The resignation of David Thake

The resignation of David Thake is a positive step.  It takes courage to admit to having acted incorrectly and shoulder the political responsibility for your actions. There are others who should follow in his footsteps. Parliament, as a result would be a much better place.

The fact that the tax misdemeanours of the companies owned by David Thake were revealed through media leaks does not make the case any less serious. It however adds another worrying dimension to the saga: institutional breach of ethics, this time by the tax authorities. The Minister for Finance Clyde Caruana is politically responsible for this. He has to act fast to address the matter.

Registered editors already have a right to request income tax returns of sitting MPs. This right should be extended to VAT returns, not only those submitted personally by sitting MPs but also by companies in which they have a controlling interest. This would do away with selective leaking of damaging tax information which generally targets those who those close to government seek to damage or destroy!

It has been established that the two companies owned by David Thake, namely Vanilla Telecoms Limited and Maltashopper Limited have collected Value Added Tax due on their services and retained the tax collected for a long period of time. His companies, stated David Thake, had a problem with their cash flow and thus they were not in a position to pay up the taxes they had collected.

Vanilla Telecoms Limited owes the exchequer €270,000 while Maltashopper Limited owes another €550,000. This is a substantial sum which has been collected from taxpayers through VAT and includes fines and interest due for non-payment.

There are serious doubts as to whether Thake’s claim that he was simply applying the Covid-19 tax deferral scheme is correct.

Given that most of the pending VAT dues of Thake’s companies date back to substantially before the outbreak of Covid-19 Thake has yet to explain as to why it took him so much time to address the cash flow problems of his companies. He has shed too many crocodile tears in emphasising that faced with cash flow problems he opted to pay his employees rather than the VAT office. His delay in acting to address his cash flow problems has the specific consequence of endangering the livelihood of the very employees, which he is so keen to protect!

It is not correct to describe David Thake as a tax evader. It is unfair to compare him to Bernard Grech, his party leader, who was investigated for tax evasion over the years and opted to pay up on the eve of the PN leadership contest.

In view of the fact that Thake’s companies have yet to submit their accounts it is not yet clear as to the actual cause of his cashflow problems.

The point at issue is whether it is right for David Thake to bankroll his companies through the taxes they have collected as economic operators. The fact that there are others who do likewise, and maybe worse, is no consolation!  He was a member of parliament elected on a good governance platform. The mismatch between his behaviour and his stated beliefs cannot be clearer than this.  This is no minor administrative omission as David Thake emphasised when he announced his resignation.

Its fine to preach good governance. Putting this into practice is a completely different matter. Thake’s resignation, even though he took some time to decide that he should resign, puts some sense back into local politics. Thake’s resignation is a positive contribution to improve standards. Ian Castaldi Paris and Rosianne Cutajar should be next.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 16 January 2022

Is-Sena it-Tajba

Nawgura s-Sena t-Tajba lil kulħadd.

Għal bosta mhux diffiċli li s-sena li ġejja tkun aħjar minn dik li ser tintemm fis-siegħat li ġejjin.

Kienet sena li iffaċċjajna diversi diffikultajiet, individwalment u bħala pajjiż. Il-pandemija tefgħetna lura. Mhux lilna biss, imma lil kulħadd.

Diversi kellhom jiffaċċjaw il-Covid. Uħud laqtithom ħażin. Hemm min bata ħafna. Ftit inqas minn 500 mietu ħtija tal-virus.

Il-vaċċinazzjoni, li issa ilha għaddejja madwar sena, għamlet differenza kbira għal kulħadd. Lil min hu b’saħħtu żieditlu l-protezzjoni. Għad-dgħajfa u għall-vulnerabbli ħolqot difiża imprezzabbli. Bil-booster iktar.

Kull min ħa l-vaċċin, l-ewwel u qabel kollox, qed jipproteġi lilu innifsu. Imma ukoll, qiegħed jipproteġi ukoll lil ta’ madwaru.

Nittamaw li matul il-ġimgħat u x-xhur li ġejjin il-pandemija tbatti biex ilkoll kemm aħna jkunilna possibli li nerġgħu nibdew ġejjin fuq saqajna.

Nawgura s-sena t-tajba lil kulħadd.

Grazzi lill-ħaddiema fis-settur tas-saħħa

Ilum f’Jum il-Milied waqt li bosta minna miġburin fl-irdoss ta’ djarna mal-familja, tajjeb li niftakru fil-ħaddiema fis-settur tas-saħħa.

Dawn għaddejjin dejjem, f’kull ċirkustanza, jagħtu s-servizz tagħhom, bi tmissina, biex iħarsuna.

Fiċ-ċirkustanżi tal-lum, fost oħrajn, bil-pandemija fl-aqwa tagħha, anke llum għaddejjin bis-servizz biex il-vaċċin jilħaq lil kulħadd.

Kontinwament iduru b’dawk morda u jgħinu lill-bqija biex ma jimirdux, jew ta’l-inqas biex dan ikun evitat.

Grazzi.

The regeneration of Marsa

The public consultation which commenced earlier this week relative to the regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour along the coastal area of Marsa is most welcome. Marsa has been neglected for far too long.

The Planning Authority has been criticised in the past for its piecemeal reviews of the local plans. It is hoped that this exercise will be a holistic one. It is the whole of Marsa which should be addressed and not one tiny corner! The decay of Marsa as an urban centre needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity. This will not be done through piecemeal local plan reviews but through a comprehensive planning exercise.

The proposed strategic vision, as directed by government, is however not a suitable one. Through the Planning Authority, government is proposing that the area subject of the consultation be transformed into a “prime tourism and leisure harbour destination”.

The primary question to be addressed is whether it is desirable for our economy to further increase its dependence on tourism. The answer to this basic question, in my view, is a clear no. It is thus not on to reserve more prime sites for tourism. Tourism has gobbled up too many prime sites. Too many land use planning policies have been compromised in the exclusive interest of the tourism industry.  

Tourism has also proven itself to be a very weak link in the economic chain. It has been brought down to its knees as a result of Covid19. It is still very weak and will take more time to recover. Understandably a significant part of its labour force has migrated to other sectors and is unwilling to return to work in the tourism sector.

Rather than more tourism we definitely need less of it.

Prior to Covid19 we had reached saturation levels in the tourism sector. The post-Covid19 impact period is a unique opportunity for tourism to be re-dimensioned in order to reduce its impacts on the community. Unfortunately, the Planning Authority is insensitive to all this: it plans to give us more of the same.  

The availability of the former power station site and its surroundings is definitely a unique opportunity which should not be squandered on the tourism industry.

The innermost part of the Grand Harbour has always been dedicated to the maritime sector for which this is a unique opportunity to re-organise, modernise and increase its contribution to the national economy while reducing its environmental impacts. Scaling down the ship-repairing facilities and moving them to outside the area earmarked for regeneration could shift this activity to close proximity of residential areas in localities which are close by. This should therefore be avoided.  Even though I doubt very much whether in practice it is that easy to shift these facilities.

The regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour Area can be achieved without tying down the area to development which is tourism-linked. The consultation strategy itself identifies various other options and activities amongst which new business ventures which improve the overall well-being of the community.

The tourism industry itself, over two years ago, had sounded the alarm that the number of tourists arriving in Malta was too high: beyond that which the country can take sustainably. Research published at the same time had identified the first signs of turismofobia, a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists and tourism. These are the first indications of social discontent with the pressures linked to tourism growth. They need to be addressed but are however being ignored.

There is obviously a need for less tourism, not more of it. Access to public investment has to be made available to other sectors.

The public consultation is in its initial stages, and it is still possible for the discussion to develop along different lines. The discussion required is one which addresses Marsa as a whole and which does not focus on just one tiny corner, even though it may be an important corner.

This is a unique opportunity for all stakeholders who can and should get involved to assist in the identification of a sustainable vision for the regeneration of Marsa as a whole: in the interests of all.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 December 2021

Meħtieġa: politika dwar id-droga b’wiċċ uman

Id-dibattitu ta’ bħalissa fil-Parlament dwar riforma fil-qasam tad-droga messu ilu li sar.

Il-manifest elettorali tal-partit tiegħi għall-elezzjoni ġenerali tal- 2017 kien l-unika wieħed li tkellem b’mod ċar dwar il-ħtieġa li nintroduċu politika dwar id-droga b’wiċċ uman. Il-politika dwar id-droga illum tikkastiga lill-vulnerabbli billi tikkriminalizza l-użu tad-droga. Id-dikriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tad-droga għandha tkun parti minn viżjoni iktar wiesa’, fit-tul,  bl-iskop li tgħin u mhux li tikkastiga lil min hu vulnerabbli. Dan m’ghandux ikun limitat għall-kannabis, imma għandu japplika għal kull xorta ta’ droga.

Id-dokument konsultattiv ippubblikat f’Marzu li għadda dwar it-tisħiħ tal-qafas legali għall-użu responsabbli tal-kannabis flimkien mad-dibattitu parlamentari li għaddej bħalissa huma pass sinifikanti l-quddiem.

Għandna nifhmu, li, kif ippruvat tul is-snin, il-kriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tad-droga ma solva xejn! Kien fl-2011 li l-Kummissjoni Globali dwar il-politika għad-droga, immexxija minn Kofi Anan, ex-Segretarju Ġenerali tal-Ġnus Maghquda, kienet iddikjarat li l-ġlieda globali kontra d-droga kienet falliet u dan b’konsegwenzi diżastrużi kemm individwalment kif ukoll għas-soċjetà.

Ewlenija fost ir-rakkomandazzjonijiet tal-Kummissjoni globali hemm it-tmiem tal-kriminalizzazzjoni, tal-marġinalizzazzjoni u tal-istigmatizzazzjoni ta’ dawk li jagħmlu użu personali mid-droga mingħajr ma jagħmlu l-ebda ħsara lill-ħaddieħor.

In-numru ta’ vittmi hu wieħed sostanzjali. Numru mhux żgħir ta’ ħajjiet intilfu jew ġew irvinati ħtija ta’ din il-gwerra kontra d-droga.   Isem partikolari li jiġi quddiem għajnejja hu dak ta’  Daniel Holmes li dabbar sentenza sostanzjali ta’ ħabs f’Malta għax kabbar il-pjanti tal-kannabis għall-użu tiegħu.  Ma għamel ħsara lil ħadd, imma spiċċa jerfa’ fuq spallejh sentenza twila ta’ ħabs. Din hi l-agħar forma ta’ inġustizzja kriminali.

Il-proposti li presentement hemm quddiem il-Parlament huma limitati għall-kannabis, avolja fost ir-responsabbiltajiet tal-Awtorità dwar l-Użu Responsabbli tal-Kannabis hu emfasizzat li din l-Awtorità tkun tista’ “tipparteċipa fil-proċess nazzjonali tal-ippjanar dwar il-politika soċjali u l-politika dwar il-mediċini perikolużi”. Hu possibli li l-leġislatur għandu pjani oħra f’moħħu għall-futur, imma dawn, s’issa għadhom mhux magħrufa.

Il-proposta għad-dikriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tal-kannabis tagħmel sens f’kuntest ta’ politika olistika dwar id-droga li ma tibqax tikkonsidra l-użu tad-droga f’kuntest kriminali imma f’kuntest soċjo-mediku. Dan jirrikjedi iktar ħsieb, analiżi kif ukoll studji dwar impatti kemm f’Malta kif ukoll barra. Id-dikriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tal-kannabis għandha tkun  ikkunsidrata bħala parti minn politika dwar id-droga koerenti, b’wiċċ uman li tiddikriminalizza l-użu tad-drogi kollha.  

Min jagħmel użu okkażjonali tad-droga m’għandux ikun ikkunsidrata bħala kriminal. Il-vittmi u dawk dipendenti mid-droga għandhom bżonn l-għajnuna permezz ta’ esperti mħarrġa inkluż l-għajnuna medika kemm u kif meħtieġ.  

Il-Portugall mexa f’din it-triq u tul is-snin kellu success konsiderevoli li bħala riżultat tiegħu naqas l-użu ta’ kull tip ta’ droga kif ukoll naqset l-inċidenza tal-HIV.  Irridu nfasslu l-mixja tagħna biex nindirizzaw sewwa b’mod koerenti l-użu tad-droga f’pajjiżna.  

Il-kriminalizzazzjoni tal-użu tad-droga għamlet ħsara ferm iżjed mid-droga innifisha. Ir-riżorsi tal-istat għandhom jintużaw biex intejbu l-ħajjiet tan-nies u mhux biex ikunu ikkastigati dawk li jeħtieġu l-għajnuna tagħna!  Id-dikriminalizzazzjoni u r-regolamentazzjoni tal-kannabis għandha tkun l-ewwel pass f’dan il-proċess.  

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 21 ta’ Novembru 2021

Wanted: a drug policy with a human face

The current debate on drug reform, in parliament, is long overdue.

My party’s electoral platform for the 2017 general election was the only one which clearly and unequivocally spoke in favour of introducing a drug policy with a human face. Current drug policy punishes the vulnerable through the criminalisation of the use of drugs. Decriminalisation of drug use should be part of a long-term vision that aims to help and not punish the vulnerable.  This should not be limited to cannabis but should encompass all drug use.

The White Paper published last March on the strengthening of the legal framework relative to the responsible use of cannabis together with the parliamentary debate currently in progress are welcome first steps in this direction.

It is about time that we realise that, as proven over the years, considering drug use as a crime has not led to any significant result. It was in 2011 that the seminal Global Commission on Drug Policy led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan declared that the global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.

Foremost among the recommendations of the Global Commission was the end of criminalisation, marginalisation and stigmatisation of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.

The number of victims is substantial. Many lives have been lost or ruined as a result of this war on drugs. A specific person which comes to mind is Daniel Holmes who was sentenced to a substantial prison term in Malta for growing his own cannabis plants. He harmed no one, yet he was made to shoulder a heavy prison sentence. This is criminal injustice at its worst.

The proposals currently before Parliament are limited to the consideration of cannabis, even though amongst the functions of the proposed Authority on the Responsible Use of Cannabis one finds that it may “participate in the national planning process relating to social policy and dangerous drugs policy”. Possibly the legislator has some other plans which, however, are so far not known.

The proposed decriminalisation of cannabis use makes sense within the context of an holistic drugs policy which would shift the emphasis on addressing drug use from one based on criminal law to a socio-medical model. This requires much more thought, analysis and consideration of studies and impact assessments carried out both in Malta and abroad. It cannot remain on its own but needs to form part of a coherent drugs policy with a human face which decriminalises all drug use.

Those who occasionally make use of drugs should not be considered as criminals. Victims and those who become addicted as a result of more than an occasional use of drugs should be offered adequate support, through the assistance of trained social workers as well as medical assistance whenever this is required.

Portugal has followed this path and over the years has had a considerable success in reducing use of heavy drugs and HIV.  We have to design our own path towards addressing the uptake of drugs.

The criminalisation of drug use has ruined more lives than drug use itself. It is about time that we use the resources of the state to improve lives and not to punish those who need our help!  The decriminalisation and regulation of cannabis should be just the first step in such a process.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 November 2021

An invitation: keep the doors open

The abortion debate gets nastier by the minute. This was expected. It may even get worse!

The priest who described pro-choice PN candidate Emma Portelli Bonnici as a later day Hitler, kicked off this week’s instalment! The Archbishop’s Curia at Floriana forced the removal of the facebook post where he published these views: yet the damage was done. Will we ever learn to discuss anything respectfully? Is this too difficult to expect?

The Labour Party is being extremely cautious. It is very rare to hear any Labour Party speaker express himself or herself on the subject of abortion. Labour is aware of the different and contrasting views within its ranks when debating abortion. That in itself is healthy and could potentially lead to a mature debate. The current Labour Party leadership, however, as readers are aware, is acutely conservative on the matter even though there is a progressive element among its voters which is of the opposite view. This includes a couple of present and former electoral candidates and MPs/MEPs.

The PN on the other hand, going by Bernard Grech’s declaration earlier this week has not yet learnt its lessons from the divorce referendum campaign, ten years ago. I respect its political position on the matter but I still cannot understand its constant denigration of those within its ranks who have the courage to speak their mind. Stifling political debate is very damaging.  It has long-term effects which go much beyond the current debate!

As pointed out elsewhere, Bernard Grech’s declaration signifies one thing: the abortion debate is closed within the PN ranks, and anybody who dares think otherwise should start packing. From where I stand that is the clear message conveyed by Bernard Grech.

Within ADPD, the Green Party, last May, after a three year long internal debate, we approved a clear political position in favour of decriminalisation of abortion, as a result of which any woman opting for an abortion would not be subject to criminal action. We further emphasise that abortion should not be normalised but that it should be limited to specific, extraordinary and well-defined circumstances.

We have highlighted that Maltese legislation on abortion is not fit for purpose. It needs to be brought up to date after more than 160 years since its enactment. It requires to be brought in line with medical and scientific progress over the years.

We identify three such extraordinary circumstances in which abortion is justified, namely, when the life of the pregnant woman is in danger, when a pregnancy is the result of violence (rape and incest) and when faced with a pregnancy which is not viable.

There is definitely an urgent need for more emphasis on reproductive and sexual health education at all levels of our educational structures. This is a gap which needs plugging at the earliest!

We have been criticised by some as not going far enough. Others have stated that we have gone much too far.

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is key in the abortion debate. It is essential that women who undergo abortion are not threatened any more with persecution and prosecution. They need the state’s protection as a result of which more will seek help before taking critical decisions. This will save lives as well as avoid unnecessary medical complications.

The abortion debate in Malta is unfortunately characterised by long periods of silence, alternating with outbursts of hate, insults and extreme intolerance. This is definitely not on. Political parties should take the lead by encouraging contributions to a clear and objective debate.

While others close their doors to the debate, ours will remain wide open.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 November 2021

Malta: it-theddida mit-tibdil fil-klima

Malta hi waħda mid-diversi gżejjer li huma vulnerabbli għat-tibdil fil-klima.  Malta mhiex vulnerabbli daqs il-gżejjer Maldives, li huma fost l-iktar pajjiżi ċatti. Għandhom għoli medju ta’ 150 ċentimetru il-fuq minn livell il-baħar bl-iktar punt għoli jkun 5.10 metri.  Fil-mument li bħala riżultat tat-tibdil fil-klima jibda jogħla l-livell tal-baħar il-gżejjer Maldives ikunu minn tal-ewwel li jisparixxu taħt l-ilma. Il-gżejjer Maldives huma destinazzjoni turistika popolari fl-Oċejan Indjan. 

Jekk dak miftiehem fis-Summit ta’ Pariġi fl-2015 jitwettaq u ż-żieda fit-temperatura medja globali ma taqbizx il-1.5 grad Celsius fuq dik pre-industrijali, xorta jkollna niffaċċjaw għoli fil-livell tal-baħar ta’ madwar 50 ċentimetru. Min-naħa l-oħra jekk iż-żieda fit-temperatura tkun bejn il-1.5 u 2 gradi Celsius iż-żieda fil-livell tal-baħar tista’ twassal anke sa tlett metri.  L-impatti ta’ dan ikunu katastrofiċi u jiddependi minn kemm idub silġ u kemm dan idum biex idub

Ir-rapport tal-IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) li ħareġ nhar it-tnejn, jemfasizza li jekk l-emissjonijiet serra mhux ser ikunu indirizzati sewwa u jonqsu b’mod sostanzjali l-istima hi ta’ żieda medja fit-temperatura globali ta’  2.7 gradi Celsius sal- 2100 liema żieda twassal għal tibdil mhux żgħir fil-livell tal-baħar.

Il-pass li jmiss nittamaw li jsir f’Novembru li ġej fi Glasgow fl-Iskozja fejn rappresentanti tad-dinja kollha jiltaqgħu biex jippruvaw isibu soluzzjoni li tkun kapaċi twettaq il-konklużjonijiet tas-Summit ta’ Pariġi fl-2015.  

Ir-rapport tal-IPCC jgħidilna li huwa ċar li bir-ritmu presenti tal-emissjonijiet tal-gassijiet serra, iz-żieda ta’  1.5 gradi Celsius fit-temperatura medja tista’ tintlaħaq anke sal-2030, ferm qabel mistenni. Huwa biss bħala riżultat ta’ tnaqqis immedjat ta’ dawn l-emissjonijiet li jistgħu jonqsu l-impatti li diġa qed naraw madwarna: żieda qawwija fit-temperaturi, maltempati iktar spissi u b’qilla li dejjem tiżdied, xixfa fit-tul f’inħawi u għargħar f’oħrajn ……………  Irridu niffaċċjaw ħafna iktar minn dan kollu, flimkien ma żieda fil-livell tal-baħar u dan sakemm naddottaw stil ta’ ħajja li tirrispetta lin-natura.  

Jekk irridu insibu tarf tal-ħerba kbira li qed takkumula, u l-gwaj kawża tat-tibdil fil-klima li hemm lest għalina, irridu nibdew naħdmu man-natura u mhux kontriha.  Dan hu l-iskop tad-dibattitu dwar il-mira ta’ karbonju zero (carbon neutrality): li innaqqsu l-emissjionijiet malajr kemm jista’ jkun biex il-ħsara li saret tibda tkun imsewwija u fuq perjodu ta’ żmien forsi tkun rimedjata ukoll, anke jekk in parti. Imma hu essenzjali li kulħadd jagħti sehmu. Ma nistgħux nippretendu li ħaddieħor joħroġ għonqu u li aħna nibqgħu gallarija, qiesu ma ġara xejn!

Il-vulnerabilità tal-gżejjer Maltin għandha minnha innifisha tikkonvinċina mhux biss biex niċċaqalqu aħna, imma biex inċaqilqgħu lil ħadddieħor ukoll.

Biex nilħqu din il-mira jeħtiġilna li naddattaw l-imġieba tagħna u l-istil ta’ ħajjitna ma’ dak li turina u tgħidilna n-natura: b’mod speċifiku jeħtieġilna ekonomija li tirrispetta lin-natura u taħdem mal-forzi ekoloġiċi, mhux kontrihom.  

It-turiżmu u t-trasport huma żewġ oqsma ta’ ħidmietna, bħala pajjiż, li jeħtieġilhom li jkunu mmansati. Qed jagħmlu wisq ħsara u huma fost il-kontributuri ewlenin għall-impatti Maltin fuq il-klima.

Meta nibdew nindirizzaw it-turiżmu, wara snin twal li kulħadd fittex li jaħleb din il-baqra ekonomika, ser ikun hemm min iweġġa’. Ilna ngħidu li l-pajjiż ma jiflaħx għat-tlett miljun turist li ġew fl-2019, il-parti l-kbira minnhom bl-ajru. L-impatti kumulattivi tagħhom huma sostanzjali, mhux biss fuq l-ambjent lokali imma ukoll fuq dak reġjonali u globali. Issa hu l-aħjar mument li jibda’ dan il-proċess ta’ tibdil fil-qasam tat-turiżmu, aħna u nirkupraw bil-mod mill-impatti tal-ħerba li ħalliet warajha l-COVID-19.

M’għandniex nibqgħu bl-attitudni ta’ qiesu ma ġara xejn (business-as-usual) imma għandna nibdew minn issa nimmiraw biex jonqos it-turiżmu tal-massa u fl-istess ħin jiżdied it-turiżmu ta’ kwalità u bħala riżultat ta’ hekk jonqsu n-numri kbar ta’ turisti li għamlu tant ħsara.  L-impatti soċjali jkunu ferm inqas  jekk nitgħallmu ftit minn dak li ġarrabna bħala riżultat tal-pandemija COVID-19. Ikun utli jekk nifhmu li l-ħeġġa ta’ uħud għall-mudell low-cost iħallina mwaħħlin fil-problema fejn qegħdin issa.  

Huwa ukoll essenzjali li nindirizzaw ukoll it-trasport bil-karozzi privati. Ilkoll nifhmu li f’pajjiż żgħir bħal tagħna, imkien m’hu l-bogħod. L-istrateġija nazzjonali tat-trasport innifisha fil-fatt temfasizza dan il-punt għax tgħidilna li fil-gżejjer Maltin madwar 50 fil-mija tal-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati huma għal distanzi qosra li jdumu inqas minn ħmistax-il minuta.  Għal dawn id-distanzi l-qosra hemm bosta alternattivi sostenibbli. Lil hinn mid-distanzi l-qosra, f’dan il-pajjiż imkien ma hu l-bogħod! Trasport pubbliku organizzat b’mod effiċjenti jista’ jindirizza kważi b’mod assolut il-kontribut tat-trasport f’Malta għat-tibdil fil-klima.

Biex tieħu deċiżjoni dwar il-passi meħtieġa ħalli tindirizza t-tibdil fil-klima trid il-kuraġġ għax kull deċiżjoni hi iebsa. Mhux ser inkun kritiku tal-inizjattiva ta’ ġnien li ma jiġġenerax emissjonijiet (carbon neutral public garden) jew tal-għajnuna biex ikunu nkoraġġiti “bjut ħodor”.  Imma għandu jingħad li dawn l-inizjattivi huma insinifikanti ħdejn dak meħtieġ li jsir biex ikunu indirizzati l-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima.  

Malta hi vulnerabbli. L-għoli ta’ livell il-baħar, anke jekk ikun l-inqas mill-istimi li qed isiru fir-rapport tal-IPCC ikun ta’ dannu għall-infrastruttura kostali. Joħloq ukoll bosta problemi għal dawk li jgħixu fil-lokalitajiet madwar il-kosta. Ma nistgħux nibqgħu nipposponu id-deċiżjonijiet biex dawn forsi jittieħdu għada flok illum. Għandna responsalliltà etika jekk il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri: din il-pjaneta, imsejħa d-dinja qed nieħdu ħsiebha biex wara ngħadduha lilhom f’kundizzjoni aħjar milli ta’ qabilna għaddewha lilna.  

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 15 t’Awwissu 2021

Malta’s climate-change vulnerability

Malta is one of many climate-vulnerable islands.  Malta is not as vulnerable as the Maldives, which has an average altitude of 150 centimetres above sea-level and a highest natural point of 5.10 metres, as a result of which it is the world’s lowest lying country. Most of the Maldives will disappear once sea-level rise takes over. The Maldives is a touristic destination in the Indian Ocean. 

If the Paris 2015 Climate Summit target of restraining temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial age temperature is achieved, we will still face a sea level rise of around 50 centimetres. If on the other hand this target is exceeded but the temperature rise is still below 2 degrees Celsius the sea level rise will be close to three metres.

The current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, emphasises the IPCC report issued last Monday, if unchecked, points to an estimated 2.7-degree Celsius temperature increase by 2100 which increase could signify a substantial rise in sea level.

Where do we go from here? It is the answer which level headed climate diplomats will seek to hammer out in Glasgow this coming November, and in the preparatory meetings leading thereto.

It is clear that at the present emission rate of greenhouse gases, the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold could be reached as soon as 2030. Only immediate reduction of emissions will reduce the impacts which are already evident all around us: excessive increase in temperature extremes, increased frequency of intensive storms, prolonged drought in areas and floods in others. We will have to face more of this together with a sea-level rise until such time that we can reduce it through adopting climate friendly policies and lifestyles.

We need to work in tandem with nature if we expect to stand a chance in mitigating the havoc which awaits us. This is the objective of the carbon neutrality debate: reducing emissions in order that the damage done to date is contained the soonest and hopefully reversed, even if partially. In this process everyone must do his bit. We should not wait for others to act and expect that we are exempted from doing anything.

Our vulnerability as an island should be convincing enough that it is in our interest that we not only take action ourselves but also that we convince others about it. 

In order to reach this objective, we need to align our behaviour with what nature expects: the specific requirement is to have a climate friendly economy. Tourism and transport are two areas of activity which need to be cut down in size as they are among the major contributors of the Maltese islands to climate change.

Tackling tourism adequately will be painful. We must however realise once and for all that having 3 million tourists annually, most of them flying over, is not on. Their cumulative impacts are substantial not just on the local environment but even on a regional and global level. Now is the time to do it when we are in the process of recovering from the COVID-19 devastation. We should not aim for business-as-usual but should opt specifically against mass tourism and in favour of quality tourism at a much-reduced level. It would be less painful if we learn the COVID-19 lessons and ensure that tourism is more climate friendly.  In this respect if we keep on encouraging low-fare policies we will continue the process of digging our own grave.

Addressing land transport is also imperative. In a small country such as ours it should be obvious that everywhere is within easy reach. The Transport Strategy in fact clearly points out that over 50 per cent of car trips in the Maltese islands are for short distances of a duration of less than 15 minutes. There are better alternatives to using private cars for such very short distances. Beyond short distances, nowhere on the islands is so far away. Public transport when efficiently organised could go a long way to solving the contribution of transport to climate change.

Tackling climate change requires the courage to take tough decisions. I will not be critical of the initiative to have a carbon neutral public garden or making available grants and subsidies to encourage roof gardens! Such initiatives are however insignificant when viewed in context of what needs to be done. 

Malta is very vulnerable. A sea-level rise, even if this is at the lower end of what is being estimated, would seriously jeopardise our coastal infrastructure. It would also create havoc in a number of coastal settlements. We cannot keep postponing decisions into the future.  We have an ethical responsibility towards future generations: the planet we have in trust should be in better shape when they take over. The longer we take to decide on the action required, the more painful the consequences.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 August 2021