After Wednesday’s earthquake: civil defence



On Wednesday an earthquake of 4.4 magnitude on the Richter scale was reported in the Maltese islands. As far as we are aware no damage was caused, yet it would be appropriate to consider a number of relevant issues.

Are we prepared for the consequences of a much stronger earthquake which would cause considerable damage including the potential death of a substantial number of persons?

Around two years ago, the Civil Protection Department (CPD) in conjunction with the Sicilian counterparts carried out an earthquake simulation exercise in Gozo which, undoubtedly, provided CPD personnel with valuable experience. It is not known if the department has been involved in any subsequent exercises, either locally or abroad, nor is it known if any specific operational changes were implemented by the CPD as a result of the lessons learned in the 2015 exercise.

It is, however, pertinent to point out that it is not only the CPD, the Police, the AFM and the Health Authorities that need adequate and continuous training to cope with the aftermath of a strong earthquake in the Maltese Islands. In addition to the operators of the different sectors of the infrastructure (energy, water, transport) the civilian population should also receive training for this unlikely eventuality.

Simulation exercises involving the civilian population are necessary as they would develop at local level an ability to manage a disaster. We need to start from scratch in building up a civil defence corps worthy of the name, coordinated and trained by the CPD but based in each locality in Malta and Gozo.

It is a responsibility which, together with adequate resources, should be assigned to local councils under the watchful eye of the CPD.

This would be the appropriate way to build up an adequate general level of preparedness for disaster management. The involvement of the local councils would also ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable members of our communities are addressed. Specific protocols need to be developed and tested in conjunction with local councils regarding the assistance required by children and those who are bedridden or disabled. Catering for all disabilities is an indispensible prerequisite and this requires trained personnel to which the CPD currently has little if any access. It is an easily identifiable deficiency that needs to be addressed forthwith.

Those in charge of disaster management in time of need require the ability to communicate with people having impaired hearing. Is anyone at the CPD, the Police, the AFM or the Health Authorities able to communicate in sign language? Addressing this communication deficiency on the part of the authorities is required not just to ensure that Malta is adequately prepared for disaster management, it is also an everyday deficiency that every authority in Malta that offers a direct service to the population at large needs to address. With around 500 known Maltese with impaired hearing and a number of others who could have remained below the radar, this is an issue that is manageable primarily at local level.

The CPD is one of the youngest departments and to date it has given sterling service in fire-fighting, managing pollution and providing assistance required as a result of flooding after heavy storms. We look forward to the next step in its development: ensuring that training in disaster management is an integral part of the services of local authorities.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 27 August 2017


Marsa: a planning mess


The Chamber of Architects has taken the Planning Authority to task on the piecemeal local plan reviews that it has been churning out, one at a time. The latest tirade was with reference to a partial review of The Grand Harbour Local Plan (originally published in 2002) specifically with respect to a Marsa Park Site.

We have just concluded a public discussion on a Masterplan for Paceville, which was shredded by public opinion and sent back to the drawing board.

Earlier, we had the Planning Authority itself contesting whether Local Councils, NGOs and the Environment and Resources Authority  had a right to contest the decision to permit high-rises in Townsquare Sliema and in Imrieħel.

To make matters worse, instead of consolidating the environmental regulatory functions of the state, this government has opted to deliberately fragment them, thereby ensuring their reduced effectiveness by design.  In a small country such as Malta, it pays to have one consolidated authority  directed by environment professionals through whom land use planning responsibilities should be accountable.

Land use planning needs to be more focused but holistic in nature. The Chamber of Architects aptly makes the point that focusing the efforts of the partial review of the Grand Harbour Local Plan specifically on “a Marsa Business Park” without considering this within the context  of a much needed regeneration of Marsa would be a futile exercise. The decay of Marsa as an urban centre needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity and this will not be done through piecemeal local plan reviews but through comprehensive planning “which ought to include community needs, road transport re-alignment, environment improvement and flooding mitigation measures”.

These are the basic issues which should be addressed by a local plan review concerning Marsa. Tackling major infrastructural and social problems facing the Marsa community should take precedence over any proposal for the redevelopment of the Marsa Park site. It is the whole of Marsa that should be addressed and not just one tiny corner.

The partial local plan review is ignoring the local community, just like its cousin the Paceville Masterplan did some months ago. Many years ago we learned that “planning is for people”. This seems to be no longer the case as, according to the Planning Authority, planning is apparently for business hubs, high-rises and, obviously, for developers. They seem to be very well connected, thereby ensuring that they occupy the first items of this government’s land use planning agenda.

Marsa has been forgotten over the years. With the closure of the Marsa power station now is the appropriate time to consider the various accumulated impacts on the Marsa community in order that an integrated approach to addressing them is identified. Planning is for people. That means that the Marsa community should be actively involved when these plans are being formulated, including at the drawing board stage. Land use planners should stimulate the Marsa community to speak up and involve itself in drawing up a blue print for its future.

The regeneration of Marsa is an urgent matter which should not be left unattended.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 January 2017

Il-latrini pubbliċi fil-Parlament

public convenience

Il-ħin allokat għall-mistoqsijiet parlamentari tal-bieraħ ġie użat kollu dwar il-latrini pubbliċi.

Il-Ministru tat-Turiżmu Edward Zammit Lewis mhux sodisfatt bil-kwalità ta’ servizz fil-latrini pubbliċi. Irid itejjeb il-kwalità tal-prodott tat-turiżmu. Ġustament iħares lejn is-servizz fil-latrini pubbliċi bħala wieħed importanti. Sa hawn Zammit Lewis m’hu jgħid xejn ħażin. Avolja jekk irid jgħid kollox għandu jgħid li, f’ħafna każi, s-servizz hu ferm aħjar milli kien fil-passat. Dan minkejja li l-Kunsilli m’għandhomx biżżejjed flus biex jimpjegaw latrine attendant kontinwu ma kull latrina pubblika, kemm għat-tindif meħtieġ kif ukoll għas-sorveljanza kontra l-ħela tal-ilma u l-vandaliżmu.

Meta bdew jagħafsuh biex ikun ftit iktar ċar Zammit Lewis qal li għad ma hemmx deċiżjonijiet. Imma qed ikun ikkunsidrat kif ikun involut is-settur privat f’dak li jissejjaħ PPP (private-public-partnership). Kif? Zammit Lewis qal li għadu qed jara l-options kollha. S’issa imma għad m’hemmx deċiżjonijiet. Imma l-Kunsilli Lokali ser ikunu involuti, qal il-Ministru. L-ewwel effettwati, skond il-Ministru Zammit Lewis ser ikunu dawk fiċ-ċentru tal-pajjiż.

Il-problema tal-latrini pubbliċi hi li l-Kunsilli Lokali huma mistennija li jagħtu servizz imma m’għandhomx il-flus biex jagħtu dan is-servizz. Hemm ukoll il-problema tal-vandaliżmu. Il-pagi huma l-ispiża l-kbira fil-każ tal-latrini pubbliċi, f’xi kazi (b’mod partikolari fis-sajf) hu meħtieġ il-presenza ta’ persuna (attendent) għal sittax-il siegħa kuljum jew iktar, jiġifieri tnejn min-nies għal sebgħat ijiem fil-ġimgħa ma’ kull latrina pubblika. Fil-prattika dan biss ifisser paga ta’ 4 persuni fis-sena full time ma kull latrina pubblika. Dan qabel ma biss tibda tikkunsidra spejjes oħra.

Li l-Gvern joħroġ b’inizjattiva ħalli jtejjeb il-kwalità tas-servizz ikun pass tajjeb dejjem sakemm ma jitfax iktar piz finanzjarju fuq il-Kunsilli Lokali.

Il-proposti tal-Gvern s’issa għadhom mhux magħrufa. Għax Zammit Lewis qagħad attent li ma jgħid xejn f’dan is-sens. Allura irridu nistennew u naraw.

Tackling vacant property

Valletta houses


Malta Developers Association president Sandro Chetcuti took a good step forward this week when he said that the government should address the issue of abandoned property. It is a small step, but certainly a step forward.

Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green Party – would prefer it if all vacant property is considered, and not just abandoned property. This would help reduce pressure on undeveloped land and, given that less than 70 per cent of existing dwellings are fully utilised, there is room for much improvement in this respect.

Let me start by spelling out the facts, as resulting from the 2011 Census, published in 2014.

In 2011, Malta and Gozo had 223,850 dwellings of which 68.2 per cent were occupied, 13.3 per cent were in use occasionally (seasonally or for a secondary use) and 18.4 per cent were completely vacant.

Table 1 clearly shows that Gozo has a concentration of seasonal accommodation, whilst the actual extent of the problem of vacant dwellings is 18.4 per cent of the housing stock. Another interesting fact shown in Table 1 is that less than 50 per cent of housing stock in Gozo is occupied all year round.


Table 1 : Properties in Malta: data extracted from Table 85 of the Census 2011 report

  Malta % Gozo % Total %
Occupied 141140 71.0 11630 46.4 152770 68.2
Occasional use 22404 11.3 7444 29.7 29848 13.3
Vacant 35236 17.7 5996 23.6 41232 18.4
  198780 100 25070 100 223850 100%


Additional data of interest made available by the 2011 census is that in Table 2 relative to the state of the unoccupied property, this being the total of the property which is either in occasional use or else completely vacant.


Table 2 :  State of unoccupied property: data extracted from Table 140 of the Census 2011 report

  Malta % Gozo % total %
Shell 5374 9.32 1563 11.63 6937 9.76
Dilapidated 1495 2.59 341 2.54 1836 2.58
Serious repairs 4312 7.48 841 6.26 5153 7.25
Moderate repairs 8098 14.05 1126 8.38 9224 12.98
Minor repairs 10475 18.17 1922 14.30 12397 17.44
Good condition 27886 48.39 7647 56.89 35533 49.99
  57640 100.00 13440 100.00 71080 100.00


A total of almost 7,000 dwelling units in shell form is substantial, even though most probably the great majority of these properties would be in shell form only for a short period of time. It would be a good step forward if Mepa were to establish a time frame within which properties under construction are to be completed.

In a number of cases, a validity period of five years is too long for a development permit. Permissible completion dates should vary and a system of fines would ensure that our towns and villages are not permanent building sites and would be most welcome by our local councils. This would reduce the presence of dust resulting from building construction material and would be of considerable help in reducing the contribution of building sites to air quality.

This leaves the properties requiring repairs totalling slightly fewer than 29,000. The abandoned properties referred to by Sandro Chetcuti would most probably be those in a state of dilapidation or requiring serious/extensive repairs totalling 7,000.

This is the essential information on the basis of which authorities need to take a decision. It is known that most of these cases are the result of either inheritance disputes or ownership by a multitude of owners whose share has an insignificant value. Fiscal incentives to encourage the consolidation of ownership rights where such properties are concerned are most probably the best way forward. This would address the problem of a number of such properties owned by a large number of co-owners who do not consider it worth the effort to do anything, as they would end up exposing themselves to substantial expenses without any practical benefits.

Reasonable action has to be taken to ensure that properties are not vacant as a result of administrative failures. Subsequently, we can consider the circumstances under which owners of vacant properties who leave such properties vacant for a long period of time should share the financial burden which the state has to shoulder to regulate and service new development. This financial burden is paid for through our taxes and it is only fair that these taxes should be shouldered by the owners of vacant properties.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 October 2015

Ignoring residents and their local councils

strait street valletta 2


Government has published a consultation document dealing with the use of open public spaces by catering establishments, entitled Guidelines on Outdoor Catering Areas on Open Public Space : a holistic approach to creating an environment of comfort and safety.

This document was launched earlier this week at a press conference addressed by the Minister for Tourism Edward Zammit Lewis and the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for planning and simplification of administrative processes Michael Falzon.

The inter-Ministerial committee set up by government to draft the policy document was limited to representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, MEPA, Transport Malta, the Government Property Division, the Malta Tourism Authority and the Association of Hotels and Restaurants (MHRA). Representatives of the local councils were excluded from participating.

It seems that when the matter was being considered by Cabinet, the Minister for Local Councils Owen Bonnici was fast asleep as otherwise he would undoubtedly have drawn the attention of his colleagues that the Local Councils Act, in article 33, deems it a function of local councils “to advise and, where applicable, be consulted by, any authority empowered to take any decisions directly or indirectly affecting the Council and the residents it is responsible for”.

Surely the use of public open spaces by catering establishments is a matter which is of considerable interest to local councils as it affects both the councils and the residents they represent. Yet the government has a different opinion as representatives of local councils were not invited at the drawing board where the guidelines on the use of public open spaces by catering establishments were being drafted.

The guidelines introduce a one stop shop at MEPA, thereby eliminating the need to apply for around four other permits for the placing of tables and chairs in public open spaces. This would be a positive development if MEPA can take on board all the considerations which are normally an integral part of the four other application processes.

If the utilisation of public open spaces was limited to the squares in our towns and villages, I do not think that there would be any issue. There is sufficient space in such areas and using part of it for open air catering activities there would not be cause for concern.

However, problems will definitely arise in areas of mixed use, that is, areas where the ground floor is used commercially and the overlying areas are used as residences. This is a common occurrence in many of the localities where there is a high demand by the catering business for the utilisation of public open space. The guidelines, however, ignore the impacts which placing chairs and tables at street level could have on the residents in such areas, in particular those living in the floors immediately above ground level. Such impacts would primarily be the exposure of residents to secondary cigarette/tobacco smoke as well as noise and odours. The issue of noise will undoubtedly arise, in particular during siesta time, as well as late into the evenings while secondary smoke from cigarettes/tobacco as well as odours will be an ever present nuisance. Maybe if the local councils were not excluded from the inter-Ministerial Committee, these matters would have been taken into consideration.

In such instances it would be necessary to limit the placing of tables and chairs at such a distance from residences where impacts on residents from secondary smoke, noise and odours are insignificant: that is if there is sufficient space.

The guidelines establish that a passageway of 1.50 metres on pavements is to be reserved for pedestrians. In addition they establish that where a permit is requested to place chairs and tables outside third-party property, specific clearance in front of doors and windows is to be observed. Isn’t that thoughtful of the inter-Ministerial Committee? Instead of categorically excluding the placing of chairs and tables along the property of third parties it seeks to facilitate the creation of what would inevitably be a nuisance to the users of such a property. This, too, is the result of the lop-sided composition of the inter-Ministerial Committee.

Nor are parking spaces spared. The inter-Ministerial Committee makes provision in the proposed guidelines for the possibility that catering establishments can also make use of parking spaces for the placing of tables and chairs when other space is insufficient. The guidelines leave no stone unturned in ensuring that tables and chairs get priority, even though this is worded in terms that make it appear that it would be an exception.

Enforcement, as usual, will be another headache. We already have quite a number of cases in various localities where passageways are minimal or inexistent and pedestrians, excluded from walking along the pavement have to move along with the traffic, right in the middle of the road. At times this may prove quite difficult and dangerous, in particular for wheelchair users or in the case of parents with small children. Enforcement to date is practically inexistent and I do not think that matters will change much in this respect.

Unfortunately, MEPA is a repeat offender in ignoring the interests of the residential community when faced with all types of development. The guidelines on the use of public open space by catering establishments are thus more of the same.

While cars have taken over our roads, catering establishments will now be guided on how to take over our pavements and open spaces, parking included!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 13 September 2015  

Il-bankina m’għadhiex tagħna lkoll : saret tagħhom biss

1.50 metres distance

Illum ġie ippubblikat għal konsultazzjoni pubblika dokument dwar il-kriterji li fuqhom jiġu ikkunsidrati permessi għal siġġijiet u mwejjed f’postijiet pubbliċi.

Ħlief għall-one-stop-shop, fis-sustanza ma hemm xejn ġdid fid-dokument għax diġà anke fil-preżent suppost li min għandu permess simili għandu ukoll l-obbligu li jħalli 1.50 metri passaġġ minn fejn jgħaddu n-nies.

Issa kieku jitħallew dan il-metru u nofs il-ħajja tkun iktar faċli għal kulħadd. Imma fil-fatt f’numru ta’ każi ma jitħallewx.

Mur fejn trid f’Malta u Għawdex u għandek issib numru mhux żgħir ta’ każi fejn jekk tipprova tgħaddi mill-ftit spazju li jħallu fuq il-bankina, jħarsulek bl-ikrah. Il-Belt, Tas-Sliema, in-Naxxar u San Pawl il-Baħar issib eżempji kemm trid. Bil-kemm tgħaddi bil-mixi aħseb u ara jekk tkun b’xi siġġu tar-roti inkella b’xi tarbija (fl-idejn jew fil-pram).

Fid-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni jingħad li jkunu ikkunsidrati applikazzjonijiet għall-permessi fil-pjazez u bankini bil-kundizzjoni tal-1.50 metri li għandhom jitħallew passaġġ. Imma meta tibda taqra tibda issib numru ta’ eċċezzjonijiet.

Per eżempju, fid-dokument jingħad li f’xi każijiet, jista’ jkun ikkunsrat li l-permess ma jkunx biss biex jitqegħdu imwejjed fuq il-bankina, imma jistgħu jkunu ikkunsidrati l-ispazji tal-parking ukoll!

Id-dokument fih ħafna logħob bil-kliem, bħall-ħafna dokumenti oħra konnessi mal-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art.

Id-dokument jgħid li d-drittijiet ta’ terzi [third party rights] għandhom ikunu imħarsa meta jinħargu dawn il-permessi. Din hi daħqa oħra għax nafu kemm fil-prattika jiġu mħarsa dawn id-drittijiet mill-awtoritajiet pubbliċi f’Malta.

L-eżerċizzju biex inħareġ dan id-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni sar bil-koordinazzjoni ta’ Kumitat li kien fih parteċipazzjoni wiesa’ : kien hemm bosta minbarra dawk li huma l-iktar viċin in-nies: ma kien hemm ħadd mill-Kunsilli Lokali. Fil-fatt kien hemm rappreżentanti tal-Ministeru tal-Intern, tal-MEPA, ta’ Transport Malta, tad-Diviżjoni tal-Propjetà tal-Gvern u tal-Awtorità tat-Turiżmu, u l-Assoċjazzjoni tar-Restoranti u l-Lukandi (MHRA).

Il-Kunsilli Lokali u r-residenti ma kienux meqjusa ta’ importanza biex jipparteċipaw f’dan l-eżerċiżżju, bħal dak li qallu li l-bankini, t-toroq, il-parking spaces, u pjażez li ser jieħdu (jew ħadu diga) mhux ir-residenti jagħmlu użu minnhom s’issa. Issa s-siġġijiet u l-imwejjed ser jibdew jingħataw prijorità.

Il-permessi ser jibdew jinħarġu mill-MEPA. Ser jinħareġ bis-sistema ta’ one-stop-shop. Jiġifieri applikazzjoni waħda biss li ma tieħux ħafna żmien biex tkun deċiża. Din hi sistema li tiffavorixxi lin-negozji u dejjem taħdem kontra r-residenti. Għax biex permess joħrog malajr ifisser li ftit li xejn ikun hemm ċans li min ikun effettwat bih isir jaf (jew ikun infurmat).

Insomma nistgħu ngħidu li dan m’hu xejn ġdid. Il-bankina issa m’għadiex tagħna lkoll, ser tkun tagħhom biss.

Naqbel ma’ Joseph ……………. u ma’ Hermann, u ma’ Michael u ma’ Ralph

Joseph Muscat ihobb jiccajtahermann schiavonemichael-briguglioRalph-Cassar


Il-bieraħ Joseph tkellem dwar is-solidarjetà. Solidarjetà mal-Greċja u l-Italja huma u jissieltu biex bir-riżorsi limitati tagħhom jassistu lir-refuġjati. Joseph qal li “ma nistgħux nitkellmu dwar solidarjetà jekk meta tiġi s-siegħa tal-prova ma nipprattikawhiex.”

Wara din id-dikjarazzjoni ċara ta’ Joseph favur is-solidarjetà ikun xieraq jekk huwa ukoll jingħaqad mal-kunsilliera Hermann Schiavone (kunsillier f’Birżebbuġa), Michael Briguglio (kunsillier f’Tas-Sliema, Ralph Cassar (kunsillier f’Ħ’Attard) u ma’ ħafna kunsilliera oħra ta’ rieda tajba li qed jipproponu illi l-komunitajiet tagħna jaddottaw familja ta’ refuġjati mis-Sirja.

Fi kliem Joseph, din hi is-siegħa tal-prova u għalhekk ikun xieraq li l-Gvern Malti jissieħeb mal-Kunsilli Lokali u l-NGOs li jixtiequ b’solidarjetà jaddottaw familja Sirjana.

Dan ikun messaġġ ċar ta’ solidarjetà, li l-poplu Malti dejjem wera ma’ min hu dgħajjef u mgħakkes.

Bis-sulluzzu ma nsolvu xejn

traffic congestion

source :


L-Kamra tal-Kummerċ ikkritikat il-White Paper dwar l-impatt tat-trasport tal-iskejjel. Qalet li ma jistax ikun li niffaċċjaw sewwa l-problema tat-trasport bis-sulluzzu. Qalulna li rridu naraw l-istampa kollha u nfasslu strateġija olistika li tkun ibbażata fuq transport pubbliku li jkun b’saħħtu u effiċjenti.

Ġa ktibt dwar dan u ma rridtx innaqqas mill-merti tal-White Paper dwar it-trasport tal-iskejjel. Din il-White Paper tagħmel ħafna proposti validi (dwar l-iskejjel) imma naqbel mal-argument tal-Kamra tal-Kummerċ li bis-sulluzzu m’aħna ser naslu mkien.

Apparti dan għaddejjin affarijiet oħra.

Matul dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat il-Ministeru responsabbli mill-Kunsilli Lokali kien qed jiġbor informazzjoni mingħand l-istess kunsilli dwar il-ħinijiet li fihom jinġabar l-iskart mid-djar bl-intenzjoni li jivvaluta liema huma dawk il-kunsilli li s-servizz tal-ġbir tal-iskart tagħhom qed jagħti kontribut għall-konġestjoni tat-traffiku fl-iktar ħinijiet kritiċi tal-ġurnata.

Fi tmiem il-ġimgħa li għaddiet ħarġet sejħa dwar espressjoni ta’ interess dwar forom alternattivi ta’ transport bejn il-lokalitajiet fil-Port il-Kbir u l-Port ta’ Marsamxett.

Għadhom kif tħabbru rotot ġodda u rotot imtejba tat-trasport pubbliku.

Dawn huma kollha inizzjattivi tajba, imma kien ikun aħjar kieku kellna pjan wieħed komprensiv imfassal sewwa għal titjib sħiħ li jikkunsidra l-aspetti kollha u li kien jinkudi dawn il-proposti u oħrajn magħhom.

In-numru ta’ karozzi li għandna fit-toroq huwa kbir wisq għad-daqs ta’ Malta u qed ikompli jikber.

Ftit hemm għażliet li għandu quddiemu l-pajjiż. Il-karozzi mit-toroq iridu jonqsu u jeħtieġ li jonqsu sostanzjalment. Iktar kmieni din is-sena, f’artiklu li kont ktibt fl-Independent tal-Ħadd kont ippruvajt nagħti ċifra biex nieħdu idea dwar kemm hi kbira l-problema. Kont semmejt iċ-ċifra ta’ 122,000 karozza bħala n-numru ta’ karozzi li għandhom jonqsu mit-toroq tagħna. Fl-artiklu intitolat Reducing 122,000 vehicles from Malta’s roads nispjega kif wasalt għal din iċ-ċifra.

Li nipprovdu l-parking, inwessgħu t-toroq u niddisinjaw flyovers li jimpressjonaw iwassal biss biex jiżdiedu l-karozzi fit-toroq u jagħmel il-problema agħar milli hi. Kif fil-fatt sar matul dawn l-aħħar snin. Il- pajjiż ċeda t-toroq lill-karozza. Hemm bżonn li t-toroq neħduhom lura. Dawk ukoll huma tagħna lkoll.

Il-problema hi kbira ħafna u ser tkompli tikber. Minkejja li hemm ħafna rieda tajba biex naslu irridu nifhmu li ma nistgħux insolvu din il-problema bis-sulluzzu.

It –trasport tal-iskejjel

School Opening Hours Consultation

Huwa tajjeb li l-Ministeru tal-Edukazzjoni ppubblika l-White Paper dwar it-trasport tal-iskejjel. Kieku ippubblika dan id-dokument bil-Malti kien ikun ferm aħjar milli ippubblikah bl-Ingliż bit-titlu ta’ School Opening Hours and Traffic Congestion.

Huwa fatt li fil-ġranet tal-vakanzi tal-iskejjel (kemm fis-sajf, kif ukoll fi żmien il-Milied u żmien l-Għid) ikun hemm ħinijiet kmieni fil-għodu u anke għall-ħabta tas-2pm meta t-traffiku jkun mexxej ferm iktar mill-bqija tas-sena.

Iżda jkun żball li naħsbu li l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku hi ikkawżata mill-iskejjel biss. L-iskejjel jagħtu l-kontribut tagħhom għall-problema, prinċipalment minħabba li l-hin li fih jibdew l-iskejjel huwa ukoll il-ħin li fih bosta jkun sejrin għax-xogħol fil-għodu. Il-problema hi ferm ikbar u għandha l-egħruq tagħha fin-nuqqas li jkollna transport pubbliku effiċjenti għal ħafna snin.

Il-White Paper tagħmel ħafna suġġerimenti validi.

Fiż-żoni madwar l-iskejjel tgħidilna l-White Paper, hemm ħtieġa li t-toroq li minnhom jgħaddu bil-mixi l-istudenti fi triqithom lejn l-iskola jkunu taħt superviżjoni (organisation of supervised walking routes in localities). Dan hu suġġeriment validu ħafna u jfisser emfasi ikbar fuq il-ħtieġa li innaqqsu l-perikli mit-toroq tagħna fil-lokalitajiet. Sal-lum (forsi) jkun hemm pulizija ħdejn l-iskola li jżomm il-karozzi milli joqorbu ż-żejjed lejn l-iskejjel. Din il-proposta li ż-żona protetta tinfirex lil hinn mill-iskola hi waħda tajba għax twassal il-protezzjoni mill-iskejjel saż-żoni residenzjali.

L-għadma iebsa li tindirizza l-White Paper hi l-ħtieġa li t-trasport tal-iskejjel jibda jitqies mhux iktar skola skola, iżda fuq livell nazzjonali b’mod li ma jiddistingwix bejn l-iskejjel tal-istat u dawk privati jew reliġjużi. Forsi wasal ukoll iż-żmien fejn l-istat jibda jħallas għat-transport tal-istudenti lejn l-iskejjel privati u religjużi.

B’mod żbaljat il-White Paper ma teżaminax ir-rwol li jista’ jkollhom il-Kunsilli Lokali f’dan l-eżerċizzju kollu. Il-Kunsilli Lokali huma f’posizzjoni unika li jagħtu kontribut effettiv għax qegħdin fil-lokalità, u hi sfortuna li l-Ministeru tal-Edukazzjoni dan jidher li għadu ma fehmux. L-organizzazzjoni tat-trasport tal-iskejjel għandu jsir flimkien mal-Kunsilli Lokali li individwalment jew fi gruppi (fil-każ ta’ Kunsilli Lokali żgħar) jistgħu jassiguraw ferm iktar minn kulħadd illi t-trasport tal-iskejjel ikun organizzat skond il-ħtiġijiet tal-istudenti u mhux skond il-kundizzjonijiet iddettati minn min jagħti s-servizz tat-trasport. F’dan il-kuntest il-White Paper fil-fatt titkellem dwar konflitt bejn service providers u service receivers: ġustament tgħid li l-ħinijiet tat-transport hu ħafna drabi ddettat fl-interess ta’ min jipprovdi s-servizz, mhux fl-interess tal-istudenti.

Organizzazzjoni aħjar tat-trasport tal-iskejjel taħt id-direzzjoni tal-Kunsilli Lokali għandha twassal għal titjib fil-kwalità tas-servizz tat-trasport. Dan jinkludi b’mod partikolari l-imġieba tax-xufiera u l-puntwalità tas-servizz.

Dawn il-fatturi kollha flimkien jistgħu jħajru iktar ġenituri jutilizzaw dan is-servizz flok ma jwasslu lill-uliedhom huma stess bil-karozzi privati tagħhom sal-iskola.

Il-ħinijiet tal-iskola m’għandhomx għalfejn jinbidlu. Imma f’dawk il-każijiet fejn l-istudenti jaslu kmieni l-iskola, flok ma jitħallew jiġru barra għandhom ikollhom il-possibiltà ta’ attività extra-kurrikulari, taħt superviżjoni fl-iskola.

B’dan il-mod l-iskejjel jistgħu inaqqsu t-traffiku li jiġġeneraw.

In Tourism – small is beautiful too

Villa del Porto Kalkara

First published in 1973, Ernst Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful – economics as if people mattered has always presented a challenge to politicians and economic planners. It contrasts to, and in many instances it actually is, the direct antithesis of the “economies of scale” and as such it is often discarded by those who dream of quick results.

Schumacher, an economist by training, had one specific message: the promotion of people-centred economics. Our economics are profit-focused, with decisions being constantly made on profitability criteria, rather than on human needs. People should come before profits.

Human needs as well as environmental impact should be factored in at the drawing-board stage of all economic decisions. Reading through plans and strategies on the development of tourism in Malta over the years, one inevitably reaches the conclusion that these plans and strategies are focused on hotels, as if nothing else mattered. Tourism is, however, much more than hotels and the hotel industry.

It is only fairly recently that some thought is being given to boutique hotels and agri-tourism: alternative, small-scale tourism opportunities.  Yet much more needs to be done if we are to move along the path of sustainable tourism which, whilst being practically harmless environmentally, can be of considerable benefit not just to our economy but also to our families, in particular those in small communities.

Earlier this week, I was alerted by residents in Lija to an application submitted to MEPA [PA2822/15] to convert a large townhouse in a residential area into a boutique hotel. This proposed hotel would have nine bedrooms with ancillary facilities and it covers a total area of 1,110 square metres, including a garden. When finished, it could cater for a maximum of twenty guests.

Being small, such a boutique hotel would  fit in easily in any of our towns or villages. Its impact would be compatible with that generated by three or four families in the community. Being generally family-run helps considerably to give a human face to this tourism outlet as well as offering excellent service.

However the local residents are  worried about the compatibility of this development with the residential nature of the area. Their worries are not just about the impact of the hotel’s services but more on the possible spinoffs such as whether the bar and restaurant, as well as the swimming pool  – to be constructed in what is currently the garden – would be open to people who are  not actually staying in the hotel. The residents are worried about noise pollution well into the silent hours, the generation of increased traffic and subsequent parking problems – problems they associate with such spin-off activities.

The residents cannot be blamed for their concerns because no one has explained what the practical operational limits of boutique hotels will be – and this is because there are no MEPA guidelines on the subject. The various applications for the provision of boutique hotels that MEPA has processed in the recent past are considered within existing general policies. Likewise, perusal of the Malta Tourism Authority’s website does not reveal any guidelines to help prospective developers of boutique hotels navigate the relatively unchartered waters of such an activity in a residential area.

A number of local councils are similarly concerned because, although they understand and appreciate the benefits to the local economy of encouraging the use of large properties as boutique hotels they are apprehensive about the collateral damage to community life. Large townhouses as well as historical buildings in our towns and villages can be given a new life by being converted to boutique hotels but great care must be taken to ensure that this development is not driven by economics alone. It needs to be community driven and local councils in particular need to be partners in this drive to develop an untapped area of sustainable tourism.

If handled properly, it is potentially a win-win situation but the concerns of the residential communities must be addressed immediately. If this is done, tourism will take a gigantic step forward as it will develop a human face.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 23 August 2015