The Guardian of Future Generations

The politics of sustainable development advocates a long-term view. The familiar Brundtland definition put forward in Our Common Future – the concluding report of the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987 – is clear enough: meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations to meet their own needs. (Gro Harlem Brundtland is a former Norwegian Social Democrat Prime Minister.)

This definition has been quoted quite often, but when it comes to its implementation, matters generally develop on a different path. Short-term needs take over, making a mockery of all declarations in favour of sustainable development. Way back in 1987,
Brundtland sought to drawn our attention to this. In fact, her report emphasises the fact that:  “We act as we do because we can get away with it: future generations do not vote; they have no political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions.”

This was the reason why, on behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika, way back in 2012 I  proposed the setting up of a Guardian of Future Generations – a proposal that had originally been presented by Malta at the preparatory meetings for the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and which was taken on board by Mario de Marco, then Environment Minister.

The position was set up as part of the provisions of the Sustainable Development Act of 2012 but unfortunately, since day one, not enough resources have been made available in order that the Guardian of Future Generations may act today on behalf of a better tomorrow.

Chev. Maurice Mizzi, who currently heads the Guardian of Future Generations, recently issued a statement which gave the thumbs down to the dB-ITS project at Pembroke. Chev. Mizzi emphasised that it was the lack of a masterplan for the area that justified applying the breaks to the project at this point in time. He further stated that there was a need for all authorities to place more value on the views of the common citizens, so that they are empowered to ensure that their rights, as well as their quality of life, are properly protected.

Without in any way diminishing the positive step taken by the Guardian of Future Generations in respect of the dB-ITS project, I would respectfully point out that we have not heard much more from that end. The list of responsibilities of the Guardian is long and if acted upon, would make the Guardian much more than a post of symbolic value, as described by the local press recently.

The list of responsibilities of the Guardian are grouped in the legislation under ten headings ranging from the promotion of sustainable development advocacy across national policy making, legislation and practices, to encouraging sustainable development within the private sector right and up to the need to direct the focus of the Office of the Prime Minister to safeguard future generations.

After six years of existence it is about time that the Guardian of Future Generations stands up on its feet and speaks out loud and clear on all matters that will have an impact on future generations. Unfortunately, so far it has rarely spoken up, apart from regarding the db-ITS project statement. This is certainly not enough. I have no doubt that the Guardian would like to do more, but it cannot because it has been deprived of resources – which has been the situation since it was created.

The Guardian of Future Generations has a lot of potential which is as yet undeveloped. The time for taking action is ripe.

 

published in The Independent on Sunday : 14 October 2018

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Ir-referendum : dawk li ma vvutawx

referendum counting process

 

Smajt u qrajt diversi kummenti ta’ tmaqdir kontra dawk li ma ġabrux il-vot, inkella li ma vvutawx. Dawn il-kummenti fil-fehma tiegħi naħseb li huma inġusti. Għandna nirrispettaw l-għażla li għamlu dawn il-votanti wkoll.

Dawk li ma ġabrux il-vot, inkella kien għandhom u m’għamlux użu minn għandhom ir-raġunijiet tagħhom biex waslu għal din id-deċiżjoni. Raġunijiet li probabbilment ma naqblux magħhom, imma li għandhom kull dritt għalihom.

Hemm uħud minn dawn il-votanti li ma jaqblux mar-referendum fil-prinċipju. Dawn jidhrilhom li huwa l-Gvern, direttament inkella  permezz tal-Parlament , li għandu jieħu d-deċiżjonijiet. L-idea tal-parteċipazzjoni demokratika tal-poplu, għal dawn il-persuni, għaldaqstant, hi waħda limitata. Għax għalihom inti tista’ taqbel jew ma taqbilx mal-pakkett politiku kollu kif imfisser fil-manifest elettorali tal-partiti politiċi fl-elezzjoni ġenerali. Bejn l-elezzjonijiet, imbagħad, inti ma’ jkollokx vuċi.

Fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom, dawk li ma vvutawx dehrilhom li la kellhom jivvutaw IVA u l-anqas setgħu jivvutaw LE.  Probabbilment li waslu għal din il-konklużjoni għaliex ħadd ma ikkonvinċihom fuq l-utilità demokratika tal-parteċipazzjoni tagħhom. Inkella għax ma interessahomx li jsegwu d-dibattitu. Inkella dehrilhom li ma kellhomx ħin x’jaħlu dwar l-għasafar.

Kienet x’kienet ir-raġuni biex madwar 25% tal-votanti Maltin ma għamlux użu mid-dritt li jivvutaw għandna l-obbligu li nirrispettaw id-deċiżjoni tagħhom.

Aħna poplu li nħobbu nivvutaw. Għandna għatx kbir u kontinwu biex nipparteċipaw fid-deċiżjonijiet li jieħu dan il-pajjiż. Għalhekk ħafna ddejqu li 25% tal-votanti kellhom opportunità u ma għamlux użu minnha.

Imma għandna ukoll ikollna sodisfazzjoni illi fir-referendum abrogattiv tal-11 t’April ipparteċipaw 75% ta’ dawk li kellhom dritt. Fid-dinja demokratika dan hu persentaġġ għoli ħafna  parteċipazzjoni, iktar u iktar meta wieħed iqis li s-suġġett (il-ħarsien tal-għasafar fir-rebbiegħa) mhuwiex meqjus bħala ta’ xi importanza kbira mill-parti l-kbira tan-nies. Xi snin ilu, fl-Italja, f’referendum abrogattiv simili pparteċipaw madwar 42% tal-votanti, inqas mill-kworum rikjest ta’ 50%.

Imma l-kotra tal-votanti Maltin ipparteċipat għax għarfet illi din hi għodda demokratika importanti. Darba oħra, forsi, jkunu konvinti iktar votanti biex jipparteċipaw. Jiddependi minna jekk id-demokrazija tagħna għandhiex tibqa’ ħajja.

11 April : The empowerment of civil society

sample ballot

 

This first abrogative referendum campaign is about much more than birds. It is about the empowerment of civil society in Malta. Yet those who oppose the abrogative referendum have opted to  sow fear.  As it is only through fear that they envisage that it is possible to wreck these first steps of civil society in reclaiming its rightful role in the decision-taking process.

Last Thursday it was made known that Sandro Mangion, the Editor-in-Chief at Union Print was threatened as a result of expressing himself in favour of a NO vote on 11 April. Just three days earlier he had written a post on his facebook wall to state that after much deliberation he had arrived at the conclusion that he should support the birds and vote NO  in Malta’s first abrogative referendum.

Sandro Mangion on 23 March published the reasons which led him to conclude that supporting the NO vote on 11 April is the way forward. In a 430 word post, Mangion explains that his primary motivation in arriving at such a conclusion is the need to ensure that during spring all Maltese families have an unrestricted access to the countryside.

Sandro Mangion explains that his decision was the result of a long process through which he examined and discussed all the available information on the issue. Building development, states Mangion, has already gobbled up a substantial area of what was previously countryside.  It is not fair, states Mangion, that due to  the spring hunting season the remaining available public land in the countryside is not accessible to all Maltese families during all of spring .

Spring is the best time of the year when the countryside is in all its splendour.  All Maltese families, including the families of hunters, should have unrestricted access to the countryside during this time of the year, emphasises Sandro Mangion.  Access to the countryside in spring should not be dependent on possession of a shotgun.

Some hunters, added Mangion shoot at anything that flies. Even if few in number, these hunters  are a serious threat to the survival of a number of species of birds which migrate over Malta. Abolishing spring hunting would make it easier to enforce the law as illegalities would no longer be camouflaged by what is permitted hunting in spring.

Sandro Mangion emphasises that he is not against legal hunting during the rest of the year.

He concludes his arguments by stating that what was acceptable yesterday is no longer acceptable today. It is quite normal for laws and regulations to change (gradually) to reflect society’s development.

Sandro Mangion’s arguments are fair and objective. He develops his arguments in deep respect towards the hunting community and the YES campaign. No insults. No threats. Just logical arguments which explain why he arrived at a conclusion that he should cast his vote in support of the abolition of spring hunting in Malta.

On Thursday Mangion published the first words of the threat which he received: “If the referendum on the hobby that my family members and I hold dearest goes through, then YOU will be the first person that we…”  the message read.

This is a reaction which denotes an allergy to reason. This is an immature reaction from someone who is so accustomed to bullying his way through (directly or through his representatives).

Sandro Mangion was not the only person supporting the NO vote on 11 April to be insulted (and threatened). Earlier during the week obscene language against Moira Delia was scribbled on a wall in the scenic Ramla Bay valley in Gozo.

Unfortunately the hunting community in Malta is accustomed to bullying its way through. This has been happening repeatedly throughout the years when they succeeded in holding the Parliamentary political parties on a leash.

The abrogative referendum of  11 April is the reply of Maltese civil society to the bullying techniques employed by the hunting lobby to date. It is the first time that civil society has got together to coordinate a reply to arrogance through the ultimate democratic tool.

It is a process that will inevitably lead to the empowerment of Maltese civil society which is slowly realising that it can act decisively to reverse unacceptable decisions taken by Parliament and/or Government such as permitting spring hunting.

A majority in favour of a NO vote, abolishing spring hunting in Malta, will ensure that birds are protected in spring. It will also send a clear message that Malta cares about the environment.

Civil society in Malta will come of age on 11 April.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 March 2015

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

Malta’s EU story : the environment

JOINT SEMINAR BY THE OFFICE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT IN MALTA AND THE TODAY PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUTE

Friday 3 October 2014

address by Carmel Cacopardo

eu-flag

 

Since Malta’s EU accession there has been a marked contrast of interest in issues related to environmental governance.

EU accession has generally had a positive influence on Maltese environmental governance.  A flow of EU funds has been applied to various areas which Maltese governments throughout the years did not consider worthy of investing in.  On the one hand we had governments “occasionally” applying the brakes, seeking loopholes, real or imaginary,  in order to ensure that lip service  is not accidentally translated into meaningful action. On the other hand civil society has, in contrast, and  as a result of EU accession identified a new source of empowerment, at times ready to listen, however slow to react and at times ineffective.

Land use planning and abusive hunting/trapping have for many years been the main items on the local environment agenda. Water, air quality, climate change, alternative energy, biodiversity, noise, light pollution, organic agriculture, waste management and sustainable development have rightfully claimed a place in the agenda during the past 10 years. Some more frequently, others occasionally.

Land use planning has been on the forefront of civil society’s environmental agenda for many years. Abusive land use planning in the 80s fuelled and was fuelled by corruption. It led to various public manifestations in favour of the environment then equated almost  exclusively with the impacts of land development. Many such manifestations ended up in violence. Whilst this may be correctly described as history, it is occasionally resurrected  as in the recent public manifestation of hunters protesting against the temporary closure of the autumn hunting season.

Whilst hunting and land use planning may still be the main items on Malta’ environmental agenda the ecological deficit which we face is substantially deeper and wider.  It is generally the result of myopic policies.

For example it is well known that public transport has been practically ignored for the past 50 years, including the half-baked reform of 2010. This is the real cause of Malta’s very high car ownership (around 750 vehicles per 1000 population). As the Minister of Finance rightly exclaimed during a pre-budget public consultation exercise earlier this week traffic congestion is a major issue of concern, not just environmental but also economic. Impacting air quality, requiring additional land uptake to construct new roads or substantial funds to improve existing junctions traffic congestion is a drain on our resources. May I suggest that using EU funds to improve our road network  will delay by several years the shifting of custom to public transport, when we will have one which is worthy of such a description.

The mismanagement of water resources over the years is another important issue. May I suggest that millions of euros in EU funds have been misused  to institutionalise the mismanagement of water resources. This has been done through the construction of a network of underground tunnels to channel stormwater to the sea.  The approval of such projects is only possible when one  has no inkling of what sustainable management of water resources entails. Our ancestors had very practical and sustainable solutions: they practised water harvesting through the construction of water cisterns beneath each and every residence, without exception. If we had followed in their footsteps the incidence of stormwater in our streets, sometimes having the smell of raw sewage due to an overflowing public sewer, would be substantially less. And in addition we would also avoid overloading our sewage purification plants.

Our mismanagement of water resources also includes the over-extraction of ground water and the failure to introduce an adequate system of controls throughout the years such that  most probably there will be no more useable water in our water table very shortly. In this respect the various deadlines established in the Water Framework Directive would be of little use.

Whilst our Cabinet politicians have developed a skill of trying to identify loopholes in the EU’s acquis (SEA and Birds Directive) they also follow bad practices in environmental governance.

It is known that fragmentation of environmental responsibilities enables politicians to pay lip service to environmental governance but then creating real and practical obstacles in practice.

Jean Claude Juncker, the President elect of the EU Commission has not only diluted environmental governance by assigning responsibility for the environment together with that for fisheries and maritime policy as well as assigning energy with climate change. He has moreover hived off a number of responsibilities from the DG Environment to other DGs namely Health and Enterprise.

In Malta our bright sparks have anticipated his actions. First on the eve of EU accession they linked land use planning with the Environment in an Authority called MEPA with the specific aim of suffocating the environment function in an authority dominated by development. Deprived of human resources including the non-appointment of a Director for the Environment for long stretches of time, adequate environmental governance could never really get off the ground.

Now we will shortly be presented with the next phase: another fragmentation by the demerger of the environment and planning authority.

In the short time available I have tried to fill in the gaps in the environment section of the document produced by The Today Public Policy Institute. The said document rightly emphasises various achievements. It does however state that prior to EU accession the environment was not given its due importance by local policy makers. Allow me to submit that much still needs to be done and that the progress made to date is insufficient.

Is-sinifikat tal-44,376 firma miġbura

empowerment

Il-firem inġabru u l-Kummissjoni Elettorali qed tagħmel il-verifiki tagħha. Dawn huma l-ewwel passi fil-proċess twil li jrid iwassal għal referendum abrogattiv biex il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa tieqaf darba għal dejjem.

Il-firem li inġabru huma talba biex dak li ma kienx kapaċi jiddeċiedi dwaru l-Parlament niddeciduh aħna l-votanti. Għax fid-demokrazija tagħna li għadha qed tiżviluppa jeżisti ukoll dan id-dritt. Ilu jeżisti imma sal-lum ħadd ma irnexxilu jagħmel użu minnu.

Tajjeb li iktar Maltin jirrejalizzaw illi l-Gvern m’huwiex omnipotenti. Hemm affarijiet (mhux kollox) li dwarhom il-posizzjoni tal-Gvern tista’ tiġi mibdula bis-saħħa tal-għodda tar-referendum.

Tajjeb li dan nifhmuh u napprezzawh. Dawk li iffirmaw il-petizzjoni biex tispiċċa l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa dan fehmuh u qed jagħtu kontribut kbir biex kull wieħed minna jirrealizza li l-poter finali mhux Kastilja imma fil-vot tagħna.

Dawk l-44,376 persuna li iffirmaw il-petizzjoni qed jagħtu dan il-messaġġ ċar. Dak li taħseb inti li qed taqra huwa importanti daqs dak li jaħseb il-Prim Ministru.

Grazzi mill-ġdid. Il-grazzi mhux ġej biss mingħand l-għaqdiet kollha li jiffurmaw il-Koalizzjoni għall-Abolizzjoni tal-Kaċċa fir-Rebbiegħa. Jgħidulkom grazzi ukoll l-għasafar. Imma għad tgħidilkom grazzi Malta kollha ukoll.

Għax hu bis-saħħa tagħkom li ħafna oħrajn għad jirreajalizzaw li għandhom is-saħħa f’idejhom u għal ħafna snin ma tawx kaz.