Sħab ma’ min iħammeġ

Il-pjan ta’ Malta dwar l-immaniġjar tal-iskart huwa intitolat “A Resource Management Approach.” Huwa titlu li għandu sinifikat u jwassal messaġġ li kull skart jeħtieġ li nħarsu lejh bħala riżorsa li għandna nagħmlu użu tajjeb minnha.

Bdejna nirriċiklaw l-iskart li niġġeneraw. F’kontenituri mxerrda mal-pajjiż jinġabar il-plastik, il-ħġieg, il-karta u l-metall. Nhar ta’ Tlieta l-ġbir tal-iskart minn wara l-bibien ta’ djarna jiffaċilita li nirriċiklaw fid-djar tagħna. Tliet darbiet fil-ġimgħa, bieb bieb, jinġabar l-iskart organiku.

Meta ser nirriċiklaw l-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni?

Meta tara r-rapporti dwar il-laqgħa li l-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi Maltin kellha f’Kastilja f’nofs il-ġimgħa tirrealizza li l-emfasi kontinwament kienet li hemm bżonn iktar postijiet fejn jintrema’ l-iskart. L-ebda vuċi ma lissnet imqar kelma waħda favur kemm hu meħtieġ ir-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni kif ukoll dwar kemm dan jagħmel sens ekonomiku u ambjentali.

Hemm raġuni waħda sempliċi l-għala ħadd ma tniffes u lissen kelma favur ir-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni: għax għalfejn tħabbel rasek fuq x’tista’ tagħmel ġaladarba għandek Gvern li jimmina kull inizjattiva dwar dan billi joffri is-soluzzjoni l-faċli permezz ta’ ħlas baxx biex tkun tista’ tarmi l-iskart tiegħek?

Iktar kmieni matul il-ġimgħa kien irrappurtat li s-sidien ta’ żewġ barrieri, waħda Għar Lapsi u l-oħra fl-Imqabba, ħadu l-inizjattiva u minn jeddhom għollew il-ħlas biex jintrema l-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni fil-barrieri tagħhom minn €8 għal €15 għal kull tunellata. Ir-reazzjoni għal dan kif irrappurtata fil-media hi tal-biki: il-Gvern jaqbel li joffri inċentivi biex is-sidien tal-barrieri jżommu l-prezzijiet stabbli bit-€8 kull tunellata għal tal-inqas tmintax-il xahar!

Jidher li l-Gvern għandu idea perversa tal-prinċipju ambjentali “min iħammeġ iħallas”. Flok ma jassigura li l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni ddaħħal ftit ordni f’xogħolha u ssib soluzzjoni għall-iskart li tiġġenera, il-Gvern, b’mod irresponsabbli juża t-taxxi li jiġbor minn fuqna biex jissussidja t-tħarbit tagħhom. Huma jħammġu u aħna nħallsu.

Ir-riċiklar tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni jinvolvi li tissepara u ssib użu għall-ikbar ammont ta’ materjal li ma jkunx hemm użu għalih fis-sit tal-kostruzzjoni. Il-kwantità ta’ skart li tista’ tirkupra tvarja minn sit għall-ieħor imma tista’ tkun waħda sostanzjali. Tinkludi kull forma ta’ ġebel u metalli, inkluż rinforz tal-konkos minn strutturi li jkunu spiċċaw.

Uffiċjali tal-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi kontinwament jiftaħru dwar kemm jaqblu mal-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Tant jgħidu dwar dan l-iżvilupp sostenibbli li jġibulna qalbna ġunġliena, kienu ma nafuhomx biżżejjed! Mhux aħjar jippruvaw ipoġġu fil-prattika dak li jgħidu li jemmnu fih biex jippruvaw isolvu l-problemi bl-iskart li qed jiġġeneraw u b’hekk inaqqsu l-impatti ambjentali tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni?

Mhuma ser jagħmlu xejn qabel ma jispiċċaw daharhom mal-ħajt u jkollhom iħallsu minn imneħirhom tal-ħsara li qed jagħmlu. L-unika soluzzjoni possibbli hi t-tassazzjoni ambjentali. Jekk tkun applikata lill-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni din tkun tfisser il-ħlas ta’ taxxa fuq il-ġebla li toħroġ mill-barriera u fl-istess ħin żieda konsiderevoli fuq il-ħlas biex jintrema l-iskart sakemm l-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi tifhem li jagħmel anke sens ekonomiku u ambjentali li tirriċikla l-massimu li tista’ mill-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni.

Imma nafu li l-Gvern għandu allerġija għat-taxxi. Jippreferi jagħmel użu mis-sussidji u b’mod partikolari favur dawk li ma għandhom l-ebda dritt għalihom.

L-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi Maltin għandha linja ċara: huma impalaw il-profitti, u inti tħallas il-kont. Jistgħu jibqgħu għaddejjin biha sakemm nibqgħu b’Ministru tal-Ambjent li m’għandux idea x’laqtu.

Kulħadd hu konxju li l-Gvern hu ħaġa waħda mal-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi. Sakemm l-iżviluppaturi jibqgħu jiġu ssussidjati m’hemmx ċans li l-problema tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni tibda tissolva. .

 

ippubblikat fuq Illum 22 ta’ Settembru 2019

In cahoots with the polluter

Malta’s current Waste Management Plan is entitled “A Resource Management Approach.” This is not simple a fancy title – it encapsulates the underlying philosophy for the management of our waste which is that waste is a resource which can be put to good use.

We have started recycling our waste. Recycling bins around the islands cater for plastic, glass, paper and metal waste. Waste collection carried out on a Tuesday is an effort to facilitate recycling in our homes. Three times a week the door-to-door collection is aimed at our organic waste.

What about recycling construction waste?

Going through the reports on the Malta Developers’ Association Meeting at Castille in mid-week, the need for dumping sites for the construction waste being generated was emphasised by all those reporting: not one word was uttered in favour of the need to recycle construction waste. Neither was there any mention of the economic and environmental benefits derived from such an exercise. Who cares!

There is a very simple reason for this attitude: why rack your brains as to how to recycle when the government is continuously undermining all your efforts by offering the easy way out through cheap rates for the dumping of construction waste?

Earlier in the week, it was reported that the management of two quarries at Għar Lapsi and Mqabba had unilaterally decided to increase their dumping charges from €8 to €15 per tonne of construction waste. In reaction, it was reported in the local media that “government had agreed to provide incentives to the quarry owners to keep the price stable at €8 per tonne for at least another year and a half”.

It seems that the government has a perverted understanding of the polluter-pays environmental principle. Instead of ensuring that the construction industry cleans up its act and adequately addresses the question of how to deal with waste that it generates, the government is irresponsibly using taxpayers’ money to subsidise their mess.

Construction waste recycling is the separation and recycling of recoverable waste material generated during construction activity. The quantity of recoverable construction waste varies and includes masonry and metal items, including steel reinforcement used in discarded concrete structures.

The officials of the Malta Developers Association repeatedly claim that they are “in favour” of sustainable development. How about putting their beliefs into practice and applying them to resolving the issue of the construction waste which they generate, thereby contributing to a reduction in the environmental footprint of the construction industry?

They will not do it until such time that they are forced to pay up in full for the mess they are creating – in other words, without discounts or subsidies. Applying “the polluter-pays principle” through environmental taxation is the only possible solution. Applied to the construction industry, this would mean taxing the extraction of stone on the one hand and simultaneously increasing – many times over – the dumping charges until the Malta Developers Association realises that it makes economic sense to recycle all the recoverable construction waste.

But the government says that it is allergic to taxes. It has a distinct preference for dishing out subsidies, especially where these are not justified.

The Malta Developers Association clearly has one formula: they plough the profits and you pay their bills. They can only keep at it as long as the holder of the post of Minister of the Environment has no clue as to what his brief is all about.

It is common knowledge that the government is in cahoots with the Malta Developers Association and that as long as the polluter is not forced to pay up in full there is no end in sight to the mess developing around us.

 

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 22 September 2019

Turiżmu li jagħti kas lin-nies

Id-dibattitu dwar l-impatti tat-turiżmu hu wieħed li ma jispiċċa qatt. X’impatti soċjali u ambjentali huma ġustifikabbli minħabba l-gwadann ekonomiku tat-turiżmu? Ir-riżorsi tal-pajjiż, fi ftit kliem x’numru ta’ turisti jifilħu?

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Tony Zahra, President tal-MHRA (l-Assoċjazzjoni Maltija tal-Lukandi u r-Restoranti) kien kritiku dwar in-numru ta’ turisti u l-impatt tagħhom. Kien rappurtat li qal li n-numru ta’ turisti li qed jiġu Malta kien qed jikber wisq. Emfasizza li l-pajjiż ma jiflaħx għall-impatti li jiġġeneraw daqshekk turisti. L-interess ta’ Tony Zahra fit-turiżmu dejjem kien limitat għall-impatt fuq dawk li joperaw il-lukandi: fejn Zahra għandu l-interessi finanzjarji tiegħu. Għadni qatt ma smajt lill- MHRA u lil Tony Zahra, per eżempju, jinkoraġixxu l-agri-turiżmu, u l-importanza ta’ dan (kieku jsir sewwa) biex jiddiversifika b’mod sostenibbli l-prodott turistiku Malti.

Kważi simultanjament għall-kummenti ta’ Tony Zahra, l-Istitut tal-Università ta’ Malta dwar il-Gżejjer u l-Istati Żgħar (The Islands and Small States Institute) ippubblika studju tal-Professuri Lino Briguglio u Marie Avellino, intitolat : Has overtourism reached the Maltese Islands?

Fl-istudju tagħhom, Briguglio u Avellino jagħtu daqqa t’għajn u jidentifikaw dak li għaddej fit-turiżmu u jidentifikaw l-argumenti kritiċi li qed ikunu żviluppati dwar il-materja. Turiżmu li qed jikber iżżejjed (overtourism) u l-biża’ mit-turiżmu (tourismphobia) huma termini li qed jintużaw bi frekwenza li qed tiżdied biex jiddeskrivu l-impatti soċjali negativi li qed jiżviluppaw bħala riżultat ta’ turiżmu li qed jikber kważi bla rażan. Kien fl-2008 li l-antropologu Katalan Manoel Delgado ddeskriva it- turistofobia bħala taħlita ta’ stmerrija, nuqqas ta’ fiduċja u tmaqdir tat-turiżmu.

Fl-istudju ta’ Briguglio u Avellino hu analizzat stħarriġ li għalih, 51% ta’ dawk li wieġbu qalu illi ma jixtiqux jaraw iktar turisti fil-belt jew raħal tagħhom. L-awturi jinterpretaw dan bħala li jindika li t-turiżmu f’Malta kiber wisq (overtourism), avolja jqisu li l-kampjun ta’ dawk li wieġbu l-istħarriġ hu ftit dgħajjef minħabba li mhux rappresentattiv b’mod adegwat.

Fost l-affarijiet li qed jikkontribwixxu għall-iżvilupp ta’ din il-biża mit-turiżmu hemm il-pressjonijiet soċjali u l-impatti ambjentali (kemm skart b’mod ġenerali kif ukoll il-kontribut għal attività esaġerata tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni), konġestjoni tat-traffiku, storbju, it-theddida tat-telf tal-identità kulturali u konflitti soċjo-kulturali.

L-MHRA, kif indika Tony Zahra, tidher li hi tal-istess fehma, avolja Zahra tkellem b’mod ġenerali u evita li jitkellem fid-dettall. L-interess tiegħu, wara kollox, hu l-impatt fuq il-but tal-membri tal-MHRA.

L-istudju ta’ Briguglio u Avellino jemfasizza l-ħtieġa li l-politika dwar it-turiżmu għandha tfittex li tindirizza l-impatti negattivi tal-industrija. Dan mhux biss biex tkun indirizzat il-kwalità tal-ħajja tar-residenti lokali imma ukoll biex l-esperjenza tat-turist tkun waħda aħjar u awtentika. It-triq ‘il-quddiem, jgħidulna Briguglio u Avellino, hi d-demokratizzazzjoni tal-iżvilupp turistiku u dan billi jkun inkoraġġit l-impenn tar-residenti milquta fil-komunitajiet tagħna. L-awturi ma jidħlux f’dettall biex jispjegaw dan kollu x’jista’ jfisser. Għandna nifhmu, iżda, li l-proċess tat-teħid tad-deċiżjonijiet kollha li jikkonċernaw l-iżvilupp tat-turiżmu għandhom ikunu soġġetti għal skrutinju pubbliku kontinwu. Dan m’għandux ifisser biss is-sehem tar-residenti milquta f’dan l-iskrutinju imma fuq kollox li dak li jgħidu jkun rifless fid-deċiżjonijiet li jittieħdu.

Permezz tad-demokratizzazzjoni tal-iżvilupp turistiku, hu iktar possibli li l-interessi u aġendi konfliġġenti fit-turiżmu jkunu indirizzati. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, l-imprenditur li jħares lejn il-qliegħ immedjat ikollu jiffaċċja r-realtajiet soċjali u l-impatti ambjentali u kulturali tal-ħidma tiegħu. Bħalissa l-operaturi turistiċi jimpalaw il-profitti u aħna, l-bqija, ndewwu l-feriti soċjali, kulturali u ambjentali li jkunu ħolqu b’ħidmiethom.

It-turiżmu mhiex attività li issir f’bozza. Isseħħ f’komunità magħmula min-nies li għandhom ikollhom l-assigurazzjonijiet kollha neċessarji li l-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħhom mhux ser taqla’ daqqa l-isfel bħala riżultat. It-turiżmu mhux dwar numri ta’ turisti, miljuni ta’ ewro li jintefqu inkella dwar il-kontribut lejn il-Prodott Gross Nazzjonali. Hu ukoll dwar il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.

It-turiżmu sostenibbli huwa primarjament dwar in-nies u mhux dwar il-profitt. Stennejna iktar minn biżżejjed biex dawk li huma effettwati jkunu assigurati li l-ħajja tagħhom ma tibqax imtappna minn dawk li jaraw biss il-flus. Biex dan iseħħ ma hemm l-ebda alternattiva għajr li l-iżvilupp turistiku jkun demokratizzat.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 11 t’Awwissu 2019

The democratisation of tourism

The debate on the impacts of tourism is never-ending. To what extent does the economic impact of tourism justify its social and environmental impacts? What is the carrying capacity of our islands, that is, what is the number of tourists with which our resources can reasonably cope?

Earlier this week, Tony Zahra, President of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) sounded the alarm: he was reported as saying that the number of tourists visiting Malta was too high. He emphasised that it is substantially exceeding the limits of what the country can take sustainably. Tony Zahra’s interest in tourism is limited to the impacts on hotels and hoteliers, his bread and butter. I have yet to hear the MHRA and Tony Zahra advocating agri-tourism, for example, and its importance in diversifying Malta’s tourism product sustainably.

Almost simultaneously The Islands and Small States Institute of the University of Malta published a Paper authored by Professors Lino Briguglio and Marie Avellino, entitled: Has overtourism reached the Maltese Islands?

In their Paper Briguglio/Avellino skim though the issues, identifying the trends and an ever-growing literature on over-tourism. “Over-tourism” and “tourismphobia” are increasingly used as terms to describe the emergence of social discontent with the pressures linked to tourism growth. It was way back in 2008 that  the Catalan anthropologist Manoel Delgado had described turistofobia as a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists.

In a survey which is discussed in the Briguglio/Avellino paper, 51 per cent of respondents said that they did not want to see more tourists in their town or village. The authors interpret this as indicating the existence of over-tourism in the Maltese islands, even though they consider the sample of respondents as being weak and not adequately representative.

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 MHRA, as indicated by its President Tony Zahra, seems to be on the same wavelength although Tony Zahra limits himself to speaking in general terms, as his primary interest is the financial bottom-line of MHRA members.

The Briguglio/Avellino paper points at the need for tourism policy to consider mitigating the negative impacts of tourism. This could address not just the well-being of the local residents but also the tourist experience. The democratisation of tourism development through encouraging the active participation of the residents suffering the impact in our communities, opine Briguglio/Avellino, could be the way forward. The authors do not go in detail as to what the “democratisation of tourism development” would actually mean. It is, however, understood that the decision-making process of tourism development should be subjected to more public scrutiny by the community suffering from the impact and, that the views of the community are not only heard but acted upon.

Through the democratisation of tourism development, the conflicting interests and agendas involved in tourism must be addressed. As a result, the short-term gains of tourism entrepreneurs would be compelled to face the reality of social responsibility, as well as cultural and environmental costs. So far, the tourism operators pocket the profits and we, the rest, face the impacts.

Tourism is not an activity that happens in a vacuum. It takes place in a community of persons, who should be assured that their quality of life is not impacted negatively upon as a result of the experience. Tourism is not just about numbers of tourists, or the millions of euros spent or a contribution to the Gross National Product: it is also about our quality of life.

Sustainable tourism is primarily about people – not about profit! Is it not about time that those feeling the impacted are involved in ensuring that their lives are not made miserable by others whose vision is limited to euros on the horizon?

The democratisation of touristic development is the only way forward.

 

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday: 11 August 2019

Beyond the trees

Trees are in the news, mostly for the wrong reasons. Some of them are being chopped, others are being uprooted and transplanted from areas impacted by road infrastructure projects to elsewhere, generally close by.

At this stage of these projects’ development, their impact on trees along our roads are the most visible outcome. There are various other outcomes that will only become clear in due course.

The symbolic value of trees is powerful. They are the most obvious choice for environmental activists when these need a medium to convey clearly understood messages about what is happening to our environment.

While their symbolic value is spearheading the criticism directed at the road development programme, trees have also inherent value as part of an eco-system that is continuously under siege.

The road development projects currently under way symbolise what is wrong with our planners – they work against nature, continuously failing to factor eco-sensitivity into their plans.

The issue at hand is clearly traffic congestion and the current exercise regarding infrastructure is trying to address this to facilitate mobility. However, in addressing traffic congestion, the main problem is that the authorities are approaching the issue in the wrong manner.

Their approach is based in the short-term and, consequently, the problem is never solved. It is merely postponed to some later date to be picked up again years down the line by future generations. This has been shown to be the case time and again everywhere, and clearly crops up in all major studies on transport planning and management.

Ian Borg, the Minister of Transport, is not the cause of traffic congestion. He has inherited it from his predecessors who failed to act properly on their watch.

Unfortunately, he is following in their footsteps. Borg too will pass the buck to his successor – more roads, more traffic, more bottlenecks, more traffic congestion.

Borg is ignoring the advice that is clearly spelt out in the Transport Master Plan 2015, which clearly identifies car use and ownership as the perennially unaddressed issue.

It would be pertinent to point out the following extract from section 2.2.1 of the Transport Master Plan, saying that: “historically, it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking.”

The section goes on to say: “This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint. There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal action to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.”

The real issue is that our society is car dependent. This is reflected not only in all we do but also in the manner we go about doing it.

Unfortunately, governments are only interested in short-term solutions as they will generally not be around for much longer than that. So, they do not bother with implementing a long-term vision.

We need to change tack and focus our energy on the long-term solutions. It this case, it means that we can only solve traffic congestion by shifting from a focus on road capacity to one addressing car dependency. This signifies that we no longer merely act on the effects but that, instead, we start focusing on the real cause of our problem: changing our behaviour by reducing our car dependency.

I agree that this is easier said than done. But it is also fair and realistic to state that further procrastination will only add to our problems. The present state of affairs is precisely the direct consequence of a failure to act over a number of years, spurred by a policy and planning failure that has consistently opted for the short-term stop-gap solutions instead of the long-term ones.

 

Published in The Times of Malta: 9 August 2019 

Going on a diet

The health problems we face by being overweight are not resolved by changing our wardrobe or loosening our belt but by going on a reasonable diet. And it is the same with our roads.

Addressing traffic congestion will not be resolved by road-widening or large road infrastructure projects but by addressing the root cause of such congestion: the number of cars that are using of our roads.

The opposition to the Central Link project is not about trees. Trees, symbolic of environmental vitality, are an important detail in the project that Infrastructure Malta is undoubtedly only too willing to concede through promises of substantially increasing their availability, even though the plans of the project have, at various times, indicated otherwise. This is apparent from the current bombardment of TV adverts by Infrastructure Malta. The opposition to the project is rather about the short-sighted transport policy that ignores the causes of traffic congestion and deals exclusively with the effects thereof. Avoiding the root cause of traffic congestion will only result in temporary relief.

The Environment Impact Assessment on the Central Link project considers six different scenarios: Scenario 0 to Scenario 5. Scenario 0 is defined as the “do-nothing option” with the other five scenarios being different combinations of interventions in the road infrastructure. The “do-nothing option”, as implied, signifies that no infrastructural interventions are involved: everything remains as is.

Infrastructure Malta’s brief is limited to infrastructural interventions. As a consequence, the authors of the Environmental Impact Assessment did not consider it worthwhile to examine whether it is at all possible to address traffic congestion through focused policy interventions over a suitable time frame. The government has already taken some positive steps in this regard through the offering of various carrots enticing different sectors to use alternative means of mobility, which include initiatives on both land and sea transport alternatives.

In the pipeline is the proposal to widen the appeal of public transport through making it free for everyone. Various other policy proposals have been implemented, including the provision of school transport to all schools, with the aim of reducing traffic during peak hours. This is all positive and could form the basis of an exercise to realistically address traffic congestion without the need for substantial infrastructural interventions.

What is the anticipated environmental impact of all this and possibly more? We are none the wiser through reading the Environment Impact Assessment.

The Transport Master Plan emphasises that the average journey length of a private car trip in Malta is 5.5 kilometres and that 50 per cent of trips take no more than 15 minutes. This obviously leads to the important consideration that regional and local public transport, if organised efficiently, could address the movement of a substantial number of cars on our roads with considerable environmental benefits. The EIA is silent on this basic information, which, if properly acted upon, could result in a substantial number of cars being removed from our roads without the need of any infrastructural intervention!

What role does environmental taxation have in encouraging a change in behaviour of those who can address their mobility needs in a reasonable manner without the need of using a private car?

Scenario 0, which considers environmental impacts without any infrastructural interventions, does not consider this. In so doing, the EIA is incomplete as it does not assess all the available options that can have an impact on traffic congestion. This contrasts with the provisions of the EIA Regulations which broadly regulate the process of analysing and reporting on the environmental impacts of major projects and emphasise that a “sufficiently detailed and reasonably exhaustive initial appraisal of potentially suitable alternatives” is essential.

This signifies that the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has not carried out its role in moderating the contents of the EIA appropriately. This could possibly explain why, very strangely, Professor Victor Axiaq did not utter one single word during the public hearing of the Planning Authority Board during which he voted in favour of the Central Link project!

The long-term aim of Malta’s transport policy is spelled out in the Transport Master Plan 2025: it is a reduction in the number of cars from our roads. This will increase mobility through the use of sustainable alternatives such as public transport, cycling, walking and even sea transport between locations in our harbour areas.

Transport studies carried out all over the world indicate that major road works always end up generating additional traffic. The Central Link project will not be an exception and consequently, it will not follow the direction spelt out by Malta’s Transport Master Plan approved by government in 2016!

published on The Independent on Sunday : 28 July 2019

The music of the night

Satellite photos clearly indicate the extent of light pollution in Malta: it is comparable to that in most urban areas in the European continent. As a result, the music of the night is made inaudible. The night is being “impeded from unfurling its splendour”, as the Phantom of the Opera repeatedly emphasises in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece.

Some years back, during the budget debate, a project related to intelligent street lighting was launched. When implemented, such a project would be an effective contribution to the reduction of light pollution all over the Maltese islands. Unfortunately, we have not heard of any substantial progress on the matter since late 2013, when the project was first announced.

Excessive artificial lighting used during the night is not only an inefficient use of energy, and the consequential contribution to additional carbon emissions which can be avoided, it is also a disturbance of nocturnal animal life and potentially injurious to human health.

Way back in 2007, Birdlife in Malta had published a study on the impact of night lighting on seabirds and nocturnal migrant species. The study is entitled Light Pollution and its effects on Yelkouan Shearwaters in Malta; causes and solutions. The context of the study is the EU Life project site at l-Aħrax in Mellieħa, in the area known as l-Irdum tal-Madonna, the site of a seabird colony.

The observations made and the solutions proposed in the study could easily form the basis for an action plan applicable to all of the Maltese islands to address light pollution because, in Malta, this is a serious problem not just for shearwaters but also in terms of carbon emissions and our quality of life.

As a result of Malta’s high population density, nocturnal light pollution has a considerable impact on both urban and rural areas all over the Maltese Islands. Ecologically, it has an impact on birds, moths and bats but it also has a considerable impact on animal behaviour in general. Beyond wildlife, light pollution creates glare which is a road safety issue and has an impact on drivers, pedestrians and cyclists and is known to play a considerable part in nocturnal traffic accidents.

The Dwejra light pollution case decided by the Environment and Planning Revision Tribunal on the 27 June is a rare case when a sensible decision was taken by the Planning Control Commission only for it to be reversed on appeal: normally it is the other way round! In fact, the Planning Control Commission had refused the original application on the basis that the Dwejra area is an area of ecological importance. Unfortunately, the Tribunal treated the issue of light pollution very lightly and was insensitive to its ecological impacts.

The coming together of fifteen environmental NGOs to crowd-fund the fight on appeal in Court is a good step forward. Protecting Natura 2000 sites is a tough fight but it needs to go on. Appealing against the scandalous decision of the Environment and Planning Revision Tribunal should, however, only be a first step. It should be realised that the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has powers and authority under the provisions of the EU Habitats Directive that it does not make sufficient use of. The ERA should assert itself and enforce the rules, bulldozing through the Planning Authority whenever this is necessary.

It would be much better if the Hon. Minister for the Environment insists that the ERA manages areas of ecological importance appropriately. Obviously, he must ensure that adequate resources are provided.

This Dwejra case is a specific example of where the ERA can have the final word. Will it?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 7 July 2019

Kaxxa tal-ittri

Uħud mill-awtoritajiet li jikkonċernaw l-industrija tal-bini draw jiffunzjonaw qieshom kaxxa tal-ittri, letter-box: jirċievu ittri u dokumenti mingħajr (ġeneralment) ma jieħdu passi dwarhom. Tant huma passivi li rrendew lilhom infushom ineffettivi.

Disa’ xhur ilu, propju minħabba dan il-fatt, il-Gvern ippubblika dokument konsultattiv bl-intenzjoni speċifka li jikkonsolida f’awtorità waħda r-Regolatur dwar il-bini u l-kostruzzjoni, l-entitajiet regolatorji eżistenti u ċioè l-l-BICC (Kumitat Konsultattiv dwar l-Industrija tal-Bini), l-BRO (l-Uffiċċju dwar ir-Regolamentazzjoni tal-Bini), the BRB (l-Bord li Jirregola l-Bini) u l-Bord tal-Bennejja. Proposta li bla dubju ilha tinħass li hi neċessarja!

Il-frammentazzjoni kurrenti tal-funzjonijiet regolatorji fuq l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni wasslet biex dawn saru ineffettivi. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, l-ilmenti kontinwi tar-residenti dwar kif l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni qed tħarbtilhom ħajjithom ġew ġeneralment injorati. Bosta drabi huma l-awtoritajiet infushom li ma jagħtux kaz tal-ilmenti li huma rifless ta’ ambjent urban ikkontaminat u li qiegħed jirriżulta mill-iżvilupp intensiv fiz-zoni residenzjali.

Il-kollass ta’ tlett binjiet, tnejn minnhom din il-ġimgħa stess, in konnessjoni ma skavar fuq siti ta’ kostruzzjoni bla dubju jnissel tħassib kbir. Imma ħadd ma għandu jkun sorpriż li ġraw. Fortunatament din id-darba ma miet ħadd!

Mhux l-ewwel darba li ġraw dawn l-inċidenti: drabi oħra mietu ukoll in-nies! Li dawn l-inċidenti ma jiġrux iktar spiss hu riżultat ta’ professjonisti dedikati li jagħmlu ħilithom biex jegħlbu l-problemi li jiffaċċjaw kontinwament. Ċertament li f’dan ma għandhom l-ebda mertu l-awtoritajiet li huma passivi għall-aħħar.

Is-sospensjoni temporanja da parti tal-Gvern ta’ kull xogħol ta’ twaqqiegħ ta’ bini jew skavar, apparti milli hi applikazzjoni abbużiva tal-liġi hi ukoll riżultat ta’ reazzjoni ta’ paniku li tipprova fatt wieħed bażiku: l-awtoritajiet regolatorji tal-industrija tal-bini m’għandhomx ir-riżorsi biex iwettqu r-responsabbiltajiet tagħhom u li minnhom ilhom is-snin li abdikaw.

Dwar kull waħda mit-tlett binjiet li waqgħu matul dawn il-ġimgħat hu fatt magħruf li r-residenti kienu ilhom jilmentaw żmien: l-ebda awtorità ma eżaminat l-ilmenti tagħhom u aġixxiet fuqhom, la direttament u l-anqas billi rreferiethom b’mod urgenti f’fora oħra addattati.

Il-Gvern issa hu ppreokkupat. Kien ikun ħafna aħjar kieku din il-preokkupazzjoni wrieha iktar kmieni billi pprovda r-riżorsi lill-Uffiċċju għar-Regolamentazzjoni tal-Bini (BRO) mhux biss biex ikun jista’ jaqdi l-inkarigu tiegħu, imma ukoll billi jassigura li l-awtoritajiet kollha jieħdu interess u jinvestigaw l-ilmenti li jirċievu mingħajr dewmien.

Disa’ xhur ilu, il-konsultazzjoni pubblika li saret kellha l-iskop li jkun assigurat li “l-inċidenti” tal-ġimgħat li għaddew ikunu evitati kemm jista’ jkun billi jkunu kkonsolidati u msaħħa l-istituzzjonijiet dgħajfa li għandna illum.

Dawn huma l-inċidenti li nafu bihom. Kemm kien ikollna iktar inċidenti li kieku dawn ma ġewx evitati b’intervent f’waqtu minn numru ta’ professjonisti ddedikati?

Ir-regolamenti ta’ emerġenza li l-Gvern ħabbar li ser jippubblika fil-ġranet li ġejjin jistgħu joffru rimedju għal żmien qasir. Li neħtieġu huma soluzzjonijiet fit-tul: riżorsi adegwati ffukati fuq il-ħtieġa li l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni tkun issorveljata b’mod kontinwu. Din hi l-unika triq li biha nistgħu naslu ħalli dawk li ma għandhom l-ebda rispett lejn il-komunità residenzjali fiz-zoni urbani tagħna jinġiebu f’sensihom.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 16 ta’ Ġunju 2019

Letter-box authorities

A number of authorities involved with the construction industry have become accustomed to functioning as a letter-box: receiving letters and documents without (generally) taking any action. They are too passive to the extent that they have rendered themselves ineffective.

Nine months ago, in recognition of this basic fact, the government published a consultation document with the specific intent of consolidating into one authority – a Building and Construction Regulator – the existing regulatory entities, namely the BICC (Building Industry Consultative Council), the BRO (Building Regulation Office), the BRB (Building Regulation Board) and the Masons Board. This proposal is certainly overdue!

The current fragmentation of the regulatory functions over the building industry have led to their being ineffective. The end result is that the continuous complaints of residents regarding the damaging intrusion of the building industry in their daily lives are generally ignored. Often it is the authorities themselves that turn a blind eye towards these complaints – which are a reflection of a contaminated urban environment that is proliferating as a result of the intensive developments carried out in residential areas.

The collapse of three buildings, two of which in the first half of this very week, linked with excavation activity on building sites, is a cause of great concern. No-one should be surprised that these accidents actually did happen. We are indeed very lucky that no lives were lost this time!

It is not the first time that this type of accident has happened: on other occasions they even resulted in deaths. The fact that these accidents do not occur more frequently is due to the dedicated professionals in the building industry who do their best to work properly – at times and against all odds. It is certainly not the result of the authorities who, more often than not, are as passive as can be.

The temporary suspension by the government of all demolition and excavation work, is – apart from being an abusive application of the law – the result of a panic reaction and proves one basic fact: the building industry regulatory authorities do not have the resources to carry out their responsibilities, from which they have abdicated over the years.

In respect of each of the three buildings that have collapsed in recent weeks, it is common knowledge that the residents had been complaining for quite some time and no authority took up their complaints to have them acted upon, either directly or by being  urgently referred to more competent fora.

The government is now preoccupied. It would have been much better had this preoccupation was manifested previously – not only by ensuring adequate resourcing of the Building Regulation Office (BRO) to enable it to carry out its duties and responsibilities, but also by ensuring that all the authorities take an interest in, and investigate without delay, the complaints received.

Nine months ago, a public consultation was launched specifically to ensure that the “accidents” of the past weeks are avoided as much as possible through a consolidation of the existing weak institutions.

These are the accidents we know of. How many more accidents would have occurred, had they not been prevented as a result of the timely intervention of dedicated professionals?

The emergency regulations to be published by government in the coming days can temporarily patch up the current mess. What is required is a long-term vision: sufficient resources focused on the continuous and adequate monitoring of the construction industry. This is the only way to ensure that those who have no respect for the residential community in our urban areas are brought to their senses.

published in The Independent on Sunday : 16 June 2019

Post-electoral reflections

When voters repeatedly elect a candidate accused of usury and money-laundering into public office, it is inevitable that I ask the question as to whether, really, the voters are always right.

In view of this reality it is inevitable that now, more frequently than ever, I ask myself why I am in politics. Following the electoral counting process presents the stark reality of the substantial number of spoilt ballot papers – with a variety of comments written in very colourful language.

Answering my daily question, now more than ever, I choose to stay on as I am driven by a sense of duty towards the ordinary man and woman who request continuous help in facing their daily problems caused by an insensitive state buttressed by a variety of colourful hangers-on.

It is unfortunate that immediate gain, as opposed to long-term benefits, is the obvious choice of a majority of voters, irrespective of the locality. Tomorrow is too far away to feature in today’s choices and, as a result, voters are continuously misguided instead of being assisted in making their choices.

I am obviously disappointed that no green local councillors were elected in the latest election. Moreover, the only green councillor currently in office, Ralph Cassar in Attard, was not re-elected. The result was affected by a low turnout, coupled with a reduced number of cross-party voters in the locality. Ralph has given sterling service to Attard for a considerable number of years, almost uninterruptedly since the 1990s.

The voters’ decision not to re-elect Ralph Cassar but then for voters in another locality to  repeatedly elect a person charged with usury and money-laundering is mind-boggling.
“Crooks are everywhere” could be too simplistic an explanation. They are certainly present but their presence is definitely not ubiquitous. It would be unfair to tar all those who stand for public office with the same brush, because most of them are drawn into public life through a sense of public service.

Why am I in politics? “To be of service to the community” is the answer which I have repeatedly and convincingly given since my youth. It is a service against an ever-intruding state. It is a service in favour of the betterment of our quality of life through ensuring the optimisation of policy-making and implementation, focusing on addressing the common good.

Throughout the past months and years, together with fellow greens, I have striven hard to ensure that more people are conscious of the need to prioritise ecological issues. Tackling environmental issues is a political matter because it involves continuous political decision-taking on a large variety of issues – ranging from food and pesticides to land-use planning in all its complexities or water management.

Those who continuously plead against linking environmental issues with politics are unfortunately not conscious that each and every decision impacting the environment is a political decision. Politics is also a service to the environment, ideally seeking to ensure that long-term views prevail over short-term egoistic decisions.

During the past weeks. Alternattiva Demokratika focused on several environmental issues regarding the need to improve our urban environment. The agenda is topped by a need to improve transport planning and reclaiming back our roads and ensuring adequate accessibility for all. Reducing the number of cars from our roads is an urgent requirement but there is no interest in achieving it as an objective. This will keep up the pressure on our public spaces which are either being taken up by more parking spaces or else by tables and chairs servicing catering establishments.

It is indeed unfortunate that the voters who share these objectives did not sufficiently support those who continuously strive to address them.

It is difficult to answer the question as to why I am in politics striving to attain environmental protection in order to better our quality of life, when everything seems to be pointing in a different direction. However, there is no alternative. Putting egoistic short-termism aside is an absolute priority.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 June 2019