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

Business friendly: il-flus qabel in-nies!

Art pubblika qed tittieħed minn stabilimenti tal-ikel u x-xorb biex tkun estiża l-attività kummerċjali tagħhom fit-triq u dan bil-konsegwenza ta’ diversi problemi għar-residenti u l-komunitajiet tagħna madwar Malta.

L-aħħar każ fl-aħbarijiet hu dak ta’ Triq il-Kbira San Ġiljan li seħħ wara li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ħarġet permess biex f’żona li sal-lum kienet riżervata għall-parkeġġ jibdew jitqegħdu l-imwejjed u s-siġġijiet. Sid l-istabbiliment aġixxa hekk kif irċieva l-permess tal-ippjanar mingħajr ma qagħad jistenna għal deċiżjoni mingħand l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet dwar jekk jistax ikun aċċettabbli li art pubblika tintuża bil-mod propost.

Il-qarrejja probabbilment jiftakru li xi żmien ilu l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet kienet irrifjutat applikazzjoni simili fix-Xatt il-Gżira. F’dak il-każ partikolari appell ta’ lukanda minn deċiżjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet biex flok spazji għall-parkeġġ tal-karozzi fi triq ewlenija jitqiegħed platform u fuqu imwejjed u siġġiet kien irrifjutat. It-talba biex jitqegħdu l-imwejjed u s-siġġijiet kienet irrifjutata minħabba li kienu ser jonqsu żewġ spazji għal parkeġġ kif ukoll minħabba tħassib dwar sigurtà tan-nies.

Minkejja din id-deċiżjoni li ttieħdet iżjed minn sena ilu mit-Tribunal Amministrattiv jidher li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar għadha marbuta mal-interessi tan-negożji.

Ikun floku li niftakru li d-dokument bil-politika tal-ippjanar dwar it-tqegħid ta’ imwejjed u siġġijiet fi spazji pubbliċi kien imfassal minn kumitat inter-MinisterjalI li speċifikament kien eskluda l-parteċipazzjoni ta’ rappreżentanti tal-lokalitajiet tagħna. L-interessi tal-lokalitajiet, kemm dawk tar-residenti kif ukoll dawk tal-Kunsilli Lokali kienu kompletament injorati. Iktar minn hekk, meta l-materja kienet ikkunsidrata mill-Kabinett, mid-dehra l-Ministru tal-Kunsilli Lokali Owen Bonnici kien rieqed għax kieku bla ebda dubju kien jiġbed l-attenzjoni ta’ sħabu li l-Liġi dwar il-Kunsilli Lokali, fl-artiklu 33 tistabilixxi li hi funzjoni ta’ kull Kunsilli Lokali li “ jagħti pariri lil u, li jkun ikkonsultat minn kull awtorità li tieħu xi deċiżjonijiet li direttament jew indirettament jolqtu l-Kunsilli u lir-residenti li jkunu responsabbli għalihom.”

F’kull parti tal-pajjiż, il-Kunsilli Lokali huma rrabjati dwar kif dawn ir-regoli speċifiċi tal-ippjanar ġew imfassla, approvati u implimentati b’mod li jpoġġu n-negożju u l-flus qabel in-nies.

F’dan il-każ speċifiku ta’ San Ġiljan l-ispażju pubbliku li hu propost li jittieħed hu presentment utilizzat għall-parkeġġ.

Ipprova imxi fuq il-bankina fix-xatt bejn il-Gżira u tas-Sliema u ibqa’ għaddej max-Xatt ta’ Tigne. Tkun mixja diffiċli minħabba li n-negozji għamlu l-bankina tagħhom (bil-barka tal-awtoritajiet) u dak li hu tal-pubbliku ikkapparrawh: mhux biss il-bankina imma ukoll kważi kull spazju għall-parkeġġ.

Li tipprova timxi fuq il-ftit spazju li ħallew hi diffiċli ħafna għal kulħadd imma l-iktar għar-residenti li joqgħodu fl-appartamenti fis-sulari ta’ fuq dawn in-negozji. Jiffaċċjaw kull xorta ta’ diffikulta mill-ħruġ tal-iskart, li bilkemm ħallewlhom fejn dan jitpoġġa kif ukoll anke diffikulta biex idaħħlu fi djarhom għamara ta’ kull xorta. Dan hu r-riżultat tal-politika tal-Gvern tal-lum li tpoġġi l-interessi tan-negożju qabel l-interessi tan-nies: politika business-friendly. Infrastruttura sigura u aċċessibli għan-nies hi kontinwament mogħtija l-ġenb kemm mill-Gvern kif ukoll mill-awtoritajiet pubbliċi.

Jiena dejjem kont tal-fehma li l-Ippjanar għall-użu tal-art hu għan-nies. Sfortunatment dan ġie ttrasformat f’magna li tiffaċilita l-qliegħ tal-flus.

Għamel sew Albert Buttigieg, is-Sindku ta’ San Ġiljan, li sabbat saqajh u rreżista l-aħħar attentat tan-negozju biex bl-għajnuna tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jibqa’ jħarbat il-ħajja tan-nies. Kien ukoll f’waqtu l-intervent tal-President tal-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Kunsilli Lokali Mario Fava waqt il-konferenza stampa li fiha dan l-abbuż inġieb għall-attenzjoni tal-istampa fejn saret enfasi ukoll li dawn ir-regoli li jippermettu dawn l-abbużi jitwarrbu illum qabel għada.

Ilna ngħidu li wasal iż-żmien li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar teħtieġ li tiġi f’sensiha.

Kull żvilupp konness mal-ispazji pubbliċi fil-lokalitajiet tagħna għandu jsir biss kemm-il darba jkun hemm il-kunsens tal-Kunsilli Lokali tagħna. L-art pubblika għandha isservi l-ħtiġijiet tan-nies qabel dawk tan-negozji.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 22 ta’ Diċembru 2019

Public Land: private profits

The taking up of public land by catering establishments to extend their commercial activity beyond the limits of their property has been creating problems for residential communities all over the island.

The latest case, in Main Street St Julian’s, has developed after the Planning Authority issued a planning permit for the placing of chairs and tables in an area so far reserved for parking. The owner of the catering outlet acted on the approved planning permit without waiting for a decision from the Lands Authority as to whether it is permissible to use public land in the manner proposed.

Readers may remember that, some time back, the Lands Authority refused a similar application on The Strand in Gzira. In that specific case, a hotel had – on appeal from a Lands Authority decision – been refused permission to place chairs and tables on a platform to be constructed in lieu of parking spaces along a main road. The request for placing tables and chairs had been rejected as it was then proposed to take up two parking spaces and, in addition, due to safety concerns.

Notwithstanding this decision, taken more than 12 months ago by the Administrative Tribunal, it seems that the Planning Authority is still chained to business interests.

It is pertinent to point out that the planning policy document on outside catering areas in public spaces was drafted by an inter-Ministerial committee which specifically excluded representatives from out local communities. The interests of our local communities – residents as well as local councils – were completely ignored. Moreover, it is most probable that, when the matter was being considered by Cabinet, the Minister for Local Councils, Owen Bonnici, was fast asleep as otherwise he would undoubtedly have drawn to the attention of his colleagues that article 33 of the Local Councils Act deems it a function of local councils “to advise and, where applicable, be consulted by, any authority empowered to take any decisions directly or indirectly affecting the Council and the residents it is responsible for”.

All over the country, Local Councils are up in arms against the manner in which this specific planning policy was drafted, approved and is being implemented because instead of being people-friendly it is simply business-friendly.

It this specific case at St Julian’s the issue is with parking spaces. Try walking along the pavement in The Strand from Gżira to Sliema and then onto Tignè seafront. It would be a very difficult walk because business has taken over and transformed a public asset into a private asset. Navigating through the small amount of unoccupied space left available is a nightmare for pedestrians and it is even worse for residents living in residential units above ground floors that are occupied by catering establishments.

This is the result of a policy that puts business interests before the interests of residents: accessible and safe infrastructure for people do not feature in the policies of either the Government or the public authorities.

I have always been of the opinion that Planning is for People. Unfortunately it has been transformed into an easy money-making machine.

Albert Buttigieg, the Mayor of St Julian’s, was quite right in putting his foot down. It was likewise appropriate for Mario Fava, the President of the Local Councils Association, to participate in the press conference which drew attention of the press to this abusive action and to the need to scrap the offending policy forthwith.

It is about time that the Planning Authority is brought to its senses. Public open spaces in our localities should not be touched without the consent of local authorities: public land is for public use not for private profits.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 22 December 2019

L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet raqdet?

Id-dokument tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar intitolat Policy, Guidance and Standards for Outdoor Catering Areas on Public Open Space kien approvat f’Ġunju 2016. Permezz ta’ dan id-dokument hu regolat it-tqegħid ta’ siġġijiet u mwejjed fi spazji pubbliċi minn stabbilimenti li jservu l-ikel. Fid-daħla għal dan id-dokument jintqal li l-possibilità li spazju pubbliku jintuża b’dan il-mod jgħin fit-tisħiħ tal-valur ta’ dawn l-istabilimenti li jservu l-ikel.

It-triq li wasslet biex ikun konkluż u approvat dan id-dokument kienet waħda meqjusa bħala proċess ta’ simplifikazzjoni tal-proċess burokratiku, biex is-sidien tan-negozju jinqdew malajr u ma joqgħodux jaħlu ħafna ħin jiġru minn uffiċċju għall-ieħor biex jinkiseb permess! Kien hemm diversi entitajiet involuti. Però, l-iktar importanti minnhom, l-Kunsilli Lokali, ma kienux hemm. Dan hu rifless fid-dokument innifsu għax dan iħares l-interessi tan-negozju iżda ftit li xejn jagħti kaz tal-interessi tar-residenti.

Id-dokument jipprovdi illi meta jkunu ikkunsidrati applikazzjonijiet għal permessi biex stabilimenti li jservu l-ikel jokkupaw spazju pubbliku b’imwejjed u siggijiet għandu jkun assigurat li jitħallew passaggi mhux okkupati biex minnhom ikun jista’ jgħaddi l-pubbliku mingħajr diffikulta. Għandu anke jkun assigurat li l-aċċess għal propjetà ta’ terzi kif ukoll għal servizzi pubbliċi jitħalla liberu. Id-dokument jinsisti ukoll li fuq bankini f’toroq li minnhom jgħaddi traffiku b’veloċità kbira m’għandhomx jinħarġu permessi għall-imwejjed u siġġijiet.

Minkejja dan kollu, ipprova imxi fuq il-bankina fix-Xatt tal-Gżira fid-direzzjoni lejn Tas-Sliema u mbagħad ipprova kompla għaddej lejn ix-Xatt ta’ Tignè. Ikollok diffikultà konsiderevoli biex tgħaddi għax il-ħwienet, bil-barka tal-awtoritajiet, irnexxielhom jittrasforma propjetà pubblika f’parti integrali min-negozju tagħhom. Jirnexxielek tgħaddi b’diffikultà kbira. Għar-residenti li joqgħodu fil-flats fuq dawn in-negozji id-diffikultà hi ferm ikbar.

Dan hu r-riżultat ta’ politika li tpoġġi l-interess tan-negożji qabel l-interess tar-residenti. Infrastruttura aċċessibli u sikura m’hiex prijorità fil-politika tal-Gvern u l-awtoritajiet pubbliċi.

Riċentement, fl-aħħar, l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet ħadet id-deċiżjoni tajba li tirrifjuta applikazzjoni mis-sidien ta’ lukanda fix-Xatt tal-Gżira biex zona riżervata għall-parking tkun tista’ tintuża ħalli fuqha jitpoġġew siġġijiet u mwejjed li minnhom isservi l-ikel.

Meta is-sidien tal-lukanda ikkontestaw id-deċiżjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet huma ngħataw deċiżjoni mit-Tribunal Amministrattiv li bħalha ma tantx ikollna. F’din id-deċiżjoni ġie emfasizzat li l-politika dwar it-tqegħid tal-imwejjed u s-siġġijiet fi spazji pubbliċi biex minnhom jisserva l-ikel tipprojibixxi li dawn jitqegħdu fil-viċinanzi ta’ toroq arterjali inkella minnfejn jgħaddi traffiku b’veloċità sostanzjali. In-nies, qalet id-deċiżjoni, għandhom ikunu mħarsa mit-traffiku, mill-istorbju kif ukoll minn arja mniġġsa.

L-inċidenti fil-fatt iseħħu. Madwar disa’ xhur ilu, f’Lulju 2018, Olandiż ta’ 25 sena li kien miexi għall-affari tiegħu tul ix-Xatt ta’ San Ġiljan ġie mtajjar minn karozza li kienet għaddejja b’veloċità esaġerata u li kienet misjuqa minn żgħażugħ ta’ 20 sena li skond ma kien rappurtat kien qabeż il-limitu permissibli ta’ alkoħol li seta jixrob. L-Olandiż miet. Oħrajn weġġgħu. Saret ukoll ħsara konsiderevoli.

Minkejja dan kollu għadna nistennew lill-Awtorità tal-Artijiet biex tieħu passi f’diversi lokalitajiet biex fejn fil-passat inħarġu permessi għal imwejjed u siġġijiet fuq bankini u spazji pubbliċi oħra li huma viċin wisq ta’ toroq li minnhom jgħaddi traffiku b’veloċita kbira, dawn il-permessi jkun ikkunsidrati mill-ġdid u jiġu rtirati. Jekk l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet ser iddum wisq ma tiċċaqlaq ser ikollha terfa’ r-responsabbiltà għall-ewwel karozza li tispiċċa tkaxkar filliera mwejjed bin-nies madwarhom.

Qatt mhu tard biex tikkoreġi l-iżbalji. Żbalji li setgħu faċilment ġew evitati kieku ġew ikkonsultati l-Kunsilli Lokali.

Meta ser tiċċaqlaq l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 7 t’April 2019

 

When will the Lands’ Authority act?

The Planning Authority’s Policy, Guidance and Standards for Outdoor Catering Areas on Public Open Space was approved in June 2016. This policy document regulates the placing of tables and chairs on the part of catering outlets in public open spaces. The foreword to the policy document considered that the provision of such areas was a “value-adding asset for catering establishments”.

The process leading to the adoption of this document was considered as one of simplification of the administrative process, providing a one-stop-shop and various public entities were involved in its formulation. However, the only entities of any relevance to the matter, Local Councils, were absent. This absence is very evident in the document produced as this is certainly business-friendly, but nowhere does it consider the interests of residents.

There is a proviso in the policy document that, when considering whether to permit outdoor catering areas in a public open space, passageways should not be obstructed. Nor must access to third party properties or public services be in any way obstructed when approving these outdoor catering areas.

Reading through the document, one notes that “Outdoor Catering Areas shall not normally be permitted on pedestrian public footpaths, which are either adjacent to arterial roads or located in close proximity to fast-moving traffic.”

Notwithstanding all this, try walking along the pavement in The Strand from Gżira to Sliema and then onto Tigne Seafront. It would be a very difficult walk because business has taken over and transformed a public asset into a private asset. Navigating through the small amount of unoccupied space left available is a nightmare for pedestrians and it is even worse for residents living in the residential units above the ground floor occupied by catering establishments.

This is the result of a policy that puts business interests before the interests of residents: accessible and safe infrastructure for people do not feature in the policies of either the Government or the public authorities.

Recently, and at last, the Lands Authority has taken the right step in refusing an application submitted by the owners of a Hotel on The Strand, Gżira, to encroach on a number of parking spaces in order to provide an al-fresco extension to the Hotel. When the hotel’s owners contested the Lands Authority’s decision, they were, at last, faced with some common-sense in the decision delivered by the Appeals Tribunal which  emphasised that the policy regarding outdoor catering areas prohibited any platforms adjacent to arterial roads or in close proximity to fast-moving traffic. Patrons had to be safeguarded from traffic, noise and air pollution.

Accidents do actually happen. Around nine months ago, in July 2018, a 25-year old Dutchman, who was walking along the St Julian’s promenade, was hit by an over-speeding car driven by a 20-year-old who was reported as being well over the drink-drive limit. The Dutchman died in hospital and others were injured. Street furniture was damaged.

Notwithstanding the above, we still await action on the part of the Lands Authority to clear pavements and parking spaces in various areas of outdoor catering facilities that have, in the past, been permitted close to fast-moving traffic. If the Lands Authority takes much longer to act it will have to shoulder responsibility for the consequences of an over-speeding car ploughing through a row of al fresco diners.

It is never too late to learn from past mistakes and all this could have been avoided if Local Councils been consulted.

When will the Lands Authority act?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 7 April 2019

Is-sussidjarjetà fil-Kostituzzjoni

 

Nhar il-Ġimgħa delegazzjoni ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika iltaqgħet ma’ Silvio Parnis, Segretarju Parlamentari għall-Gvern Lokali, biex miegħu niddiskutu l-White Paper ippubblikata mill-Gvern dwar ir-riforma tal-Kunsilli Lokali.

Waqt id-diskussjoni għaddejna lil Silvio Parnis l-ideat tagħna dwar din il-White Paper. Għamilna tmien proposti b’dik ewlenija tiffoka dwar il-ħtieġa li jkun aċċettat u implimentat il-prinċipju tas-sussidjarjetà. Il-prinċipju tas-sussidjarjetà jeħtieġ li jifforma parti mill-kostituzzjoni biex iservi ta’ linja gwida għall-amminstrazzjoni pubblika tal-pajjiż u allura jħares b’qawwa l-ħidma tal-Gvern Lokali u Reġjonali.

It-trattati Ewropej diġa għamlu dan il-pass meta addottaw il-prinċipju tas-sussidjarjetà bħala prinċipju bażiku li jirregola r-relazzjonijiet kumplessi bejn l-istituzzjonijiet Ewropej u l-istati membri tal-Unjoni Ewropea.

Il-prinċipju tas-sussidjarjetà hu l-iktar żviluppat fl-istati hekk imsejħa Ġermaniċi tal-Ewropa u ċjoè l-Ġermanja, l-Awstrija u l-Iżvizzera, liema pajjiżi għandhom qafas ta’ Gvern Lokali u Reġjonali b’saħħtu u bħala riżultat ta’ dan ir-responsabbiltajiet u l-poteri huma mifruxa.

L-amministrazzjoni pubblika teħtieġ li tkun l-iktar viċin possibli taċ-ċittadin: min jamministra u jiddeċiedi għandu jkun l-iktar qrib possibli ta’ min hu effettwat mid-deċiżjonijiet. L-eċċezzjonijiet għandhom ikunu rari u altru milli ġustifikati. Jacques Delors, li kien President tal-Kummissjoni Ewropeja, hu ikkwota li qal li : is-sussidjarjetà ma tillimitax biss l-intervent ta’ l-ogħla awtorità f’dak li kull persuna jew komunità tista’ tiddeċiedi hi innifisha, imma hi ukoll dover ta’ din l-istess awtorità biex taġixxi b’mod li lil din il-persuna jew komunità tgħinhom biex iwettqu l-ħolm tagħhom.”

Dan jitfa dawl fuq żewġ aspetti tas-sussidjarjetà. L-ewwel li ħlief f’każijiet eċċezzjonali l-ogħla awtorità ma jindaħalx fejn ma jesgħahiex fil-ħidma ta’ awtoritajiet oħra taħtha. It-tieni : l-obbligu li tgħin biex tinkoraġixxi l-kisba tal-awtonomija.

Alternattiva Demokratika qed tipproponi li l-prinċipju tas-sussidjarjetà jkun aċċettat bħala prinċipju kostituzzjonali li jagħti gwida lill-amministrazzjoni pubblika u dan bħala l-ewwel pass għat-twettieq ta’ proposta radikali oħra: id-diċentralizzazzjoni tal-ħidma operattiva tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika lill-awtoritajiet lokali u reġjonali, bil-Gvern iżomm f’idejh il-funzjonijiet regolatorji. Dan jista’ faċilment jitwettaq fuq il-mudell ta’ Għawdex bid-differenza li jitmexxew minn politiku reġjonali flok minn politiku nazzjonali.

Id-dokument bil-proposti ppubblikat minn Alternattiva Demokratika jittratta diversi temi oħrajn bħalissa ċentrali fid-dibattitu dwar ir-riforma proposta tal-gvern lokali u reġjonali.

Is-servizz ta’ kull kunsillier lokali għandu jkun apprezzat, mhux biss is-servizz li jagħti s-Sindku! Il-proposta li l-uffiċċju tas-Sindku jkun wieħed full-time ma hemmx ħtieġa tagħha. Hemm diversi raġunijiet għal dan. Bħala riżultat ta’ din il-proposta dawk kollha li ma jistgħux jieqfu mill-impieg normali tagħhom ikunu esklużi milli joffru s-servizz tagħhom fil-kariga ta’ Sindku. Dan billi tali proposta teffettwa b’mod qawwi l-possibilità li huma jirrintegraw ruħhom fl-impieg meta jintemmilhom il-perjodu tal-ħatra tagħhom. Bla dubju jinħolqu ukoll kunflitti bla bżonn mas-Segretarju Eżekuttiv li l-liġi illum tikkunsidrah bħala l-uffiċjal amministrattiv ewlieni tal-kunsill lokali.

Flok ma tiffoka fuq is-Sindku r-riforma għandha tinkoraġixxi iktar il-ħidma kolleġjali fil-lokalitajiet tagħna b’mod li twassal għal sehem iktar attiv ta’ kull kunsillier fit-tmexxija tal-lokalitajiet. Il-proposta li qed jagħmel il-Gvern li kull kunsillier jingħata responsabbiltajiet hi tajba. Saret diġa minn Alternattiva Demokratika fil-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar il-kunsilli lokali li saret fl-2008. Waħedha imma mhiex biżżejjed. Trid tkun segwita minn pass ieħor: li kull kunsillier jingħata onorarju raġjonevoli. Din m’għandiex tkun materja riżervata għas-Sindku.

Il-prinċipju tas-sussidjarjetà għandu japplika ukoll biex materji ambjentali jkunu regolati minn dawk li l-iktar jeffettwawhom mill-viċin. Li jkunu nvoluti sewwa l-kunsilli lokali u reġjonali f’dawn id-deċiżjonijiet għandu jwassal għal deċiżjonijiet aħjar minn dawk li għandna illum. Imma dwar dan, darb’oħra.

Il-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar ir-riforma tal-gvern lokali u reġjonali issa ġiet fit-tmiem. Nistennew il-posizzjoni li ser jieħu l-Gvern dwar in-numru mhux żgħir ta’ proposti li saru. Nittama li jittieħdu bis-serjetà.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 2 ta’ Diċembru 2018

Subsidiarity in the Constitution

 

On Friday, a delegation from Alternattiva Demokratika met Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government Silvio Parnis to discuss the White Paper published by the government concerning the reform of local government.

During the discussion, we handed Mr Silvio Parnis our response to the White Paper, a response that contains eight proposals – the central one focusing on the need to accept and implement the principle of subsidiarity. The principle of subsidiarity needs to be constitutionally entrenched in order to serve as a guiding light to the country’s public administration and, consequently, protect local and regional government.

The European treaties have already entrenched the principle of subsidiarity as a basic tenet, regulating the complex relationship between European institutions and EU member states.

The principle of subsidiarity, mostly developed in the so-called Germanic states in Europe- namely Germany, Austria and Switzerland – which states have a robust local and regional arrangement, as a result of which responsibilities and the corresponding authority is spread.

Public administration should be as close to the citizen as possible: those administering and making decisions should be as close as possible to those who feel the impact of such decisions. Departure from this basic rule should only occur for reasons of absolute necessity. Former President of the European Commission Jacques Delors is quoted as having stated that subsidiarity is not only a limit on the intervention of a higher authority in the affairs of a person or community that can act itself, it is also a duty of this authority to act in relation to that person or community in such a way as to give it the means to fulfil itself.

This brings to the fore two aspects of subsidiarity. Firstly, that of non-interference by the higher authority in the workings of the lower authority, except in exceptional cases and, secondly, the duty to help – that is help that encourages autonomy.

Alternattiva Demokratika is proposing that the principle of subsidiarity be accepted as a guiding constitutional principle for the public administration as a first step to implementing another radical proposal: the decentralisation of the operational functions of public administration to the regions and local authorities with government retaining the regulatory functions. This can be easily carried out on the Gozo model, although with a regional elected politician replacing the current national politician in charge.

The document published by Alternattiva Demokratika deals with various other matters currently being debated as part of the proposed local and regional government reform.

The service of all elected local councillors should be appreciated, not just that rendered by the Mayor! The proposal to transform the office of Mayor in our localities into a full-time role is uncalled for and a number of reasons come to mind. It would automatically exclude all those who cannot take a sabbatical from their employment as it would have a long-term negative effect on their ability to adequately reintegrate when their mayoral term of office comes to an end. It would also create unnecessary conflict with the Executive Secretary, currently defined by the Local Council legislation as the chief executive of Local Councils.

Instead of singling out the Mayor, the local council reform should encourage a more collegial leadership, with all councillors being more actively involved in the running of the localities. The proposal in the White Paper to codify the duty to assign responsibilities to each elected councillor – a proposal first made by Alternattiva Demokratika and highlighted during the public consultation of 2008 on local council reform, is a good first step. It has to be followed by ensuring that all councillors receive a reasonable honorarium: this should not be a reserved for the Mayor alone.

The principle of subsidiarity should also be applied to regulating environmental issues closer to base. Involving regional and local councils in these decisions could lead to much better decisions than those we currently face. But more about that next time.

The public consultation has now been concluded. We await the reaction of the government to the large number of proposals made. Hopefully, these proposals will be seriously considered.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 December 2018

Taming the residential rental market

The proposals in the White Paper entitled Renting as a Housing Alternative is a breath of fresh air in the long overdue debate on the need to regulate the rental market for residential property.

As rightly pointed out in the White Paper, the Maltese community has developed an allergy to local rent regulation as, when it existed, it was generally too rigid. It oscillated from strict over-protection of the tenant to absolutely no controls.

For a very long time, we also ended up with temporary legislative provisions enacted during the war which were over-stretched too long after their useful life. In effect, this reluctance over the years to introduce proper landlord and tenant legislation effectively killed off the rental market for a long time and it is only as a result of this fact that Malta is a nation of home-owners: it would not have developed in this way, had the post-war governments got their priorities right.

The proposals put forward by the White Paper are generally a good step forward. If properly implemented, they will go a long way towards laying the foundations for a stable residential rental market based on adequate (and necessary) protection of both landlords and tenants. A serious debate is, however essential in order to avoid creating unnecessary difficulties.

The rental market is currently in a state of anarchy, where the only applicable rules that apply are those of the jungle – where might is right – because, so far, the state has abdicated its duties to protect the vulnerable from the excesses of the market. Subject to the three exceptions listed in the White Paper (temporary foreign workers, tertiary education students and temporary leases for persons repairing and/or upgrading their own homes) establishing the period of one year as the minimum length of a residential lease addresses the abuse currently resulting from short-term leases. Likewise, establishing as a duty of landlords to give a suitable notice period of their intention not to renew a lease is right and proper. It is in everybody’s interest that everyone is aware of their rights and duties, as this will lead to better planning on all sides and, consequently, to a more stable and civil relationship between landlords and tenants.

It was also about time that the deposit requested on the signing of lease agreements are properly regulated – both as to the actual need for a deposit, its quantum and the circumstances in which it would be reasonable for it not to be refunded. This is a subject about which countless stories of actual abuse on the part of both landlords and tenants abound and regulation of it will bring some sense into the subject.

It is also right that variations to the rent to be paid during the period of the lease are properly regulated,  thereby defining the limits of permissibility. Too strict a limitation, however, will lead to a preponderance of short-term lease agreements because the market prefers frequent rental revisions that enable the rent payable to be as close as possible to the full market value.

Registering lease agreements is a step forward. It will not only lead to a check to  ensure that agreements comply with the new legislation but will also have the potential to ensure that tax evasion associated with rent paid is history.

When considering the White Paper’s proposals, one should avoid introducing unnecessary exceptions as these will only serve to stultify the objective of the exercise: the development of a stable rental market for residential properties. In particular, the proposal in the White Paper to justify the premature determination of a lease agreement, when a landlord needs the property for his own use or in order to sell with vacant possession or else to redevelop it, is uncalled for. Given that the residential leases in question will most probably be short-term leases anyway (between one and five years) no harm will be done to anyone if the landlord patiently awaits until the end of the lease before taking back possession.

The current proposals, with the one exception referred to above, are an essential next step to help the residential rental market develop properly. On their own, however, they are insufficient because they must be supported by a Housing Authority that proactively addresses the needs of the vulnerable when facing the market, which is eager to fleece those who meekly submit themselves as they see no way of becoming homeowners!

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 22 October 2018