Air Pollution in our ports

The quality of the air we breath in our major ports is worrying. More residents in the areas around our ports are aware of this and are demanding action: they are all worried by the astronomic increases in the incidence of respiratory illnesses.

Around 12 months ago Maltese eNGO Birdlife carried out an air quality measurement exercise with the support of German experts from the German eNGO Nature and Biodiversity Union (NABU). Air samples taken from the Grand Harbour area indicted the presence of a high level of microscopic particulate matter, which ends up in our lungs.

The Grand Harbour is a hub of shipping activity and also includes a cruise liner terminal which, during the last five years, has had an average annual call rate of over 300 cruise liners.

Cruise liners make use of a large amount of electricity.  In a report covered in the local media, the campaign group T & E (Transport and Environment) said that sulphur emissions from cruise liners visiting Malta in 2017 were around 148 times as much as those emitted from the entire car fleet on the islands. This conclusion was reached after analysing satellite data.

In an investigative report it carried out two years ago focused on the P & O cruise liner company, the UK Television Channel 4 concluded that a cruise liner carrying around two thousand passengers had a daily pollution equivalent to one million cars. Large ships run on heavy fuel oil, which contains 3.5% sulphur – 3,500 times what is permitted in road fuel. There may be a lack of agreement on the exact figures for emissions from the shipping industry, but no one contests that they are substantial.

The international community continuously deals with what happens on the high seas. We can, however, deal more appropriately with what goes on in our ports. Particulate emissions in our ports by the shipping industry has a direct bearing on the residential communities surrounding our ports, notably Grand Harbour and Marsaxlokk Bay.

There are two specific issues which need to be prioritised. The first is for the regulatory authorities to ensure that EU legislation on restricting fuel use to the low sulphur type is observed. The second concerns the need to focus on infrastructural improvements in our ports to facilitate supplying the shipping industry with shore-based electricity, as a result ensuring that the ships’ generators – and consequently the resulting emissions to air –  stops when the ship berthed.

Two studies have already been carried out in Malta on the implications of a shore-to-ship electricity supply for the shipping industry. The first, which was completed in 2014, was carried out by Transport Malta and the second, carried out on behalf of the Malta Freeport Terminals, was completed in 2018. Both studies came to the conclusion that if the shipping industry changed to shore-side electricity there would be a substantial improvement in air quality in our ports. The issue of feasibility, however, is substantially dependent on what our competitors decide!

Does it make sense to keep encouraging economic activity that harms our health? The answer to this question is a definite “no”. Our ports are a most precious natural resource that we should use to enhance the quality of life of our coastal communities.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 18 August 2019

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Il-bidla fil-klima: mill-kliem għall-fatti

Fit-tmiem ta’ attivita’ dwar il-bidla fil-klima organizzata minn Alternattiva Demokratika Żgħażagħ (ADŻ), dalgħodu jiena u Mina Tolu (flimkien miegħi u ma Arnold kandidat għall-Parlament Ewropew) indirizzajt konfernza stampa dwar il-bidla fil-klima.
Tajjeb li Alternattiva Demokratika Żgħażagħ ħadet din l-inizjattiva għax hemm ħtieġa li insemmgħu leħinna anke dwar dan.

Il-bidla għall-ġenerazzjoni tal-enerġija mill-heavy fuel oil għall-gass kien pass tajjeb. Il-gass iżda, jitqies bħala fjuwil ta’ tranżizzjoni għal enerġija rinnovabbli. Neħtieġu iktar energija mix-xemx u mir-riħ kif ukoll li naraw li jkun hemm użu tal-energija mill-mewġ li bħala gżira aħna mdawwrin bih is-sena kollha. L-applikazzjoni tat-teknoloġija li qegħda dejjem tiżviluppa twasslu għal tipi ta’ xogħol ġdid u sostenibbli u fl-istess ħin jikkontribwixxu lejn kwalita’ ta’ ħajja aħjar għal kulħadd.

It-trasport għadu problema kbira u jidher li l-problema se tkompli tikber minħabba żieda astronomika fin-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq Maltin u Għawdxin. Sfortunatament l-Gvern minflok jinvesti f’trasport sostenibbli u nadif qiegħed għaddej fuq programm qawwi ta’ xogħol infrastrutturali li qed iservi biex jinkoraġġixxi iktar użu tal-karozzi u per konsegwenza qiegħed iħassar il-progress li qed jinkiseb biż-żieda fl-użu tat-trasport pubbliku. Irridu investiment serju f’infrastruttura għar-roti u r-roti elettriċi, kif ukoll fl-użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi għat-trasport li jinkludu dawk bil-baħar.

Il-mina proposta għal bejn Malta u Ghawdex hi essenzjalment mina għall-karozzi u mhux mina għan-nies. Fil-fatt huwa stmat li fi żmien 15-il sena l-ammont ta’ movimenti ta’ karozzi bejn il-gżejjer ser jiżdied minn 3000 għal 9000 karozza kuljum. Servizz għan-nies ifisser servizzi ta’ fast-ferry minn Għawdex sal-qalba ta’ Malta. Il-mina tinkoragixxi l-uzu tal-karozzi għax il-ħlas li jinġabar minn dawk li ser jinvestu fil-mina ser jiddependi esklussivament fuq in-numru ta’ karozzi li jgħaddu mill-mina.

Huwa essenzjali li n-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq tagħna jonqos. Dan wara kollox hu ukoll wiehħed mill-iskopijiet ewlenin tal-istrateġija Nazzjonali tat-Trasport approvata mill-Gvern Malti fl-2015. Il-Gvern Malti ma jistax jibqa’ għaddej kif inhu. Bħalissa qed jagħti messaġġi konfliġġenti kontinwament.

Jekk irridu nindirizzaw il-bidla fil-klima bis-serjetà huwa essenzjali li nindirizzaw l-impatti ikkawżati mit-trasport. Żmien il-paroli għadda. Għandna ngħaddu mill-kliem għal fatti.

Il-mina t’Għawdex: ħmar il-lejl

Il-Ministru Ian Borg, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, infurmana li kien qed jaħdem biex iwettaq il-ħolma ta’ diversi Għawdxin billi jmexxi l-quddiem il-proċess tal-mina taħt qiegħ il-baħar bejn Malta u Għawdex. Wara dibattitu li ilu għaddej is-snin hu ċar li iktar milli jwettaq il-ħolm ikun aħjar jekk Ian Borg jipprepara ruħu għal ħmar il-lejl.

Saru studji ġejoloġiċi imma lanqas il-konklużjonijiet ġenerali dwarhom ma nafu. Għadhom mistura qieshom xi sigriet tal-istat. Tliet snin ilu l-ġejoloġista Peter Gatt kien ġibed l-attenzjoni għall-fatt li l-mina tal-Enemalta bejn il-power station tal-Marsa u Delimara kienet swiet id-doppju ta’ dak ippjanat u dan minħabba kollass tal-blat f’diversi punti matul il-mina nnifisha. Dan kien seħħ bħala riżultat tan-nuqqas ta’ informazzjoni ġejoloġika meta ġiet imfassla l-mina. Kieku dan kellu jseħħ waqt li jkun għaddej ix-xogħol fuq il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex hu inevitabbli li jkollna problemi kbar, inkluż possibilment numru ta’ mwiet.

Hu fatt magħruf li fil-Fliegu hemm diversi kisriet ġejoloġiċi (geological faults). Tajjeb li nirrealizzaw li tnejn mill-proposti għall-mina, li saru minn Mott MacDonald, il-konsulenti ta’ Transport Malta, jgħaddu minn dawn il-kisriet.

Li jkunu eżaminati l-kampjuni tal-blat f’laboratorju, anke jekk għal ftit ġimgħat, bla dubju jżid l-għarfien tal-ġejoloġija taż-żona imma dan mhux biżżejjed biex fuqu jittieħdu deċiżjonijiet dwar id-diżinn tal-proġett. Biżżejjed nifhmu li minkejja l-istudji ġejoloġiċi dettaljati fuq numru kbir ta’ snin, ix-xogħol fuq il-mina bejn l-Ingilterra u Franza, iċ-Channel Tunnel, kellu jieqaf u jkun devjat diversi drabi minħabba li t-tħaffir iltaqa’ ma problemi ġejoloġici li ma kien hemm l-ebda indikazzjoni tagħhom fl-istudji dettaljati!

L-istudji serji jieħdu ż-żmien biex isiru: ma jistgħux ikunu mgħaġġla minħabba data determinata minn agenda politika.

Tliet snin ilu, Transport Malta, flimkien mal-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija kkummissjonaw studju ekonomiku, ferm qabel ma biss bdew l-istudji ġejoloġiċi. L-istudju kien intitolat Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options, li kien sar minn E-Cubed Consultants. Dan l-istudju kien argumenta li t-traffiku bejn il-gżejjer kien ipproġettat li fuq perjodu ta’ 15il sena jiżdied minn medja ta’ 3000 moviment kuljum għal 9000 moviment kuljum. Argument li jmur kontra l-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport approvat fl-2015 ukoll.

Il-mina proposta teħtieġ ammont kritiku ta’ movimenti ta’ karozzi li jħallsu biex jgħaddu mill-mina u per konsegwenza minn fuqhom jinġabru l-ispejjes tal-mina kif ukoll il-profitti tal-operaturi. Fi ftit kliem il-mina, biex tirnexxi tiddependi minn moviment kbir ta’ karozzi kuljum. Dan imur kontra l-politika dwar it-trasport tal-lum, li ta’ l-inqas fuq il-karta, timmira għal tnaqqis ta’ karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Din hi materja li bla dubju għandha tkun eżaminat mill-istudju fuq l-impatti ambjentali (EIA) dwar il-mina proposta. Dan l-istudju għadu fl-istadji inizzjali tiegħu u dan wara li l-Awtorità dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi ftit ġimgħat ilu approvat dak li għandu jkun indirizzat (terms of reference) minn dan l-istudju. L-EIA hu stadju essenzjali li minnu jeħtieġ li jgħaddi l-proġett.

Għaldaqstant, kien irresponsabbli l-Ministru tat-Trasport, meta, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, ħabbar li fi żmien sitt xhur kienet ħierġa sejħa internazzjonali għall-offerti għall-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex. Dan ifisser li dawn l-istudji huma irrelevanti? Fl-opinjoni tiegħi il-Ministru  qiegħed jagħti  dan il-messaġġ ċar u tond.

Din hi l-agħar forma ta’ governanza ħażina għax jimmina l-isforzi tal-awtoritajiet fil-qadi ta’ dmirijiethom. B’dan il-ħsieb jiena ktibt lill-Ombudsman u tlabtu jinvestiga dan in-nuqqas ta’ governanza tajba. Il-Gvern għandu jkollu l-paċenzja li jistenna sakemm ikunu konklużi l-istudji ambjentali qabel ma jieħu d-deċiżjonijiet.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 16 ta’ Diċembru 2018

Gozo tunnel nightmares

Minister Ian Borg informed us, earlier this week, that he seeks to turn into reality a Gozitan “long-held dream” by starting the process for a Malta-Gozo tunnel below the seabed. After debating the matter for years, it is clear that rather more than dreams, Ian Borg should prepare himself for a nightmare.

Geological studies have now been carried out and the results therof are being treated as some state secret. Three years ago, geologist Peter Gatt had drawn attention to the fact that the Enemalta tunnel between the Marsa power station and Delimara had a cost overrun of 100 per cent as a result of rock collapse along several points of the tunnel. This had occurred due to inadequate geological information fed into the design process. If the same were to happen during the Malta-Gozo tunnel works, a series of disasters, including possibly loss of life, would be inevitable.

It is a known fact that the Gozo channel is full of geological faults. It is pertinent to note that two of the tunnel options put forward by Transport Malta advisors Mott MacDonald pass through an active fault in the Gozo channel.

Taking borehole samples and examining them in a laboratory over a few weeks certainly increases our knowledge of the geology of the area but it is nowhere near the sufficient knowledge on the basis of which one can conclude the design parameters of the project. Suffice it to point out that notwithstanding the detailed geological studies spanning over many years and underpinning planning for the Channel Tunnel linking Folkestone in Kent and Coquelles near Calais, the drilling of the tunnel had to be deviated at certain points because of unpredicted geological formations.

Serious studies take years to conclude: they cannot be rushed to meet a deadline set by a political agenda.

Feasibility studies have been carried out some time ago, long before the geological studies were even taken in hand. Three years ago, the Gozo Business Chamber in conjunction with Transport Malta commissioned a study entitled Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options. In the study, which was carried out by E-Cubed Consultants, it was argued that the average annual daily traffic (AADT) between the islands is projected to increase from 3000 to 9000 vehicle movements over a 15-year period.

This feasibility study makes assumptions which run counter to the National Transport Master Plan objective of reducing cars from our roads.

Basically, the proposed tunnel requires a critical mass of vehicular movements which would be subject to the payment of a toll and hence contribute to the recovery of the capital outlay, maintenance costs and profits. This runs counter to current Maltese Transport policy, which (at least on paper) aims to reduce the use of private cars from our roads.

This is an issue which would undoubtedly be examined by the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the proposed Tunnel which study is currently in its initial stages after the Environment and Resources Authority recently approved the terms of reference of such a study. The EIA is an essential stage of the assessment of the project.

It was therefore irresponsible for the Minister of Transport, earlier this week, to announce that within six months an international call for tenders would be issued relative to the Malta-Gozo undersea Tunnel. Does this mean that the government considers the EIA irrelevant? This, in my opinion is the clear message being conveyed.

It is the worst form of bad governance as it undermines the efforts of the established authorities in carrying out their responsibilities. With this in mind, I have written to the Ombudsman and asked him to investigate this breach of good governance. Government should have the patience of awaiting the outcome of the EIA before taking any further decisions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 16 December 2018

Luigi Di Maio’s threat

US President Donald Trump, over breakfast with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, unleashed a blistering criticism of Angela Merkel’s government for being too supportive of Russia’s natural gas pipeline, which provides natural gas to various European states. Germany is too dependent on Russian natural gas, said Donald Trump. Is it appropriate for Angela Merkel’s Germany to do away with energy sovereignty and security in this manner? Being too dependent on Putin’s Russia is not on, he suggested.

Malta also may have its energy sovereignty and security hanging by a string.

Only last month we were reminded by Italian Deputy Prime Minister, Luigi di Maio that Malta’s electricity interconnector supply is plugged in at Ragusa on the Sicilian mainland. The comment was made in the context of the savage debate that developed over the rescue operations involving drowning immigrants picked up from the Mediterranean Sea by NGO operated sea vessels.

The Cinque Stelle politician considered it appropriate to use the Ragusa plug-in for political leverage in the same manner that Vladimir Putin makes use of his Russian gas supply, in relation not just to Angela Merkel’s Germany, but to most of the European mainland.

The fact that Malta is at times too dependent on the Ragusa electricity supply makes matters worse. We have undoubtedly lost count over the last months regarding the number of times we have been subjected to an electricity black-out in Malta: the standard explanation being that there was some technical hitch on either side of the Sicilian Channel which was being taken care of.

Malta will shortly have another Sicilian plug-in, this time a gas pipeline most probably at Gela.

Like the electricity interconnector plugged in at Ragusa the gas-pipeline plugged in at Gela will be another commercial undertaking. Malta will be paying for its gas, just as much as it is paying for its electricity.

Luigi Di Maio’s thinly veiled threat was obviously that the existing electricity plug-in at Ragusa was there at the Italian government’s pleasure which could reverse any commitment entered into so far if the Maltese government persists in irritating it.

It is not known whether there was any follow-up to Di Maio’s declaration, accept that the Maltese government closed all ports to NGO-operated vessels and that criminal proceedings were initiated against the MV Lifeline captain on flimsy sea-vessel registration charges.

This is unfortunately in-line with the Di Maio/Salvini philosophy that good Samaritans have to be treated suspiciously.

At the time of writing, another sea vessel with 450 migrants on board is sailing through Malta’s search and rescue area towards Sicily with Matteo Salvini, Minister for the Interior, insisting that Italy’s ports are closed for such vessels.

What next?

Potentially, as a result of the closure of Maltese and Italian ports, this is another developing tragedy. Di Maio’s veiled threat, maybe, has been taken seriously by the Maltese government.

Such incidents send one clear message: the foundations of solidarity as a value have heavily eroded. It has been transformed into a slogan. Solidarity is one of the basic values of the European Union – it is not limited to the EU’s border states. Successive Maltese governments have tried to nudge other EU member states to shoulder this collective responsibility which is currently shouldered disproportionately by the border states. The response from nine members states when the MV Lifeline debacle came to the fore was encouraging, but it is certainly not enough.

Faced with racist and xenophobic overreactions, opting for solidarity is not an easy choice. It would be certainly helpful if more EU states put solidarity into practice. The problem is that not all of them are convinced that this is the only ethical way forward.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday – 15 July 2018

It-theddida ta’ Di Maio

Luigi de Maio qalilna li Malta tieħu l-elettriku minn Ragusa imma għalqet il-portijiet tagħha.

Jidher li din hi theddida ċara għal min irid jifhem. Theddida ikkalkulata sewwa għax kif nafu, bħalissa Malta hi dipendenti kważi għal kollox fuq l-elettriku ġej mill-interconnector.

Di Maio qiesu qiegħed jgħidilna li meta jrid jagħlaq il-vit.

Id-diversi drabi li kien hemm il-ħsara fl-interconnector, Malta spiċċat bla elettriku.

U issa?

Kif ser tissarraf din id-dipendenza ta’ Malta fuq l-interconnector?

Wara din it-theddida ta’ Di Maio l-Gvern għandu l-obbligu li jispjega ftit il-posizzjoni eżattament x’inhi.

L-ostaklu tal-aċċess għall-informazzjoni hu delitt kontra d-demokrazija

Ir-rapport Annwali tal-Ombudsman għall-2017 li kien ippubblikat iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa hu inkwetanti. F’partijiet minnu, nazzarda ngħid li hu ukoll tal-biża’. L-Ombudsman jikkummenta fit-tul dwar “in-nuqqas tal-amministrazzjoni li tipprovdi informazzjoni”.

Josserva żewġ tendenzi ġenerali.

L-ewwel tendenza hi li diversi Dipartimenti tal-Gvern u Ministeri qed isibuha bi tqil biex jiżvelaw informazzjoni importanti. Il-kliem li l-Ombudsman juża’: “Sfortunatament l-amministrazzjoni pubblika – u dan jinkludi ukoll awtoritajiet pubbliċi – jidher li addottaw attitudni ġeneralment negattiva dwar l-obbligu li tkun żvelata informazzjoni u d-dritt taċ-ċittadin li jinżamm infurmat. Uħud marru fl-estrem li anke qed jirrifjutaw li jipprovdu kemm informazzjoni importanti kif ukoll imformazzjoni vitali li l-pubbliku hu ntitolat għaliha minħabba li din tikkonċerna setturi importanti tal-ħajja ekonomika u soċjali tal-pajjiż.”

It-tieni tendenza hi agħar: diversi ftehimiet li daħal għalihom il-Gvern fihom klawsola li tobbliga li jinżamm is-skiet dwar il-kontenut tal-ftehim. Dak li hu magħruf bħala “non-disclosure clause”. L-Ombudsman jgħidilna li issa hawn “żvilupp riċenti u Inkwetanti permezz ta’ attentat biex jiġi assigurat skiet totali hi l-prattika li torbot lil dawk li magħhom l-amministrazzjoni pubblika jkollha rabta kuntrattwali biex ma tiżvelax informazzjoni fil-kuntratti infushom mingħajr l-approvazzjoni tal-awtoritá pubblika.”

Issa fir-realtá, din il-prattika ma ġietx addottata f’daqqa waħda fl-2017. Kien hemm okkazjonijiet fil-passat meta l-Gvern rabat lil oħrajn inkella aċċetta li jintrabat hu stess li ma tkunx żvelata informazzjoni. Jidher imma li din il-prattika qed iżżid fil-frekwenza. Mhux biss il-kuntratt ta’ Henley and Partners dwar il-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza li fih dawn il-provedimenti imma ukoll il-kuntratt dwar il-privatizzazzjoni tal-lotteriji pubbliċi mal-Maltco kif ukoll il-ftehim dwar il-privatizzazzjoni parzjali tas-sistema tas-saħħa mal-Vitals Healthcare inkella l-ftehim mal-Electrogas dwar il-qalba għall-gass tal-impjant tal-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku f’Delimara.

Kif jista’ jkun li gvern jippretendi li jkun trasparenti u kontabbli meta juża’ jew jippermetti l-użu ta’ strateġiji bħal dawn li jostakolaw li tkun żvelata l-informazzjoni?

L-Ombudsman hu korrett li jipponta subgħajh lejn dan in-nuqqas bażiku ta’ servizz pubbliku li jridha ta’ wieħed ġust, effiċjenti, trasparenti u kontabbli. Jiena naħseb li dan hu daqstant importanti li jimmerita diskussjoni fil-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali – jekk din xi darba issir. Forsi wasal iż-żmien li tkun il-Kostituzzjoni innifisha li tillimita b’mod strett lill-amministrazzjoni pubblika milli tibqa’ tillimita l-aċċess għall-informazzjoni b’dan il-mod.

Hu meħtieġ li jkollna s-salvagwardji kontra dan l-abbuż sfaċċat li qiegħed jostakola l-aċċess għall-informazzjoni li għandha f’idejha l-amministrazzjoni pubblika. Is-salvagwardji jistgħu jinkludu l-possibilitá ta’ reviżjoni amministrattiva immedjata li tikkanċella l-ostaklu għall-aċċess kif ukoll passi biex dawk responsabbli biex jostakolaw dan l-aċċess għall-informazzjoni mingħajr raġuni valida ma jitħallewx iktar jeżerċitaw il-funzjonijiet ta’ uffiċċju pubbliku.

L-Ombudsman jispjega fir-rapport tiegħu li l-liġi tagħti lill-uffiċċju tiegħu l-għodda meħtieġa biex ikollu aċċess għall-informazzjoni li jeħtieġ ħalli “jmexxi l-investigazzjonijiet dwar l-ilmenti li jkunu waslu” avolja din l-informazzjoni xi drabi tingħata b’mod imqanżaħ. Iżda l-Ombudsman iqis li għandu jiġbed l-attenzjoni għal tlett ċirkustanzi partikolari “li juru kif ir-rispons negattiv tal-awtoritajiet pubbliċi meta dawn jintalbu informazzjoni qed ixekkel l-Ombudsman u lill-Kummissarji fl-uffiċċju tiegħu fil-qadi ta’ dmirijiethom”.

L-ewwel kaz jirrigwarda l-Armata. Ir-rifjut tal-Ministeru għall-Intern u s-Sigurtá Nazzjonali li jgħaddi l-files kollha dwar l-eżerċizzji ta’ promozzjonijiet għall-għola gradi fl-Armata issolva biss wara d-deċiżjoni finali tal-Qorti tal-Appell f’Ottubru 2016 liema deċiżjoni ikkonfermat li Ombudsman kellu l-obbligu li jinvestiga l-ilmenti li rċieva.

It-tieni kaz jirrigwarda ir-rifjut tal-Ministeru tas-Saħħa li jipprovdi l-informazzjoni mitluba mill-Kummissarju għas-Saħħa biex dan jipprovdi il-ftehim sħiħ ma’ Vitals Healthcare dwar il-privatizzazzjoni ta’ sptarijiet f’Malta u Għawdex li kien meħtieġ fl-investigazzjoni dwar jekk l-interessi tal-pazjenti u l-istaff (mediku) kienux adegwatament imħarsa.

It-tielet kaz hu dwar l-ilmenti kontinwa tal-Kummissarji fl-uffiċċju tal-Ombudsman (Saħħa, Ippjanar/Ambjent u Edukazzjoni) dwar id-dewmien li qed jirriżulta f’investigazzjonijiet li jkunu jeħtieġu konklużjoni immedjata. Dan minħabba n-nuqqas tas-settur pubbliku li jagħti tweġiba għat-talbiet diversi għal informazzjoni.

L-obbligu tal-amministrazzjoni pubblika li tiffaċilita l-aċċess għall-informazzjoni u d-dritt taċ-ċittadin li jkun infurmat huma bażiċi f’soċjetá demokratika. Attentati biex dan l-aċċess taċ-ċittadin għall-informazzjoni jkun imblukkat b’dan il-mod jimmina l-proċess demokratiku u dan billi ċ-ċittadin qed ikun ostakolat milli jifforma opinjoni fuq kif qed ikun amministrat l-istat. Dan qiegħed ukoll jostakola lil dawk l-istituzzjonijiet fid-dmir li jiddefendu ċ-ċittadin komuni milli jagħmlu xogħolhom.

F’isem Alternattiva Demokratika jiena nirringrazzja lill- Ombudsman talli qed ikun daqstant ċar fid-difiża tiegħu ta’ dak li hu bażiku f’soċjetá demokratika kif ukoll talli qed isemma’ leħnu b’vuċi ċara kontra dan l-abbuż ta’ poter.

Ippubblikat f’Illum Il-Ħadd : 10 ta’ Ġunju 2018

Obstructing access to information is a crime against democracy

The Ombudsman’s 2017 Annual Report, published earlier this week, is very worrying. At times it makes scary reading. The Ombudsman comments at length on “the failure by the administration to provide information” and points at two general trends.

The first of these is the reluctance of various Government Departments and Ministries to disclose important information. The exact words  from the Ombudsman’s report,  which I quote verbatim, are: “Regrettably the public administration – and this includes public authorities – appears to have adopted a generally negative approach towards its duty to disclose information and the citizen’s right to be informed. Some have gone to extremes by even refusing to provide important and even vital information to which the public was obviously entitled since it concerned important segments of the economic and social life of the country.”

The second trend is even worse: various agreements entered into by government are containing a non-disclosure clause. The Ombudsman states “An even more worrying, recent development that has come to light in an attempt to ensure a total blackout of silence is the practice of binding parties with whom the public administration enters into contractual agreements not to disclose information on the contracts themselves without prior approval from the public authority.”

Now, in fairness, this practice has not been adopted suddenly in 2017. There have been a number of instances in the past where the government bound others, or else accepted to be bound, not to disclose information. Apparently this is now increasing in frequency. It is not just the contract with Henley and Partners on the sale of Maltese citizenship which contains such provisions but also the contract concerning the privatisation of the public lottery system with Maltco, as well as the agreements on the partial privatisation of the Health service with Vitals Healthcare as well as the Electrogas agreements in relation to the Delimara power station changeover to gas.

How can a government claim to be transparent and accountable when it uses or permits the use of the non-disclosure weapon?

The Ombudsman is right to point out this basic deficiency of a public service which pretends that it is fair, efficient, transparent and accountable. I consider that it is also of such importance that it merits discussion in the Constitutional Convention, if this is ever convened. Maybe it is about time that the Constitution should limit very strictly the use by the public administration of non-disclosure as a tool to obstruct the public’s access to information.

Safeguards are required against the abusive use of the non-disclosure of information held by the public administration. Such safeguards could include access to fast track administrative review as well as both publication of the suppressed information and the prohibition from holding public office of those found guilty of blocking the public’s access to information without valid reason.

The Ombudsman explains in his report that the law provides his office with the tools to ensure that it has access to the information it requires “to conduct its investigations into complaints received”, even though this information is at times made available very reluctantly. However, the Ombudsman considers it appropriate to underline three specific instances “that show how the negative response of public authorities to provide information hindered the Ombudsman and his Commissioners in the exercise of their functions”.

The first instance is that concerning the Armed Forces of Malta. The refusal by the Ministry for Home Affairs and National Security to provide all files relating to promotion exercises in the top echelons of the AFM was only resolved after a definite decision of the Court of Appeal in October 2016, which confirmed that the Ombudsman had a duty to investigate the complaints received.

The second instance is that concerning the refusal of the Ministry of Health to comply with the request of the Commissioner of Health to supply “clean copies” of the agreements with Vitals Healthcare on the privatisation of hospitals in Malta and Gozo which were required in the investigation into whether the interests of patients and staff were being adequately protected.

The third instance is that of repeated complaints in all the reports of the Commissioners attached to the Ombudsman’s office [Health, Planning/Environment and Education] on the resulting delay in investigations which, by their very nature, require an immediate response. These delays are the direct result of the failure of various sectors in the public administration to submitting an expedient reply to requests for information.

The duty of the public administration to disclose information, and the right of the citizen  to be informed, is basic in a democratic society. Attempts to block the essential flow of information to the citizen through non-disclosure tools undermines the democratic process, as it blocks the essential elements required by the citizen in order to form a clear and unbiased opinion on the way in which the state is being administered. Moreover, it obstructs those institutions entrusted with defending the common citizen from carrying out their duty.

On behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party, I thank the Ombudsman for taking such a clear and unequivocal stand in favour of the basic tenets of democratic rule and against such blatant abuse of authority.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 June 2018

Ħmar il-lejl: l-ippjanar għall-kosta u r-riżorsi marittimi

Nhar it-Tnejn il-Parlament beda d-diskussjoni dwar l-implimentazzjoni tal-leġislazzjoni tad-dimanju pubbliku u b’mod partikolari dwar rapport li ħejjiet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar fuq is-siti nominati. Ir-rapport jirreferi għal 24 sit nominati prinċipalment mill-għaqdiet ambjentali: 16-il sit kienu nominati minn Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), seba’ siti minn Friends of the Earth u sit wieħed mill-Ministru għall-Ambjent Josè Herrera.

Id-diskussjoni għadha fl-istadji inizzjali u s’issa kienet limitata għal spjegazzjoni tal-liġi li l-Parlament approva lejn nofs l-2016.

Moħbi mill-attenzjoni pubblika hemm il-ħtieġa urġenti li tkun implimentata d-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar l-Ippjanar tal-Ispazju Marittimu. Din id-Direttiva kellha tkun addottata sa tmiem l-2014. Permezz tal-Avviż Legali 341 tal-2016 Malta nnominat lill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar bħala l-awtorità kompetenti li ser tieħu ħsieb dak li għandu x’jaqsam mal-ippjanar tal-ispazju marittimu fil-gżejjer Maltin.

Wara li staqsejt inġibdet l-atttenzjoni tiegħi li l-Pjan dwar l-Ispazju Marittimu għal Malta diġà jifforma parti mill-Pjan Strateġiku dwar l-Ambjent u l-Iżvilupp (Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development – SPED). Ngħid il-verità ma kontx irrealizzajt dan. Ħsibt li kien hemm xi paġni f’dak id-dokument li kienu qabżuli u allura mort infittex mill-ġdid u sibt sezzjoni intitolata Coastal Zone and Marine Area u taħtha tlett oġġettivi għall ħarsien tal-kosta. Dawn l-oġġettivi jistgħu, u nittama li jkunu, sviluppati fi strateġija dettaljata dwar l-Ispazju Marittimu Malti.

Waqt li Malta jidher li llimitat ruħha għal tlett oġġettivi xotti, pajjiżi oħra għamlu ħidma kbira biex jippreparaw il-pjani tagħhom dwar l-Ispazju Marittimu. L-Irlanda, per eżempju, ippubblikat dokument ta’ 88 paġna intitolat Harnessing our Ocean Wealth. An Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland. Min-naħa l-oħra, ir-Renju Unit ippubblika dokument ta’ 55 paġna intitolat UK Marine Policy Statement.

Dawn iż-żewġ dokumenti jidħlu fid-dettall dwar l-Ippjanar għall-Ispazju Marittimu meħtieġ fl-Irlanda u r-Renju Unit. Bla dubju dawn id-dokumenti jeħtieġ li jkunu supplimentati bi pjani ħafna iktar dettaljati. Id-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja fil-fatt tistabilixxi s-sena 2021 bħala d-data sa meta għandhom ikunu ffinalizzati l-Pjani għall-Ispazju Marittimu.

Malta hi gżira mdawra bil-baħar Mediterran. Fatt li għandu jkun rifless f’politika marittima serja u aġġornata. Sfortunatament dan mhux il-kaz għax jidher li għalina f’Malta it-tlett oġġettivi dwar il-kosta fil-Pjan Strateġiku dwar l-Ambjent u l-Iżvilupp (SPED) huma biżżejjed.

Id-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar l-Ippjanar tal-Ispazju Marittimu bla dubju hi intenzjonata biex iċċaqlaqna ħalli nimlew it-toqob fil-politika tagħna. L-ekonomija l-blu, jiġifieri l-ħidma ekonomika li tiddependi fuq l-użu tar-riżorsi marittimi, teħtieġ attenzjoni ħafna iktar dettaljata.

Il-Gvernijiet Maltin, wieħed wara l-ieħor, għamlu ħerba fuq l-art u ħsara bla qies fiż-żoni naturali. F’xi kazi l-ħsara li saret ftit tista’ tiġi rimedjata. L-ilma tal-pjan hu l-eżempju ewlieni.

L-ippjanar b’attenzjoni tal-Ispazju Marittimu jista’ jkun ta’ għajnuna biex din l-imġieba żbaljata tal-Gvernijiet ma tkunx esportata lil hinn mill-kosta ħalli wara li ħarbatna l-art ma nħarbtux il-baħar ukoll.

Snin ilu kien pass għaqli li kienet indirizzata l-kwalità tal-ilma baħar bl-introduzzjoni tal-impjanti għat-tisfija tad-drenaġġ. Għad baqa’ xi jsir biex l-ilma msoffi, flok jintrema, jibda jintuża. Kontinwament għadna niffaċċjaw it-tniġġiż mill-gaġeġ tal-ħut li għandna fl-ibħra u li qed ikollhom impatti kemm fuq iż-żoni residenzjali kif ukoll fuq il-faċilitajiet turistiċi. Imbagħad hemm ukoll is-sajd, it-tibdil fil-klima, l-bijodiversita, is-sigurtà marittima, il-fdalijiet arkeologiċi fil-baħar kif ukoll il-ħmar il-lejl li nassoċjaw mar-riklamazzjoni tal-baħar. Pjan għall-Ispazji marittimi fil-gżejjer Maltin irid jindirizza dawn l-oqsma u bosta oħra b’mod integrat.

Il-gżejjer Maltin fihom 316 kilometru kwadrat. L-ibħra Maltin sa 25 mil nawtiku mill-kosta fihom medda ferm ikbar b’kejl ta’ 11,480 kilometru kwadrat filwaqt li l-blata kontinentali taħt il-ġurisdizzjoni Maltija fiha 75,779 kilometru kwadrat.
Din hi l-isfida li għandna quddiemna biex inħarsu l-ibħra tagħna.

ippubblikat fuq Illum – 24 ta’ Diċembru 2017