Il-pandemija u l-kummerċ tal-Milied

Bħala riżultat tal-pandemija Covid-19, dan il-Milied ser ikun wieħed differenti minn dawk li ġew qablu.  Normalment il-Milied  huwa ż-żmien meta  nissoċjaliżżaw iktar mill-bqija tas-sena. Żmien li fih niltaqgħu iktar mal-ħbieb u mal-familjari. Huwa ż-żmien li fih hu normali li niltaqgħu fi gruppi għal attivitajiet differenti.  

Dan hu kompletament bil-maqlub tal-mod kif issa jeħtieġ li naġixxu biex nikkumbattu kontra l-coronavirus. Li nnaqqsu drastikament u possibilment nevitaw il-kuntatti tagħna hu l-minimu meħtieġ f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi biex tonqos l-imxija tal-coronavirus.  Bosta minna hekk jagħmlu, minkejja li l-Gvern kontinwament jagħtina sinjali konfliġġenti.   

Wieħed minn dawn is-sinjali konfliġġenti ngħata waqt il-konferenza stampa biex ikun imniedi  Christmas in the City iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa. Il-Ministri  Josè Herrera u Julia Farrugia-Portelli, imwieżna miċ-Chairman tas-Super One Jason Micallef, u oħrajn, tkellmu dwar il-ħinijiet tax-xiri u dwar kemm ser ikun faċli l-parking għal min jitħajjar imur il-Belt biex jixtri r-rigali tal-Milied. L-ispirtu tal-Milied xejn ma jiddependi mis-siegħat ta’ xiri fil-ħwienet. L-anqas ma jiddependi minn kemm ikollna aċċess faċli għall-parking.  

Is-sinifikat propju tal-Milied hu tal-istaġun tas-solidarjetà li fiċ-ċirkustanzi preżenti, maħluqa mill-pandemija, hu importanti iktar minn qatt qabel.

Fl-istess ħin li l-Ministri Herrera u Farrugia-Portelli kienu kienu qed jitkellmu dwar Christmas in the City, epidemologisti kienu qed iwissuna li matul ix-xahar ta’ Diċembru r-rata tal-imwiet f’Malta mill-Covid-19 mistenni li tiżdied bi tlett darbiet: minn żewgt imwiet kuljum għal sitta kuljum. In-numru tal-imwiet mill-Covid-19 diġa żdied b’mod konsiderevoli sa minn meta tnaqqsu r-restrizzjonijiet f’Lulju li għadda. Fil-ħin li qed nikteb in-numru ta’ mwiet ħtija tal-Covid-19 laħaq il-108, u sa x’ħin dan l-artiklu jinqara n-numru sfortunatament ikompli jikber.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan ma jagħmilx sens li tistieden lin-nies biex jinżlu l-Belt għax-xiri tar-rigali tal-Milied. Huwa l-waqt li nagħmlu eżatt bil-maqlub:  innaqqsu l-moviment tan-nies bit-tama li dan jgħin fit-trażżin tal-pandemija.  Huwa dan li messu qed iħeġġeġ il-Gvern.

Ikoll nirrikonoxxu li l-pandemija kellha impatt qawwi u negattiv fuq l-għixien ta’ bosta.  Is-setturi tal-ikel u tal-ospitalità  kellhom sfida qawwija matul ix-xhur tas-sajf. Iż-żmien meta normalment imorru tajjeb, kien iż-żmien meta qalgħu l-ikbar daqqa.  Iktar ma noqorbu lejn il-Milied mhux talli l-pandemija ma naqqsitx, talli donna iktar irrankat. L-irkupru ekonomiku jidher li għad baqalu.

In-numru ta’ dawk li qed ikunu infettati qiegħed jikber.  Fl-istess ħin lkoll nifhmu li l-iskop wara x-xewqa li jkunu mħajra n-nies lejn il-Belt u ċ-ċentri kummerċjali hi motivata mill-ħtieġa tad-dinja tal-kummerċ biex ittaffi d-daqqa li qalgħet billi tipprova issarraf ftit mill-kummerċ li normalment jiġġenera l-Milied. Il-konsiderazzjonijiet ta’ saħħa, imma, għandhom dejjem jibqgħu l-prijorità: issa mhux iż-żmien li jkunu nkoraġġiti l-ebda tip ta’ celebrazzjonijiet.  Flok ma ninkoraġixxu lin-nies biex tersaq lejn ic-ċentri kummerċjali l-Gvern għandu jkun fuq quddiem biex iħeġġeġ l-attenzjoni u prudenza. Mhux Ministru wieħed, imma l-Gvern kollu! Il-vouchers, l-għotjiet, l-għajnuniet u s-supplimenti għall-pagi li l-Gvern qed iqassam f’isimna lkoll, wara kollox, għandhom l-iskop li jtaffu dan il-piz li nħoloq bħala riżultat tal-pandemija.

Għalfejn f’dan il-mument kritiku narmu l-kisbiet li ġibna bis-sagrifiċċji ta’ bosta? Għax huwa dan li nkunu qed nagħmlu kull meta jingħata ħjiel li wara kollox tajjeb li ninġabru u niċċelebraw. Issa mhux il-waqt għal dan.

Il-Covid-19 mhux ser joqtol il-Milied jekk inqas nies jixtru ir-rigali! L-ispirtu tal-Milied ma jitkejjilx  mill-volum ta’ rigali li jinxtraw imma minn kemm aħna kapaċi nkun solidali mal-vulnerabbli tal-lum.

U issa?

L-ikbar att ta’ solidarjetà, bħalissa, hu li harsu lill-vulnerabbli fostna billi nimxu mad-direttivi tal-awtoritajiet tas-saħħa intenzjonati biex iżommu lill-pandemija milli tkompli tixtered.  Il-vaċċin jidher li hu fil-qrib. Dan inissel tama li possibilment matul l-ewwel nofs tas-sena l-ġdida nibdew l-ewwel passi fil-mixja bil-mod lejn in-normalità.  

Imma sadakinnhar hu obbligu tagħna li nħarsu kemm lilna nfusna kif ukoll lil ħaddieħor b’imġieba prudenti. Din hi s-solidarjetà prattika li dan l-istaġun tal-Milied jistenna minn għandna.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 22 ta’ Novembru 2020

Covid-19 and the City

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, this Christmas is essentially different from all past ones.

Christmas is normally time for meeting with friends and family, for socialising. It is the time when we normally gather in large groups for a variety of purposes. This is exactly the opposite of what is required to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Avoiding and reducing unnecessary contacts to the bare minimum helps to prevent the further spread of Covid-19. That is what we all say and believe, notwithstanding government’s continuous conflicting signals. 

One of the last such conflicting signals was given during a Press Conference launching Christmas in the City earlier this week. Ministers Josè Herrera and Julia Farrugia-Portelli, buttressed by Super One Chairman Jason Micallef and others spoke about shopping hours and parking requirements when launching Christmas in the City.  The Christmas spirit is not dependent on shopping hours, nor does it have any parking requirements.

In my book Christmas is the solidarity season which in the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic assumes additional significance.

Almost simultaneously with the Christmas in the City launching, epidemiologists were warning us that the daily number of deaths from Covid-19 in Malta was expected to triple during the month of December: from two to six deaths daily. At the time of writing the Covid-19 death count is 106 and rising. The death count has increased substantially since restrictions were reduced in July 2020.

Within this context it is not on to encourage large numbers to descend on Valletta for their Christmas shopping. It is the time to do exactly the opposite: discourage movements, hoping that as a result, movements are restricted to the bear minimum.

All of us acknowledge that Covid-19 has seriously impacted the livelihood of many. Economic sectors such as the food and the hospitality industries have experienced severe challenges during the summer season, when ordinarily this business would have been booming. As we approach Christmas, the pandemic not only does not show any sign of slowing down: it may well spike once more. An opportunity for economic recovery remains under threat.

More people are succumbing to the virus every day. The desire to draw people to Valletta and other commercial centres in an effort to tap the Christmas spirit for commercial gain, thereby providing a lifeline to businesses is understandable. Health considerations should however take priority: now is however not the time to encourage celebrations of whatever nature. Instead of encouraging people to get out to the commercial centres, government should encourage more cautious behaviour. Government handouts and wage supplements have the specific purpose of helping shoulder the burden created by all this.

Why do we threaten the sacrifices of the many at this critical time by encouraging unreasonable behaviour?

Covid-19 will not kill Christmas if fewer people do their Christmas shopping. The Christmas spirit is not measured in terms of the volume of Christmas shopping but in terms of our acts of solidarity.

Where do we go from here?

The greatest act of solidarity, at this time, is to protect the vulnerable amongst us by following the advice of the health authorities intended to contain the Covid-19 spread as much as possible. A vaccine may be on the horizon, possibly heralding the beginning of a slow return to normality in the first half of the new year.

Until then, it is our duty to take care of ourselves and others by ensuring cautious behaviour. This is the practical solidarity expected from all of us this Christmas season.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 November 2020

Il-governanza tajba u l-ħarsien tal-ambjent

Fl-assenza ta’ governanza tajba ma nistgħux inħarsu l-ambjent sewwa. Il-governanza tajba hi essenzjali għall-ħarsien ambjentali.  Huwa għalhekk li iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ssottomettejt oġġezzjonijiet dettaljati bħala parti mill-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika mniedi mill-ERA fil-kaz tal-istudji dwar l-impatt ambjentali (EIA) dwar l-inċineratur propost għall-Magħtab.  

Li jkunu regolati l-kunflitti ta’ interess li b’mod inevitabbli jitfaċċaw f’kull proċess regolatorju huwa element essenzjali mill-proċess ta’ governanza tajba.

Ir-regolamenti f’Malta dwar l-istudju tal-impatt ambjentali, imsejsa fuq is-sens komun u fuq id-direttivi tal-Unjoni Ewropea jfittxu li jassiguraw illi dawk involuti fil-proċess tal-EIA ikunu ħielsa minn kull xorta ta’ konflitt ta’ interess. Kunflitt ta’ interess hi sitwazzjoni li tinħoloq meta persuna b’interessi varji jispiċċa  jaqdi interess u fl-istess ħin jikkonfliġġi ma ieħor.

Ħmistax ilu fl-artiklu intitolat Il-fiduċja: għal ġol-inċineratur emfasizzajt li dawk li jaħdmu fuq EIA għandhom ikunu professjonali, indipendenti u imparzjali. B’referenza partikolari għall-applikazzjoni dwar l-inċineratur għidt li m’huwiex aċċettabbli li dawk inkarigati biex jagħmlu EIA ikunu fl-istess ħin li qed jagħtu parir lill-iżviluppatur parti ukoll mill-awtorità regolatorja. Dawk li jixtiequ jagħmlu karriera fil-qasam tat-tħejjija ta’ rapporti tekniċi għall-EIA huma liberi li jagħmlu dan imma mbagħad m’għandhomx jitħallew jikkontaminaw il-proċess tal-EIA.

F’artiklu f’ġurnal ieħor bl-Ingliż il-ġimgħa l-oħra l-Professur Alan Deidun, is-suġġett ta’ din il-kitba, kien kritiku ta’ dan kollu. M’għandi l-ebda diffikulta dwar dan għax jagħtini opportunità li nispjega iktar.   

Il-Professur Deidun li hu membru tal-Bord tal-ERA ġibed l-attenzjoni tagħna li kieku hu ma jinvolvix ruħu darba kull tant f’rapporti tekniċi għall-EIA, bħalma għamel fil-kaz tal-inċineratur, ikun hemm il-periklu li nispiċċaw b’numru ta’ konsulenti mhux Maltin li jieħdu f’idejhom partijiet sħaħ tal-proċess tat-tfassil tal-EIA. Fil-fehma tal-Professur Deidun dan jiġġustifika li waqt li hu regolatur, fl-istess ħin jagħti parir lill-iżviluppatur!

Jiena konxju li għandna numru żgħir ta’ konsulenti, uħud minnhom professuri fl-Università tagħna li fil-passat mhux imbiegħed ġiebu ruħhom bl-istess mod tal-Professur Deidun: membri fuq il-Bord tar-regulatur u jagħtu l-pariri lil dawk regolati, imbagħad meta l-kaz jiġi quddiemhom jastjenu!  

Waqt li dan kien ħażin, fil-kaz tal-Professur Deidun l-affarijiet huma agħar. Deidun ġie maħtur biex ikun membru tal-Bord tal-ERA biex hemmhekk huwa jirrappreżenta lill-għaqdiet ambjentali. Jekk jastjeni mill-jieħu sehem fi kwalunkwe kaz li jiġi quddiemu fil-Bord ikun qed joħnoq il-vuċi tal-għaqdiet ambjentali. Għaldaqstant, b’żieda mal-kunflitt ta’ interess ikun qed imur ukoll kontra l-iskop li għalih inħatar fuq il-Bord tal-ERA.  Minħabba l-kunflitt ta’ interess tiegħu il-Professur Deidun ser joħnoq il-vuċi tal-għaqdiet ambjentali fl-iktar mument kritiku: meta jeħtieġilhom isemmgħu leħinhom.  

Apparti lill-Professur Deidun l-EIA tal- inċineratur jippreżentalna persuna oħra: il-koordinatur tal-EIA, l-Inġinier  Mario Schembri.

Is-Sur Schembri ilu żmien attiv fil-qasam tal-immaniġjar tal-iskart fejn kien ta kontribut pożittiv sostanzjali. Kien strumentali biex twaqqfet il-GreenPak li taħdem bħala kooperattiva: iġġib flimkien diversi negozji li jpoġġu fuq is-suq Malti diversi prodotti. Il-GreenPak taħdem biex f’isem il-membri tal-kooperattiva tirkupra l-iskart tal-ippakkeġġjar (packaging waste). Kienet fuq quddiem nett biex tinkoraġixxi ir-riċiklar fil-gżejjer Maltin, kontinwament tħeġġeġ lill-Kunsilli Lokali u lill-pubbliku biex jirriċiklaw.  

Is-Sur Schembri ilu CEO tal-GreenPak sa mill-2005. Għandu għarfien u esperjenza sostanzjali fl-immaniġjar tal-iskart. Huwa operatur fl-immaniġjar tal-iskart u għaldaqstant fil-proċess tal-EIA tal-inċineratur ma jistax ikun la imparzjali u l-anqas indipendenti huwa u janalizza d-dokumenti u r-rapporti li għandu quddiemu.  Anke hu għaldaqstant għandu kunflitt ta’ interess li jkompli jikkontamina l-process tal-EIA.

Ma nistax nifhem kif l-ERA ħalliet dan kollu għaddej u ma ħaditx passi, għax dak li qed ngħid m’huwiex xi sigriet, iżda huma fatti magħrufa minn kulħadd.  

F’soċjeta demokratika li tfittex li tapplika l-prinċipji ta’ governanza tajba huwa normali li jkunu identifikati każi ta’ kunflitt ta’ interess li dwarhom jittieħdu passi. Imma fejn ma jitieħdux passi jinħolqu bosta problemi. Fil-qasam ambjentali meta ma jittieħdux passi, dan jimmina l-isforzi li jkunu saru favur il-ħarsien ambjentali.  

Għax fil-qasam ambjentali, is-saltna tad-dritt (rule of law) hi importanti ukoll!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 25 t’Ottubru 2020

Good governance and environment protection

We cannot adequately protect the environment in the absence of good governance. Good governance is an essential prerequisite for environment protection.

This is why, earlier this week, I submitted detailed objections to the incinerator EIA process in the ERA-driven public consultation process. Adequate regulation of the conflict of interests which inevitably present themselves in any regulatory process is an essential element of good governance.

Based on both common sense as well as the relative EU Directive, Malta’s EIA Regulations seek to ensure that those involved in the EIA process should be free from conflict of interests.  A conflict of interest being a situation in which a person is involved in multiple interests and serving one interest could involve working against another.

As emphasised in my article a fortnight ago (Incinerating fairness, trust and common sense: 11 October) those carrying out an EIA must be “professional, independent and impartial”. It is not acceptable for those carrying out an EIA to be part of the regulatory process and simultaneously advise those regulated. Those who wish to embark on a career carrying out EIA technical reports are free to do so but they should not be permitted to contaminate the EIA process.

In an article entitled ‘C’ is for Cacopardo, not for collegiality…………. In last week’s edition, Professor Alan Deidun took me to task for my views. I have no difficulty with that, on the contrary it gives me the opportunity to explain further.  

Professor Deidun drew our attention that if he did not involve himself in the “occasional” consultancy there was a risk that we would end up with non-Maltese consultants taking over parts of the EIA process. In Professor Deidun’s lexicon this justifies acting in this manner.

I am aware that we had quite a handful of other consultants, some of them professors from our University, who in the recent past acted in the same manner as Professor Deidun: sitting on regulatory boards and then advising those regulated, subsequently abstaining from the board’s sitting when their report turns up for consideration.

That was bad enough.  In Professor Deidun’s case it is even worse. He is appointed to sit on the ERA Board in representation of environmental NGOs. If he abstains from giving his input in any instance on the ERA Board, the voice of the eNGOs, as a result, cannot be heard. In addition to having a conflict of interest between his role as a regulator and being the advisor of the regulated, Professor Deidun is thus ignoring completely the purpose of his appointment to the ERA Board. Professor Deidun’s conflict of interest will be silencing eNGOs at a crucial point: when it is essential that their voice is heard.

In addition to Professor Deidun the incinerator EIA presents us with another character: the EIA coordinator, Engineer Mario Schembri.

Mr Schembri has been active in waste management in Malta for a very long time. Among his positive contributions he was instrumental in setting up GreenPak which operates as a cooperative, bringing together the business interests which place various products on the Maltese market. GreenPak seeks to recover packaging waste on behalf of the members of the cooperative. It has been a positive contribution in encouraging recycling in Malta, continuously encouraging Local Councils and the public to do their bit.

Mr Schembri has been CEO of GreenPak since 2005. He is definitely knowledgeable and experienced in waste management. He is however a waste management operator and cannot as a result of this fact be an impartial or independent contributor to the EIA process. He too, thus, has a conflict of interest and thus contaminates the EIA process too.

I fail to understand how ERA has allowed the incinerator EIA process to proceed this far without acting to address these cases of conflict of interest as the above are well known facts to all.

In a democratic society seeking to apply good governance rules it is normal to identify and act on a conflict of interest. Failure to act, however, is problematic. In environmental matters such failure undermines the whole effort of environment protection.

The rule of law matters, in environmental issues too! 

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 25 October 2020

Drittijiet Ambjentali bir-riforma kostituzzjonali

Il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, meta tiġi, tkun opportunità unika biex ikunu ntrodotti drittijiet ambjentali fil-Kostituzzjoni. Dan jista’ u għandu jseħħ billi dawn id-drittijiet jinkitbu b’mod ċar u li ma jħallux lok għal miżinterpretazzjoni f’riforma li ilna nistennew żmien kbir.

Id-drittijiet ambjentali, għandhom ikunu ċari daqs id-drittijiet dwar il-propjetà. Għax il-Kostituzzjoni, b’mod pervers, filwaqt li tipproteġi drittijiet dwar il-propjetà, illum ma toffri l-ebda protezzjoni għal drittijiet ambjentali bħad-dritt għal arja nadifa inkella għal aċċess għal ilma nadif. L-anqas ma tipproteġi l-bijodiversità jew il-pajsaġġ jew kwalunkwe dritt ambjentali ieħor bħall-ħarsien tar-riżorsi naturali. Id-drittijiet tal-individwi huma b’xi mod protetti imma d-drittijiet tal-komunità l-anqas biss jissemmew.

Meta wieħed iqis li d-drittijiet tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti huma kemm kemm protetti, xejn ma hemm biex niskantaw jekk il-liġi bażika tagħna tinjora lill-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri għal kollox.

Waqt li dan kollu kien għaddej, Malta, fuq livell internazzjonali nsistiet dwar il-ħarsien ta’ qiegħ il-baħar (1967), dwar il-klima (1988) u dwar il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri (1992). Imma minkejja dawn l-isforzi fuq livell internazzjonali, ma sar l-ebda sforz lokali biex dak li nippriedkaw barra minn xtutna nipprattikawh f’artna.  

Il-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, fil-Kapitlu 2 tagħha, għanda sett ta’ linji gwida biex dawn ikunu ta’ għajnuna lill-Gvern billi b’mod ġenerali jindikaw it-triq li jeħtieġ li jimxi fuqha.  Wieħed minn dawn il-prinċipji gwida huwa dwar il-ħarsien ambjentali. Dan tfassal oriġinalment fl-1964 u ġie emendat riċentement.  

Wara din il-lista ta’ linji gwida, fl-aħħar tagħhom, il-Kostituzzjoni tgħidilna li ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom!

Dan il-kapitlu tal-Kostituzzjoni huwa mfassal fuq dak li hemm fil-Kostituzzjoni tal-Irlanda u tal-Indja. Kif jispjega Tonio Borg fil-kummentarju tiegħu dwar il-kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, l-Qorti Suprema Indjana minkejja kollox, imma, interpretat il-linji gwida fil-Kostituzzjoni Indjana bħala l-kuxjenza tal-kostituzzjoni : linja gwida tabilħaqq.  Għax x’jiswa’ li toqgħod tipprietka u tħambaq dwar il-prinċipji bażiċi u l-linji gwida jekk imbagħad iżżomhom milli jkunu infurzati?

Sfortunatament, din l-istess attitudni kienet addottata meta tfasslet leġislazzjoni dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art u dwar l-ambjent. Anke hawn wara ħafna dikjarazzjonijiet ta’ prinċipji nsibu li dwar dawn ukoll ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom.

Fis-sottomissjonijiet tagħha lill Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, Alternattiva Demokratika,  ipproponiet li dan il-kapitlu fil-kostituzzjoni għandu jkun revedut b’mod li jkun assigurat li l-Gvern dejjem jimxi mal-linji gwida kostituzzjonali.   

F’pajjiżi oħra, s-soċjetà ċivili, meta meħtieġ, tieħu azzjoni legali kontra l-Gvern biex tassigura li dan jerfa’ r-responsabbiltajiet ambjentali tiegħu f’kull ħin.

Għandi f’moħħi żewġ eżempji partikolari.

L-ewwel wieħed hu dwar azzjoni legali fir-Renju Unit mill-għaqda ambjentali  Client Earth dwar il-mod kajman li bih il-Gvern Ingliż mexa fil-konfront ta’ strateġija nazzjonali dwar il-kwalità tal-arja. Il-materja spiċċat quddiem il-Qorti Suprema li f’deċiżjoni ta’ struzzjonijiet lill-Gvern dwar iż-żmien sa meta għandha tkun lesta din l-istrateġija.   

It-tieni eżempju qiegħed l-Olanda u jikkonċerna t-tibdil fil-klima u l-grupp ambjentali  Urgenda li mar il-Qorti biex iġiegħel lil Gvern jistabilixxi miri raġjonevoli dwar emissjonijiet li għandhom impatt fuq il-bidla fil-klima.

F’dawn l-eżempji, u probabbilment f’bosta oħrajn, l-azzjoni tal-Gvern kienet ferm inferjuri għall-aspettattivi tas-soċjetà ċivili. Ikun tajjeb li l-kostituzzjoni tipprovdina bl-għodda biex kull meta l-Gvern jonqos milli jimxi mal-miri kostituzzjonali ikun possibli li nippruvaw inġibuh f’sensieh.

Sal-lum niddependu mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja bit-tama li meta jkun meħtieġ din tieħu passi. Nistqarr li f’materji ambjentali, bosta drabi tiddisappuntana u ma tagħmilx dak li nistennew minn għandha.

Il-konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali sal-lum, tista’ tkun l-unika forum fejn dan id-difett kostituzzjonali jkun possibli li nikkoreġuh. Għax hu l-waqt li d-drittijiet ambjentali jsiru parti integrali mill-kostituzzjoni.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Settembru 2020

Green rights through Constitutional reform

The forthcoming Constitutional Convention, whenever it happens, is an opportunity to entrench green rights in the Constitution. This can be carried out through spelling out such rights unequivocally during the long overdue constitution reform process.

Environmental rights should be spelled out just as clearly as property rights. Our Constitution perversely protects property rights but then does not protect our right to clean air or the access to clean water. Nor does it protect our biodiversity or our landscape or any other environmental right. Individual rights are somehow protected but then the rights of the community are not even given a mention.

When one considers that the rights of the present generations are very poorly protected no one should be surprised that future generations are completely ignored in our basic law.

While this has been going on, Malta has on an international level been insisting on protecting the seabed (1967), the climate (1988) and future generations (1992). Notwithstanding the efforts made on an international level, however, there was no corresponding local effort to put in practice what we preached in international fora.

Malta’s Constitution contains a set of guiding principles in its Chapter 2 which are intended to guide government in its workings. One of these guiding principles relates to environmental protection. Originally enacted in 1964 it was amended recently.

Yet there is a catch. Towards the end of this list of guiding principles our Constitution announces that these principles cannot be enforced in a Court of Law.

This Chapter of our Constitution is modelled on similar provisions in the Irish and the Indian Constitutions. As explained in Tonio Borg’s A Commentary on the Constitution of Malta, however, the Indian Supreme Court has over the years interpreted similar constitutional provisions as the conscience of the Constitution, a real guiding light. It does not make sense to proclaim basic and guiding principles, declare that they should guide the state but then stop short of having them enforceable in a Court of Law.    

Unfortunately, the same attitude was adopted when drafting land use planning and environmental legislation. This legislation contains similar provisions: the announcement of basic guiding principles which are not enforceable in a Court of Law.

In its submissions to the Constitutional Convention, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party has proposed revisiting this Chapter of the Constitution in order that it would be possible to ensure that government follows the guiding principles at all times instead of selectively.  

In other countries it is possible for civil society to take legal action to ensure that government carries out its environmental responsibilities adequately and at all times.

Two particular examples come to mind.

The first is legal action in the United Kingdom by environmental NGO Client Earth relative to the UK government’s lack of action on the formulation of an air quality masterplan. The matter ended up in a Supreme Court decision which instructed the UK government to act and established the parameters for such action including the relative timeframe.  

The second example comes from Holland and concerns climate change and the environmental action group Urgenda Foundation which went to Court to force government’s hand on the establishment of reasonable climate change emission targets.

In both the above examples, and probably in many others, government action was far below the expectations of civil society. It is right that the Constitution should provide us with the necessary tools such that whenever government fails to live up to the Constitutional benchmarks, (be these environmental or any other) then, civil society may call government to order.

To date we depend on the EU Commission as a fallback position, but the EU Commission, unfortunately, does not always live up to what we expect of it. It has let us down many times. The Constitutional Convention is the only forum possible, so far, through which this constitutional deficiency can be corrected. It is about time that our green rights are entrenched in the Constitution.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 6 September 2020

The debate on the National Environment Strategy

The human person forms an integral part of the eco-system.  We do not form part of “the economy”. The economy is the manner in which we organise ourselves, but the eco-system is our DNA.

This is what the ERA National Strategy for the Environment for 2050, currently in consultation phase, should be about.

The strategy is entitled “Wellbeing First”.  A strategy drafted only in the English language, once more ignoring Maltese. While our quality of life is of the utmost importance, an environmental strategy which is anthropocentric does not make sense. An anthropocentric environmental policy is short term in nature and does not lead to enhancing well-being. Environmental policy should be eco-centric: its subject matter should be the achievement of a healthy ecology, as free as possible from human toxicity. Ensuring a healthy ecology will definitely also enhance our quality of life too.

Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) Chairperson Victor Axiaq, in the forward to the consultation document, emphasises that we have yet to learn to live within our ecological limits. Obviously, as a result of his participation in the Planning Authority Board over the past seven years, he has first-hand experience of the manner in which these limits have been continuously stretched beyond any elastic limit. There is a need to reverse this trend the soonest.

The pursuit of economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base and the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for our survival. While economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity, it has instead delivered unbridled climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to depleted water resources and an ever-increasing global inequality. These are all issues the tackling of which cannot be postponed to the next generation.

Progress is measured through the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) yet the GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.

The GDP is just concerned with material wealth ignoring in the process our health, education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society, the state of our families, the devastation caused by all forms of hatred…………… GDP includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of “progress” as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are practical limits to growth, which should lead our economic planners to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

The consultation document seeks to guide the national debate towards identifying the long-term objectives of the National Environmental Strategy. Once this is done ERA should be in a position to develop action plans for the achievement of such objectives.

It should be undoubtedly clear to all that a sustainable future will only be achieved when we start respecting the eco-system without any exception. Our eco-system determines our permissible limits which we only ignore at our peril. This is our challenge which must be addressed by the National Environment Strategy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 August 2020

Kontradizzjonijiet

Jekk wieħed joqgħod biss fuq dak li jgħidu dawk li jitkellmu f’isem il-Gvern, malajr jasal għal konklużjoni żbaljata li qatt ma kellna Gvern favur l-ambjent daqs dan tal-lum. Sfortunatament l-affarijiet huma ferm differenti minn hekk!

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ġie fi tmiemu l-perjodu ta’ sitt ġimgħat konsultazzjoni dwar l-iskop tal-Istrateġija Nazzjonali tal-Biodiversità u l-Pjan t’Azzjoni dwarha li għandu jwassal sal-2030. Għal xi raġuni li s’issa għad mhiex magħrufa l-Awtorità dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA), għal dawn l-aħħar snin qed tikkonċentra l-konsultazzjonijiet importanti għax-xhur tas-sajf (b’mod partikolari tul Awwissu) meta hu magħrufa li n-nies tieħu l-vaganzi u allura tistrieħ!

L-Istrateġija Nazzjonali dwar il-Biodiversità u l-Pjan t’Azzjoni assoċjat magħha, bla dubju, meta jkun konkluż ser ifittex li jħares il-kapital naturali tal-pajjiż fit-totalità tiegħu.  

Imma iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Clint Camilleri, l-Ministru għall-Kaċċa u l-Insib, ħabbar li l-Gvern, għal darb’oħra, ser jerġa’  jipprova jissabotaġġa l-implementazzjoni tal-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-Għasafar billi jipprova jisfrutta xi partijiet minnha!   Il-konsulenti tal-Gvern qed jippruvaw jagħmlu użu minn dik il-parti tad-Direttiva tal-Għasafar li tipprovdi dwar l-istudji xjentifiċi: din tippermetti  l-qbid ta’ numru żgħir ta’ għasafar ħajjin. Dan kollu, fil-fehma tal-Gvern u l-konsulenti tiegħu, jista’ jiġġustifika xi forma ta’ nsib!

Jidher li għadhom ma fehmu xejn: id-Direttiva tal-Għasafar tal-Unjoni Ewropea hi għodda Ewropeja dwar il-ħarsien tal-biodiversità u mhux strument biex jiġġustifika l-kaċċa jew l-insib!

Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela, il-ġimgħa li għaddiet, waqt li kien qed jindirizza l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ ħabbar viżjoni msejsa fuq ħames punti. Wieħed minn dawn il-punti, li fl-aħħar induna bih, hu l-ħtieġa li naddottaw bħala mira li nilħqu n-newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju. Mira tajba, kieku dak li qed jgħid hu veru!

Dan hu każ ieħor fejn għal darb’ oħra, l-Gvern, ambjentalment qed juri wiċċ b’ieħor, kif wara kollox issa ilna li drajna!  Il-Gvern ilu s-snin iberbaq il-miljuni tal-euro fi żvilupp ta’ infrastruttura ta’ toroq li mhiex meħtieġa: l-iskop uniku hu li jirrinforza d-dipendenza fuq il-karozzi privati għax minnhom jiddipendi ammonti kbar tad-dħul tal-Gvern: minn taxxi fuq petrol u diesel sa taxxi u liċenzji assoċjati mal-karozzi.

Il-Gvern ikkummissjona studji, strateġiji u Pjani Nazzjonali u meta waslu għandu qalibhom ta’ taħt fuq.  Id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Robert Abela favur viżjoni bil-mira ta’ newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju hija f’kontradizzjoni mal-infieq massiċċ tal-Gvern fuq infrastruttura tat-toroq li mhix meħtieġa.  Il-Gvern ta’ Abela, bħal dawk ta’ qablu (ħomor u blu), jaħseb li l-problemi jistgħu jissolvew billi jkunu  bbumbardjati bil-miljuni tal-euro. Il-flus ċertament dejjem ikunu ta’ għajnuna, imma jeħtieġ li jintużaw tajjeb u mhux jitberbqu kif qed iseħħ presentement.

L-ispazju li għandi hu limitat u allura ma nistax nispjega mill-ġdid il-proposti kollha li Alternattiva Demokratika għamlet dwar dan kollu tul is-snin: proposti Ii jiswew farka mill-miljuni li l-Gvern qiegħed iberbaq.  

Ikun biżżejjed li niftakru li l-Pjan Nazzjonali dwar it-Trasport jispjega illi 50 fil-mija tal-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati fil-gżejjer Maltin għandhom tul li ma jaqbizx il-ħmistax-il minuta. Dan juri b’mod mill-iktar ċar  mobilità primarjament ta’ natura lokali u reġjonali!  Għal dan la hemm bżonn ta’ flyovers u l-anqas ta’ mini imma qafas biex fih jitħaddem transport lokali u reġjonali.  Huma inizjattivi ta’ din ix-xorta li jnaqqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq li jgħinuna fit-triq diffiċli lejn n-newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju!

Għaddew madwar tlett snin minn meta l-predeċessur ta’ Robert Abela ħa proposta mill-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika dwar il-ħtieġa li nistabilixxu data li minnha lil hemm ma jinbiegħux karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-diesel u dan flimkien ma proposti oħra dwar l-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport fit-toroq tagħna. Imma l-istudji mwegħda ma jidhrux b’nemes!

Il-kontradizzjonijiet fil-politika ambjentali tal-Partit Laburista jimxu fuq l-eżempju tal-predeċessuri tagħhom fil-Gvern li waqt li kienu jokorbu biex nipproteġu l-ilma fasslu proġett biex l-ilma tax-xita jispiċċa kważi kollu l-baħar. Proġett li spiċċa biex mal-ilma tax-xita, rema’ l-baħar, miljuni ta’ euro f’fondi Ewropej!

Il-paroli tal-Labour u tal-PN dwar l-ambjent qatt ma solva xejn. Għax dejjem jgħidu ħaġa u jagħmlu oħra.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 23 t’Awwissu 2020

Contradictions

Taking government spokespersons at face value could lead to the mistaken conclusion that Labour in government is a defender of the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Earlier this week saw the end of a six-week consultation period relative to the Intent and Objectives of a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan leading to 2030. For some unknown reason the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), for the past years has been concentrating its most important consultations during the summer months, in particular August, the least productive months as they coincide with the holiday period. The National Biodiversity Strategy and relative Action Plan will, when concluded, strive to actively protect our natural capital in its widest sense.

Yet earlier this week Clint Camilleri, Minister for Hunting and Trapping, announced another government attempt to try and sabotage the implementation of the EU Birds’ Directive through seeking potential additional loopholes.  Government advisors are trying to use the provisions of the Birds’ Directive relative to scientific studies, which permit the live capture of a small number of birds, to make a case for local trapping! They seem to not have yet understood that the EU Birds’ Directive is a biodiversity protection tool and not an instrument to justify hunting or trapping in whatever form or shape.

Prime Minister Robert Abela, when addressing the Chamber of Commerce last week, deemed it fit to announce a five-point vision. One of the points which he has at last adopted is the aim of attaining carbon neutrality. Very laudable indeed, if it were true!

This is another case of environmental lip service which we have become accustomed to for a number of years. Government has over the past years been squandering millions of euros in large scale transport infrastructural projects with the specific aim of reinforcing our dependence on the private car. Private cars are the source of large chunks of government income, ranging from taxes on fuel to car licences and registration taxes. Government has commissioned studies, strategies and National Plans which it then turns on their head. Robert Abela’s late conversion to a vision of a carbon neutral Malta is in direct contradiction to the spending spree on road transport infrastructure. His government, like that of his predecessors, red and blue, thinks that problems can be solved by being bombarded with euros, millions of them. Euros certainly help but they must be well spent, not squandered as they currently are.

I haven’t got space today to go through all the proposals which Greens have brought forward over the years, costing a fraction of the millions currently going down the drains. It would suffice to point out that the National Transport Master Plan had identified that 50 per cent of trips using private cars in the Maltese Islands are of a duration of less than fifteen minutes, clearly indicating primarily a mobility that it is local or regional in nature!  We don’t need flyovers, tunnels or underpasses to address this but an efficient local and regional transport network which we currently lack. It is such initiatives which encourage reduction of cars from our roads and help us climb the steep road to carbon neutrality!

It is now almost three years since Robert Abela’s predecessor took a leaf out of the Green Electoral manifesto on proposing a cut-off date on the sale of vehicles operating with internal combustion engines, and on other measures relating to the electrification of our roads. Yet the promised studies are nowhere in sight!

The constant contradictions in environmental positions taken by Labour follow the path entrenched by its predecessors, who, while emphasising the need to protect our water resources devised a project to throw away our storm water directly into the sea, using millions of euros of EU funds which ended up down the drain, with the water.

The environmental lip-service of Labour and the PN has never solved anything, nor will it ever do.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 August 2020