Il-kontabilità tan-negozji u l-korporazzjonijiet pubbliċi

Illum indirizzajt il-konferenza biennali tal-Malta Institute of Accountants bit-tema: A New Mindset: Reduce. Reuse. Report.

Fl-Unjoni Ewropeja bħalissa għaddejja diskussjoni dwar Direttiva biex kumpaniji diversi jkollhom l-obbligu li jissottomettu rapporti regolari dwarl-impatti tagħhom fuq is-soċjetà. Dawn ir-rapporti jikkonċernaw dak li jissejjaħ “non-financial reporting” u allura jittrattaw dwar impatti ambjentali, impatti soċjali kif ukoll l-attitudnijiet etiċi fil-kumpanija.

Id-diskussjonijiet għadhom għaddejjin. Hu tajjeb li anke aħna niddiskutu dan kollu u kif ser jeffettwa lilna u lill-kumpaniji li joperaw fil-pajjiż.

Emfasizzajt li hu importanti lil-pajjiż ma jfittix xi eżenzjoni minn din id-direttiva. Huwa importanti ukoll li l-korporazzjonijiet tal-Gvern ukoll ikunu kostretti li jippreżentaw dawn ir-rapporti.

Bħal dejjem hemm problema bl-SMEs (Small and Medium Sized Enterprises) li waħda waħda jqisu lil-impatt tagħhom hu żgħir imma li meta tgħoddhom flimkien jammonta għal impatt sostanzjali! Dawn ukoll jeħtieġ lijinstab mod kif jirrappurtaw dwarl-impatti tagħhom. Biex jagħmlu dan ikollhom bżonn l-għajnuna tal-Gvern, kemm għajnuna diretta lilhom kif ukoll lill-assoċjazzjonijiet li jgħinuhom.

Ir-rappurtaġġ li ser teżiġi l-Unjoni Ewropeja hu applikazzjoni tal-prinċipju ta’ trasparenza fuq in-negozju ul-industrija. It-trasparenza hi l-bażi li mingħajrha ma jistax ikollna kontabilità vera.

Għandna kull dritt li nkunu nafu x’inhu jiġri anke fil-kumpaniji u fil-korporazzjonijiet pubbliċi. Mhux il-politiċi biss għandhom jagħtu kont ta’ egħmilhom: anke l-kumpaniji u l-korporazzjonijiet pubbliċi!

Id-diskors kollu taqrah hawn.

Inħarsu l-ODZ

Kważi kulħadd, illum il-ġurnata jaf li l-ittri ODZ ifissru “outside the development zone”, jiġifieri barra miz-zona tal-iżvilupp. Ir-regoli u r-regolamenti tal-ippjanar diġa jħarsu l-ODZ. Hi l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar flimkien mal-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u ir-Riżorsi li għandhom din ir-responsabbilta.

Kull meta jsiru proposti biex jiżdied il-ħarsien tal-ODZ, ifisser biss li l-miżuri attwali ta’ ħarsien  mhux qed jitwettqu sewwa. Fil-prattika jfisser ukoll li l-awtoritajiet maħtura mhux qed jagħmlu xogħolhom u li l-kontrolli fis-seħħ mhux jiffunzjonaw!  

L-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art hu minnu nnifsu kontroversjali għax jinvolvi għażliet, ħafna drabi għażliet diffiċli.  Anke deċiżjonijiet żgħar, ukoll iħallu lil uħud diżappuntati: aħseb u ara deċiżjonijiet maġġuri li jkollhom impatti konsiderevoli fuq bosta.  Li tiddetermina n-natura tal-iżvilupp permissibli u l-limiti tiegħu hu mill-iktar kontroversjali. Dan rajnieh iseħħ quddiem għajnejna huma u jkunu ifformulati l-pjani lokali ħmistax-il sena ilu, u iktar waqt l-implimentazzjoni tagħhom.

Il-pjani lokali jistgħu jkunu wieħed minn żewġ tipi: jistgħu jkunu ċari ħafna u rigidi b’mod li jispeċifikaw eżatt x’għandu jsir bla ebda eċċezzjoni. F’dan il-kaz ikun jeħtieg li dawn ikunu aġġornati regolarment biex jirriflettu l-aspettattivi raġjonevoli tal-komunità.  Minflok, il-pjani lokali jistgħu jkun flessibli, b’mod li jipprovdu soluzzjonijiet differenti għal cirkustanzi differenti. F’dan il-kaz il-proċess ta’ interpretazzjoni hu wieħed kruċjali: jeħtieġ li jkun wieħed konsistenti.

F’kull kaz, dan kollu hu dipendenti fuq li jkollok persuni ta’ integrità li jamministraw l-affarijiet. Tul is-snin id-dibattitu pubbliku żviluppa b’mod li kien hemm qbil li l-politiku għandu joqgħod lura milli jinvolvi ruħu fil-proċess tal-ippjanar. Sfortunatament ma sarx hekk għax il-politiku għażel persuni oħrajn biex jaġixxu f’ismu, imma kontinwament jassigura ruħu li jibqa’ jikkontrolla hu, bir-remote control! 

Dawk li jiffurmaw parti mill-proċess ta’ teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet kienu “persuni ta’ fiduċja” lesti biex jagħmlu li jgħidulhom u dan sfortunatament xejjen l-iskop kollu tar-riformi li saru tul is-snin.  Dan rajnieh iseħħ quddiem għajnejna. Fost dawn “il-persuni ta’ integrità” li appuntaw fuq il-bordijiet insibu agent tal-propjetà, jirreklama żvilupp li għadu ma sarx u li kien għad irid japprova hu. Dan weħel multa sostanzjali dwar ħasil ta’ flus u bħalissa għaddej bi proċeduri kriminali dwar iktar akkużi ta’ ħasil ta’ flus!

Din hi l-vera problema tal-ippjanar fl-użu tal-art f’Malta u tal-ħarsien tal-ODZ: l-għażla ta’ dawk li ser jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet! Qabel ma din tissolva ser jibqa’ jsir it-tħarbit.

Tul it-tlett snin li għamilt naħdem fl-uffiċċju tal-verifika tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kelli l-opportunità li nifhem dan ferm iktar u dan billi eżaminajt numru mhux żgħir ta’ kazijiet.

Il-lobbying favur jew kontra deċiżjoni speċifika tal-ippjanar hi parti integrali mill-proċess kollu.  Dan jista’ jagħmel il-ġid jekk ikun dokumentat kif imiss u jkun ikkunsidrat bis-serjetà. Imma jekk l-argumenti jsiru bil-ħabi u bis-segretezza jew bit-tfesfis fil-widnejn, jista’ jwassal għal deċiżjonijiet ħżiena u anke għall-korruzzjoni.

Tul is-snin kellna numru ta’ professjonisti tal-ippjanar li ġew imwarrba għax kienu kompetenti iżżejjed!  Ma ġewx imwarrba għal raġunijiet politiċi. Li dawn ġew imwarrba kellu effett doppju:  intilfu professjonisti validi imma bihom ingħatat twissija lill-bqija. Xejn ma hemm allura għax niskantaw li l-bqija jimxu mal-kurrent: għax hekk jaqbel!

F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi hu ċar li ma hemm l-ebda futur għal ippjanar raġjonevoli dwar l-użu tal-art sakemm il-politiku jibqa’ jiġbed l-ispag: fid-deher jew fil-moħbi.  Ir-rwol tal-politika u tal-politiku hu li jistabilixxi direzzjoni politika u li jara li jkunu allokati r-riżorsi meħtieġa. L-implimentazzjoni, iżda, għandha titħalla f’idejn min hu mħarreġ biex jagħmel dan ix-xogħol. Dan sfortunatament  bħalissa jidher li hu holm!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: 19 ta’ Settembru 2021

Protecting the ODZ

Most of us are aware that the letters ODZ stand for the term “outside the development zone”. Planning rules and regulations already protect the ODZ. The protection of the ODZ is the responsibility of both the Planning Authority as well as the Environment and Resources Authority.

Whenever proposals are made to further protect the ODZ, this signifies just one thing: that current measures are not functioning as expected. In practice it also signifies that the appointed authorities are not carrying out their responsibilities adequately. Specifically, the underlying problem is that checks and balances in land use planning and environmental protection are malfunctioning.

Land use planning is by its very nature controversial as it involves choices as to how best to proceed. Even normal day-to-day decisions tend to disappoint some, let alone major decisions having considerable impacts! Determining the nature of the permissible development and its limits is the most controversial of all. We have seen all this unfolding when the local plans were formulated fifteen years ago, and more in the manner in which they have and are being implemented.

Local plans can be one of two types: they can be very rigid, determining exactly what can or cannot be done without any exception. In such a case they would require frequent revision to keep up-to-date with reasonable expectations of the community.  Alternatively, they may be flexible, catering for different situations. The problem in such a case is their interpretation, which has to be carried out in a consistent manner.

In all cases, however, it boils down to having persons of integrity administering the process. Over the years the local public debate has developed in a manner that it was considered adequate to keep the politician out of the planning process as much as possible. In reality this was not done as the politicians at the end of the day selected others to do their bidding, subject to remote controlling. Those forming part of land use planning decision-taking have generally been “persons of trust”, ready to do the politician’s bidding, which unfortunately brings us back to square one.

We have seen the process function unashamedly in this manner over the years. Among the “persons of integrity” appointed as decision-takers one finds an estate agent, advertising the developments which he was yet to approve. He was subject to an administrative fine for money-laundering and is currently undergoing criminal proceedings on more charges of money laundering!

This is the real problem in land use planning and the protection of the ODZ: selecting the decision-taker! Until this is solved, we have to witness much more damage.

During the three years when I worked as part of the land use planning audit office, I had the opportunity to understand the matter by examining in depth a number of specific cases.

Lobbying in favour or against a specific planning decision is an integral part of the land use planning process. It can be healthy if it is well documented and tackled above board. It may however lead to bad decisions and eventually corruption if done secretly or in an underhand manner.

Over the years I have seen a number of very competent professional planners being side-lined as they were too competent! The political persuasion of the planner in such cases was irrelevant. Their side-lining had a double effect: in addition to losing the competent planner this served as a warning shot to the rest. Consequently, it is no surprise that most of the rank-and-file planners choose the path of least resistance: it is to their personal benefit!

There is no future for reasonable land use planning if the politician keeps fiddling around. The role of politics is about setting the political direction and allocating the required resources. Its implementation should be left to those who are trained to carry out the job. Unfortunately, so far, that has proven to be too much to expect!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 19 September 2021

PLPN : parrini tar-rgħiba

Il-pjani lokali huma 7. Il-Pjan Lokali dwar il-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk kien approvat fl-1995, madwar sentejn wara li twaqqfet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Kellhom jgħaddu 7 snin oħra biex ġie approvat pjan lokali ieħor, din id-darba dak għall-Port il-Kbir.  Il-bqija kienu approvati f’daqqa bl-għaġġla fis-sajf tal-2006. Fl-2006 ukoll kien ippubblikat u approvat mill-Parlament dokument ieħor dwar ċaqlieq tal-linja tal-iżvilupp, intitolat “Rationalisation of Development Zone Boundaries”.

Kull wieħed minn dawn it-tmien dokumenti huwa wild il-PN fil-Gvern. Il-konsiderazzjonijiet ambjentali fihom huma nieqsa bil-kbira.

B’mod partikulari, d-dokument li ċaqlaq il-linja tal-żvilupp  ġie approvat mill-Parlament b’għaġġla kbira u bħala riżultat ta’ hekk żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art li kienu barra  miż-żona ta’ żvilupp (ODZ) f’daqqa waħda saru tajbin għall-iżvilupp.

Mill-Opposiżżjoni l-Partit Laburista fil-Parlament ivvota kontra dan iċ-ċaqlieq tal-linja tal-iżvilupp, imma, wara, meta tela’ fil-Gvern ġie jaqa’ u jqum minn dan kollu. Dan minħabba li l-opposizzjoni għall-proposti kienet waħda partiġjana mhux minħabba xi viżjoni alternattiva.

Il-pjani lokali jeħtieġu reviżjoni immedjata. Id-dokument li jistabilixxi kif kellha tiċċaqlaq il-linja tal-iżvilupp għandu jitħassar u safejn hu possibli dik l-art kollha (ż-żewġ miljun metru kwadru) terġa’ issir art ODZ – barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.  

Fost it-tibdil meħtieġ hemm tnaqqis ġenerali fl-għoli permissibli tal-bini, liema għoli, f’ħafna każi qed itellef lill-komunità residenzjali mid-dritt ta’ aċċess għax-xemx. Dan qed inaqqas u jostakola l-potenzjal tagħna bħala pajjiż fil-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli. Dan kollu kien injorat mill-pjani lokali.

Hemm bosta materji oħra fl-erba’ rkejjen tal-pajjiż li jeħtieġu li jkunu eżaminati mill-ġdid. Kif spjegajt f’artiklu preċedenti l-pjani lokali ma jagħtux każ tal-impatti kumulattivi tal-iżvilupp li huma stess jipproponu. Din hi materja bażika li teħtieġ attenzjoni kbira għax għandha impatt sostanzjali fuq il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna. Sfortunatament il-pjani lokali ftit li xejn jagħtu każ tal-kwalità tal-ħajja. Jiffokaw fuq is-sodisfazzjon tar-rgħiba.

Għandu jkun hemm kumpens jekk art li illum tista’ tkun żviluppata terġa’ lura fl-ODZ bħala art mhiex tajba għall-iżvilupp?

Xi ġimgħat ilu l-Ministru  Aaron Farrugia responsabbli għall-Ippjanar u l-Ambjent kien qal li kellu l-parir favur id-dritt ta’ kumpens. Konvenjentement l-Onorevoli Ministru injora l-fatt li l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali f’Malta kif ukoll il-Qorti Ewropeja dwar id-Drittijiet tal-Bniedem diġa kellhom kaz bħal dan fejn kien hemm talba għal kumpens. Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali irrifjutat it-talba u l-Qorti fi Strasbourg ma ikkunsidratx t-talba f’deċiżjoni fis- 27 September 2011 li fiha iddiskutiet il-parametri legali applikabbli.

Il-kaz huwa dwar il-kumpanija Maltija Trimeg Limited u jikkonċerna 10,891 metru kwadru ta’ art li kienu fil-limiti tal-iżvilupp fl-1989 kif stabilit mill-iskemi temporanji tal-iżvilupp ta’ dakinnhar. Imma fl-1996 din l-art ġiet skedata għal skop ta’ konservazzjoni f’kuntest tal-protezzjoni tal-widien. Fil-Qrati Maltin il-kumpanija Maltija kienet qalet illi li kieku ħarġu l-permessi ta’ żvilupp l-art kien ikollha valur ta’  €11-il miljun. B’daqqa ta’ pinna imma, dan naqas għal  €230,000. Trimeg Limited kienet xtrat din l-art  €140,000.Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali f’Malta ma aċċettatx dawn l-argumenti. Il-Qorti fi Strasbourg ma bidlet xejn minn dak li qalet il-Qorti Maltija.

Dan hu kaz wieħed biss. Il-ħsieb ġenerali iżda hu li apprezzament tal-ħarsien ambjentali qed jaqbad art fost in-nies illum li huma iktar sensittivi minn qatt qabel dwar dan.  Ħadd m’għandu jistenna kumpens għat-tibdil li jkun meħtieġ.

Din hi ġlieda kontinwa mar-rgħiba u l-ispekulazzjoni. Nafu li fil-passat, u għal żmien twil, ir-rgħiba kienet minn fuq. Ir-rgħiba fl-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art kellha żewġ parrini: il-PN u l-PL. Fl-Opposizzjoni jopponu u fil-Gvern jirrumblaw minn fuq kulħadd.  

Kemm il-PN kif ukoll il-PL ma jistgħux jindirizzaw din il-mandra fl-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art għax huma parti mill-problema: il-PLPN ħolquha, kabbruha u iddefendewha. Il-PN beda l-froġa u il-Labour sostniha.

Hu meħtieġ li nibdew paġna ġdida.  Il-linja tal-iżvilupp trid titraġġa lura u l-pjani lokali jeħtieġu tibdil mill-qiegħ. Aħna l-Ħodor biss nistgħu nagħmluh dan, għax aħna m’aħna fil-but ta’ ħadd. L-oħrajn, bil-provi wrew tul is-snin li bejn ir-rgħiba u l-kwalità tal-ħajja dejjem isostnu r-rgħiba!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 5 ta’ Settembru 2021

PLPN have continuously sponsored greed

The local plans are 7 in number.  The Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan was approved in 1995, just two years after the setting up of the Planning Authority. It took another 7 years to approve the next one, the Grand Harbour Local Plan. The rest were approved in one go, in a hurry in the summer of 2006. In 2006 a document entitled “Rationalisation of Development Zone Boundaries” was also published and approved by Parliament.

All eight documents above-mentioned have the PN fingerprints on them. They are certainly not green fingerprints.

The Rationalisation document in particular which was rushed through Parliamentary approval during July 2006 transformed 2 million square metres of land outside the development zone into land which could be considered for development. It shifted the development zone boundaries.

Labour, in Opposition when the rationalisation document was submitted for Parliament’s consideration, voted against its adoption only to embrace it as if it were its own once it was elected into government. Labour’s opposition was not on principle due to some alternative vision. It was pure partisan politics.

The local plans should be revisited the earliest. The rationalisation document should be scrapped and the land it refers to returned to ODZ status wherever this is possible.

Among the revisions considered essential to the local plans is a general reduction in permissible building heights which are interfering with the solar rights of our residential community. This is hampering our potential as a country to generate more renewable energy. This was ignored by the local plans!

There are various other issues spread all over the islands which require revisiting and careful analysis. As explained in a previous article the local plans fail to take into consideration the cumulative impacts of the development which they propose. This is one of the basic matters which should be considered in depth as it has a substantial impact on our quality of life.

Unfortunately, quality of life was considered irrelevant on the local plan drawing board. Only servicing greed was deemed essential.

Would any compensation be due if land currently suitable for development is relegated to ODZ status? Some weeks ago, Planning and Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia emphasised that the advice he received was in favour of compensation. Conveniently the Hon Minister failed to point out that the Constitutional Court in Malta and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has already dealt with a Maltese similar case requesting compensation. The Constitutional Court shot down the case and the Strasbourg Court considered it as being inadmissible on 27 September 2011 in a decision which discusses at some length the applicable legal parameters.

The case involved the Maltese Company Trimeg Limited and concerned 10,891 square metres of land which was within the limits of development as defined by the Temporary Provisions Schemes of 1989 but was then, in 1996, scheduled for conservation purposes as part of a valley protection zone.  The Maltese Company had previously claimed in the Maltese Courts that the land would have a value of €11 million if development permits were issued but was reduced in value to €230,000 at the stroke of a pen. The land was originally purchased by Trimeg Limited for €140,000.

The Constitutional Court in Malta had not accepted the arguments brought forward and the Strasbourg Court did not change anything from that judgement.

This is obviously just one case. The general train of thought however is that it is not a legitimate expectation to expect that the law does not change in the future. Environmental protection is hopefully on the increase as today’s men and women are nowadays more sensitive on the matter.

It is obviously a continuous tug-of-war with greed and speculation. The dreadful news of the past is that greed has for quite a stretch of time had the upper hand. Greed in land use planning has been alternatively sponsored by the PN and the PL. They oppose it when in opposition but adopt it once in government.

Neither the PN nor the PL can offer solutions to the current land use planning mess as both of them are part of the problem: PLPN created it, encouraged it and defended it. PN created the mess, PL sustained it.

It is time to start a new page. Scrap the rationalisation exercise and radically reform the local plans. Only we, the Greens, can do it, as we are in nobody’s pocket. The others have proven, time and again that they support greed at the expense of our quality of life.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 September 2021

Il-kontabilità tal-banek għall-ħsara ambjentali

Meta niddibattu l-ħsara ambjentali li qed tiżdied kontinwament madwarna nagħmlu tajjeb li nippuntaw subgħajna lejn ir-regolaturi nkompetenti u lejn ir-regħba tal-hekk imsejħa żviluppaturi. Wasal iż-żmien li ma dawn inżidu l-banek, għax huma l-banek li jiffanzjaw il-proġetti ta’ żvilupp u allura huma jagħmlu din il-ħsara possibli. Anke l-banek, għaldaqstant għandhom l-obbligu li jerfgħu ir-responsabbiltà fuq spallejhom għall-ħsara ambjentali li qed isseħħ: huma qed jiffinanzjawha.

Meta neżaminaw ir-rapporti annwali tal-banek lokali ewlenin hu ċar li dawn huma nteressati biss fil- profitti. Kontinwament taparsi jħossu għall ambjent. Dan jagħmluh biss u esklussivament biex jipproteġu r-reputazzjoni tagħhom.

Il-banek ipinġu lilhom infushom bħala li qegħdin hemm biex ikunu ta’ għajnuna. Regolarment iroxxu ftit flus favur numru ta’ kawżi ġusti. Iżda minkejja din is-sensittività  artifiċjali lejn setturi diversi tal-komunità, il-profitt jibqa’ dejjem prijorità fuq il-lejaltà lejn in-nies u lejn il-komunità.

L-attitudni tagħhom lejn proġetti ta’ żvilupp hi indikattiva ta’ dan. Il-banek rarament jindikaw fl-istqarrijiet pubbliċi inkella fir-rapporti tagħhom jekk u kif jagħtu każ ta’ impatti ambjentali u soċjali meta jkunu qed jikkunsidraw li jgħinu biex ikun iffinanzjat xi proġett ta’ żvilupp.  

Fl-aħħar rapport annwali tiegħu, per eżempju, l-HSBC jirreferi għal dawk li jissejħu Equator Principles. Dawn l-Equator Principles huma sett ta’ kriterji miftehma fuq skala internazzjonali bejn banek u istituzzjonijiet finanzjarji. Huma qafas regolatorju volontarju dwar kif l-istituzzjonijiet finanzjarji għandhom jeżaminaw u jagħtu piz lir-riskji soċjali u ambjentali assoċjati ma’ proġetti li jkunu quddiemhom għall-finanzjament.  Jistabilixxu l-kriterji minimi li għandhom ikunu applikati huma u jittieħdu deċiżjonijiet dwar dawn ir-riskji.  Fost affarijiet oħra, dawn l-Equator Principles jitkellmu dwar kif il-banek u l-istituzzjonijiet finanzjarji għandhom jiddjalogaw mal-utenti (stakeholders) dwar azzjoni effettiva biex ikunu ndirizzati ir-riskji ambjentali u soċjali minn proġetti li jkunu quddiemhom għall-finanzjament.

L-HSBC, sal-lum, ma ippubblikax rapporti jew xi tip ta’ informazzjoni oħra dwar il-mod prattiku kif il-bank qed japplika dawn il-prinċipji f’Malta. Għad irridu naraw kif il-bank qed jassigura ruħu li r-riskji ambjentali u soċjali ġew identifikati u ndirizzati u speċifikament kif il-klijenti żviluppaturi tal-bank qed jiddjalogaw mal-utenti (stakeholders).

Fir-rapport annwali tal-Bank of Valletta, min-naħa l-oħra, insibu spjegazzjoni tal-miri tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli, deskrizzjoni dwar il-kawżi ġusti appoġġjati mill-bank u rendikont tal-azzjoni mittieħda biex il-friegħi tal-bank ikunu effiċjenti fl-użu tal-enerġija u joperaw b’mod li ma jagħmlux ħsara ambjentali. Ir-rapport jiddeskrivi ukoll is-servizzi tal-bank biex il-klijenti tiegħu ikollhom aċċess aħjar għal finanzi biex jimplementaw diversi miżuri ambjentali. Ir-rapport tal-BoV ma jagħmel l-ebda referenza għall-Equator Principles jew xi qafas regolatorju alternattiv.

Il-Lombard Bank, min-naħa l-oħra, fl-aħħar rapport annwali tiegħu jemfasizza l-attenzjoni tal-management biex jimminimizza l-impatti ambjentali mill-operazzjonijiet tiegħu. Jgħidilna li hu ukoll jgħin kawżi ġusti! L-anqas il-Lombard Bank ma jirreferi għall- Equator Principles jew xi linji gwida oħra dwar x’għandu jsir biex il-klijenti żviluppaturi jkunu sorveljati aħjar mill-bank.

Fuq livell ta’ Unjoni Ewropeja il-Bank Ċentrali Ewropew għadu kif approva dokument b’linja gwida dwar ir-riskji klimatiċi u ambjentali li hu applikabbli għas-settur bankarju kollu fl-Unjoni minn din is-sena. Primarjament dan id-dokument jirrigwarda ir-riskji klimatiċi.

Il-banek għandhom responsabbiltà li jassiguraw illi meta jiffinanzjaw proġetti ta’ żvilupp, il-finanzi li jipprovdu ma jkunux użati biex issir jew biex tkun aċċelerata ħsara ambjentali u/jew soċjali. Meta din il-ħsara ambjentali u/jew soċjali sseħħ, ir-responsabbilta m’għandiex tintrefa biss mill-iżviluppatur u mir-regolaturi imma ukoll mill-bank. Għax anke l-bank għandu jkun kontabbli. Wara kollox hu l-bank permezz tal-finanzjament li jipprovdi li jagħmel l-iżvilupp possibli. Kull meta l-banek ikunu kompliċi fi ħsara ambjentali u/jew soċjali ikollhom huma wkoll jerfgħu r-responsabbiltà. Mingħajr l-involviment tagħhom, wara kollox, il-ħsara ma isseħħx!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 29 ta’ Awwissu 2021

Holding banks to account for environmental damage

When discussing the current environmental onslaught developing around us, we rightly focus on incompetent regulators and greedy developers. It is about time that we also address the role of the banks: they make environmental degradation possible as they generally finance the development works which cause the said degradation. As a result, it is about time that banks too shoulder their responsibility for the ever-increasing environmental degradation.

Going through the annual reports of the major local banks it is more than clear that banks are only interested in profits. They engage in continuous greenwashing in order to try and minimise their reputational damage.

The banks portrait themselves as being there to help. They regularly sprinkle some cash to sponsor worthy causes. Notwithstanding this artificial sensitivity towards various sectors of the community, profits always take a priority over people in the banks’ operations.  Financing of development projects are a case in point. Banks rarely indicate in their public statements and reports whether and to what extent they factor in environmental and social considerations when deciding whether to make finance available for any particular development project.

HSBC, for example, refers to the applicability of the Equator Principles in its latest annual report. The Equator Principles are a risk management framework adopted by a number of financial institutions “for determining, assessing and managing environmental and social risk in projects.” They are intended to provide a minimum standard for due diligence and monitoring to support responsible risk decision-making.  Among other matters the Equator Principles deal with stakeholder engagement and require effective action dealing with environmental and social risks by developers who seek financial facilities from banks.

HSBC has not to date publicly reported on the matter as to the practical manner in which it applies these principles in Malta. We have yet to see how the bank establishes that environmental and social risks have been assessed and specifically the extent to which the bank ensures that proper stakeholder engagement has been carried out by its developer clients!

The Bank of Valletta annual report on the other hand gives us its take on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, describes at some length the worthy causes which it supports and explains the action taken to ensure that its branches are energy efficient and environmentally friendly. It also describes its services which facilitate client access to finance environmentally friendly initiatives. The Bank of Valletta Annual Report does not make any reference to the Equator Principles.

Lombard Bank in its latest annual report emphasises that it takes great care in minimising the environmental impacts of its operations. It also stresses its extensive contributions and initiatives to a number of worthy causes. Lombard Bank does not refer to the Equator Principles or any other benchmark or standard which it applies when dealing with its developer clients.

On an EU level the European Central Bank has very recently approved a “Guide on Climate-Related and Environmental Risks” applicable to the banking sector throughout the European Union as from this year.  As its title indicates it is primarily concerned with climate-related risks.

Banks have a responsibility to ensure that when financing development projects, the finance made available is not utilised to cause or accelerate environmental and/or social damage. Whenever such environmental and/or social damage arises it is not just the developers and the regulators which should shoulder responsibility for the said damage. Even banks should be held to account. They make it possible! Banks should pay the price whenever they are collaborators in the ever-increasing environmental degradation. They make it happen!

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 August 2021

Min hemm wara l-jott marina f’Marsaskala?

X’inhu jiġri dwar il-jott marina fil-Bajja ta’ Marsaskala? Skiet perfett s’issa.

L-ebda indikazzjoni dwar x’inhu għaddej minn wara l-kwinti. Xi ħaġa imma għaddejja żgur.

Il-bieraħ jiena ċempilt tlett telefonati, lil tlett periti li naf li huma midħla ta’ dan it-tip ta’ xogħol. Staqsejthom jekk humiex qed jippreparaw il-pjanti għall-jott marina f’Marsaskala.

L-ewwel wieħed mhux biss qalli li mhuwiex qed jaħdem fuq dawn il-pjanti: qalli ukoll li ma jaqbilx ma’ jott marina fil-Bajja ta’ Marsaskala. Qalli ukoll li lilu ħadd ma ikkuntattjah.

It-tieni wieħed qalli le ukoll. Imma qalli li kien imsiefer u għadu kif ġie lura. Qalli li s’issa ħadd ma ikkuntattjah lilu.

It-tielet wieħed qalli storja differenti. Qalli li xi ġranet ilu kellmu wieħed avukat ħabib tiegħu li hu midħla tal-politika. “Trid nidħlulha?” kienet il-mistoqsija tal-avukat. It-tweġiba tal-perit, skond kif qalli, kienet fin-negattiv. L-isem ta’ dan l-avukat midħla tal-politika ma qalulix, minkejja li staqsejtu. Ma xtaqx jgħidli ismu, għax hu ħabib tiegħu!

Ma naħsibx li hu prudenti li nsemmi ismijiet: iktar u iktar la l-ebda wieħed mit-tlett periti li kellimt mhu qed iħejji l-proposti għall-jott marina f’Marsaskala.

Xi ħaġa jidher li qed jinħema. Biż-żmien insiru nafu id-dettalji kollha!

Sadanittant, jiena u nikkonkludi dan l-artiklu, xi ħaddieħor infurmani li l-ewwel studji tal-EIA bdew!

Marsaskala: the yacht marina strings

The publication by Transport Malta, last week, of a pre-qualification questionnaire relative to the “award of a concession contract for the design, build, finance, operate, maintain and transfer of a marina” at Marsaskala requires further explanation. What has been going on behind the scenes? Specifically, on whose initiative has the ball been set rolling? Is this part of the ongoing development spree, intended to bolster existing or planned development elsewhere in Marsaskala?

At some point the truth will come out. It would be hence much better if Transport Malta, and whosoever may be pulling the strings, to put all the cards on the table now.

The proposed Marsaskala yacht marina is tainted, even at this stage, with the general local plan defects: a lack of adequate environmental assessment. The assessment of the cumulative impacts of the various local plan proposals has never been carried out. These impacts add up and seen together they should have been cause for concern, even at the drawing board stage. Unfortunately, nothing was done at that stage to mitigate the anticipated cumulative impacts of the local plan proposals.

Those of us who have been subjecting land use planning to a continuous scrutiny, have, since way back in 2006, emphasised that the local plans were then not subjected to the emerging Strategic Environment Assessment procedures. In fact, the local plans, those still pending approval, after having been retained in draft form for some time, were rushed through all the approval stages during the summer months of 2006 specifically to avoid being subjected to the provisions of the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive of the EU which entered into force during August of 2006 or thereabouts!

The specific impacts of the proposed yacht marina will undoubtedly be eventually analysed by an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which will be triggered if a planning application for the yacht marina is eventually submitted.  Legislation in force provides ample room for involvement of all, when this commences, starting off from the basic EIA terms of reference right up to the consideration of the detailed studies, and more. We have been through that many times in respect of various development proposals.

However, the cumulative impacts on the Marsaskala community, both residential and commercial, will not be carried out as that was avoided at the outset when the local plan for Marsaskala (part of the Local Plan for the South) was approved. This is the basic underlying worry expressed in not so many words by all those who have stood up to object to the sudden unexplained intrusion of Transport Malta into Marsaskala affairs. Kudos to John Baptist Camilleri, Marsaskala local councillor, for prodding the Marsaskala Local Council to stand up and be counted. The Marsaskala local council ought to have been consulted even in terms of the Local Council Act which makes it incumbent on central government and its agencies to consult with local councils whenever any initiative having local impacts is being considered.

Transport Malta is acting as an agent of central government. Government, led by the Labour Party, has conveniently distanced itself from the political responsibilities which result from the local plans , coupled with the rationalisation exercise, which have been shouldered by its predecessor in government, the Nationalist Party.  It has been very convenient for Labour to politically lump all the local plan fallout on the PN. However, sixteen years down the line, it is pretty evident that the Labour Party, in government for over eight years, has been very reluctant to handle the long overdue revision of the local plans and factoring in considerations resulting from a study of the cumulative impacts abovementioned. This is not only applicable to the local plan relative to Marsaskala, but to all local plans! It has obviously been too hot to handle.

Minister Aaron Farrugia, politically responsible for both land use planning and the environment, has been reported in the media, in the past few days, as stating that the local plan revision will start immediately after the general election, expected shortly. He has stated that the process will take around three years.  His predecessor as Minister responsible for land use planning, Ian Borg, had made some statements in the distant past about this, indicating the then parameters for a revision of the local plans. But nothing has materialised yet except his extreme reluctance to act!

I would, at this stage, remind the Hon Minister of the proposals from the Maltese Greens on the need to reverse the rationalisation exercise as well as on the urgent need to implement a moratorium on large scale development throughout the islands. These proposals have been part of our electoral manifesto repeatedly since 2006. Over-development and the building industry have to be brought under control the soonest.

It is not just about Marsaskala and its proposed yacht marina.  It is time to take stock of the ruin inflicted on these islands by a mismanaged land use planning process, by an irresponsible rationalisation exercise and by local plans which do not consider cumulative environmental impacts.

The proposed yacht marina at Marsaskala is just the latest example of this mismanagement.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 22 August 2021

Tourism: from Covid to Climate Change

The tourism lobby, through the MHRA (Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association), is once more breathing down the authorities’ neck. Some of their former employees have not returned, after the pandemic.  They are obviously referring to those employees of theirs who were shed off their payroll, as soon as the pandemic impacts started being felt.

After treating some of their employees like shit they are now asking for tax exemptions as a carrot to attract them back to fill the void created. Tax exemptions?  Difficult to qualify if you are employed on a zero-hour contract, hardly paying any tax at all!

The fact that an increasing number of employees are migrating from the tourism industry, is indicative that the employment conditions and the remuneration paid by the industry, at least, to some of its employees, is not worth it. If it were, former employees would come back on their own without the need to be enticed with tax exemptions.

Specifically, sections of the tourism industry are based on cheap labour: paying miserly hourly rates on zero-hour contracts. In addition to having reasonable rates of pay, it is imperative that zero-hour contracts are scrapped. That is to say a contract of employment must be for an agreed number of hours per week and not left at the absolute discretion of the employer. Greens in Malta have repeatedly advocated this step. A Labour government is apparently not interested.

Isn’t it about time that the tourism industry gets its act together? Government has over the years dedicated many resources to help the industry get on its feet. Various subsidies and favourable administrative decisions including planning policies designed to ride roughshod over the residential community are in place. Yet they want more.

At almost 3 million tourists in 2019, Malta is definitely close to a saturation point in the uptake of tourists it can handle. This has placed too large a strain on the country’s infrastructure.

Covid has clearly identified an Achilles heel. We need to learn a number of lessons. Foremost to reduce our dependence on tourism in order to ensure that the next time movement between countries is an issue, impacts on all are cushioned considerably. The next issue is round the corner. It is climate change.

Last week various initiatives were announced by the EU Commission in order that the target of carbon neutrality by 2050 is achieved. The Commission has identified a number of measures which could facilitate the achievement of an intermediate target of 55 per cent greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2030 and beyond.

One such initiative is the environmental taxing of aviation fuel. Such an initiative is intended to internalise the environmental costs of such flights. This could result in either of two options: the payment of a carbon tax by those who use such flights or the use of alternative modes of transport thus avoiding altogether the payment of the tax.

On mainland Europe, use of trains is in many cases a suitable alternative which has considerably reduced environmental impacts. However, in our case we do not have practical alternatives to aviation. This will inevitably increase the costs of flights and consequently bring about a reduction in the number of tourists opting to visit Malta. Most of our competitors will be similarly impacted, but that is no consolation for the industry! Cheap plane fares could soon be history.

As announced by Minister Miriam Dalli, Malta expects that it is a “special case”. Most probably it will be successful in negotiating a reasonable transition, and/or some exceptions. In the long run, however, opposing outright such a measure goes against Malta’s long-term interests. Malta, like all island states, together with coastal settlements and communities, will have to face some of the worst impacts of climate change, that is sea-level rise. The climate, would not care less about our special case, or our economy. It will impact us just as forcefully. The climate is merciless.

It would be pertinent to remember that most of our tourism infrastructure lies along or within reach of the coast. This signifies that a sea-level rise could easily play havoc with such infrastructure. If substantial, a sea-level rise will also seriously impact our coastal communities, which are spread over quite a large area along the coast.

It is about time that we stop and think carefully. Tourism is at the crossroads. It needs to be subject to an overhaul: taking into consideration the covid lessons, and applying them to the climate change scenario which sooner or later we will have to face. This is the future of tourism, not tax exemptions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 25 July 2021