The budget: beyond the €s

Liza Minelli’s song “Money makes the world go round” is the underlying theme of the Budget speech delivered by Finance Minister in Parliament last Monday. The message driven home was that money and the accompanying affluence clearly indicate that we have never had it so good and that handouts to all are not a problem, both to those who need them, and, more importantly to those who don’t.

Today, taxation is a dirty word in our political lexicon: hence, it was suggested that the message that no increases in existent taxes or new taxes have been proposed is a positive one by the Honourable Minister. Handouts are for all, almost. First for those in need, secondly for most of the rest. The dictum “from each according to his means, to each according to his needs” no longer has any significance when trying to understand the political philosophy underlying the budget of this “labour” government.

Taxation collected in Malta apparently only has some significance when taxing foreign companies operating outside Maltese territory but having some small office, or just a letterbox, on this rock. This is done so that they can avail themselves of reduced taxation rates, substantially lower that those payable in the countries where they operate.

Similarly, companies operating in the financial services sector benefit from a tax package which offers them substantial savings on their tax bills in order to entice them to set up shop.

The government thinks it is smart, but all it is doing is encouraging tax avoidance. Malta’s message is clear: those who want to avoid tax in their country are welcome as long as they are prepared to pay a small part of the taxes avoided to the Maltese exchequer.

In this respect, the case study entitled “Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance” published by the Green Group in the European Parliament around two years ago is indicative. In that study, it was concluded that BASF, the German chemical giant with its headquarters in Ludwigshafen, used mismatches in national tax systems in order to avoid paying its taxes. It is estimated that, over a five-year period spanning 2010 to 2014, BASF avoided the payment of close to one billion euros in taxes, paying instead a small amount of the taxes avoided, in gratitude for this wonderful opportunity made possible by the Maltese governments, blue and red.

In this context the Finance Minister’s declaration against tax evasion, tax avoidance and money laundering is deemed mere rhetoric. It has to be viewed in the context of the Panama Papers saga, as well as the established fact that a Cabinet Minister and the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister set up companies in Panama, a tax haven, and no punitive action was taken against them. With this background, the Minister’s sanctimonious declaration is in no way credible.

The Budget proposals strengthen the social safety net as it assists the vulnerable financially. However, the quality of life is not measured solely by financial metrics. The Budget has various green gaps that affect our quality of life.

The welfare of cars assumes an importance over human quality of life, as government considers it is important to widen and improve roads in order to facilitate the passage of cars, thereby aiming at reducing congestion. An inverted sense of logic: reduction of the number of cars on our roads should have been the target as that is the real and actual problem. Widening roads and improving road infrastructure with flyovers and underpasses only serves to grow the number of cars on our roads, thereby increasing the problem. Providing and facilitating alternative transport is the only solution. Paying lip service to alternative means of transport but simultaneously financing an exponential
increase of the problem signifies that we still have to learn the ABC of transport policy.

The government’s own transport master-plan places considerable emphasis on the need to reduce cars from our roads but it seems that the government is not interested.

Therefore, we have a government which is more interested in the welfare of cars than in our quality of life.

This is just one example. There are countless of others.

The Budget loses an opportunity to make a lasting difference in a number of areas important for our quality of life that goes beyond finances.

published (online) at Malta Independent

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Il-baġit : lil hinn mill-€s

Id-diska ta’ Liza Minelli “Money makes the world go round” donnha li hi t-tema li madwarha hu minsuġ id-diskors tal-Baġit li nqara mill-Ministru tal-Finanzi nhar it-Tnejn fil-Parlament. Il-messaġġ ċar li wasal fi djarna kien li l-flus u l-“ġid” li hawn jagħmlu possibli li tirċievi ċekk id-dar, kemm jekk għandek bżonnu kif ukoll jekk m’għandekx.

F’dawn iż-żmienijiet il-kelma taxxa donna saret kelma moqżieża fid-dizzjunarju politiku: għalhekk ġie suġġerit li n-nuqqas ta’ taxxi ġodda, inkella ta’ żieda fit-taxxi eżistenti kien element pożittiv fid-diskors tal-Onorevoli Ministru. Ċekkijiet għal kważi kulħadd. L-ewwel għal dawk li għandhom il-ħtieġa u mbagħad għall-parti l-kbira tal-bqija. Dak li kien jingħad li “jittieħed mingħand kull wieħed skont ma jiflaħ, u jingħata lil kulħadd skont il-ħtiġijiet tiegħu” donnu li ma għandu l-ebda piz illum meta nippruvaw nifhmu l-filosofija politika li fuqha hu mfassal dan il-baġit ta’ Gvern “Laburista”.

It-taxxa li tinġabar f’Malta donnha li hi utli biss meta tinġabar mingħand kumpaniji barranin li fil-waqt li joperaw barra mit-teritorju Malti jkollhom uffiċċju żgħir jew sempliċi letterbox f’Malta. Dan biex ikunu jistgħu jibbenefikaw minn rati ta’ taxxa sostanzjalment iktar baxxi minn dawk li jkunu soġġetti għalihom fil-pajjiżi fejn joperaw.

Diversi kumpaniji fis-settur tas-servizzi finanzjarji ukoll jibbenefikaw minn rati ta’ taxxa li bihom jiffrankaw sostanzjalment minn dak li jħallsu band’oħra.

Il-Gvern mingħalih li għamel opra. Fir-realtá qed jibgħat messaġġ li Malta tilqa’ li min irid jevadi t-taxxa f’pajjiżu, kemm-il darba jkun lest li jħalli xi ħaġa minn dak li jiffranka fil-kaxxa ta’ Malta!

F’dan il-kuntest l-istudju intitolat Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance. ippubblikat mill-Grupp tal-Ħodor fil-Parlament Ewropew madwar sentejn ilu jispjega b’mod ċar x’inhu jiġri. F’dan l-istudju ġie konkluż li l-BASF, ġgant Ġermaniz fil-qasam tal-industrija kimika ibbazat f’Ludwigshafen, jagħmel użu minn differenzi fis-sitemi nazzjonali tat-taxxa biex jevita milli jħallas it-taxxi dovuti. Huwa stmat li, tul il-ħames snin bejn l-2010 u l-2014, BASF evitaw madwar biljun euro fi ħlas ta’ taxxi. Minflok ħallsu ammonti ferm inqas, b’ħajr lill-gvernijiet Maltin (blu u ħomor) talli għinhom jevitaw dawn it-taxxi kollha.

F’dan il-kuntest id-dikjarazzjoni tal-Ministru tal-Finanzi kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus jidhru dak li fil-fatt huma: eżerċizzju ta’ retorika. Inżommu f’moħħna ukoll il-kaz tal-Panama Papers, li kien stabilixxa l-fatt li membru tal-Kabinett u ċ-Chief of Staff fl-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru kellhom kumpaniji fil-Panama, pajjiż rinomat għall-evażjoni tat-taxxa, u dwar dan ma kienu ittieħdu l-ebda passi kontra tagħhom. Fid-dawl ta’ dan, id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ “qdusija” da parti tal-Onorevoli Ministru hi nieqsa minn kull kredibilitá.

Il-proposti tal-Baġit isaħħu ix-xibka soċjali u dan billi jgħinu finanzjarjament lill-vulnerabbli. Imma l-kwalitá tal-ħajja ma titkejjilx biss f’termini ta’ flus. Fil-Baġit hemm bosta miżuri ambjentali nofs leħja.

Il-ħarsien tal-karozzi huwa iktar importanti mill-kwalitá tal-ħajja għalina. Il-Gvern jikkunsidra li hu iktar importanti li jwessa’ t-toroq biex jiffaċilita ċ-ċaqlieq tal-karozzi u b’hekk jipprova jnaqqas il-konġestjoni. Loġika rasha l-isfel. Il-mira kellha tkun it-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna għax dik hi l-problema. It-twessiegħ tat-toroq u t-titjib tal-infrastruttura bil-kostruzzjoni ta’ flyovers lil hawn u lil hemm iwassal biss għaż-żieda ta’ karozzi fit-toroq tagħna u b’hekk tikber il-problema tal-konġestjoni. L-unika soluzzjoni hi li jkun inkoraġġit bis-serjetá t-trasport alternattiv. Il-Gvern qiegħed fl-istess nifs jinkoraġixxi kemm lit-trasport alternattiv kif ukoll iż-żieda fenomenali ta’ karozzi: dan ifisser li għadu ma tgħallem xejn. Wara kollox huwa l-pjan nazzjonali tat-trasport imfassal minn dan il-Gvern stess li jpoġġi quddiemna l-mira tat-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Imma jidher li l-Gvern qed iwarrab il-pjani tiegħu stess.

L-Gvern hu iktar interessat mill-ħarsien tal-karozzi milli mill-ħarsien tal-kwalitá tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.

Dan hu biss eżempu wieħed. Hemm bosta oħrajn.

Il-Baġit qed jitlef l-oportunitá li jagħmel differenza f’numru ta’ oqsma fejn li troxx il-flus mhux biżżejjed.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 28 t’Ottubru 2018

Green gaps in the Budget

The green gaps in the Budget speech cannot be patched up with the millions of euros spread in the pockets of both those in need as well as those who are well off.

Edward Scicluna’s Budget speech last Monday was far too long. Yet in its over 100 pages it missed addressing a number of environmental issues on which different government spokespersons pontificate throughout the rest of the year: confirming that they just pay lip-service to the issues.

The lack of good environmental governance has considerable economic and social impact as is evident to one and all.

While the Budget proposals strengthen the social safety net, it is to be underlined that quality of life is not measured solely in terms of financial metrics. Throwing euros at problems does not lead to any solutions.

The budget speech correctly emphasises the necessity of waste recycling. Unfortunately, the Minister for Finance did not explain how this effort should be integrated into a circular economy, even though the Environment Minister repeatedly boasts of how supposedly the move towards a circular economy is a priority for government. In the entire speech, the circular economy is not mentioned once. Nor does the Economic Survey dwell on the matter or even faintly refer to the matter.

This raises the suspicion that government has lost the plot and does not have any policy ideas on such an important aspect of the economy with its social, economic and environmental effects.

The Budget speech emphasises the energy generation potential from waste incineration which requires large volumes of waste in order to be viable. But the budget speech is silent on how this fits in with the stated commitment to actually reduce the volume of waste.

The government is trying to square the circle; on the one hand it wants to reduce waste but on the other hand it needs more and more waste to make its huge incinerator viable.
The Budget speech also gives the impression that it addresses important aspects which impact the quality of life when in fact offers only half-baked and token solutions.

Among them is the point on water policy. The speech mentions incentives to encourage repairs of existing wells but then it avoids altogether a real and focused effort to address the acute issue of dwellings built without water cisterns, with the consequence that water ends up in the public sewers or flooding our streets.

Developers are let of the hook even when roads are flooded and sewers are overflowing, not to mention the sheer waste of perfectly good water.

The same can be said of the supposed solutions to traffic congestion. The Budget speech refers to the financial incentives available to encourage the use of alternative modes of transport, but here again it ignores the roots of the problem. The government spending of millions of euros for the development of the road infrastructure will only increase traffic congestion, thereby squeezing users of alternative means of transport off the roads.

It is useless to incentivize the purchase of bicycles and pedelecs when there is no investment in adequate infrastructure to ensure that people can commute safely using these important alternative means of transport, which actually help to decrease congestion in our roads.

Over one year ago the Prime Minister had taken a leaf from Alternattiva Demokratika’s electoral manifesto and declared that the government will determine a cut-off date by which new cars will need to be electrically driven or possibly of a hybrid nature.

This declaration had heralded the issue of electrification of transport on our roads addressing two major issues: the quality of air and the contribution of transport emissions to climate change. This, once implemented, would be a substantial contribution to the decarbonisation of the Maltese economy. We are none the wiser on government plans after listening to or reading the budget speech.

Clearly financial parameters are not the only indicators of our quality of life. The green gaps in the budget speech need plugging at the soonest.

published in The Sunday Times of Malta : Sunday 28 October 2018

The drummer’s call

The drummer was floored. A photo on the social media depicted a drum departing from the hand of a uniformed policeman and flying in the direction of the floored drummer.

Last Thursday’s protest by Moviment Graffiti and Kamp Emergenza Ambjent was not about the pending decision on the proposed fuel service station at Bulebel in Żejtun. It was rather about the lethargy of the authorities in considering the overhaul of the Fuel Service Stations policy.

The mishandling of the protestors by the police apparently marks a new season: it has been ages since the police force was so employed in Malta. Apparently, the authorities are getting very itchy.

Appreciation of the environment is limited to clean-up days subject to the media’s glare, with the remaining days of the year being a free-for-all. There is nothing new in such an attitude. We have been facing it year-in, year-out for a considerable time. By now we are accustomed to greenwashing and some of us have developed an acute allergy to the authorities’ greenwashing.

Playing on the drum, the drummer was announcing to one and all that we are all fed up by the authorities’ procrastination and that it was about time that they realised that this is another case of abuse of authority and maladministration. The Republic belongs to everyone and not just to the privileged few.

The number of pending applications for fuel service stations is considerable, notwithstanding the fact that we do not need even one of them. The long-term policy direction is to reduce our dependency on private cars. In addition, as indicated by the Prime Minister around twelve months ago, we are awaiting the announcement of the cut-off date when the remaining cars on our roads are primarily electrically driven.

It has been repeatedly emphasised that the 3,000 square metres permissible footprint that the Fuel Service Station policy allows for the development of fuel service stations outside the development zone is excessive and the proposal by the Environment and Resources Authority to reduce this footprint to 2,000 square metres is not much of an improvement. If a fuel service station is required its footprint could be substantially less. Obviously, this would necessitate doing away with all the ancillary commercial activity at ODZ fuel service stations that the current fuel service station policy introduced in reaction to those seeking pastures new for their “investments”. The current policy gives more weight to ensuring a return on investment than to the need to protect our countryside from further rape.

Last Thursday, the Planning Authority Board turned down the application for a fuel service station at Bulebel in Żejtun. There are other applications pending, most of which will be eventually approved. This will be done notwithstanding the fact that there is no need for more fuel service stations. We have more than enough of them and it is certainly about time that we start closing some of the existing ones.

In my article last week, I emphasised that we need to implement the vision put forward by the National Transport Master Plan 2025 which advocates the need to reduce our dependency on cars. The need to overhaul the Fuel Service Station Policy has to be considered in this context. If we need to reduce (drastically) the number of cars on our roads, it follows that we do not need any more fuel service stations.

In the coming weeks the drummer’s call through more rhythmic movements of the drum sticks will be required to alert us to more sessions of the Planning Authority Board which will be convened to approve the further rape of our countryside.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 16th September 2018

Beyond the trees

The public debate of the Central Link project is currently concentrated on the manner in which it will impact the tree population along its route. It is an important discussion because it is concentrating on one of the visible impacts of the project. The trees should definitely by protected and preferably increased in number.

However the number of trees impacted is just an (important) detail. There are other “important details” which need to be considered, amongst which the agricultural land to be taken up, the emissions – which need to be reduced, in particular the minute particulate matter- as well as noise pollution.

Little discussion has, however, ensued on the basic question: do we need the proposed improvement of the road network?

To answer this basic issue, we need to consider the different options available to facilitate sustainable mobility around our islands. These are options that are available to each and every one of us, but do we make use of them?

Why do we make use of private cars for very short distances? Are we aware of the fact that around 50 per cent of journeys in private cars on our roads are of under 15 minutes duration?

To answer the basic question we cannot just focus on traffic congestion. Traffic congestion is, in reality, the effect and not the cause of our transport problems: it means that our roads are bursting at the seams. We need to consider the issue in depth and in a holistic manner.

The National Transport Master Plan for the Maltese Islands does just that. When considering the proposals listed in the Master Plan, it is not a question of pick and choose: it is an integrated plan. Some of the proposals are easy to implement, others are tough as they strike at the real cause of our transport problems: our behaviour. Little effort is being expended in this direction.

The operational objectives for road transport in the Master Plan place great emphasis on the need to reduce the role of the car in the busy congested urban areas as well as on the provision of alternatives to private vehicular demand in these areas.

Unfortunately, instead of implementing these basic operational objectives Transport Malta is focusing on increasing the capacity of the road network in order to address traffic congestion. As a result, it is addressing the effects and ignoring the cause of the miserable state of our road network.

Government’s policy of massive investment in the road network, will, in the long term, be counter-productive as it will only serve to increase the number of vehicles on our roads and, consequently, cause more congestion.

Just throwing money at problems in the form of substantial subsidies of public transport is not as effective as we would like. The positive impacts of these and other subsidies are being cancelled out through the massive road network investment: a declaration that the private car is the preferred mode of transport of the policy maker.

As a result, the clear message of Malta’s transport policy is that public transport is only tolerated as life is only made easy for the users of private vehicles. It should, in fact, be the other way around.

The National Transport Master Plan clearly emphasises that 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.

It is about time that the government starts implementing its own Master Plan which so far it has consistently ignored.

published in The Independent on Sunday : 24 June 2018

L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar tinkoraġixxi l-ispekulazzjoni tal-art

L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar qed toħroġ il-permessi ta’ żvilupp għall-pompi tal-petrol u d-dijsil ħierġin bħall-pastizzi.

Xi xhur ilu, f’diskors li għamel il-Prim Ministru kien qal li l-Gvern immexxi minnu jaqbel li karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-dijsil għandhom jispiċċaw mit-toroq Maltin. Nhar l-10 ta’ Settembru 2017 Joseph Muscat kien ħabbar li l-Gvern kien fi ħsiebu li “dal-waqt” jagħti bidu għal konsultazzjoni pubblika biex ikun stabilit meta u kif għandha tkun implimentata din il-politika li bħala riżultat tagħha jkunu jistgħu jinxtraw biss karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku jew karozzi simili.

Għaddew seba’ xhur u għadna qed nistennew li jibda dan il-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika. Sadanittant, aħna u nistennew, l-ispekulaturi tal-art, bl-għajnuna tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għaddejjin xalata: jippjanaw kif jirrovinaw iktar raba’, 3000 metru kwadru kull darba, u dan biex jibnu pompi li ftit ieħor mhux ser ikollna bżonn. Imbagħad x’nagħmlu bl-art li tkun diġa ġiet rovinata?

Alternattiva Demokratika taqbel li m’għandniex ħtieġa ta’ karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-dijsil fit-toroq tagħna. Fil-fatt kienet Alternattiva Demokratika, bil-ħsieb li tintlaħaq il-mira strateġika ta’ Karbonju Żero fil-gżejjer Maltin li fil-Manifest Elettorali ta’ l-aħħar elezzjoni ġenerali poġġiet quddiem l-elettorat din il-proposta speċifika: li fi żmien 20 sena, ċjoe sal-2037, għandhom jispiċċaw il-karozzi kollha li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-dijsil mit-toroq Maltin. Alternattiva Demokratika kienet l-uniku partit politiku f’Malta li kien ċar fuq dan f’Malta sa minn qabel l-elezzjoni ġenerali.

Id-dikjarazzjoni tal-Prim Ministru tal-10 ta’ Settembru 2017 kellha twassal għall-konklużjoni loġika li m’għandniex bżonn ta’ iktar pompi tal-petrol u d-dijsil. Kien ikun floku kieku tħabbar moratorju immedjat. Fil-fatt messna qegħdin ngħoddu l-ġranet li neħilsu darba għal dejjem mill-karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-dijsil. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan messu hu ovvju li fil-futur qarib m’hu ser ikollna bżonn l-ebda pompa tal-petrol jew dijsil: dawn għandhom jonqsu mit-80 li għandna illum sa xejn u dan meta tkun implimentata b’mod sħiħ il-politika mħabbra mill-Prim Ministru u li dwarha ilna 7 xhur nistennew il-konsultazzjoni pubblika.

M’għandniex bżonn ta’ pompi ġodda: imma għandna bżonn li jagħlqu l-pompi li ġja hawn mingħajr ma jinħolqu oħrajn flokhom. L-20 sena proposti minn Alternattiva Demokratika fil-manifest elettorali tal-2017 biex jispiċċaw mit-toroq Maltin karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-dijsil kienu meqjusa raġjonevoli, suffiċjenti u fl-istess direzzjoni ta’ deċiżjonijiet politiċi simili li ittieħdu minn pajjiżi oħra. Dan hu żmien biżżejjed biex tkun żviluppata l-infrastruttura nazzjonali meħtieġa għall-karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku. Hu ukoll biżżejjed biex dawk li għandhom dawn it-tip ta’ karozzi jibdew jidraw ftit l-iżvilupp ta’ din ir-realtá ġdida bla petrol jew dijsil.

Bosta pajjiżi oħra diġa ddeċidew, inkella qegħdin fil-proċess li jiddeċiedu li fit-toroq tagħhom ma jkollhomx iktar karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-dijsil. Dawn jinkludu in-Norveġja u l-Olanda (it-tnejn sal-2025), il-Ġermanja (sal-2030), Franza, r-Renju l–Indja u ċ-Ċina (lkoll sal-2040). Ma jdumx ma jkun hemm oħrajn ukoll.
L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar qegħda tkompli tinjora dan l-iżvilupp importanti fil-politika tal-pajjiż billi tibqa’ għaddejja bl-applikazzjoni tal-politika imsejħa 2015 Fuel Service Stations Policy b’mod robotiku. Din il-politika dwar il-pompi tal-petrol u d-dijsil tippermetti qies massimu permissibli ta’ 3000 metru kwadru imma l-Awtoritá qatt ma qieset li kien neċessarju li tordna tnaqqis fil-qies tal-proposti li kellha quddiema. Għax kollha kellhom il-qies massimu ta’ 3000 metru kwadru. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar flok għal pompi qed toħroġ permessi għal żoni massiċċi kummerċjali barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.

Din hi l-agħar forma ta’ spekulazzjoni tal-art u f’dan il-kaz it-tort hu unikament tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar. L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar hi ta’ theddida għall-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. Dan hu l-punt li għamlu ż-żgħażagħ mill-Moviment Graffiti u l-Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent meta nhar il-Ħamis ipprotestaw u ħarbtu laqgħa tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar waqt li dan kien qiegħed jikkunsidra applikazzjoni għall-pompa ġdida tal-petrol u d-dijsil f’Ħal-Luqa.

Għandna Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar li hi ala bieba mill-ambjent u mill-kwalitá tal-ħajja. Bil-provi.

 

 

The Planning Authority encourages land speculation

Development permits for fuel stations are being approved left, right and centre by the Planning Authority.

Some months ago,  in a speech made in public, the Prime Minister said that the Government agrees that use of petrol and diesel cars should be phased out and that, in future, all cars should be electric. On the 10 September 2017, Joseph Muscat announced that government would “shortly” be launching a consultation on “setting a cut-off date beyond which all new car purchases would have to be electric or similar vehicles.”

Seven months have elapsed, and we are still waiting for the consultation exercise to be launched. And while we wait, land speculators (with the Planning Authority’s assistance) are in festive mood, plotting the ruin of 3000 square metres at a time to develop fuel stations that we will shortly not need any more. And what will be done with the spoiled land then?

Alternattiva Demokratika agrees with the proposal to establish a cut-off date for cars that run on petrol and diesel. Indeed in its manifesto at the last general election,  with a strategic zero carbon future for the Maltese Islands in mind, it put forward this specific proposal to the electorate: that internal combustion engine cars should be off our roads in 20 years time, that is by 2037. Alternattiva Demokratika was the only political party in Malta that took this clear stand before the general election.

In view of the Prime Minister’s declaration of the 10 September 2017, the logical conclusion is that new fuel stations are not required. An immediate moratorium would be in order and, in fact, we should be on the eve of the start of a countdown that would rid us of cars that run on petrol or diesel. Consequently, there will be no need for fuel stations in the not too distant future: reducing from the current 80 to none, when the phase-out – which is still subject to public consultation – is fully implemented.

We do not need new fuel stations: what we need is that existing fuel stations are closed down without their being replaced. The 20-year time-frame proposed by Alternattiva Demokratika in its 2017 electoral manifesto was considered to be reasonable, sufficient and in line with similar policy decisions taken in other countries. This time-frame was deemed sufficient to develop the required national infrastructure for electric-powered cars. It was also deemed to be a reasonable length of time to permit those who own vehicles running on internal combustion engines to adjust to the development of a new reality without petrol or diesel.

Various other countries have decided on – or are considering – the elimination of internal combustion engine driven vehicles from their roads. These include Norway and the Netherlands (both by 2025), Germany (by 2030), France, the United Kingdom, India and China (all by 2040). Others will soon follow.

The Planning Authority continues to ignore this policy development by applying the 2015 Fuel Service Stations Policy robotically. This policy establishes a maximum permissible size of 3000 square metres but the Authority did not consider it appropriate to scale down any of the proposals submitted for its consideration as all the approved stations cover the maximum size possible. As a result, the Planning Authority is churning out permits for massive commercial areas outside the development zone.

This is land speculation at its worst and the Planning Authority has no one to blame but itself and is a threat to future generations. This is the point made by the protestors from Graffiti and Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent last Thursday, when they stormed a Planning Authority Board meeting considering a development application for a new fuel station at Luqa.

We have a Planning Authority which doesn’t give two hoots about the environment and our quality of life.

 

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 April 2018

 

New Petrol Stations: immediate moratorium needed

For a short period of time, the number of new petrol stations in Malta was on the decline but recently this trend has reversed, undoubtedly as a result of the Planning Authority 2015 Fuel Service Station Policy.

New petrol stations are mushrooming all over the place, and not only is it easier to obtain a development permit to construct a petrol station but you get the added “concession” to ruin up to 3,000 square metres of surrounding land.

Those proposing the development of new petrol stations claim to be doing us a favour. They argue that the increasing number of cars on the road necessitates more and more petrol stations. The number of petrol stations in the Maltese islands currently stands at around 80 and new ones are mushrooming, undoubtedly fuelled by the 3,000 square metres permissible footprint in the 2015 planning policy.

It is submitted that the policy on the development of fuel stations should complement the policy on the phasing out of internal combustion engines and an immediate moratorium on the development of new petrol stations is essential.

During the 2017 General Election campaign, Alternattiva Demokratika proposed the phasing out of vehicles running on internal combustion engines in Malta over a 20-year period. This time-frame was deemed sufficient to develop an infrastructure for electric-driven cars. It was also deemed to be a reasonable time-frame to permit those who possessed vehicles running on internal combustion engines to adjust to a new reality without petrol or diesel.

This position was also taken up by the Labour government in Malta after the June election. However the details have not yet been determined.

Various other countries have decided on, or are considering, eliminating internal combustion engine driven vehicles from their roads, including Norway (by 2025), the Netherlands (by 2025), Germany (by 2030), France (by 2040), the United Kingdom (by 2040), India (by 2040) and China (by 2040). Others will soon inevitably follow.

In addition, car manufacturers are considering shifting to a manufacturing mode that will only produce hybrid or fully electric cars. Volvo will proceed on such a path by 2019 and no doubt others will follow fast on Volvo’s heels.

Within this context, does it make any sense to continue issuing development permits for more petrol stations?

We need an in-depth examination of transport related policies. It is clear to everyone  that our roads are bursting at the seams and that the further development of our road infrastructure is opening up our roads to more cars, as a consequence adding to our pollution problems and simultaneously making our accessibility worse.

An overhaul of Malta’s transport policies should seek to promote sustainable transport policies thereby reducing the number of cars on our roads.

Yesterday, I addressed a press conference on the site of the proposed extension to the road network at Attard. This project, when implemented, will take up valuable irrigated agricultural land. This is one more instance which will increase the number of cars on our roads, gobble up agricultural land and ruin the life of full time farmers.

Transport policy on these islands seems to be multi-directional, sending mixed signals in all directions. Some coherence is required. Establishing a moratorium on the construction of new petrol stations and establishing a date by which internal combustion engine driven vehicles are phased out from our roads would be a good first step. This should then be followed by ending the crazy spree of the development of new roads.

It is a process which will lead us to reclaim our roads for our own use, but then it will take some time.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 December 2017

The environmental deficit

 

traffic jam Malta

 

Going by the information available on the increased incidence of various types of cancers, both common and rare types, it is evident that the accumulated environmental impacts originating from human action is exacting its toll. Few make the link between the increased incidence of rare diseases,  cancers and environmental neglect accumulated over the years.  

Over the Christmas period, as a result of the never-ending humanitarian operations of the Community Chest Fund, we hear of the ever-increasing demand on state resources by those struck by cancer. The demand is such that the resources of the state have to be supplemented by the annual telethon which this year raised a record €5.5 million.

The advertising blitz on the switching over of Malta’s power generation from one dependent on heavy fuel oil to natural gas informs us that air quality in Malta will improve substantially as a result. This statement is only partially correct as the major contributor to Malta’s poor air quality was not power generation but the ubiquitous and exponential increase of cars on our roads.

The cars on our roads are part of the real “cancer factory” in operation on Maltese territory.

As is evidenced by the substantial investments channeled towards the improvement of the road infrastructure, it is clear that the political will to address this issue is very weak. Improved road infrastructure, such as the construction of flyovers to ease traffic congestion, will only increase the dependence on cars. In the long term, this improvement to the road network will hamper the drive to shift custom to public transport. Consequently, it will serve to further increase cars on our roads and will hence contribute to an increase in the output of the “cancer factory”.

Public transport has been improved as is evidenced by a gradual increase in its use. Various initiatives to encourage the use of public transport have been introduced. However, the Maltese state is sending conflicting signals when it simultaneously speaks in favor of public transport yet invests heavily to facilitate the continued domination of our roads by private cars.

Lack of adequate environmental protection in the past has contributed to an ever-accumulating environmental deficit which in turn will lead to total and complete bankruptcy as no one is in a position to bale out Mother Earth.

Environment protection is multifaceted. Addressing the different waste streams and seriously plotting the path to the 2050 zero waste targets established by Malta’s Waste Management Strategy would definitely signify that we are in earnest. However, it is certainly not enough. What about the excessive use of pesticides which still end up contaminating our food chain? Or what about our water table, which in addition to being depleted is also contaminated with pesticides and fertilisers?   I could go on and on with a never-ending list of examples.

The environmental deficit is constantly on the increase. Each generation creates additional environmental impacts without in any way adequately addressing the accumulated impacts handed down by the previous generations. Governments are worried by economic deficits, yet few seem to be worried by the accumulating environmental deficit. We are using the earth’s resources as if tomorrow will never come.

No one will bail us out from the consequences of this deficit, yet nature has its own way of extracting its dues. Climate change, the collapse of agriculture in various countries and a higher incidence of common and rare forms of cancers are all different forms of payment which nature is extracting. These bills can only be avoided (in the long term) if we switch back to operating in a manner which is compatible with nature.

Otherwise the accumulating environmental deficit will bankrupt humanity.

published on The Independent on Sunday – 1 January 2017

L-iżbilanċ ambjentali

 

traffic.Marsa

 

Minn dak li hu magħruf dwar l-inċidenza dejjem tikber tal-cancer, jidher li l-impatti ambjentali tal-ħidma tal-bniedem qed ikollhom effett qawwi. Ftit huma dawk li huma konxji dwar ir-rabtiet li hemm bejn il-ħsara ambjentali u uħud mill-mard rari li s-soċjetá tagħna qegħda tiffaċċja.

Fil-ġranet tal-Milied, riżultat tal-ħidma bla heda tal-Community Chest Fund, nisimgħu dwar id-domanda ma tieqaf qatt għas-servizzi li jagħti l-istat lil dawk milquta minn kull forma ta’ cancer. Id-domanda hi tant kbira li riżorsi tal-istat huma mgħejjuna mill-ġbir li jsir waqt l-Istrina, li, din is-sena laħaq is-somma record ta’ €5.5 miljuni.

Il-Gvern qed ixandar riklami dwar il-qalba tal-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku minn waħda dipendenti fuq il-heavy fuel oil għal waħda dipendenti fuq il-gass naturali. F’dawn ir-riklami qed jgħidulna li ser ikollna titjib fil-kwalitá tal-arja bħala riżultat ta’ din il-qalba. Din id-dikjarazzjoni (tar-riklami) hi biss parzjalment korretta. Dan minħabba li l-kontributur ewlieni għall-kwalitá tal-arja f’Malta qatt ma kienet il-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku iżda n-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq li donnu ma jispiċċa qatt. Huma dawn il-karozzi fit-toroq li jiffurmaw parti mill-fabbrika reali tal-cancer f’Malta.

Kif anke jidher mill-investimenti sostanzjali dedikati għal titjib fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq huwa ċar li r-rieda politika biex dan ikun indirizzat hi dgħajfa. Għax iktar ma titjieb l-infrastruttura tat-toroq, iktar ikunu inkoraġġiti karozzi fit-toroq, għax it-triq għalihom tkun iffaċilitata. It-titjib fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq, iżżid id-dipendenza tagħna lkoll fuq il-karozzi u bħala riżultat ta’ dan, tostakola l-ħidma biex iktar nies tuża t-trasport pubbliku.

Sar titjib fit-trasport pubbliku, anke bħala riżultat ta’ diversi inizzjattivi li ttieħdu. Imma l-pajjiż qed jagħti sinjali konfliġġenti, għax filwaqt li qiegħed jinkoraġixxi l-użu tat-transport pubbliku, fl-istess ħin qed jinvesti flejjes sostanzjali biex jiffaċilita l-kontinwazzjoni tad-dominazzjoni tat-toroq tagħna mill-karozzi.

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent jinvolvi ħafna ħidma diversa. Jinkludi ħidma biex ikunu indirizzati b’serjetá s-sorsi differenti ta’ ġenerazzjoni tal-iskart biex b’hekk infasslu t-triq li biha rridu naslu ħalli nilħqu l-mira ta’ “skart zero”. Din hi mira stabbilita mill-Istrateġija Nazzjonali tal-Iskart u trid tintlaħaq sal-2050. Dan ċertament li mhux biżżejjed. X’ngħidu għall-użu eċċessiv ta’ pestiċidi li mhux biss qed jikkontamina dak li jkun prodott fir-raba’ imma parti minnu jispiċċa ukoll f’dak li baqa’ mill-ilma tal-pjan?

L-iżbilanċ ambjentali qiegħed dejjem jiżdied. Kull ġenerazzjoni qed tispiċċa żżid l-impatti mingħajr ma tindirizza sewwa l-impatti akkumulati li tkun wirtet mill-ġenerazzjoni ta’ qabilha.

Il-Gvernijiet qed jinkwetaw fuq l-iżbilanċ finanzjarju imma ftit wisq minnhom jinkwetaw fuq l-iżbilanċ ambjentali li iktar ma jgħaddi żmien iktar qed imur għall-agħar. Ir-riżorsi tad-dinja qed jintużaw qieshom bir bla qiegħ.

In-natura għandha l-modi tagħha kif iġġiegħlna nħallsu għal dan l-iżbilanċ ambjentali. It-tibdil fil-klima, l-kollass tal-agrikultura f’diversi pajjiżi kif ukoll iż-żieda qawwija ta’ kull xorta ta’ cancer huma kollha tweġiba tan-natura li biha kull wieħed minnha qiegħed jerfa’ l-piz tal-ħsara li saret lin-natura. Dawn il-kontijiet li qed tibgħatina n-natura jistgħu jonqsu fil-futur jekk nibdew minn issa ngħixu b’mod li joħloq inqas ħsara ambjentali. Jekk dan ma jseħħx il-kontijiet tan-natura, bla ebda dubju, jwasslu għal kollass totali.

ippubblikat fuq Illum – Is-Sibt 31 ta’ Diċembru 2016