It-tibdil fil-klima: it-turiżmu mhux ser jeħlisha

Żmien il-biljetti tal-ajru bid-€10 spiċċa, qalilna Michael O’Leary, tar-Ryanair. Dan wara li sirna nafu matul dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat li fl-Unjoni Ewropeja, biex tkun implimentata l-inizjattiva l-ħadra (Green Deal), anke l-avjazzjoni teħtieġ li tagħti s-sehem tagħha billi tibda tinternalizza l-impatti ambjentali. Dan ifisser li l-ispiża riżultat tal-impatti ambjentali tal-avjazzjoni għandha tibda tkun inkluża fil-prezz tal-vjaġġ. Dan hu applikazzjoni diretta u prattika tal-prinċipju ambjentali li min iħammeg jeħtieġ li jħallas (polluter pays principle).

L-avjazzjoni ilha teħlisha billi kienet eżentata għal żmien twil milli terfa’ l-piż tal-impatti tal-emissjonijiet li tiġġenera. Issa dan ma jistax jibqa’ hekk. Din l-industrija ukoll trid tibda tagħti kont ta’ egħmilha. Bħas-setturi ekonomiċi l-oħra trid terfa’ l-piz tal-impatti ambjentali tagħha.  

Li min iħammeġ iħallas hu prinċipju ambjentali bażiku li jifforma parti integrali mill-liġi Ewropeja. Riżultat ta’ hekk dan iservi ta’ gwida għall-formolazzjoni tal-politika tal-Unjoni Ewropeja.  Sa mill-2004 dan il-prinċipju hu ukoll parti integrali mil-leġislazzjoni ambjentali Maltija. Anke fil-kaz tagħna dan il-prinċipju għandu jagħti direzzjoni ċara fil-formolazzjoni tal-politika Maltija.

Sfortunatament, minkejja li l-Parliament f’Malta approva mozzjoni li biha għaraf l-emerġenza klimatika, din id-dikjarazzjoni baqgħet fuq il-karta.  Ftit li xejn sar biex id-deċiżjonijiet meħtieġa riżultat tal-għarfien ta’ l-eżistenza ta’ din l-emerġenza jittieħdu. Hu diżappuntanti li wieħed minn dawk responsabbli biex mexxa l-quddiem din il-mozzjoni issa qed jgħid li l-azzjoni biex ikunu indirizzati l-impatti klimatiċi tal-avjazzjoni huma kontra l-interess nazzjonali. M’għandux idea x’inhu jgħid.

Ejja nkunu ċari:  bħala arċipelagu f’nofs il- Mediterran, il-gżejjer Maltin inevitabilment ikunu effettwati mill-istadji li jmiss tal-impatti tat-tibdil tal-klima, ċjoe l-għoli fil-livell tal-baħar.  Iz-zoni mal-kosta ilaqqtuha waħda sewwa, possibilment jispiċċaw taħt l-ilma, kollha jew kważi, skond kemm jogħla l-livell tal-baħar.  Dan japplika ukoll għall-infrastruttura kostali li tinkludi l-parti l-kbira tal-faċilitajiet turistiċi.

Hu fl-interess nazzjonali ta’ Malta li l-miri klimatiċi tal-2015 ta’ Pariġi jkun osservati u li jiġu  implimentati l-iktar kmieni possibli. Ma jagħmilx sens li nfittxu li nkunu eżentati. Bla dubju jkun hemm impatti konsiderevoli. Imma l-impatti  jekk naġixxu  biex nindirizzaw it-tibdil fil-klima huma ferm inqas mill-impatti li jkollna nħabbtu wiċċna magħhom jekk nibqgħu nippruvaw nevitaw ir-responsabbiltajiet  tagħna.

Tul is-snin, bla dubju, it-teknologija tkompli titjieb, u probabbilment li din tgħin biex jonqos il-piz tal-impatti.  It-tieni rapport ambjentali dwar l-avjazzjoni Ewropeja ippubblikat fl-2019 jiġbed l-attenzjoni li fiz-zona Ewropeja l-konsum medju tal-fuel fuq it-titjiriet kummerċjali naqas b’ 24 fil-mija bejn l-2005 u l-2017. Imma fl-istess żmien kien hemm żieda ta’ 60 fil-mija fil-kilometraġġ tat-titjiriet kummerċjali!

Din l-istatistika tiġbor fiha l-problema kollha: it-teknoloġija qed tnaqqas l-emissjonijiet għal kull kilometru tat-titjiriet, imma n-numru ta’ kilometri tal-vjaġġi qed jiżdied bil-kbir għax ħafna iktar nies qed jivvjaġġaw bl-ajru.  

Bħalissa għaddej dibattitu dwar taxxa fuq il-fjuwil tal-avjazzjoni. Din hi waħda mill-miżuri essenzjali u meħtieġa biex ikun possibli li sal-2030 u lil hinn il-gassijiet serra jonqsu b’55 fil-mija.  

Din l-inizjattiva għandha twassal biex il-prezz tal-biljett tal-ajru jkun jirrifletti l-ispiza reali, inkluż dik ambjentali ikkawżata mill-emissjonijiet.  Dan jista’ jseħħ jew b’żieda ta’ taxxa mal-prezz tal-biljett tal-ajru inkella billi dak li jkun jagħmel użu minn mezzi alternattivi ta’ transport.

Jekk wieħed jagħmel użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi ta’ transport it-taxxa tkun evitata u dan bil-konsegwenza li jkunu evitati ukoll l-impatti ambjentali tal-ivvjaġġar bl-ajru. Fl-Ewropa kontinentali dan jista’ jseħħ bl-użu tal-ferrovija li bosta drabi  hi alternattiva kemm effiċjenti kif ukoll iktar nadifa. Imma fil-kaz ta’ Malta u gżejjer oħra dan l-użu tal-alternattivi potenzjali hu limitat ħafna.  Dan iwassal għal żieda inevitabbli fl-ispiża biex dak li jkun jivvjaġġa bl-ajru u riżultat ta’ hekk jonqos in-numru kemm ta’ Maltin li jivvjaġġaw kif ukoll ta’ barranin (turisti) li jiġu Malta.

Għalkemm eventwalment jista’ jkun hemm xi konċessjonijiet raġjonevoli għal dawk li jgħixu fil-periferiji/gżejjer, it-turiżmu ma jistax jibqa’ jevita li jerfa’ l-piz tal-impatti tiegħu: dan hu meħtieġ biex isseħħ ġustizzja, kemm soċjali kif ukoll ambjentali!  Hu fl-interess ta’ Malta li l-impatt ambjentali tat-turiżmu, b’mod partikolari dak tal-massa, jkun indirizzat u ikkontrollat qabel ma jkun tard wisq. L-industrija tal-avjazzjoni teħtieġ li tkun imċaqalqa bi strumenti ekonomiċi bħat-taxxa ambjentali biex tirristruttura ruħha. Ejja niftakru li bħall-gżejjer kollha, Malta, flimkien mal-komunitajiet kostali, tkun minn tal-ewwel li ssofri l-agħar konsegwenzi tat-tibdil tal-klima: l-għoli fil-livell tal-baħar. It-turiżmu ma jeħlisiex. Il-klima mhux ser tikkunsidra l-posizzjoni partikolari ta’ Malta jew l-impatt fuq l-ekonomija: in-natura ma tiddiskriminax, tibqa’ għaddejja minn fuqna bħalma għamlet bnadi l-oħra fejn kaxkret kull ma sabet fin-nofs!

It-turiżmu qiegħed f’salib it-toroq. Jeħtieġ li b’mod urġenti jaddatta ruħu u jaddatta għall-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima. Dan hu l-futur reali tat-turiżmu, mhux l-eżenzjoni mit-taxxi.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 14 t’Awwissu 2022

Climate change: tourism will not be spared

The era of €10 air fares is over, warned Michael O’Leary, Ryanair boss. This follows the news in the past weeks that within the European Union, in order to implement the Green Deal, aviation must do its part by internalising its environmental costs. That is, environmental costs must be incorporated in the price of air fares. This is a direct and practical application of the polluter pays principle.

Aviation has been a free rider for quite some time, being exempted from shouldering the impacts of the emissions which it generates. The holiday is now over and as a direct result the tourism industry must take stock of the situation. Like all other economic sectors, it must factor in its costings the environmental impacts which it generates.

The polluter pays principle is a basic environmental principle which forms an integral part of the EU acquis: it guides EU policy. Since 2004 it also forms an integral part of Malta’s environmental legislation and consequently it should also guide the formulation of Maltese policy.

Unfortunately, notwithstanding the approval by Parliament of a motion declaring recognition of the climate emergency, this declaration is still a paper declaration. The necessary policies required to face this emergency have never been discussed, approved and acted upon. It is disappointing that a prime mover behind the climate emergency motion is now equating the required action to address aviation’s climate change impacts as being contrary to the national interest. He has no idea on the matter!

Let us be clear:  as an archipelago in the centre of the Mediterranean, the Maltese islands will be severely impacted by the next stages of climate change impacts, that is the rise in sea level. The coastal areas will be hard hit, possibly they will be wiped out or substantially reduced, depending on the extent of the sea level rise. This is also applicable for all the coastal infrastructure, which includes practically all tourism facilities.

It is in Malta’s national interest that the 2015 Paris climate goals are adhered to and implemented the soonest. Seeking exemptions is not on.  Obviously there will be considerable impacts. The impacts of acting to address climate change will however be substantially less if we act than if we continue avoiding our responsibilities. 

Over the years technology will undoubtedly improve, possibly reducing the burden. The second European Aviation Environment Report drawn up in 2019 by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the European Environment Agency (EEA) and Eurocontrol points out that within the European area, the average fuel consumption of commercial flights has decreased by 24 per cent over the period 2005-2017. However, over the same time frame there has been a 60 per cent increase in the kilometres flown by commercial flights!

This statistic frames the issue: technology is driving down the emissions per passenger kilometre, however the number of passenger kilometres has been on an exponential increase as more people are travelling by air.

Currently there is an ongoing debate regarding a tax on aviation fuel. This is one of the essential measures needed to enable the reduction of 55 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and beyond.

This initiative is aimed to ensure that the price of an air flight includes all costs, including the environmental costs caused by the resulting emissions. This can be carried out either by a tax on air travel or else through the use of alternative means of transport, as a result of which the tax can be avoided legally, with the resultant decrease of the environmental impacts. In mainland Europe the use of trains is many a time a good alternative for air travel not just due to its efficiency but also in generating less environmental impacts. In the case of Malta and other islands the potential use of alternatives is very limited. This leads to an inevitable increase in the cost of air travel and the consequential decrease in air travelling, both incoming and outgoing.

Although there may eventually be some reasonable concessions for those who live on isolated islands, tourism cannot keep avoiding its own environmental impacts: this is what social and environmental justice demands! It is in Malta’s interest that the environmental impacts of tourism, particularly mass tourism, is contained before it is too late. The aviation industry must be prodded through economic means, such as environmental taxation, to restructure itself. Let us all remember that like all islands, Malta, together with coastal communities, will be the first to suffer some of the worsts repercussions of climate change: the increase in sea level. Tourism will not be spared. The climate will not consider our special situation or our economic considerations – nature does not discriminate: it will roll over us as it did elsewhere!

Tourism is at a crossroad. It needs to urgently adapt to the impacts of climate change. This is tourism’s future, not tax exemptions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 August 2022

Planning is for people

Land use planning should, and can, be developed into an effective tool to combat the impacts of climate change. This can be done by effectively encouraging development which contributes to reducing climate change impacts.

Apparently, it is too much to expect from our authority responsible for land use planning.

The development of large commercial centres may make economic sense, but do they make environmental and social sense?

This is what sustainable development is all about: that economic development must continuously factor in environment impacts as well as social considerations. The term sustainable development is on everyone’s lips, but it is definitely and continuously ignored when push comes to shove. When decisions are taken, unfortunately it is the euros which take a priority over sustainability.

It is not just about the actual land to be developed, or the buildings to be redeveloped. Much more has to be taken into consideration in each and every decision taken.

Consider for example the Lidl network or another multiple supermarket competitor chain currently planning an alternative network in Malta. Their impacts are multiple. There is definitely an impact on the existing commercial community which can be gauged by a retail impact assessment. There are however also widespread social and environmental impacts which are generally minimised or ignored by all the decision takers.

The social impact definitely needs a meticulous assessment. The changing nature of our residential neighbourhoods through the squeezing out of the small outlets, both commercial and artisanal, and consequently forcing all residents to look far beyond the community and its neighbourhoods for their needs, at times even their basic daily needs, is a major impact. This has and is still transforming our localities and consequently our communities such that at times you need to travel from one locality to another to satisfy your basic needs. This is not a positive development, yet it has been continuously ignored.

A direct impact of all this is that the expense to satisfy our needs is now increased to include the environmental impact of travel with the consequential contribution to climate change. Expenses are not only those which are paid in euro. These specific expenses are a charge debited to our ecological account.

Sustainable land use planning can put an end to all this. Unfortunately, it is not, as climate change impact has not been embedded as an essential element to be addressed by local land use planning!

Current land use planning practice needs to be turned on its head in order to prioritise community needs and impacts on the ecology over the requirements of the economy.

This is what the 15-minute city concept is all about! In reality it is nothing new as it signifies having our basic necessities close by, as in times gone by, when our localities were smaller and alive with vibrant communities. Small is beautiful we were told some years back by Erst Schumacher. The full title of his opus is more revealing: “Small is Beautiful. Economics as if people mattered.” People should be the focus of all our activity. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

I still vividly remember the phrase “planning is for people” in one of the André Zammit’s first urban planning lectures I attended at university. It was a phrase lifted from the UK Skeffington report drawn up in 1969 and examining the participation of the public in land use planning!

Where are the people and their needs in our land use planning? Following the various land use planning cases as they develop, it is clear that as practised locally, land use planning is more a compendium of rights relative to property development than a process regulating the use of land for the ultimate benefit of the whole community. Planning is for people, not for profit!

Land use planning: as if people really mattered!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 8 May 2022

L-istupru t’Għawdex

Il-PLPN kontinwament jipperfezzjonaw l-istrateġija tagħhom dwar l-istupru t’Għawdex. Din l-istrateġija illum il-ġurnata jispjegawha fil-wegħdiet elettorali tagħhom.  Sfortunatament, f’din il-ħidma tagħhom għandhom l-appoġġ ta’ għaqdiet bħall-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija li għadhom kif ħarġu dokument bil-prijoritajiet li huma qed jipproponu għall-leġislatura li jmiss.

Il-mina taħt il-fliegu bejn Malta u Għawdex, għalihom tibqa’ prijorità. Ma’ dan issa żdied mitjar rurali. Jidher li jridu jassiguraw li l-istupru li qed jippjanaw fuq Għawdex ikollu effett massimu.

Il-mina proposta mhiex għan-nies iżda għall-karozzi. Hi mina dipendenti b’mod assolut fuq il-karozzi u l-inġenji kummerċjali oħra li jkunu jistgħu jagħmlu użu minna. Kull waħda minn dawn il-karozzi jew inġenji kummerċjali tħallas biex tgħaddi mill-mina. Il-vijabilità ekonomika tal-mina tiddependi milli jkunu mħajjra jagħmlu użu minna l-ikbar numru possibli ta’ karozzi.

F’wieħed mill-istudji li saru kien ħadem stima li bħala riżultat tal-mina proposta, il-moviment ta’ karozzi bejn Malta u Għawdex jimmultiplika ruħu bi tlieta, minn 3000 moviment kuljum għal 9000 movement kuljum. L-istudju hu intitolat Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options.  Dan l-istudju kien ikkummissjonat mill-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija  u  Transport Malta.

Il-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdija qegħda fuq quddiem nett fl-isforz biex Għawdex ikun stuprat. Flimkien mal-PLPN iridu jerfgħu r-responsabbiltà għall-konsegwenzi.

X’sens jagħmel li żżid bi tlett darbiet il-moviment tal-karozzi Maltin fit-toroq Għawdxin? It-toroq Għawdxin jifilħu għal dan? Għandna nissagrifikaw il-kwalità tal-arja f’Għawdex ukoll?  Jagħmel sens li nesportaw il-problemi tat-traffiku minn Malta għal Għawdex?

It-tweġiba ovvja għal kull waħda minn dawn il-mistoqsijiet hi le. Bosta minnha huma konxji li t-toroq Għawdxin ma baqax fejn tqiegħed labra fihom u dan bħala riżultat tal-karozzi li diġa qed jaqsmu l-fliegu f’dan il-mument.

Anke fit-toroq Għawdxin hemm il-ħtieġa li jonqsu l-karozzi.  Diġa hemm wisq. Ma jagħmilx sens li jiżdiedu. Dan imur kontra dak kollu li jipprovdi l-pjan nazzjonali għat-trasport. Dan il-pjan japplika għal-Għawdex ukoll.

Is-servizz tal-fast-ferry service, jekk organizzat sewwa b’mod li jwassal in-nies f’punti differenti tul il-kosta Maltija, jibqa’ soluzzjoni tajba. B’hekk tkun assigurata mobilità sostenibbli bejn il-gżejjer.  Imma biex dan ikun effettiv, jeħtieġ ukoll transport pubbliku iffukat u faċilitajiet aħjar fil-port tal-iMġarr Għawdex. Dan jassigura mobilità aħjar b’impatt ambjentali sostanzjalment imnaqqas.  

Il-pjan nazzjonali għat-trasport, ippubblikat mill-Gvern Laburista jemfasizza l-ħtieġa li jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Il-proposta għal mina bejn Malta u Għawdex tikkontradixxi dan il-pjan. Għalfejn il-Gvern jieħu parir, iħallas għalih minn fondi pubbliċi u imbagħad jinjorah? Għaliex il-Gvern qiegħed kontinwament jinjora l-pjan tat-trasport tiegħu stess?

Jekk il-proġett tal-mina isseħħ, dan ser ikun il-kawża ta’ ħsara ambjentali sostanzjali kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex.  F’Malta ser jinqered il-villaġġ trogloditiku tal-Għerien fil-limiti tal-Mellieħa. F’Għawdex ser jinqered ammont mhux żgħir ta’ raba’ f’ Ta’ Kenuna, limiti tan-Nadur.

Hemm iktar soluzzjonijiet biex tkun indirizzata l-mobilità bejn Malta u Għawdex. Dan jirrikjedi li niffukaw fuq il-mobilità tan-nies. Jirrikjedi li nindirizzaw id-dipendenza li żviluppajna fuq il-karozza, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex. Sakemm nieħdu d-deċiżjoni li nibdew nindirizzaw din id-dipendenza, kull soluzzjoni li nippruvaw, ftit tista’ tkun effettiva.  

Ilna nopponu l-proposta għall-mina sa mill-ewwel jum minn meta, madwar għaxar snin ilu, din ġiet proposta mill-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdija bl-appoġġ tal-PLPN. Jekk inti ukoll ma taqbilx li issir din il-mina żomm quddiem għajnejk li huma biss membri parlamentari eletti f’isem ADPD li jistgħu jmexxu l-quddiem l-idejat tiegħek.  

Bl-appoġġ tiegħek nhar is-26 ta’ Marzu hu possibli li dan l-istupru li l-PLPN qed jippjanaw nevitawh.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 13 ta’ Marzu 2022

The rape of Gozo

The PLPN have elevated their strategy to accelerate the rape of Gozo to manifesto status. Unfortunately, they are supported in their endeavours by the likes of the Gozo Business Chamber which has just issued its key priority areas for the next legislature.

The tunnel below the Gozo Channel remains a priority on their books. To this they have now added a “rural airfield”. It seems that they want to ensure that their planned rape has maximum effect on Gozo.

The proposed tunnel is a tunnel for cars not for people.

The proposed Gozo tunnel is dependent on cars and other vehicles making use of it. It is these cars which will be subject to the payment of tolls. Maximising such vehicular use is crucial for the proposed tunnel to make any economic sense.

One of the studies carried out, which is in the public domain, had estimated that as a result of the proposed tunnel, the current daily movements of vehicles between Malta and Gozo would be trebled from 3000 daily movements to 9000 daily movements. The study entitled Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options was commissioned some years back by the Gozo Business Chamber together with Transport Malta.

The Gozo Business Chamber is in the front seat in this effort to rape Gozo. Together with the PLPN it has to shoulder responsibility for the consequences.

Does it make sense to treble the daily vehicle movements on Gozitan roads? Do Gozitan roads have that capacity? Should we sacrifice air quality in Gozo too? Does it make sense to export traffic problems from Malta to Gozo? The obvious answer to all these questions is a clear no. Most of us are aware that Gozitan roads are already bursting at the seams as a result of the number vehicles crossing over at this point in time.

Cars should be decreased on Gozitan roads too! There are already too many on the road. Increasing them exponentially is not on. This is the antithesis of the underlying theme of the National Transport Master Plan.

The fast-ferry service, suitably organised and servicing multiple destinations along the Maltese coast, is the potential long-term solution to ensure having a reasonable and sustainable mobility between the islands. In order for this to be effective, however, it has to be buttressed by a more focused public transport service and substantially improved port facilities at Mġarr Gozo. This will ensure better mobility with a much-reduced environmental impact.

The National Transport Master Plan published by this Labour administration advocates the need to reduce the number of cars on our roads. The proposal for the Gozo tunnel contradicts this objective. Why does government seek advice and then ignore it? Why does government repeatedly ignore its own Transport Master Plan?

If the tunnel materialises, it will result in significant environmental damage in both Malta and Gozo. On the Malta side it would include the obliteration of the troglodytic village at l-Għerien in the limits of Mellieħa. In Gozo it would ruin extensive agricultural holdings in the Ta’ Kenuna area, in the limits of Nadur.

There are other solutions which can adequately address the mobility between Malta and Gozo. It does however require thinking outside the box and focusing on the real issue: the sustainable mobility of people. This would require a bold initiative of addressing head-on car-dependency in both Malta and Gozo. Until we take the decision to start shedding our car- dependency, however, no solution can be really effective.

The Green Party has been opposing the proposal for an undersea tunnel continuously since it was first tabled by the Gozo Business Chamber and supported by the PLPN, around ten years ago. If you disagree with this tunnel proposal kindly note that it is only green members of parliament on the ADPD list that can represent your views.

Your support on the 26 March is essential to prevent this from happening.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 13 March 2022

The regeneration of Marsa

The public consultation which commenced earlier this week relative to the regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour along the coastal area of Marsa is most welcome. Marsa has been neglected for far too long.

The Planning Authority has been criticised in the past for its piecemeal reviews of the local plans. It is hoped that this exercise will be a holistic one. It is the whole of Marsa which should be addressed and not one tiny corner! The decay of Marsa as an urban centre needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity. This will not be done through piecemeal local plan reviews but through a comprehensive planning exercise.

The proposed strategic vision, as directed by government, is however not a suitable one. Through the Planning Authority, government is proposing that the area subject of the consultation be transformed into a “prime tourism and leisure harbour destination”.

The primary question to be addressed is whether it is desirable for our economy to further increase its dependence on tourism. The answer to this basic question, in my view, is a clear no. It is thus not on to reserve more prime sites for tourism. Tourism has gobbled up too many prime sites. Too many land use planning policies have been compromised in the exclusive interest of the tourism industry.  

Tourism has also proven itself to be a very weak link in the economic chain. It has been brought down to its knees as a result of Covid19. It is still very weak and will take more time to recover. Understandably a significant part of its labour force has migrated to other sectors and is unwilling to return to work in the tourism sector.

Rather than more tourism we definitely need less of it.

Prior to Covid19 we had reached saturation levels in the tourism sector. The post-Covid19 impact period is a unique opportunity for tourism to be re-dimensioned in order to reduce its impacts on the community. Unfortunately, the Planning Authority is insensitive to all this: it plans to give us more of the same.  

The availability of the former power station site and its surroundings is definitely a unique opportunity which should not be squandered on the tourism industry.

The innermost part of the Grand Harbour has always been dedicated to the maritime sector for which this is a unique opportunity to re-organise, modernise and increase its contribution to the national economy while reducing its environmental impacts. Scaling down the ship-repairing facilities and moving them to outside the area earmarked for regeneration could shift this activity to close proximity of residential areas in localities which are close by. This should therefore be avoided.  Even though I doubt very much whether in practice it is that easy to shift these facilities.

The regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour Area can be achieved without tying down the area to development which is tourism-linked. The consultation strategy itself identifies various other options and activities amongst which new business ventures which improve the overall well-being of the community.

The tourism industry itself, over two years ago, had sounded the alarm that the number of tourists arriving in Malta was too high: beyond that which the country can take sustainably. Research published at the same time had identified the first signs of turismofobia, a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists and tourism. These are the first indications of social discontent with the pressures linked to tourism growth. They need to be addressed but are however being ignored.

There is obviously a need for less tourism, not more of it. Access to public investment has to be made available to other sectors.

The public consultation is in its initial stages, and it is still possible for the discussion to develop along different lines. The discussion required is one which addresses Marsa as a whole and which does not focus on just one tiny corner, even though it may be an important corner.

This is a unique opportunity for all stakeholders who can and should get involved to assist in the identification of a sustainable vision for the regeneration of Marsa as a whole: in the interests of all.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 December 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

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

Wara l-gwerra ċivili fil-PN

Għad m’hemm l-ebda ħjiel tat-tmiem tal-gwerra ċivili fil-PN. Din qed tagħmel ħafna ħsara, mhux biss lill-PN: fl-aħħar minn l-aħħar qed tagħmel il-ħsara lill-pajjiż kollu.

Kull wieħed miż-żewġ darbiet fejn ġie espress vot ta’ sfiduċja fil-Kap tal-PN Adrian Delia iwassal messaġġ politiku ċar li s’issa l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni għad ma fehem xejn minnu. Meta Delia stqarr li l-vot ta’ sfuduċja espress mill-grupp parlamentari Nazzjonalista u iktar tard mill-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal-PN ma kellhom l-ebda sinifikat partikolari, kien qed jesponi l-miżerja ta’ kredenzjali demokratiċi tiegħu kif ukoll kien qed jirrifletti l-immaturità politika tiegħu. Dan fl-aħħar m’għandux biss rifless fuq il-kredibilità ta’ Adrian Delia imma ukoll fuq dik tal-PN innifsu.

Il-gwerra ċivili fil-PN qed tisraq l-attenzjoni li presentement jixraq li tkun fuq materji oħra ta’ importanza kbira.  L-irkupru mill-impatti sostanzjali tal-pandemija  Covid-19 u t-tisħiħ tal-kapaċità ta’ Malta kontra l-korruzzjoni u l-ħasil tal-flus jeħtieġu ferm iktar attenzjoni u enerġija. Mhux biss mill-Gvern, imma anke mill-Opposizzjoni.

Jeħtieġ li niddiskutu fid-dettall pjan ta’ rkupru mill-pandemija Covid-19 li jinfirex fuq l-oqsma kollha effettwati: pjan li għandu jkun wieħed integrat ma’ strateġija li tindirizza t-tibdil fil-klima u dan fil-qafas tal-konklużjonijiet tas-summit ta’ Pariġi.  Alternattiva Demokratika diġà tat il-kontribut tagħha xi ġimgħat ilu permezz tal-pubblikazzjoni tar-rapport: Pjan Aħdar: Ġust u Sostenibbli.

Studju riċenti ta’ Deloitte li kien ikkummissjonat mill-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Lukandi u r-Restoranti (MHRA) jindika li l-industrija tat-turiżmu bdiet ġejja f’sensiha. Qed tirrealizza li l-irkupru mhux biss seħħ bil-mod, iżda bil-mod ħafna: iktar kajman milli qatt antiċipaw.   L-Air Malta irrevediet il-pjan kummerċjali tagħha u issa qed tantiċipa li teħtieġ madwar seba’ snin biex tkun f’posizzjoni li terġa’ tibda iġġorr l-istess numru ta’ passiġġiera li kienet iġġor qabel ma faqqgħet il-pandemija.  Dan kollu jwassal għal osservazzjoni waħda – evitata minn bosta – dwar kemm l-aspettattivi tal-industrija tat-turiżmu dwar l-irkupru tal-industrija mhumiex realistiċi.

Ikun ferm aħjar kieku napprofittaw ruħna mis-sitwazzjoni u nippjanaw aħjar biex l-industrija tat-turiżmu tissaħħaħ billi ma tibqax tiffoka fuq in-numri imma fuq il-kwalità tat-turist. Pjan ta’ din ix-xorta, bla dubju, jkun jista’ jindirizza l-impatti ambjentali negattivi sostanzjali tal-industrija b’mod effettiv. Il-Ministru tat-Turiżmu  Julia Portelli-Farrugia ma tantx tidher li taqbel ma dan, għax il-ħin kollu tredden bin-numri.

Il-Moneyval hu Kumitat tal-Kunsill ta’ l-Ewropa  magħmul minn esperti li jevalwaw miżuri kontra l-ħasil tal-flus u l-finanzjament tat-terroriżmu.  Hu grupp ta’ monitoraġġ permanenti bl-inkarigu li jara li l-istati membri tal-Kunsill ta’ l-Ewropa qed jieħdu l-miżuri meħtieġa u maqbula fuq livell internazzjonali.

Fl-aħħar rapport dwar Malta ippubblikat fl-2019 il-Moneyval, tagħmel 40 rakkomandazzjoni spjegati f’ 233 paġna. Rakkomandazzjonijiet dwar x’inhu meħtieġ li jsir.  Ir-riskji għal Malta huma ċari: għandna ekonomija li hi vulnerabbli ħafna primarjament minħabba d-daqs tagħha kif ukoll minħabba l-fatt li hi esposta ħafna għal dak kollu li jiġri barra minn xtutna.   Ir-rapport tal-Moneyval jemfasizza li r-remote gaming, per eżempju hu vulnerabbli ħafna għall-ħasil tal-flus u dan “due to the high number of customers, mainly non-resident, the high volume of transactions, the non-face-to-face nature of the business and the use of prepaid cards.”

Mhux biżżejjed li għandna liġijiet li huma ġeneralment liġijiet tajbin. Hemm ħtieġa qawwija ta’ riżorsi għax mingħajr r-riżorsi ma tista’ timplimenta xejn. Ix-xhieda riċenti tal-Assistant Kummissarju tal-Pulizija  Ian Abdilla fl-inkjesta pubblika dwar l-assassinju ta’  Daphne Caruana Galizia, ftit jiem wara li tneħħa mit-tmexxija tat-taqsima tar-reati ekonomiċi, jindika n-nuqqas ta’ impenn biex il-ħafna dikjarazzjonijiet li jsiru kontra l-ħasil tal-flus ikunu implimentati. Sfortunatament id-dikjarazzjonijiet u l-assigurazzjonijiet repetuti tal-Gvern mhumiex kredibbli.

Mhux aħjar l-Opposizzjoni tuża’ l-ħin tagħha dwar dan? Iktar ma jikkonkludu l-glied intern malajr, aħjar għal kulħadd. Hemm ħafna x’isir wara li  Adrian Delia jiġi f’sensieh u jaċċetta l-inevitabbli.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 19 ta’ Lulju 2020

After the PN civil war

The civil war within the PN has no end in sight. This does not only inflict considerable damage on the PN: at the end of the day it damages the whole country.

The two instances of a vote of no confidence in PN leader Adrian Delia are clear political statements which unfortunately the Opposition leader has so far been incapable of deciphering. Labelling the no confidence votes expressed separately by the Opposition Parliamentary Group and the PN Executive Committee as being of no significance further dilutes Adrian Delia’s democratic credentials and reflects his political immaturity. This has a bearing not only on Delia’s credibility but also on that of the PN.

The PN civil war is diverting attention from more pressing issues. The recovery from the devastating impacts of Covid-19 and the strengthening of Malta’s capability in the fight against corruption and money laundering surely require more attention and energy. Not just from government but also from the opposition.

We need to discuss in depth a Covid-19 recovery plan which spans all areas and factors in climate change. Maltese Greens have already made their contribution through the report published some weeks ago entitled: Green Plan: Fair and Sustainable.

A recent Deloitte study commissioned by the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) indicates that the tourism industry is coming to its senses and realising that the recovery is slow, maybe even much slower than originally perceived.  Air Malta’s revised business plan is envisaging that it will take around seven years for the national carrier to return to pre-Covid-19 capacity. All this begs the question, so far avoided, as to whether the expectations of the tourism industry of attaining full recovery are realistic.

Would it not be more realistic if we realise that this is the appropriate time to plan for a tourism industry that foregoes quantity and focuses on quality? Such a course of action would address the substantial negative environmental impacts of the tourism industry. Tourism Minister Julia Portelli-Farrugia is not on the same page. She is unfortunately desperately after numbers.

Moneyval is a Council of Europe Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism. It is a permanent monitoring body tasked with assessing compliance of Council of Europe member States with international standards.

In its 2019 report on Malta, Moneyval, in a 233-page report, made 40 recommendations on measures which need to be taken. The risks are clear: our economy is highly vulnerable to money laundering, even as a consequence of its size and international exposure.  The report emphasises that remote gaming, for example, is inherently vulnerable to money laundering “due to the high number of customers, mainly non-resident, the high volume of transactions, the non-face-to-face nature of the business and the use of prepaid cards.”

Having good laws is not sufficient. Resources are desperately needed as otherwise laws cannot be implemented. The recent testimony of Police Assistant Commissioner Ian Abdilla in the ongoing public inquiry on the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a few days after being unceremoniously removed from leading the Economic Crimes Unit, clearly indicates the lack of commitment to implement Malta’s declared objectives in addressing money-laundering. Unfortunately, government’s repeated declarations and assurances are not credible.

Some food for thought for the Parliamentary Opposition: the sooner they conclude their in-fighting the better. There is much to be done after Adrian Delia comes to his senses and accepts the inevitable.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 19 July 2020