Greening: what really matters

A public consultation is currently under way relative to green roofs and green walls. A 42-page document entitled Green Paper on Greening Buildings in Malta: Initiatives for Green Walls and Roofs for Residential, Commercial, and Industrial Buildings was published, explaining the objectives to be attained. The encouragement of green roofs and green walls aims to contribute towards reaching the zero-carbon objective in 2050. 

I have no issue with greening walls and roofs where this is appropriate. However, notwithstanding all the good intentions, there is a risk that the predominant green produced is more plastic! Maybe they could, instead, start by respecting our existing green walls made up of the substantial number of trees being continuously uprooted by the Ministry for Transport!

My issue is with the artificiality of “environment policy” in Malta which concentrates and over-inflates on minor issues and then turns a blind eye to the issues that really matter.

Among the most pressing issues is that of the urgent need of greening transport policy: that is the need to ensure that mobility issues in the Maltese islands are addressed in a sustainable manner.

Two specific policy issues currently in hand need complete reversal.

The current massive investment of resources in roadbuilding is a blatant misuse of public funds as they place car-usage as the primary objective to be facilitated. It is pertinent to point, once more, towards the National Transport Master Plan 2025 which in crystal-clear language explains what’s wrong with transport policy in the Maltese islands.

The following extract is self-explanatory: “Improve integrated and long-term strategic planning and design: This objective has been defined since historically, it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.

There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal actions to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.” (page 88 of National Transport Master Plan 2025)

Greening transport policy in Malta essentially means addressing and reducing car ownership in order to substantially reduce private vehicles from our roads. In a small country such as ours, sustainable mobility cannot be achieved through private vehicles but through alternative transport. Everywhere is within reach. In fact, the Transport Master Plan emphasises that 50 per cent of the trips we make with private cars are for distances taking less than 15 minutes, meaning that such trips are local or regional in nature.

We need more public transport initiatives and less private cars on our roads instead of further extensions to the public road network through massive road infrastructural projects.

The proposed Gozo tunnel is likewise another unnecessary project. It is a tunnel which facilitates the use of private cars. The feasibility of the said project is tied to a substantial increase in car movements between the islands as it is the payment of fees levied on cars making the trip that pays for the tunnel project. The documentation projects an increase from 3000 to 9000 daily movements of vehicles, a threefold increase. Green walls and green roofs do not cancel out such irresponsible action.

Greening roofs and walls do not involve rocket science. There is no issue with the implementation of a policy encouraging green roofs and green walls although it would be quite useful if plastic use in such walls and roofs is reduced! But transport policy is contentious as it involves unpopular but essential decisions. Restraining the use of private vehicles is, of paramount importance. Coupled with more public transport improvements it will reduce cars on the roads, improve the quality of our air and reduce household expenses. Avoiding this decision will only make matters worse.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 February 2021

Tourism planning needs tuning in to reality

A ten-year tourism strategy entitled Recover, Rethink, Revitalise has been published for consultation. It is a strategy which advocates an improvement in quality but does not seek to address the oversupply of bed-stock.

During summer of 2019, Tony Zahra, President of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) had sounded the alarm: he was reported as saying that the number of tourists visiting Malta was too high. He emphasised that it was substantially exceeding the limits of what the country can take sustainably. Tony Zahra was obviously emphasising the interest of the lobby group which he heads: the hotel industry.

The proposed tourism strategy advocates a return to the pre-Covid19 tourism levels, albeit recognising that this will be difficult to achieve as well as accepting that it will take quite some time to be achieved, if at all. Searching through the tourism strategy document for the terms agri-tourism and eco-tourism yields a zero-return indicating that the document is more of a post-Covid hotel industry roadmap than a tourism strategy.

The strategy indicates that the best scenario forecasts until 2030 suggest an increase from the 2019 2.75 million tourists to between 3 and 3.2 million tourists which would generate an average 21 million overnight stays annually. The strategy goes on to state that on the basis of existing and in the pipeline licenced bed-stock this equates to an unprofitable 57.5 per cent occupancy rate. The unlicenced bed stock further dilutes occupancy rates closer to 50 per cent, we are informed by the strategy document.

This does not point towards a potential recovery but more that the tourism industry, is, in this critical period shackled by the land development free-for-all advocated by land use planning policies over the past years. Specifically, this has been done through the continuous tinkering with the height limitation adjustment policy for hotels as well as the haphazard application of flexibility in day-to-day land use planning.

This in no way translates into a quality improvement!

The decadent land use planning process has infected tourism planning too. No wonder that the former Chief Executive of the Planning Authority is now the CEO of the Malta Tourism Authority. It is poetic justice that he should be responsible for cleaning the mess to which he substantially contributed to!

Where do we go from here?

The authors of the tourism strategy are aware that there are other possible solutions but they shoot them down. These last months were an opportunity to re-examine the fundamental role of tourism within the overall socio-economic context of the Maltese islands. The Covid19 pandemic has resulted in a reduced movement of people, a less hectic lifestyle, reduced emissions and the reduction of other negative elements for which tourism is usually singled out as a major contributor. 

Contrary to what the proposed tourism strategy opines, it is not simplistic to seriously consider the need to reset the industry. A lower level of tourism activity would prove beneficial to the destination by making it less busy and less crowded to the benefit of both the local resident population and visitor satisfaction. Obviously, it would reduce the tourism contribution to the national economy, but it would also reduce the substantial costs which planners tend to ignore or else to shift onto other sectors! Costs are not just measured in financial terms but also in terms of environmental and social impacts.  

Some months ago, I had written about turistofobia, a term coined by Catalan anthropologist Manoel Delgado, indicating a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists and tourism. The social discontent associated with the pressures linked to tourism growth cannot be ignored any further.

Among the issues contributing to this developing tourist phobia are social discomfort, environmental degradation (including both generation of waste and excessive construction activity), traffic congestion, noise, the loss of cultural identity and socio-cultural clashes.

The post-Covid19 recovery is a unique opportunity for tourism planners to take note of and tune in to reality.  Unfortunately, the proposed strategy sidesteps the real issues.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 31 January 2021

Ħbieb tan-natura …… b’subgħajhom fuq il-grillu

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni Bernard Grech ħatar il-kelliema tal-Opposizzjoni (Shadow Cabinet), fosthom kelliemi għall-kaċċa u l-insib. Mexa fuq il-passi tal-Gvern u ssepara din ir-responsabbiltà minn dik ambjentali, fejn hu postha.

B’dan il-pass, il-Partit Nazzjonalista ukoll tana messaġġ ċar li anke hu jiġu jaqa’ u jqum mir-responsabbiltajiet ambjentali tal-pajjiż. Il-kaċċa u l-insib għandhom ikunu regolati skond id-Direttiva Ewropeja dwar l-Għasafar.

Il-Gvern qiegħed kontinwament attent li jbiegħed il-kaċċa u l-insib mill-istrutturi regolatorji ambjentali biex jasserixxi l-kontroll politiku. Il-Unit dwar l-Għasafar fl-2013 inqala’ mill-qafas regolatorju ambjentali. L-ewwel tqiegħed fil-Ministeru responsabbli mill-agrikultura u issa spiċċa fil-Ministeru għal Għawdex.

Il-Partiti fil-Parlament huma ċari fil-messaġġ tagħhom: il-kaċċa u l-insib, għalihom mhux meqjusa ambjent, imma jarawhom biss f’termini ta’ voti.  

Il-kaċċa u l-insib għandhom ikunu regolati f’qafas regolatorju ambjentali, speċifikament bħala parti minn strateġija realistika dwar il-biodiversità. Din hi raġuni ewlenija għalfejn nopponu bil-qawwa l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. Għax hu fir-rebbiegħa li n-natura jkollha l-possibilità li tistejqer u tirriġenera ruħha. Jekk mhux ser tieqaf il-kaċċa tal-għasafar fir-rebbiegħa tibqa’ tikber il-ħsara lill-biodiversità. Din hi verità ambjentali bażika li iktar ma tkun aċċettata minn kulħadd, aħjar.  

NET TV nhar l-Erbgħa irrapporta li Edwin Vassallo inħatar bħala l-kelliemi tal-PN fil-Parlament dwar il-ħarsien tad-delizzji tradizzjonali. Għax il-PN, bħall-Labour, iħarsu lejn il-kaċċa u l-insib tal-għasafar esklussivament f’termini ta’ voti. Għad m’għandhomx idea dwar l-impatti ambjentali li qed jinjoraw.

B’mod redikolu, meta Bernard Grech iltaqa’ ma’ rappresentanti tal-kaċċaturi, l-FKNK, huwa iddeskriva lill-kaċċaturi u lin-nassaba bħala ħbieb tan-natura. Il-ħbieb tan-natura ma jkunux armati!   

Minn meta ‘l hawn il-ħbieb tan-natura jisplodu l-għasafar fl-ajru jew jaqfluhom f’gaġeġ?  

Huwa ċar li Bernard Grech u l-PN li hu jmexxi, għadu mħawwad fejn jikkonċerna l-ambjent. Mhiex xi ħaġa ġdida din!  Tfisser biss li l-PN għadu ma tgħallem xejn minn dak li għadda minnu f’dawn l-aħħar snin. Billi jilgħaq lill-kaċċaturi u lin-nassaba m’hu ser jasal imkien.

F’qasam fejn diversi għadhom jippretendu li jagħmlu li jridu kont nistenna li Bernard Grech jappoġġa lil dawk li qed jinsistu għal regolamentazzjoni rigoruża tal-kaċċa. Kliemu, sfortunatament, jinkoraġixxi lil dawk li jabbużaw, inkluż lil dawk li jiġu jaqgħu u jqumu minn l-għasafar protetti. Għandu jifhem ukoll li l-perjodu ta’ transizzjoni dwar l-insib kif imfisser dettaljatament fit-trattat li bih Malta issieħbet fl-EU ilu li skada.  Dan ifisser li l-insib suppost li ilu li spiċċa minn Malta. Il-kummenti ta’ Bernard Grech, għaldaqstant jinkoraġixxu attività illegali. Is-saltna tad-dritt, Dr Grech, tapplika għall-kaċċa u l-insib ukoll!

F’Jannar 2017, predeċessur ta’ Bernard Grech ippubblika l-politika ambjentali tal-PN fi ktejjeb intitolat “Kwalità tal-Ħajja Aħjar”.  F’dan id-dokument ma ssibx referenza għall-kaċċa u għall-insib. Id-dokument jiddiskuti l-biodiversità f’termini ġenerali u jemfasizza li f’Malta l-ekosistemi mhux imħarsa u l-biodiversità qed tiddgħajjef kontinwament.  L-appoġġ tal-PN lill-kaċċa u l-insib (bħalma jagħmel il-Labour) hu attakk frontali kontra l-biodiversità. Hemm bżonn li jiġu f’sensihom.  

L-insib diġa hu illegali. Anke l-kaċċa jeħtieġ li tkun imrazzna u mhux tkun inkoraġġita.

Ambjentalment il-PN għadu lura ħafna.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 24 ta’ Jannar 2021

Nature lovers …………… with a gun

In his first Shadow Cabinet the Leader of the Opposition Bernard Grech has appointed a spokesperson for hunting and trapping. A responsibility which, parroting the Government, has not been included within the remit of the spokesperson for the environment.

In so doing, the PN too has given notice that it does not give a fig about Malta’s environmental responsibilities. Hunting and trapping are to be regulated in accordance to the environmental acquis, specifically in line with the provisions of the Birds Directive of the EU.

This government has consistently parked hunting and trapping far away from the environmental regulatory structures. The Wild Birds Study Unit was in 2013 divorced from the environmental setup and parked within the Ministry responsible for Agriculture, subsequently moving to the Ministry for Gozo.

The clear message delivered by both the PN and the Labour Party is that they do not consider hunting and trapping to be environmental issues. We have been aware of this for quite a long time.

Hunting and trapping should be regulated within a general environment framework, specifically as part of a realistic biodiversity strategy. This is the basic reason why greens object to spring hunting. It is during spring that nature has the possibility to regenerate. Not banning spring bird-hunting across the board is damaging to biodiversity. This is a basic environmental truth which needs to be accepted by all, and the sooner that this is done, the better.

NET TV reported on Wednesday that Edwin Vassallo was the PN’s spokesperson relative to “the defence of traditional hobbies” (Il-ħarsien tad-delizzji tradizzjonali). The PN, just like Labour, assess bird-hunting and trapping exclusively on their voting potential: they still do not have a clue of their serious environmental impact.

Meeting with the representatives of the hunters’ federation, FKNK, earlier this week, Bernard Grech ridiculously described hunters and trappers as nature lovers. Nature lovers with a gun. Bernard Grech wants to address the negative perception of hunters and trappers in the Maltese islands by green-washing them. 

Since when do nature lovers blast birds out of the sky or enclose them in cages?

Clearly Bernard Grech, and the PN which he leads, has got his environmental bearings mixed up. There is nothing new about it. It only signifies that the PN has not learnt anything from its experiences in the past years. Bootlicking hunters and trappers will not get it anywhere.

In an area of activity where laissez-faire is prevalent, one would have expected Bernard Grech to take up the case in favour of more rigorous regulation of hunting. His words, alas, encourage the abusive actions of those hunters who blast anything that flies, in particular protected birds. He should also be aware that the transition period relative to bird-trapping in the treaty regulating Malta’s EU accession has elapsed quite some time ago. This signifies that bird-trapping should have been abolished long ago on these islands. Bernard Grech’s comments are thus encouraging illegal activity. The rule of law is applicable to hunting and trapping too!

In January 2017, Bernard Grech’s predecessor had published an environmental policy for the PN entitled “A Better Quality of Life”.  The said document does not refer to hunting or trapping. It does however discuss biodiversity in general terms emphasising that in Malta, ecoystems and habitats are not adequately protected and their biodiversity is in decline. When the PN (like the PL) supports hunters and trappers it is reinforcing the frontal attack on biodiversity. Is it not about time that they come to their senses?

Bird trapping is already illegal. Hunting should be curtailed as much as possible and not further encouraged.

Environmentally the PN is as retrograde as ever.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 24 January 2021

Waste Management consultations

The Minister for the Environment has informed us that, tomorrow, Monday, he will be publishing a new Waste Management Strategy for public consultation.

The current waste management strategy is up for renewal as it was originally envisaged to cover between 2014 and 2020.

It is indeed unfortunate that the public consultation has been delayed this far. It has also once more been slotted in a festive period, thereby reducing its effectiveness.

One hopes that the strategy being submitted for public consultation, next Monday, will be accompanied by the studies which have been carried out in order to assist in its preparation. We need to understand the motivation for the proposals being made through studies, not through political soundbites. When proposals are buttressed by serious studies it is much easier for them to be accepted.

One such study commissioned some months ago is a waste characterisation study. This study which has presumably been carried out simultaneously in all the regions should identify the composition of our waste by region. There are known to be significant variations in waste generated in the different regions which variations are a reflection of a standard of living which inevitably varies. These variations need to be quantified as they have an important effect on the manner in which the waste management services are impacted.

We also need to be informed as to the results attained so far in the implementation of measures to organise and modernise waste management. I would expect that, for example, the documentation available in the public consultation should be accompanied by the reports drawn up to examine the uptake of organic waste collection from domestic households. 

In my opinion, the experience so far is generally positive. There is however a need for substantial improvement. This applies across the board, not just to the organic waste stream but also to general recycling which so far still lags far behind what is expected.  Recycling is officially at 12 per cent, but most probably, from what I have been informed, it is closer to 8 per cent of the municipal solid waste generated.

On Thursday an online public consultation is scheduled on the Environmental Impact Assessment relative to the proposed Magħtab incinerator, also referred to as the waste to energy facility. Some reports feeding this consultation are unfortunately tainted by conflicts of interest which may eventually result in the invalidation of the whole EIA consultation process.

This is unfortunate as waste management urgently requires more focused attention, not just to attain compliance with EU standards but more importantly because it may eventually translate into a better quality of life for all of us.

We need to minimise the waste that we generate. For example, our supermarkets need to be encouraged to use biodegradable packaging as this would ensure a further increase in the organic waste stream and consequently a further potential reduction in the mixed waste black bag. So far as a result of the introduction of the organic waste collection the black bag content should have reduced by about fifty per cent in content. This can be further reduced with suitable policy initiatives aimed at a reduction of the waste going to landfill.

Incinerating our waste, should not be an encouraged option. 

The shift to a circular economy is an opportunity which we should embrace. It is the time to shift seriously to a sustainable consumption mode. The personal choices we make accumulate in our waste bag which should be reducing gradually in both size of bag and volume of content.

There is still much to do. I sincerely hope that we can achieve much more. This will however only happen if we can tap the good faith of the environmentally conscious among us. It is only at that point that the moderate improvements achieved to date can be transformed into a definite success. We need it, and it can be done.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 13 December 2020

Beyond GDP

“The GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.” This was stated by Robert Kennedy at the University of Kansas 52 years ago in what is known as his GDP speech!

In what was a highly charged US Presidential campaign, during which he was assassinated, Robert Kennedy had further explained that the GDP “does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country.”

We may use different language or emphasise different aspects to explain the problem, but not much has changed since: The GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile!

Pursuing economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base. It contrasts with the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for our survival.

Economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity. Instead it has delivered unbridled climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to depleted water resources or clean air, and an ever-increasing global inequality. Is this measured by the GDP? Definitely not.

The GDP is just concerned with material wealth, ignoring in the process our health, our education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society, the state of our families, the devastation caused by all forms of hatred …………… GDP includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of “progress” as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are practical limits to growth, which should lead our economic planners to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

This is the context in which Greens welcome the Justice and Peace Commission of the Church in Malta looking beyond the GDP. It is welcome not only because it is the correct approach but also because we have been at it for so long, mostly practically on our own.

The 54 page published Church Commission study entitled Beyond GDP – A framework to gauge Malta’s success through quality of life justifiably argues that limiting ourselves to gauging progress through the use of the GDP leads to a situation where other factors leading to a satisfactory quality of life can be easily disregarded.

The study, supported by EY, APS Bank and Seed Consultancy is a very valid contribution to a mature political debate which we lack so much.

The insistence that we should go beyond GDP in gauging our quality of life is not an exercise in diminishing the importance of the economy. Rather, it signifies the determination that the economy should not be seen in isolation but that it should be viewed within a realistic context. Social, environmental and cultural dimensions are extremely relevant, as much as economics, in the gauging of our wellness, or the lack of it.

A more just economy needs to look at the bigger picture and not limit itself to the GDP to get its bearings right. This is another way of emphasising the need for a sustainable development, a term which is much in use nowadays but unfortunately not sufficiently understood or catered for. Going beyond GDP in measuring our state of wellness would definitely yield more realistic indicators which we urgently require. 

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 29 November 2020

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