“Tradituri” f’nofshom

Waqt li n-Nazzjonalisti huma ppreokkupati bit-“tradituri” f’nofshom, it-tmexxija tal-partit tidher li hi inkwetata li l-partit hu maqtugħ mir-realtá, kif fil-fatt hu!

Il-Partit Nazzjonalista mhux ser ikun iktar partit ta’ elitisti – dawk b’imneħirhom imxammar – iddikjara Dottor Adrian Delia. Wieħed dejjem jista’ jipprova jagħmel dan: ir-riżultati jkun jista’ jarahom kulħadd.

Il-Partit Nazzjonalista, qal Dottor Adrian Delia, għandu joffri leħen għan-nies f’kull qasam tal-ħajja. Inkluż forsi, vuċi għat-“tradituri” ukoll!

It-taqlib li għaddej minnu l-PN hu kbir. Qed ngħid taqlib, mhux tibdil. Prinċipalment passi lura. Huwa ċar li l-ftit passi żgħar ‘il-quddiem li saru taħt it-tmexxija ta’ Simon Busuttil ftit li xejn kellhom aċċettazzjoni mill-membri tal-PN fil-livelli kollha. Bosta jidher li qisuhom bħala imposizzjoni: il-politika tal-inklussivitá għadha mhix parti mil-lingwaġġ aċċettat mill-PN u wisq inqas mill-politika mħaddna. Diversi fil-PN, sfortunatament, għadhom imxennqin għall-għeruq fundamentalisti.

Kultant nisimgħu xi leħen maħnuq ifakkarna fl-għajta tal-bieraħ “religio et patria”. Għajta li tistona f’kuntrast mal-pluraliżmu etiku u l-identitá Ewropea mħaddna minn sezzjonijiet dejjem jikbru tas-soċjetá Maltija illum. Jidher li l-PN ma tgħallem xejn mill-esperjenzi riċenti tiegħu b’mod partikolari mid-diskors u l-atteġġjamenti fundamentalisti tat-tmexxija ta’ Lawrence Gonzi.

L-ebda partit politku ma jista’ jingħalaq fih innifsu u ma jagħtix kaz ta’ dak li qed jiġri madwaru. Il-valuri tas-soċjetá li qed naħdmu fiha qegħdin fi stat ta’ trasformazzjoni kontinwa, kultant mgħaġġla ħafna, u dan għandu jkun rifless ukoll fil-mod li bih nagħmlu l-poltika. Il-PN illum qed iħallas il-prezz politiku għax fil-passat riċenti dan ma għarfux. Jidher li anke fil-preżent hu deċiż li jibqa’ għaddej fl-istess triq żbaljata.

Instigat minn persuni bħal Edwin Vassallo, il-Membru Parlamentari mill-Mosta li bħal Don Quixote kontinwament ikollu viżjonijiet ta’ mtieħen ineżistenti, il-PN tilef opportunitá oħra meta l-Parlament kellu quddiemu l-abbozz ta’ liġi dwar il-vjolenza domestika. Kif spjegali wieħed mill-Membri Parlamentari tal-PN, il-grupp parlamentari tal-PN kien diġa ivvota favur l-abbozz ta’ liġi dwar id-Vjolenza Domestika kemm fl-istadju ta’ l-ewwel qari kif ukoll fl-istadju tat-tieni qari. Kien biss meta Edwin Vassallo tfixkel minħabba l-viżjoni tal-imtieħen tiegħu li nbidel il-ħsieb u kulħadd fil-grupp parlamentari telaq għal rieħu.

Issa l-PN għamel pass ieħor. Ittimbra “tradituri” lil dawk li kellhom il-kuraġġ li jsemmgħu leħinhom u li ma jibqgħux imxekkla mill-irbit tal-fundamentaliżmu.

L-attitudnijiet tal-lum imorru lura għall-posizzjoni ta’ prinċipju li ħadet Therese Commodini Cachia li irrifjutat li ssegwi l-posizzjoni tal-Opposizzjoni kontra l-Ordni għal Standard Nazzjonali dwar il-leave għall-prokreazzjoni medika assistita f’Ottubru 2017.

Tmien membri parlamentari tal-PN u ċioe Claudette Buttigieg, Chris Said, Simon Busuttil, Karol Aquilina, Mario De Marco, Karl Gouder, Jason Azzopardi u Therese Commodini Cachia bħala riżultat tal-vot ħieles tal-Opposizzjoni appoġġaw l-abbozz ta’ liġi dwar il-Vjolenza Domestika bil-bqija tal-grupp parlamentari jivvota kontra.

Biex ikompli jgħaxxaqqa, il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni, wara li spiċċat din il-kummiedja ddikjara li l-abbozz ta’ liġi approvat, li jimplimenta l-Konvenzjoni ta’ Istanbul, ikun wieħed minn ta’ l-ewwel li meta l-PN ikun fil-Gvern jitħassar. Mid-dehra Dottor Delia mhux jirrealizza li bi kliemu qiegħed jimbotta dak il-jum (li l-PN ikun fil-Gvern) ħafna iktar il-bogħod. Possibilment li l-Kabinett Nazzjonalista li jmiss għadu l-anqas biss twieled!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 13 ta’ Mejju 2018

“Traitors” in their midst

While the PN rank and file are preoccupied with the “traitors” in their midst, the PN leadership is apparently worried that the party is out of touch with reality, as indeed it is.

The PN will no longer be a party of the elite, declared Dr Adrian Delia. Well, one can always try to achieve that: the results so far are there for all to see.

The party, said Dr Delia, would offer a voice to people at all levels of society –  presumably a voice for “traitors” too!

To say that the Nationalist Party is in a state of turmoil would be a gross understatement. It is now clear to everyone that the very few steps forward made by the PN under Simon Busuttil’s leadership were never accepted by either the PN MPs or by its rank and file. Most considered them an imposition: the politics of inclusivity has not yet made it to the PN political lexicon. Most of the PN, unfortunately, still yearns for its anachronistic fundamentalist roots.

The PN’s perennial motto religio et patria is in stark contrast to the ethical pluralism and Europeanisation embraced by ever-increasing sections of Maltese society. The PN has apparently learned nothing from its recent experiences, most notably when Lawrence Gonzi’s fundamentalist discourse ruled the day. No political party can ignore the rapid changes in our society. The values of our society are in a state of constant transformation, at times at a very fast pace, and this should be reflected in the way in which we do politics. The PN today is paying the political price for failing to recognise this fact and acting accordingly.

Prodded by the likes of Edwin Vassallo, the Mosta MP who constantly has Don Quixotic visions of non-existent windmills, the PN missed another opportunity when the Domestic Violence Bill came up before Parliament. As one PN MP explained to me, the PN Parliamentary Group voted in favour of the Domestic Violence Bill at both first and second reading stage, until Edwin Vassallo panicked due to his vision of windmills, as a result torpedoing his own parliamentary group.

The PN has now gone one step further. They are labelling as “traitors” those who have the courage to stand up and be counted, free from the shackles of fundamentalism.

The current attitudes can be traced to the uncompromising stance taken by Therese Commodini Cachia, who did not support the Opposition’s stand against the National Standard Order in relation to Leave for Medically Assisted Procreation way back in October 2017.

As a result of the Opposition free vote, eight PN MPs – namely Claudette Buttigieg, Chris Said, Simon Busuttil, Karol Aquilina, Mario De Marco, Karl Gouder, Jason Azzopardi and Therese Commodini Cachia – supported the Domestic Violence Bill with the remaining members of the PN Parliamentary Group voting against.

To crown this comedy of errors, the Leader of the Opposition further declared that the approved Domestic Violence Bill implementing the Istanbul Convention, would be one of the first that he would repeal on taking office. Apparently Dr Delia is not aware that his utterances have pushed that day (when he assumes office) further into the future.  It is possible that the members of the next PN-led cabinet have not even been born yet!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 May 2018

Education: a hostage of the market

 

The discourse on the subject of education is centred on forcing students into following the diktats of the market: the skills gap needs to be addressed. The assumption is that the market is some kind of given – independent of everything else – that invisible hand that is directing our lives.

What should we expect from vocational education and training?

The major institution in this sector in Malta is MCAST (The Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology). Originally set up in the 1960s through funding and support from UNESCO, it had developed into an institution offering degree courses in business and engineering, amongst other new areas of study. Instead of encouraging it to develop and flourish with its own particular ethos and identity it was abruptly absorbed into the University of Malta as a result of the reforms in the late 1970s – the student-worker scheme!

Arguments for and against this absorption are plenty. What is sure, however, is, that a particular style and mode of education was lost for over 20 years and technically inclined students who followed courses at technical institutes instead of in sixth forms -with their rigid and uninspiring desk based teaching – found themselves practically shunned by places of higher education.

A lost generation.

In 2001, MCAST was re-established and existing technical institutes were brought together under one umbrella organisation. Over time, degree courses were developed and educational paths were offered at different levels – from foundation level courses, to technician level courses, up to degree level – all with different entry requirements according to the areas of study. These were backed up by different support systems catering to the differing needs of students, who can choose where to start their post-compulsory educational trajectory, depending on their progress to date. Cooperation with Dutch and Finnish technical universities and other universities of applied science are a positive development which must be further nurtured.

MCAST has developed over time, but the out-of-date mentality, still present as a colonial inheritance, which falsely splits education into ‘vocational’ and ‘academic’ streams continues to haunt the mind-set of policy makers’. Way back in the early 1900s, the progressive American educationalist John Dewey had already riled against a system that separates the practical from the so called ‘academic’. He had warned against a narrow education that pigeon-holed students, generally on the basis of their socioeconomic backgrounds.

MCAST should retain its identity; it should strengthen its cross-disciplinary and contextualised pedagogical methods. Science and technology do not exist in a vacuum and MCAST students should be given the opportunity to study languages, the relationship between science, technology and society and how policy-making depends on the power structures inherent in society.

To achieve this, the policy makers and the politically appointed board who are resisting improvement in the conditions of academic staff at MCAST are transmitting the wrong message: ie that MCAST is there to impart simple, pre-packaged ‘skills’, to train and not to educate, and that academic staff – with a wide range of qualifications and experience – are just there to transmit information.

Lecturers and technical staff should be given the opportunity to develop and apply knowledge and pedagogies which really enable students to flourish. The managerialist culture, copied from Britain, is destroying initiative and restricting innovation. Academic and technical programmes should be designed, implemented and managed by proper boards of studies made up of academic staff. Sure, input from industry is important, but the main focus should be a holistic education.

Unless technical staff and academic staff are given the right opportunities and conditions, brand new equipment will remain underutilised, new ways of teaching and learning will not be developed and, above all, treating MCAST as some kind of ‘lesser’ institution – even as regards conditions of work and the resources afforded to its academics will just strengthen long standing prejudice at the expense of society.

It is curious that Education Minister Evarist Bartolo, who is usually so vociferous when it comes to improving the educational infrastructure and the reform at the University of Malta – including the professional development of academic staff – has so far been silent on the entire subject. But then we might remember that the University of Malta will also shortly be made subservient to the interests of the business world!

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 7 January 2018

Skola taċ-Chiswick f’Pembroke ma tagħmilx sens

L-applikazzjoni tal-ippjanar biex tkun effettivament trasferita l-iskola taċ-Chiswick mill-Kappara għal Pembroke tiftaħ kapitlu ġdid fl-opposizzjoni għall-oxxenitajiet tal-ippjanar li qed ifaqqsu madwarna kuljum. L-art proposta mhiex barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp (ODZ). Fil-fatt is-sit identifikat għall-iżvilupp propost b’kejl ta’ 15,900 metru kwadru qiegħed fiż-żona tal-iżvilupp.

Għalfejn għandna nopponu din il-proposta? Hemm numru ta’ raġunijiet għaliex din l-applikazzjoni ta’ żvilupp għandha tkun abortita, illum qabel għada.

Daqqa t’għajn lejn il-Pjan Lokali li nirreferu għalih bħala North Harbours Local Plan (li jikkonċerna ukoll lill-Pembroke) jagħtina l-iktar raġun bażika l-għaliex din l-applikazzjoni l-anqas biss kellha tkun ippreżentata. L-art li ġiet identifikata, tifforma parti minn art ikbar li l-Pjan Lokali, li kien approvat fl-2006, jidentifika bħala li għandha tkun soġġetta għal eżerċizzju ta’ ippjanar metikoluż u li dwarha għandu joħroġ dokument imsejjaħ Pembroke Development Brief. Fil-pjanta intitolata Pembroke Policy Map li qed tidher ma dan l-artiklu, l-art in kwistjoni hi mdawra b’ċirku aħmar.

Il-Pjan Lokali jispjega b’mod ċar l-iskop li għandu jintlaħaq mill-Pembroke Development Brief, li s’issa għadu ma ġiex ippubblikat għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika.

L-ebda wieħed mill-oġġettivi stabbiliti mill-Pjan Lokali għall-Pembroke Development Brief Area ma jittratta dwar skejjel jew edukazzjoni. L-erba’ oġġettivi msemmija fil-fatt jittrattaw użu li jiġġenera impiegi ta’ natura mhux industrijali, użu assoċjat mat-tgawdija tal-ħin ħieles, Ċentru Lokali u qasam residenzjali privat. Meta l-Pembroke Development Brief ikun ippubbikat għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika għandu jippreżenta gwida dettaljata dwar kif dawn l-oġġettivi għandhom jintlaħqu.

Il-Pjan Lokali jistabilixxi ukoll l-obbligi ta’ l-ippjanar li għandhom ikunu ndirizzati mill-Pembroke Development Brief. Dawn huma: 1. titjib komprensiv tal-infrastruttura, 2. li l-inħawi (ta’ Pembroke) ikunu pprovduti b’aċċess aħjar għat-trasport pubbliku, 3. titjib tas-sistema tat-toroq fil-lokalitá b’mod partikolari kif it-toroq li jagħtu għal Triq Reġjonali jaqdu liż-żona fejn hemm l-iskejjel, 4. Il-kostruzzjoni ta’ triq bejn Triq Reġjonali u s-sit li jkopri l-Pembroke Development Brief, u dan flimkien ma titjib lis-sistema tat-toroq arterjali u lokali li jirriżulta neċessarju wara studju dwar l-impatt tat-trasport, 5. titjib f’St. Patrick’s Park u 6. titjib tal-ispazji miftuħa .

Hu ċar li l-proposta għal skola ġdida fi Triq Gabriele Henin kantuniera ma Triq il-Mediterranean Pembroke ma tirriżultax mill-Pjan Lokali applikabbli, anzi hi f’kunflitt miegħu. Allura għalfejn l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar qed tippermetti li din l-applikazzjoni tibqa’ pendenti? Ma jkunx aħjar kieku l-awtoritá tikkonkludi l-eżami ta’ din l-applikazzjoni bla telf ta’ żmien meta hu ċar li tmur kontra dak li jipprovdi l-Pjan Lokali? Meta l-affarijiet huma daqshekk ċari għalfejn id-dewmien meta setgħet tingħata tweġiba definittiva f’ħames minuti? Meta timxi b’dan il-mod l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar tagħti l-messaġġ li l-Pjan Lokali l-anqas jiswa’ l-karta li hu stampat fuqha!

L-iskola taċ-Chiswick li presentement qegħda fil-Kappara, tul is-snin kellha impatt mhux żgħir fuq il-kwalitá tal-ħajja tar-residenti tal-Kappara. Jekk l-iskola tiċċaqlaq lejn Pembroke dawn il-problemi kollha jkun esportati lejn Pembroke biex jiżdiedu ma dawk tal-iskejjel li diġa hemm f’dik il-lokalitá. Ċertament din l-iskola pproġettata mhux ser ittejjeb il-kwalitá tal-ħajja tar-residenti ta’ Pembroke: anzi tkompli titfagħhom lura.

L- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għandha responsabbiltá li tħares lir-residenti ta’ Pembroke u li tkun t-tarka tagħhom huma u jitqabdu biex itejbu l-kwalitá tal-ħajja tagħhom.

Huwa importanti mhux biss li jkollna deċiżjonijiet tajba, imma ukoll li dawn ma jdumux ma jittieħdu iktar milli meħtieġ. Għax l-iskola taċ-Chiswick f’Pembroke ma tagħmilx sens.

Imma, sfortunatament mal- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar qatt ma taf fejn int.

ippubblikat f’Illum : 13 t’Awwissu 2017

Proposed Chiswick Pembroke school is a non-starter

The planning application to effectively transfer Chiswick School from Kappara to Pembroke opens a new chapter in opposing land-use planning atrocities which seem to sprout every other day. The site proposed for development, measuring 15,900 square metres is not Outside the Development Zone (ODZ). In fact it is within scheme.

So why oppose the proposal? There are a number of reasons why this planning application, even though just an outline application at this stage, should be aborted, the soonest the better.

A cursory look at the North Harbours Local Plan (which deals with Pembroke in addition to a number of other areas) gives a very clear basic reason why this application should not even have been submitted. The selected site forms part of a larger area which the Local Plan, approved in 2006, identifies as the Pembroke Development Brief Area. The site, circled on the Pembroke Policy Map shown on this page, is subject to Local Plan Policy NHPE 09 which policy explains in detail the objectives that the Pembroke Development Brief should aim at when published for public consultation.

None of the objectives listed in the Local Plan for the Pembroke Development Brief Area involves schools or education. In fact, the four specified objectives are: non-industrial employment generating uses of a national/regional catchment area, leisure uses, a Local Centre and private sector housing. The Pembroke Development Brief, when drafted and published for public consultation, should present detailed guidance as to how these objectives will be attained.

The Local Plan also establishes that key planning obligations of development within the Pembroke Development Brief Area will include: 1. a comprehensive infrastructural improvement; 2. the provision of better access to the area by public transport; 3. the upgrading of the existing Regional Road Junction that serves Suffolk Road and the schools area; 4. the construction of the link road from this junction to the Pembroke Development Brief Site, and other improvements to the arterial and local road network deemed appropriate through the recommendations of a Transport Impact Statement (TIS); 5. the upgrading of St. Patrick’s Park and 6. the upgrading of open spaces.

It is clear that the proposal for a new school as proposed in Gabriele Henin Street corner with Mediterranean Street Pembroke does not feature in the provisions of the North Harbours Local Plan. So why has the Planning Authority permitted this application to proceed so far? Should it not have submitted an immediate recommendation for refusal on the grounds of a clear and unequivocal conflict with the provisions of the North Harbours Local Plan? Why does the Planning Authority procrastinate when it could have given a clear and definite answer within five minutes and thereby transmit a clear message that when push comes to shove, the Local Plans are worth the paper they are printed on?

Over the years, Chiswick School, currently in Kappara has had a negative impact on the daily lives of Kappara residents. Exporting these problems to another area will not serve any positive purpose. It will only make the lives of Pembroke residents – already struggling to cope with the impact of the large number of schools already in their area – more miserable.

The Planning Authority owes a duty of care to Pembroke residents. Acting expeditiously is as important as acting correctly. It is clear that the proposed Chiswick School at Pembroke is a non-starter. But over the years I have learnt one thing: with the Planning Authority you never know where you stand.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 August 2017

Evarist trusts you

evarist-bartolo

 

The probe into the corruption allegations at the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools is a very serious matter. Reports in the press indicate that the invoices, issued for the construction work carried out by the Foundation at various schools, are being meticulously examined in order that information which might be of relevance to the investigation is gathered.

Of particular interest is the news item that the financing of a newly constructed block of flats at Rabat is under the spotlight. The block of flats, still in shell form, belongs to the person under investigation. It is being emphasised that the fruits of the alleged corruption may have financed the Rabat development. The said site is covered by development permit PA1215/15 as amended by subsequent application PA0260/16. The Planning Authority  permitted the demolition of the previous dwelling on the site and the construction of a five-floor residential block, inclusive of a penthouse and a semi-basement garage in its stead. According to the Planning Authority website, the applicant was Edward Caruana and work on the site commenced on the 19 July 2015.

So far, the press, in part echoing the PN spokespersons, have concentrated firepower on whether the Education Minister Evarist Bartolo acted swiftly enough to ensure that the matter beplaced under investigation.

While the obvious course of immediate action is for the police to investigate in order to identify whether the alleged corruption took place or not, in my view the problems run much deeper than that. Essentially, the issue is one of bad governance through the use of the “person of trust” –  a 21st century version adaptation of a system of political clientelism.

A “person of trust” in Maltese political jargon generally signifies that the person has a political allegiance to the politician who trusts him. Actually, however, it should have a completely different meaning: that the person so appointed is beyond reproach, rather than his being in the Minister’s good books. In fact the person under investigation (Edward Caruana) who was entrusted with procurement duties in the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools was a political canvasser of the Education Minister Evarist Bartolo. Incidentally, Mr Caruana’s brother too is a trusted person: he was appointed Permanent Secretary of the Education Ministry.  We do remember the manner in which all Permanent Secretaries in office were swept aside way back in March 2013 to be replaced by a team of “persons of trust”.

The engagement of “politically” trusted persons is not a matter peculiar to Evarist Bartolo’s Ministry, or to the government of which he forms part. While it has been going on for a number of years, it has been done on a much larger scale since the 2013 General Election. In most cases, unfortunately, the political trustworthiness of an individual makes short shrift of meritocracy which should be the foundation stone of a serious public administration.

The trusted person mechanism is circumventing the recruitment procedures of the public service, thereby excluding competent and qualified persons for the simple reason that they are not of the required political colour.

Through the recruitment of persons of trust, clientelism is devaluing years of preparation to obtain qualifications. The end result is not just demotivation : corruption and arrogance are the two other most obvious symptoms.

The Ombudsman in Malta has commented various times on the negative impact which excessive direct appointments in the public sector have due to lack of transparency.  Yet he is consistently ignored.

Under the spotlight Minister Evarist Bartolo has exclaimed that he feels betrayed.

We all have the same feeling that those who preached meritocracy are using political trustworthiness in order to ensure that practising clientelism is done in an efficient a manner as possible.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 December 2016

Il-Bandiera l-Ħadra : investiment fil-futur ta’ pajjiżna

Green Flag

Kien ta’ sodisfazzjoni kbir il-bieraħ nisimgħu l-aħbar li iktar skejjel kisbu l-Bandiera l-Ħadra, rikonoxximent tal-għarfien ambjentali tat-tfal u ż-żgħażagħ tagħna fl-iskejjel Maltin.

S’issa hemm 36 skola li kisbu l-Bandiera l-Ħadra u hemm bosta oħrajn li qegħdin fit-triq. Dan kollu bis-saħħa tal-proġett eko-skola.

Dan hu ċertifikat kbir għall-iskejjel tagħna kif ukoll għall-għaqda ambjentali Nature Trust Malta. Imma iktar minn hekk hu investment fil-futur. Għax l-għarfien ambjentali li kisbu dawn it-tfal u ż-żgħażagħ diġa qed ixerrduh: illum fil-familji tagħhom, għada fis-soċjeta. Huwa investiment fiċ-ċittadini ta’ għada li bla dubju ser ikunu f’posizzjoni tajba biex jikkoreġu l-iżbalji tal-ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ qabilhom.

Prosit għal dan is-sodisfazzjoni kbir u għat-tama kbira għal Malta ta’ għada li tkun waħda aħjar minn dik tal-lum.

L-istipendji la tmisshomx

university_of_malta

Id-dekan tal-fakultà tal-Inġinerija fl-Università ta’ Malta huwa rappurtat mit-Times online (fl-2013) li qed jgħid illi l-istipendji għamlu żmienhom. Jidhirlu li l-flus li illum nonfqu fl-istipendji huma meħtieġa għar-riċerka u għall-laboratorji.

Il-ġlieda għall-istipendji għamilniha snin ilu u ħadd ma għandu d-dritt li jipprova jdawwar l-arloġġ lura. L-istipendji huma neċessità u servew tul dawn l-aħħar tletin sena biex wasslu lejn l-edukazzjoni terzjarja ħafna iktar żgħażagħ illi mingħajr l-istipendji kienu jintilfu u ma jitħarrġux. Bis-saħħa tal-istipendji mxejna l-quddiem, imma mhux biżżejjed. Hemm min, sforz iċ-ċirkustanzi tal-ħajja li jiffaċċja huwa u familtu għandu ħtieġijiet li l-istipendju ma jistax jissodisfa.

L-istipendji għaldaqstant jeħtieġu li jiżdiedu u mhux li jonqsu.

Dan ma jfissirx li ma hemmx ħtieġa ta’ iktar fondi għar-riċerka. Anke dan hu neċessità.

Ikun tajjeb għad-dekan tal-fakultà tal-Inġinerija li jħares il-quddiem u mhux lura.

Traffic and the budget

traffic.Marsa

The Budget acknowledges that traffic is a problem; unfortunately it fails to present a vision for the future, as Transport Malta has yet to carry out a consultation exercise.

Acknowledging that Malta’s roads are bursting at the seams is one small step in the right direction. Simultaneously, however, the Budget goes in to propose various measures, amongst which a couple which will definitely increase traffic. Providing more parking spaces, widening roads and improving junctions through the provision of flyovers will improve traffic flow, but it will also increase vehicular traffic.

It is not rocket science to conclude that a long-term plan to reduce car ownership is the only way forward. Currently, with around 341,000 cars on our roads, car ownership in Malta stands at 802 per thousand population. In contrast, the figure for the UK is 516, for Italy 682 and for the USA 786. If Malta’s car ownership profile were to be reduced to a reasonable 500 cars per 1000 population, this would signify that there are currently 130,000 more cars on our roads than is reasonable.

Given the short travelling distances in Malta, public transport should normally be sufficient for most of our needs. Car ownership has increased exponentially over the years as public transport was found lacking – even for such short distances and it  got worse over time.

The recently published White Paper by the Education Ministry pointed out how schools are affected by traffic congestion. They are not, in fact, a  cause of traffic congestion; rather, they are one of its many victims. Introducing a coordinated scheme providing school transport to serve both private and public schools could reducing traffic during rush hours.

The same could be stated in regarding the accessibility of industrial estates. If these were suitably serviced by public transport routes, a substantial reduction in traffic generation could be achieved.

The budget also refers to alternative means of transport. Reinforcing sea links across Grand Harbour between Valletta and the Three Cities as well as across Marsamxett Bay between Sliema and Valletta, could also contribute substantially to a reduction of traffic movements. Various attempts have been made over the years to restore such links but they were not as successful as had been hoped due to the fares having generally been considered as being on the high side.

Reintroducing these maritime links across the harbours on a sound footing would provide a long-term alternative public transport service that would substantially reduce travel time for all its users. However, it would not be reasonable to expect this to be completely self-financed, at least not until such time as it has attracted custom and established itself as a reliable and efficient public transport service.

The budget also encourages the use of small-capacity motorcycles by reducing their annual road licence fee to €10. This reduction would certainly be an encouragement, even though it could very easily been removed completely!  However, as was pointed out – even in the budget speech itself – such a measure can only be effective if it is reinforced by an improvement in the  behaviour of  road-users as well as through better maintenance of our roads.

Improving the use of the existing road infrastructure would be effective as a short-term measure. The proposal to introduce the “tidal lane” in a number of ours roads would  certainly reduce congestion through facilitating traffic flow. It will not, however, reduce vehicle movements.

The EU -funded study entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta carried out by the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the University of Malta examined the economic impact of traffic in Malta. Such impact included not only time lost due to heavy traffic, but also excessive fuel consumed and the effect on health of the resulting air and noise pollution.  The estimated impact is substantial and add up to around four per cent of GDP. This would completely cancel out the projected 2016 increase of 3.6 per cent in Malta’s GDP.

The current extent of the traffic problem in Malta is due to the failure on the part of the state over a number of years. The mismanagement of public transport has created a vacuum, as a result of which cars have been permitted to take over our roads. Reversing the process is possible, but it will not be easy: it will require a coordinated approach and clear thinking. At the end of the day, all the measures taken must have one clear objective: replacing the private car as the preferred means of transport. It is the only way forward.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 18 October 2015

Transport planning : a long-term view required

new_road_traffictraffic congestion and GDP

 

The pre-budget document for 2016 published by the Finance Ministry projects a real GDP increase of 3.2 per cent the year 2016, yet at least half of this projected increase will be wiped out as a result of the impact of traffic congestion in the Maltese Islands.

In fact, earlier this year the University of Malta’s Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development published an EU funded study entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta. This study estimated that 1.7 per cent of our GDP is wasted annually as a result of traffic congestion, a conclusion reached after taking into account both the fuel wasted as well as the time lost.

It is in this context that one has to consider the Education Ministry’s White Paper entitled School Opening Hours and Traffic Congestion, published earlier this week. Unfortunately, the Education Ministry had to fill the void created by the Transport Ministry.

Traffic congestion is not caused by school transport alone – this is just one of many causes. The solution advocated by the Transport Ministry over the years has been to focus on the effects rather than the causes, with the result of even more space being ceded to cars. It has opened up more roads, widened existing ones and introduced flyovers. These “solutions” have encouraged more cars so that our roads are now bursting at the seams, with 340,981 licensed vehicles on the road at the end of the second quarter of this year.

This translates into 802 cars per thousand population, and most probably is the highest vehicle ownership profile in the world. It is even higher than the vehicle ownership profile of the USA (786). Comparing it to other EU countries, the figure for Italy is 682, the UK 516, Spain 592 and Switzerland 573. Even Luxembourg – at  741 per thousand is lower than Malta.

Such a large number of cars is not an indication of affluence. It is rather a clear indication of the failure of the state of Malta to realise that the smallness of these islands was an untapped benefit in developing policies that ensure sustainable access.

It is clear that, over the years, the state of public transport has been the single biggest incentive to private car ownership and use. Cars have been allowed to fill the void and take over our streets.

The cumulative impacts of this take-over has been a reduced access to public spaces in our towns and villages, a general deterioration of air quality and the associated respiratory diseases and accelerated urban decay in such areas as Pietà, Ħamrun, Msida, Paola, Fgura and Marsa.

This present state of affairs is the result of a lack of long-term planning. Transport planners in Malta preferred the easy way out: the construction of new roads, tunnels and flyovers engulfing more land as well as the creation of more parking spaces. The resulting impact compounded the problem: In the 25 years since 1990, the number of vehicles on the Maltese Islands roads increased by a staggering 145 per cent.

The situation was made worse by the removal of a number of bus termini in a number of localities, the decisions to build a number of schools in the middle of nowhere and having industrial zones not serviced by public transport.

In addition, the lack of enforcement of speed limits for vehicles making use of our roads served to squeeze out bicycles and small motorcycles as alternative means of transport.

This is the situation which has to be addressed.

The long term solution is an efficient public transport system and a corresponding decrease in the number of vehicles on the road.

The White Paper published by the Education Ministry is one such exercise, intended to reduce the number of vehicles on the road as a result of ferrying school children to and from schools in their parents’ private cars.

Better organisation of school transport, as well as more incentives to encourage its use, is a definite step forward. In addition, the  Education Ministry could try to ensure that the catchment areas of its secondary schools are not spread over a very wide area as this is one other contributory factor that has not yet been identified as an additional culprit.

The debate, however, has to be much wider than schools, because, at the end of the day, our schools are just victims of the accumulated lack of transport planning.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 6th September 2015