Gonzi u l-gass

Kont preżenti għall-inawgurazzjoni tal-impjant tal-gas f’Bengħajsa li ser jieħu post l-impjant tal-Qajjenza f’Birżebbuġa.

Fid-diskors tiegħu Lawrence Gonzi qal li l-power station ta’ Delimara  tkun konvertita għall-gass meta jiġu l-fondi mill-Unjoni Ewropea. Jiġifieri irridu nistennew id-deċiżjoni dwar il-budget tal-EU għall-perjodu 2014-2020.

Fil-waqt li l-Kummissjoni Ewropea jidher li qablet mal-Gvern fuq l-utilita għall-Malta u l-politika tagħna tal-enerġija li dan il-proġett iseħħ, min-naħa l-oħra għadu m’huwiex ċar x’ser jigri mill-budget Ewropew. Id-diskussjonijiet ma tantx jidher li mexjin il-quddiem.

Kif irrappurtat il-Financial Times, nafu li in-negozjati dwar il-budget tal-EU waqfu (EU budget talks collapse). Ir-Renju Unit,  l-Olanda u l-Iżvezja jridu tnaqqis fil-budget tal-EU. M’humiex jaqblu mal-proposta tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea li jkun hemm żieda u dan għal raġuni ovvja: huma fost il-pajjiżi li jħallsu iktar milli jirċievu u għandhom pressjoni  politika li bħalma sar tnaqqis fin-nefqa domestika għandu jkun hemm ukoll tnaqqis fil-kontribuzzjoni tagħhom fl-EU.

Dwar dan messu tkellem Lawrence Gonzi.   Dwar il-preokkupazzjoni li l-opposizzjoni tar-Renju Unit, l-Olanda u l-Iżvezja għall-budget propost mill-Kummissjoni Ewropea tista’ toħloq diversi diffikultajiet għal dan il-proġett essenzjali għal Malta.

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The circus has come to town

  

 

When considering the draft National En­vironment Policy some patience is required. On one hand it is a detailed document covering a substantial number of environmental issues. However, its exposition of the issues to be tackled contrasts starkly with the government’s environmental performance throughout its long term in office.

The draft policy says more about the government than about the environment. It collates together the accumulated environmental responsibilities the government should have been addressing throughout the past years. The draft policy tells us: this is what the government ought to have done. It further tells us that in the next 10 years, the government will try its best to remedy its past failures by doing what it should do.

The government’s words and action are in sharp contrast, as I have been repeatedly pointing out in these columns. In late 2007, Cabinet approved the National Strategy for Sustainable Development, which, although being less detailed than today’s draft National Environment Policy, says practically the same things. It also covers a 10-year period (2007-2016), half of which has elapsed without the set targets having been addressed. Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi is the Cabinet member politically responsible for this failure. Having failed repeatedly, I find it difficult to think how he could be trusted to deliver on environmental or sustainability issues.

On the basis of this experience, it is reasonable to dismiss the government’s media circus at Xrobb l-Għaġin where the draft National Environment Policy was launched as just another exercise in rhetoric.

It is definitely not a sudden conversion in favour of environmental issues that moved the government to act. The present exercise is the result of society’s metamorphosis, which came about as a direct consequence of years of environmental activism in Malta. Civil society has pushed a reluctant Nationalist-led government to this point.

No one in his right senses can quarrel with the proposed National Environment Policy in principle. Yet, it is a fact that the environment has always been the Cinderella of government business. All talk and little walk. A clear example is the adjudication process of the Delimara power station extension. When the submitted tenders were adjudicated, it resulted that the submissions that were technically and environmentally superior were considered less favourably than the tender that was perceived as being economically more advantageous. When push comes to shove, environmental issues are not given priority, the adjudication criteria being skewed in favour of perceived economic gain.

All this contrasts with the declarations in favour of green procurement in the draft National Environment Policy. In defending the decision on the use of heavy fuel oil in the power station extension, government spokesmen are in fact stating that while the environment is the government’s political priority it still retains the right to have second thoughts whenever it takes an important decision.

When the government plays around with its declared environmental convictions with the ease of a juggler, it sows serious doubts on its intentions. Even if the Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment is doing his best to convince that, under his watch, the environment carries weight it is clear to all that he has not succeeded in wiping the slate clean. He is still conditioned by the attitudes and the decisions taken by his boss and colleagues in the recent past. Their attitudes have not changed at all. Old habits die hard.

On a positive note, I have to state that the process leading to the draft National Environment Policy submitted for public consultation was one which involved civil society. A number of proposals submitted by civil society, including those in an AD document submitted to Mario de Marco, were taken on board. I also had the opportunity to discuss the draft policy and AD’s views with Dr de Marco on more than one occasion. The discussions were, in my opinion, beneficial.

The problem the government has so far failed to overcome is that it preaches one thing and continually does the opposite. The only times when it carries out positive environment action is when it is forced on this course by EU legislation or by threats of EU infringement proceedings. Within this context, declarations that Malta aims to go beyond the requirement of the EU’s acquis are, to say the least, hilarious. It would have been much better if the basics of the EU environmental acquis are first put in place.

The environmental initiatives taken during the past seven years have been mostly funded by the EU.

They would not have been possible without such funding.

By spelling it out, the draft National Environment Policy defines the government’s past failures. Hopefully, it also lays the groundwork for the required remedial action. The environmental destruction the government has facilitated and encouraged will take a long time to remedy. In some cases, the damage done is beyond repair.

Beyond the entertainment value of the media circus at Xrobb l-Għaġin, these first steps are just the beginning of a long journey. For the sake of Malta’s future generations I hope that the government does not go astray once more.

AD lambasts Marsa Power Station Persisting Pollution

 

The attempt by government to extend further the use of the obsolete and polluting Marsa Power Station shows the low level of commitment of the Maltese government to the implementation of the EU acquis. Those who voted for a European Malta are once again being betrayed. The Maltese Government has known about the requirement to phase out the Marsa plant from before accession in 2004 but failed to plan for this in an adequate manner.
 
AD spokesperson on energy, industry and transport, Ralph Cassar said “Voters have once more been taken for a ride. In the 1990s they were told that once Delimara Power Station would have been operative, Marsa Power Station would have been decommissioned. Then in 2003 they were told that the Marsa Power Station would either comply with the acquis or else close down. They changed their version once more by stating that the plant would be allowed to pollute but would only operate for 20,000 hours from 1 Jan 2008 onwards. Now that the 20,000 hours have been used up, we are being told that the plant can only be decommissioned by 2013.” Malta risks not being taken seriously by the Commission. The Gonzi government is living in denial if it expects the Commission to let Malta operate a plant in total contravention of EU law. It is incredible that 6 years after acceding to the EU, this government which poses as European, but in fact is everything else but European, has not understood this. Ralph Cassar added, “According to the Large Combustion Plants Directive, Marsa will be allowed to operate beyond the 20,000 hours only if it achieves the emission standards laid down in the Directive.”
 
AD Chairperson Michael Briguglio said that “the government is condemning the residents of Marsa, Fgura, Paola, Tarxien, Santa Lucija and neighbouring localities to 2 more years of unacceptable emissions from the power station with dire consequences for their health. Austin Gatt and Tonio Fench have failed, their carelessness and mismanagement of the energy sector is glaringly obvious. Their incompetence will force our country to keep on using a polluting power plant against all rules which are designed to protect our health.”

The Delimara Inquiry: unfinished business

by Carmel Cacopardo

published on May 1, 2010

____________________________________________________________________________

Many unanswered questions arise from the National Audit Office (NAO) report entitled Enemalta Corporation Tender for Generating Capacity. The conclusions are certainly damning and with no stretch of the imagination can they be considered as pointing at mere shortcomings.

Was there any corruption involved in the Delimara tender? The NAO report is clear: “The NAO’s inquiry did not come across any hard and conclusive evidence of corruption…” (page 8). In my opinion this means that the evidence of wrongdoing encountered and documented does not lead to a definite conclusion. Evidence is still there awaiting further investigations.

It would be worthwhile to recollect that in the few cases in Malta’s recent history where it was concluded that corruption had been proven this had resulted because someone directly involved had spilt the beans.

As reported in other sections of the press, the commissions in play in connection with the Delimara tender are substantially higher than what is normal in this business. When this is coupled with the lack of cooperation encountered by the NAO during its investigations as well as the selective leakages identified, it is reasonable to conclude that much more could yet be unearthed.

But then there is also a related case of proven corruption: Lahmeyer International (LI), Enemalta’s advisers, were found guilty of corruption relative to two World Bank contracts and, as a result, on November 6, 2006, they were added to the World Bank’s blacklist. The tainted contracts refer to the Lesotho Highlands Water Project in respect of which LI had responsibilities for detailed design work, construction supervision, project studies and technical assistance in connection with water delivery tunnels.

LI offered their services to Enemalta in April 2008, 17 months after being included on the World Bank blacklist. Initially, the unsolicited services of LI were refused by Enemalta but one month later someone had second thoughts and their services were accepted. Why?

When queried by the NAO, senior Enemalta officials declared that they were not aware that LI was blacklisted by the World Bank. The NAO report declares (page 115) that it “was not convinced of the explanations given”.

In the meantime, LI is still advising the Malta Resources Authority, which has not yet publicly reacted to the news that its adviser is currently on the World Bank blacklist for corruption. But maybe we will hear about that at some later stage when the energy interconnection between Malta and Sicily is scrutinised.

In my opinion, the fact that Enemalta did not check into LI’s ethical credentials indicates that Enemalta does not consider these to be of any relevance to its operations. This is not a shortcoming but a serious error of judgment.

Some may point fingers at “inexperienced officers” who dealt with the case. Enemalta board has a duty towards taxpayers to ensure that it engages only the best available staff. It was for this reason that, in the past, we were informed of the substantial emoluments being paid to some of the senior officers. We have been reminded that if you employ the best you cannot pay peanuts. Much more than peanuts has been paid but Enemalta has ended up with monkey business just the same!

There is then the issue of changing the rules mid-way through the process. Enemalta had initiated the tendering process in November 2006 through a Request for Proposals. During the adjudication, in January 2008, the government changed the rules relative to the permissible emissions. The NAO states that while this change is permissible in terms of the relative EU Directive (page 22) the tendering process should have been aborted and the tender reissued in view of the fact that the original specifications were based on different emission levels. Such a line of action, says the NAO, would have ensured a greater degree of transparency and equity (page 53).

There are many other issues the report unearths but the space allotted for this article is very limited.

The NAO-led inquiry was a tough job the Auditor General has done honourably. I have no doubt that he will take the criticism by Enemalta’s chairman and members of the Cabinet in his stride. It is, after all, an occupational hazard that goes with his job.

In view of the damning NAO report, in a democracy, the politician responsible for the Enemalta Delimara tender would stand up, accept political responsibility and resign. So far, he has not done so, which means that all Cabinet has now been forced to collectively shoulder the responsibility instead of their colleague. The only positive note is that he has been relieved of his Enemalta duties some weeks ago!

The NAO report is not the end of the story as many answers are still awaited. This is a business yet unfinished.

original article at : The Times