Il-qerda madwarna, dejjem tikber

L-applikazzjoni bin-numru PA11067/17 għall-iżvilupp ta’ faċilitá oħra ta’ McDonalds fil-periferija ta’ Ħaż-Żabbar huwa attentat ieħor biex tiġi mnaqqra l-art li nirreferu għaliha bħala ODZ. S’issa nimmaġina li kważi kulħadd jaf li l-ittri ODZ ifissru Outside (O) the Development (D) Zone (Z). Jiġifieri barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp. Dan ifisser li dik l-art, preferibilment m’għandiex tkun żviluppata.

Imma s-sit li ntagħżel biex possibilment ikun żviluppat fuq faċilitá ta’ McDonalds qiegħed f’żona li żviluppat bil-mod fil-passat. Meta l-Pjani Lokali ġew imfassla u ppubblikati tnax-il sena ilu, is-sit fi Triq Salvu Pulis ġewwa Ħaż-Żabbar u l-iżvilupp ta’ madwaru kien definit bħala żona residenzjali rurali (rural settlement): li jfisser li kienet żona residenzjali barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp imma li m’għandiex titħalla tikber.

Lil hinn mill-lingwaġġ tekniku għandna nagħmlu kull sforz biex art barra miż-żona ta’ żvilupp tibqa’ mhux sviluppata u li fejn diġa hemm l-iżvilupp, dan ma jikbirx. Il-pjani lokali huma supplimentati minn biżibilju ta’ regoli u linji gwida li sfortunatament, imma ċertament b’mod intenzjonat u ikkalkulat, joħolqu kuntrasti jew kunflitti li jwasslu għall-konklużjoni loġika li kważi kollox hu b’xi mod ġustifikabbli.

Li jkun hemm faċilitá ta’ McDonalds fuq l-art li ntagħżlet f’Ħaż-Żabbar żgur li mhux kompatibbli man-natura residenzjali tal-inħawi. Imma xejn ma nkun sorpriż jekk ikollna ftit akrobazija ta’ livell olimpiku li twassal għall-approvazzjoni tal-applikazzjoni. Il-problema li għandhom numru mhux żgħir ta’ dawk li qed jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet fl-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar hi li huma nieqsa minn kull sensibilitá ambjentali jew dwar l-ippjanar (ta’ l-użu ta’ l-art). Din l-insensittivitá hi l-kawża tal-qerda bil-mod tal-kampanja u tal-identitá tal-lokalitajiet residenzjali żgħar bil-konsegwenza tal-ħolqien ta’ uġiegħ soċjali kbir.

Ħarsa anke ħafifa lejn il-lista ta’ dawk il-każijiet li għamlu l-aħbarijiet tagħtina idea tajba ta’ dak li wassal għall-qagħda preżenti. Il-problema bażika hi dawk l-irġiel u n-nisa li ntagħżlu biex jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Dawk tal-lum m’humiex wisq differenti minn tal-bieraħ: (b’xi eċċezzjonijiet) ġeneralment ma jiswew għal xejn, avolja xi minn daqqiet uħud jippruvaw ikunu raġjonevoli.

Hu rari ħafna li jkun hemm xi deċiżjoni li tkun ser taqbżilhom: pereżempju dik dwar il-pompa tal-petrol u d-dijsil fi Triq is-Salini fil-Magħtab. Ir-regoli dwar kif jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet huma mfassla biex jassiguraw li meta jkun hemm min jażżarda jaqbes il-linja, b’mod kważi awtomatiku, jiskatta proċess ta’ awto-difiża tas-sistema: il-vot ma jittieħidtx dak il-ħin iżda fis-seduta ta’ wara. Dakinnhar imbagħad ikun possibli li jissejħu r-riżervi (dawk li bosta drabi ma jattendux għal-laqgħat) biex b’hekk fis-siegħa tal-prova jkun hemm kulħadd. Ikun hemm biżżejjed ħin biex dawk li jdumu jew ibatu biex jifhmu jiftħu ftit moħħhom u jikkonvinċu ruħhom. Imbagħad ikun hemm maġġoranza li tista’ tagħmel xogħolha bil-kumditá.

Dan kollu ħoloq ostaklu istituzzjonali doppju kontra l-ħarsien tal-ambjent. Kien speċifikament maħluq għal dan l-iskop minn min kiteb l-Att tal-2016 dwar l-Ippjanar tal-Iżvilupp. B’dan il-mod hemm kontroll istituzzjonali kontra dawk li kapaċi (anke jekk rari jażżardaw) jaħsbu b’moħħhom. Hi l-mewt bil-mod tal-kampanja u l-wirt ambjentali tagħna. Mhux biss f’ Ħaż-Żabbar, iżda madwar il-gżejjer tagħna.

Uħud minn dawk li jgorru u kontinwament jimlew il-gurnali, inkluż dawk elettroniċi, bil-fehmiet tagħhom jeħtieġilhom jikkunsidraw is-sehem tagħhom f’dan kollu. Għandhom jikkunsidraw jekk huma stess ikkontribwewx biex kibret il-froġa billi repetutament eleġġew li dawk li kewsu fil-borma.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum – Il-Ħadd 25 ta’ Frar 2018

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Fast food, slow death

Planning application with reference number PA 11067/17 for the development of a new McDonalds outlet on the outskirts of Żabbar is one of the latest attempts to nibble at our ODZ land. As readers are aware, the letters “ODZ” stand for Outside the Development Zone, meaning that the land in question should ideally not be developed at all.

However, the site selected for the possible development of the McDonalds fast food chain outlet lies in an area that has been slowly developed over the years. When the Local Plans were finalised 12 years ago, the site at Salvu Pulis Street in Żabbar and the surrounding development were defined as an ODZ (rural) settlement: meaning that it was an existing residential development outside the development zone that was to be contained and not allowed to spread any further.

Beyond the technical jargon, ODZ land should remain outside the development zone. The Local Plans have been supplemented by a myriad of additional policies and guidelines which unfortunately, but clearly intentionally, create so many policy contrasts and conflicts that it would not be amiss to conclude that practically anything can be justified on the basis of existing policy.

Having a McDonalds outlet in the chosen site at Żabbar is not compatible with the residential nature of the area, but I would not be surprised at all if another planning somersault of Olympic proportions leads to the approval of this application. The problem with most of the decision-takers at the Planning Authority is that they have little, if any, planning or environmental sense. This insensitivity is contributing to the slow and painful death of our countryside as well as that of our small settlements.

Just go slowly through the list of cases which have made it to the front pages of our newspapers and you will get a good idea of what has slowly but surely led to the current state of affairs. The basic problem is the men and women selected to be the decision-makers. The present ones are not much different from the previous ones: (although with some exceptions) generally they are useless. Some of them occasionally try to be reasonable.

Very rarely, a reasonable decision threatens the current order of things and looks likely to slip out: as the recent case on the Magħtab fuel station. The decision-taking rules are designed to trigger an automatic self-defence mechanism against those who dare overstep their brief: the definite decision is postponed to the next sitting. It is then possible to call in the reserves to vote and the habitual absentees turn up, thereby ensuring a full house at the next Board meeting. There is also sufficient time to convince those who may have “misunderstood” matters and dared speak their mind. It is then possible to ensure that the majority falls in line.

This has created an institutional double hurdle against the environment and its protection. It is specifically designed to be so by the author of the 2016 Development Planning Act, clearly intended to introduce an institutional check on those who dare sing from a different hymn sheet from the one available. It is the slow death of our countryside and our environmental heritage – not just at Ħaż-Żabbar, but all over the islands.

Some of those who grumble and fill the comments sections of our newspapers with their views need to consider whether they have contributed to all this by repeatedly electing those who have designed this mess.

Published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 25 February 2018

Għall-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar il-profitti tal-ispekulatur huma prijoritá

Id-deċiżjoni li ħa l-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar nhar il-Ħamis b’għaxar voti kontra tlieta biex 4,748 metru kwadru ta’ art barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp (ODZ) ikunu żviluppati f’Dar għall-Anzjani fin-Naxxar hi preċedent ikrah li l-Awtoritá għad jiddispjaċiha li ħaditu.

L-applikazzjoni bin-numru PA 3592/16 ġiet ippreżentata biex jitwaqqa’ bini li tela’ qabel l-1978 u floku tinbena faċilitá għall-kura tal-anzjani fuq art “ġa disturbata”.

L-ewwel punt ta’ interess hu dan il-bini ta’ qabel l-1978 li hemm fuq is-sit. Ir-rapport dwar l-applikazzjoni ta’ żvilupp jiddeskrivi din l-art bħala “razzett mitluq u fi stat ta’ abbandun”. Meta inbena, dan ir-razzett kien meħtieġ fl-interess ta’ l-agrikultura. Issa li dan ir-razzett hu abbandunat kien ikun iktar għaqli kieku l-art ġiet irrestawrata għall-istat oriġinali tagħha biex tieħu lura postha bħala parti mill-pajsaġġ rurali. Minflok qed tintuża bħala għodda biex twaqqa’ għar-redikolu l-politika dwar l-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art.

L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar skont dak li jipprovdi l-Pjan Strateġiku għall-Ambjent u l-Iżvilupp (SPED: Strategic Plan for Environment and Development) talbet lill-applikant biex jikkummissjona studju ħalli jiġi stabilit jekk fiż-żona ta’ żvilupp, fil-viċinanzi, kienx hemm art tajba għall-iżvilupp li setgħet tintuża għall-iskop mixtieq u ċioe biex tinbena dar għall-anzjani.

Dan ir-rapport (site selection report), datat Mejju 2016, fil-fatt identifika żewġ siti li t-tnejn kienu ikbar milli meħtieġ. Ir-rapport jgħid li s-siti identifikati kellhom “potenzjal kbir” bħala siti alternattivi għall-proġett taħt konsiderazzjoni. L-ewwel sit kellu qies ta’ 11,287 metru kwadru fil-waqt li t-tieni sit kellu qies ta’ 6,844 metru kwadru. It-tnejn kienu fin-Naxxar viċin tas-sit taħt konsiderazzjoni.

Wara, l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar talbet lill-applikant biex jipproduċi studju dwar l-impatti finanzjarji tal-proġett. Dan l-istudju kien lest fi ftit żmien tant li hu datat 30 ta’ Mejju 2016. Fi ftit kliem dan ir-rapport ta’ sitt paġni, miktub minn accountant, jikkonkludi li billi l-art tajba għall-iżvilupp tiswa’ ferm iktar minn art ODZ (li m’hiex normalment ikkunsidrata għall-iżvilupp) il-proġett seta jrendi biss jekk tkun użata art ODZ!

Fid-diskussjoni waqt is-seduta pubblika ta’ nhar il-Ħamis tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, iċ-Ċhairman Eżekuttiv tal-istess Awtoritá qal li l-istudju dwar l-impatt finanzjarju tal-proġett kien ivverifikat mill-konsulenti tal- Awtoritá li wara aċċettatu u talbet lill-applikant biex jibda jikkunsidra art fl-ODZ.

Din id-deċiżjoni tal- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar taqleb ta’ taħt fuq il-politika dwar l-użu tal-art u prattikament tfisser li minn issa l-quddiem proġetti kbar barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp mhu ser ikollhom l-ebda diffikulta biex ikunu approvati. M’hemmx ħtieġa li tkun professor biex tifhem li minn issa l-quddiem kull żvilupp ODZ jista’ jkun iġġustifikat mill- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar a bażi tal-fatt li l-art ODZ tiswa’ ferm inqas mill-art tajba għall-iżvilupp.

Jekk inħarsu ftit sewwa lejn ir-rapport tal-accountant insiru nafu li l-art ODZ kellha l-prezz ta’ €1,200,000 fil-waqt li l-art l-oħra tal-qies meħtieġ għall-proġett kellha prezz ta’ madwar €5 miljuni u nofs f’kull każ. Differenza ta’ madwar 4 darbiet!

Bħala riżultat ta’ din id-deċiżjoni, fl-opinjoni tiegħi, l- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar irmiet ix-xogħol utli li numru kbir ta’ professjonisti tal-ambjent u tal-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art għamlu tul dawn l-aħħar ħamsa u għoxrin sena. Hi deċiżjoni li tmur kontra l-emfasi kontinwa dwar il-ħtieġa li l-art limitata li għandu l-pajjiż tintuża b’mod sostenibbli. L- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għal darba oħra baxxiet rasha: il-kilba għall-profitti reġgħet rebħet fuq il-ħtieġa tal-ħarsien ambjentali. Il-bilanċ fil-kont tal-bank tal-ispekulatur hu iktar importanti għall- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar mill-użu sostenibbli tal-art f’pajjiżna.

Meta ttieħed il-vot finali, tlieta biss kienu l-membri tal-Bord tal- Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar li ivvutaw kontra: is-Sindku tan-Naxxar Anne Marie Muscat Fenech Adami, iċ-Chairman tal- Awtoritá tal-Ambjent w ir-Riżorsi Victor Axiaq kif ukoll r-rapprezentanta tal-għaqdiet ambjentali – Annick Bonello It-tlieta li huma mmotivaw id-deċiżjoni tagħhom li jivvutaw kontra l-proposta ta’ żvilupp minħabba li mhux aċċettabbli li tkun użata art ODZ għal dan l-iskop.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 23 ta’ Lulju 2017

Planning Authority says: develop ODZ, it is cheaper!

The decision taken by the Board of the Planning Authority last Thursday, with ten votes in favour and three votes against the development of 4,748 square metres of land Outside the Development Zone (ODZ) for a home for the elderly in Naxxar, will come back to haunt it in the very near future.

Application number PA 3592/16  was submitted in order to demolish a pre-1978 existing building and construct a facility for the care of the elderly and nursing home on disturbed land.

The first point of interest is the existing pre-1978 building on site. The Development Permit Application report describes this as an unoccupied derelict farm. When it  was constructed, this building was necessary in the interests of agriculture. Now that it is in a derelict state, the land should have been returned to its former state, rehabilitated as part of the rural landscape. Instead it is being used as a tool through which to ridicule land use planning policy.

Applying the provisions of the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED) policy document, the Planning Authority requested the applicant to commission a site selection exercise in order to ascertain whether, within the development zone, there existed land in the vicinity that could be developed for the desired purpose – a home for the elderly. 

The site selection report, dated May 2016, identified two sites – both of which were larger than required.  Specifically, the report states that the identified sites offered very good potential as alternative sites for the project under consideration.  The first site had an area of 11,287 square metres, while the second had an area of 6,844 square metres. Both sites are in Naxxar, very close to the site that is the subject of the application.

The Planning Authority next proceeded to request the applicant to produce a financial feasibility study. This study was produced days after the site selection exercise was completed. In fact, it is dated 30 May 2016. Briefly, the six page study – drawn up by a certified public accountant – concludes that, due to the fact that land within the development scheme costs substantially more than ODZ land, the project would only be financially feasible if ODZ land were used.

During last Thursdays Planning Authority Board public hearing, the Authority’s Executive Chairman stated that the PA’s own consultants had check this feasibility study before accepting it and instructing the applicant to proceed with considering ODZ sites.

This PA decision turns land use planning policy on its head and practically gives the green light to large-scale ODZ development in the future. It does not require rocket science to arrive at a conclusion that this specific decision signifies that practically any ODZ development can be justified on the basis that ODZ land is cheaper than land in the development zone. Perusal of the feasibility study submitted by applicant to the Planning Authority indicates that the ODZ land to be developed for this project has been priced at 1,200,000. The alternative sites, of equal area to the ODZ site under consideration, were each priced at approximately 5,500,000 : a four-fold difference.

In my opinion, the result of this decision is that the Planning Authority has thrown into the dustbin the hard work of a large number of planning and environmental professionals over the last 25 years.   This decision contradicts the continuous policy emphasis on the need to use land in a sustainable manner. The Planning Authority has once more bowed its head when faced with gluttonous greed. Profit has once more carried the day, to the detriment of environmental protection. The speculators bottom line is more important to the Planning Authority than sustainable use of land resources.

When the final vote was taken, only three members of the Planning Authority Board voted against, namely the Mayor of Naxxar Anne Marie Muscat Fenech Adami, the Chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority Victor Axiaq and the environmental NGOs’ representative Annick Bonello. All three were motivated in their decision to vote against the proposal because they deemed it unacceptable to have the development in ODZ land.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 23 July 2017

The environmental deficit

 

traffic jam Malta

 

Going by the information available on the increased incidence of various types of cancers, both common and rare types, it is evident that the accumulated environmental impacts originating from human action is exacting its toll. Few make the link between the increased incidence of rare diseases,  cancers and environmental neglect accumulated over the years.  

Over the Christmas period, as a result of the never-ending humanitarian operations of the Community Chest Fund, we hear of the ever-increasing demand on state resources by those struck by cancer. The demand is such that the resources of the state have to be supplemented by the annual telethon which this year raised a record €5.5 million.

The advertising blitz on the switching over of Malta’s power generation from one dependent on heavy fuel oil to natural gas informs us that air quality in Malta will improve substantially as a result. This statement is only partially correct as the major contributor to Malta’s poor air quality was not power generation but the ubiquitous and exponential increase of cars on our roads.

The cars on our roads are part of the real “cancer factory” in operation on Maltese territory.

As is evidenced by the substantial investments channeled towards the improvement of the road infrastructure, it is clear that the political will to address this issue is very weak. Improved road infrastructure, such as the construction of flyovers to ease traffic congestion, will only increase the dependence on cars. In the long term, this improvement to the road network will hamper the drive to shift custom to public transport. Consequently, it will serve to further increase cars on our roads and will hence contribute to an increase in the output of the “cancer factory”.

Public transport has been improved as is evidenced by a gradual increase in its use. Various initiatives to encourage the use of public transport have been introduced. However, the Maltese state is sending conflicting signals when it simultaneously speaks in favor of public transport yet invests heavily to facilitate the continued domination of our roads by private cars.

Lack of adequate environmental protection in the past has contributed to an ever-accumulating environmental deficit which in turn will lead to total and complete bankruptcy as no one is in a position to bale out Mother Earth.

Environment protection is multifaceted. Addressing the different waste streams and seriously plotting the path to the 2050 zero waste targets established by Malta’s Waste Management Strategy would definitely signify that we are in earnest. However, it is certainly not enough. What about the excessive use of pesticides which still end up contaminating our food chain? Or what about our water table, which in addition to being depleted is also contaminated with pesticides and fertilisers?   I could go on and on with a never-ending list of examples.

The environmental deficit is constantly on the increase. Each generation creates additional environmental impacts without in any way adequately addressing the accumulated impacts handed down by the previous generations. Governments are worried by economic deficits, yet few seem to be worried by the accumulating environmental deficit. We are using the earth’s resources as if tomorrow will never come.

No one will bail us out from the consequences of this deficit, yet nature has its own way of extracting its dues. Climate change, the collapse of agriculture in various countries and a higher incidence of common and rare forms of cancers are all different forms of payment which nature is extracting. These bills can only be avoided (in the long term) if we switch back to operating in a manner which is compatible with nature.

Otherwise the accumulating environmental deficit will bankrupt humanity.

published on The Independent on Sunday – 1 January 2017

L-iżbilanċ ambjentali

 

traffic.Marsa

 

Minn dak li hu magħruf dwar l-inċidenza dejjem tikber tal-cancer, jidher li l-impatti ambjentali tal-ħidma tal-bniedem qed ikollhom effett qawwi. Ftit huma dawk li huma konxji dwar ir-rabtiet li hemm bejn il-ħsara ambjentali u uħud mill-mard rari li s-soċjetá tagħna qegħda tiffaċċja.

Fil-ġranet tal-Milied, riżultat tal-ħidma bla heda tal-Community Chest Fund, nisimgħu dwar id-domanda ma tieqaf qatt għas-servizzi li jagħti l-istat lil dawk milquta minn kull forma ta’ cancer. Id-domanda hi tant kbira li riżorsi tal-istat huma mgħejjuna mill-ġbir li jsir waqt l-Istrina, li, din is-sena laħaq is-somma record ta’ €5.5 miljuni.

Il-Gvern qed ixandar riklami dwar il-qalba tal-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku minn waħda dipendenti fuq il-heavy fuel oil għal waħda dipendenti fuq il-gass naturali. F’dawn ir-riklami qed jgħidulna li ser ikollna titjib fil-kwalitá tal-arja bħala riżultat ta’ din il-qalba. Din id-dikjarazzjoni (tar-riklami) hi biss parzjalment korretta. Dan minħabba li l-kontributur ewlieni għall-kwalitá tal-arja f’Malta qatt ma kienet il-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku iżda n-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq li donnu ma jispiċċa qatt. Huma dawn il-karozzi fit-toroq li jiffurmaw parti mill-fabbrika reali tal-cancer f’Malta.

Kif anke jidher mill-investimenti sostanzjali dedikati għal titjib fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq huwa ċar li r-rieda politika biex dan ikun indirizzat hi dgħajfa. Għax iktar ma titjieb l-infrastruttura tat-toroq, iktar ikunu inkoraġġiti karozzi fit-toroq, għax it-triq għalihom tkun iffaċilitata. It-titjib fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq, iżżid id-dipendenza tagħna lkoll fuq il-karozzi u bħala riżultat ta’ dan, tostakola l-ħidma biex iktar nies tuża t-trasport pubbliku.

Sar titjib fit-trasport pubbliku, anke bħala riżultat ta’ diversi inizzjattivi li ttieħdu. Imma l-pajjiż qed jagħti sinjali konfliġġenti, għax filwaqt li qiegħed jinkoraġixxi l-użu tat-transport pubbliku, fl-istess ħin qed jinvesti flejjes sostanzjali biex jiffaċilita l-kontinwazzjoni tad-dominazzjoni tat-toroq tagħna mill-karozzi.

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent jinvolvi ħafna ħidma diversa. Jinkludi ħidma biex ikunu indirizzati b’serjetá s-sorsi differenti ta’ ġenerazzjoni tal-iskart biex b’hekk infasslu t-triq li biha rridu naslu ħalli nilħqu l-mira ta’ “skart zero”. Din hi mira stabbilita mill-Istrateġija Nazzjonali tal-Iskart u trid tintlaħaq sal-2050. Dan ċertament li mhux biżżejjed. X’ngħidu għall-użu eċċessiv ta’ pestiċidi li mhux biss qed jikkontamina dak li jkun prodott fir-raba’ imma parti minnu jispiċċa ukoll f’dak li baqa’ mill-ilma tal-pjan?

L-iżbilanċ ambjentali qiegħed dejjem jiżdied. Kull ġenerazzjoni qed tispiċċa żżid l-impatti mingħajr ma tindirizza sewwa l-impatti akkumulati li tkun wirtet mill-ġenerazzjoni ta’ qabilha.

Il-Gvernijiet qed jinkwetaw fuq l-iżbilanċ finanzjarju imma ftit wisq minnhom jinkwetaw fuq l-iżbilanċ ambjentali li iktar ma jgħaddi żmien iktar qed imur għall-agħar. Ir-riżorsi tad-dinja qed jintużaw qieshom bir bla qiegħ.

In-natura għandha l-modi tagħha kif iġġiegħlna nħallsu għal dan l-iżbilanċ ambjentali. It-tibdil fil-klima, l-kollass tal-agrikultura f’diversi pajjiżi kif ukoll iż-żieda qawwija ta’ kull xorta ta’ cancer huma kollha tweġiba tan-natura li biha kull wieħed minnha qiegħed jerfa’ l-piz tal-ħsara li saret lin-natura. Dawn il-kontijiet li qed tibgħatina n-natura jistgħu jonqsu fil-futur jekk nibdew minn issa ngħixu b’mod li joħloq inqas ħsara ambjentali. Jekk dan ma jseħħx il-kontijiet tan-natura, bla ebda dubju, jwasslu għal kollass totali.

ippubblikat fuq Illum – Is-Sibt 31 ta’ Diċembru 2016

Moving away from Ali Baba politics

 

pile-of-gold-coins

Way back in 2008 during the general election, Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta had put the issue of a possible parliamentary coalition on the national political agenda.

The PN, then, did its best to try and ridicule the proposal as it preferred to go it alone. At the end of the day, the PN just managed to scrape through the general election by the minimum of margins (1580 votes) on a national level. Eventually, however, it had to pay the consequences, as it ended up as a political hostage of a couple of unprincipled mavericks.

Simon Busuttil is trying not to repeat his predecessor’s mistake. He has called for the formation of a coalition against corruption, hoping that until the forthcoming general election, such a coalition will coalesce around the PN. This is similar to the strategy adopted by Joseph Muscat who transformed the Labour Party into what he described as a “movement”. In practice, however, Muscat’s endeavours have only transformed his Labour Party into a modern day version of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves!

To date, both the PN and the Labour Party have acted in such a way that the only coalition that made sense to them was the one within their own parties as both of them have over the years developed into grand coalitions, at times, championing diametrically opposed causes simultaneously.

However, coalitions are forged quite differently, at least those coalitions that are intended to contribute positively to the local political kaleidoscope.

The first foundation on which coalitions are built is reciprocal respect. Without reciprocal respect, those forming part of a coalition end up clowning around, trying to impress those around them with their buffoonery.

A second essential prerequisite for a coalition is an agreed political programme which clearly communicates the agreed common objectives of the coalition members. It would obviously be expected that members of such a coalition act in accordance to such an agreed political programme. Supporting environmental protection as an essential element of a programme to better everyone’s quality of life would undoubtedly feature in such an agreed political programme to which Alternattiva Demokratika could adhere. This would also be in line with the PN’s recent “conversion” in support of environmental activism.

It is not however clear how these newly discovered credentials of the PN are manifested by going around patting the management of Palumbo Shipyards and Malta Freeport Terminals on the back, congratulating them on their achievements which have inconvenienced their neighbours in the surrounding localities. This was recently done by the Leader of the Opposition Simon Busuttil during his visits to the Għajn Dwieli yard and the Kalafrana Terminal.

Consistency by the coalition members is not only desirable, it is an essential prerequisite for a coalition intended to last!

A coalition is not formed just to win an election. On the contrary, it seeks to win an election in order to be in a position to implement an agreed electoral programme. Winning an election is a means to an end and not an end in itself. It is for this reason that coalitions seek to bring together people and political parties who share a sufficient number of ideals on the basis of which they can construct a common electoral platform. Otherwise, what purpose would be served if those forming part of a coalition are not at ease with the new political environment which they seek to create?

For this specific reason, coalitions must be based on sound political principles. Having a coalition or a political party based on anything else is a recipe for the creation of an additional Ali Baba den, of which the present one is more than enough.

A solution to the current ethical crisis, which Malta’s political infrastructure is faced with, will not be delivered by a Parliament which is composed of only two political parties. This ethical crisis can only be overcome if more than two political parties make it to Parliament and if the winner-takes-all mentality and behaviour is consigned to the dustbin of history once and for all . This is both essential and possible without any changes to Malta’s electoral legislation and still allows for like-minded political parties to form a coalition.

It is important that those who have discarded good governance are set aside by the electorate in the forthcoming general election. It is however equally important that the machinery of government is never again entrusted into the hands of one single political party. In Malta’s particular circumstances only this can guarantee that good governance is placed on solid foundations.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 2nd October 2016

Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor

 laudato_si_    Cry of the Earth

 

This is the title of Leonardo Boff’s seminal work on the inextricable link between social justice and environmental degradation, originally published in 1995.  Earlier, during the 1972 UN Human Environment Conference in Stockholm, it was also the rallying cry of India’s Prime Minister  Indira Gandhi who, on behalf of the developing world, forcefully insisted that poverty was inextricably linked with environmental degradation.  In Stockholm Mrs Gandhi had emphasised that “the environment cannot be improved in conditions of poverty  –  how can we speak to those who live in villages and slums about keeping the oceans, the rivers and the air clean, when their own lives are contaminated at the source?”

This is also the underlying theme of the encyclical Laudato Sì published by Pope Francis last June. It is not just a seasonal Latin American flavour at Vatican City.  The earth’s tears are continuously manifested in different ways depending on the manner in which she is maltreated .

Environmental degradation has a considerable impact on the quality of life of  us all except, that is, for the quality of life of  the select few who pocket the profits by appropriating for themselves advantages (economic or otherwise) and lumping the negative impacts on the rest.

Environmental degradation is an instrument of social injustice. Consequently, enhancing the protection of the environment is also essential to restore social justice.

The water table is subject to continuous daylight robbery: over the years it has been depleted by both authorised and unauthorised water extraction.  What is left is contaminated as a result of the impact of fertilisers as well as surface water runoff from the animal husbandry industry. Theft and acute mismanagement  are the tools used in the creation of this injustice.

The Malta Freeport has been quite successful over the years in contributing to economic growth and job creation. The price for this has, however, been paid by Birżebbuġa residents – primarily through being subjected to continuous noise pollution on a 24/7 basis. Various residential units in the area closest to the Freeport Terminal are vacant and have been so for a considerable time. A noise report commissioned as a result of the conditions of the Terminal’s environmental permit will be concluded shortly. Hopefully, the implementation of its conclusions will start the reversal of the Freeport’s negative impacts on its neighbours.

The Freeport, together with various fuel storage outlets, the Delimara Power Station (including the floating gas storage facility which will soon be a permanent feature) as well as fish-farms have together definitely converted Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port. As a result of various incidents during 2015, spills in Marsaxlokk Bay signify that Pretty Bay risks losing its title permanently.   Fortunately, Birżebbuġa residents have been spared additional impact originating from minor ship and oil-rig repairs after they reacted vociferously to a decision by the MEPA Board to permit such work at the Freeport Terminal.

Public Transport has made minor improvements but nowhere near what is required. It is essential that Malta’s congested roads are mopped up of the excessive number of cars. Improving the road infrastructure will just make it easier for more cars to roam about in our roads, thereby increasing the scale of the problem.  The major consequences are a reduced ease of access and the deterioration air quality.

We will soon be in a position to assess the impact of two other major projects: a business hub at the Malta International Airport as well as a car-racing track with various ancillary facilities. The former will take up land at the airport carpark but will have considerable impact on the surrounding villages. The car-racing track may take up as much as 110 hectares of land outside the development zone and have a considerable impact on both nature and local residents in the areas close to where it will be developed.

The list of environmental impacts that we have to endure is endless.

I could also have included the impact of the Malta Drydocks and the consequent squeezing out of residents from the Three Cities as a result of its operations, primarily as a result of sandblasting, in the 1970s and 1980s. I could also have added the impact of the waste recycling plant at Marsaskala and the refusal of the authorities to finance studies on the impact of its operations on the health of residents, or else the impact of the operation of petrol stations close to and within various residential areas.

The size of the Maltese islands is limited. A number of the abovementioned  activities/developments  are essential, but others are not. However, it stands to reason that we should not bear the brunt of non-essential activities or developments. This should lead us to plan more carefully so that  the impacts of the activities that are essential are adequately addressed.

As evidenced by the above list, unfortunately over the years those taking decisions betrayed their responsibilities towards the common good, seeking, instead the interests of the select few thereby compounding social injustices.

This is Malta’s contribution to the accumulated tears of Mother Earth.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 January 2016

Smelling the coffee

 

extract MT freeport crane clearancesmell the coffee

Last Thursday was one of those very rare occasions when the MEPA Board, considering two different development applications submitted by the Freeport Terminal operator, decided on the one which will be beneficial to Birżebbuġa residents.

I must confess that I was surprised at this, as I am accustomed to a MEPA which thinks and acts differently. I do not know whether Thursday’s sitting was a one-off or else whether it signals that the Authority has at last realised that the quality of life of our communities should be the real focus of its endeavours. Only time will tell.

The first application was to renew an approved permit in connection with  dredging work aimed at enabling larger ships to make use of the West Quay of Terminal 1. The second application proposed the installation of larger cranes with 140-metre jibs. The cranes currently in use have 110-metre jibs.

After repeated representations from the Birżebbuġa local council, as well as Birżebbuġa residents, MEPA-weeks before Thursday’s meeting- informed the Freeport Terminal Operator that siting these large cranes along the West Quay of Terminal 1 was unacceptable due to their impact on the quality of life of  residents, a number of whom live just across the road from the Freeport Terminal boundary wall.

The management of the Freeport Terminal complied with MEPA’s instructions to relocate the 140-metre jib cranes. This, however, begged the further question as to whether or not the pending dredging work was, in fact, now required.

The MEPA Board unanimously accepted the submission from the local council that, in view of the relocation of the cranes, there was no further need for the dredging permit and this was therefore not renewed.

Regarding the second application, seeking authorisation to replace a number of existing cranes with 110-metre jibs with more modern models having 140-jibs, the local council sought an explanation as to why a proposal for the siting of a power station close by – at il-Mara Bengħajsa (with an 80-metre high chimney) in the late 1980s was shot down by the Civil Aviation authorities, who are now accepting the installation of 140-metre high jibs.

During the discussion, it transpired that the clearance issued by Transport Malta was ambiguous. In fact, Transport Malta stated that the 140-metre jib cranes “will penetrate one of the established aeronautical protection surfaces by circa 18m and although this situation is not desirable, given the importance of this facility to the economy, on exceptional basis and without prejudice to any future request it is being considered acceptable subject to the following mitigations ………………”

You have read correctly. The 140-metre jib cranes are “not desirable” yet they are “being considered acceptable” by Transport Malta due to the importance of the Freeport to the economy.

The MEPA Chairman is insisting that Transport Malta owes us an explanation. He could have added that safety should not be compromised for any reason, including “economic importance”.

In a further twist in the whole saga, the Freeport Terminal management proceeded with the installation of the new cranes without waiting for a MEPA decision on the development permit requested.

Public opinion has been repeatedly critical of MEPA for its insensitivity to the impact of developments on residents in various localities. Economic operators were afforded  sufficient protection to be able to over-ride the growing environmental concerns of our communities.

The same MEPA Board which, last Thursday, unanimously decided to refuse the renewal of a development permit to carry out dredging work had, 18 months ago, voted by a large majority in favour of changes to the Freeport’s environmental permit such that it would have been permissible to carry out repairs to ships and oil rigs at the Kalafrana Terminal.  It was only at the insistence of the Birżebbuġa Local Council that the Freeport Terminal management opted not to use the permit issued.

The question to which I seek an answer to is whether Thursday’s events signify that MEPA has awoken up from its slumber and smelled the coffee  It would indeed be commendable if it is capable of standing up to corporate (and state) arrogance.

Ending MEPA’s Rip van Winkle phase would signify that, after all, the possibility to improve the quality of life in Malta through better environment protection does exist, after all. But time is running out.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 22 November 2015

Sound governance protects the environment

 

green hands

Demerger will cause institutional fragmentation.

The state’s duties are not enforceable in a Court of Law.

 

 

Protection of the environment is not achieved in proportion to the number of authorities established to deal with the environment, resources and land use planning. In fact, subject to sound governance, the number of established authorities is irrelevant.

The government has, through its election manifesto, created a storm in a teacup, raising expectations that the demerger of MEPA would result in a government locked into a green commitment. The Opposition, on the other hand, has spoken of a doomsday scenario which will be triggered by the proposed demerger.

Both are wrong as the path to a green commitment requires a political will that is not easily detectable in the House of Representatives as presently composed. The Labour government and the Nationalist Opposition have entered into other commitments intended to bolster the building development industry. Labour is currently moving along that path, whilst the Nationalists did it throughout their 26 years in government.

As a nation, we are still reeling from the devastating actions of the PN-led government which caused considerable environmental damage. Former Environment Minister Mario de Marco has recently been on record as stating that maybe too much has been sacrificed in the pursuit of economic growth. This is not simply a revival of the past, it is an exercise in trying to understand past PN issues of environmental governance that contradict all the sweet green talk of Simon Busuttil.

When the 2005 census indicated the existence of over 53,000 vacant or under-utilised residential properties, the PN-led government increased the uptake of land for development through the rationalisation exercise. It addition, it simultaneously increased the permissible height in several areas. In a number of instances, this increased from 2 to five floors. It also facilitated the construction of penthouses. This has led to an increase (as of 2011) in the number of  vacant and under-utilised residential properties to 72,000 units.

The proposed demerger of MEPA will neither address nor reverse this mess which is the PN’s environmental legacy to the nation.

Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party – is not in agreement with the MEPA demerger proposed by government due to the resulting institutional fragmentation. As a result, human and financial resources will be spread thin over two authorities, thereby weakening effective environmental governance. As a small country, we actually require defragmentation, as this reinforces effective environmental stewardship.

Earlier this week, I and AD’s General Secretary Ralph Cassar had a meeting with Environment Minister Leo Brincat during which we discussed AD’s views in relation to the Environment Protection Act currently pending on Parliament’s agenda.

AD noted that whilst the proposed Environment Protection administrative structures do not contain any parliamentary representation, this has been retained in the land use planning structures. In fact, in paragraph 63(2)(d) of the Development Planning Act 2015, it is provided that two MPs will sit on the Planning Board.

AD does not consider it necessary for Parliament to be present in the planning decision-taking structures. It serves no purpose to have MPs involving themselves in decisions as to which individual development permit is approved or rejected. Alternattiva Demokratika suggested to Minister Brincat that MPs have no direct role to play in operational matters regarding land use planning. It would be more appropriate if Parliament’s Standing Committee on the Environment and Development Planning is given wider powers to monitor both the Planning Authority as well as the authority dealing with the environment and resources. This would entail the availability of financial and human resources so through its Standing Committee, Parliament would be in a better position to identify, and consequently nip in the bud any irregularities or inconsistencies.

Both the Development Planning Act as well as the Environment Protection Act list the duties and principles which the state should observe to ensure “a comprehensive sustainable land use planning system” and “to protect the environment”.   However, after going into detail to explain such duties, the legislation before Parliament then proceeds to state that these “are not enforceable in a Court of Law”. This is specified in Article 4 of the Development Planning Act and in Article 5 of the Environment Protection Act.

One should state that there are similar provisions in present legislation. It is, however, high time that such provisions are removed so that it will be possible for Maltese citizens to seek redress against the state if it attempts to circumvent its duties and abdicate its responsibilities.

Last April, following a legal challenge by the environmental NGO Client Earth, the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court  squashed Her Majesty’s government’s ineffective plans to reduce illegal levels of air pollution in Britain and ordered it to deliver new ones by the end of 2015.

Similarly,  last June Courts in Holland ordered the Dutch Government to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 25 per cent within 5 years in what is being termed as the world’s first climate liability suit.

Maltese citizens deserve no less. It would therefore be appropriate if the above mentioned provisions of the Development Planning Act and the Environment Protection Act are enforceable in a Court of Law.

Another proposal made by Alternattiva Demokratika in the meeting with Minister Brincat concerns the method of selection of the board members of the  two Authorities, as well as their senior executives (CEOs and Directors). AD believes that before government proceeds to appoint such members/executives, it should seek and subsequently follow the advice of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Environment and Development Planning . Such advice should be given by the Parliamentary Committee after the persons nominated are examined by the Committee during a sitting held in public. This change would increase the possibility of the appointment of a higher percentage of competent people as members of the board/senior executives. It would also reduce the possibility of appointing people whose only qualification is membership in the government party.

The proposed demerger is, in my view a non-issue. Legislating to facilitate the entrenching of good governance should be the real objective. After discussing the matter with Minister Leo Brincat I believe that, even at this late hour, this is still attainable.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 16 August 2015