Lejn politika tal-ambjent

 

Dalgħodu ħadt sehem fil-Workshop dwar il-Pjan Nazzjonali għall-Ambjent. Dawn huma uħud r-riflessjonijiet tiegħi.

Li nitkellmu dwar il-politika ambjentali hu pass tajjeb. Id-diskussjoni iżda biex tkun ta’ kontribut posittiv trid tkun waħda onesta. Trid tirrispetta lil kull min ta’ ħinu u saħħtu fis-snin passati f’ħidma favur l-ambjent.

Tajjeb li neżaminaw l–analiżi dwar il-Public Attitudes Survey 2008 li d-ditta Ernest & Young (2010) ħejjiet fuq inkarigu tal-MEPA. Minn dan jirriżulta illi  69% ta’ dawk li wieġbu huma tal-fehma li l-ambjent huwa importanti daqs l-ekonomija filwaqt li 23% jidhrilhom illi l-ambjent huwa iktar imporanti mill-ekonomija.  8% biss għadhom tal-fehma tas-supremazija tal-ekonomija fuq l-ambjent.

Huwa b’sodisazzjoni li nosserva din l-attitudni ġdida. Attitudni li ilha tinħass tiżviluppa bil-mod il-mod. Hi riżultat tal-ħidma ta’ dawk kollha illi għal snin sħaħ ħadmu kontra l-kurrent b’bosta minnhom ikunu deskritti bħala eko-fundamentalisti.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan huwa iktar importanti li d-diskussjoni tal-lum tkun ċara u onesta. L-Issues Paper li għandna quddiemna tistaqsi ħafna mistoqsijiet. Imma sfortunatament għażlet illi tinjora l-fatt li ħafna mit-tweġibiet diġa ngħataw. Dawn qegħdin fl-Istrateġija Nazzjonali dwar l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli approvata mill-Kabinett tal-Ministri lejn tmiem l-2007 wara proċess twil ta’ diskussjoni mas-soċjeta’ ċivili.

Mhux ser nidħol fid-dettal għax il-ħin ma jippermettix.  Ser nillimita ruħi għal eżempju wieħed: dwar it-tassazzjoni ambjentali.

L-Issues Paper  f’paġna 12 tistaqsina dwar x’naħsbu fuq sistema li tintaxxa t-tniġġiz flok ix-xogħol. Kumbinazzjoni fid-dokument ta’ qabel il-budget imniedi mill-Ministru tal-Finanzi  fl-istess jum tal-Issues Paper qed jiġi propost (f’paġna 136) ezerċizzju ta’ “tax shifting”. Jgħid li qed jikkonsidra d-dħul ta’ “carbon tax” u li hi l-intenzjoni li din tissostitwixxi taxxi oħra konnessi max-xogħol.

La l-Issues Paper u l-anqas id-dokument dwar il-budget ma jagħmlu l-iċken referenza għall-istrateġija nazzjonali dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli li diġa bil-kunsens tas-soċjeta’ ċivili u tal-Kabinett stabiliet fil-proposta 17 tagħha illi sal-2008 kellha titfassal strateġija dettaljata dwar l-użu ta’ strumenti ekonomiċi biex jippromwovu l-iżvilupp sostenibli f’Malta. L-2008 ilu li ġie u mar u flok strateġija dettaljata għandna iktar mistoqijiet. Din mhux serjeta’. Flok iktar mistoqsijiet kellu jkollna analiżi tat-taxxi ambjentali li ġja għandna fil-pajjiż u jekk dawn laħqux l-iskop li għalih saru. X’tgħallimna mill-eżerċizzju tal-eko-kontribuzzjoni?    Tgħallimna li  :

l-ewwel :          li taxxi ambjentali għandhom jintużaw għal skopijiet ambjentali u mhux għal skopijiet fiskali,

it-tieni :             ir-responsabbilta’ politika għal sistema ta’  tassazzjoni   ambjentali għandha tkun fdata f’idejn il-Ministeru għall-Ambjent u mhux f’idejn dak tal-Finanzi, biex b’hekk ikun iktar possibli li  t-titjib fil-qasam ambjentali jkun l-oġġettiv ewlieni tagħhom,

it-tielet :            li filwaqt li hemm bosta setturi li jistgħu jkunu soġġetti għal tassazzjoni ambjentali l-għażla tagħhom għandha issir bir-reqqa u wara studju tal-impatti kemm ambjentali kif ukoll soċjali.

F’dan il-kuntest irrid ngħid li mhux aċċettabbli li l-Gvern iħabbar illi qed jikkonsidra “carbon tax” mingħajr ma jinfurma lill-pubbliku dwar xi studji għamel mhux biss fuq kemm jista’ jdaħħal iżda ukoll dwar kif din ser teffettwa kemm il-kwalita’ tal-ħajja kif ukoll il-livell tal-għajxien tal-faxex differenti tas-soċjeta. Dan l-istudju, jekk sar, s’issa għadu ma rax id-dawl tax-xemx. Fil-fatt dalghodu jiena għamilt talba formali taħt il-provedimenti tal-Konvenzjoni ta’ Åarhus biex jekk jeżistu jiġu rilaxxjati l-istudji relattivi. Dawn huma l-affarijiet li jmissna niddiskutu.

M’huwiex iktar żmien li nlabalbu. Huwa żmien li dak li ġie imfassal jitwettaq. Wara li l-proċess ta’ diskussjoni li beda madwar 5 snin ilu kien wassal għal konkluzjoni fl-forma ta’ strateġija li tintegra l-ħidma ekonomika ma dik soċjali u ambjentali dan il-proċess ta’ diskussjoni tal-lum ser iwassal għal duplikazzjoni. F’pajjiż li kontinwament ġustament nilmentaw li la għandna riżorsi u l-anqas biżżejjed nies imħarrġa, l-inqas li konna nistennew huwa li naħlu l-ħin u riżorsi billi flok jitwettaq dak li ġie deċiz nerġgħu niftħu d-diskussjoni.

Nikkonkludi billi nħeġġiġkom biex tifhmu li l-aħjar triq il-quddiem hi illi nkunu kapaċi nintegraw l-isforzi tagħna. Dan hu dak li ppruvat tagħmel l-istrateġija nazzjonali dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Għandna nfittxu li nimxu f’dik it-triq billi nimplimentaw ir-rakkomandazzjonjiet tagħha. Forsi l-ewwel pass ikun li kif tistabilixxi l-istess Strateġija kull Ministeru jfassal pjan t’Azzjoni (avolja sentejn tard) biex iqiegħed fil-prattika dak li tipproponi l-istrateġja. B’hekk forsi tieqaf darba għal dejjem id-drawwa li żviluppat f’dan il-pajjiż illi r-rapporti u l-istrateġji iservu biss biex jitnisslu  rapporti oħra. Nittama biss li mid-diskussjoni tal-lum nagħrfu nibnu fuq dak li sar mhux biss b’rispett lejn min iddedika ħinu għall-pajjiż iżda fuq kollox biex nużaw il-ftit riżorsi li għandna l-aħjar mod.

Imma l-Kummissjoni Nazzjonali dwar l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli jeħtieġ li tibda tiltaqa’ : ilha tlett snin wieqfa. Xhieda tal-impenn tal-Gvern favur l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli.

Environment Policy and the Budget

The National Environment Policy Issues Paper, launched by the Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Mario de Marco, on July 27 requested the views of the public on a move towards a taxation system that “penalises pollution rather than jobs”.

When launching the 2011 pre-Budget document on the same day, Finance Minister Tonio Fenech was more clear as to the government’s intentions. Under the heading Tax Shifting, he proposed the shifting of taxes from economic goods to economic bads. The pre-Budget document goes on to say: “In order to incentivise the creation of work by making labour less costly we are proposing the lowering of government-induced employee costs as well as corporate and income taxation.” The pre-Budget document then praises the merits of a carbon tax as a fiscal tool.

It seems that both the minister and the parliamentary secretary have forgotten that taxation does not penalise jobs. It is an instrument for the attainment of social solidarity. That is what the post-1977 Nationalist Party I remember was in favour of. It seems that time has changed the PN. It cannot be anymore described as being “un partito di centro che guarda a sinistra” (a party of the centre that looks to the left), as the old guard, quoting Alcide de Gasperi, justifiably boasted.

The drafters of the documents launched could have consulted the Cabinet-approved National Sustainable Development Strategy for the Maltese Islands (page 59), which established 2008 for the conclusion of a strategy on environmental taxation. The year 2008 is 32 months away and the strategy on the use of economic instruments to regulate environmental impacts is still not in place. Instead of asking for views of the public they should have drafted the strategy that has been promised but not delivered. It could be a useful guide for the finance minister.

At issue in this debate on tax shifting are points already emphasised during the eco-contribution legislation debate in 2004/05. Which ministry will be in the driving seat of environment taxation policy: Finance or the environment? Will the primary objectives of environment taxation be environmental or fiscal?

The strategy to be adopted and, thus, the specific proposals to be brought forward will depend on whether fiscal policy is used to regulate and reduce environmental impacts or whether the environment will be used to compensate for shortfalls in tax revenue.

After 17 years, the government has woken up to the proposals of a Jacques Delors EU White Paper in 1993 on growth, competitiveness and employment [COM (93) 700 final] who had the argued in favour of taxing environmental impacts and resource use.

In its 2008 electoral manifesto, the PN promised it will reduce income tax in the higher bands. It is now seeking ways to deliver without subjecting the Exchequer to further problems. It is very unfortunate that an inappropriate tool was selected. As a result of the tax shifting proposal, a tax, which is socially progressive (income tax) will be partially substituted with a carbon tax that, viewed on its own, can be socially regressive. The proposal aims to reduce taxation from a band which is paid mostly by companies and those who have a substantial income. To compensate for the resulting shortfall, it will spread the tax-load on everyone without discrimination, irrespective of their means.

Once the government decided on the reduction of the higher band income tax, I understand that it did not have much of a choice. In order to ensure a regular flow of income, which would have to substitute a reduction of the forfeited income tax, it had to select a subject in respect of which (at least, in the short term) demand is largely inelastic to tax-induced price changes.

It would be interesting if any studies on the impacts of the pre-Budget tax-shifting proposal are available. Such studies should clearly demonstrate the two basic flaws of the proposal: first it’s being socially regressive and, secondly, it’s exploiting of the environment as a tax revenue generator without ensuring environmental improvement as a primary objective.

If environmental improvement was a primary objective, the projected tax revenues would not be generated as they would be reduced gradually, in line with environmental improvement.

A carbon tax would force business and industry to address their environmental impacts. However, the impacts of a carbon tax on SMEs and households have to be assessed more carefully before policy declarations are made in view of the limited size of the former and the lack of resources of both. Given that most of Malta’s business is in the SME sector, matters should first be studied in their proper perspective before declarations are made or decisions taken.

There are various alternatives to the government’s proposals. Each one of them must however be tested through studies to ensure that the social and environmental impacts of fiscal policy are either positive or else substantially mitigated.

Studies made must be available at this stage. Otherwise, the discussions on both the National Environment Policy and the pre-Budget document would be just kite flying exercises.

 

published in The Times Saturday, September 4, 2010

 

L-editorjal tat-Times jaqbel ma’ AD

Fl-editorjal tagħha illum 21 t’Awissu 2010 it-Times titkellem dwar il-politika nazzjonali ambjentali.

Hu ta’ sodisfazzjoni għalina f’AD li ninnotaw li t-Times qed issostni l-argument ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika u qed tgħid lil Gvern : għalfejn ser toqogħod tistenna 18-il xahar biex tfassal din il-politika ambjentali? Ma tafx sur Gvern li fl-2007 wara konsultazzjoni estensiva kienet konkluża l-Istrateġija Nazzjonali dwar l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli liema strateġija tagħtik fuq platt l-informazzjoni kollha li għandek bżonn?

Dan huwa dak li qalet Alternattiva nhar it-2 t’Awwissu 2010, tlett ġimgħat ilu bħala l-ewwel reazzjoni tagħha għal publikazzjoni tad-dokument tal-Gvern dwar il-politika Ambjentali.

Huwa veru każ li l-id il-leminija tal-Gvern ma tafx x’għamlet l-id ix-xellugija!   

ara ukoll fuq dan il-blog : Thoughts for an Environmental Policy

Thoughts for an Environmental Policy

The government has published a number of policy documents for public consultation. Two deal with different aspects of water policy while a third deals with issues for a National Environment Policy.

Also of relevance is an Ernst & Young Report commissioned by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority on a 2008 Public Attitudes Survey. It is dated April 2010. Although recently published I do not recollect reading anything in the press about this survey. One of the conclusions of this survey should be an eye opener to policy makers as to the central importance which the Maltese public attaches to the environment.

In the 2008 Public Attitudes Survey it was concluded that 69 per cent of respondents held the view that the environment was as important as the economy. On the other hand 23 per cent of respondents considered that the environment was more important than the economy while only eight per cent considered the economy as being of overriding importance.

To my mind these are significant conclusions contrasting with current national policy which considers that the economy has an ­overriding priority over the environment. The Maltese public thinks otherwise: 92 per cent of respondents of the Mepa Public Attitudes Survey have understood that the economy should not be an overriding consideration in environmental policy formulation. Now this is what sustainable development is all about.

Contrary to what green-washers imply, being committed to sustainable development does not mean that one seeks to balance or mitigate environmental, social and cultural impacts of economic development. Sustainable development speaks another language altogether for which unfortunately there is still a lack of translators. Real commitment to sustainable development conveys the message that humankind does not own the earth. It shares the earth with other species together with which it forms part of one eco-system.

The way in which our society has evolved and is organised is such that it considers human activity as meriting overriding importance. In fact it is often stated that policies are anthropocentric. Both PN and PL environmental policies can be grouped in this category. AD together with other Green parties around the globe differs as it follows a eco-centric path. But then the ecology has no vote!

Sustainable development properly construed considers the need of an eco-centric environmental policy. This signifies that a holistic approach is applied through which impacts on the whole eco-system are considered.

Now this is completely different from the manner in which our society is accustomed to look at itself. An eco-centric approach leads us to take a long term view in contrast to the short-sighted view of our immediate interests. This does not only impact land use but also waste management, agriculture and fishing, light pollution, acoustic pollution, air quality, water resources, mineral deposits, transport policy, the protection of our ecological heritage and many other areas.

When one considers the above I cannot understand why the authors of the National Environment Policy Issues Paper ignored the National Sustainable Development Strategy when formulating the Issues Paper for public consultation. They considered the 2008 State of the Environment Report and the Parliamentary debate which ensued together with the Ernst & Young report above quoted as the basis for a discussion.

In so doing they ignored completely a consultation process spanning a number of years which answered most of the questions which the Issues Paper poses.

This is surely not a new way of doing politics. It is a way with which most of us are familiar as it does away with past achievements and seeks to start a fresh page, ignoring everything and everyone. Knowing that at least one of the drafters of the National Environment Policy Issues Paper was actively involved in the process leading to the National Sustainability Strategy, I must ask the obvious question: Is the Issues Paper the first step towards the scrapping of the National Sustainability Strategy?

The current Bill before Parliament which seeks to consolidate existing legislation on land use planning and the environment removes all references to the National Sustainable Development Commission. It was stated repeatedly that a separate legislative measure will be proposed dealing with issues of sustainable development. Yet to date this is nowhere in sight. Does this confirm that there have been second thoughts on the National Sustainability Strategy?

The Strategy should currently be in the process of implementation. Section 5 of the Strategy entitled “The Way Ahead” provides that ministers have to produce action plans for the implementation of the National Sustainable Development Strategy in their portfolio within 18 months from the adoption of the strategy.

The strategy was adopted by Cabinet more than 18 moons ago yet the action plans are nowhere in sight.

I have never had any doubt that this government is being consistent with its beliefs: it says one thing, but when push comes to shove it proceeds with doing something else.

published in The Times : August 14, 2010

Bis-serjeta? Il-Politika Nazzjonali dwar l-Ambjent.

 

Il-Gvern permezz tas-Segretarju Parlamentari Mario Demarco għadu kif ta’ bidu għal proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar il-Politika Nazzjonali għall-Ambjent.         L-ewwel fażi hi waħda ta’ konsultazzjoni dwar liema huma dawk il-materji li għandhom ikunu mistħarrġa u indirizzati.

Dan fih innifsu hu pass posittiv. Imma jekk tqiesu li ftit ilu (fl-2007/8) kien konkluż il-proċess li bih wara konsultazzjoni pubblika estensiva u fit-tul ġiet infassla l-Strateġija Nazzjonali dwar  is-Sostenibilita naħseb li malajr nifhmu li qed naħlu l-ħin niddiskutu biss. Xi kultant naħseb li din hi strateġija maħsuba biex jiġi iġġustifikat għaliex ftit li xejn qed isir.

Fl-Istrateġija Nazzjonali dwar is-Sostenibilita  diġa, wara konsultazzjoni pubblika ġew identifikati l-materji li għandhom ikunu indirizzati. Għaldaqstant minflok ma nerġgħu niftħu d-diskussjoni beraħ li kien hemm bżonn issa kien li jiġu pprezentati l-proposti konkreti min-naħa tal-Gvern, jekk verament jemmen li għandu jindirizza l-materja.

Ir-riżorsi li għandu dan il-pajjiż huma limitati u għalhekk hu iktar għaqli li l-enerġija u r-riżorsi ma naħluhomx.

L-istrateġija nazzjonali dwar is-sostenibilita diġa’ tistabilixxi l-prijoritajiet ambjentali li għandhom ikunu segwiti u dan fil-kuntest tal-politika ekonomika u soċjali tal-pajjiż.

Għadaqstant il-pedamenti għall-istrateġija nazzjonali għall-ambjent qegħdin hemm. Dawn huma r-riżultat ta’ proċess wiesa’ u estensiv ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika li ħa s-snin.

Din il-ħidma kollha ser tintrema ? Għax din hi l-konklużjoni loġika tal-emfasi li qed issir għall-konsultazzjoni mill-ġdid. Għax sentejn wara li spiċċa l-eserċizzju li wassal għall-istrateġija Nażżjonali dwar is-Sostenibilita ma terġax tibda mill-ġdid iżda tibni fuq dak li lestejt. Dejjem jekk trid li jeħduk bis-serjeta’.

Issa jiena ma nafx jekk il-Gvern iridx li neħduh bis-serjeta’ meta jitkellem dwar l-ambjent. Id-dubji li kelli qed jikbru!