Iż-żiemel ta’ Trojja

Il-mitoloġija Griega tgħallimna ħafna: tajjeb li kultant nagħtu ftit każ. Waħda minn dawn it-tagħlimiet  hi dwar ir-rigali: kuntant dawn ikunu rigali finta għax, xi drabi, warajhom jinħbew motivi li xejn ma jkunu sbieħ!  Tagħlima partikolari toħroġ fl-Ilijade, ir-rakkont ta’ Omeru dwar il-gwerra ta’ Trojja, rakkuntata ukoll fl-Anejadi, kapulavur tal-poeta Ruman Virgilju. 

Virgilju jagħtina l-parir biex noqgħodu attenti mill-Griegi meta dawn b’ħafna ħlewwa jiġu joffru r-rigali. L-osservazzjoni ta’  Virgilju hi referenza għaż-żiemel ta’ Trojja, żiemel tal-injam li s-suldati Griegi ħallew barra s-swar tal-Belt assedjata ta’ Trojja.

Kif nafu, moħbija f’dan iż-żiemel/rigal kien hemm suldati armati Griegi li matul il-lejl, meta fi tmiem l-assedju ta’ Trojja iddaħħal fil-belt b’ċelbrazzjoni, issarraf f’ħerba għax minnu ħargu s-suldati armati.  Dan hu t-tifsira taż-żiemel ta’ Trojja!

In-nomina xi xhur ilu ta’ George Hyzler minn Robert Abela, għan-nom tal-Gvern, biex Hyzler ikun membru tal-Qorti Ewropeja tal-Awdituri hu rigal minn dawn. Bħaż-żiemel ta’ Trojja dan kien rigal li l-Opposizzjoni kellha toqgħod attentat minnu: kien intenzjonat li jkollu effetti oħra li mal-ewwel daqqa t’għajn ma jidhrux.

Kważi kulħadd jaqbel li George Hyzler ħadem sewwa bħala Kummissarju dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Anke l-Gvern jaqbel! Tant qabel li offrielu promozzjoni: karrotta tad-deheb li kien diffiċli li jirrifjuta. Hyzler ingħata promozzjoni biex ikun jista’ jitwarrab minn fejn kien u riżultat ta’ hekk ikun hemm xewka inqas tiġri mas-saqajn. Fil-fehma tiegħi ma hemm l-ebda mod ieħor kif tista’ tinterpreta dak li ġara.  

In-nomina ta’ Hyzler bħala membru tal-Qorti Ewropeja tal-Awdituri hi parti mill-logħba ta’ manuvri politiċi ta’ Abela. Ħafna drabi jimmanuvra b’ta’ madwaru. Permezz tan-nomina ta’ Hyzler, imma, irnexxielu jpoġġi lill-Oppożizzjoni f’posizzjoni ta’ diffikultà li Bernard Grech ma rnexxielux jinduna biha minn kmieni u allura ma rnexxielux jevita.  

L-Oppożizzjoni messa ġibdet l-attenzjoni ta’ Hyzler li kien mistenni li hu jservi t-terminu kollu li għalih inħatar bħala Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Fiċ-ċirkustanzi politiċi tal-lum Hyzler qatt ma messu aċċetta n-nomina bħala membru tal-Qorti Ewropeja tal-Awdituri. L-iskop tan-nomina messu kien ċar anke għal min għadu jibda fil-politika! Sfortunatament donnu li kulħadd induna x’kien qed jiġri, ħlief l-Opposizzjoni.

Dan hu l-kuntest għad-dibattitu parlamentari kurrenti dwar l-emendi proposti għall-liġi dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika.

Uffiċjalment l-emendi proposti kellhom l-iskop li jħollu l-problema f’każ li ż-żewġ terzi ma jintlaħqux (anti-deadlock mechanism). Meta ż-żewġ terzi meħtieġa biex jinħatar il-Kummissarju għall-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika ma jintlaħqux f’żewġ votazzjonijiet konsekuttivi,  b’ġimgħa bejniethom, hu propost li minn hemm il-quddiem tkun meħtieġa  maġġoranza sempliċi biss biex tkun approvata l-ħatra.

L-emendi proposti qed ifittxu li jeliminaw oġġettiv ewlieni tal-liġi eżistenti. Dan hu li, għalkemm il-Kummissarju tal-Istandards fil-Hajja Pubblika hu approvat mill-Parlament, hu għandu jgawdi ukoll il-fiduċja tal-Opposizzjoni.  (Jeżistu liġijiet oħra li jipprovdu posizzjoni ċentrali garantita għall-Opposizzjoni: fost dawn hemm il-Presidenza tal-Kumitat Parlamentari dwar il-Kontijiet Pubbliċi kif ukoll ir-rwol ta’ Deputat Speaker.)

Li l-persuna nominata tkun persuna ta’ integrità bħalma hu Joe Azzopardi l-Prim Imħallef Emeritu, mhux biżżejjed. Il-fatt li mhux aċċettabbli għall-Opposizzjoni hu minnu innifsu raġuni suffiċjenti u valida biex ma jkunx addattat għall-ħatra, sakemm hemm raġuni valida għal din l-opposizzjoni.  Ma hemmx ħtieġa li jkun nominat mill-Opposizzjoni, imma għandu jkun persuna aċċettabbli għaliha.

Il-Gvern qal li Bernard Grech l-ewwel qabel man-nomina u mbagħad bidel fehemtu. Anke kieku dan kien minnu, dan hu irrelevanti, għax il-persuna nominata għandha tkun aċċettabbli għall-Opposizzjoni kollha u mhux biss għall-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni. Il-Grupp Parlamentari għandu kull dritt li ma jaqbilx mal-Kap tiegħu kull meta jħoss il-ħtieġa għal dan. F’partiti politiċi demokratiċi, din mhiex xi ħaġa rari li issir.

L-iskop kollu li l-ħatra tikseb l-approvazzjoni ta’ żewġ terzi hu li jinħoloq l-iktar kunsens wiesa’ possibli meta jinħatar Kummissarju għall-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Li titneħħa din il-ħtieġa għall-kunsens iwassal biex ikun imminat il-proċess kollu.

Riżultat tal-ħtieġa ta’ żewġ terzi biex tkun approvata l-ħatra, l-Opposizzjoni m’għandiex biss is-saħħa li tkun determinanti fid-deċiżjoni: għandha ukoll l-obbligu li taġixxi b’mod responsabbli. Jiġifieri għandha l-obbligu li iġgib il-quddiem raġunijiet validi biex issostni l-posizzjoni tagħha.  Anke l-Opposizzjoni hi soġġetta għall-kontabilità.

Id-dibattitu parlamentari sadanittant qed idur mal-lewża. L-Gvern irid jikkontrolla l-proċess kollu waħdu. Dan minkejja li diġa fil-prattika jikkontrolla d-deċiżjoni finali dwar kull investigazzjoni: kemm riżultat tal-maġġoranza parlamentari kif ukoll in vista tal-komposizzjoni tal-Kumitat Parlamentari dwar l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika. Il-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern  donnu ddeċieda li m’għadux essenzjali li min jinħatar tkun persuna aċċettabbli għall-Opposizzjoni Parlamentari. Il-ħtieġa li jkun hemm kunsens qiegħed jitwarrab. Dan jimmina  l-integrità tal-proċess kollu li bih huma regolati l-iStandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika.  L-Opposizzjoni, s’issa, għadha ma spjegatx  il-għala qed topponi n-nomina tal-ħatra tal-Prim Imħallef Emeritu Joe Azzopardi. Għandha obbligu politiku li dan tagħmlu.

Kemm il-Partit Laburista kif ukoll il-PN ħadu posizzjoni intransiġenti: jew kif ngħid jien, inkella insa kollox, qed jgħidu. Flimkien qed iżarmaw dak li ħa ħafna żmien biex inbena.

Dan hu li kapaċi tagħtina sistema Parlamentari ta’ żewġ partiti!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 22 ta’ Jannar 2023

The Trojan gift

photo:The Procession of the Trojan horse into Troy: Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo(1727-1804)

Greek mythology conveys a multitude of lessons which we could do well to ponder on. One of them refers to gifts that mask a hidden, and generally destructive, agenda. One such lesson results from the account of the Trojan war in Homer’s Iliad and its retelling in Virgil’s masterpiece Aeneid.

Virgil advises us that we should beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Virgil’s observation is with reference to the “gift” of a wooden horse left by the Greek warriors outside the walls of the besieged city of Troy! As we know the actual hidden element attached to the Greek gift was the armed soldiers hidden within the wooden horse!

The Trojan horse was pulled within the city of Troy as part of the celebrations for the lifting of the city’s siege. When the celebrations had subsided, during the night, out came the surprise from within the wooden horse, armed Greek soldiers which devastated the city. This is the proverbial Trojan horse!

The nomination by Robert Abela of George Hyzler some months ago as a member of the European Court of Auditors is precisely one such gift of the Labour leader to the Opposition.

Most would agree that George Hyzler performed well as Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. Even government shares this view. As a result, it has gone out of its way to offer him a gilded carrot which he could not easily refuse. Hyzler was kicked upstairs as a result of his performance. In my opinion there is no other realistic way of interpreting the nomination.

Hyzler’s nomination to the European Court of Auditors is part of the Abela chess game of political manoeuvring. Generally, he moves about Labour pawns along the political chessboard. Through Hyzler’s nomination he has also succeeded in placing the Opposition in an awkward corner which, so far, Bernard Grech has proved to be incapable of avoiding.

The Opposition should have advised Hyzler that he ought to serve his full term as Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. Given the prevailing political circumstances, Hyzler should have never accepted the nomination to the European Court of Auditors. Its Trojan purpose should have been clear enough even to the most junior of political novices. Unfortunately, everyone was aware of this except, apparently, the Opposition, which was once more outmanoeuvred by Labour.

This is the essential and basic background to the current parliamentary debate on the proposed amendments to the legislation relative to the regulation of Standards in Public Life.

Officially the proposed amendments seek to introduce an anti-deadlock mechanism. Whenever the two-thirds majority required to approve the appointment of a Standards in Public Life Commissioner is not attained in two consecutive ballots, a week apart, it is being proposed that thereafter, the required threshold would be reduced to that of a simple majority.

The proposed amendments seek to eliminate a basic objective of the existing legislation, this being that the Standards Commissioner, though approved by Parliament, must enjoy the confidence of the Parliamentary Opposition. (Our laws provide other instances where the Opposition is guaranteed a central role: the Chairmanship of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee and the role of Deputy Speaker come to mind.)

Having a nominee of integrity, such as former Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi, is not sufficient. The fact that he is not acceptable to the Opposition is in itself a sufficient (and valid) reason justifying his non-suitability to the post, provided a valid reason for such an objection exists. It is not required that the person be an Opposition nominee: he or she should however be a person whom the Opposition accepts.

The point made by government that Bernard Grech first accepted the nomination and then changed his view, even if correct, is irrelevant, as the proposed candidate needs to be acceptable to the Opposition as a whole and not just to its Leader. His Parliamentary Group is within its rights in over-ruling him whenever it considers that this is necessary. This is not a rare occurrence in democratic political parties!

The whole purpose of the two-thirds requirement is to have as wide a consensus as possible when appointing a Commissioner for Standards in Public Life. Removal of the broad consensus requirement undermines the whole process.

As a result of the two-thirds requirement the Opposition does not just have a major determining say: it also has the duty to act in a responsible manner. It must as a consequence have valid reasons justifying its decision. Even the Opposition is accountable.

The parliamentary debate is currently going round in circles. Government wants to control the whole process on its own. It already enjoys the final say on deciding on each and every investigation, through its parliamentary majority as well as a direct result of the composition of the parliamentary committee on Standards in Public Life. Labour has apparently decided that it is no longer essential to ensure that the eventual appointee is acceptable to the Parliamentary Opposition. It has decided to discard the consensus requirement. This will undermine the integrity of the oversight required on the regulation of Standards in Public Life. The Opposition, has, so far, not explained why it is opposing the nomination of former Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi.

Both Labour and the PN have taken an intransigent position: my way or no way. Together they are demolishing what has been slowly developed over the years. This is what a two party system is capable of producing!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 22 January 2023

Il-ħiliet ħodor li neħtieġu

Il-ħiliet il-ħodor ma jiġux waħedhom. Għandna ħtieġa kbira tagħhom biex insibu tarf tat-trasizzjoni ekoloġika. Jeħtieġilna li b’mod urġenti nirrisolvu l-kunflitt tal-bniedem man-natura. Neħtieġu li nibdew nirrimedjaw il-ħsara ambjentali akkumulata li l-bniedem ikkawża fuq id-dinja.

Biex nimxu f’din it-triq hemm ħtieġa ta’ bidliet sostanzjali fl-imġieba tagħna. Din mhiex għażla li nistgħu naqblu magħha inkella le. Hi ħtieġa li llum jew għada irridu niffaċċjaw.

L-istrateġija dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli, li preżentement hi soġġetta għal konsultazzjoni pubblika,  titkellem, fost oħrajn, dwar l-oġġettiv ta’ edukazzjoni ta’ kwalità li tkun kapaċi tirrispondi għall-ħtiġijiet tas-suq tax-xogħol. Dan tagħmlu hi u tiddiskuti l-oġġettiv strateġiku numru 4.  L-istrateġija tinfurmana li dawn il-ħtiġijiet tas-suq tax-xogħol jinkludu l-ħiliet ħodor.

Ma għandi l-ebda diffikulta dwar oġġettiv bħal dan li jipprova joħloq kredenzjali ħodor għall-ekonomija. Imma, naħseb li jkun għaqli li flok nimmiraw ħafna il-fuq nidentifikaw mod prattiku kif nassiguraw li l-parti l-kbira tal-popolazzjoni tikseb il-ħiliet bażiċi ħodor. Fl-aħħar minn l-aħħar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli mhux ser nilħquh mill-uffiċini, billi noħloqu pjani dettaljati minn wara l-iskrivanija. Nilħquh bl-imġieba tagħna, ġod-djar tagħna, fejn ngħixu l-ħajja normali tagħna. Din hi l-isfida tagħna. Hi sfida li tmur lil hinn mill-ekonomija.

L-għaqda ambjentali Nature Trust, flimkien ma numru ta’ skejjel, fuq dan qegħda fit-triq it-tajba, ferm qabel ma tfasslu strateġiji. Iċ-ċavetta qegħda fl-aċċess għall-imħuħ. Tul is-snin l-implimentazzjoni tal-proġett eko-skola min-Nature Trust wassal numru sostanzjali ta’ tfal u żgħażagħ f’kuntatt ma’ rejaltajiet ambjentali li niffaċċjaw ta’ kuljum.

Tul is-snin kelli diversi opportunitajiet fejn iltqajt ma’ parteċipanti fl-eko-skola kif ukoll mal-għalliema tagħhom. L-għarfien ambjentali li kisbu kien wieħed impressjonanti. Applikaw l-għarfien li kisbu għad-dinja ċkejkna tagħhom, l-iskola. Uħud minnhom irnexxielhom ukoll iwasslu dak li tgħallmu sad-dar u influwenzaw kemm lill-ħuthom kif ukoll lill-ġenituri tagħhom biex huma wkoll jaġixxu b’mod li ma jkunux ta’ ħsara ambjentali.

Dan hu pass kbir il-quddiem. Imma mhux biżżejjed.  

L-eko-skejjel jeħtieġ li jinfettaw lill-komunitajiet lokali tagħna biex huma ukoll jimxu fuq l-istess passi. Dan jista’ jwassal għat-tibdil meħtieġ fl-imġieba tagħna lkoll. Dan hu proċess twil. Bil-mod il-mod nistgħu nibnu komunitajiet sostenibbli. Dan nagħmluh billi nassiguraw ruħna li kull eko-skola tgħin lill-ġenerazzjonijiet differenti fil-komunitajiet lokali  tagħna biex huma jagħrfu u jakkwistaw il-ħiliet il-ħodor. Ħiliet li lkoll kemm aħna neħtieġu biex inkunu nistgħu ngħixu f’armonija  fl-ambjenti rispettivi tagħna. Ħilijiet li dawk li ġew qabilna kellhom, imma li tul is-snin intilfu minħabba dak li kultant jissejjaħ “progress” li biddel il-mod kif ngħixu!

Jeħtieġ li nqiesu l-kisba u l-għarfien ta’ ħiliet ħodor bħala ħiliet soċjali essenzjali. Dan ftit nagħtu kaz tiegħu minkejja l-biżibilju konsultazzjonijiet pubbliċi li jsiru mid-diversi awtoritajiet pubbliċi tul is-snin. Dan ifisser ukoll li flimkien mal-istrateġija “nazzjonali” dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli neħtieġu ukoll strateġija fuq livell lokali biex din tkun implimentata fl-għeruq tas-soċjetà, fil-komunitajiet lokali tagħna.

Tul is-snin sar ħafna xogħol, imma dan, ħafna drabi, sar bla koordinazzjoni ta’ xejn. Il-koordinazzjoni meħtieġa, meta issir sewwa, jirnexxielha tagħti riżultati tajbin billi tifrex il-ħiliet ħodor fil-komunitajiet lokali tagħna. Dan hu mod prattiku kif il-proċess ta’ twettieq tal-istrateġija għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli jitmexxa minn min hu effettwat mill-ħsara ambjentali akkumulata li irridu niffaċċjaw ta’ kuljum.

Huwa biss billi niddemokratizzaw il-bidla meħtieġa fl-imġieba fuq livell lokali li nistgħu nibdew il-mixja lejn żvilupp sostenibbli bis-serjetà. Il-Kunsilli Lokali, jekk iridu, għandhom rwol ċentrali f’dan kollu. Hi opportunità unika ta’ kif jistgħu jagħtu sura lill-ħajja ta’ madwarna.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 1 ta’ Jannar 2023

The green skills which we require

Green skills do not grow on trees. Yet we need them in abundance in order to be able to navigate the ecological transition. We need to urgently come to terms with nature. It is required that we start the healing process, slowly repairing the accumulated environmental damage which humankind has to date inflicted on Mother Earth.

In order to walk along this path substantial behavioural change is essential. This is not an option. It is a basic requirement which all of us must address, sooner rather than later.

The Sustainable Development Strategy, currently subject to public consultation, advocates the achievement of high-quality education responsive to labour market needs when discussing its strategic objective number 4. These labour market needs, we are informed, include green skills.

I have no issue with such an objective which seeks to align the markets to green pathways. I would however point out that before aiming for the stars it would be appropriate if we seek practical ways of ensuring that basic green skills are acquired by as large a section of the population as possible. At the end of the day sustainable development will not be achieved if adequately planned in our offices: it requires proper implementation in our homes, in our routine behaviour. This is our challenge. A challenge which goes far beyond the economy.

The environmental NGO Nature Trust in conjunction with a number of schools, is, in this respect, on the right track, before the drafting of written strategies. Access to our thinking faculties is fundamental. Over the years the implementation by Nature Trust of the eco-school project has brought a substantial number of children and youngsters in touch with the eco-realities which we have to face day-in day-out.

Over the years I have had various opportunities of meeting with eco-school participants together with their teachers. The eco-knowledge which they have acquired is impressive. They have applied this knowledge in their micro-world, their school. Some of the eco-school participants have also exported this knowledge to their homes nudging their siblings and their parents into acting in an eco-friendly manner.

This is a gigantic step forward. It is however not enough.

Our eco-schools need to infect our local communities into following similar paths, consequently leading to the required behavioural change. This is a slow and laborious process. Slowly we can build sustainable communities by ensuring that our eco-schools serve as catalysts, mentoring the different generations in our localities into acquiring the green skills which we all require in order to be able to live in harmony with our surroundings. Skills similar to those which our forefathers had, but which have been discarded as a result of the so-called progress which we have been subject to throughout the years!

We need to consider the development of green skills as essential social skills, a matter which is not considered in any depth by the multitude of public consultations carried out over the years by the different authorities. This signifies that in parallel to the “national” sustainable development strategy we urgently require a local strategy for sustainable development to be implemented at the roots of our society, in our local communities.

A lot of uncoordinated efforts have been taken in hand over the years. Coordinating the work done as well as that currently in hand could, if done properly yield significant results in disseminating green skills amongst our local communities. This is the practical manner in which the sustainable development strategy process can be owned by those impacted by the accumulated environmental damage which we have to face day-in day-out.

Only by democratising the behavioural change required at a local level can we start moving along the path of sustainable development. Local Councils have a pivotal role in this whole process. It is their’ s for the taking. It is a unique opportunity through which they can realistically shape their surroundings.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 1 January 2023

L-annimali, il-moħqrija u l-ikel fuq il-platt

Issa għaddew iktar minn seba’ snin minn meta issejjaħ ir-referendum dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. Referendum li kien inizjattiva ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika flimkien ma’ koalizzjoni ta’ 13-il għaqda ambjentali u tal-ħarsien tal-annimali u li kien intilef b’numru żgħir ħafna ta’ voti. Kultant dan il-proċess demokratiku jerġa’ jissemma’ fl-aħbarijiet u dan billi l-għaqdiet tal-kaċċaturi jridu  jnaqqsu l-aċċess għal dan id-dritt. S’issa, fortunatement, ħadd ma jidher li ta każ tagħhom. Imma ħadd ma jaf jekk l-affarijiet jinbidlux fil-futur!

Flok ma nirrestrinġu l-użu demokratiku tal-għodda tar-referendum għandna nikkunsidraw li nestendu l-użu tiegħu. Sal-lum għandna d-dritt li niġbru l-firem biex jissejjaħ referendum li jipproponi li titħassar liġi jew parti minnha. Għalhekk jissejjaħ referendum “abrogattiv” għax huwa referendum li jħassar ligi jew parti tagħha. Dan id-dritt demokratiku  għandu jkun estiż biex ikun possibli li jittieħdu inizjattivi dwar liġijiet li l-Parlament jevita b’mod kontinwu.  ADPD-The Green Party repetutament ippropona li dan isir bi proposti speċifiċi fil-manifest elettorali. L-aħħar darba li dan sar kien fl- elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2022.

Ir-referendum tal-2015 dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa kien biex jitħassru regolamenti li kienu jippermettu l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. B’dan il-pass kienet tkun qed tiġi imħarsa l-bijodiversità u dan għax fil-perjodu li l-għasafar ibejtu l-ebda kaċċa ma kienet tkun permessa.   Dan imma ma kienx jindirizza l-ħarsien tal-għasafar b’mod iktar wiesa’. Biex dan ikun jista’ jseħħ teħtieġ li tkun abolita l-kaċċa f’kull żmien. Din fil-fatt kienet, u nifhem li għada, l-posizzjoni ġustifikata tal-għaqdiet li jaħdmu favur l-annimali.

Id-dibattitu lokali dwar il-ħarsien tal-annimali hu sfortunatament limitat għall-annimali li nżommu fid-djar (pets), dawk li jintużaw fir-riċerka, kif ukoll riċentment għaż-żmiemel li jintużaw mal-karozzini. Ittieħdu diversi inizjattivi dwar iż-żwiemel u dan wara ħidma bla waqfien mill-għaqidet li jaħdmu favur il-ħarsien tal-annimali.

Il-mod kif l-industrja tal-agrikultura timxi mal-annimali fl-irziezet hi materja ta’ importanza. Qed jingħata importanza dejjem ikbar fl-Unjoni Ewropeja.

Riċentement, Alison Bezzina, il-Kummissarju għall-Ħarsien tal-Annimali ippruvat testendi d-diskussjoni dwar dan kollu billi ikkummentat dwar il-konsum tal-ħalib. Il-kummenti tagħha saru fil-Jum Dinji tal-Ħalib (3 ta’ Ġunju). Hi ibbażat il-kummenti tagħha fuq dak li jgħaddu minnu l-baqar li jipproduċu l-ħalib b’mod naturali għall-għoġġiela tagħhom u jispiċċaw jeħdulhom kemm il-ħalib kif ukoll lill-għoġġiela biex jinbiegħ kummerċjalment!  

L-argument dwar il-mod kif nimxu mal-annimali jkompli. Intqal illi kieku l-biċċerija għandha ħitan tal-ħġieg, ħadd iktar ma jiekol laħam. Il-punt hu li l-mod kif jiġi prodott il-laħam jassoġġetta lill-annimali għall-moħrija esaġerata li, kieku tkun magħrufa, tant taħsad nies li kważi ħadd iktar ma jmiss il-laħam b’mod permanenti.

It-trasparenza fil-biċċerija u l-fabbriki tal-annimali hi essenzjali biex ikun assigurat li r-regoli bażiċi li jħarsu lill-annimali mill-moħqrija bla sens qed jiġu osservati.

It-triq mir-razzett sal-mejda tal-ikel hi mimlija bi problemi konnessi mat-trattament ħażin tal-annimali. Li kellna nkunu nafu iktar dak li jseħħ wara l-bibien magħluqin tal-irżieżet jew tal-fabbriki tal-annimali bla dubju jkollna  nibdew naħsbu sewwa dwar l-għażliet tagħna ta’ dak li nieklu. Dawn huma għażliet li ħafna drabi nagħmluhom b’għajnejna magħluqa, bla ħafna ħsieb. Huma għażliet awtomatiċi li ħafna drabi ftit tajna każ ta’ xi jfissru: għax dejjem hekk għamilna.

L-etika dwar dak li nieklu hi estensjoni naturali tad-dibattitu ambjentali. Fil-fatt il-ġustizzja ambjentali u l-ħarsien tal-annimali huma tewmin.

In-numru ta’ dawk li ma jieklux laħam qiegħed jiżdied kif qiegħed jiżdied in-numru ta’ dawk li ma jridux imissu prodotti ġejjin mill-ħalib. Din iż-żieda hi waħda fuq livell globali. Dawn l-għażliet qed isiru fuq konsiderazzjonijiet ambjentali, konsiderazzjonijiet dwar ħarsien tal-annimali kif ukoll konsiderazzjonijiet etiċi.

Il-Gvern jippenalizza lil dawk li jagħmlu għazliet etiċi dwar l-ikel. Dan ġie emfasizzat riċentement waqt intervista ta’ Darryl Grima, ambjentalist, veġan u attivist kontra l-qtil tal-annimali għall-ikel. Hu meħtieġ li l-Gvern ma jibqax jippenalizza lil min jagħmel dawn l-għażliet. Darryl Grima jsemmi eżempju wieħed. Il-ħalib hu meqjus bħala prodott tal-ikel u għaldaqstant fuqu ma titħallasx taxxa fuq il-valur miżjud (VAT). Imma l-prodotti li jintużaw bħala alternattivi għall-ħalib ma jitqiesux bħala ikel u allura huma soġġetti għall-VAT. Dan mhux sewwa u għandu jinbidel.

Mahatma Gandhi kien jemfasizza li “l-kobor ta’ nazzjon u l-progress morali tiegħu jitkejjel minn kif huwa jittratta lill-annimali.”  Dan jgħodd għal kulħadd, f’kull żmien.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 10 ta’ Lulju 2022

On birds and other animals

It has been seven years since the spring hunting referendum, a Green Party initiative in Malta supported by a coalition of 13 environmental and animal welfare NGOs, was lost by the smallest of margins.  Occasionally we still have public references to that democratic process as the hunting lobby wants to restrict its availability. So far, fortunately, they have not been heeded. One does not however know whether this will remain so.

Rather than restricting the use of a referendum by popular demand one should consider extending it. The right to call an abrogative referendum should be extended to also include a referendum which proposes legislative initiatives. So far, we have the right to take the initiative to delete legislation or part of it, hence the term “abrogative” meaning “to delete”. This democratic right should be extended to make it possible to include the taking of legislative initiatives by the electorate, in particular those initiatives which are continuously avoided by Parliament. ADPD-The Green Party has time and again proposed the matter in its electoral manifesto, including in the manifesto for the 2022 general elections.

The 2015 spring hunting referendum sought to delete from the statute book legislation permitting spring hunting. This would have addressed issues of biodiversity by abolishing hunting during the bird breeding season. The 2015 referendum initiative did not however address issues of animal welfare as in such a case one would have to consider the complete abolition of hunting. This was and in fact still is the valid view of a number of animal welfare NGOs.

The local debate on animal welfare is unfortunately limited to treatment of pets, to animals used in research and relatively recently to the welfare of horses used by the local cabs (karozzini). Various initiatives in this respect have been embarked on in the past years as a result of the persistent lobbying by animal welfare NGOs.

The treatment of farm animals is a basic issue which is not given due weight by the agricultural industry. It is given an ever-increasing importance within the EU.

Recently, Alison Bezzina, the Animal Welfare Commissioner sought to extend the animal welfare debate by challenging the need for milk consumption. She did this in her comments on World Milk Day (3 June) basing her arguments on what cows are made to endure in order to produce milk for human consumption. It was pointed out that access of the new born calves to that same milk which nature provides for their subsistence is diverted to human use!

Extending the argument further, it has been stated by many others that if the abattoir had glass walls none of us would ever eat meat again. The point made being is, to put it mildly, that the process to produce meat for our consumption causes a lot of unnecessary suffering to animals, which, if we are aware of, would put most of us off meat consumption permanently.

Transparency at the abattoir and farm factories is essential in order to ascertain as to whether the basics of animal welfare standards are being adhered to!

From the farm to the fork there are many issues of animal welfare which are continuously ignored by one and all. Being aware as to what goes on behind the closed doors of farms and farm factories would undoubtedly force us to think carefully about our choices of food. Choices which, so far, we take for granted, as they are choices which we consider to be automatic ones and which we rarely think about.

The ethics of what we eat is a natural extension of the environmental debate. In fact, environmental justice and animal welfare are twins.

The number of those who do not eat meat as well as those who do not consume dairy products is on the increase on a global level. Their choices are based on environmental, animal welfare and ethical considerations.

Government penalises those who make ethical choices when it comes to food! This was emphasised recently in an interview by Darryl Grima, an environmentalist, vegan and End the Slaughter campaigner. It is about time that government does not penalise those making such choices. Darryl Grima refers to one example. Dairy milk is considered as food and is therefore not subject to value added tax (VAT). Its substitutes, however, plant-based milks, are still subject to VAT. This is unacceptable and should change.

Mahatma Gandhi used to emphasise that “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated”.  This is food for thought: pun intended.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 10 July 2022

Planning application PA00777/22 : another mega-development at Marsaskala

(photo is the official Parliamentary voting record of those voting in favour of the rationalisation exercise: that is those voting in favour of extending the building development boundary into what was then ODZ-Outside the Development Zone)

It would be pertinent to remember that on the 26 July 2006 Malta’s Parliament approved a resolution which we normally refer to as the “rationalisation” exercise, as a result of which extensive stretches of land until then outside the development zone (ODZ) were declared as land suitable for development.

The PN parliamentary group, supported the Lawrence Gonzi led government and voted in favour of developing ODZ land whilst ironically the Labour Opposition had then voted against the proposal. This is not just history. It is still affecting our daily lives. Today, 16 years later some are realising for the first time how land use planning was screwed by the then Environment Minister George Pullicino!

Three of the Members of Parliament who had then voted in favour of developing ODZ land are still MPs today.

Their names come to mind when considering the latest mega-development proposal, this time at iż-Żonqor on the outskirts of Marsaskala, through development application PA00777/22.  The development application this time concerns a 5,000 square metre area of rural land over which it is proposed to construct 135 residential units and 180 basement garages. These will be spread over 10 different levels, four of them below ground floor level after excavating a substantial amount of rock.

The basic decision permitting today’s proposed development was taken on the 26 July 2006 when the rationalisation exercise was approved by Parliament on the proposal of a PN-led government. No studies were then carried out as to the environmental impacts of the development resulting from the rationalisation exercise. Specifically, the cumulative impact of the development proposed was ignored contrary to the then emerging environmental acquis of the EU relative to the assessment of plans and programmes, known as the SEA Directive (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive) which Directive entered into force on the days immediately following the approval by the Maltese Parliament of the rationalisation exercise.

The basic question to ask is whether we really need such large-scale developments. Why are we determined as a country to develop every square centimetre of our land? Isn’t it about time that a moratorium on such large-scale development enters in force?

The rationalisation exercise should be scrapped at the earliest and all rationalised land returned to its former ODZ status the soonest. This is what we should expect of any government which (unashamedly) proclaims that the environment and our quality of life is now its priority.

It has taken our residents 16 years to become sensitised to the large-scale havoc which land use planning has degenerated to.  Throughout these 16 years all genuine environmentalists have been pointing this out. Unfortunately, some only react when large scale development is very close to their backyard, otherwise they do not care. The writing has been on the wall for a number of years, yet it was ignored for quite some time.

One mega-project after the other has been eroding our quality of life, the latest one being proposal PA00777/22 which goes by this description: To excavate and construct 180 garages at basement level, 2 Class 4B shops, and 135 overlying units. The site is at iż-Zonqor, Marsaskala, but it should be everyone’s concern.

It is about time that we stop all this in the same way that the proposed Marina at Marsaskala had to be shelfed, hopefully for good!

published on Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 June 2022

From Dubai to Singapore

Last week, the President of the Republic, laying out the programme for the new government in what is known as the speech from the throne, emphasised that the environment is a core value for this government. Reading through the speech prepared by government, his Excellency was clear by dwelling on a number of different topics of considerable environmental importance.

However, Dr Vella was unfortunately not advised as to how and when the government intends to address its continuous contradictions in its drive to shift its focus from the infrastructure to the environment.

The elastic environmental politics presented by this government ranges from more flyovers to achieving carbon neutrality, simultaneously being dependent on two interconnectors tapping the Sicilian energy market.

Previous governments led by the Labour party had sought to transform Malta into another Dubai, that is a land of high rises and extensive land reclamation . The attempt at Dubai-ification embarked on by the Muscat led government will apparently now be transformed into a Singaporization as emphasised by infrastructure Minister Aaron Farrugia. This is the implementation of the policy of continuity which his Excellency was apparently not sufficiently advised about.

The current crop will do their best to outshine their predecessors. Since there is not much more land to ruin, they have therefore turned their gaze towards the sea which they will be ruined in due course.

Preliminary studies carried out in the past had identified the areas in Maltese waters where land reclamation could be considered, subject to more in-depth studies. The coastal areas identified and studied are those along the  Magħtab/Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq coastline and the Xgħajra/Marsaskala coastline. These are the coastal zones which have to be watched and protected.

The basic question to ask before embarking on planning any land reclamation projects is: what do we need land reclamation for? In the past land was reclaimed to construct the Freeport or to protect the coast at Msida, Gżira and elsewhere.

If any new pressing need is identified one should carefully consider them.

The Netherlands used land reclamation successfully to adequately manage its low-lying land. Hong Kong made use of land reclamation to create high value land required for its airport on the Chek Lak Kok island. Through land reclamation Singapore expanded its container port, an essential cornerstone in its economy.

The way to go about tackling land reclamation is through serious public consultation. Labour in government has, so far, only consulted developers on land reclamation. It has, in the recent past, only consulted those who were seeking new ways to make a quick buck! These are the fourth-floor guys who are only interested in making hay while the sun shines.

If government is serious about land reclamation it should immediately publish a list of its proposed projects. This should be accompanied by a draft national land-reclamation strategy for public consultation. At this point consultation should not be with the speculation lobby: it has already been extensively consulted. Consultation at this stage should primarily be with environmental NGOs and the coastal communities, in particular those directly impacted.

Having said the above I do not think that land reclamation is or should be a priority. Rather, the priority should be the restructuring of the construction industry: specifically cutting it down to size and putting it to good use.

The country would be economically, environmentally and socially much better off if the construction industry is assisted in its much-needed restructuring. It would undoubtedly need to shed labour which can be absorbed by other sectors of the economy. Retraining would be required to ease the entry of the shed labour force into other economic areas.

After years of haphazard and abusive land-use planning, land reclamation is the last thing we need!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 May 2022

Il-kosta tagħna lkoll: inħarsuha

Għaddej sforz kontinwu biex il-kosta tkun ikkommerċjalizzata. Sforz li ilu għaddej is-snin.

Il-jott marina proposta f’Marsaskala hi biss eżempju wieħed minn bosta li mhux limitati għan-nofsinnhar politiku, iżda li huma mifruxa mal-pajjiż.  Fost l-eżempji hemm it-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles, Manoel Island, il-Bajja tal-Balluta, ix-Xatt u l-jott marina tal-Birgu, il-jott marina fil-Kalkara u x-Xatt tal-Belt.  

Hemm ukoll għaddej il-kummerċjalizzazzjoni tal-ispazji pubbliċi mal-kosta, bil-bankini b’kollox.

L-art pubblika kontinwament qed tkun trasformata f’minjiera ta’ profitti privati, ħafna drabi għall-magħżulin. Il-kwalità tal-ħajja tar-residenti rari jagħtu każ tagħha, jekk mhux fl-aħħar minuta. Meta possibli jevitawha kompletament ukoll.

Għaddew madwar erba’ snin minn meta l-Parlament approva il-leġislazzjoni biex tissaħħah il-protezzjoni tal-kosta permezz tal-liġi dwar id-dimanju pubbliku. Kellna kemm-il Ministru li tkellem b’mod pompuż dwar dan. L-għaqdiet ambjentali ippreżentaw lista ta’ iktar minn għoxrin sit, mifruxa mal-kost,a li kollha kemm huma jikkwalifikaw għall-protezzjoni. Ninsab infurmat li l-għaqdiet ambjentali għamlu riċerka estensiva dwar min hu sid din l-art. Iżda sfortunatament l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet u l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar qed iżommu dan il-proċess milli jitwettaq, anke għal dawk il-każijiet fejn l-art hi kollha kemm hi propjetà pubblika.  

Għalfejn jiġu approvati dawn il-liġijiet jekk ma hemm l-ebda intenzjoni li dawn ikunu implimentati?

Nafu li wieħed mill-impatti ewlenin tat-tibdil fil-klima fuq il-gżejjer, inkluż dawk Maltin, hu bit-tibdil fl-livell tal-baħar. Numru ta’ gżejjer fl-Oċejan Paċifiku li mhumiex wisq il-fuq minn livell il-baħar diġa bdew jisparixxu taħt baħar li l-livell tiegħu qed jogħla. Robert Abela, Prim Ministru, huwa u jindirizza l-laqgħa Internazzjonali fi Glasgow dwar it-tibdil fil-klima (COP26), iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, emfasizza dan il-punt.

L-għoli fil-livell tal-baħar ikollu impatt sostanzjali fuq il-gżejjer Maltin, skond kemm dan ikun kbir. Jeffettwa l-infrastruttura kostali kollha: l-infrastruttura marittima, dik tat-turiżmu, tal-ilma kif ukoll l-infrastruttura tal-enerġija li huma kollha b’xi mod marbuta mal-kosta. Kemm-il darba jogħla l-livell tal-baħar dawn kollha jitħarbtu.  Anke iż-żoni residenzjali viċin tal-kosta jsofru impatti mhux żgħar.  

Ħadd ma jaf eżatt dwar kemm, kif u meta dan ser iseħħ. L-ewwelnett għax il-proċess li bih dan iseħħ għad mhux mifhum biżżejjed. Imma ukoll għax għalkemm ma nistgħux nevitawh nistgħu nnaqqsu l-impatt tiegħu billi nindirzzaw u nnaqqsu l-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju.

Repetutatament fil-laqgħat tal-UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change) li jsiru regolarment tul is-snin, kien hemm emfasi fuq il-ħtieġa li ż-żieda fit-temperatura globali minn kif kienet fl-era pre-industrijali ma tiżdiedx b’iktar minn 1.5 gradi Celsius. Dan sar fuq insistenza tal-istati gżejjer u tal-pajjiżi sottożviluppati, għax għal snin twal il-limitu raġjonevoli kien meqjus li kien ta’ 2 gradi Celsius. Pass ieħor il-quddiem. Imma mhux biżżejjed.

F’Pariġu fl-2015 kien hemm qbil dwar dan kollu. Imma sfortunatament dan ma kienx ikkonvertit f’azzjoni. Huwa dak li issa qed nistennew li jseħħ fi Glasgow.

Huwa essenzjali li nindirizzaw it-tibdil fil-klima bis-serjetà. Anke l-ħarsien tal-kosta jiddependi minn hekk.

ippubblikat fuq Illum :il-Ħadd 7 ta’ Novembru 2021

Claiming back (and protecting) our coast

A continuous effort to commercialise the coast is under way. It has been going on for quite some time.

The proposed Marsaskala yacht marina is just one example. It is possibly the latest of many examples, not just in the political south, but throughout the Maltese islands. The Freeport Terminal, Manoel Island, Balluta Bay, the Birgu Waterfront and yacht marina, the Kalkara yacht marina, Valletta Waterfront are some of the most glaring examples which come to mind.

There is also the ongoing commercialisation of the public spaces adjacent to the coast, including pavements and open spaces.

Public land is continuously being transformed into private profits, many times for the chosen few. In practically all cases,the quality of life of residents is not factored in, until the eleventh hour. Whenever possible, it is avoided completely.

It has been around four years since parliament approved legislation in order to reinforce the protection of the coastline through the public domain legislation. Much was said pompously by many a Minister. Environmental NGOs have submitted a list of over twenty sites along the coast which qualify for protection. I am informed that eNGOs have even carried out extensive research on ownership issues related to these sites. It is indeed unfortunate that the Lands Authority and the Planning Authority have ground the whole process to an unacceptable halt. This applies even in those instances where it is proven beyond any doubt whatsoever that the land in question is public property.

Why approve such laws when there is no intention to implement them?

We are aware that one of the main areas through which climate change will impact islands, including the Maltese islands, is through sea level rise.  A number of low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean are already in the process of disappearing below a rising sea level.  Robert Abela, Prime Minister, addressing the Glasgow Climate Change COP26 earlier this week emphasised this point.

A rise in sea level will have a substantial impact on the Maltese islands, depending on its extent. It will impact the coastal infrastructure: the maritime, tourism, as well as the water and electricity infrastructure are all linked to our coast. A sea level rise will play havoc with all this. It will even impact the residential areas which have been developed close to the coast.

No one is certain as to when, how and the extent of this happening. Primarily this is due to the fact the natural processes in play are not fully understood yet. It is also however possible that mitigation measures planned and in hand to reduce carbon emissions could be quite effective if taken up.

During UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change) meetings it is continuously emphasised that the increase in global mean temperature should not exceed 1.5 degree Celsius over the pre-industrial temperature. This is the result of extensive lobbying by island states and under-developed countries over the years. They have been successful in adjusting the objective from the previous 2 degree Celsius.  This is definitely a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. 

In Paris in 2015 this was already agreed upon. Yet it was all words, none of which was converted into action. At Glasgow we need some decisions which are implemented the soonest.

Taking definite action on climate change is required to protect our coast.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 7 November 2021