriera fil-viċinanzi tal-iskola primarja tal-Imqabba.  Din l-applikazzjoni hi dwar attività diversa fil-barriera inkluż tkissir tal-ġebla biex tipproduċi ż-żrar kif ukoll dwar il-ħażna taż-żrar fs-sit (stock piling).

Ir-residenti qalulna, lili u lil Melissa Bagley, (kandidat tal-partit fuq id-distrett elettorali li minnu jifforma parti l-Imqabba) li ilhom jaqilgħu ġo fihom żmien. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan għandhom raġun li joqgħodu lura milli jitkellmu direttament. Bħala partit aħna ser nitkellmu f’isimhom.

Jiena rajt il-file dwar din l-applikazzjoni fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-awtorità tal-ippjanar u nħoss li għandi ngħid pubblikament li jiena mħasseb ħafna bir-reazzjoni tad-Direttorat tas-Saħħa Ambjentali li hi nieqsa minn kull sens ta’ responsabbiltà. Jonqos milli jitkellem dwar l-impatti negattivi fuq in-nies kemm tat-trab fin iġġenerat kif ukoll tal-istorbju. Ma jitkellimx dwar il-ħtieġa li dan ikun ikkontrollat mill-proċess tal-ippjanar innifsu.

L-Awtorità dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi, min-naħa l-oħra, tistabilixxi numru ta’ kundizzjonijiet li għandhom ikunu osservati in lineja ma’ l-aħjar prattiċi ambjentali. Għandu jkun ċar, iżda li dawn il-miżuri u kundizzjonijiet jeħtieġ  li jkunu partiintegrali kemm minn eventwali permess ta’ żvilupp kif ukoll mill-permess operattiv li jinħareġ mill-ERA innifisha.

Sal-ħin li qed nikteb, id-Dipartiment tal-Edukazzjoni għadu ma fetaħx ħalqu biex jipproteġi lill-istudenti fl-iskola primarja tal-Imqabba li hi daqstant viċin tal-barriera soġġett ta’ din l-applikazzjoni. Ma nafx x’qed jistennew biex jipproteġu lit-tfal Mqabbin mill-istorbju u t-trab fin ġġenerat mill-barriera!

B’mod konvenjenti l-anqas il-Kunsill Lokali tal-Imqabba ma fetaħ ħalqu. Imma dan ma jissorprendi lil ħadd.

Din hi materja serja u gravi li teħtieġ l-attenzjoni tagħna lkoll. Il-barrieri u l-ħidma fihom jinħtieġu li jkunu regolati sewwa biex il-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ dawk kollha li jgħixu fil-madwar tkun imħarsa bis-serjetà.

Is-skiet, jew in-nuqqas ta’ azzjoni adegwata, tal-awtoritajiet li nsemmi iktar il-fuq hi skandaluża. Din hi sklerożi tal-istituzzjonijiet. Meta l-iktar hemm bżonnhom, dawn jiġġammjaw.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’Novembru 2022

Mqabba: a victim of institutional sclerosis

Around twenty years ago, the authority responsible for land use planning, then named MEPA, had published a Minerals Subject Plan for the Maltese Islands. The plan is dated May 2003.

The Subject Plan, as expected, deals with the regulatory framework for mineral extraction, primarily limestone, which was then and still is now, cowboy territory. Regulation is scarce and enforcement in this sector is almost inexistent.

The Subject Plan fired a warning shot in its first lines by pinpointing the inevitable conflicts resulting from the operation of quarries. It emphasises that “in such small and densely populated islands there are inevitable land use conflicts between limestone extraction and tourism, industrial, commercial and residential development, and the preservation of the islands’ natural and cultural resources. Balancing the needs of the construction industry for mineral resources with other planning and environmental policies, in the context of sustainable development is a key challenge for this Mineral Subject Plan and for the day-to-day control of extraction and related activities.”

The Subject Plan considers impacts on third parties. Specifically, it considers the impacts of noise and dust resulting from quarry operations and ancillary activities.

With reference to noise, it states that planning permits will seek to regulate noise impacts through the use of acoustic screening, restricting operating hours, setting of permissible maximum noise levels, locating noisier operations as far as possible from noise sensitive locations and properties and ensuring appropriate stand-off distances between operations and sensitive locations.

On the other hand, the regulation of dust impacts in the said Mineral Subject plan is also fairly detailed in that it is required to site the dust generating activities away from sensitive locations, considering the direction of prevailing winds. Covering of stockpiles is also recommended.

I have an electronic copy of this Subject Plan which I downloaded some time ago from the Planning Authority website. Checking recently, it has apparently mysteriously disappeared: it is no longer accessible on the Planning Authority website! As far as I am aware this Subject Plan is still applicable. When dealing with the Planning Authority, however, one never knows for certain!

All this came to mind when I was recently contacted by a number of Mqabba residents relative to a planning application (PA 0350/22) submitted recently concerning a quarry in the vicinity of the Mqabba Primary School. The application seeks to carry out activities ancillary to quarrying, including crushing and stock piling of stone derived aggregate on site.

Residents, have informed me and Melissa Bagley, party candidate on the electoral district of which Mqabba forms part, that they have been at the receiving end for a long time. As a result, they are reluctant to speak up publicly. ADPD will be taking up their case and speaking on their behalf.

I have gone through the planning application file which is available online and must publicly state that I am shocked at the reactions of the Environmental Health Directorate which fails to make any submissions on the negative impacts of noise and dust generated as a result of quarry operations, and, on the need, to control them through the planning process itself.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), on the other hand, lists a number of conditions to be adhered to in line with best practice environmental measures. It should however be clear that these measures should be an integral part of both an eventual planning permit as well as the standard operational permit issued by ERA itself.

The Department of Education has so far not reacted in order to protect the students at Mqabba Primary School which school almost borders the quarry in question. What is it waiting for to protect Mqabba boys and girls from excessive noise and from continuously inhaling dust particles generated by the quarry operations?

The Mqabba Local Council is also conveniently silent. However, no one is surprised about that.

This is a very serious issue which needs our attention. Quarrying needs adequate regulation and prompt enforcement such that the quality of life of all those in the vicinity is adequately protected.

The silence (or the lack of appropriate action) of the relative public authorities listed above is scandalous. This is institutional sclerosis. When needed most the institutions we have fail to act.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 November 2022

Tourism: reflections on the Deloitte report

The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) has just published a report entitled Carrying Capacity Study for Tourism in the Maltese Islands which report has been drawn up by its consultants Deloitte and financed primarily by EU funds.

A point which made the headlines, resulting from the said report, is relative to the availability of tourism accommodation, including touristic development which is still in the pipeline. Over the next five years, the report says, there is a significant risk of an over-supply in the expected accommodation growth. Various media reports have emphasised that as a result of the projected supply of touristic accommodation, close to 5 million tourists would be required (at an average 80 per cent occupancy throughout the year) to ensure the sector’s long-term profitability. Such an influx of tourists, definitely, cannot be handled by the country.

This is definitely the result of an lack of adequate land use planning. Unfortunately, the Planning Authority has continuously encouraged a free-for-all, particularly through the relaxation of various planning policies applicable to touristic accommodation. In fact, Tony Zahra, MHRA President, has been quoted as saying that we do not have a “Planning Authority” but a “Permitting Authority”.  For once, he is quite obviously right.

Unfortunately, this attitude of the Planning Authority is not limited to the touristic sector: it is spread throughout the islands relative to all types of development. It is an attitude which has contributed considerably towards “overcrowding, overdevelopment and uglification” which the Deloitte report groups together as being the contributors to the poor urban environment which impacts both residents and tourists indiscriminately!

An interesting point made by the Deloitte report is that the tourist sector is continuously decreasing in importance as the provider of employment opportunities for Maltese residents. In fact, the report states that, in 2009, 82 per cent of those employed in the tourism sector were Maltese. By 2019 this had decreased to 40.6 per cent. A staggering decrease in excess of 50 per cent!  The report does not offer any specific explanation for this. Reliance on poor remuneration of seasonal and part-time labour is a most obvious contributor to the situation. Its correction would inevitably cut the tourism sector down in size and consequently increase the problem of over-supply! The Deloitte report is generally silent about this basic flaw.

The quality of the touristic product is impacted considerably not only by the poor urban environment, which is getting progressively worse. It is also negatively impacted by the exponential increase in traffic and litter. Deloitte also identify the lack of product authenticity as a contributor to the decreasing quality of the touristic product. This is the result of the lack of Maltese working in the sector!

The report also hints at turismophobia. It records the preoccupation of those residing in touristic areas. They are less enthusiastic about tourism when compared to those living in other areas which are not in continuous contact with the tourist.

This ties in with a study carried out by academics at the University of Malta, Lino Briguglio and Marie Avellino, who, in a paper published in 2020 and entitled Has over-tourism reached the Maltese Islands?had pointed out the need for a tourism policy which focuses on mitigating its negative impacts. 

Tourism is not an activity that happens in a vacuum. It takes place in a community of persons, who should be assured that their quality of life is not impacted negatively as a result of the experience.

Tourism is not just about the numbers of tourists who visit, or the millions of euro spent or its contribution to the Gross National Product: it is also about our quality of life.

The profitability to be addressed should not be limited to financial parameters. As tourism is not just about the tourist: it is about each one of us.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 2 October 2022

Ftit ħsibijiet dwar il-baġit li jmiss

F’dawn il-ġranet, fil-Ministeru tal-Finanzi jkun qed isir ix-xogħol preparattiv dwar il-baġit li normalment ikunu imħabbar matul ix-xahar ta’ Ottubru.

Il-Ministru tal-Finanzi, mid-dehra diġa ddeċieda li jagħti l-aħħar irtokki biex ikompli jiffinanzja l-klijenteliżmu fl-Air Malta.  Dan hu proġett fit-tul li l-ħidma dwaru ilha għaddejja fuqu mill-predeċessuri tiegħu. Proġett li jinvolvi iktar miljuni ta’ euro ġejjin mit-taxxi tagħna li ser ikunu moħlija biex jonoraw wegħdiet politiċi li saru matul il-kampanja elettorali tal-elezzjoni ġenerali li għada kif għaddiet. Din hi irregolarità oħra bħat-tqassim tac-ċekkijiet bieb bieb waqt il-kampanja elettorali. Monument “xieraq” għall-klijenteliżmu politiku.

L-għoli tal-ħajja spara l-fuq, bla kontroll. Probabbilment li l-COLA, ż-żieda għall-għoli tal-ħajja għall-pagi,salarji u pensjonijiet, li titħabbar bħala parti mill-baġit li jmiss, tkun madwar €10 fil-ġimgħa. Il-Ministru Clyde Caruana diġa qal li din kienet tkun sostanzjalment għola minn hekk kieku l-Gvern ma issussidjax il-petrol/dijsil u l-kontijiet tal-elettriku u l-ilma.

Hemm ħtieġa li niddiskutu ftit iktar dawn is-sussidji biex ikunu aħjar, iktar effettivi u li jilħqu lil min verament jeħtieġhom. Fiċ-ċirkustanzi attwali hi politika tajba li l-użu bażiku jkun issussidjat, imma mhux għaqli li fuq tul ta’ żmien dan jibqa’ sussidju sħiħ għall-konsum kollu. Għax is-sussidji mhux qed imorru għand il-vulnerabbli biss: min mhux vulnerabbli għandu bżonn inqas tas-sussidji tal-lum.  Is-sussidji jeħtieġ li jkunu ffukati jekk irridu li l-pajjiż ikun ta’ għajnuna utli għall-vulnerabbli. Għax ir-riżorsi tal-pajjiż ma jippermettux li nibqgħu sejrin kif aħna fit-tul.

Xi ġranet ilu, s-sussidju fuq il-fuel li jieħdu l-inġenji tal-baħar tneħħa. Dan hu sewwa u seta ġie evitat mill-bidu. Imma dan mhux biżżejjed.  It-tnaqqis gradwali tas-sussidji fuq il-petrol u d-dijżil mhux biss inaqqas il-karozzi mit-toroq u jtejjeb il-kwalità tal-arja, imma fuq kollox jagħmilha possibli li iktar finanzi jkunu allokati għal oqsma oħra li tant jeħtieġu l-attenzjoni.

Il-Kamra tal-Kummerċ għamlet tajjeb li tkellmet dwar ftit iktar ħsieb fuq kif ikunu issussidjati l-kontijiet tal-elettriku u l-ilma. Anke f’dan il-qasam hu l-użu bażiku li għandu jkun issussidjat. Sussidji iktar minn hekk ifisser li anke l-użu esaġerat tal-elettriku u l-ilma qed ikun issussidjat. Dan hu użu ħażin ta’ fondi pubbliċi lijista’ jkun indirizzat bla diffikultà.

Naqbel perfettament ma’ Josef Bugeja tal-GWU li iż-żieda għall-għoli tal-ħajja għandha titħallas kollha lil min jaħdem (u lill-pensjonanti). Il-COLA mhiex, wara kollox, żieda fil-paga imma tipprova tagħmel tajjeb għall-impatt tal-inflazzjoni fuq il-paga, salarju jew pensjoni.

Imma tibqa’ l-ħtieġa ta’ bidla mill-qiegħ dwar il-politika li tikkonċerna l-pagi (incomes policy) biex din tkun dejjem iktar relevanti għaż-żmien li qed ngħixu fih.

Ilna ħafna nitkellmu dwar il-ħtieġa li l-baskett ta’ oġġetti u servizzi li jservu biex fuqhom tinħadem il-paga minima u l-COLA jkun revedut biex ikun assigurat li dan jirrifletti l-ħtiġijiet tal-lum. L-istudji li ippubblikat il-Caritas tul dawn l-aħħar snin jiffukaw eżattament fuq hekk. Minn dawn l-istudji joħroġ ċar li reviżjoni tal-baskett ta’ oġġetti u servizzi jwassal għal żieda inevitabbli ta’ 40 fil-mija fil-paga minima kurrenti. Li dan ikun indirizzat bla iktar dewmien hu essenzjali. Ifisser, skond dawn l-istudji tal-Caritas, li paga minima diċenti għandha tkun ta’ madwar l- €14,000 fis-sena.

L-inflazzjoni  sostanzjali ta’ din is-sena jfisser li l-vulnerabbli fostna għaddejjin minn żmien diffiċli. F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi ikun mill-iktar raġjonevoli li l-COLA titħallas darbtejn fis-sena: fl-1 ta’ Lulju u l-1 ta’ Jannar. Dan ma jżidx l-ammont li jitħallas imma billi dan jinqasam fi tnejn, u parti titħallas sitt xhur qabel, inaqqas ħafna l-piz fuq spallejn il-vulnerabbli.

Għadna qed nistennew lill-Onorevoli Ministru tal-Finanzi biex iwettaq dak li wiegħed is-sena l-oħra bl-introduzzjoni ta’ mekkaniżmu speċjali li jipproteġi lill-vulnerabbli mill-impatti tal-għoli tal-ħajja. Għadna nistennew, imma l-Onorevoli Ministru jidher li hu iktar ippreokkupat biex jonora l-wegħdiet konnessi mal-klijenteliżmu politiku fl-Air Malta.

ippubblikat fuq : Illum: 21 t’Awwissu 2022

Some budgetary considerations

In the Finance Ministry this is the time when they gear up to prepare next year’s budget which is normally presented sometime in October.

The Hon Minister for Finance has apparently already decided to proceed with the finishing touches to further finance clientelism in Air Malta. This is a long-term project what they call “works in progress”. It involves more millions of euro in taxpayer’s money down the drain to honour political pledges made during the March 2022 general election. This is another corrupt practice together with the distribution of cheques to every household during the general election campaign. A “fitting” monument to political clientelism.

The cost-of-living is out of control. Most probably that the COLA, the cost-of-living adjustment to wages, salaries and pensions, announced during the budget speech will be around €10 per week. Minister Clyde Caruana states that it could be substantially more if government did not subsidise fuel and electricity bills.

The blanket subsidises of fuel and electricity bills need to be revisited in order that they are more effective in supporting the vulnerable. In the present circumstances it is good policy to subsidise basic use but it does not make sense for a prolonged blanket policy of subsidies. The current subsidies are not going into the pockets of the vulnerable alone. Those who are not amongst the vulnerable can do without most of the current subsidies. Subsidises need to be focused such that they are of help to the most vulnerable. The country does not have the resources to go on in this way for too long a time.

Some days ago, the fuel subsidisation policy was amended in order that the fuelling of pleasure seacraft was at last excluded from further benefitting from the use of subsidised fuel. This is however not enough. The gradual reduction of subsidies of petrol and diesel would not only ease traffic from our roads and improve the quality of our air: they would also make substantial finance available for other areas.

The Chamber of Commerce has also rightfully pointed out that subsidising water and electricity bills across the board needs to be revisited. Even in this area it is basic use which should be subsidised. Subsidising across the board signifies that excessive use is subsidised too. This is a misuse of public funds which we can easily do without.

Josef Bugeja (GWU) is spot on in insisting that the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) should be paid out in full to all employees (and pensioners). It has to be underlined that COLA is not an increase in wages and salaries. It merely makes good for the impact of inflation on wages, salaries and pensions during the past year.

There is however need for a long overdue overhaul of the incomes policy to make it more relevant to this day and age.

It is about time that the basket of goods and services used to compute the minimum wage and the COLA is revised in order to ensure that it reflects todays needs. The Caritas studies throughout the years have made this basic contribution to the debate: revising the basket of goods and services would identify a 40 per cent shortfall in the current minimum wage. The sooner this is addressed the better. On the basis of the Caritas studies, currently a decent minimum wage should be around €14,000 per annum.

The substantial inflation throughout this year signifies that the vulnerable amongst us are passing though a very difficult patch. In such circumstances it would be reasonable to consider having COLA paid twice a year: 1st July and 1st January. This would not increase the amount due but by splitting it in two, and bringing forward part of its payment by six months, would reduce the burden shouldered by the most vulnerable amongst us.

We are still waiting for the Hon Minister of Finance to honour his commitment made this time last year to address the cost-of-living impacts on the vulnerable through some special mechanism. We are still waiting, unfortunately, as the Hon Minister is more preoccupied in servicing clientelism at Air Malta.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 21 August 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.

Urban open spaces and climate change

After a free-for-all building spree during which the development of multiple private gardens in our towns and villages were targeted, mostly successfully, our towns and villages have been promised open spaces. This, it is being stated, will bring nature closer to people! A shining sun which will hopefully produce less hay!

The implementation of the first such proposal for an open space is nearing conclusion. An open space in the Tar-Rabbat Housing Estate in Ħamrun has been partially built-up to produce an artificial garden on concrete stilts! The area below the concrete stilts is being reserved for parking of cars! This is definitely not an open space.

The open spaces which we need should not add to the concrete jungle which has developed unabated around us over the years. The open spaces should be free from any form of construction and should be the opportunity to squeeze out cars from the urban environment, preferably relegating them to the periphery of our towns and villages. The open spaces are meant to re-introduce nature into our lives, even if in a very limited way.

Our urban areas have been left to develop on their own for quite too long. As a result, they have been guided by business-friendly or market-friendly authorities, producing the mess of an urban jungle we have to face every day. This is a mess resulting from political decisions which have ensured that profits repeatedly have a priority over people and their quality of life.

The availability of funds to introduce open spaces in our urban areas is a unique opportunity to redesign the urban environment such that it becomes people-friendly. It is also an opportunity to bring urban planning in line with the requirements of climate change mitigation policy.

Earlier this month the latest report on climate change was published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). The document, almost 3000 pages long, emphasises that without profound changes to our lifestyle the Paris 2015 Climate Summit objectives will not be attained.

As islands, Malta and Gozo should be at the forefront in the international climate change debate. Climate change is already here. Extremes of temperature, long periods of drought or sudden floods are no longer a rare occurrence in the Maltese islands. We have experienced this repeatedly over the past years.

A sea-level rise will impact our coastal areas. Large stretches of our coastline are developed and used for residential purposes or else they are utilised for the maritime and tourism industries. A sea level rise, dependent on its extent, would severely impact all this activity. It is in our interest that any sea level rise resulting from climate change would be minimal, if at all. This can only happen if the climate mitigation targets agreed to at the Paris Summit are adhered to the soonest.

One of the ideas doing the rounds in the climate change debate is to rethink our urban design strategy as one of the basic tools with which to combat the climate crisis. The idea crystallised as “the 15-minute city” by Carlos Moreno, an architect advising the Paris Mayor, entails turning current urban planning on its head to ensure that all our needs are available not more than 15 minutes away on foot or by bike! Consequently, our dependency on the car would be done away with, as a result even claiming back our streets. The open spaces initiative could fit in perfectly within the parameters of the “15-minute city”.

Can we reassess the nature and quality of our urban lifestyle within this framework?

The Covid-19 pandemic has given most of us a taste of working from home. If this could become a permanent feature of our urban lifestyle, some of us would not need not travel to work every day. This would address and potentially reduce our addiction to the car. Over a period of time this would impact our carbon emissions.

Our contribution to climate change mitigation as a result of which we can accelerate our path to carbon neutrality could be achieved without impacting our mobility. Through a judicious use of public transport, and the facilitation of other sustainable mobility options our mobility can in fact be substantially improved as a result.

Come October all public transport will be free of charge. Hopefully it will also be reliable and efficient. If adequately planned this could be a turning point in climate change mitigation measures as over a period of time it can lead to a reduction of cars from our roads. Initially such a reduction would necessarily be of a temporary nature. Eventually we can move towards a permanent change.

Within this context open spaces adequately planned have a pivotal role. They improve our quality of life by bringing it closer to nature in our 15-minute cities.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 24 April 2022

The financing of the PLPN

Through a number of articles in the local press we have been repeatedly made aware that government and its authorities do not treat the parliamentary political parties (and their commercial companies) as the rest of us when it comes to outstanding bills, including those relating to taxes due.

The regulation of party-political financing should not stop at donation reports. We need to shine the spotlight on their pending bills too as these are an additional substantial financing source which in practice serves to finance the political parties through open-ended credit facilities! It is being carried out by the state, directly and by stealth.

To be clear I am referring to outstanding VAT payments and pending water and electricity bills which go back a number of years which have accumulated to millions in outstanding dues. In addition, there are also NI and PAYE contributions collected by the parliamentary political parties and their commercial companies on behalf of the Inland Revenue Department from their employees and retained unlawfully at their end. Any private employer who acts in the same manner is normally subject to legal action, in particular for failure to act on repeated reminders to conform! If you try not paying your water and electricity bills for years on end you will very soon receive a polite notice from ARMS indicating that you will soon have no more access to water and electricity!  But it is kids gloves for the PLPN. 

The amounts due run into many millions of euros and form part of the accumulated debts of the parliamentary political parties. It is difficult to quantify the precise amounts due by PLPN and their commercial companies as the authorities continuously withhold information as to the precise accumulated amount of the arrears due. The only information available in the public domain is sourced through leaks indicating that the amounts due run into millions: an upward eight digit spiral! Public knowledge of the extremely generous credit terms which public authorities grant parliamentary political parties and their companies would reveal the systemic abuses which have been shielded for too long a time.  This information should be disclosed as this is in the public interest. Good governance requires it.

This is an indirect source of political party financing which needs to be quantified and acted upon immediately. It is unfortunate that the regulator of political party financing is the Electoral Commission which is itself composed of nominees of the PLPN, who are thus regulating themselves, in addition to regulating their direct competitors, the other political parties.

It is also about time that the commercial companies belonging to the political parties are dealt with as an integral part of the political parties which they service. Stricter controls and real-time reporting time-frames are essential if we really want to ensure that these commercial companies are not used as vehicles to channel illicit funding to oil the PLPN political machinery.

As expected PLPN are in denial. The PL insists that its companies have not entered into a deal with Yorgen Fenech. The PN on the other hand insist that all is above board at its end: they proclaim that they have not issued any fake dB invoices! Yet both of them continuously fail to play by the rules. Audited accounts for their companies have not been presented for many years. As a result, there is no way to verify whether and to what extent the PLPN commercial companies are innocent of the charges that they are being continuously used to circumvent the rules regulating the funding of political parties.

Both the PL and the PN sanctimoniously proclaim their adherence to the basic principles of good governance. It is about time that they start practicing what they preach!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 April 2022

Abusive continuity

The distribution of multiple cheques to every household by the Labour Government on the eve of the general election is more than abusing the power of incumbency. Through the said distribution, the power of incumbency is being transformed into a corrupt practice, specifically intended to unduly influence voters.

What, in normal circumstances should be a simple administrative act is being transformed into blatant political propaganda, at public expense, straight into your letterbox. A covering letter signed by Robert Abela and Clyde Caruana says it all. A Banana Republic in all but name!

Why should such handouts be distributed on the eve of elections if not to influence voters?

Even if one were to accept that such handouts are acceptable, it is certainly not in any way justifiable to plan their distribution specifically on the eve of an election. This goes against the basic principles of good governance.

The power of incumbency is the executive power of a government seeking re-election. Incumbents always have an advantage. The manner in which they handle it defines their governance credentials.

This has been a government characterised by bad governance throughout its term in office. Right from the very beginning, on 13 March 2013. I consider the full 9 years as one continuum. This was reinforced by Robert Abela himself who emphasised that his leadership of the Labour Party seeks to continue the “achievements” of his predecessor and mentor Joseph Muscat. Continuity was his declared mission.

On its first days in office, Labour started off on its Panama tracks. The secret Panama companies set up by Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and someone else, known as the (mysterious) owner of Egrant, went on to rock Labour over the years.

The Electrogas saga and its link to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia intertwined with the Panama debacle.

It is now clearly established that the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia was directly linked to her investigative journalism. Her investigations led her to identify the governance credentials of various holders of political office and their links with big business. Defining their relationship as being too close for comfort would be a gross understatement.

As emphasised in the investigation report on the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination, over the years, a culture of impunity has developed in these islands. This has led to misbehaviour in public office being normalised. It has also led to considerable resistance in the shouldering of political responsibility by holders of political office, whenever they were caught with their hand in the cookie jar! Rosianne Cutajar and Justyne Caruana being the latest examples, as amply proven by the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life George Hyzler.

To add insult to injury Cutajar and Caruana were the recipients of generous termination benefits, notwithstanding that their term of political office ended in disgrace. Caruana received terminal benefits twice in the span of a short time, as she established a national record of resigning twice from Robert Abela’s Cabinet!

With this track record one should not have expected otherwise from the Muscat/Abela administration. With the abusive distribution of cheques on the eve of the general election Labour’s current term is approaching a fitting end.

The Labour Party in government has consistently acted abusively. Robert Abela has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor and mentor Joseph Muscat. Continuity has been ensured, as promised.

published in Malta Today : Sunday 20 March 2022

L-istupru t’Għawdex

Il-PLPN kontinwament jipperfezzjonaw l-istrateġija tagħhom dwar l-istupru t’Għawdex. Din l-istrateġija illum il-ġurnata jispjegawha fil-wegħdiet elettorali tagħhom.  Sfortunatament, f’din il-ħidma tagħhom għandhom l-appoġġ ta’ għaqdiet bħall-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija li għadhom kif ħarġu dokument bil-prijoritajiet li huma qed jipproponu għall-leġislatura li jmiss.

Il-mina taħt il-fliegu bejn Malta u Għawdex, għalihom tibqa’ prijorità. Ma’ dan issa żdied mitjar rurali. Jidher li jridu jassiguraw li l-istupru li qed jippjanaw fuq Għawdex ikollu effett massimu.

Il-mina proposta mhiex għan-nies iżda għall-karozzi. Hi mina dipendenti b’mod assolut fuq il-karozzi u l-inġenji kummerċjali oħra li jkunu jistgħu jagħmlu użu minna. Kull waħda minn dawn il-karozzi jew inġenji kummerċjali tħallas biex tgħaddi mill-mina. Il-vijabilità ekonomika tal-mina tiddependi milli jkunu mħajjra jagħmlu użu minna l-ikbar numru possibli ta’ karozzi.

F’wieħed mill-istudji li saru kien ħadem stima li bħala riżultat tal-mina proposta, il-moviment ta’ karozzi bejn Malta u Għawdex jimmultiplika ruħu bi tlieta, minn 3000 moviment kuljum għal 9000 movement kuljum. L-istudju hu intitolat Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options.  Dan l-istudju kien ikkummissjonat mill-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija  u  Transport Malta.

Il-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdija qegħda fuq quddiem nett fl-isforz biex Għawdex ikun stuprat. Flimkien mal-PLPN iridu jerfgħu r-responsabbiltà għall-konsegwenzi.

X’sens jagħmel li żżid bi tlett darbiet il-moviment tal-karozzi Maltin fit-toroq Għawdxin? It-toroq Għawdxin jifilħu għal dan? Għandna nissagrifikaw il-kwalità tal-arja f’Għawdex ukoll?  Jagħmel sens li nesportaw il-problemi tat-traffiku minn Malta għal Għawdex?

It-tweġiba ovvja għal kull waħda minn dawn il-mistoqsijiet hi le. Bosta minnha huma konxji li t-toroq Għawdxin ma baqax fejn tqiegħed labra fihom u dan bħala riżultat tal-karozzi li diġa qed jaqsmu l-fliegu f’dan il-mument.

Anke fit-toroq Għawdxin hemm il-ħtieġa li jonqsu l-karozzi.  Diġa hemm wisq. Ma jagħmilx sens li jiżdiedu. Dan imur kontra dak kollu li jipprovdi l-pjan nazzjonali għat-trasport. Dan il-pjan japplika għal-Għawdex ukoll.

Is-servizz tal-fast-ferry service, jekk organizzat sewwa b’mod li jwassal in-nies f’punti differenti tul il-kosta Maltija, jibqa’ soluzzjoni tajba. B’hekk tkun assigurata mobilità sostenibbli bejn il-gżejjer.  Imma biex dan ikun effettiv, jeħtieġ ukoll transport pubbliku iffukat u faċilitajiet aħjar fil-port tal-iMġarr Għawdex. Dan jassigura mobilità aħjar b’impatt ambjentali sostanzjalment imnaqqas.  

Il-pjan nazzjonali għat-trasport, ippubblikat mill-Gvern Laburista jemfasizza l-ħtieġa li jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Il-proposta għal mina bejn Malta u Għawdex tikkontradixxi dan il-pjan. Għalfejn il-Gvern jieħu parir, iħallas għalih minn fondi pubbliċi u imbagħad jinjorah? Għaliex il-Gvern qiegħed kontinwament jinjora l-pjan tat-trasport tiegħu stess?

Jekk il-proġett tal-mina isseħħ, dan ser ikun il-kawża ta’ ħsara ambjentali sostanzjali kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex.  F’Malta ser jinqered il-villaġġ trogloditiku tal-Għerien fil-limiti tal-Mellieħa. F’Għawdex ser jinqered ammont mhux żgħir ta’ raba’ f’ Ta’ Kenuna, limiti tan-Nadur.

Hemm iktar soluzzjonijiet biex tkun indirizzata l-mobilità bejn Malta u Għawdex. Dan jirrikjedi li niffukaw fuq il-mobilità tan-nies. Jirrikjedi li nindirizzaw id-dipendenza li żviluppajna fuq il-karozza, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex. Sakemm nieħdu d-deċiżjoni li nibdew nindirizzaw din id-dipendenza, kull soluzzjoni li nippruvaw, ftit tista’ tkun effettiva.  

Ilna nopponu l-proposta għall-mina sa mill-ewwel jum minn meta, madwar għaxar snin ilu, din ġiet proposta mill-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdija bl-appoġġ tal-PLPN. Jekk inti ukoll ma taqbilx li issir din il-mina żomm quddiem għajnejk li huma biss membri parlamentari eletti f’isem ADPD li jistgħu jmexxu l-quddiem l-idejat tiegħek.  

Bl-appoġġ tiegħek nhar is-26 ta’ Marzu hu possibli li dan l-istupru li l-PLPN qed jippjanaw nevitawh.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 13 ta’ Marzu 2022