Pajjiż storbjuż

Malta hu pajjiż storbjuż iżżejjed. It-tniġġiż minn storbju esaġerat jeħtieġ li jkun indirizzat b’mod urġenti minħabba li dan għandu impatt mhux żgħir fuq is-saħħa tagħna lkoll. Il-problema tal-istorbju f’dan il-pajjiż hi waħda kontinwa, imma din tiżdied sostanzjalment matul ix-xhur tas-sajf minħabba li jkun hawn żieda ta’ attivitajiet ta’ divertiment li jsiru fl-apert.

Mhiex problema li qiegħda f’xi lokalità waħda partikolari. Hi fil-fatt mifruxa mal-pajjiż kollu.

Meta storbju esaġerat ikun iġġenerat minn ġo post mibni, permezz ta’ teknoloġija eżistenti, jekk din tkun użata sewwa, hu possibli li l-impatti jkunu mnaqqsa. Imma meta l-istorbju jkun iġġenerat fl-apert, is-soluzzjoni hi waħda: elimina is-sors f’dawk il-ħinijiet li joħloq inkonvenjent kif ukoll li permezz tal-permessi maħruġa jkun determinat limitu permissibli imma raġjonevoli ta’ kemm jista’ jsir storbju. Biex dan iseħħ, imma, jeħtieġ qafas regolatorju kif ukoll it-taħriġ sewwa ta’ dawk li jkunu meħtieġa li jintervjenu biex iwaqqfu l-eċċess tal-istorbju ġġenerat meta l-limitu stabilit jinqabeż jew ma jkunx osservat.

Sfortunatament dan il-qafas regolatorju ma jeżistix f’pajjiżna. Agħar minn hekk, il-Pulizija, li toħroġ il-permessi għall-attivitajiet ta’ divertiment li jsiru fl-apert, ma għandha l-ebda sensittività għal dan kollu. Meta taġixxi dwar l-ilmenti li tirċievi tagħmel dan bl-iżjed mod kajman possibli.

Madwar tliet snin ilu residenti tal-Isla kienu qed jilmentaw li l-ħidma tat-Tarżna ta’ Palumbo, b’mod partikolari matul il-lejl, kienet ta’ inkonvenjent kbir għalihom u ma kienitx qed tħallihom jistrieħu. Anna Spiteri, ambjentalista residenti fl-Isla, kienet, għan-nom tar-residenti, marret il-Qorti dwar dan. Ilkoll niftakru kif dakinnhar kien ħareġ ċar li l-Korp tal-Pulizija la hu mħarreġ u lanqas għandu l-għodda teknika biex ikun jista’ jaġixxi f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi. Minn dakinnhar lil hawn, jiena infurmat li t-Tarżna ta’ Palumbo ħadet passi biex l-istorbju ġġenerat bi nhar ikun indirizzat b’ilqugħ kif ukoll qed tevita xogħol li jiġġenera l-istorbu billejl!

Issa, fil-bidu tas-sajf ir-residenti tal-Isla huma għal darba oħra ibbumbardjati bil-ħsejjes ta’ mużika qawwija minn attivitajiet ta’ divertiment li jkunu organizzati f’ Sant Anġlu kważi f’kull tmiem il-ġimgħa. Dan apparti l-istobju minn opri tal-baħar mikrija jduru mal-port billejl u li flimkien ma’ bosta attivitajiet storbjużi oħra għaddejjin kontinwament. Kollha suppost li bil-permess!

Allura ir-residenti tal-Isla (u oħrajn) għandhom ta’ bil-fors jerġgħu jgħaddu mill-battikata li ħadu ma ta’ Palumbo biex jassiguraw l-osservanza tal-liġi u li huma jkunu mħarsa?
Mid-dehra l-Pulizija fl-inħawi ma tgħallmu xejn mill-ilmenti dwar Palumbo u dan għax l-ilmenti dwar storbju minn mużika li qed toriġina minn attività ta’ divertiment billejl dieħlin il-ħin kollu. Il-Pulizija mhix konxja li lkoll kemm aħna għandna dritt li nistrieħu matul il-lejl. Dawk li jagħżlu li ma jistriħux u jibqgħu attivi matul il-ħin tal-mistrieħ għandhom l-obbligu li ma jiddisturbawx lill-bqija!

Dan mhux qed iseħħ biss madwar il-Port il-Kbir. Residenti ta’ Ħaż-Żebbuġ, ir-Rabat u Ħ’Attard, kontinwament jilmentaw ukoll, l-iktar matul is-sajf, dwar storbju matul il-lejl minn stabilimenti tad-divertiment fiż-żona. Storbju li jtellef il-mistrieh u hu ta’ inkonvenjent kbir. Ħadd mhu jagħti każ.

Xi snin ilu saru regolamenti li jipprojibixxu xogħol ta’ kostruzzjoni kmieni fil-għodu (qabel is- 7 am) inkella tard fil-għaxija (wara t-8 pm) jew fil-Ħdud u l-festi. Anke dawn ir-regolamenti ċari mhux osservati sewwa u dan billi bosta xogħol ta’ kostruzzjoni jsir f’dawn il-ħinijiet. Il-Pulizija bosta drabi ma jagħmlu xejn. Inkella jdumu ma jiċċaqalqu meta tinġibed l-attenzjoni tagħhom.

Probabbli ħafna li l-awtoritajiet għandhom risposta għal dan kollu: il-materja qed tiġi studjata. Ilhom jistudjaw għal żmien twil, imma s’issa jidher li għadhom ma tgħallmu xejn!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 30 ta’ Ġunju 2019

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In a noisy country

Malta is an extraordinarily noisy country and noise pollution needs to be tackled as a matter of urgency because of the effect on our health due to the excessive noise to which we are continuously subjected. The issue of noise pollution is a continuous one but it intensifies during the summer months when more entertainment activities are held in the open. And this is not an issue that is limited to any particular locality – it is present in various localities.

When excessive noise is generated from inside a building, available technology – if used appropriately – can generally help mitigate its impact by reducing the transmission as much as possible. However, when the noise is generated in the open air there is only one solution: stop the source during the hours when it causes the most inconvenience and ensure that the permits issued clearly define the permissible (and reasonable) limits of the noise generated. This requires an appropriate regulatory framework as well as trained staff who can assess when it is appropriate to act in order to stop the generation of excessive noise if the permissible limits are exceeded or not observed at all.

Unfortunately, we still lack such a regulatory authority. To add insult to injury, the Police, who issue permits for the organisation of outdoor events, are not sensitive to the matter and are either slow to take any action – or do not take any at all – whenever complaints come their way.

Some three years ago, Senglea residents complained about the operations of Palumbo Shipyards as work in hand during the night were the cause of many sleepless nights. Anna Spiteri, an environmental scientist and Senglea resident took the matter to Court on behalf of Senglea residents. We can remember how it was then very clear that the Police force are neither trained nor technically equipped to deal with the matter. Since then, however, I am informed that Palumbo Shipyards have set up noise buffers along Dock Number 6 and are refraining from noise-generating activity during the night!

Now, as soon as summer begins, Senglea residents are once again being bombarded by very loud music from entertainment activities held at St.Angelo on practically every weekend. In addition, the rented-out party boats and other noisy festivities which, from now on, will colour most summer nights – endorsed by the inevitable permit – amplify the problem!

Should Senglea residents, and others along the coast of the Grand Harbour, go through the same ordeal they went through with Palumbo Shipyards in order to have the law enforced and their rights protected?

Apparently the Police in the area have not learned any lessons from the Palumbo affair as complaints have been pouring in during the past weeks as a result of entertainment activities playing loud music well into the night. The Police are, unfortunately, not aware that all of us have a right to rest during the night and those who choose not to have a rest still have a duty to not disturb those of us who do.

This is not only happening in the Grand Harbour area. Residents at Ħaż-Żebbuġ, Rabat and Attard, complain all year round as their nights are continuously disturbed by entertainment activities which generate lots of noise during the night, causing a major inconvenience to residents. Who cares?

Some time ago, regulations were introduced prohibiting construction work before 7 am, or after 8 pm and on Sundays and public holidays. Even these straightforward regulations are not being enforced well enough, because work is still going on outside  the permitted time in various areas and the Police, when alerted, rarely take any action.

Most probably the authorities have an answer to the above: the matter is being studied. They have been studying for a very long time, but, unfortunately, they do not seem to have learnt anything yet!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 June 2019

L-istupru tas-Saqqajja

Nitkellmu dwar it-Telgħa tas-Saqqajja. Imma jidher li s-Saqqajja għan-niżla!

L-applikazzjoni ta’ żvilupp biex żewġt idjar qodma fuq is-Saqqajja r-Rabat ikunu mibdula f’lukanda żgħira (boutique hotel) hu attentat ieħor biex ikun sfrakassat il-wirt storiku tal-pajjiż. Il-fillera sħiħa ta’ djar fuq is-Saqqajja flok ma jitħallew jinqerdu minn dak li wħud isejħulu żvilupp għandhom jingħataw protezzjoni fit-totalità tagħhom. Kif ippropona l-Professur Mario Buhagiar dawn id-djar fuq is- Saqqajja , tal-inqas, jistħoqilhom protezzjoni fi Grade 2, jiġifieri li l-faċċata tagħhom ma tkunx tista’ tintmiss. Possibilment jistħoqilhom iktar minn hekk ukoll: li jkunu mħarsa b’mod komplet fi Grad 1.  

 L-applikazzjoni għal żvilupp bin-numru 9516/18 tipproponi li d-djar 14 u 15 fuq Is-Saqqajja Rabat (b’faċċata ukoll fuq Vjal Santu Wistin) jinbidlu f’lukanda fi klassi 3B . Minn eżami tal-pjanti sottomessi jidher ċar li l-proposta tinkludi ż-żieda ta’ żewġ sulari fuq il-binja eżistenti kif ukoll il-mutilazzjoni tal-partijiet interni ta’ dawn iż-żewġt idjar biex ikunu jistgħu jkunu mibdula f’lukanda żgħira.

Bħal bosta oħrajn jiena ukoll ippreżentajt oġġezzjoni għal dan l-aħħar attakk fuq il-wirt tagħna lkoll. Ir-raġunijiet għal dan huma diversi.

L-ikbar raġuni hi li l-iżvilupp propost jistona fil-kuntest li hu propost li jsir.  Ser jeqred darba għal dejjem l-omoġenejità u l-armonija tal-faċċati tal-bini kemm fuq is-Saqqajja kif ukoll fuq Vjal Santu Wistin. Fuq Vjal Santu Wistin  l-iżviluppatur irid iħarbat parti kbira mill-ġnien li jagħti karattru uniku u hu parti integrali mill-binja. Hi l-binja kollha, kif inhi, bil-ġnien kollu  li teħtieġ li tkun protetta.

Il-Pjan Lokali, li jqis liż-żona bħala waħda ta’ konservazzjoni urbana jillimita l-iżvilupp fiż-żona għal żewġ sulari. Il-proposta ta’ żvilupp tinjora din il-limitazzjoni kompletament. Huwa għaldaqstant ovvju li jekk din l-applikazzjoni tibqa’ għaddejja u tkun approvata ser twassal għall-qerda tal-filliera sħiħa tad-djar  fuq is-Saqqajja għax li jgħodd għal wieħed jgħodd għal kulħadd. Imbagħad  tkun ġiet stuprata ż-żona kollha.

Iżjed ‘l-isfel, fit-Telgħa tas-Saqqajja, fejn sa ftit ilu kien hemm it-Tattingers Club u xi propjetajiet oħra, il-ħerba tkompli.  Dan is-sit ukoll għandu mdendla miegħu proposta ta’ żvilupp: lukanda massiċċa ta’ 110 kmamar mifruxa fuq 5600 metru kwadru. Mhumiex l-uniċi applikazzjonijiet fl-inħawi għax hemm oħrajn. Iżda huma l-iktar li jagħtu fil-għajn. 

Jidher li waslet id-daqqa tar-Rabat li jrid jiffaċċja l-forza tal-qerda li tpoġġi l-flus qabel il-wirt komuni tagħna lkoll.

Il-mod kif ġiebet ruħha l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar fil-passat ma tantx hu ta’ awgurju tajjeb li din b’xi mod kapaċi tieqaf lill-forzi tal-qerda. Permezz tad-deċiżjonijiet tagħha sal-lum, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar bagħatet messaġġ ċar li, fil-fehma tagħha, l-impatt ekonomiku tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni jixirqilha ferm iktar attenzjoni minn kwlaunkwe ħaġa oħra.  B’ġustizzja ngħid li hemm xi żewġ membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li jispikkaw minħabba li b’differenza minn sħabhom jiddefendu regolarment kemm il-wirt storiku kif ukoll dak naturali. Imma dawn qegħdin f’minoranza assoluta, avolja xi kultant ġieli jappoġġawhom uħud mill-bqija.

Imma x’tistenna minn Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li l-membri tiegħu ma jħossuhomx skomdi madwar l-istess mejda ma’ agent tal-propjetà biex jgħaddu ġudizzju dwar liema applikazzjonijiet ta’ żvilupp jixirqilhom ikunu approvati u liema le?  

M’għandi l-ebda idea dwar x’deċiżjoni ser ikollna, imma fid-dawl ta’ kif ġiebet ruħha sal-lum l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar xejn ma niskanta jekk tagħti l-approvazzjoni tagħha biex il-qerda tibda tiela’ t-Telgħa tas-Saqqajja. 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 9 ta’ Diċembru 2018

The mutilation of Saqqajja

The planning application to convert two old town-houses at Saqqajja, Rabat into a boutique hotel is another attempt to mutilate our historical heritage. The whole row of town houses at Saqqajja, rather than being placed on the chopping board of so-called development should be protected in their totality. As proposed by Professor Mario Buhagiar, these Saqqajja town houses, as a minimum, deserve a Grade 2 protection, that is to say their elevation must be preserved in its entirety. Their protection should possibly be even more extensive: total protection at Grade 1.

Planning application 9516/18 proposes to change the use of residences at 14 and 15 Is-Saqqajja Rabat (with back elevations onto Vjal Santu Wistin) into a Class 3B hotel. Through an examination of the proposed drawings, it is clear that the proposal includes the addition of two new floors as well as an internal mutilation of the properties to render them usable as a boutique hotel.

I have joined countless others in submitting an objection to this latest assault on our historical heritage. The reasons for objecting are numerous.

The most obvious reason for objecting is that the proposed development is out of tune with its surroundings. It will ruin the homogenous eloquence of both the Saqqajja elevation as well as that of Vjal Santu Wistin on which elevation the developer is proposing to gobble up an extensive part of the existing garden that contributes to a unique setting which needs the maximum protection possible.

The Local Plan, defining the area as an Urban Conservation Area, limits any proposed development in the area to two floors. This limitation is blatantly disregarded by the proposal for this boutique hotel. If this application is not stopped in its tracks, it is inevitable that it will eventually lead to the complete mutilation of the whole row of Saqqajja town-houses, because what’s good for the goose is naturally good for the gander.

Further down the hill, on the site currently occupied by Tattingers Club and a number of adjoining properties, the mutilation exercise continues. This site has another development proposal for a massive 110-room hotel spread over an area of around 5600 square metres. There are other planning applications in the vicinity but the above two are the most conspicuous. It seems that the mutilation brigade has shifted their attention towards Rabat and its surroundings.

The past performance of the Planning Authority is not very reassuring as it does not seem capable of withstanding the pressures of the development lobby. The Planning Authority has, as a result of its past decisions, sent a clear message that it considers the economic activity of the building industry more worthy of its attention and protection than anything else. In all fairness, there are a couple of members on the Planning Authority Board who stand out because they continuously defend the national heritage and the natural environment. But they are unfortunately a very small minority even when, occasionally, they are supported by others.

What else do you expect from a Planning Authority Board whose members are not uncomfortable when they sit with an estate agent in judgement as to which applications for a development permit are approved or refused?

I have no idea what the decision will be, but, based on past performance it is not beyond the Planning Authority Board to give its approval to the massacre brigade marching up Saqqajja Hill.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 9 December 2018

From the Farm to the Fork

 

 

The local vegetable and fruit supply chain was under the spotlight last month. On 12 October, environmental NGO Friends of the Earth Malta organised a round-table at Vincent’s Eco-Farm at Żebbiegħ and published Agro-Katina, the result of its research tracking the food we consume, from apricots to zucchini. The report can be downloaded at https://foemalta.org/wp-content/uploads/AgroKatina-Report.pdf .

Maltese agriculture is characterised by small farm holdings, with three quarters of registered farmers working an area less than one hectare. With a hectare covering ten thousand square metres, this means that most local agricultural holdings are slightly less than nine tumoli in size.

Agriculture contributes a miniscule amount to the GDP – less than two per cent – but it is, however, essential to ensure the preservation of the rural characteristics of the Maltese islands.

Even though we are far from self-sufficient, agriculture can increase our self-reliance, thereby reducing our vulnerability to outside shocks.

It has been observed in the report that specific localities are linked to specific products: Rabat and Dingli are linked with onions, pumpkin with the northern agricultural region – primarily Mosta, Mġarr and Mellieħa – with cauliflowers being linked to Siġġiewi and Żebbuġ.

The report refers to the introduction in the local market of long, dark-skinned zucchini contrasting with the local round (or long) varieties of a lighter shade. As consumers overcame their hesitancy to a new product introduced to the market, local farmers started experimenting with growing it locally and, to their surprise, discovered that this variety (commonly found in Sicily and Southern Italy) had the advantage of being well adapted to the local climate.

Seasonality is still an important factor in agricultural planning, even though this is gradually on the decline primarily as a result of the competition from imported products which are available throughout the year. This seasonality is rightfully observed in the various village celebrations focusing on the availability of specific products: Manikata (pumpkins) and Mgarr (strawberries) readily come to mind. They educate consumers and contribute to a better understanding and appreciation of agriculture’s contribution to the country.

The report briefly refers to the “local vs imported produce” issue. It is emphasised that it only takes around 24 hours for locally grown fruit and vegetables to travel from the farm to the fork, hence ensuring that they are fresh, ripe and in season. This is not only reflected in a fresh appearance but also in an unmistakable advantage in terms of natural flavour and nutritional value, compared to imported produce.

Agriculture is the main user of water in Malta. It is also the major polluter of our water table. A study carried out in 2008 by the British Geological Survey on the nitrate contamination in Malta’s groundwater, commissioned by the then Malta Resources Authority, concluded that groundwater nitrate had been stable for the last 30-40 years. Notwithstanding, this has resulted in the contraction of the agricultural sector in the same timeframe.

The challenges facing agriculture in the immediate future are various. Climate change and the water crisis top the list. The changes in weather patterns will undoubtedly be a major headache. This will necessarily impact the viability of some crops, maybe bringing about changes to the season/s during which these crops are available. It will also possibly create the conditions for new crops.

The average age of the farmer is now around 55 – and this is not just in Malta, but across the EU. There is a growing awareness that we may be close to losing our farming community, in fact the impact of this loss is already being felt as it is fairly obvious that there are substantially fewer people protecting our countryside on a day to day basis.

The distance between the farm and the fork is increasing.

This is not good news.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 November 2017

Evarist trusts you

evarist-bartolo

 

The probe into the corruption allegations at the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools is a very serious matter. Reports in the press indicate that the invoices, issued for the construction work carried out by the Foundation at various schools, are being meticulously examined in order that information which might be of relevance to the investigation is gathered.

Of particular interest is the news item that the financing of a newly constructed block of flats at Rabat is under the spotlight. The block of flats, still in shell form, belongs to the person under investigation. It is being emphasised that the fruits of the alleged corruption may have financed the Rabat development. The said site is covered by development permit PA1215/15 as amended by subsequent application PA0260/16. The Planning Authority  permitted the demolition of the previous dwelling on the site and the construction of a five-floor residential block, inclusive of a penthouse and a semi-basement garage in its stead. According to the Planning Authority website, the applicant was Edward Caruana and work on the site commenced on the 19 July 2015.

So far, the press, in part echoing the PN spokespersons, have concentrated firepower on whether the Education Minister Evarist Bartolo acted swiftly enough to ensure that the matter beplaced under investigation.

While the obvious course of immediate action is for the police to investigate in order to identify whether the alleged corruption took place or not, in my view the problems run much deeper than that. Essentially, the issue is one of bad governance through the use of the “person of trust” –  a 21st century version adaptation of a system of political clientelism.

A “person of trust” in Maltese political jargon generally signifies that the person has a political allegiance to the politician who trusts him. Actually, however, it should have a completely different meaning: that the person so appointed is beyond reproach, rather than his being in the Minister’s good books. In fact the person under investigation (Edward Caruana) who was entrusted with procurement duties in the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Schools was a political canvasser of the Education Minister Evarist Bartolo. Incidentally, Mr Caruana’s brother too is a trusted person: he was appointed Permanent Secretary of the Education Ministry.  We do remember the manner in which all Permanent Secretaries in office were swept aside way back in March 2013 to be replaced by a team of “persons of trust”.

The engagement of “politically” trusted persons is not a matter peculiar to Evarist Bartolo’s Ministry, or to the government of which he forms part. While it has been going on for a number of years, it has been done on a much larger scale since the 2013 General Election. In most cases, unfortunately, the political trustworthiness of an individual makes short shrift of meritocracy which should be the foundation stone of a serious public administration.

The trusted person mechanism is circumventing the recruitment procedures of the public service, thereby excluding competent and qualified persons for the simple reason that they are not of the required political colour.

Through the recruitment of persons of trust, clientelism is devaluing years of preparation to obtain qualifications. The end result is not just demotivation : corruption and arrogance are the two other most obvious symptoms.

The Ombudsman in Malta has commented various times on the negative impact which excessive direct appointments in the public sector have due to lack of transparency.  Yet he is consistently ignored.

Under the spotlight Minister Evarist Bartolo has exclaimed that he feels betrayed.

We all have the same feeling that those who preached meritocracy are using political trustworthiness in order to ensure that practising clientelism is done in an efficient a manner as possible.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 December 2016

Taking back control

turtle dove

 

Throughout this Sunday morning the Electoral Commission will supervise the counting of the votes cast  in yesterday’s  spring hunting abrogative referendum. The first reliable projections of the result should be available at around  10.00am with a final result early in the afternoon.

Irrespective of the result, this is history in the making as, for the first time ever, Maltese voters will be directly taking a decision on environmental policy. They will decide whether spring hunting in the Maltese islands will be consigned to the history books.

This is the end of a two year journey that began in  April 2013 when the first steps were taken to form a broad-based anti-spring hunting Coalition of  environmental NGOs together with Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party in Malta. Initially, Alternattiva Demokratika’s initiative was met with scepticism: there was widespread fear of confronting the parliamentary political parties which had created the current spring hunting mess.

Constructive dialogue with both the Maltese authorities as well as with the EU Commission had failed to yield results, yet when push came to shove there was still considerable reluctance to think outside the box.  This mess could not be cleared by applying the same thinking that led to its creation. The spring hunting mess was created by successive governments that were held to ransom by the hunting lobby. There was only one solution: government was the problem so it could never be part of the solution – civil society had to take back control of the decision-making process to have order restored.

This was going to be a mammoth task. The fact that the abrogative referendum tool had never been used since its introduction in 1998 understandably added to the reluctance.

As late as 18 June 2013, some environmental NGOs were still hoping that the Maltese Government, or the EU Commission itself, would act in a reasonable manner and stop spring hunting.  In fact, reports in the press at that time were speculating on then EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik initiating an inquiry into spring hunting in Malta.

Early in the day, few people were conscious of the empowerment potential of the abrogative referendum. Almost none of the eNGOs was aware that the abrogative referendum process is independent  of government or Parliament.  Some eNGOs  supported the initiative almost immediately but it was an uphill struggle to convince others, taking weeks and a great deal of patience until practically all eNGOs were on board.

The collection of signatures to initiate the process for calling this abrogative referendum was launched on 10 August 2013 at Il-Buskett. Initially the uptake was very slow, as voters took some time to understand that this was no ordinary petition.

Then, on 23 and 24 October 2013, one of the worst massacres of wild birds in Malta took place. It is best described in a Birdlife Press release which stated  as follows :

“Despite the presence of six BirdLife Malta teams and as many ALE units in the Buskett area this morning at least one Booted Eagle, Ajkla tal-Kalzetti, was shot down inside Buskett Gardens as it left its roost this morning. Several others, including Short-toed and Booted Eagles, were shot at and many more were seen carrying injuries after last night’s shooting spree by hunters in Dingli, Buskett, Girgenti, Siġġiewi and Zebbuġ.

This morning’s second confirmed victim was a Short-toed Eagle, Ajkla Bajda, shot down in Gozo.

The shootings follow what can only be described as a massacre yesterday evening, after more than 50 eagles were seen by birdwatchers counting passing migrating birds in their regular watch-point above the wooded valley of Buskett. At least 10 eagles are known to have been shot down and many more targeted by dozens of hunters in locations around Buskett. Several as yet unconfirmed reports were also received from members of the public who saw eagles and other large birds of prey being shot at and shot down.”

This marked the turning point in signature collection as within ten days of the massacre of these eagles the required number of signatures had been received . The verification process was commenced immediately and the petition was finalised for submission to the Electoral Commission.

By July 2014, the Electoral Commission had concluded its vetting of the signatures submitted and six months later, in January this year, the Constitutional Court threw out the hunters’ objections.

For the past three months we have been actively campaigning to drive the message home: spring is the time when birds are on the way to their breeding grounds. They need to be protected. This message has been conveyed through the different spokesman and women ambassadors who, together with hundreds of volunteers, have done wonders to ensure that practically every voter is aware the he or she has the power to take a decision in order to clean up the mess which Parliament and the government have created over the years.

Today we will know what the decision is.  Saving any last minute surprises, it is clear that after today’s result Maltese civil society will cherish its newly discovered empowerment. Tomorrow, Monday, will not be just the start of a new week.  Hopefully, it be the start of a new era of ever-vigilant NGOs, now armed with the knowledge that they can hold government to account for inadequate legislation whenever they consider that this is necessary.

The abrogative referendum is the tool through which civil society can bring government to order. Today’s result will just confirm whether it can make use of it.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 April 2015

Il-kaċċaturi jikxfu l-maskra

 

estevan mallia + Kastiljaglenn briffa sfida

(kummenti fuq MaltaToday online)

 

Xi kaċċaturi l-bieraħ kmieni wara nofsinnhar organizzaw dimostrazzjoni l-Belt u wara baqgħu sejrin sal-Buskett.

L-insulti ma naqsux. Fil-Buskett , għall-ħabta tal-5.00pm madwar 30 kaċċatur wara li telqu mill-protesta li kellhom il-Belt, attakkaw ukoll in-nies.

Fuq is-sit tal-Malta Today online ma naqsux il-kummenti li jħeġġu iktar vjolenza.

 

Huwa forsi l-mument addattat biex kull min fil-passat kien jagħti l-appoġġ lill-kaċċa u lill-kaċċaturi jaħsibha sewwa dwar dak li fil-fatt qiegħed jappoġġa. L-inċidenti tal-bieraħ kienu serji. Setgħu weġġgħu serjament in-nies.

Tajjeb li niftakru li dan mhux l-ewwel inċident. Kien hemm fil-passat inċidenti vjolenti oħra li kienu jinvolvu lil dawk il-kaċċaturi li malajr tisħnilhom rashom.

Fil-ġimgħat li ġejjin tibda l-kampanja tar-referendum biex tispiċċa l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa.

B’dak li għamlu l-bieraħ, il-kaċċaturi ta’ rashom sħuna, bdew il-kampanja referendarja fuq togħma morra. Il-kampanja referendarja għandha tkun waħda paċifika bbażata fuq ir-raġuni. Sfortunatament, iżda, dejjem jidher iżjed ċar li ma tantx hemm ma min tista’ tirraġuna.

Bid-deċiżjoni tal-Gvern fi tmiem il-ġimgħa li jwaqqaf temporanjament l-istaġun tal-kaċċa tal-ħarifa ngħata messaġġ li wara kollox l-irkatt bil-vot mhux dejjem għandu effett. Jista’ jkun li fl-aħħar il-Partit Laburista ukoll beda jiftaħ għajnejħ li l-appoġġ li kien qiegħed jagħti lill-kaċċaturi kien wieħed żbaljat.

Kuraġġ hemm spazju għal kulħadd fil-Koalizzjoni kontra l-Kaċċa fir-Rebbiegħa.

Snippets from AD’s electoral manifesto: (21) Biodiversity

buskett.02

The following extract is taken verbatim from Chapter 14 of AD’s Electoral Manifesto

Biodiversity.

Biodiversity is not exclusively concerned with bird protection but on our interaction with the eco-system.

Alternattiva Demokratika shall focus on the need for the complete cessation of spring hunting as well as in ensuring that Malta’s EU accession commitments on the halting of bird trapping are honoured.

It is necessary that zones identified for protection under the provisions of the EU Habitats Directive are well managed. In particular it is necessary that Il-Buskett is no longer considered and utilised as a garden. The status of Il-Buskett as a Special Area of Conservation should be respected, something which is currently ignored.

Valley protection is also necessary. This has to be done within the context of a clear and holistic plan to rehabilitate valleys in such a manner that their resident biodiversity is respected and invasive species introduced throughout the years are removed.

L-Estratt segwenti hu mehud kelma b’kelma mill-Kapitlu 14 tal-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

Bijodiversità.

Il-bijodiversità mhix kif inħarsu lejn l-għasafar u l-ħarsien tagħhom biss iżda dwar l-interazzjoni tagħna mal-ekosistema.

Alternattiva Demokratika taħdem biex tkun eliminata darba għal dejjem il-kaċċa tal-għasafar fir-rebbiegħa kif ukoll biex l-obbligi li Malta assumiet bis-sħubija fl-Unjoni Ewropea li l-insib spiċċa darba għal dejjem ikun onorat.

Huwa neċessarju li jkun mħarsa sewwa iż-żoni li Malta identifikat għall-protezzjoni taħt il-provedimenti tad-Direttiva tal UE dwar il-habitats. Fost oħrajn wasal iż-żmien li l-Buskett ma jibqax meqjus bħal ġnien u ma jibqax ikun sfruttat bħala tali. L-istatus tal-Buskett ta’ Żona Speċjali ta’ Konservazzjoni huwa meħtieġ illi jiġi osservat, ħaġa li fil-preżentement mhix issir.

Huwa neċessarju ukoll illi l-widien ikunu mħarsa. Dan għandu jsir billi fil-kuntest ta’ pjan ċar u olistiku jkunu riabilitati l-widien b’mod li tkun rispettata l-bijodiversità ta’ ġo fihom u jkunu ukoll eliminati l-ispeċi invażivi li ġew introdotti tul is-snin.

Barely scratching the surface

The Noise White Paper, just published for public consultation, identifies the need to coordinate the existing fragmented administrative structures as its first target. This is being done in the belief that it will eventually lead to a smoothening out of administrative inconsistencies. Better coordination could also ensure that, in the long term, issues in respect of which the authorities have, to date, been reluctant to act upon can be addressed in an appropriate manner. Hopefully.

The White Paper deals with the abatement of neighbourhood noise. Its reach should have been much wider. It postpones dealing with the noise generated by fireworks and village feasts to some future date. Cultural aspects and tradition are reasons used to justify this postponement. In reality, the government at this time cannot withstand the anticipated reaction of the fireworks lobby, which has yet to come to terms with restrictions based on safety as is evidenced by reactions to the findings and recommendations of the November 2011 inquiry report on accidents in fireworks factories. Clearly, the government considers that now is not the time to regulate excessive fireworks noise. On the eve of a general election, votes are considered to be a more important consideration.

We have been informed (correctly) that the EU Environmental Noise Directive is not applicable to our airport because the traffic it handles is below the established threshold.

The White Paper does not address the issue of noise generated by aircraft approaching or taking off from Malta’s only airport when flying over residential areas. In particular, the impact of approaching aircraft on Birżebbuġa’s residential area at all times of the day (including during the night) comes to mind.

Now, to be fair, one must state that the airport cannot be transferred to any other site. The flight paths leading to the airport are fixed and their use is determined by the prevalent winds. Malta needs its only airport to be operational. Yet, its operation must be such that it does not cause unnecessary hardship to residential areas along the approaches to and around the airport.

This leaves only one option: regulating the airport’s operating times to restrict aircraft movements during the silent hours as is done at Heathrow, Brussels and Fiumicinio, to mention three airports with which readers are familiar.

The airport authorities need to encourage the use of less noisy aircraft through the determination of differentiated aircraft landing charges dependent on the noise generated by the aircraft. It is about time that the airport authorities start respecting the surrounding communities. This is a missing but essential element of the airport’s sustainable development strategy.

The Noise White Paper draws up a list of those authorities that are empowered to regulate some aspect of noise control. One would expect that the police, the Malta Tourism Authority, the health authorities and the Malta Environment and Planning Authority coordinated by the Noise Control Board to now be in a better position to ensure that commercial outlets (particularly those in a mixed use area) are no longer a nuisance to residents in the vicinity.

It should also be less problematic to deal with nuisance caused by air conditioners fixed in the most awkward places.

But noise does not only impact the health of human beings. It also has a health impact on flora and fauna. This is partly regulated through the Habitats Directive of the EU, which is an integral part of Maltese law.

It is positive that the Noise White Paper recognises this and emphasises the need to ensure its implementation. This should now place more onus on Mepa to ascertain that open-air activities generating excessive noise are immediately brought to order. Examples that come to mind are open air discos at Buskett, Paradise Bay and Ta’ Qali. The first two impact biodiversity in Natura 2000 sites and the last is too close to residential areas, particularly Attard. The aborted Mistra “Spin Valley Disco”, which the Nationalist Party and its stooges at Mepa defended before the 2008 election, would also fall foul of these provisions as it was sited right in the middle of a special area of conservation.

Excessive noise also has a damaging impact on the welfare of animals, both farm animals and pets. The impact of noise on farms and agriculture is completely ignored by the White Paper.

Fireworks regulations, for example, are only concerned with residential areas and the distances to be observed from areas that serve as a residence for more than 100 humans.

Excessive noise in agricultural areas severely impacts agricultural production (like milk, poultry, eggs, rabbits…) and can have a considerable economic impact.

It is up to the minister in question to decide whether to prefer the fireworks at the expense of negative impacts on animal husbandry. He may not worry unnecessarily as animals do not vote!

While the White Paper on Noise Prevention is welcome, it barely scratches the surface. We need to go deeper and tackle areas ignored by the White Paper because noise pollution is an issue that has been neglected for far too long.

 

This article was published in The Times of Malta , April 14, 2012

 

on the same subject on this blog :

7th February 2009 : The value of silence

7th November 2009 : When pigs are able to vote