Reforming a two-party Parliament

Malta’s electoral system has, over the years, been transformed into a duopoly. Discrimination is inbuilt into electoral legislation in order to effectively ensure that Parliament remains a two-party affair. It is discrimination by design. It is not accidental but specifically intended.

Our electoral system (STV: Single Transferable Vote) started off being applied in 1921 as one focused on the individual candidate, generally ignoring the political parties. Over the years a number of important changes shifted the focus of the STV from the individual candidate to the political party.

The first such change was carried out prior to the 1976 general elections: the electoral ballot paper was then redesigned such that same party candidates started being grouped together with a colour code identifying the different political parties. This was a radical change as up to that point, for over fifty years, all candidates in an electoral district were listed alphabetically. Up till that point it was a common occurrence for votes to switch from one party to the other in successive counts as the semi-literate voter, would not always distinguish between one party candidate and the candidates from other parties. As a result, many a parliamentary seat was lost or switched allegiance over the years.

The second change took place in 1987 and was fine-tuned in subsequent years. It started off as a reaction to the impact of jerrymandering of electoral districts, specifically the 1981 general election result. Originally it was designed as a constitutional guarantee for majority rule, ensuring that whichever political party surpassed the 50 per cent vote count it would be guaranteed a majority of parliamentary seats. Subsequently it was developed into a formula for ensuring proportionality between first count votes and parliamentary seats. There is however an important condition attached: this is only applicable if just two political parties make it to parliament. The moment that a third one gains just one seat, no proportionality is guaranteed, except in one specific instant: when a political party obtains in excess of the 50 per cent mark it is still guaranteed a majority of Parliamentary seats. Our Constitution expects that the rest have to lump it.

The third change is in the pipeline. It involves an additional adjustment: a gender balance mechanism. A maximum of twelve parliamentary seats will be added to the total to represent the under-represented gender! Yes, you have guessed: they will be split equally between the duopoly. In addition, the seats will not be available for distribution the moment a third political party makes it into parliament.

Let me be very clear. Proportionality between votes cast and parliamentary seats won is essential. Likewise, it is essential to address the gender imbalance in our parliament. However, both adjustments can be done fairly, without any discrimination, and importantly without increasing the size of Parliament astronomically as will inevitably happen at the next general election if only two political parties make it to Parliament. In fact, it is perfectly possible not to have any increase in size of Parliament at all if the appropriate changes are carried out!

Over the years the political party which I lead has made several proposals on these matters. The latest proposal was made in the context of the public consultation on addressing gender imbalance in Parliament. Even then we emphasised that tinkering with the electoral system and adding top-ups would not solve anything. A complete overhaul of the system is required. Instead, the “gender balance reform” ended up advocating “as little as possible disruption of the electoral system”. Government and Opposition agreed to reinforce the existing discrimination in our electoral system.

Unfortunately, our proposals have been ignored once more and we have no choice but to resort to our Courts to address a blatantly discriminatory electoral system imposed on us by Labour and Nationalist Members of Parliament. On such matters they always agree.

In such circumstances fragmentation of the political spectrum is the worst possible option for those who want to emphasise a specific point. Those who end up playing the “independent” are pawns of the duopoly, unwittingly reinforcing the two-party system. They end up siphoning votes and thereby deliberately weakening a potential third voice which can make it to Parliament. The merger between AD and PD in the past months is the appropriate antidote in such circumstances.

Instead of focusing on minor differences it would be appropriate if all of us give more weight to the overall picture. It is an uphill struggle, but we should not be deterred!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday 30 May 2021

Ma’ Reno Bugeja: lil hinn mill-bebbux

Reno ġurnalista b’esperjenza li għandi kull rispett lejh. Ikun ippreparat sewwa biex ikun jista’ jindirizza l-argument quddiemu.

L-intervista kienet iffukata fuq l-ADPD u l-futur tiegħu. X’inhi r-raġuni għall-fatt li minkejja dawn is-snin kollha għadna partit żgħir?

Tul l-intervista Reno, b’sengħa, kontinwament ipprovokani biex joħroġ l-argumenti u l-ispjegazzjonijiet tiegħi.

Il-ħin ma taraħx għaddej għax l-argumenti jintiżġu flimkien b’ħeffa kbira b’mod li sat-tmiem jidher quddiemek mużajk ta’ argumenti li jagħti stampa ċara.

Id-diffikultajiet li niffaċċjaw huma essenzjalment tnejn.

L-ewwel hemm sistema elettorali li tul is-snin fittxet dejjem li tikkonsolida l-ħakma ta’ żewġ partiti fuq il-pajjiż u l-istituzzjonijiet tiegħu.

It-tieni hemm il-frammentazzjoni. Dawk li jaħsbuha bħalna huma mifruxa. Tul is-snin dejjem kien hemm diffikulta biex ninġabru flimkien. L-għaqda bejn l-Alternattiva Demokratika u l-Partit Demokratiku f’dan is-sens kien pass kbir il-quddiem. Ovvjament hemm ħafna iktar xi jsir biex l-ilħna progressivi jinġabru flimkien.

L-intervista serviet biex nispjega ukoll il-kuntrast politiku tagħna ma dak tal-partiti l-oħra.

Tkellimt ftit dwar l-ambjent. Emfasizzajt li l-ambjent għalina jmur lil hinn mill-apprezzament tal-bebbux, id-dud u l-fjuri. L-apprezzament u l-ħarsien tal-ekoloġija huwa importanti ħafna f’ħidmietna. Imma l-ħarsien tal-ambjent ifisser ukoll il-ħarsien u t-titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja, tagħna u tal-ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ warajna.

Tkellimna fit-tul, madwar 40 minuta.

Issibu l-ħsibijiet dwar kif il-pajjiż qed isir dipendenti fuq l-evażjoni tat-taxxa. Nafferma għal darba oħra li l-iskema tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza mhiex aċċettabbli għalina. Hi prostituzzjoni tal-pajjiż.

Hemm ukoll kummenti dwar l-abort u kif dan fil-prattika diġa qed isir fl-isptar Mater Dei.

Il-ħidma politika tagħna tkompli. Pass pass nimxu l-quddiem.

Dynamics of the AD/PD merger: one step at a time

by Carmel Cacopardo & Timothy Alden


The merger between Alternattiva Demokratika (AD) and the Democratic Party (PD) is on. It has been developing gradually over the past weeks and, Covid-permitting, it will be formalised at the end of September. The discussions leading to the merger have been in hand for some time, inevitably slowing down as a result of Covid-19. They are now practically concluded.

The first practical step in the merger process was taken some months ago as a result of which AD and PD have made an effort to speak with one voice, whenever this was possible. Now that the discussions are practically concluded, a joint meeting of the Executive Committees of AD and PD was held yesterday Saturday 1 August.

Ironically both AD and PD have developed around former dissenting Labour Party Members of Parliament, at different times and in different circumstances. Yet they have, over the years, attracted support from both sides of the political divide. The ecology, good governance and the never-ending political struggle against corruption are core issues of both AD and PD.

Both AD and PD have, over the years, developed into separate and distinct parties: they will now merge into one, continuously cognisant of their roots. The merger will start as the summation of two distinct parties which will be slowly moulded into one.

We need a strong third voice in Parliament: the merger is a step in this direction. It is a step forward in reducing the existing fragmentation and as a result it will enable the better use of the available human resources.

AD and PD have developed on the basis of dissent: a determination to address important issues which others conveniently try to ignore. Over the years it has been AD and subsequently PD who have been at the forefront of the struggle for a better environment, good governance, transparency and accountability. Others have at times sought to parrot the political positions taken by AD and PD. Their political baggage, however, betrays their lack of political commitment: there is a stark contrast between their actions and their words.

The merger is not a time to sing our praises. It is rather a time to take stock of our strong points as well as our weaknesses. It is time to build bridges without in any way compromising our beliefs.

Encouraging the political debate is crucial to our political development. This is also in the country’s interest. Nurturing a constructive debate within our political parties is of fundamental importance. Silencing internal debate, as has been recently done by the PN relative to its youths, is a negation of the future. It is through analysis and debate that we identify our faults and the potential for improvement. It is thus suicidal to censor those who have the commitment and the courage to speak their minds. We mould the future by inspiring and encouraging active participation of all youths and not by subjecting them to disciplinary action when they dare speak up.

The road ahead is not a walk in the park. It is as tough as that covered by our predecessors. It is however as challenging as ever. The merger between AD and PD will build on the achievements to date to create a more efficient vehicle for the third voice of Maltese politics.

Our doors are open not just to those who are disillusioned by the prevailing duopoly. We can only be an instrument for improvement if we involve ourselves in moulding the future. This is our challenge.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 2 August 2020

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

L-għarbiel hu meħtieġ



Id-dibattitu ambjentali fil-pajjiż qed irabbi l-għeruq. Iktar nies huma konxji ta’ dak li qiegħed  jiġri. Peró dan mhux rifless biżżejjed fil-mod kif in-nies iġġib ruħha. F’dan is-sens għadna ftit lura. Imma, wara kollox, dan huwa proċess li jieħu żmien mhux żgħir biex minn għarfien aħjar ngħaddu għall-impenn.

Waħda mid-diffikultajiet li rridu niffaċċjaw kuljum hi l-frammentazzjoni tas-settur pubbliku b’mod li r-riżorsi li għandu, l-pajjiż ma jagħmilx użu tajjeb biżżejjed tagħhom, għax dawn huma mifruxa żżejjed. Il-qasma tal-MEPA f’żewġ awtoritajiet jiena nħares lejha f’dan is-sens.

Il-MEPA ma kienitx qed taħdem tajjeb, imma li taqsamha f’żewġ biċċiet, qatt ma kienet soluzzjoni, għax kull waħda miż-żewġ biċċiet qatt mhu se tkun b’saħħitha biżżejjed, l-anqas fil-qasam tagħha.

Il-MEPA ma kienitx b’saħħitha biżżejjed minħabba li fil-ħidma tagħha tul is-snin, qatt ma poġġiet l-interess tal-komunità sħiħa fiċ-ċentru tal-ħidma tagħha. Dejjem iffukat fuq l-iżvilupp tal-art u assigurat li l-bqija ta’ ħidmieta ma jtellifx dan l-iskop primarju. Meta fl-2002 l-ambjent ingħaqad mal-iżvilupp tal-art f’awtorità waħda kien hemm opportunità tad-deheb, li sfortunatament ma ġietx użata sewwa.

F’pajjiż żgħir bħal tagħna, l-eżistenza ta’ awtorità waħda għall-ambjent u l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art kienet opportunità unika biex il-ħidma ambjentali tkun iffukata u effettiva. (Il-ħidma ambjentali tinkludi l-ippjanar għall-użu ta’ l-art.) Minflok, din l-opportunità intużat ħażin. Kien hemm il-possibilità ta’ sinerġija, imma din ġiet skartata. Minflok, ġie assigurat li d-Direttorat tal-Ambjent jibqa’ bla riżorsi umani u tekniċi inkluż bla direttur għal diversi snin, kif għadu sal-lum li qed nikteb. Kif kien, bla snien u bla idejn, id-Direttorat tal-Ambjent ftit seta jkun effettiv.

Fil-bidu ta’ din il-ġimgħa ġiet konkluża d-diskussjoni fil-Parlament biex il-MEPA tinqasam mill-ġdid f’żewġ awtoritajiet: awtorità għall-ambjent u oħra għall-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art. Il-liġijiet li tressqu f’ħafna aspetti huma identiċi għal-liġi l-qadima, bid-difetti b’kollox.

Kull waħda miż-żewġ liġijiet ewlenin ippreżentati, fiha lista ta’ prinċipji li qegħdin hemm biex iservu ta’ gwida għall-Gvern, u anke għall-awtoritajiet il-ġodda infushom, dwar il-mod kif għandhom jaġixxu. Imma, sfortunatament dawn tħallew biss bħala prinċipji fuq il-karta għax mhuwiex possibli li ċittadin ordinarju inkella għaqda ambjentali tmur il-Qorti bl-insistenza li dak li l-Parlament approva fil-prinċipju jitwettaq. Din mhix xi ħaġa ġdida, għax dan id-difett fil-liġijiet ġie ikkupjat mil-liġi l-qadima li fis-sustanza tgħid l-istess affarijiet.

Bid-difetti kollha tal-liġijiet, dawn jitħaddmu, tajjeb jew ħażin, skond x’tip ta’ persuni jinħatru biex imexxuhom. Kellna, u għad għandna, kemm persuni kapaċi kif ukoll persuni li mhumiex kapaċi biex imexxu dawn it-tip ta’ awtoritiajiet. Kultant, xi persuni kapaċi ddakkru mill-bqija.

Qatt mhu tajjeb li l-Gvern jiddeċiedi waħdu dwar il-persuni li għandhom ikunu fdati bit-tmexxija ta’ dawn l-awtoritajiet. Il-prattika fl-Unjoni Ewropeja u anke fl-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika hi li l-persuni li jinħatru jkunu mgħarbla fil-pubbliku minn kumitati tal-Parlament. Il-proċess fl-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika huwa ħafna iktar rigoruż minn dak fl-Unjoni Ewropeja. Hemmhekk anke l-imħallfin prospettivi jgħarblu u mhux l-ewwel darba li kien hemm persuni nominati li ma kisbux l-approvazzjoni biex jinħatru.

Dan ifisser li wara li l-Gvern jinnomina lill-persuni li għandhom imexxu dawn jidhru quddiem kumitat parlamentari li jistaqsihom diversi mistoqsijiet, u jiddibatti magħhom il-fehmiet u l-esperjenzi tagħhom relatati mall-oqsma differenti ta’ ħidma tal-awtorità li jkunu ġew nominati biex imexxu. Dan isir biex ikun stabilit jekk humiex kompetenti biex imexxu.

Hi sistema li meta tkun addottata għandha isservi ta’ xprun fuq il-Gvern tal-ġurnata biex joqgħod iktar attent dwar il-persuni maħtura, għax id-difetti jew in-nuqqasijiet tagħhom b’dan il-mod hemm ċans tajjeb illi jiġu esposti immedjatament.

Din il-proposta saret kemm fil-manifest elettorali tal-Alternattiva Demokratika kif ukoll fil-manifest elettorali tal-Partit Laburista. Fil-Parlament f’dawn il-ġranet, ġew ippreżentati proposti f’dan is-sens kemm minn Marlene Farrugia f’isem Alternattiva Demokratika kif ukoll minn esponenti tal-Partit Nazzjonalista.

Minkejja li kien hemm l-opportunità ta’ kunsens dwar dawn il-proposti, il-Gvern sfortunatament għażel li jirreżisti dak li kien ikun ċertament pass kbir il-quddiem fil-kontabilità tat-tmexxija tal-awtoritajiet.

Kien biss nhar il-Ġimgħa 4 ta’ Diċembru, li waqt id-diskussjoni pubblika organizzata mill-Kummissjoni Ambjent tal-Knisja li l-Prim Ministru iddikjara illi l-Partit Laburista ma abbandunax l-idea imma li għadu qed jiżviluppa qafas li jkun japplika għal firxa wiesa’ ta’ awtoritajiet. Filwaqt li dan hu tajjeb jibqa’ l-fatt li intilfet opportunità unika fid-dibattitu parlamentari li tiġi introdotta s-sistema tal-għarbiel bi prova fil-qasam li hi l-iktar meħtieġa, dak ambjentali.

Għax wara koIlox huma dawk afdati bit-tmexxija li jistgħu jagħmlu d-differenza, anke jekk il-liġijiet jibqgħu difettużi. Għalhekk il-ħtieġa li ngħarblu aħjar il-ħatriet li jsiru, illum qabel għada. Hu b’hekk li l-għarfien aħjar tal-obbligi ambjentali tagħna nistgħu nittrasformawhom f’awtoritajiet impenjati bis-serjeta biex jagħmlu dmirhom.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il- Ħadd 13 ta’ Diċembru 2015

Sustainable development goals : beyond rhetoric



In the past few months, considerable work has been carried out by the United Nations to produce a document on sustainable development goals and earlier this week it was announced that a consensus has been achieved over this document that lists 17 goals and 169 specific targets.

The final document, which is now ready for adoption, is brief but wide-ranging. It is entitled Transforming our world: The 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

Taking into account the different national realities, the 17 identified goals cover  a wide range of issues (vide box) that form the global sustainable development agenda for the next 15 years. They aim to eradicate poverty, promote prosperity and increase environmental protection – constant objectives of the international community, that are continuously aimed for but so far not achieved.

The renewed commitment to achieve these goals is welcome. However, both the goals and the specific objectives will have to take account of different national realities and capacities, while respecting national policies and priorities.

Although the document has been described as a historic achievement, in practice it is nothing of the sort. We have been there before. For the past 40 years, commitments have been made at one global meeting after another, only for the world community to come back years later with a slightly different document.

In Malta, the politics of sustainable development is generally cosmetic in nature: full of rhetoric but relatively void when it comes to substance.

Sustainable development should be primarily concerned with having a long-term view which spans generations. It seeks an inter-generational commitment, with the present generation committing  itself to ensure that future generations have sufficient elbow room to take their own decisions. Even if we limit ourselves to this basic objective of sustainable development, it is clear that such a commitment is nowhere in sight in Maltese politics.

Sifting through the rhetoric, a clear gap is very visible. Rather than being developed over the years, the rudimentary sustainable development infrastructure has been dismantled. The National Commission for Sustainable Development, through which civil society actively participated in the formulation of a National Strategy for Sustainable Development, was dismantled by the previous administration.

If the politics of sustainable development is to be of any significance, it has to be evident at the roots of society and the sustainable development strategy itelf has to be owned by civil society. In Malta, a completely different path is followed. The sustainable development strategy is owned by the state and not by civil society. Hence it is largely irrelevant and practically insignificant.

The net result of the developments in recent years has transformed sustainable development politics in Malta into another bureaucratic process, with government appointees pushing pen against paper, producing reports and no visible improvement.

There is no political will to implement a sustainable development strategy, as this runs diametrically opposite to the political decisions of the current administration, which seeks to intensify the complete domination of Malta’s natural heritage by economic forces, plundered for short term gain.

The fragmentation of environmental governance is the latest building block of this strategy which is clearly evident behind the rhetorical facade.

This is not the future we want nor the future we deserve and it is not the transformation that Malta requires.

Next September, Malta will join the community of nations at New York in approving a document which it has no intention of implementing. Behind that rhetorical facade, the farce continues.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 9 August 2015

Il-qasma tal-MEPA

MEPA cartoon cartoon by Steve Bonello


Il-Gvern għadu kif ippubblika numru ta’ abbozzi ta’ liġijiet konnessi mal-proposta biex il-MEPA tinqasam f’biċtejn. Hemm erba’ abbozzi ta’ liġi (mhux tlieta kif qed jgħidu) li ġew ippubblikati.

Abbozz minnhom hu dwar awtorità għall-ippjanar, ieħor hu abbozz dwar awtorità tal-ambjent (u r-riżorsi), ieħor dwar proċeduri ta’ appell minn deċiżjonijiet ta’ dawn iż-żewġ awtoritajiet u r-raba’ abbozz hu dwar it-twaqqif ta’ regolatur għall-ilma u l-elettriku (funzjoni li s-issa kienet responsabbiltà tal-awtorità dwar ir-Riżorsi).

Dawn l-abbozzi flimkien jgħoddu ħames mija u erba’ paġni. Mill-ftit li lħaqt qrajt, il-parti l-kbira ta’ dawn l-abbozzi hu eżerċizzju ta’ cut and paste, jiġifieri, b’mod ġenerali jirriproduċu l-liġijiet eżistenti imma f’kuntest regolatorju differenti. Bla dubju hemm ukoll xi tibdil li nkun naf bih (u l-konsegwenzi tiegħu) meta naqra dawn il-504 paġni waħda waħda.   Il-kummenti fuq id-dettalji għaldaqstant inħallihom għal iktar tard, jekk ikun il-każ. Għal-lum għaldaqstant ser nillimta ruħi għal kummenti ta’ natura ġenerali.

Din il-proposta tal-Gvern (jiġifieri li l-MEPA tinqasam) hi imniżżla bl-iswed fuq l-abjad fil-manifest elettorali tal-Partit Laburista għall-elezzjoni li għaddiet. B’daqshekk, iżda, ma jfissirx li għax kienet inkluża fil-manifest elettorali hi xi proposta tajba. Ikkritikajtha qabel l-elezzjoni għax fil-fehma tiegħi kienet proposta ħażina. Wara sentejn, għadha ħażina kif kienet sentejn ilu.

Il-proposta hi waħda li ġġib il-quddiem sistema ta’ tmexxija ħażina għax tinkoraġixxi l-frammentazzjoni: jiġifieri taqsam f’biċċiet dak li jkun aħjar kieku jibqa’ sħiħ. L-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art hu funzjoni ambjentali. Ikun tajjeb li jibqa’ fl-istess awtorità. Bid-differenza li flok  mal-ambjent ikun dominat mill-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art (kif b’mod malizzjuż sar fl-2002 meta saret l-għaqda) hemm bżonn eżattament bil-maqlub: li l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art ikun ikkontrollat u immexxi mill-funzjoni ambjentali, kif għandu jkun.  Forsi fl-aħħar tibda tonqos il-ħsara li saret. Għax li hemm bżonn m’huwiex “bilanċ” artifiċjali iżda li nirrealizzaw li hemm bżonn li f’dak kollu li nagħmlu nirrispettaw l-eko-sistema li minnha niffurmaw parti. Dejjem u bla eċċezzjoni, u mhux biss meta jidher li jaqbel.

Il-problemi l-kbar li għandha l-MEPA illum mhux ser jissolvew bil-qasma bejn l-ippjanar u l-ambjent. Għax il-problemi mhux l-istrutturi (awtorità waħda jew tnejn) iżda n-nuqqas ta’ volontà politika li jkun hawn tmexxija ambjentali serja. (Id-dilettantiżmu fil-każ taż-Żonqor hu eżempju ċar dwar dan.) F’pajjiż żgħir bħal tagħna ma jagħmilx sens li nimmultiplikaw l-awtoritajiet. Dawn ifissru mhux biss iktar spejjeż iżda ukoll ħtieġa ta’ iktar impjegati imħarrġin f’oqsma li m’għandniex.

Il-MEPA għandha bżonn iktar riżorsi u inqas indħil. Għandha bżonn uffiċjali li jpoġġu l-interess pubbliku f’dak kollu li jagħmlu. Għax awtorità li tirregola, isimha magħha. Qegħda hemm biex tmexxi, mhux biex titmexxa. Xogħol il-Gvern hu li jagħti direzzjoni politika, mhux li jiddetta ukoll kif din id-direzzjoni tkun implimentata.  U l-gvern ma jiddettax billi jgħid lill-membri tal-bordijiet x’għandhom jew x’m’għandhomx jagħmlu. Ħafna drabi l-anqas biss m’hemm ħtieġa li jgħidilhom xejn. Għax ikun diġà qagħad attent ħafna meta ħatarhom.

Fl-aħħar kollox jiddependi minn dawk magħżula biex imexxu. Hawn hu l-qofol ta’ kollox. Jekk aħna kapaċi bħala pajjiż insibu mod kif nagħżlu l-aħjar nies, il-problemi jonqsu ħafna. L-anqas  ir-rapprezentanti tal-partiti politiċi m’hemm bżonnhom fuq il-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Minflok ma jaħtar Membri Parlamentari biex jieħdu sehem dirett fl-awtorità tal-ippjanar kien ikun ħafna aħjar kieku l-Parlament jagħmel xogħolu billi jissorvelja l-ħidma tal-awtoritajiet, kontinwament.

Fil-manifest elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika għall-elezzjoni tal-2013 dan hu kollu spjegat dettaljatament. Tista’ taqra hawn, dwar il-frammentazzjoni, dwar il-ħatriet u dwar il-rwol tal-Parlament li jissorvelja.

Dan hu it-tibdil vera li għandha bżonn il-MEPA fl-2015. L-uniku tibdil li hu meħtieġ.



More than fine-tuning is required



Going through the draft National En­vironment Policy (NEP) one immediately acknowledges that its im­plementation will take quite some time. A long journey always starts with a couple of short paces, the first of which being generally the most difficult. While this obviously depends on the level of commitment to the task ahead, the very fact that a decision to start the journey has been taken is of significance.

There are important issues which the draft NEP fails to tackle adequately. I will focus on two of them.

One can start with highlighting principles, the foundations of environmental policy. The Environment and Development Planning Act of 2010, consolidating previously existing legislation, in article 4 thereof defines the objectives of environment policy in terms of principles to be upheld: government action shall aim to protect the environment for the benefit of present and future generations in accordance with the principles of precaution and prevention as well as the rectification of environmental damage at source. The importance of the polluter pays principle as an environment policy tool is also emphasised. This is also underlined in article 192 of the consolidated EU treaties.

I expected the proposed NEP to define a policy direction as to how these principles are to be applied in Maltese environment policy. The draft NEP speaks at length on the polluter pays principle exclusively within the context of waste management policy completely ignoring its applicability in other areas. It makes indirect reference to the preventive principle and to the rectification of environmental damage at source. However, it makes very scant reference to the precautionary principle and limits this strictly to genetically modified organisms.

The precautionary principle is incorporated as Principle 15 in the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and was subsequently taken up by the EU and various other countries as a basic principle in environmental legislation. The Environment and Development Planning Act of 2010 defines the precautionary principle as “the principle whereby appropriate measures are taken to protect the environment and to ensure sustainable management of natural resources in the absence of absolute or conclusive scientific proof of the need for such measures”. Uncertainty about damage to our health or to the environment calls for policy in which precaution is the primary objective. The NEP is where this should be spelt out.

Other countries have produced detailed documents guiding both stakeholders and policymakers. An example being the report entitled Prudent Precaution, submitted in September 2008 to the Netherlands’ Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment by a panel of experts appointed by the Health Council of the Netherlands. As stated in the introduction to the said report the relevance of the precautionary principle is not restricted to the environment.

The draft NEP is silent and fails to define this essential policy direction. It is hoped that this failure will be rectified.

The draft NEP clearly indicates that the government is preoccupied with a lack of adequate environmental governance. The recognition of this fact is beneficial as the solution of any problem is dependent on recognising its existence.

It is clear that the fragmentation of environmental issues among the different ministries and authorities is not of benefit to environmental governance in Malta. While acknowledging that it would be impractical to have all areas (in particular those with the barest of overlaps with the environment) under one ministry or authority it does not make sense to have both Malta Resources Authority and the Malta Environment and Planning Authority with jurisdiction over fragmented water issues. Nor does the 2008 decision to hive off climate change from the environment to the resources portfolio make any particular sense in a local context. There will always be overlaps between the three pillars of sustainable development. In addition to water and climate change, in a small country it is much easier to coordinate closely related areas such as resources management and the environment. This would amalgamate the small numbers of trained personnel available.

With this in mind it would have been much better if environment protection and the environmental functions of the present MRA had been amalgamated within the Environment Ministry. It would have been of much more benefit than the current fusion of environment protection with land use planning.

Fragmentation is one of the causes of weak environmental governance in Malta. Yet the draft NEP only offers the solution of Cabinet committees. Cabinet committees have never solved anything. Rather they tend to be rubberstamps. The problems created by fragmentation have to be dealt with by bringing the related fragments back together in a permanent manner.

The adequate management of the environment requires a clear political direction and commitment to address administrative fragmentation. While the draft NEP is a courageous attempt it seems to require more than fine-tuning. Present and future generations demand it.

Published in The Times, September 24, 2011