L-aħdar: sens komun ambjentali

Iktar minn sentejn ilu, nhar l-20 ta’ Marzu 2017, il-Kunsill Eżekuttiv tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar irrifjuta applikazzjoni għal kontroll tal-iżvilupp intenzjonata biex tistabilixxi x’jista’ jinbena fuq art f’ Ta’ Durumblat il-Mosta, b’kejl ta’ 38,600 metru kwadru.

Ma kienitx sorpriża meta iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa din l-applikazzjoni reġgħet tfaċċat fil-forma ta’ applikazzjoni ġdida fuq art ftit ikbar fid-daqs, din id-darba 40,500 metru kwadru. Il-proposta hi biex iż-żona kollha tkun żviluppata f’waħda residenzjali b’binjiet ta’ erba’ sulari, b’waħda minnhom parzjalment taħt il-livell tat-triq.

Il-ġlieda biex inħarsu l-ambjent jeħtieġ li nġedduha kuljum billi l-forzi tar-rebgħa qegħdin f’posizzjoni b’saħħitha li jibqgħu jippruvaw sakemm iġibuha żewġ.

Għadna taħt l-effett tal-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjioni li kien implimentat taħt id-direzzjoni tal-ex Ministru tal-Ambjent tal-PN George Pullicino bir-riżultat li madwar żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art barra miz-zona tal-iżvilupp (ODZ) ingħataw għall-iżvilupp. Dakinnhar, fl-2006, l-Opposizzjoni Laburista kienet ivvutat kontra din l-inizjattiva, imma hekk kif ħadet is-setgħa, konvenjentement insiet kollox. Huwa biss issa li bosta qed jirrealizzaw kemm hi kbira l-ħsara ambjentali li ser tkun ikkawżata minn dan l-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni. Sfortunatament, ir-rimedji possibli għal din il-ħsara huma limitati. Is-sitwazzjoni hi agħar minħabba li l-Gvern, bi strateġija ċara ma jaġixxix. Għax hu konvenjenti li jistax jwaħħal fil-Gvern ta’ qablu għal din il-mandra.

Il-punt hu li ma għandna l-ebda ħtieġa ta’żvilupp massiċċ fuq art verġni, bil-konsegwenza li tisparixxi iktar art agrikola fil-periferija taż-żoni urbani tagħna, bil-possibiltà li jingħaqdu fiżikament il-lokalitajiet. Il-mistoqsijiet li qamu sentejn ilu meta konna ffaċċjati bl-applikazzjoni oriġinali għadhom hemm, mhux imwieġba. Dawn ġew injorati mill-iżviluppaturi u dan minħabba li l-applikazzjoni l-ġdida hi identika għal dik oriġinali.

Għalfejn iridu żvilupp daqshekk intensiv? Xi studji hemm li jkejlu l-impatt tal-proposti ta’ żvilupp fuq l-infrastruttura tal-inħawi? Iż-żona li hu propost li tkun żviluppata hi sostanzjali. Zona li kien jagħmel sens li tkun pulmun aħdar għall-Mosta ser tispiċċa mibnija b’mijiet ta’ residenzi u garaxxijiet.

Meta għandna Gvern li mhux kapaċi jieħu posizzjoni ċara kontra żvilupp esaġerat, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ma tantx għandha fejn tiċċaqlaq u dan billi d-deċiżjoni bażika favur l-iżvilupp esaġerat ilha li ttieħdet mill-Parlament sa mill-2006. Li baqa’ li jkun deċiż huwa n-natura tal-iżvilupp permissibli, inkluż jekk ikunx permess bini intensiv inkella bini baxx b’ħafna spazji miftuħin madwaru.

L-iżvilupp propost fil-Mosta m’huwiex sostenibbli għax ma nistgħux nibqgħu nitilfu iktar raba’ bla bżonn.

Alternattiva Demokratika hi l-uniku partit politiku li konsistentment oppona l-pjan ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni u emfasizza l-ħsara ambjentali li dan kien ser jikkawża fil-lokalitajiet tagħna. Dawk li jridu jħaxxnu bwiethom, ovvjament jaħsbuha mod ieħor. Dawk li jiddeċiedu, min-naħa l-oħra, b’mod konsistenti injoraw l-impatti ambjentali.
Din il-problema mhix waħda limitata għall-Mosta, imma hi mifruxa ma’ Malta u Għawdex. Kelli l-opportunità li niġbed l-attenzjoni għal diversi eżempji f’lokalitajiet oħra bħall-Marsaxlokk, il-Mellieħa, Ħ’Attard, Pembroke, San Ġiljan, tas-Sliema u diversi lokalitajiet oħra, fejn ir-rgħiba tħalliet issaltan.

Din hi kampanja favur is-sens komun, għax is-sens komun ambjentali hu aħdar. Huwa d-difiża tal-ġid komuni. Il-ħarsien tar-raba’ minn żvilupp mhux neċessarju hu essenzjali għax ma nistgħux nibqgħu nitilfu iktar art fi ġlieda mar-rgħiba. Hu mod kif inqegħdu fil-prattika dak li nipprietkaw dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli.

Meta jkollok daqshekk politiċi jipprietkaw kemm jemmnu fil-prinċipji tal-iżvilupp sostenibbli diffiċli li wieħed jifhem kif Alternattiva Demokratika hi prattikament waħedha fuq il-front politiku li jopponi l-iżvilupp esaġerat.

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent hu ferm iktar minn eserċizzju ta’ tindif. Huwa dejjem tajjeb li jinġabar l-iskart mormi mal-kosta jew fil-kampanja. Li topponi l-iżvilupp esaġerat huwa tindif preventiv tal-periferiji urbani tagħna. Ir-residenti jeħtieġu l-appoġġ. Imma anke huma jeħtieġ li jifhmu li jekk ser jivvutaw bħas-soltu l-affarijiet mhux ser jinbidlu.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Ilum: Il-Ħadd 28 t’April 2019

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Environmental common sense is green in colour

Over two years ago, on 20 March 2017, the Planning Authority’s Executive Council threw out a Planning Control application intended to determine the nature of permissible development in a stretch of land at Ta’ Durumblat Mosta having an area of 38,600 square metres.

It was no surprise that, earlier this week, the application was resubmitted to the Planning Authority in respect of a slightly larger area in the region of approximately 40,500 square metres. The proposal is to develop the whole site into a residential area subject to a proposed height limitation of three floors and a semi-basement.

The battle to defend our environment needs to be renewed every day, as the forces of greed are well placed to continue with their endeavours, until they succeed in gaining acceptance of their proposals.

The rationalisation exercise was carried out under the direction of former PN Environment Minister George Pullicino. It has resulted in around two million square metres of land outside the development zone (OZD) being given up for development – and the full impact is yet to be felt.

In 2006, the then Labour Opposition voted against this initiative, yet it conveniently forgot all about its stand when it was elected into office and it is only now that many are starting to realise the significant environmental impact of the rationalisation exercise. Unfortunately, the possibilities to remedy the damage in store are very limited and this limitation to act is further compounded by a government which (strategically) fails to act, as it is most convenient to be able to point fingers at your PN predecessors in government.

The point at issue is whether we need further large-scale development on virgin land, with the result of gobbling up more agricultural land on the periphery of our urban areas which will potentially merging neighbouring localities.

The queries raised two years ago – when the original application was submitted – are still unanswered. These queries have been ignored by the developers as the application that has been resubmitted is practically identical to the original one.

Why are the developers proposing so intensive a development? Do studies exist to assess the impacts which this proposal will have on the infrastructure of the area – which is substantial? Hundreds of residential units and garages will be constructed in an area when it would make more sense for it to remain as a green belt around Mosta.

Faced with a government which is reluctant to act against over-development, the Planning Authority does not have much elbow room for manoeuvre because, for all intents and purposes, the basic decision in favour of over-development has already been taken by Parliament – way back in 2006. What’s left to be decided is the nature and extent of the development. Whether, for example, the development would be intensive as proposed in the application or else low-density, such as limited to bungalows with a 25 per cent site coverage

The proposed development in Mosta is certainly not sustainable, as we cannot afford to lose more land to the current development spree.

Alternattiva Demokratika has been the only political party to continuously and consistently point out that the implementation of the rationalisation exercise will cause environmental havoc in our local communities. Those seeking to line their pockets obviously think otherwise. The decision-makers have also been consistent in ignoring environmental impacts.

This problem is not limited to Mosta but is spread all over the islands. I have had the opportunity to point out various other instances in Marsaxlokk, Mellieħa, Attard, Pembroke, St Julians, Sliema and various other areas where, once again, greed has won the day.

This is a campaign for commonsense to prevail, as environmental common sense is inevitably green in colour, in defence of the ecology and the common good. Protecting agricultural land from unnecessary development is essential as we cannot keep losing more land to greed. It is also the only practical way to implement sustainable development.

With so many political personalities proclaiming their adherence to basic principles of sustainable development, I fail to understand how Alternattiva Demokratika is practically on its own on the political front in consistently opposing over-development.

Protecting the environment entails much more than clean-ups. It is laudable to clean up the mess of rubbish accumulated along the coast or in the countryside but at this point in time campaigning against over-development is an exercise in preventively cleaning up the periphery of our urban areas. Residents need our support but they must, however, also note that if they vote as usual, they will be condemning themselves to more of the same.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 28 April 2019

In-Natura m’għandhiex vot

Infrastruttura Malta hi insensittiva għal dak kollu li għandu x’jaqsam mal-ekoloġija. Ittrasformat trejqiet fil-widien u madwarhom f’toroq wisgħin bl-użu ta’ volumi kbar ta’ konkos kif għamlet fil-Wied Tal-Isqof u Wied is-Sewda. Dan ser ikollu impatt negattiv konsiderevoli fuq l-ambjent rurali, fuq il-komunitajiet rurali u fuq il-pajsaġġ.
Dawn it-trejqiet li ġew ittrasformati f’toroq, issa, inevitabilment ser ikunu użati minn iktar traffiku: il-problemi tat-traffiku ser ikunu trasferiti miż-żoni urbani għall-kampanja.

Il-widien huma parti integrali mill-eko-sistema tagħna, b’rikkezzi kbar ta’ bijodiversità. In-natura, li timla kull rokna tal-kampanja tagħna hi taħt theddida kontinwa. Mhux Infrastruttura Malta biss hi responsabbli għal dan.

L-eko-sistema taħdem f’sintonia kważi perfetta, b’rabta sħiħa bejn kull fjura u jew insett u l-bqija tal-madwar. L-ekoloġija ma żżidx biss mal-kuluri tal-pajsaġġ tagħna, imma hi l-bażi essenzjali tal-ħajja innifisha. Permezz ta’ diversi organiżmi li jistkennu fil-kampanja u l-widien in-natura tipprovdi servizzi essenzjali għall-agrikultura.

In-natura mhix dekorazzjoni tajba biss għar-ritratti, videos jew pitturi. Mhix qegħda hemm biex niggustawha.

Sfortunatament qed ngħixu f’dinja li ftit li xejn tagħti kaz ta’ dak kollu li m’għandux valur espress fi flus. Din hi r-raġuni ewlenija għan-nuqqas ta’ ħafna li jifhmu u japprezzaw l-importanza tal-ekoloġija fil-ħajja ta’ kuljum. Uħud ma għandhom l-ebda idea li aħna ma ngħixux f’ekonomija imma niffurmaw parti integrali minn eko-sistema!

Fil-passat saru diversi attentati biex tiġi kkoreġuta din l-attitudni permezz ta’ studji li ippruvaw jikkwantifika il-valur ekonomiku tal-bijodiversità. Dan sar kemm fuq livell Ewropew kif ukoll minn pajjiżi individwali. Dawn l-istudji jesploraw u jippruvaw jikkwantifikaw kemm jiswa’ biex ikunu sostitwiti s-servizzi li n-natura tipprovdilna b’xejn għal erbgħa u għoxrin siegħa kuljum. L-ammont jitkejjel bil-biljuni.

Hemm ħtieġa li nifhmu li l-bniedem huwa dipendenti fuq is-servizzi li n-natura tipprovdilna l-ħin kollu bla ebda ħlas. Dawn jinkludu l-ilma, l-ħamrija u l-arja nadifa li qed isofru attakk frontali kontinwu minn dak li nsejħulu żvilupp.

Is-siġar qed jitqaċċtu biex jagħmlu l-wisgħa għall-kostruzzjoni bla rażan li għaddejja bħalissa. Dan jinkludi l-proġetti mhux meħtieġa ta’ toroq li qed iseħħu f’dan il-ħin.

Is-siġar huma rigal li tagħtina n-natura. Jagħtuna l-ossiġnu li mingħajru ma nieħdux nifs. Dan l-ossignu jipproduċuh billi jassorbu id-dijossidju tal-carbonju mill-atmosfera, u jżommu l-karbonju depositat fiz-zokk u l-friegħi tas-siġra. B’dan il-mod is-siġar jagħtuna żewġ servizzi essenzjali bla ħlas: l-ossiġnu biex nieħdu n-nifs u depożitu naturali għall-karbonju. Dawn is-servizzi huma l-alternattivi naturali għat-teknoloġija magħrufa bħala “carbon capture technology” li tiswa’ l-miljuni. In-natura tipprovdilna alternattiva u aħna din ninjorawha. Huwa servizz bla ħlas u allura mhuwiex apprezzat. It-tibdil fil-klima huwa (in-parti) riżultat ta’ diforestazzjoni fuq skala kbira, akkumulata tul is-snin.

Aħna niddependu fuq in-natura ferm iktar milli niddependu fuq l-ekonomija. Imma fil-waqt li ninkwetaw meta pajjiżna jiffaċċja żbilanċ finanzjarju, ħafna jinjoraw l-iżbilanċ ambjentali li qiegħed isir dejjem iktar agħar milli qatt kien. Li nindirizzaw dan l-iżbilanċ ambjentali huwa essenzjali qabel ma jkun tard wisq. Mhux kulħadd hu konxju li ħadd ma hu ser jagħmlilna tajjeb għal dan l-iżbilanċ. Ma hemm l-ebda bale-out għal dan l-iżbilanċ!

Għandna Ministru tal-Kabinet li hu responsabbli mill-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli. Sfortunatament, kif ngħidu, lanqas jaf x’laqtu! Bħala riżultat ta’ dan hu ovvju li hawn nuqqas ta’ strateġija ta’ sostenibilità fis-settur pubbliku kollu.

L-impatt ta’ dan kollu jinħass fit-tul. Ma jidher li hemm l-ebda għaġla, għax in-natura m’għandiex vot. Imma dawk minna li għandhom vot għandna responsabbiltà etika li naġixxu f’isimha. Dak li tagħmel Alternattiva Demokratika.

ippubblikat fuq Illum Il-Ħadd 10 ta’ Marzu 2019

Nature has no vote

Infrastructure Malta is insensitive to all sorts of ecological issues. It has transformed country lanes in and around valleys into quasi-highways through the indiscriminate use of large volumes of concrete, which will have a considerable negative impact on the rural environment, the rural communities and on the rural landscape.

These former country lanes will inevitably now be used by more traffic, moving traffic- related problems from the urban areas into our countryside.

Valleys are an integral part of our eco-system: so rich in biodiversity. Wildlife, so abundant in our valleys and countryside, is continuously under threat as a result of this insensitivity. But Infrastructure Malta is not the only culprit.

There is an intricate inter-relationship between the different constituent parts forming our eco-system. Ecology does not just add colour to our landscapes but it is the very foundation of life itself. Nature is not just a desirable decoration to be captured on photographs, videos or paintings. Through a multitude of organisms sheltering in our valleys and the countryside, nature provides essential services to our agriculture through the provision of shelter to pollinators.

Unfortunately, we live in a world which tends to ignore non-monetary value. This is the underlying reason for the general failure to appreciate the importance of ecology in our daily lives. In fact, to some it is incomprehensible that we live in an eco-system and not in an economy! In the past, in an effort to try and remedy this myopic approach, there has been an attempt to quantify the economic value of biodiversity. Various studies have been undertaken to quantify this value on both a European level as well as an individual country basis. These studies explore and try to quantify what it would cost to replace the services that nature provides free on a 24/7 basis. This cost is measured in billions of euros.

We need to understand that humankind is dependent on the eco-system services that is freely provided by nature. These include water, fertile soil and clean air – all of which are being meticulously ruined as a result of so-called “development”.

Trees are being chopped down to make way for the current building spree, including the large scale road infrastructural overhaul currently in hand.

Trees are a gift of nature. They give us oxygen, without which we cannot breathe. They produce this oxygen by absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide, retaining the carbon in the process. By doing this, trees give us two essential services free: oxygen to breathe and a natural deposit for carbon – what we refer to as a “carbon sink”. Trees are the natural alternative to carbon capture technology. Carbon capture technology – used as part of the technological response to climate change – costs millions to produce and operate. Yet we have a natural alternative which we continuously discard. It is a free service and hence it is not appreciated. Climate change is partly the result of large-scale deforestation accumulated over the years.

We are significantly more dependent on nature than on the size of our country’s GDP and yet while we worry when our country is faced with a financial deficit, many ignore the ever-increasing environmental deficit. Addressing this deficit is essential before it is too late. Not everyone is aware that no one will bale-us out.

We have a Cabinet Minister responsible for Sustainable Development who, unfortunately, he has no idea of his brief. As a result, a focused sustainability driven strategy is very obviously missing right through the Maltese public sector.

The resulting impacts from all this are long-term. There seems to be no hurry to act, because nature has no vote. Yet those of us who do have a vote also have an ethical responsibility to act on its behalf. It is what we do at Alternattiva Demokratika-the Green Party.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 10 March 2019

Il-qerda madwarna, dejjem tikber

L-applikazzjoni bin-numru PA11067/17 għall-iżvilupp ta’ faċilitá oħra ta’ McDonalds fil-periferija ta’ Ħaż-Żabbar huwa attentat ieħor biex tiġi mnaqqra l-art li nirreferu għaliha bħala ODZ. S’issa nimmaġina li kważi kulħadd jaf li l-ittri ODZ ifissru Outside (O) the Development (D) Zone (Z). Jiġifieri barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp. Dan ifisser li dik l-art, preferibilment m’għandiex tkun żviluppata.

Imma s-sit li ntagħżel biex possibilment ikun żviluppat fuq faċilitá ta’ McDonalds qiegħed f’żona li żviluppat bil-mod fil-passat. Meta l-Pjani Lokali ġew imfassla u ppubblikati tnax-il sena ilu, is-sit fi Triq Salvu Pulis ġewwa Ħaż-Żabbar u l-iżvilupp ta’ madwaru kien definit bħala żona residenzjali rurali (rural settlement): li jfisser li kienet żona residenzjali barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp imma li m’għandiex titħalla tikber.

Lil hinn mill-lingwaġġ tekniku għandna nagħmlu kull sforz biex art barra miż-żona ta’ żvilupp tibqa’ mhux sviluppata u li fejn diġa hemm l-iżvilupp, dan ma jikbirx. Il-pjani lokali huma supplimentati minn biżibilju ta’ regoli u linji gwida li sfortunatament, imma ċertament b’mod intenzjonat u ikkalkulat, joħolqu kuntrasti jew kunflitti li jwasslu għall-konklużjoni loġika li kważi kollox hu b’xi mod ġustifikabbli.

Li jkun hemm faċilitá ta’ McDonalds fuq l-art li ntagħżlet f’Ħaż-Żabbar żgur li mhux kompatibbli man-natura residenzjali tal-inħawi. Imma xejn ma nkun sorpriż jekk ikollna ftit akrobazija ta’ livell olimpiku li twassal għall-approvazzjoni tal-applikazzjoni. Il-problema li għandhom numru mhux żgħir ta’ dawk li qed jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet fl-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar hi li huma nieqsa minn kull sensibilitá ambjentali jew dwar l-ippjanar (ta’ l-użu ta’ l-art). Din l-insensittivitá hi l-kawża tal-qerda bil-mod tal-kampanja u tal-identitá tal-lokalitajiet residenzjali żgħar bil-konsegwenza tal-ħolqien ta’ uġiegħ soċjali kbir.

Ħarsa anke ħafifa lejn il-lista ta’ dawk il-każijiet li għamlu l-aħbarijiet tagħtina idea tajba ta’ dak li wassal għall-qagħda preżenti. Il-problema bażika hi dawk l-irġiel u n-nisa li ntagħżlu biex jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Dawk tal-lum m’humiex wisq differenti minn tal-bieraħ: (b’xi eċċezzjonijiet) ġeneralment ma jiswew għal xejn, avolja xi minn daqqiet uħud jippruvaw ikunu raġjonevoli.

Hu rari ħafna li jkun hemm xi deċiżjoni li tkun ser taqbżilhom: pereżempju dik dwar il-pompa tal-petrol u d-dijsil fi Triq is-Salini fil-Magħtab. Ir-regoli dwar kif jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet huma mfassla biex jassiguraw li meta jkun hemm min jażżarda jaqbes il-linja, b’mod kważi awtomatiku, jiskatta proċess ta’ awto-difiża tas-sistema: il-vot ma jittieħidtx dak il-ħin iżda fis-seduta ta’ wara. Dakinnhar imbagħad ikun possibli li jissejħu r-riżervi (dawk li bosta drabi ma jattendux għal-laqgħat) biex b’hekk fis-siegħa tal-prova jkun hemm kulħadd. Ikun hemm biżżejjed ħin biex dawk li jdumu jew ibatu biex jifhmu jiftħu ftit moħħhom u jikkonvinċu ruħhom. Imbagħad ikun hemm maġġoranza li tista’ tagħmel xogħolha bil-kumditá.

Dan kollu ħoloq ostaklu istituzzjonali doppju kontra l-ħarsien tal-ambjent. Kien speċifikament maħluq għal dan l-iskop minn min kiteb l-Att tal-2016 dwar l-Ippjanar tal-Iżvilupp. B’dan il-mod hemm kontroll istituzzjonali kontra dawk li kapaċi (anke jekk rari jażżardaw) jaħsbu b’moħħhom. Hi l-mewt bil-mod tal-kampanja u l-wirt ambjentali tagħna. Mhux biss f’ Ħaż-Żabbar, iżda madwar il-gżejjer tagħna.

Uħud minn dawk li jgorru u kontinwament jimlew il-gurnali, inkluż dawk elettroniċi, bil-fehmiet tagħhom jeħtieġilhom jikkunsidraw is-sehem tagħhom f’dan kollu. Għandhom jikkunsidraw jekk huma stess ikkontribwewx biex kibret il-froġa billi repetutament eleġġew li dawk li kewsu fil-borma.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum – Il-Ħadd 25 ta’ Frar 2018

Fast food, slow death

Planning application with reference number PA 11067/17 for the development of a new McDonalds outlet on the outskirts of Żabbar is one of the latest attempts to nibble at our ODZ land. As readers are aware, the letters “ODZ” stand for Outside the Development Zone, meaning that the land in question should ideally not be developed at all.

However, the site selected for the possible development of the McDonalds fast food chain outlet lies in an area that has been slowly developed over the years. When the Local Plans were finalised 12 years ago, the site at Salvu Pulis Street in Żabbar and the surrounding development were defined as an ODZ (rural) settlement: meaning that it was an existing residential development outside the development zone that was to be contained and not allowed to spread any further.

Beyond the technical jargon, ODZ land should remain outside the development zone. The Local Plans have been supplemented by a myriad of additional policies and guidelines which unfortunately, but clearly intentionally, create so many policy contrasts and conflicts that it would not be amiss to conclude that practically anything can be justified on the basis of existing policy.

Having a McDonalds outlet in the chosen site at Żabbar is not compatible with the residential nature of the area, but I would not be surprised at all if another planning somersault of Olympic proportions leads to the approval of this application. The problem with most of the decision-takers at the Planning Authority is that they have little, if any, planning or environmental sense. This insensitivity is contributing to the slow and painful death of our countryside as well as that of our small settlements.

Just go slowly through the list of cases which have made it to the front pages of our newspapers and you will get a good idea of what has slowly but surely led to the current state of affairs. The basic problem is the men and women selected to be the decision-makers. The present ones are not much different from the previous ones: (although with some exceptions) generally they are useless. Some of them occasionally try to be reasonable.

Very rarely, a reasonable decision threatens the current order of things and looks likely to slip out: as the recent case on the Magħtab fuel station. The decision-taking rules are designed to trigger an automatic self-defence mechanism against those who dare overstep their brief: the definite decision is postponed to the next sitting. It is then possible to call in the reserves to vote and the habitual absentees turn up, thereby ensuring a full house at the next Board meeting. There is also sufficient time to convince those who may have “misunderstood” matters and dared speak their mind. It is then possible to ensure that the majority falls in line.

This has created an institutional double hurdle against the environment and its protection. It is specifically designed to be so by the author of the 2016 Development Planning Act, clearly intended to introduce an institutional check on those who dare sing from a different hymn sheet from the one available. It is the slow death of our countryside and our environmental heritage – not just at Ħaż-Żabbar, but all over the islands.

Some of those who grumble and fill the comments sections of our newspapers with their views need to consider whether they have contributed to all this by repeatedly electing those who have designed this mess.

Published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 25 February 2018

11 April 2015 : Empowerment Day

empowerment

The spring hunting referendum called as result of a citizens’ petition and scheduled for 11 April 2015 will protect birds. It will honour a basic requirement spelled out in the EU’s Birds Directive, which insists on this protection along birds’ migratory routes on the way to their breeding grounds.

The spring hunting referendum signifies different things to different persons. It is first and foremost a concrete step in addressing a bird conservation issue which has been ignored throughout the years, despite Malta’s international obligations. It will also facilitate access to the countryside for one and all throughout spring. In addition it is also a democratic tool through which civil society stands up to the countryside bullies. When all three achievements are attained, and eventually taken for granted, there will be one lasting consequence: the spring hunting referendum will be the defining moment of empowerment of Maltese civil society.  It will be the gift of present day civil society to future generations.

When addressing Parliament on the abrogative referendum on 12 January, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat recognised this fact and declared that the dominant role of politicians in decision taking is changing (“naħseb li bħala politiċi irridu nifhmu li l-proċess li wassal għal dan ir-referendum huwa sinjal taż-żminijiet. Huwa sinjal li d-dominanza tal-politiċi fit-teħid tad-deċiżjonijiet qed tonqos.”)

On the 11 April civil society in Malta will come of age.

11 April will be the point when civil society realises that, at the end of the day, it is the source of all authority in decision taking structures. 11 April can be the day when this authority is  made use of to rectify past mistaken decisions.  In so doing, civil society in Malta will be giving notice to one and all that ultimately the common good can and will prevail.

When the petition calling for the abrogative referendum on spring hunting was doing the rounds, some thought that it was just another petition, which would be forgotten as soon as it was submitted. However, when the Constitutional Court delivered its decision on the 9 January giving the green light to the first abrogative referendum in the Maltese islands, the message was received clearly by one and all.

11 April means that change is possible. Moreover it also means that change is not dependent on general election results. The dormant authority of civil society is being reactivated.

Last Wednesday, a group of jurists led by former European Court of Human Rights Judge Giovanni Bonello explained to the press that the spring hunting referendum posed no threat to any hobby. In practically all cases which were listed in a study released by the group of jurists, it is evident that the abrogative referendum itself cannot even be applied to the said hobbies. Most hobbies are unregulated, meaning that there is no legislation of relevance to abrogate. In this respect the abrogative referendum procedure is not applicable!

As regards other hobbies like horse racing, the manufacture and letting off of fireworks and off-roading, existing laws and regulations specify who the licensing authorities are, and the rules to be followed. Subjecting these rules to an abrogative referendum would mean that these activities would be unfettered by regulations, if a hypothetical referendum were approved. That could not in any way be construed as a threat to such hobbies or pastimes.

The jurists were replying to the scaremongering campaign of the hunting lobby.

It is pretty obvious that the hunting lobby is not enthusiastic about citizens being empowered to call an abrogative referendum and decide, where applicable, contentious issues. They prefer to discuss issues behind closed doors, where they can lobby and barter their votes for concessions. This is what they did throughout the years and this is the essential background to the present state of affairs.

This is the reason why some months back the hunting lobby petitioned Parliament to overhaul the referendum legislation. In their petition they asked for protection of some imaginary “minority rights” which the Constitutional Court on 9 January, declared as being inexistent.

On 11 April, we will for the first time ever vote in an abrogative referendum called through a citizens’ initiative. We will decide whether we agree or not with the regulations which permit hunting of quail and turtledove in spring on their way to breed. I do not agree with spring hunting and will be voting NO.

I invite you to join me in voting NO, thereby abolishing spring hunting in Malta for the benefit of birds and future generations.

 

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 1 February 2015

If birds had a vote

hunter 11

 

If birds had a vote the referendum scheduled for 11 April would not be necessary. Parliament would have afforded them protection many years ago.  But they have no vote.

If birds had a vote, we would never have lost the right of access to the countryside during spring. Spring, the best season of the year, is when families are being prevented from taking children to the countryside due to men running around with guns and generally shooting anything that flies.

If birds had a vote we would be spared the embarrassment of inviting tourists to Malta on the promise of glorious scenic country views and then hoping that they would avoid the countryside altogether.

If birds had a vote we would be spared the absurd situation of having national natural parks (to which children are invited to learn about nature) and that having to witness bird hunting in its midst.

If birds had a vote bullies roaming the countryside would surely be under control.

But birds have no vote. However on 11 April we can vote on their behalf to abolish spring hunting.

Protecting the birds, reclaiming the countryside

 

turtle doves just shot

The abolition of spring hunting will lead to the protection of birds when they most need it. All birds will be protected, not just the quail and turtle dove.  Birds need our protection during the spring as it is the time of the year when they breed or are preparing to breed. Every bird which is shot during spring signifies that there will be one less nest and consequently there will be fewer birds in the following seasons.

The Birds  Directive of the European Union is an integral part of Maltese law since, and as a result of, Malta’s EU  accession in 2004. The Directive expressly states that EU Member States along migratory bird routes have a far greater responsibility regarding bird protection. This responsibility is spelled out in article 7(4) of the Directive where it is very clearly stated that : “In the case of migratory species, [member states] shall see in particular that the species to which hunting regulations apply are not hunted during their period of reproduction or during their return to their rearing grounds.” This applies to all bird migratory routes throughout EU territory without exception.

The Birds Directive is not a Directive about hunting but about the protection of birds. It does, however, recognise that circumstances may arise as a result of which it may be necessary to permit an exception, which exception is called “a derogation”. Exceptions are very well defined in article 9(1) of the Birds Directive (vide box) and these are the only circumstances in respect of which an EU member state may derogate from its obligations under the Birds Directive. It follows that whilst EU members have the authority to permit an exception, such an exception, or derogation,  must be within the three general parameters determined by the Directive. It is not a right but a tool for addressing the specific situations mentioned in the Directive. Readers will very easily notice that the permissible derogations make no reference to the killing of birds for fun – commonly referred to as “hunting”.

Member states permit thousands of derogations in their territory every year. Derogations in respect of birds that are considered agricultural pests or a potential threat to the safety of aeroplanes are the most frequent cases where derogations are permitted. I am informed that the list of these thousands of derogations all over EU territory does not contain one single case which refers to a derogation for the purpose of sports during spring. Malta is the only exception.

Being on a migratory bird route means that Malta has an international responsibility to protect all birds returning to their rearing grounds to reproduce. This return occurs annually during spring, hence the need to abolish spring hunting. It is a duty we have towards the international community in respect of all the birds migrating through Maltese airspace.

The abrogative referendum, in respect of which Malta’s Constitutional Court decided that no valid objections had been filed, will ask voters whether or not they agree with the regulations that permit a spring hunting derogation for two specific species: turtle dove and quail. These regulations are contained in the Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening a Spring Hunting Season for Turtle Dove and Quail Regulations, originally published in 2010.

Voting NO on the 11 April  will protect  birds migrating over Malta during spring as well as restore back to the public access to the countryside at that time of the year. It will also eliminate the negative impact (through the sound of gunfire and the trampling all over the countryside) which will further help to attract and allow other breeding birds (not just quail and turtle dove) to nest in our country.

Currently, Malta’s countryside is practically inaccessible during the spring hunting season as one runs the risk of being showered with hunters’ pellets. Maltese families have very little access to the countryside when hunters are enjoying their spring derogation- and a number of them shooting at anything that flies.

This means that Maltese families and their children are being deprived of enjoying nature in all its splendour. We are all entitled to enjoy the countryside, which belongs to us all and not just to a select few. This enjoyment is currently being obstructed by the spring hunting derogation which the Parliamentary parties have been defending continuously.  It is about time that we reclaimed our right to fully enjoy nature in spring, while simultaneously allowing birds to continue breeding.

A total of 41,494 citizens signed a petition which has resulted in the abrogative referendum that will be held on 11 April 2015. This is a unique opportunity to protect the birds and help re-establish our families’ links with nature during the spring.  Let us use this opportunity well by voting NO, thereby rejecting the regulations contained in the spring hunting derogation and consigning spring hunting in Malta to the dustbin of history.

article 9. derogation

 

published in the Independent – Sunday 18 January 2015

The abrogative referendum: (5) Strengthening democracy in Malta.

submission of referendum signature requests

(5) Strengthening democracy in Malta.

The abrogative referendum aims to abolish spring hunting in the Maltese Islands. This is essential in order to protect birds (all birds) but in particular quail and turtledove during the mating season, the time of year when they are most vulnerable.  Each bird saved in spring means many more birds during the rest of the year.

As a result of abolishing spring hunting the abrogative referendum will also restore the countryside back to the Maltese during spring. We are all entitled to enjoy the countryside. It belongs  to all of us.

We have arrived at this point because the political parties present in parliament have over the years conspired behind our backs together with the hunters’ associations in order to ensure that they have a free hand in the countryside during spring.

Political parties represented in Parliament have failed to heed civil society and environmental NGOs over the years. As a result of this only one option is left : deciding at the ballot box.

When the time comes, (and it will soon come)  ensure that you use your vote to abolish spring hunting once and for all.

This is a very important moment in the development of Malta’s democracy.  It is the first time that this democratic right will be utilised. It strengthens democracy at its very roots.

All other referenda in Malta were organised by government to consult voters before taking a specific decision (integration with the UK, Independence, joining the EU, introducing divorce legislation). This time the referendum will be held as a result of a popular initiative: voters will be instructing government that spring hunting is to be no more. lt is indeed a defining moment.