It-taħwid fl-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar

Qatt ħsibt ftit dwar kif inhu possibli li r-regolatur tal-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art f’Malta jinsab fl-istat ta’ taħwid li qiegħed? Ħarsu ftit lejn il-proċeduri kriminali li għaddejjin bħalissa dwar il-ħasil tal-flus. Wieħed mill-akkużati hu Matthew Pace li sa ftit ilu kien membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Spettur tal-Pulizija li kien qed jixhed fil-każ iddeskrivieh bħala professjonist tal-ħasil tal-flus:  a professional money launderer.

Ftit jiftakru li f’Ġunju 2018 kellna aħbar li l-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) kienet immultat lil  Matthew Pace is-somma ta’ €38,750 minħabba li ma segwiex il-liġijiet kontra l-ħasil tal-flus meta kien qed jieħu ħsieb l-investimenti tal-klijent tiegħu Keith Schembri. Dan kien fatt magħruf. Mid-dehra l-Gvern kien kuntent bih, għax ma għamel xejn dwaru. Qiesu ma ġara xejn.

Ikun interessanti nkunu nafu jekk il-konsulent legali tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, ċertu Dr Robert Abela, ġibitx l-attenzjoni tal-Awtorità dwar il-ħtieġa li taġixxi dwar dan. Jekk le, forsi l-istess Dr Robert Abela bħala l-konsulent legali ta’ Joseph Muscat ġibidlu l-attenzjoni dwar dan? Ma smajna xejn dwar dan kollu.  ilkoll kompromessi. Governanza tajba? U mhux hekk tgħid.

Matthew Pace għamel snin membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Kien biss wara l-każ ċar ta’ kunflitt ta’interess tiegħu  fil-każ tal-applikazzjoni ta’żvilupp mill-Grupp dB f’Pembroke li kien sfurzat jirreżenja u dan wara pressjoni pubblika minn ambjentalisti. Ngħid li kien “sfurzat” għax wara li l-Qorti annullat il-permess mogħti lill-Grupp dB fuq il-kunflitt ta’ interess ta’ Matthew Pace hu kien għall-ewwel irrifjuta li jwarrab. Kien ippruvat li huwa ħa sehem fil-laqgħat li wasslu għal deċiżjoni dwar il-permess tad-dB f’Pembroke, u ivvota favur din l-applikazzjoni.  Fl-istess ħin kellu interess f’aġenzija tal-propjetà li kienet qed tbiegħ  partijiet minn dan l-iżvilupp sa minn qabel mal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, bil-vot tiegħu stess favur, approva din l-applikazzjoni! Dik governanza tajba. Dik imġieba korretta!

Din hi l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Sfortunatament il-membri l-oħra tal-Bord huma ukoll effettwati minħabba l-assoċjazzjoni tagħhom miegħu.  Iridu jgħaddu snin kbar qabel mar-regulatur jirkupra minn dan.

Imma hemm iktar minn hekk.

Ambjentalisti skoprew, kważi b’kumbinazzjoni, li c-Chairman attwali tat-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar  (EPRT) li jisma’ appelli dwar każijiet ta’ ippjanar tal-użu tal-art u oħrajn dwar l-ambjent huwa ukoll impjegat tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.  Presentement qiegħed b’leave bla ħlas mill-impjieg normali tiegħu mal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar bid-dritt li jmur lura għall-impieg normali tiegħu hekk kif tintemm il-ħatra tiegħu bħala Chairperson tat-Tribunal.  

Kif jista’ impjegat tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jikkunsidra appelli minn deċiżjonijiet li jieħu min jimpjegah? Dan imma hu dak li jagħmel kuljum ic-Chairman tal-EPRT.  L-anqas jekk jipprova ma qatt jista’ jkun imparzjali. Imma meta inġibditlu l-attenzjoni dwar dan ma qabilx li s-sitwazzjoni partikolari tiegħu titfa dell fuq l-imparzjalità tiegħu meta jiddeċiedi dwar kazijiet tal-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art. Fl-aħħar ser tkun il-Qorti li jkollha tiddeċiedi u l-ħsara li tkun saret sadanittant ser tkun waħda kbira.

It-taħwid, kif qed taraw, hu kbir. B’dawn in-nuqqasijiet etiċi ħadd m’għandu jiskanta li l-proċess dwar l-użu ta’ l-art tilef kull kredibilità.  

A mess by design

Did you ever wonder why it is possible for the land use planning regulator in Malta to be in such a mess? Just take a look at the criminal proceedings currently under way on money laundering. A former Planning Authority Board member, Matthew Pace, is one of the accused. A police inspector, explaining the investigation results has described him as a professional money launderer.

Few may remember that, way back in June 2018, an item in the news had announced that the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) had fined Matthew Pace the sum of €38,750 for breaching a number of anti-money laundering laws when dealing with investments held by a client of his named Keith Schembri. It was public knowledge and government was apparently happy as it did not act about it.

It would be interesting to know if the then legal advisor of the Planning Authority, a certain Dr Robert Abela, had flagged the issue and drawn the attention of the Authority on the need to take action. If not, could the legal advisor to Joseph Muscat, the same Dr Robert Abela, have drawn attention of his then boss to the matter? We have heard nothing about it. As we are by now aware, they are all compromised. Good governance my foot!

Mr Matthew Pace spent years as a member of the Planning Authority Board and it was only after his blatant case of conflict of interest in the dB Pembroke case that he was forced to resign as a result of public pressures by environmentalists. I say he was “forced to resign” as, when the Court annulled the dB Pembroke permit on the basis of Matthew Pace’s conflict of interest, he initially refused to make way. It was proven that he sat in judgement and participated in the decision on the dB Pembroke permit, voting in favour of its approval. Simultaneously he had an interest in an estate agency which was already “selling” units forming part of the dB Pembroke development even before the development permit was approved by the Planning Board with Matthew Pace’s vote in favour! Governance at its best!

This is the Planning Authority. Unfortunately, the other members of the Board are impacted by association. It will be many years before this regulator recovers.

There is more.

Environmentalists have discovered, almost by accident, that the current Chairman of the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT) while sitting in judgement on appeal cases concerning planning and environmental issues is still an employee of the Planning Authority. He is currently on leave without pay having the right to return to his employment with the Planning Authority when his current term as Chairman of the EPRT expires.

How can an employee of the Planning Authority sit in judgement on the decisions of his employer? Yet this is what the Chairman of the EPRT does every day. He cannot by any stretch of the imagination be impartial even if he tries his very best. Yet whenever he was challenged, he has refused to accept that his specific circumstances render him unsuitable to Chair the EPRT in all cases concerning the Planning Authority. This matter will eventually have to be decided by the Courts with possible considerable consequences.

The mess gets worse every day.

With these ethical failures it is no wonder that the credibility of the land use planning process has gone to the dogs.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 28 March 2021

Keith Schembri u l-kaxxi vojta: frodi, korruzzjoni u ħasil ta’ flus

Mela Keith Schembri u 10 persuni oħra, kif ukoll għoxrin kumpanija ittellgħu l-Qorti ftit tal- ħin ilu. Huma akkużati bi frodi, korruzzjoni, ħasil ta’ flus u iktar.

Dan li qed iseħħ illum huwa prova li l-istituzzjonijiet ma ħadmux kif kellhom jaħdmu. Għax kellom ikunu l-kaxxi “vojta” ta’ Simon Busuttil, li wara li saret investigazzjoni dwarhom mill-Maġistrat wasslu għall-passi tal-lum.

Illum hu jum ta’ niket. Jum ta’ għajb.

Dak li kien “in-number one” ta’ Malta hu akkużat li hu maħmuġ. Miegħu hemm oħrajn fosthom persuna li l-Gvern kien appuntah bħala membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar (Matthew Pace) li kellu jirreżenja għax inqabad b’kunflitt ta’interess: waqt li kien qed jivvuta favur il-permess tal-proġett tad-dB f’Pembroke kien diġa qed ibiegħ l-appartamenti permezz tal-aġenzija tal-propjetà li kellu sehem fiha.

Jum tal-mistħija għax tal-lum hi biċċa prova li l-Gvern ta’ Malta kien immexxi mill-ħmieġ.

X’serjiġri minn issa l-quddiem diffiċli tgħid. Li l-affarijiet waslu sa hawn hu pass importanti għas saltna tad-dritt.

Min imiss?

The fragility of democracy

The events on Capitol Hill in Washington last Wednesday clearly show the fragility of democracy. We should never take it for granted.

The storming of Capitol Hill by Trump’s mob has damaged American democracy, which damage will be felt for many years to come. Damage which will take considerable time to heal.

Instigating and making use of violence for political ends, to instill fear and condition political opponents is nothing new. It has been used in countries and by politicians of dubious democratic credentials since time immemorial. On these islands we have had more than our fair share of this throughout the years.

In my younger days I used to live in Valletta, one block away from Parliament. We were used to having “spontaneous demonstrations” whenever Parliament had some hot item on its agenda, or whenever the political climate was tense, which was quite often. An orgy of violence many a time was the anticipated conclusion of such “spontaneous demonstrations” as the business community can confirm.  This is what incited crowds do: they transform themselves into deadly weapons used unscrupulously by those who pull the strings to silence or try to condition their political opponents.

Whenever the mob was let loose it left a trail of damage, not just physical damage, but more importantly reputational damage which takes quite a time to heal and repair.

Some of you may remember when a bull was let loose in the streets of Paola in September 1976 as part of the then election victory celebrations. After being force-fed a whole bottle of whisky it ended being directed towards the local PN club where it destroyed everything in its path.

The setting on fire of The Times in Valletta and the subsequent orgy of violence of the 15 October 1979 is another instance when instigation directed at highly charged political-mobs ends destroying everything in sight. The reputational damage is the most serious in such circumstances.

The objective, in such instances is always the retention, buttressing and consolidation of raw political power. Fortunately, this is history now, but it still lingers on in the collective memory, the cause of occasional collective nightmares.

The international media has rightly reacted sharply to the developments down Pennsylvania Avenue. In a couple of hours, in addition to the loss of four lives, injury to at least 14 police officers and damage to property, the Trump mob has inflicted lasting damage to American democracy.

Do not just blame Donald Trump for the chaos at Capitol Hill on Wednesday. His enablers have a sizeable share of the blame. The agitators were not just those in the streets in hoodies and army fatigues. They were also in suits, products of Yale, Harvard, Stanford and Princeton Universities sitting in front of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence, participating in the joint session of the US Congress.

Both Trump as well as his enablers have blood on their hands.

The rule of law and the respect of democratic institutions are not just for export! The United States of America needs to practice what it preaches in order to start restoring its credibility.

As a result of the election of Joe Biden, described as “sleepy Joe” by Donald Trump throughout the electoral campaign, the US could slowly start the difficult uphill path to reconciliation. Having the support of influential minorities will undoubtedly be an asset in achieving this objective. The successful mobilisation by the Biden campaign of the black vote throughout the United States was pivotal in achieving its electoral success, the latest being the election for the first time in the last thirty years of two Georgian Democratic Senators. One must now look ahead towards the future to reconstruct the social and democratic infrastructure dismantled in the recent past.

Democracy is very fragile. It is easily damaged and takes quite a time to heal. We should never take democracy for granted. It is continuously under threat and should be defended assiduously every day.

Published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 10 January 2021

Il-karozzi iddominaw ħajjitna

Hi sfortuna li tul is-snin ħallejna ħajjitna tkun iddominata mill-karozzi.

Għaddejna minn kontroversja wara l-oħra dwar l-infrastruttura tat-toroq. Sfortunatament jidher li minn dan kollu l-awtoritajiet għadhom ma tgħallmu xejn.  L-aħħar każ hu dwar il-proposta għal fly-over ġdida għall-Imrieħel: fly-over oħra li mhiex meħtiega.

Il-proposta tal-Imrieħel għadha qed tkun imfassla. Ma hemmx wisq dettalji li huma magħrufa, s’issa, ħlief li probabbilment ser ikun hemm impatt sostanzjali fuq madwar 20 tomna ta’ raba’ saqwi. Minn dak li hu magħruf s’issa  Infrastruttura Malta bdiet tiltaqa’ mal-bdiewa dwar dak li eventwalment ser ikun propost.

Mhux meħtieġ li nkunu nafu d-dettalji ta’ dak li hu ppjanat, kif qed jgħid il-Ministru għat-Transport Ian Borg, biex nikkritikaw il-programm tal-Gvern dwar l-infrastruttura tat-toroq għax dan hu oġġezzjonabbli fil-prinċipju.  

M’għandiex bżonn iktar toroq. Imma għandna bżonn inqas karozzi fit-toroq li għandna.  Tnaqqis ta’ karozzi mit-toroq jwassal għal tnaqqis fil-konġestjoni tat-traffiku u titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja, inkluż iktar sigurtà fit-toroq tagħna għal kulħadd.

It-toroq tagħna mballati bil-karozzi. Għal din ir-raġuni l-Gvern qabbad esperti bex jistudjaw il-problema. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, bl-għajnuna ta’ fondi għall-iżvilupp reġjonali tal-Unjoni Ewropea tfassal Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport (Masterplan) minn konsulenti barranin. Il-Kabinett approva dan il-pjan fl-2016, imma kontinwament qiegħed jonqos milli jassigura li dan ikun implimentat.

Waħda mill-osservazzjonijiet bażiċi ta’ dan il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport hi li nofs il-vjaġġi bil-karozzi privati jdumu inqas minn 15-il minuta, jiġifieri huma vjaġġi għal distanzi qosra. Bla ebda dubju hemm bosta mezzi sostenibbli li jservu għal mobilità alternattiva: il-karozzi privati bla ebda dubju nistgħu ngħaddu mingħajrhom għal dawn id-distanzi qosra, fil-parti l-kbira tal-każi.

Il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport iwissina dwar in-nuqqas f’Malta tal-ippjanar għat-trasport: ippjanar li jħares sal-ponta ta’ mnieħru għax ma jħarisx fit-tul.  Bħala konsegwenza ta’ dan  ftit li xejn jeżistu miri ċari, hemm nuqqas  ta’ direzzjoni strateġika kif ukoll nuqqas ta’ kapaċità li jkunu ndirizzati materji diffiċli bħat-tnaqqis ta’ karozzi mit-toroq. Il-Maltin huma konservattivi wisq, jgħid il-pjan (There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change) u dan f’kuntrast mal-ħtieġa għal azzjoni fil-komunità biex tkun indirizzata l-problema tat-traffiku, kemm kif inhi illum kif ukoll kif għad tista’ tiżviluppa.  Dan, ikompli jgħid il-pjan tat-trasport approvat mill-Kabinett, iwassal biex is-sewwieq Malti jippretendi li kulħadd għandu jaddatta l-mod kif jivvjaġġa biex hu jkun jista’ jibqa’ jsuq il-karozza tiegħu! (This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.)

Il-politika dwar it-trasport ma jistax ikun li tibqa’ ippjanat biċċa biċċa, mil-lum għal għada. Jeħtieġ ippjanjar olistiku. Dan hu l-iskop li sar dan il-Masterplan: biex ikollna pjan olistiku u nibdew inħarsu fit-tul. Biex pjan bħal dan ikun implimentat, imma, hemm bżonn deċiżjonijiet iebsin li għandhom iwasslu għal tnaqqis fin-numru esaġerat ta’ karozzi privati li hawn fit-toroq tagħna.  

Il-problema reali li qed iżżomm l-implimentazzjoni ta’ dan il-pjan hi li l-Gvern m’għandux il-kuraġġ li jieħu dawn id-deċiżjonijiet. Ma jridx jirfes kallijiet!  

Irridu nifhmu darba għal dejjem li ċ-ċokon ta’ pajjiżna jagħmilha possibli li permezz ta’ transport pubbliku organizzat sewwa nilħqu kull rokna tal-pajjiż f’ħin qasir.

It-trasport pubbliku f’Malta għamel progress kbir f’dawn l-aħħar snin, imma dan mhux biżżejjed. Għax it-trasport pubbliku ma jistax jikkompeti ma’ Gvern li kontinwament  jinkoraġixxi l-użu tal-karozza privata b’toroq ġodda u flyovers li flok jirrestrinġu iż-żieda tat-traffiku fit-toroq tagħna jagħmluh iktar faċli.

Għal żmien twil, Gvern wara l-ieħor kien skjav tal-karozza. Il-politika tat-trasport kienet u għada politika favur il-karozzi li jikkundizzjonawlna ħajjitna. Hu dan li għandu jinbidel.

Jeħtieġ li l-politika tat-trasport tpoġġi lin-nies l-ewwel, qabel il-karozzi.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 27 ta’ Diċembru 2020

King of the Road

It is indeed unfortunate that over the years we have allowed the car to control our lives.

We have gone through too many controversies related to road infrastructure. Unfortunately the authorities have not learnt anything in the process. The latest case being the proposed Imrieħel bypass improvements through the construction of yet another unnecessary fly-over.

The proposed bypass improvements apparently are still on the drawing board. No details on the proposals are available except that most probably there will be a considerable impact on irrigated agricultural land, measuring around 20 tumoli, that is approximately 22,500 square metres. From what is known, recently, Infrastructure Malta has sounded farmers which may be impacted by the proposals.

Contrary to what has been stated by Minister for Transport Ian Borg, criticism of government’s road infrastructure programme does not require details as it is objectionable on a point of principle. We do not require more roads, but rather less cars on the roads. Such a reduction of cars from our roads would reduce traffic congestion as well as have a marked improvement in everyone’s quality of life, inclusive of an increased safety for all.

Our roads are currently bursting at the seams. Government has commissioned studies to study the matter. As a result, a Transport Masterplan has been produced by foreign consultants paid through EU Regional Development Funds. Cabinet has approved this Masterplan in 2016, yet it has repeatedly failed to ensure its implementation.

One of the basic observations in the said Transport Masterplan is that 50 per cent of the trips we make with private cars are for distances taking less than 15 minutes, meaning that such trips are local in nature. We can easily be served with more sustainable options to address this basic observation: use of private cars is certainly not one of them.  

The Transport Masterplan admonishes us as follows: “………… it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint. There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal actions to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.”

Transport policy needs to be looked at holistically and not in a piecemeal fashion. That is the purpose of the Masterplan: to take a holistic view and lay out a long-term roadmap. Obviously to implement such a roadmap tough decision-taking is involved which would reduce and restrict can ownership. The real problem of Transport Policy implementation is that government does not have the balls to take such tough decisions.

The point to be addressed is that the relative smallness of our country makes practically every corner of the islands within easy reach even through public transport if this is organised properly.

Public Transport in Malta has made gigantic steps forward, but these are not sufficient. Public transport cannot compete with a government which is continuously encouraging the use of private transport and making it continuously easier through massive funds made available for unnecessary flyovers and underpasses!

Government is continuously mishandling transport policy. It is about time that it is placed back on track.

It has been government policy for more than the past twenty-five years that the car rules over our roads. We should change that. We need to reclaim ownership of our roads (and streets) placing more emphasis on the needs of the pedestrian who should be the real king of the road.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 27 December 2020

Obliterating the future

Humanity is at war with nature. Isn’t it about time for peace?

This is the basic message of António Guterres, United Nations Secretary General, in an address delivered at Columbia University earlier this week.

António Guterres said: “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and fury. Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes.”

If humanity keeps the current pace there is the danger that we destroy the future before we have even understood the risks that we are continuously creating.

The past decade has been the hottest in human history. Some are still focusing on short term gains ignoring long term losses. Even if all the commitments made at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 are honoured completely, we would still have some way to go in order to attain the agreed minimum objectives: limiting the global mean temperature increase to not more than 2 degrees Celsius, hopefully closer to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Beyond the 2-degree limit climate change will become catastrophic and irreversible.

Climate change is nature fighting back forcefully, without discriminating. The war is on at full speed all over the globe. In some parts it is drought. In others it is floods. Havoc is the result everywhere. The intensity and frequency of storms is on the increase as the cumulative impacts of our actions continuously increase.

There is no possibility to negotiate with nature, her demands are clear and simple: unconditional surrender. We need to change our ways and habits. Nature can be a reliable friend but if transformed into an enemy, it is ruthless as climate change shows unequivocally.

It has been a hectic 48 years since the first ministers for the environment were appointed as a direct result of the deliberations of the international community in the UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June 1972. Some progress has definitely been achieved over the years but it is certainly nowhere close to enough.

It has been realised that there is only one earth which we need to care for. It has been 34 years since the Brundtland report placed sustainable development on the international agenda. Though officially accepted as an important policy objective, it is still subject to mental gymnastics in determining practical every day action to reduce impacts which threaten our future.

The spirit of the 2015 Paris summit is one which recognised the need for urgent action, yet five years down the line procrastination is still the order of the day. As we may have realised by now, half measures are not effective in addressing nature’s revenge.

We cannot keep postponing the decision to determine the cut-off date for the elimination of petrol and diesel run vehicles from our roads. The decision announced in September 2017 is taking too long to implement leading to the reasonable assumption that reluctance is having the upper hand.

The electrification of our roads is one important step which needs to be implemented rapidly if we are to start the path to carbon neutrality in a meaningful way. It must however also be accompanied by a reduction of the number of cars on our roads, an achievable objective, given the small distances which we travel in such a small country. 

It is to be underlined, once more, that the Transport Master Plan for the Maltese Islands has identified that around 50 per cent of our car journeys are for short distances in respect if which we can definitely use alternative means.  This signifies that the required changes, in our case, are less painful, even in the short term. We need however to address contradictory policy stances: the required reduction of cars from our roads will be more difficult to achieve if the development of large-scale road infrastructure is still the order of the day. Even the proposed Gozo Channel tunnel falls in this category as its feasibility is dependent on maximising car movements, a requirement which is in direct contradiction to the Paris Climate Summit conclusions!

The risk of obliterating the future is still present. Nature will not be fooled. It can distinguish between greenwash and meaningful action. Unfortunately, it is clear that it has not been impressed by our action to date. There is not much time left to change course.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 December 2020

Ambaxxati b’daqs ta’ raħal

L-ambaxxata Amerikana nbniet 9 snin ilu fuq medda kbira ta’ art f’ Ta’ Qali li nxtrat mingħand il-Gvern Malti għas-somma ta’  €14.6 miljuni. L-ambaxxata f’Ta’ Qali hi mibnija fuq art b’qies ta’ madwar 4 ettari, jiġifieri 40,000 metru kwadru.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar approvat permess ta’ żvilupp biex tinbena ambaxxata Ċiniża f’Pembroke fuq art b’qies ta’ madwar 2 ettari, jiġifieri 20,000 metru kwadru.  

Għalkemm il-kumpless tal-ambaxxata Ċiniża ser ikun madwar nofs fid-daqs meta mqabbel ma dak Amerikan f’Ta’ Qali xorta hu kbir wisq. L-art li fuqha ser jinbena dan il-kumpless inxtrat mingħand il-Gvern Malti għas-somma ta’ €7,880,000.

Għalfejn dawn il-pajjiżi barranin qed jitħallew jibnu l-ambaxxati tagħhom fuq art daqshekk kbira?  Jekk verament jeħtieġu dan l-ispazju għaliex ma ġewx imħajra biex jirrestawraw xi bini qadim, preferibilment storiku, b’benefiċċju għall-komunità Maltija?

Kemm ser indumu ma jkollna xi talba oħra għall-iżvilupp ta’ kumpless ieħor għal ambaxxata enormi? Forsi mill-Federazzjoni Russa?

Id-dibattitu pubbliku dwar l-Università Amerikana f’Malta suppost li għamel lil ħafna nies iktar konxji. Imma jidher li ma tgħallmu xejn mid-dibattitu pubbliku li wassal biex l-unika parti ta’ din l-Univeristà li illum qed tiffunżjona qegħda flok it-tarżna f’Bormla. Il-bini storiku li kien jifforma parti mit-tarżna ta’ Bormla, l-imħażen tal-Kavallieri tas-sbatax-il seklu u l-workshops tal-Ammiraljat Ingliż tad-dsatax-il seklu ġew restawrati u ħadu ħajja ġdida. Dan kollu issarraf f’ġid ambjentali għall-pajjiż kollu u l-ħarsien ta’ art f’Marsaskala minn żvilupp li kien jeqridha.

Jekk nistaqsu għaliex dawn l-ambaxxati kbar, daqs raħal, qatt m’hu ser ikollna tweġiba onesta. Għax hu ovvju li apparti x-xogħol konsulari normali u l-iżvilupp ta’ relazzjonijiet tajba mad-dinja tan-negozju u mal-komunitajiet lokali, fir-realtà, dawn l-ambaxxati huma “widna” iffukata biex tisma’ dak li qed jiġri fir-reġjun tal-Mediterran.

Uħud iħobbu jiddeskrivu kemm lill-iStati Uniti kif ukoll lir-Repubblika Ċiniża bħala ħbieb kbar ta’ Malta. Ir-realtà hi ftit differenti. Hu prinċipju bażiku tal-politika barranija li l-pajjiżi m’għandhomx ħbieb, għandhom biss interessi! Ir-relazzjonijiet diplomatiċi, imbagħad, iservu biex iġibu l-quddiem dawn l-interessi!

Il-posizzjoni ta’ Malta fil-Mediterran tagħmilha idejali bħala ċentru fejn tisma’ u tosserva. Dan, hu interess ewlieni li minħabba fih kemm l-Istati Uniti kif ukoll ir-Repubblika Ċiniża għandhom bżonn spazju kbir.

Id-dibattitu riċenti dwar il-possibiltà ta’ ftehim li jirregola l-militar Amerikan f’pajjiżna (Status of Forces Agreement : SOFA) hu indikattiv. Il-kummenti li smajna u qrajna jagħtu idea żgħir ta’ dak li kien għaddej madwar il-mejda.  

F’pajjiżi kbar, ambaxxati kbar jistgħu jagħmlu sens. Imma Malta, tista’ tgħaddi mingħajrhom. M’għandniex bżonn ambaxxati kbar biex intejbu r-relazzjonijiet mal-Istati Uniti jew iċ-Ċina.

L-ambaxxata tal-Istati Uniti f’Ta’ Qali issa ilha mibnija u ilha topera 9 snin. Imma l-ambaxxata Ċiniża għadha fuq il-pjanta. MInkejja li għadha kif ġiet approvata l-ambaxxatur Ċiniż għad għandu ħin biex jaħseb ftit dwar kif jista’ jindirizza n-nuqqas ta’ spazju li għandu mod ieħor. Jista’ jikunsidra r-riabilitazzjoni ta’ bini qadima, possibilment bini storiku minflok ma jibni ambaxxata daqs raħal.  

Jekk jagħmel hekk ikun qed jittrasforma problema f’opportunità.

Qatt mhu tard, sur Ambaxxatur.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 1 ta’ Novembru 2020

Village size embassies: are they required?

The US embassy was built some 9 years ago on a large tract of land at Ta’ Qali purchased from the Maltese Government for €14.6 million. The footprint of the Ta’ Qali Embassy is slightly over 4 hectares in size.

Earlier this week a development permit for a new Chinese Embassy at Pembroke, covering an area of around 2 hectares, was approved by the Planning Authority. The Chinese Embassy compound will be half the size of the US embassy complex but it still has quite a substantial footprint. The land to be developed as a Chinese Embassy was purchased from the Maltese Government for €7,880,000.

Why have these foreign governments been permitted to develop their embassies on such large tracts of land? If they really need space, would it not have been much more helpful if they were advised to restore some old, possibly historic building, as a result giving back something to Maltese society?

How long will it take before some other request for the development of another enormous embassy complex is made? From the Russian Federation maybe?

Does the debate on the American University in Malta not ring a bell? Have we not learnt anything from that public debate as a result of which the only functioning campus is at the former Malta Drydocks? The historic properties on that site, namely the seventeenth century Knights’ Building and the nineteenth century British naval workshops have been restored and given a new use. This has resulted in a net environmental gain, in the process protecting land at Marsaskala from development: a portion of our countryside was saved from ruin.

We will never have an honest reply to the basic question as to what all this space in the village size embassies is needed for. In addition to basic consular work and the development of relations with the business and local community these village size embassies are also inevitably an eavesdropping focus for intelligence gathering in the Mediterranean region.

Some tend to describe both the United States and the Republic of China as being very good friends of Malta. In reality it is a well-established foreign policy principle that countries do not have friends: they have interests. Diplomatic relations serve to further these interests.

Malta’s central location in the Mediterranean makes it ideal as a monitoring post and that is undoubtedly one of the basic interests for such large embassies. Ensuring that this interest is well catered for in Malta is a priority for both the United States of America and the Republic of China.

The recent debate on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) relative to US Forces is indicative. Only the naïve would have failed to note the unofficial comments flying around in order to understand what was going on around the negotiating tables.

In larger countries it may make sense to have large embassies. However, in Malta we could definitely do without them. In a small country such as ours, they are definitely not required to improve the relations with the United States, China or any other country.

The Embassy of the United States of America has now been built and it has been operational for the past nine years. The Chinese embassy is however still on plan. Even if it has just been approved the Chinese Ambassador could still give the matter some further thought and consider the possible rehabilitation of some old building or buildings, possibly historical ones, instead of his massive embassy, the size of a small village!

Possibly that could turn the problem of the location and land uptake of the proposed embassy on its head and develop it into a unique opportunity.

It is never too late Mr Ambassador to take note.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 1 November 2020

Tweġiba lill-Professur Alan Deidun

Alan Deidun għoġbu jwieġeb l-artikli tiegħi tal-Ħadd li għadda fuq l-Independent on Sunday u fuq l-Illum. Wieħed minnhom , dak fuq l-Independent on Sunday huwa riprodott fuq dan il-blog. L-artiklu tiegħu hu intitolat ‘C’ is for Cacopardo, not for collegiality ………

Fl-artikli tiegħi jiena ġbidt l-attenzjoni li l-Professur Alan Deidun għandu konflitt ta’ interess meta filwaqt li huwa membru tal-Bord tal-ERA, r-regolatur ambjentali, fl-istess ħin kien involut fit-tfassil ta’ wieħed mir-rapporti tekniċi li jiffurmaw l-EIA dwar il-propost inċineratur fil-Magħtab.

It-tweġiba tiegħu dehret illum fl-Independent on Sunday u ser inwieġbu fl-qosor illum.  Imma għandu jisma’ iktar dettalji dwar l-EIA tal-inċineratur matul il-ġimgħa u dan billi nhar l-Erbgħa li ġej 21 t’Ottubru jagħlaq il-perjodu ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar l-EIA fuq il-proposta ta’ żvilupp ta’ inċineratur. Sadakinnhar ser nippreżenta bil-miktub lill-ERA, bħala parti minn dan il-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika numru ta’ osservazzjonijiet dwar l-istess EIA, inkluż dwar l-istess Professur Alan Deidun.

Ser nillimita ruħi għall-argumenti u għalissa ser ninjora l-insulti u l-paroli vojt tal-Professur.

Deidun mhux l-uniku wieħed li waqt li jifforma parti minn awtorità regolatorja jissottometti studji għall-konsiderazzjoni tal-awtorità li jifforma parti minnha. Qablu kellna oħrajn. Din hi prattika li mhix aċċettabbli u għandha bżonn tieqaf. Ilha tiġi ikkritikata u hemm bżonn tieqaf malajr kemm jista’ jkun.

Immaterjalment minn kemm jagħmel rapporti: jekk hux wieħed jew mija ma tagħmilx differenza. Deidun u oħrajn għandhom bżonn li jifhmu illi meta taċċetta ħatra fuq awtorità regolatorja din l-aċċettazzjoni inevitabilment teffettwa l-ħidma professjonali tiegħek. L-impatt, in parti jiddependi mill-integrità tiegħek.

Tajjeb li nżommu quddiem għajnejna li fil-każ ta’ Manoel Island riċentement, f’Ġunju 2020, ġie annullat permess ta’ żvilupp minħabba li wieħed minn dawk involuti fit-tfassil tal-EIA kellu konflitt ta’ interess.

Fit-tweġiba tiegħu Deidun ħass li kellu jagħmel referenza għal xogħol professjonali tiegħi ma diversi Kunsilli Lokali. Konvenjentement Deidun nesa’ li jiena ma niffurma parti minn l-ebda korp regolatorju u għaldaqstant il-ħidma professjonali tiegħi mhiex limitata bħal tiegħu.

Fl-aħħarnett Deidun jgħid li ma jmissnix ikkritikajtu għax hu ambjentalist bħali. Jibqa’ l-fatt li Deidun mexa fuq il-passi ta’ dawk li mxew ħażin. Mingħajr ma nnaqqaslu l-mertu dwar fejn ħadem tajjeb, daqstant ieħor jixraqlu l-kritika iebsa, limitata fuq dan il-kaz.

Sfortunatament l-attitudni tal-Professur Deidun, u ta’ oħrajn li aġixxew bħalu, tagħmel ħsara kbira lill-istituzzjonijiet regolatorji. Jekk iwarrab jew jitwarrab minn fuq il-Bord tal-ERA, aħjar għal kulħadd.