Malta: exporting abortion

The saga of the life-saving abortion required by American tourist Andrea Prudente has come to an end in Malta. Her case has now been exported to the Spanish island of Mallorca where hopefully it will be satisfactorily settled. The matter has been dealt with in a manner identical to the case of Maltese-Canadian Marion Mifsud Nora in 2014. Today’s case was exported by Malta to Mallorca while the 2014 case was exported to Paris. The support of their travel insurers to transfer them by air ambulance to foreign jurisdictions was in both cases crucial in overcoming the lack of the Maltese state in providing adequate medical care.

The Maltese state has failed Andrea Prudente. It had also failed Marion Mifsud Nora. Likewise, it fails to protect every Maltese woman faced with a life-threatening pregnancy. Maltese women in these circumstances unfortunately suffer in silence and rarely speak up. The Maltese state lacks empathy towards any woman facing a difficult pregnancy.

Apparently, the fundamentalists running Mater Dei have learnt nothing in the last eight years after they exported the Mifsud Nora case to Paris. This notwithstanding the opinion expressed publicly by a number of eminent jurists: that when a pregnancy endangers a woman’s life, its termination is already permissible at law. In such cases the termination of a pregnancy has even been described as being an act of self-defence, permissible at law.

Exporting these two abortion cases to mainland Europe adds to the abortion tourism which is known to exist between Malta and the European mainland, primarily with the UK and Italy, even though this is not limited to these two countries.

ADPD-The Green Party has been the only political party to continuously speak up about the matter. The silence of the others is deafening!

We need an urgent overhaul of the outdated abortion legislation on Malta’s statute books.

The least we can do is to ensure the urgent removal of any legal ambiguity currently shielding the fundamentalists running Mater Dei from intervening medically to terminate a non-viable pregnancy.

Members of the local medical profession are unfortunately in the same situation as their Irish counterparts who dealt with the 2012 case of Savita Halappanavar. They are afraid to act to protect the health of patients in these circumstances. In similar circumstances Savita Halappanavar died under the watchful eyes of the Irish medical profession who felt that they could not intervene due to the then legal prohibition of any form abortion in Ireland.

Ireland has in the meantime successfully learnt its lessons and immediately proceeded to dismantle its abortion prohibitions. This involved a national referendum which by over 66 per cent voted in favour of the proposal of a Christian Democrat led government (Fine Gael) to proceed with the introduction of abortion.

Ireland has learnt the hard way in order to proceed with ensuring that ethical pluralism in its midst is adequately respected.

The writing is on the wall.

While the other political parties have been generally silent, ADPD – The Green Party is one of two political parties in Malta to speak up. ADPD supports the decriminalisation of abortion and the introduction of abortion in limited circumstances, that is to say when the pregnant woman’s life is in manifest danger, in respect of a pregnancy which is the result of violence (rape and incest) and in respect of a non-viable pregnancy.

The export of abortion to other countries will not solve or address the deficiencies of Maltese abortion legislation which, enacted over 160 years ago, is long overdue for an overhaul to bring it in line with current medical practice and developments.

The Parliamentary parties are unfortunately not interested in all this. Their policies for the foreseeable future are still export oriented.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 26 June 2022

Chernobyl revisited

Chernobyl in Ukraine on 26 April 1986, 36 years ago, was the site of a major nuclear disaster. All that came to mind once more when the Russian and Byelorussian forces invaded Ukrainian territory over two months ago.

The invading forces took over the Chernobyl nuclear power station site. Troops were observed excavating trenches around the site where the nuclear accident happened 36 years ago. It was only this week that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that the radiation levels at Chernobyl, after being tested, have been certified as being within safe limits; but it is definitely not safe for a picnic!

The nuclear clean-up at Chernobyl is ongoing. Starting immediately in 1986, it is scheduled to last at least until the year 2065. Possibly much beyond that!

36 years on, Chernobyl is still of concern not just to those living in its vicinity, but to all of Europe.

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster had brought many to their senses as to the dangers of nuclear energy, notwithstanding the sophisticated technology utilised in the industry. This was further reinforced by the Fukushima disaster, much closer in time on 11 March 2011. In the aftermath of Fukushima various countries opted for a phase-out of their dependence on nuclear energy. Germany led the way, our Italian neighbours to the North opting for a nuclear free future through a referendum in June 2011.

All this had a particular significance for Malta as it meant that plans for the construction of a nuclear power station at Palma di Montechiaro along the southern Sicilian coast, less than 100 kilometres to the North of Gozo, were mothballed. Southern Sicily as we know is an earthquake prone zone.

Occasionally there are rumblings of a renewed interest in the use of nuclear energy. The French government has for years been acting as a nuclear salesman all around the Mediterranean. It is known that agreements to set-up and operate various nuclear plants exist relative to various North African countries. Nicholas Sarkozy had even arrived at an agreement with Gaddafi just weeks before he was ousted.

Within the EU the debate is ongoing, at times spearheaded by the fact that the generation of nuclear energy emits relatively little carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of electricity generated. Nuclear energy does however cause significant environmental negative impacts through the waste streams which it generates, namely spent nuclear fuel, rock waste at uranium mines and mills and the release of large amounts of uncontrolled radioactive emissions whenever accidents occur. The Chernobyl, Fukushima and the Three-Mile Island nuclear accidents are irrefutable testimony that the environmental damage resulting from nuclear accidents is not just enormous but also at times difficult to control.

The IAEA reports that as of 2022 there are 493 nuclear power reactors in operation in 32 different countries.  We tend to be aware of the major nuclear accidents at Chernobyl (1986) or Fukushima (2011), and possibly that at Three-Mile Island in the US (1979). Countless other “minor” accidents have however occurred over the years. In some cases, the accidents were under control just in time, avoiding their development into a major accident.

Our neighbours rejected nuclear energy twice in two different referenda, one in 1987 after Chernobyl, the other in 2011 after Fukushima. In 2011 the Italian government was planning to construct 10 nuclear reactors. These plans were only thwarted as a result of the 2011 referendum.

It is a responsibility of the Maltese government to be on the alert as these plans could be reactivated in the near future.  This would be a danger developing on our doorstep.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 1st May 2022

It-turiżmu għarkuptejh

It-turiżmu hu ewlieni fost l-oqsma tas-setturi ekonomiċi milquta mill-pandemija Covid-19. Dan japplika iktar għat-turiżmu tal-massa li għadu s’issa settur importanti li fuqu hi dipendenti l-industrija turistika Maltija. Julia Farrugia-Portelli, Ministru għat-Turiżmu, (flimkien mal- Ministri għat-Turiżmu tal-Italja, Ċipru, Spanja, Franza, l-Portugall, il-Greċja, ir-Rumanija u l-Bulgarija) f’laqgħa virtwali iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa fittxet kunsens biex jinħolqu kurituri siguri għat-turiżmu fit-triq lura lejn in-normalità u f’żona ħielsa mill-Covid-19.

Sfortunatament, tal-inqas fl-immedjat, irridu ngħixu mal-virus Covid-19 u l-limitazzjonijiet li ħoloq fuq il-ħajja normali tagħna. It-triq lura lejn in-normalità hi waħda twila. Ir-restrizzjonijiet straordinarji fuq ħajjitna li huma fis-seħħ presentment ma jistgħux jibqgħu għaddejjin b’mod indefinit u dan minkejja li illum huma meħtieġa.

Ir-restrizzjonijiet kważi totali imposti fil-gżejjer Maltin tul il-ġimgħat li għaddew kienu effettivi biex ikunu indirizzati il-biżgħat dwar is-saħħa. Bħala riżultat ta’ dawn ir-restrizzjonijiet, f’Malta, l-mixja tal-virus kienet imrażżna, kif jixhdu l-aħbarijiet ta’ kuljum imxandra mis-Supretendent dwar is-Saħħa Pubblika.

It-turiżmu qiegħed għarkuptejh. Prattikament waqaf, kullimkien madwar id-dinja, anke jekk temporanjament.

Fl-Unjoni Ewropea mit-turiżmu jiddependu qrib is-27 miljun impieg li jiġġeneraw madwar għaxra fil-mija tal-prodott gross nazzjonali. F’Malta u fil-pajjiżi ġirien fin-nofsinnhar tal-Ewropa, aħna dipendenti iktar mit-turiżmu mill-medja Ewopeja. Ix-xibka tad-dipendenza tal-ekonomija tagħna fuq it-turiżmu hi ferm ikbar minn hekk. It-tbatija kkawżat illum hi għaldaqstant ikbar u r-ritorn għal xi forma ta’ normalità inevitabilment tieħu iktar fit-tul.

Meta ser nirritornaw lura għan-normal? Ċertament li mhux fl-immedjat. Hu ferm dubjuż jekk din ix-xewqa għar-ritorn lejn in-normal magħruf tistax tintlaħaq, anke jekk inħarsu ftit fit-tul. Li hu żgur hu li ma hu ser jinbidel xejn mil-lum għal għada.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa l-Ministri tat-Turiżmu tal-Unjoni Ewropea iddiskutew inizjattivi biex jinkuraġixxu t-turiżmu intern fl-unjoni nnifisha u dan permezz tal-ħolqien ta’ speċi ta’ passaporti tas-saħħa bejn żoni ħielsa mill-Covid-19. Sakemm tibqa’ fis-seħħ il-miżura dwar iż-żamma ta’ distanza soċjali, l-proposta mhiex waħda realistika, ta’ l-inqas għall-futur immedjat u probabbilment għal bosta xhur wara.

Sfortunatament l-ivvjaġġar b’mod ġenerali, u b’mod partikolari t-turiżmu, għandu l-potenzjal li jservi għat-tixrid tal-pandemija bl-istess mod kif fil-passat kien il-kummerċ li serva biex xtered mard ieħor f’kull rokna tad-dinja. Fid-dawl ta’ dan, hu probabbli li t-turiżmu tkun fost l-aħħar mill-attivitajiet ekonomiċi li jibdew t-triq lura għan-normal, u dan wara li l-Covid-19 tkun taħt kontroll effettiv fl-Ewropa b’mod ġenerali.

Kulħadd jifhem u japprezza l-ħeġġa tal-Ministeru tat-Turiżmu biex jonqsu r-restrizzjonijiet fuq l-ivvjaġġar u allura fuq dawk is-setturi li minnhom hi dipendenti l-industrija tat-turiżmu. Sfortunatament, iżda, fil-futur immedjat dan mhux realistiku li jintlaħaq. Hemm dubji kbar anke dwar x’jista’ jseħħ fuq tul ta’ żmien.

L-ekonomija tal-parti l-kbira tan-nofsinnhar tal-Ewropa, u in partikolari dik tal-pajjiżi Mediterranji, hi dipendenti fuq it-turiżmu u dan billi tipprovdi vaganzi bi prezzijiet raġjonevoli tul is-sena kollha għal dawk ġejjin mit-tramuntana u ċ-ċentru tal-Ewropa f’kuntest ta’ suq Ewropew wieħed. Il-miġja tal-vjaġġi b’irħis mifruxa mal-Ewropa kollha komplew kabbru l-firxa ta’ din ix-xibka ta’ dipendenza.

F’dan il-kuntest huwa ċar li ftit jista’ jsir ippjanar bil-quddiem. Hemm ħaġa waħda li hi ċara: il-futur huwa nċert u t-turiżmu għad ma nafux x’sura ser jieħu fix-xhur u fis-snin li ġejjin. It-tbatija mhux ser tintemm hekk kif nieqfu nistennew. Għax it-turiżmu qiegħed għarkuptejh.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 3 ta’ Mejju 2020

Tourism is on its knees

Tourism has been among the hardest hit sectors of the economy as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. This applies more so to mass tourism which still constitutes an important sector on which Malta’s tourism industry is dependent. Julia Farrugia-Portelli, Minister for Tourism, (together with Tourism Ministers from Italy, Cyprus, Spain, France, Portugal, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria) in an online meeting earlier this week advocated the creation of safe corridors, desperately seeking to create a return to normal in a Covid-19 free zone.

Unfortunately, at least in the short term, we have to live with a virus that has overturned ordinary life. The path back to normalcy will take a very long time even though it is clear that the extraordinary restrictions currently enforced cannot go on indefinitely, notwithstanding that today they are clearly a necessity.

The partial lockdown in operation in the Maltese islands for the past weeks has been effective in addressing public health concerns. As a result, in Malta, the spread of the virus has been contained and adequately managed as is evidenced by the daily briefings of the Superintendent of Public Health.

Tourism is however on its knees. It has been practically wiped out, temporarily, everywhere across the globe.

Within the European Union tourism accounts for close to 27 million jobs and around 10 per cent of GDP. In Malta, as well as in other neighbouring Southern European countries, tourism makes a larger contribution to the GDP. The web of dependence of the economy on tourism is larger. The pain is consequently larger and the expected time for recovery will be much longer.

Will we return to normal? Certainly not in the short term. It is even doubtful whether such a return to the “known normal” is achievable in the long term. Definitely any recovery will not occur overnight.

Earlier this week EU Tourism Ministers discussed whether initiatives should be taken to encourage internal tourism within the EU itself through some sort of health passports between areas within the EU which are Covid-19 free. As long as keeping a social distance rule remains in force this is not a realistic option, at least for the foreseeable future, certainly not for a number of months.

Unfortunately, travel in general and tourism in particular has the potential of being the perfect vehicle for the spreading of the pandemic just as trade, in the past, served to spread other pandemics across the globe. Keeping this in mind, most probably tourism would be the last economic activity to be reactivated once Covid-19 is sufficiently under control, at least on the European mainland.

It is understandable that the Ministry for Tourism seeks an early scaling down of the restrictions on travel and consequently on the sectors servicing the tourism industry. It has however to be underlined that this is not realistic to achieve in the short term. It is also dubious as to what lies in store in the long term.

The economy of the greater extent of Southern Europe, and in particular that of Mediterranean countries, is reliant on tourism primarily through providing reasonably priced holidays, not just during the summer months, for citizens of Northern and Central Europe within an EU single market. Low-cost flights throughout the European area further adds to this web of dependence.

Even though in this context it is difficult to plan ahead, one thing is certain: the future is as yet undefined and tourism will never be the same. Recovery will be as painful as the waiting time. Tourism is definitely on its knees.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 May 2020

Is-Solidarjetà mhiex għażla, iżda obbligu

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Evarist Bartolo, il-Ministru għall-Affarijiet Barranin, b’wiċċ ta’ qdusija artifiċjali, iddikjara fuq it-televiżjoni li kien iddiskuta fit-tul il-kriżi tal-immigrazzjoni li qed tiżviluppa fl-ibħra Maltin mal-Kummissjoni Ewropea, mal-Vatikan u ma uffiċjali mlaħħqin tal-aġenzija tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar ir-Refuġjati (UNHCR). Ilkoll kienu tal-fehma, qal, li Malta għandha raġun.

Evarist Bartolo qed jipprova jagħti l-impressjoni falza li l-għeluq tal-portijiet Maltin għall-NGOs biex ikunu jistgħu jisbarkaw l-immigranti meħlusa mill-għarqa fl-ibħra ta’ madwarna li qed jiżviluppaw f’ċimiterju hi aċċettabbli u jew raġjonevoli għall-komunità internazzjonali. Il-verità hi ferm differenti minn hekk.

Il-Ħodor, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll fl-Unjoni Ewropea, repetutament emfasizzaw li Malta ma tistax titħalla terfa’ waħedha dawn l-obbligi ta’ salvataġġ. Dan ġie emfasizzat din il-ġimgħa stess fi stqarrija konġunta bejn il-Partit tal-Ħodor Ewropej (EGP) u Alternattiva Demokratika. Is-solidarjetà fjakka jew ineżistenti ma tħassarx l-obbligi ta’ Malta fiż-żona ta’ salvataġġ li hi responsabbli għaliha fil-Mediterran ċentrali.

Hi tabilħaqq sfortuna li tul is-snin, Malta, repetutament ippruvat taħrab mir-responsabbiltajiet tagħha. Ilkoll niftakru meta l-PN fil-Gvern wasal fi ftehim mal-Gvern immexxi minn Silvio Berlusconi fl-Italja biex il-qawwiet tal-baħar Taljani jimbuttaw lura d-dgħajjes mgħobbija bl-immigranti li jkunu telqu mill-kosta Libjana.

Iktar qrib fiż-żmien il-Gvern immexxi minn Joseph Muscat wasal f’xi forma ta’ ftehim sigriet imma mhux miktub (safejn hu magħruf) li permezz tiegħu il-Gvern Taljan immexxi minn Matteo Renzi b’mod li ma waslux iktar immigranti f’Malta għal perjodu twil.

Imbagħad hemm il-każ ta’ Neville Gafà, il-mibgħut speċjali tal-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat u l-laqgħat li hu kellu ma’ Haithem Tajouri mexxej tal-brigati rivoluzzjonarji ta’ Tripli. Tajouri, mid-dehra viċin ħafna tal-Gvern ta’ Joseph Muscat jissemma f’rapport ta’ ‘l fuq minn 200 paġna tal-Ġnus Magħquda liema rapport hu dwar ksur ta’diversi drittijiet tal-bniedem. Skond l-istess rapport Tajouri hu responsabbli ukoll għal ċentru privat ta’ detenzjoni fejn jinżammu ħafna nies.

Fl-istampa lokali kien ġie rappurtat ukoll li kien hemm laqgħat fil-Libja bejn Neville Gafà, l-mibgħut speċjali tal-Prim Ministru, Joseph Muscat, u uffiċjali għoljin tal-Gvern Libjan. F’dawn il-laqgħat, li għalihom attenda Kurunell mill-Forzi Armati ta’ Malta ġew diskussi l-mezzi li kellhom jintużaw biex iwaqqfu l-immigrazzjoni. L-ismijiet u r-ritratti ta’ dawk presenti kienu ġew ippubblikati.

Dan m’għadux effettiv għax illum jidher li nbidlet l-istrateġija u jeħtieġilna li niffaċċjaw allegazzjonijiet serji fil-konfront tal-Forzi Armati ta’ Malta dwar sabutaġġ tal-opri tal-baħar użati minn dawk li qed ifittxu l-ażil. Qed ikun allegat li s-suldati/baħrin tal-patrol boat P52 qatgħu l-cable tal-mutur li bih kienet għaddejja l-opra tal-baħar b’mod li ħallihom bejn sema’ u ilma fiż-żona ta’ tiftix li hi responsabbiltà ta’ Malta.

Prosit lill-NGO Repubblika li qed tinsisti li issir investigazzjoni kriminali dwar dan l-inċident biex jiġi stabilit eżattament x’ġara u min huwa responsabbli għalih. Kont nistenna li kellu jkun il-Kmandant tal-Forzi Armati minn rajh li jagħti bidu għall-investigazzjoni hekk kif saru dawk li s’issa għadhom allegazzjonijiet. Ma kellux joqgħod jistenna li jkun ħaddieħor li jinsisti li dan isir.

Il-proposta riċenti tal-Ministru Bartolo biex l-Unjoni Ewropeja tgħin lil-Libja b’mod li ittaffilha l-piz umanitarju li qed iġġorr bħalissa kif ukoll biex ikun iffaċilitat li l-komunità internazzjonali tkun tista’ tipprovdi l-għajnuna tant meħtieġa kemm lir-refuġjati kif ukoll lil-Libjani infushom hi pass il-quddiem. Imma tajjeb li jkun ċar illi minkejja d-diffikultajiet kollha fil-Libja nnifisha dan diġa qed isir.

Fil-fatt mill-2014 sal-lum l-Unjoni Ewropeja diġa ħarget għajnuna umanitarja ta’ madwar €50 miljun indirizzata lejn il-Libja.

Sfortunatament la hemm rieda u l-anqas aptit għal soluzzjoni Ewropea fost il-Gvernijiet tal-Unjoni Ewropeja u dan minkejja li erbgħa fost l-ikbar pajjiżi tal-unjoni (il-Ġermanja, Franza, Spanja u l-Italja), xi ġranet ilu ħadu inizjattiva biex il-migrazzjoni tirritorna fuq l-aġenda.

Naħseb li lkoll napprezzaw li s-sitwazzjoni hi waħda diffiċli. Imma anke f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi kulħadd għandu jerfa’ r-responsabbiltajiet tiegħu.

Il-Gvern Malti għandu jibdel ir-rotta u flok ma jibqa’ kontinwament ifittex li jipprova jaħrab mir-responsabbiltajiet tiegħu ifittex li jaħdem id f’id mal-NGOs li qed isalvaw il-ħajjiet b’mod li qed jagħmlu ħidma li messha qed issir mill-Gvernijiet. Li jkun hemm min jipprova jimita lil mexxej lemini Matteo Salvini biex ikunu kkriminalizzati l-NGOs iservi biss biex tkompli tixtered il-mibgħeda imżejna b’lingwaġġ taparsi patrijottiku.

Hemm il-ħtieġa li l-Gvern Malti jifhem li s-solidarjetà mhiex għażla, imma dmir.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 19 t’April 2020




Solidarity is not an option but a duty

Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo sanctimoniously declared on TV that he had discussed at length the immigration crisis in Maltese waters with the EU Commission, with the Vatican and with senior officers of UNHCR. All agreed, he said, that Malta was in the right.

Mr Bartolo is trying to create a false perception that the closure of Maltese ports to NGOs disembarking immigrants saved from being engulfed in the cemetery developing around us is reasonable and acceptable to the international community. He cannot be more distant from the truth.

Greens, both in Malta and in the EU, have repeatedly emphasised that Malta cannot shoulder its “save and rescue responsibilities” on its own. This was emphasised as recently as this week in a joint statement between the European Green Party and Alternattiva Demokratika. However, inadequate or at times inexistent solidarity from EU member states does not absolve Malta of its international responsibilities from coordinating safety and rescue operations within its area of responsibility in the central Mediterranean.

It is indeed unfortunate that over the years Malta has repeatedly tried to wriggle out of its responsibilities. We do remember when the PN led government arrived at an agreement with the Berlusconi administration in Italy in order that the Italian navy pushes back all departing boats carrying immigrants along the Libyan coast.

Closer in time the Joseph Muscat administration is known to have arrived at some sort of secret but unwritten agreement with the then Renzi led government in Italy such that the arrival of immigrants in Malta trickled down to zero.

What about Neville Gafà, then special envoy of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his meetings with Libyan militia leader Haithem Tajouri of the Tripoli Revolutionary brigades? Tajouri, apparently a close acquaintance of the Muscat led government was singled out in a United Nations report for a number of human rights breaches. He is also, according to the same report, responsible for the running of a private detention centre where many are held in captivity.

It was also reported in the press that at a point in time Neville Gafà, envoy of the Prime Minister had accompanied the Maltese Colonel in charge of AFM Operations at high level meetings in Libya to stem immigration. Photographs and names were published.

Apparently this is no longer effective as we now have to face serious allegations of AFM personnel sabotaging rubber boats carrying asylum seekers in Maltese waters. It is being alleged that the crew of patrol boat P52 cut the cable of the motor driving the rubber boat carrying the asylum seekers leaving them adrift in the Maltese search and rescue area. Hats off to NGO Repubblika for filing criminal complaints. I would have expected the Commander of the Armed Forces to initiate an investigation himself without the need for any prompting, as soon as the allegations surfaced.

The recent proposal of Minister Bartolo for the EU to engage with Libya in order to lessen its humanitarian burden and enable the international community to provide much-needed assistance to both refugees and the Libyan people is positive. It is however to be underlined that this is already being done notwithstanding the difficult circumstances within Libya itself.

The EU has in fact disbursed around €50 million in humanitarian aid utilised in Libya since 2014.

Unfortunately there is no will among EU governments for an EU solution even though the four largest EU countries (Germany, France, Spain and Italy), a couple of days ago, have taken steps to push the migration issue back onto the EU agenda.

Everyone recognises that the situation is very difficult. Everyone must however shoulder their responsibilities.

The Maltese government should change tack and instead of constantly seeking ways to wriggle out of its responsibilities actively develop a close collaboration with those NGOs who have volunteered to deploy their own rescue missions to save lives, thereby filling in the gaps left by the EU states. Aping Italian right-wing leader Matteo Salvini in criminalising NGOs only serves to further encourage pseudo-patriotic vitriol.

It is about time that the Maltese Government recognises that solidarity is not an option but a duty.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday 19 April 2020

Coronavirus: predictions and precautions

The declaration by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, earlier this week, on the possibility that between 60 and 70 per cent of the German population could eventually be infected by the Coronavirus may have shocked quite a few. That could amount to close to 38 million infected persons in Germany alone and possibly a substantial number of deaths.

I understand that Angela Merkel’s projections are a worst case scenario. This would be catastrophic, were it to ever happen. It is for this very reason that health planners in Malta have advised government, which correctly agreed, to combat the virus by playing for time and focusing on slowing its spread as much as possible, thereby reducing its overall impact on Malta and its residents. As a result of this strategy it is unlikely that there will be a large number of infected persons at any one time, thereby giving sufficient time to the health service to nurse those infected back to their normal health. On the other hand, there is a real danger that if this is not achieved the national health service will break down under the resulting strain with the number of deaths spiralling out of control. Hence the need to follow the directions given by the health authorities.

In order that the combat against Coronavirus be successful everyone has an important role to play to obstruct its spreading. At times it will be very inconvenient, but it has to be done. In the absence of a known cure, so far, slowing down the spread of Coronavirus is the only way of ensuring that the numbers infected as well as its impacts are reduced. All of us have to bear part of the brunt. If successful, this will, in the long term save lives. It will also reduce the suffering of those who are most vulnerable through shielding them and consequently reducing their risk of exposure.

The suspension of air and sea traffic to Italy, France, Spain, Germany and Switzerland together with compulsory quarantine procedures for all those returning to Malta from affected areas and localities are aimed at containing and preventing the spreading of the Coronavirus. A deep sense of responsibility is essential if the measures in hand are to be effective. In this respect it is shocking to learn, from electronic comments posted by an emergency doctor that some patients were not forthright when replying to questions on their travel history and consequently on identifying their exposure to the risk of being infected. This, it is understood, was being done in order to try and avoid precautionary compulsory quarantine procedures.

At the time of writing 12 cases have been identified and tested positive. What is very worrying is that it was reported that two of the persons identified as being infected did not self-quarantine. They went to their workplace before their attention was drawn on the need to take some sensible action!

Quarantine procedures are an essential tool which the health authorities must use in order to be in a position to arrest the spread of the virus and consequently to save lives as well as to reduce the suffering of all, but primarily of those most vulnerable amongst us.

The elderly and the sick, in particular those subject to a chronic asthma condition – approximately numbering 30,000 in Malta – need effective solidarity which can only be put into effect through the responsible behaviour of all of us. Acting responsibly by following the instructions issued by the health authorities will save lives. Each case of avoidance of quarantine, whenever this is required, will encourage the spread of the virus and consequently may lead to the death of some of the most vulnerable amongst us.

If we follow to the letter the instructions issued, we may avoid more restrictive actions in the coming days.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 March 2020

Gozo tunnel nightmares

Minister Ian Borg informed us, earlier this week, that he seeks to turn into reality a Gozitan “long-held dream” by starting the process for a Malta-Gozo tunnel below the seabed. After debating the matter for years, it is clear that rather more than dreams, Ian Borg should prepare himself for a nightmare.

Geological studies have now been carried out and the results therof are being treated as some state secret. Three years ago, geologist Peter Gatt had drawn attention to the fact that the Enemalta tunnel between the Marsa power station and Delimara had a cost overrun of 100 per cent as a result of rock collapse along several points of the tunnel. This had occurred due to inadequate geological information fed into the design process. If the same were to happen during the Malta-Gozo tunnel works, a series of disasters, including possibly loss of life, would be inevitable.

It is a known fact that the Gozo channel is full of geological faults. It is pertinent to note that two of the tunnel options put forward by Transport Malta advisors Mott MacDonald pass through an active fault in the Gozo channel.

Taking borehole samples and examining them in a laboratory over a few weeks certainly increases our knowledge of the geology of the area but it is nowhere near the sufficient knowledge on the basis of which one can conclude the design parameters of the project. Suffice it to point out that notwithstanding the detailed geological studies spanning over many years and underpinning planning for the Channel Tunnel linking Folkestone in Kent and Coquelles near Calais, the drilling of the tunnel had to be deviated at certain points because of unpredicted geological formations.

Serious studies take years to conclude: they cannot be rushed to meet a deadline set by a political agenda.

Feasibility studies have been carried out some time ago, long before the geological studies were even taken in hand. Three years ago, the Gozo Business Chamber in conjunction with Transport Malta commissioned a study entitled Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options. In the study, which was carried out by E-Cubed Consultants, it was argued that the average annual daily traffic (AADT) between the islands is projected to increase from 3000 to 9000 vehicle movements over a 15-year period.

This feasibility study makes assumptions which run counter to the National Transport Master Plan objective of reducing cars from our roads.

Basically, the proposed tunnel requires a critical mass of vehicular movements which would be subject to the payment of a toll and hence contribute to the recovery of the capital outlay, maintenance costs and profits. This runs counter to current Maltese Transport policy, which (at least on paper) aims to reduce the use of private cars from our roads.

This is an issue which would undoubtedly be examined by the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the proposed Tunnel which study is currently in its initial stages after the Environment and Resources Authority recently approved the terms of reference of such a study. The EIA is an essential stage of the assessment of the project.

It was therefore irresponsible for the Minister of Transport, earlier this week, to announce that within six months an international call for tenders would be issued relative to the Malta-Gozo undersea Tunnel. Does this mean that the government considers the EIA irrelevant? This, in my opinion is the clear message being conveyed.

It is the worst form of bad governance as it undermines the efforts of the established authorities in carrying out their responsibilities. With this in mind, I have written to the Ombudsman and asked him to investigate this breach of good governance. Government should have the patience of awaiting the outcome of the EIA before taking any further decisions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 16 December 2018

L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar tinkoraġixxi l-ispekulazzjoni tal-art

L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar qed toħroġ il-permessi ta’ żvilupp għall-pompi tal-petrol u d-dijsil ħierġin bħall-pastizzi.

Xi xhur ilu, f’diskors li għamel il-Prim Ministru kien qal li l-Gvern immexxi minnu jaqbel li karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-dijsil għandhom jispiċċaw mit-toroq Maltin. Nhar l-10 ta’ Settembru 2017 Joseph Muscat kien ħabbar li l-Gvern kien fi ħsiebu li “dal-waqt” jagħti bidu għal konsultazzjoni pubblika biex ikun stabilit meta u kif għandha tkun implimentata din il-politika li bħala riżultat tagħha jkunu jistgħu jinxtraw biss karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku jew karozzi simili.

Għaddew seba’ xhur u għadna qed nistennew li jibda dan il-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika. Sadanittant, aħna u nistennew, l-ispekulaturi tal-art, bl-għajnuna tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għaddejjin xalata: jippjanaw kif jirrovinaw iktar raba’, 3000 metru kwadru kull darba, u dan biex jibnu pompi li ftit ieħor mhux ser ikollna bżonn. Imbagħad x’nagħmlu bl-art li tkun diġa ġiet rovinata?

Alternattiva Demokratika taqbel li m’għandniex ħtieġa ta’ karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-dijsil fit-toroq tagħna. Fil-fatt kienet Alternattiva Demokratika, bil-ħsieb li tintlaħaq il-mira strateġika ta’ Karbonju Żero fil-gżejjer Maltin li fil-Manifest Elettorali ta’ l-aħħar elezzjoni ġenerali poġġiet quddiem l-elettorat din il-proposta speċifika: li fi żmien 20 sena, ċjoe sal-2037, għandhom jispiċċaw il-karozzi kollha li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-dijsil mit-toroq Maltin. Alternattiva Demokratika kienet l-uniku partit politiku f’Malta li kien ċar fuq dan f’Malta sa minn qabel l-elezzjoni ġenerali.

Id-dikjarazzjoni tal-Prim Ministru tal-10 ta’ Settembru 2017 kellha twassal għall-konklużjoni loġika li m’għandniex bżonn ta’ iktar pompi tal-petrol u d-dijsil. Kien ikun floku kieku tħabbar moratorju immedjat. Fil-fatt messna qegħdin ngħoddu l-ġranet li neħilsu darba għal dejjem mill-karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-dijsil. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan messu hu ovvju li fil-futur qarib m’hu ser ikollna bżonn l-ebda pompa tal-petrol jew dijsil: dawn għandhom jonqsu mit-80 li għandna illum sa xejn u dan meta tkun implimentata b’mod sħiħ il-politika mħabbra mill-Prim Ministru u li dwarha ilna 7 xhur nistennew il-konsultazzjoni pubblika.

M’għandniex bżonn ta’ pompi ġodda: imma għandna bżonn li jagħlqu l-pompi li ġja hawn mingħajr ma jinħolqu oħrajn flokhom. L-20 sena proposti minn Alternattiva Demokratika fil-manifest elettorali tal-2017 biex jispiċċaw mit-toroq Maltin karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-dijsil kienu meqjusa raġjonevoli, suffiċjenti u fl-istess direzzjoni ta’ deċiżjonijiet politiċi simili li ittieħdu minn pajjiżi oħra. Dan hu żmien biżżejjed biex tkun żviluppata l-infrastruttura nazzjonali meħtieġa għall-karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku. Hu ukoll biżżejjed biex dawk li għandhom dawn it-tip ta’ karozzi jibdew jidraw ftit l-iżvilupp ta’ din ir-realtá ġdida bla petrol jew dijsil.

Bosta pajjiżi oħra diġa ddeċidew, inkella qegħdin fil-proċess li jiddeċiedu li fit-toroq tagħhom ma jkollhomx iktar karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-dijsil. Dawn jinkludu in-Norveġja u l-Olanda (it-tnejn sal-2025), il-Ġermanja (sal-2030), Franza, r-Renju l–Indja u ċ-Ċina (lkoll sal-2040). Ma jdumx ma jkun hemm oħrajn ukoll.
L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar qegħda tkompli tinjora dan l-iżvilupp importanti fil-politika tal-pajjiż billi tibqa’ għaddejja bl-applikazzjoni tal-politika imsejħa 2015 Fuel Service Stations Policy b’mod robotiku. Din il-politika dwar il-pompi tal-petrol u d-dijsil tippermetti qies massimu permissibli ta’ 3000 metru kwadru imma l-Awtoritá qatt ma qieset li kien neċessarju li tordna tnaqqis fil-qies tal-proposti li kellha quddiema. Għax kollha kellhom il-qies massimu ta’ 3000 metru kwadru. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar flok għal pompi qed toħroġ permessi għal żoni massiċċi kummerċjali barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.

Din hi l-agħar forma ta’ spekulazzjoni tal-art u f’dan il-kaz it-tort hu unikament tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar. L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar hi ta’ theddida għall-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. Dan hu l-punt li għamlu ż-żgħażagħ mill-Moviment Graffiti u l-Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent meta nhar il-Ħamis ipprotestaw u ħarbtu laqgħa tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar waqt li dan kien qiegħed jikkunsidra applikazzjoni għall-pompa ġdida tal-petrol u d-dijsil f’Ħal-Luqa.

Għandna Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar li hi ala bieba mill-ambjent u mill-kwalitá tal-ħajja. Bil-provi.



The Planning Authority encourages land speculation

Development permits for fuel stations are being approved left, right and centre by the Planning Authority.

Some months ago,  in a speech made in public, the Prime Minister said that the Government agrees that use of petrol and diesel cars should be phased out and that, in future, all cars should be electric. On the 10 September 2017, Joseph Muscat announced that government would “shortly” be launching a consultation on “setting a cut-off date beyond which all new car purchases would have to be electric or similar vehicles.”

Seven months have elapsed, and we are still waiting for the consultation exercise to be launched. And while we wait, land speculators (with the Planning Authority’s assistance) are in festive mood, plotting the ruin of 3000 square metres at a time to develop fuel stations that we will shortly not need any more. And what will be done with the spoiled land then?

Alternattiva Demokratika agrees with the proposal to establish a cut-off date for cars that run on petrol and diesel. Indeed in its manifesto at the last general election,  with a strategic zero carbon future for the Maltese Islands in mind, it put forward this specific proposal to the electorate: that internal combustion engine cars should be off our roads in 20 years time, that is by 2037. Alternattiva Demokratika was the only political party in Malta that took this clear stand before the general election.

In view of the Prime Minister’s declaration of the 10 September 2017, the logical conclusion is that new fuel stations are not required. An immediate moratorium would be in order and, in fact, we should be on the eve of the start of a countdown that would rid us of cars that run on petrol or diesel. Consequently, there will be no need for fuel stations in the not too distant future: reducing from the current 80 to none, when the phase-out – which is still subject to public consultation – is fully implemented.

We do not need new fuel stations: what we need is that existing fuel stations are closed down without their being replaced. The 20-year time-frame proposed by Alternattiva Demokratika in its 2017 electoral manifesto was considered to be reasonable, sufficient and in line with similar policy decisions taken in other countries. This time-frame was deemed sufficient to develop the required national infrastructure for electric-powered cars. It was also deemed to be a reasonable length of time to permit those who own vehicles running on internal combustion engines to adjust to the development of a new reality without petrol or diesel.

Various other countries have decided on – or are considering – the elimination of internal combustion engine driven vehicles from their roads. These include Norway and the Netherlands (both by 2025), Germany (by 2030), France, the United Kingdom, India and China (all by 2040). Others will soon follow.

The Planning Authority continues to ignore this policy development by applying the 2015 Fuel Service Stations Policy robotically. This policy establishes a maximum permissible size of 3000 square metres but the Authority did not consider it appropriate to scale down any of the proposals submitted for its consideration as all the approved stations cover the maximum size possible. As a result, the Planning Authority is churning out permits for massive commercial areas outside the development zone.

This is land speculation at its worst and the Planning Authority has no one to blame but itself and is a threat to future generations. This is the point made by the protestors from Graffiti and Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent last Thursday, when they stormed a Planning Authority Board meeting considering a development application for a new fuel station at Luqa.

We have a Planning Authority which doesn’t give two hoots about the environment and our quality of life.


Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 April 2018