Il-pandemija u l-kummerċ tal-Milied

Bħala riżultat tal-pandemija Covid-19, dan il-Milied ser ikun wieħed differenti minn dawk li ġew qablu.  Normalment il-Milied  huwa ż-żmien meta  nissoċjaliżżaw iktar mill-bqija tas-sena. Żmien li fih niltaqgħu iktar mal-ħbieb u mal-familjari. Huwa ż-żmien li fih hu normali li niltaqgħu fi gruppi għal attivitajiet differenti.  

Dan hu kompletament bil-maqlub tal-mod kif issa jeħtieġ li naġixxu biex nikkumbattu kontra l-coronavirus. Li nnaqqsu drastikament u possibilment nevitaw il-kuntatti tagħna hu l-minimu meħtieġ f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi biex tonqos l-imxija tal-coronavirus.  Bosta minna hekk jagħmlu, minkejja li l-Gvern kontinwament jagħtina sinjali konfliġġenti.   

Wieħed minn dawn is-sinjali konfliġġenti ngħata waqt il-konferenza stampa biex ikun imniedi  Christmas in the City iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa. Il-Ministri  Josè Herrera u Julia Farrugia-Portelli, imwieżna miċ-Chairman tas-Super One Jason Micallef, u oħrajn, tkellmu dwar il-ħinijiet tax-xiri u dwar kemm ser ikun faċli l-parking għal min jitħajjar imur il-Belt biex jixtri r-rigali tal-Milied. L-ispirtu tal-Milied xejn ma jiddependi mis-siegħat ta’ xiri fil-ħwienet. L-anqas ma jiddependi minn kemm ikollna aċċess faċli għall-parking.  

Is-sinifikat propju tal-Milied hu tal-istaġun tas-solidarjetà li fiċ-ċirkustanzi preżenti, maħluqa mill-pandemija, hu importanti iktar minn qatt qabel.

Fl-istess ħin li l-Ministri Herrera u Farrugia-Portelli kienu kienu qed jitkellmu dwar Christmas in the City, epidemologisti kienu qed iwissuna li matul ix-xahar ta’ Diċembru r-rata tal-imwiet f’Malta mill-Covid-19 mistenni li tiżdied bi tlett darbiet: minn żewgt imwiet kuljum għal sitta kuljum. In-numru tal-imwiet mill-Covid-19 diġa żdied b’mod konsiderevoli sa minn meta tnaqqsu r-restrizzjonijiet f’Lulju li għadda. Fil-ħin li qed nikteb in-numru ta’ mwiet ħtija tal-Covid-19 laħaq il-108, u sa x’ħin dan l-artiklu jinqara n-numru sfortunatament ikompli jikber.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan ma jagħmilx sens li tistieden lin-nies biex jinżlu l-Belt għax-xiri tar-rigali tal-Milied. Huwa l-waqt li nagħmlu eżatt bil-maqlub:  innaqqsu l-moviment tan-nies bit-tama li dan jgħin fit-trażżin tal-pandemija.  Huwa dan li messu qed iħeġġeġ il-Gvern.

Ikoll nirrikonoxxu li l-pandemija kellha impatt qawwi u negattiv fuq l-għixien ta’ bosta.  Is-setturi tal-ikel u tal-ospitalità  kellhom sfida qawwija matul ix-xhur tas-sajf. Iż-żmien meta normalment imorru tajjeb, kien iż-żmien meta qalgħu l-ikbar daqqa.  Iktar ma noqorbu lejn il-Milied mhux talli l-pandemija ma naqqsitx, talli donna iktar irrankat. L-irkupru ekonomiku jidher li għad baqalu.

In-numru ta’ dawk li qed ikunu infettati qiegħed jikber.  Fl-istess ħin lkoll nifhmu li l-iskop wara x-xewqa li jkunu mħajra n-nies lejn il-Belt u ċ-ċentri kummerċjali hi motivata mill-ħtieġa tad-dinja tal-kummerċ biex ittaffi d-daqqa li qalgħet billi tipprova issarraf ftit mill-kummerċ li normalment jiġġenera l-Milied. Il-konsiderazzjonijiet ta’ saħħa, imma, għandhom dejjem jibqgħu l-prijorità: issa mhux iż-żmien li jkunu nkoraġġiti l-ebda tip ta’ celebrazzjonijiet.  Flok ma ninkoraġixxu lin-nies biex tersaq lejn ic-ċentri kummerċjali l-Gvern għandu jkun fuq quddiem biex iħeġġeġ l-attenzjoni u prudenza. Mhux Ministru wieħed, imma l-Gvern kollu! Il-vouchers, l-għotjiet, l-għajnuniet u s-supplimenti għall-pagi li l-Gvern qed iqassam f’isimna lkoll, wara kollox, għandhom l-iskop li jtaffu dan il-piz li nħoloq bħala riżultat tal-pandemija.

Għalfejn f’dan il-mument kritiku narmu l-kisbiet li ġibna bis-sagrifiċċji ta’ bosta? Għax huwa dan li nkunu qed nagħmlu kull meta jingħata ħjiel li wara kollox tajjeb li ninġabru u niċċelebraw. Issa mhux il-waqt għal dan.

Il-Covid-19 mhux ser joqtol il-Milied jekk inqas nies jixtru ir-rigali! L-ispirtu tal-Milied ma jitkejjilx  mill-volum ta’ rigali li jinxtraw imma minn kemm aħna kapaċi nkun solidali mal-vulnerabbli tal-lum.

U issa?

L-ikbar att ta’ solidarjetà, bħalissa, hu li harsu lill-vulnerabbli fostna billi nimxu mad-direttivi tal-awtoritajiet tas-saħħa intenzjonati biex iżommu lill-pandemija milli tkompli tixtered.  Il-vaċċin jidher li hu fil-qrib. Dan inissel tama li possibilment matul l-ewwel nofs tas-sena l-ġdida nibdew l-ewwel passi fil-mixja bil-mod lejn in-normalità.  

Imma sadakinnhar hu obbligu tagħna li nħarsu kemm lilna nfusna kif ukoll lil ħaddieħor b’imġieba prudenti. Din hi s-solidarjetà prattika li dan l-istaġun tal-Milied jistenna minn għandna.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 22 ta’ Novembru 2020

Covid-19 and the City

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, this Christmas is essentially different from all past ones.

Christmas is normally time for meeting with friends and family, for socialising. It is the time when we normally gather in large groups for a variety of purposes. This is exactly the opposite of what is required to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Avoiding and reducing unnecessary contacts to the bare minimum helps to prevent the further spread of Covid-19. That is what we all say and believe, notwithstanding government’s continuous conflicting signals. 

One of the last such conflicting signals was given during a Press Conference launching Christmas in the City earlier this week. Ministers Josè Herrera and Julia Farrugia-Portelli, buttressed by Super One Chairman Jason Micallef and others spoke about shopping hours and parking requirements when launching Christmas in the City.  The Christmas spirit is not dependent on shopping hours, nor does it have any parking requirements.

In my book Christmas is the solidarity season which in the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic assumes additional significance.

Almost simultaneously with the Christmas in the City launching, epidemiologists were warning us that the daily number of deaths from Covid-19 in Malta was expected to triple during the month of December: from two to six deaths daily. At the time of writing the Covid-19 death count is 106 and rising. The death count has increased substantially since restrictions were reduced in July 2020.

Within this context it is not on to encourage large numbers to descend on Valletta for their Christmas shopping. It is the time to do exactly the opposite: discourage movements, hoping that as a result, movements are restricted to the bear minimum.

All of us acknowledge that Covid-19 has seriously impacted the livelihood of many. Economic sectors such as the food and the hospitality industries have experienced severe challenges during the summer season, when ordinarily this business would have been booming. As we approach Christmas, the pandemic not only does not show any sign of slowing down: it may well spike once more. An opportunity for economic recovery remains under threat.

More people are succumbing to the virus every day. The desire to draw people to Valletta and other commercial centres in an effort to tap the Christmas spirit for commercial gain, thereby providing a lifeline to businesses is understandable. Health considerations should however take priority: now is however not the time to encourage celebrations of whatever nature. Instead of encouraging people to get out to the commercial centres, government should encourage more cautious behaviour. Government handouts and wage supplements have the specific purpose of helping shoulder the burden created by all this.

Why do we threaten the sacrifices of the many at this critical time by encouraging unreasonable behaviour?

Covid-19 will not kill Christmas if fewer people do their Christmas shopping. The Christmas spirit is not measured in terms of the volume of Christmas shopping but in terms of our acts of solidarity.

Where do we go from here?

The greatest act of solidarity, at this time, is to protect the vulnerable amongst us by following the advice of the health authorities intended to contain the Covid-19 spread as much as possible. A vaccine may be on the horizon, possibly heralding the beginning of a slow return to normality in the first half of the new year.

Until then, it is our duty to take care of ourselves and others by ensuring cautious behaviour. This is the practical solidarity expected from all of us this Christmas season.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 November 2020

Il-governanza tajba u l-ħarsien tal-ambjent

Fl-assenza ta’ governanza tajba ma nistgħux inħarsu l-ambjent sewwa. Il-governanza tajba hi essenzjali għall-ħarsien ambjentali.  Huwa għalhekk li iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ssottomettejt oġġezzjonijiet dettaljati bħala parti mill-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika mniedi mill-ERA fil-kaz tal-istudji dwar l-impatt ambjentali (EIA) dwar l-inċineratur propost għall-Magħtab.  

Li jkunu regolati l-kunflitti ta’ interess li b’mod inevitabbli jitfaċċaw f’kull proċess regolatorju huwa element essenzjali mill-proċess ta’ governanza tajba.

Ir-regolamenti f’Malta dwar l-istudju tal-impatt ambjentali, imsejsa fuq is-sens komun u fuq id-direttivi tal-Unjoni Ewropea jfittxu li jassiguraw illi dawk involuti fil-proċess tal-EIA ikunu ħielsa minn kull xorta ta’ konflitt ta’ interess. Kunflitt ta’ interess hi sitwazzjoni li tinħoloq meta persuna b’interessi varji jispiċċa  jaqdi interess u fl-istess ħin jikkonfliġġi ma ieħor.

Ħmistax ilu fl-artiklu intitolat Il-fiduċja: għal ġol-inċineratur emfasizzajt li dawk li jaħdmu fuq EIA għandhom ikunu professjonali, indipendenti u imparzjali. B’referenza partikolari għall-applikazzjoni dwar l-inċineratur għidt li m’huwiex aċċettabbli li dawk inkarigati biex jagħmlu EIA ikunu fl-istess ħin li qed jagħtu parir lill-iżviluppatur parti ukoll mill-awtorità regolatorja. Dawk li jixtiequ jagħmlu karriera fil-qasam tat-tħejjija ta’ rapporti tekniċi għall-EIA huma liberi li jagħmlu dan imma mbagħad m’għandhomx jitħallew jikkontaminaw il-proċess tal-EIA.

F’artiklu f’ġurnal ieħor bl-Ingliż il-ġimgħa l-oħra l-Professur Alan Deidun, is-suġġett ta’ din il-kitba, kien kritiku ta’ dan kollu. M’għandi l-ebda diffikulta dwar dan għax jagħtini opportunità li nispjega iktar.   

Il-Professur Deidun li hu membru tal-Bord tal-ERA ġibed l-attenzjoni tagħna li kieku hu ma jinvolvix ruħu darba kull tant f’rapporti tekniċi għall-EIA, bħalma għamel fil-kaz tal-inċineratur, ikun hemm il-periklu li nispiċċaw b’numru ta’ konsulenti mhux Maltin li jieħdu f’idejhom partijiet sħaħ tal-proċess tat-tfassil tal-EIA. Fil-fehma tal-Professur Deidun dan jiġġustifika li waqt li hu regolatur, fl-istess ħin jagħti parir lill-iżviluppatur!

Jiena konxju li għandna numru żgħir ta’ konsulenti, uħud minnhom professuri fl-Università tagħna li fil-passat mhux imbiegħed ġiebu ruħhom bl-istess mod tal-Professur Deidun: membri fuq il-Bord tar-regulatur u jagħtu l-pariri lil dawk regolati, imbagħad meta l-kaz jiġi quddiemhom jastjenu!  

Waqt li dan kien ħażin, fil-kaz tal-Professur Deidun l-affarijiet huma agħar. Deidun ġie maħtur biex ikun membru tal-Bord tal-ERA biex hemmhekk huwa jirrappreżenta lill-għaqdiet ambjentali. Jekk jastjeni mill-jieħu sehem fi kwalunkwe kaz li jiġi quddiemu fil-Bord ikun qed joħnoq il-vuċi tal-għaqdiet ambjentali. Għaldaqstant, b’żieda mal-kunflitt ta’ interess ikun qed imur ukoll kontra l-iskop li għalih inħatar fuq il-Bord tal-ERA.  Minħabba l-kunflitt ta’ interess tiegħu il-Professur Deidun ser joħnoq il-vuċi tal-għaqdiet ambjentali fl-iktar mument kritiku: meta jeħtieġilhom isemmgħu leħinhom.  

Apparti lill-Professur Deidun l-EIA tal- inċineratur jippreżentalna persuna oħra: il-koordinatur tal-EIA, l-Inġinier  Mario Schembri.

Is-Sur Schembri ilu żmien attiv fil-qasam tal-immaniġjar tal-iskart fejn kien ta kontribut pożittiv sostanzjali. Kien strumentali biex twaqqfet il-GreenPak li taħdem bħala kooperattiva: iġġib flimkien diversi negozji li jpoġġu fuq is-suq Malti diversi prodotti. Il-GreenPak taħdem biex f’isem il-membri tal-kooperattiva tirkupra l-iskart tal-ippakkeġġjar (packaging waste). Kienet fuq quddiem nett biex tinkoraġixxi ir-riċiklar fil-gżejjer Maltin, kontinwament tħeġġeġ lill-Kunsilli Lokali u lill-pubbliku biex jirriċiklaw.  

Is-Sur Schembri ilu CEO tal-GreenPak sa mill-2005. Għandu għarfien u esperjenza sostanzjali fl-immaniġjar tal-iskart. Huwa operatur fl-immaniġjar tal-iskart u għaldaqstant fil-proċess tal-EIA tal-inċineratur ma jistax ikun la imparzjali u l-anqas indipendenti huwa u janalizza d-dokumenti u r-rapporti li għandu quddiemu.  Anke hu għaldaqstant għandu kunflitt ta’ interess li jkompli jikkontamina l-process tal-EIA.

Ma nistax nifhem kif l-ERA ħalliet dan kollu għaddej u ma ħaditx passi, għax dak li qed ngħid m’huwiex xi sigriet, iżda huma fatti magħrufa minn kulħadd.  

F’soċjeta demokratika li tfittex li tapplika l-prinċipji ta’ governanza tajba huwa normali li jkunu identifikati każi ta’ kunflitt ta’ interess li dwarhom jittieħdu passi. Imma fejn ma jitieħdux passi jinħolqu bosta problemi. Fil-qasam ambjentali meta ma jittieħdux passi, dan jimmina l-isforzi li jkunu saru favur il-ħarsien ambjentali.  

Għax fil-qasam ambjentali, is-saltna tad-dritt (rule of law) hi importanti ukoll!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 25 t’Ottubru 2020

Good governance and environment protection

We cannot adequately protect the environment in the absence of good governance. Good governance is an essential prerequisite for environment protection.

This is why, earlier this week, I submitted detailed objections to the incinerator EIA process in the ERA-driven public consultation process. Adequate regulation of the conflict of interests which inevitably present themselves in any regulatory process is an essential element of good governance.

Based on both common sense as well as the relative EU Directive, Malta’s EIA Regulations seek to ensure that those involved in the EIA process should be free from conflict of interests.  A conflict of interest being a situation in which a person is involved in multiple interests and serving one interest could involve working against another.

As emphasised in my article a fortnight ago (Incinerating fairness, trust and common sense: 11 October) those carrying out an EIA must be “professional, independent and impartial”. It is not acceptable for those carrying out an EIA to be part of the regulatory process and simultaneously advise those regulated. Those who wish to embark on a career carrying out EIA technical reports are free to do so but they should not be permitted to contaminate the EIA process.

In an article entitled ‘C’ is for Cacopardo, not for collegiality…………. In last week’s edition, Professor Alan Deidun took me to task for my views. I have no difficulty with that, on the contrary it gives me the opportunity to explain further.  

Professor Deidun drew our attention that if he did not involve himself in the “occasional” consultancy there was a risk that we would end up with non-Maltese consultants taking over parts of the EIA process. In Professor Deidun’s lexicon this justifies acting in this manner.

I am aware that we had quite a handful of other consultants, some of them professors from our University, who in the recent past acted in the same manner as Professor Deidun: sitting on regulatory boards and then advising those regulated, subsequently abstaining from the board’s sitting when their report turns up for consideration.

That was bad enough.  In Professor Deidun’s case it is even worse. He is appointed to sit on the ERA Board in representation of environmental NGOs. If he abstains from giving his input in any instance on the ERA Board, the voice of the eNGOs, as a result, cannot be heard. In addition to having a conflict of interest between his role as a regulator and being the advisor of the regulated, Professor Deidun is thus ignoring completely the purpose of his appointment to the ERA Board. Professor Deidun’s conflict of interest will be silencing eNGOs at a crucial point: when it is essential that their voice is heard.

In addition to Professor Deidun the incinerator EIA presents us with another character: the EIA coordinator, Engineer Mario Schembri.

Mr Schembri has been active in waste management in Malta for a very long time. Among his positive contributions he was instrumental in setting up GreenPak which operates as a cooperative, bringing together the business interests which place various products on the Maltese market. GreenPak seeks to recover packaging waste on behalf of the members of the cooperative. It has been a positive contribution in encouraging recycling in Malta, continuously encouraging Local Councils and the public to do their bit.

Mr Schembri has been CEO of GreenPak since 2005. He is definitely knowledgeable and experienced in waste management. He is however a waste management operator and cannot as a result of this fact be an impartial or independent contributor to the EIA process. He too, thus, has a conflict of interest and thus contaminates the EIA process too.

I fail to understand how ERA has allowed the incinerator EIA process to proceed this far without acting to address these cases of conflict of interest as the above are well known facts to all.

In a democratic society seeking to apply good governance rules it is normal to identify and act on a conflict of interest. Failure to act, however, is problematic. In environmental matters such failure undermines the whole effort of environment protection.

The rule of law matters, in environmental issues too! 

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 25 October 2020

Tweġiba lill-Professur Alan Deidun

Alan Deidun għoġbu jwieġeb l-artikli tiegħi tal-Ħadd li għadda fuq l-Independent on Sunday u fuq l-Illum. Wieħed minnhom , dak fuq l-Independent on Sunday huwa riprodott fuq dan il-blog. L-artiklu tiegħu hu intitolat ‘C’ is for Cacopardo, not for collegiality ………

Fl-artikli tiegħi jiena ġbidt l-attenzjoni li l-Professur Alan Deidun għandu konflitt ta’ interess meta filwaqt li huwa membru tal-Bord tal-ERA, r-regolatur ambjentali, fl-istess ħin kien involut fit-tfassil ta’ wieħed mir-rapporti tekniċi li jiffurmaw l-EIA dwar il-propost inċineratur fil-Magħtab.

It-tweġiba tiegħu dehret illum fl-Independent on Sunday u ser inwieġbu fl-qosor illum.  Imma għandu jisma’ iktar dettalji dwar l-EIA tal-inċineratur matul il-ġimgħa u dan billi nhar l-Erbgħa li ġej 21 t’Ottubru jagħlaq il-perjodu ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar l-EIA fuq il-proposta ta’ żvilupp ta’ inċineratur. Sadakinnhar ser nippreżenta bil-miktub lill-ERA, bħala parti minn dan il-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika numru ta’ osservazzjonijiet dwar l-istess EIA, inkluż dwar l-istess Professur Alan Deidun.

Ser nillimita ruħi għall-argumenti u għalissa ser ninjora l-insulti u l-paroli vojt tal-Professur.

Deidun mhux l-uniku wieħed li waqt li jifforma parti minn awtorità regolatorja jissottometti studji għall-konsiderazzjoni tal-awtorità li jifforma parti minnha. Qablu kellna oħrajn. Din hi prattika li mhix aċċettabbli u għandha bżonn tieqaf. Ilha tiġi ikkritikata u hemm bżonn tieqaf malajr kemm jista’ jkun.

Immaterjalment minn kemm jagħmel rapporti: jekk hux wieħed jew mija ma tagħmilx differenza. Deidun u oħrajn għandhom bżonn li jifhmu illi meta taċċetta ħatra fuq awtorità regolatorja din l-aċċettazzjoni inevitabilment teffettwa l-ħidma professjonali tiegħek. L-impatt, in parti jiddependi mill-integrità tiegħek.

Tajjeb li nżommu quddiem għajnejna li fil-każ ta’ Manoel Island riċentement, f’Ġunju 2020, ġie annullat permess ta’ żvilupp minħabba li wieħed minn dawk involuti fit-tfassil tal-EIA kellu konflitt ta’ interess.

Fit-tweġiba tiegħu Deidun ħass li kellu jagħmel referenza għal xogħol professjonali tiegħi ma diversi Kunsilli Lokali. Konvenjentement Deidun nesa’ li jiena ma niffurma parti minn l-ebda korp regolatorju u għaldaqstant il-ħidma professjonali tiegħi mhiex limitata bħal tiegħu.

Fl-aħħarnett Deidun jgħid li ma jmissnix ikkritikajtu għax hu ambjentalist bħali. Jibqa’ l-fatt li Deidun mexa fuq il-passi ta’ dawk li mxew ħażin. Mingħajr ma nnaqqaslu l-mertu dwar fejn ħadem tajjeb, daqstant ieħor jixraqlu l-kritika iebsa, limitata fuq dan il-kaz.

Sfortunatament l-attitudni tal-Professur Deidun, u ta’ oħrajn li aġixxew bħalu, tagħmel ħsara kbira lill-istituzzjonijiet regolatorji. Jekk iwarrab jew jitwarrab minn fuq il-Bord tal-ERA, aħjar għal kulħadd.

Incinerating trust, fairness and common sense

A public consultation is currently under way until the 21 October relative to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which examines Wasteserve’s proposal:  the development of a Waste to Energy Facility, to operate in conjunction with other management operations within the so-called Magħtab Environmental Complex.

It is a duty of Wasteserve defined in terms of the EU environmental acquis applicable within Maltese territory to examine the environmental impacts of its proposal within the framework of agreed terms of reference approved by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA). The detailed reports together with the supporting technical information are then subject to public consultation.

The EIA in respect of the Magħtab incinerator is commissioned by Wasteserve, however it serves to inform the whole decision-taking process. Contrary to the disclaimer by the EIA’s coordinator in the first few pages, the reports forming the EIA are not “for the exclusive use of Wasteserve Malta Limited”. I fail to understand how ERA has accepted to include this disclaimer when it is clear, even from a cursory look at the Environment Impact Assessment Regulations that the EIA is an important document which informs the environmental and land use planning decision-taking process. It is in particular used to inform the public and on its basis a public hearing is organised to take feedback from all interested parties.

The EIA is certainly a public document in respect of which its coordinator has to shoulder responsibility as to its accuracy and reasonableness. Having a disclaimer as that indicated above is certainly not acceptable. ERA should pull up its socks and ensure the deletion of the said disclaimer forthwith.

A cursory look at the Magħtab incinerator EIA, including the technical studies attached reveals the names of a number of experts who have given their input in the formulation of the studies required which studies are then distilled in an appropriate assessment report.

One of these experts is a certain professor Alan Deidun who concurrently with participating in this specific EIA is also a member of the ERA Board, the environmental regulator. He sits on the ERA Board after being nominated by the environmental NGOs as established by legislation.

Professor Alan Deidun is conveniently with one foot on each side of the fence: forming part of the regulatory structure and simultaneously advising the developer, in this case Wasteserve Malta Limited, a government entity. In my book this is the type of conflict of interest which instils a deep sense of distrust of the regulatory authorities. Alan Deidun is running with the hares and hunting with the hounds.

Can we ever trust “regulators” who, whenever they feel like it, offer their services to those they “regulate”?

Interestingly, one of the documents available for public scrutiny contains a declaration by twenty-one expert contributors to the EIA, each of whom declares that s/he has no conflict of interest: the conflict however being narrowly defined in terms of an interest in the development itself.  The EIA Regulations do not limit “conflict of interest” to an interest in the development but speak of “no conflict of interests”. No wonder even Professor Alan  Deidun signed this declaration!

Regulation 17 of the EIA Regulations of 2017 lays down that those carrying out the EIA must be “professional, independent and impartial”. How can the regulator be “professional, independent and impartial” when he starts advising those s/he regulates?

It is about time that the environmental NGOs recall Professor Alan Deidun from his role as a member of the ERA Board representing them, as such behaviour is unacceptable in this day and age.

It may be pertinent to point out that very recently, a development permit, in respect of the development of Manoel Island, was withdrawn by the Environment and Planning Tribunal due to the fact that one of the contributors to the EIA had a conflict of interest.

It is about time that regulators understand that their acceptance to sit on decision-taking structures puts limits on their permissible professional activities. Until such time that this basic point is acted upon our authorities cannot be fully trusted. Their behaviour is incinerating trust, fairness and common sense.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 October 2020

When caves collapse: people may be killed

On the 14 September the Planning Authority approved application PA3487/19 which proposed the   “stabilization of dangerous rock slope; repair to deteriorated concrete wall and construction of wave dissipation slope along the Qui Si Sana coastline”.

In simple language this involves a permit for remedial works after a cave along the Sliema Qui Si Sana coastline collapsed, thereby exposing the MIDI development works immediately behind the cave: the basement level of residential blocks T14 and T17.

We have been told that the cave collapsed as a result of erosion along the coastline. Some readers may tend to forget that way back in 2016, a Maltese geologist had sounded the alarm that a “high-rise had been constructed over a fractured and eroded sea cliff, which could collapse any time soon.” The collapse in fact occurred relatively quite soon, signifying that the geologist was pointing out the obvious which was being ignored or not given due consideration by the developer and his advisors.

The point to be made is why the Planning Authority permitted the development to take place so close to the coastline. As far as I am aware, the EIA relative to the Tigne Development by MIDI does not reveal any detailed studies on the condition of the coast as well as on the impacts of erosion on the Qui Si Sana coastline and its relevance to the development of the MIDI project. The issue is not just one of remedial works but on why the Planning Authority  ignored the state of the coast, as a result permitting development too close to the coastline for comfort. The collapse is adequate proof of all this. The Planning Authority has much to explain in this specific case. Its actions, or lack of them, should be investigated.

The issue is not one relative to the structural stability of the development but of the protection of the coastline.

Erosion as a result of natural elements occurs continuously. It is a natural ongoing phenomenon.

In this respect it may be pertinent to draw attention to a report, authored by a team of geologists, dated October 2007 and entitled : “Report on Coastal Sliema. Geology, geomorphology, sites of scientific interest and coastal protection considerations.” This report was commissioned by the Sliema Local Council.

The 50-page report, which makes interesting reading, emphasises that a number of sites along the Sliema coast “are undergoing rapid coastal erosion that will increase with climate change, resulting in instability or failure in coastal infrastructure.”

Of particular interest is that the report, authored in 2007, goes on to state that “The faulted coast along Għar id-Dud is retreating rapidly by dislodgement of boulders along joints and faults. Public structures that may be affected include Tower Road promenade. The Għar id-Dud cave may also partially or totally collapse, leading to the caving-in of the overlying pedestrian promenade. If collapse is sudden and during daytime/early night time, injury and loss of lives may result.”

I have personally drawn attention of the Transport Minister to the above some time ago, however to date I am not aware that any action has been taken.

The matter was already very worrying way back in 2007 and most probably it is even worse now, after thirteen years, given that no coastal protection works have been taken in hand in the area in the intervening period.

The Għar id-Dud cave is the result of natural erosion and collapse accelerated by wave action. This is a natural process that cannot be halted unless adequate coastal protection works are initiated. If nature is left on its own, the end result is quite predictable: a complete collapse of Għar id-Dud, a caving in of the overlying pedestrian promenade and a number of dead or injured pedestrians, depending on the time of day when a collapse possibly occurs.

Will Transport Malta and the other authorities wake up from their slumber and act immediately please?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 27 September 2020

Drittijiet Ambjentali bir-riforma kostituzzjonali

Il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, meta tiġi, tkun opportunità unika biex ikunu ntrodotti drittijiet ambjentali fil-Kostituzzjoni. Dan jista’ u għandu jseħħ billi dawn id-drittijiet jinkitbu b’mod ċar u li ma jħallux lok għal miżinterpretazzjoni f’riforma li ilna nistennew żmien kbir.

Id-drittijiet ambjentali, għandhom ikunu ċari daqs id-drittijiet dwar il-propjetà. Għax il-Kostituzzjoni, b’mod pervers, filwaqt li tipproteġi drittijiet dwar il-propjetà, illum ma toffri l-ebda protezzjoni għal drittijiet ambjentali bħad-dritt għal arja nadifa inkella għal aċċess għal ilma nadif. L-anqas ma tipproteġi l-bijodiversità jew il-pajsaġġ jew kwalunkwe dritt ambjentali ieħor bħall-ħarsien tar-riżorsi naturali. Id-drittijiet tal-individwi huma b’xi mod protetti imma d-drittijiet tal-komunità l-anqas biss jissemmew.

Meta wieħed iqis li d-drittijiet tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti huma kemm kemm protetti, xejn ma hemm biex niskantaw jekk il-liġi bażika tagħna tinjora lill-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri għal kollox.

Waqt li dan kollu kien għaddej, Malta, fuq livell internazzjonali nsistiet dwar il-ħarsien ta’ qiegħ il-baħar (1967), dwar il-klima (1988) u dwar il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri (1992). Imma minkejja dawn l-isforzi fuq livell internazzjonali, ma sar l-ebda sforz lokali biex dak li nippriedkaw barra minn xtutna nipprattikawh f’artna.  

Il-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, fil-Kapitlu 2 tagħha, għanda sett ta’ linji gwida biex dawn ikunu ta’ għajnuna lill-Gvern billi b’mod ġenerali jindikaw it-triq li jeħtieġ li jimxi fuqha.  Wieħed minn dawn il-prinċipji gwida huwa dwar il-ħarsien ambjentali. Dan tfassal oriġinalment fl-1964 u ġie emendat riċentement.  

Wara din il-lista ta’ linji gwida, fl-aħħar tagħhom, il-Kostituzzjoni tgħidilna li ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom!

Dan il-kapitlu tal-Kostituzzjoni huwa mfassal fuq dak li hemm fil-Kostituzzjoni tal-Irlanda u tal-Indja. Kif jispjega Tonio Borg fil-kummentarju tiegħu dwar il-kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, l-Qorti Suprema Indjana minkejja kollox, imma, interpretat il-linji gwida fil-Kostituzzjoni Indjana bħala l-kuxjenza tal-kostituzzjoni : linja gwida tabilħaqq.  Għax x’jiswa’ li toqgħod tipprietka u tħambaq dwar il-prinċipji bażiċi u l-linji gwida jekk imbagħad iżżomhom milli jkunu infurzati?

Sfortunatament, din l-istess attitudni kienet addottata meta tfasslet leġislazzjoni dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art u dwar l-ambjent. Anke hawn wara ħafna dikjarazzjonijiet ta’ prinċipji nsibu li dwar dawn ukoll ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom.

Fis-sottomissjonijiet tagħha lill Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, Alternattiva Demokratika,  ipproponiet li dan il-kapitlu fil-kostituzzjoni għandu jkun revedut b’mod li jkun assigurat li l-Gvern dejjem jimxi mal-linji gwida kostituzzjonali.   

F’pajjiżi oħra, s-soċjetà ċivili, meta meħtieġ, tieħu azzjoni legali kontra l-Gvern biex tassigura li dan jerfa’ r-responsabbiltajiet ambjentali tiegħu f’kull ħin.

Għandi f’moħħi żewġ eżempji partikolari.

L-ewwel wieħed hu dwar azzjoni legali fir-Renju Unit mill-għaqda ambjentali  Client Earth dwar il-mod kajman li bih il-Gvern Ingliż mexa fil-konfront ta’ strateġija nazzjonali dwar il-kwalità tal-arja. Il-materja spiċċat quddiem il-Qorti Suprema li f’deċiżjoni ta’ struzzjonijiet lill-Gvern dwar iż-żmien sa meta għandha tkun lesta din l-istrateġija.   

It-tieni eżempju qiegħed l-Olanda u jikkonċerna t-tibdil fil-klima u l-grupp ambjentali  Urgenda li mar il-Qorti biex iġiegħel lil Gvern jistabilixxi miri raġjonevoli dwar emissjonijiet li għandhom impatt fuq il-bidla fil-klima.

F’dawn l-eżempji, u probabbilment f’bosta oħrajn, l-azzjoni tal-Gvern kienet ferm inferjuri għall-aspettattivi tas-soċjetà ċivili. Ikun tajjeb li l-kostituzzjoni tipprovdina bl-għodda biex kull meta l-Gvern jonqos milli jimxi mal-miri kostituzzjonali ikun possibli li nippruvaw inġibuh f’sensieh.

Sal-lum niddependu mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja bit-tama li meta jkun meħtieġ din tieħu passi. Nistqarr li f’materji ambjentali, bosta drabi tiddisappuntana u ma tagħmilx dak li nistennew minn għandha.

Il-konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali sal-lum, tista’ tkun l-unika forum fejn dan id-difett kostituzzjonali jkun possibli li nikkoreġuh. Għax hu l-waqt li d-drittijiet ambjentali jsiru parti integrali mill-kostituzzjoni.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Settembru 2020

Green rights through Constitutional reform

The forthcoming Constitutional Convention, whenever it happens, is an opportunity to entrench green rights in the Constitution. This can be carried out through spelling out such rights unequivocally during the long overdue constitution reform process.

Environmental rights should be spelled out just as clearly as property rights. Our Constitution perversely protects property rights but then does not protect our right to clean air or the access to clean water. Nor does it protect our biodiversity or our landscape or any other environmental right. Individual rights are somehow protected but then the rights of the community are not even given a mention.

When one considers that the rights of the present generations are very poorly protected no one should be surprised that future generations are completely ignored in our basic law.

While this has been going on, Malta has on an international level been insisting on protecting the seabed (1967), the climate (1988) and future generations (1992). Notwithstanding the efforts made on an international level, however, there was no corresponding local effort to put in practice what we preached in international fora.

Malta’s Constitution contains a set of guiding principles in its Chapter 2 which are intended to guide government in its workings. One of these guiding principles relates to environmental protection. Originally enacted in 1964 it was amended recently.

Yet there is a catch. Towards the end of this list of guiding principles our Constitution announces that these principles cannot be enforced in a Court of Law.

This Chapter of our Constitution is modelled on similar provisions in the Irish and the Indian Constitutions. As explained in Tonio Borg’s A Commentary on the Constitution of Malta, however, the Indian Supreme Court has over the years interpreted similar constitutional provisions as the conscience of the Constitution, a real guiding light. It does not make sense to proclaim basic and guiding principles, declare that they should guide the state but then stop short of having them enforceable in a Court of Law.    

Unfortunately, the same attitude was adopted when drafting land use planning and environmental legislation. This legislation contains similar provisions: the announcement of basic guiding principles which are not enforceable in a Court of Law.

In its submissions to the Constitutional Convention, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party has proposed revisiting this Chapter of the Constitution in order that it would be possible to ensure that government follows the guiding principles at all times instead of selectively.  

In other countries it is possible for civil society to take legal action to ensure that government carries out its environmental responsibilities adequately and at all times.

Two particular examples come to mind.

The first is legal action in the United Kingdom by environmental NGO Client Earth relative to the UK government’s lack of action on the formulation of an air quality masterplan. The matter ended up in a Supreme Court decision which instructed the UK government to act and established the parameters for such action including the relative timeframe.  

The second example comes from Holland and concerns climate change and the environmental action group Urgenda Foundation which went to Court to force government’s hand on the establishment of reasonable climate change emission targets.

In both the above examples, and probably in many others, government action was far below the expectations of civil society. It is right that the Constitution should provide us with the necessary tools such that whenever government fails to live up to the Constitutional benchmarks, (be these environmental or any other) then, civil society may call government to order.

To date we depend on the EU Commission as a fallback position, but the EU Commission, unfortunately, does not always live up to what we expect of it. It has let us down many times. The Constitutional Convention is the only forum possible, so far, through which this constitutional deficiency can be corrected. It is about time that our green rights are entrenched in the Constitution.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 6 September 2020