It-teknoloġija li tagħraf l-uċuħ: perikoluża?

San Francisco hi l-ewwel belt fl-Istati Uniti li pprojibiet l-użu mill-forzi tal-ordni ta’ teknoloġija li tagħraf l-uċuh. Probabbilment li ma jdumx ma jkun hemm bliet oħra fl-Istati Uniti li jagħmlu l-istess.

Id-dibattitu f’ San Francisco ilu għaddej. Dawk li jaqblu mal-projibizzjoni huma tal-fehma li din it-teknoloġija mhux biss hi difettuża imma li hi ukoll ta’ theddida serja għad-drittijiet ċivili.

It-teknoloġija li tagħraf l-uċuħ hi invażiva. Fl-istat attwali tal-iżvilupp tagħha għadha difettuża imma għandha l-potenzjal li tkun preċiża 100%. Imbagħad tkun tista’ tintuża mhux biss biex jingħarfu l-uċuħ imma ukoll biex tkun identifikata informazzjoni oħra dwar dawk li jkunu fil-mira.

Riċerkaturi fl-Università Jiao Tong f’Shanghai iċ-Ċina għamlu żmien jesperimentaw b’ritratti ta’ persuni magħrufa bħala kriminali u oħrajn li m’humiex. Bħala riżultat tar-riċerka tagħhom qed jissuggerixxu li t-teknoloġija użata tista’ tidentifika kriminali minn filmati ġodda b’certezza ta’ kważi 90 fil-mija.

Tal-biża’!

Riċerkaturi fl-Università ta’ Stanford fl-Istati Uniti f’estratt minn studju li ser jippubblikaw dalwaqt, jindikaw, li t-teknoloġija għall-għarfien tal-uċuħ hi iktar preċiża mill-bniedem innifsu biex minn ritratti tagħraf l-orjentazzjoni sesswali ta’ persuna. Fir-riċerka tagħhom jgħidu li użaw il-fuq minn 130,000 ritratt meħud minn siti elettroniċi fejn persuni jitkellmu dwar l-orjentazzjoni sesswali tagħhom. Bħala riżultat ta’ analiżi bijometrika, jgħidu ir-riċerkaturi, t-teknoloġija użata kapaċi tagħraf u tiddistingwi l-orjentazzjoni sesswali ta’ irġiel bi preċiżjoni ta’ 81% minn ritratt wieħed. Jekk ikun hemm aċċess għal ħames ritratti, l-preċiżjoni titla’ għal 91%.

Bla ebda dubju, maż-żmien jiġu identifikati iktar applikazzjonijiet possibli ta’ din it-teknoloġija. Meta tkun ipperfezzjonata din it-teknoloġija tista’ tkun għodda tal-biża’ f’idejn reġim awtoritarju.

Il-pulizija fir-Renju Unit, f’dawn iż-żmienijiet, qed japplikaw it-teknoloġija li tagħraf l-uċuħ għall-ordni pubblika.

Big Brother Watch, NGO li taħdem favur id-drittijiet ċivili fir-Renju Unit identifikat li bl-użu ta’ din it-teknoloġija 9 minn kull 10 persuni arrestati kienu innoċenti għax it-teknoloġija ħadmet ħażin. 90% żbalji mhux ċajta f’materja daqshekk sensittiva. Biż-żmien, bla dubju, dan id-difett ikun irrimedjat u dan għax tkun akkumulata iktar data li tagħmilha possibli li jingħarfu l-uċuħ.

Bi sħab mal-Huawei, il-ġgant Ċiniż fil-qasam tat-telekomunikazzjoni, l-Gvern Malti qed ifassal proġett immirat lejn is-sigurtà tal-lokalitajiet: il-proġett Safe Cities. Tlett lokalitajiet jidher li ġew identifikati għall-proġett pilota f’Malta: l-Marsa, San Pawl il-Baħar u Paceville.

Xi xhur ilu, l-Kummissarju għall-Ħarsien tad-Data f’Malta, meta kien intervistat, emfasizza li meta jkun ikkunsidrat l-użu tat-teknoloġija li tagħraf l-uċuħ tinħtieġ attenzjoni kbira biex ikunu mħarsa drittijiet fundamentali tal-bniedem. Huwa emfasizza li kien obbligu tal-Gvern li jistudja din it-teknoloġija bir-reqqa biex ikun aċċertat l-effettività tagħha fil-ġlieda kontra l-kriminalità.

Il-Kummissarju għall-Ħarsien tad-Data huwa ppreokkupat ukoll dwar id-data akkumulta u l-potenzjal li din tintuża ħażin biex tintraċċa l-movimenti tal-persuni u b’hekk timmina d-dritt tal-privatezza.

It-teknoloġija li tagħraf l-uċuħ, bħal kull teknoloġija oħra, tista’ tintuża tajjeb imma tista’ ukoll tintuża ħażin. Tista’ tgħinna nkunu iktar siguri, imma tista’ tgerrem (bla ma nindunaw) id-drittijiet tagħna. Hemm il-potenzjal, imma hemm ukoll responsabbiltajiet kbar.

Bi storja ta’ istituzzjonijiet ta’ bla utilità li repetutament ma kienux kapaċi jieqfu lil dawk fil-poter, ma tantx qegħdin tajjeb.

It-teknoloġija għall-għarfien tal-uċuħ tista’ tikkonċentra wisq informazzjoni (u poter) f’idejn il-Pulizija. Dan jista’ jkun perikoluż jekk il-kontroll fuq l-informazzjoni miġbura ma tkunx waħda qawwija.

Li ninvestu fis-sigurtà tagħna ma jfissirx li għandna nċedu l-privatezza tagħna.

F’din l-era diġitali hu meħtieġ li s-sorveljanza tkun kontabbli quddiem istituzzjonijiet demokratiċi msaħħa. Kif dan jista’ jsir għadu kmieni imma hu essenzjali għax il-Huawei flimkien mal-pulizija jistgħu jiffurmaw team perikoluz għad-demokrazija tagħna. Is-soluzzjoni addottata minn San Fransisco tista’ tkun meqjusa bħala radikali wisq. Imma sakemm ikun assigurat li s-sorveljanza tkun soġġetta għal kontabilità demokratika, ma tantx jidher li hemm soluzzjonijiet.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 19 ta’ Mejju 2019

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Facial recognition technology : as creepy as it gets

San Francisco is the first city in the United States to ban the use of facial recognition technology for law enforcement purposes and other US cities may follow suit. The San Francisco debate has been ongoing for quite some time. Those supporting the ban underline that facial recognition technology is flawed and a serious threat to civil liberties.

Facial technology is an invasive technology. In its present state of development, it is weak, but it has the potential to be 100 per cent accurate. It can then be used not just for recognition purposes but also for the profiling of those it is aimed at.

Researchers at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China have been experimenting with photographs of criminals and non-criminals. It is being suggested by these researchers that the technology they used can identify criminals from new images with an accuracy of 89.5%. It gets creepier and creepier.

Researchers at Stanford University in the United States have indicated in a preview of a Paper they will be publishing shortly that facial recognition technology “is more accurate than humans at detecting sexual orientation from pictures of people.” In their research, they made use of over 130,000 images taken from dating sites on which people give their sexual orientation. On the basis of the biometric analysis made, it is being claimed that the technology in use can distinguish between gay and heterosexual men in 81 per cent of cases from just one photograph. If the number of photographs increases to five, the accuracy jumps to 91 per cent.

Without any shadow of doubt, many more applications of facial recognition technology will be identified and, when perfected, this technology would be the perfect tool for authoritarian regimes.

Currently, the police in various parts of the United Kingdom are using facial recognition technology for law and order purposes. Civil Liberties NGO Big Brother Watch has identified that in nine out of every 10 cases the wrong person was identified. This resulted in 90 per cent of people being arrested as a result of being wrongly identified. Over time, this would be remedied through the use of a larger database which would be accumulated and available for use with the facial recognition technology.

The issues resulting are manifold. In conjunction with Chinese telecom giant Huawei, the government is planning a Safe Cities project. Three areas have apparently been identified for a pilot project: Marsa, St Paul’s Bay and Paceville.

When interviewed some months ago, Malta’s Data Protection Commissioner emphasised that when considering making use of facial recognition technology, great care should be taken in order that fundamental human rights are not infringed. He rightly stated that it was the government’s duty to carefully study the matter in order to ascertain its effectiveness in addressing criminality. He also spoke on the potential misuse of the accumulated data, as this had the potential of tracing the whereabouts of an individual thereby undermining the right to privacy.

Face recognition technology, like any other technology can be used and abused. It can make us feel safer, but it also has the potential to gnaw at our freedoms, without our realising it. There is certainly great potential but there are also enormous responsibilities.

Having a history of practically useless institutions which, time and again, have not been capable of standing up to those in power, is not a good point of departure. Facial recognition technology has the potential of concentrating too much information (and power) in the hands of the police. This may be very dangerous unless data protection oversight is robust. Investing in our security does not require surrendering our privacy.

In this digital age we require our surveillance to be democratically accountable. Whether and how this is done is still to be seen in a public consultation exercise which will hopefully be carried out. It is, however, essential as the Huawei-police tandem can be lethal to our democracy. The San Francisco solution may be seen as being too radical.

However, until such time that surveillance is subject to democratic accountability, there is no other solution.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 19 May 2019

Aħdar ir-risposta

(diskors li għamilt illum is-Sibt 6 t’April 2019 f’egħluq Laqgħa Ġenerali Straordinarja li approvat il-kandidati u l-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika għall-elezzjonijiet ta’ Mejju 2019)

Il-Manifest Elettorali li għadna kif iddiskutejna u approvajna huwa mibni fuq erba’ argumenti: l-ugwaljanza, l-ekoloġija, is-saħħa u d-demokrazija. Hija r-rabta kontinwa li nfittxu bejn il-politika ambjentali u l-politika soċjali.

Kif ngħidu fil-Manifest li għadna kif approvajna, “Biex tkompli tinbena Ewropa b’saħħitha li tiddefendi liċ-ċittadin hemm bżonn li tissaħħaħ id-demokrazija. Id-demokrazija trid titħaddem dejjem iżjed fl-istituzzjonijiet kollha, b’mod li d-deċiżjonijiet kollha li jittieħdu mhux biss ikunu trasparenti imma fuq kollox jittieħdu minn persuni eletti u politikament kontabbli. Iċ-ċittadini għandu jkunilhom possibli li jinvolvu ruħhom direttament f’dan il-proċess demokratiku.

Għal dan l-iskop, anke l-lobbying għandu jkun trasparenti, b’regoli ċari li japplikaw għal kulħadd. (hu ta’ sodisfazzjoni li illum qrajna fil-gazzetti li l-Kummissarju tal-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika beda jaħdem dwar l-ewwel regoli dwar il-lobbying)

Għax mhux aċċettabbli f’soċjetà Demokratika li ma jkunx magħruf min qed jipprova jinfluwenza d-deċiżjonijiet, kif u għaliex.

Dan ma’ jgħoddx biss fl-Unjoni Ewropeja imma fuq kollox għandu jgħodd f’kull wieħed mill-istati membri.

Ir-rapporti ippubblikati dwar Malta mill-Kunsill tal-Ewropa, mill-Kummissjoni Venezja u il-GRECO (il-kumitat kontra l-korruzzjoni) lilna ma ssorpreduniex. Fihom ħafna affarijiet li mhux biss Alternattiva Demokratika ilha żmien titkellem dwarhom imma dwarhom ukoll għamilna proposti konkreti matul is-snin, inkluż fil-Manifesti Elettorali differenti.

Il-Gvern qed jipprova jiddefendi ruħu li l-kritika qed issir dwar liġijiet li saru żmien ilu li l-gvern tal-lum wiret mingħand il-gverijiet ta’qabel. Filwaqt li f’numru ta’ kazijiet dan hu minnu jibqa’ l-fatt li l-Gvern preżenti sabha komda li jibqa’ għaddej fuq dak li sab, għax hu komdu ħafna li meta tiġi dahrek mal-ħajt twaħħal f’ dawk li ġew qablek.

Ħu per eżempju l-poteri li għandu l-Prim Ministru u l-Ministru tal-Intern li jawtorizza l-intercettazzjoni tat-telekomunikazzjoni (tapping). Ma kellniex bżonn li l-GRECO jiġbdulna l-attenzjoni għaliha din. Ilna ngħiduha, kif għamilna anke fil-Manifest Elettorali tal-2017 ta’ AD. Kif jista’jkun li jibqa’ jkun il-politku li jiddeċiedi jekk jingħatax permess jew le biex isir it-tapping? Kif ser jiddeċiedi l-politiku meta jkun iffaċċjat b’talba biex ikunu investigati dawk ta’ madwaru? Dan mhux konflitt ta’ interess kbir? Hu għalhekk li ilna ngħidu li l-awtorità li jsir it-tapping għandha tingħata lill-ġudikatura li bla dubju tfittex li toqgħod attenta illi fil-ġlieda kontra l-kriminalità mhux biss titwarrab il-politika partiġjana u l-protezzjoni tal-ħbieb tal-politiku imma fuq kollox tassigura li jkun imħarsa d-drittijiet fundamentali.
Għidna ferm iktar minn hekk. Fl-2017 fil-Manifest Elettorali tkellimna ukoll fuq l-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) fejn insistejna li m’għandiex tkompli tkun imexxija mill-AG (Avukat Ġenerali) u li r-rapporti tagħha m’għandhomx imorru għand il-Pulizija imma direttament għand il-Magistrat tal-Għassa. Irid ikun assigurat li r-rapporti tal-FIAU meta jaslu għand il-Pulizija ma jispiċċawx fil-bir tas-skieken imma li dawn ikunu investigati sewwa u li jittieħdu passi kull fejn jirriżulta meħtieġ.

Il-Kummissjoni Venezja u l-GRECO qalulna li istituzzjonijiet f’Malta għandna ħafna imma li dawn huwa dgħajfa. Qalu tajjeb, imma l-opinjoni pubblika f’Malta ilha konxja minn dan. Imma dan ġie injorat mill-Gvern immexxi mill-Partit Laburista. Il-PN min-naħa l-oħra, kellu jkun fl-Opposizzjoni biex jirrealizza dwar id-djgħufija tal-istituzzjonjijiet. Uħud minnhom ħoloqhom hu stess, iddiżinjati dgħajfa apposta, u dwar oħrajn sakemm inqeda għalaq għajnejh.

Huwa f’dan il-kuntest li ilna naħdmu għal dawn is-snin kollha.
Il-ħidma tagħna f’din il-kampanja elettorali b’differenza is-soltu mhiex limitat inkella iffukatan kważi esklussivament fuq il-Parlament Ewropew. Għall-ewwel darba qed niffaċċjaw l-elezzjonijiet tal-Kunsilli Lokali kollha fl-istess jum.

Ser nippreżentaw tal-inqas 9 kandidati, l-parti l-kbira minnhom żgħażagħ li qed jikkontestaw għall-ewwel darba fuq il-Mellieħa (Luke Caruana), Marsaskala (Daniel Desira), B’Kara (Anna Azzopardi), Naxxar (James Gabarretta), u Ħaż-Żebbuġ (Samwel Muscat). Għandna ukoll Irlandiż li jgħix Malta (Donal Kelly) li offra s-servizz tiegħu bħala kandidat fuq ix-Xgħajra u l-attivist ambjentali fil-Gżira (Jamie Mercieca). Ma dawn ngħodd ukoll lill-veteran tagħna fil-Kunsill Lokali ta’ H’Attard Ralph Cassar, li issa ilu jiġi elett għal snin twal – madwar għoxrin sena.

Grazzi lilkom ilkoll li qed toffru s-servizz tagħkom.

Ma dawn kollha, bħala partit iddeċidejna li għandi nikkontesta jiena ukoll fil-lokalità ta’ San Ġiljan. Għażilna din il-lokalità għax bħala partit irridu nagħtu kontribut dirett lir-residenti f’San Ġiljan li qed jiffaċċjaw problemi kbar. San Ġiljan hu fost dawk il-lokalitajiet li huma l-iktar milquta mill-iżvilupp bla rażan li bħalissa qed iħarbat il-ħajja ta’ kuljum ta’ bosta mill-Maltin.

Fiċ-ċentru tal-ħidma politika tagħna bħalissa hemm il-ħarsien tal-ambjent urban. Tul dawn il-ġimgħat dorna diversi lokalitajiet nitkellmu dwar il-kundizzjonijiet tat-toroq, dwar il-politika tat-trasport intenzjonata biex tkompli iżżid il-karozzi fit-toroq, dwar in-nuqqas ta’ aċċessibilità kif ukoll dwar it-teħid tal-ispazji pubbliċi, inkluż il-bankini, min-negozji għad-detriment tar-residenti.

F’diversi lokalitajiet, primarjament mal-kosta r-residenti ġew ridotti għal priġuniera f’darhom għax il-bankini okkupati minn imwejjed u siġġijiet li qed joħlqu diffikultajiet kbar kemm għall-aċċess tar-residenti għal djarhom kif ukoll għal servizzi bażiċi bħall-ġbir tal-iskart.

It-traskuraġni amministrattiva tul is-snin irrediet lokalità bħall-B’Kara bħala lokalità perikoluża kull meta jkollna maltempata. B’Kara għadha tiffaċċja l-għargħar kull meta jkun hawn ħalba xita, qawwija u mhux. Il-Gvernijiet repetutament fittxew li jindirizzaw l-effett u ftit li xejn saret ħidma dwar il-kawża ta’ dan kollu. Parti mhux żgħira mill-bini ta’ dan l-aħħar ħamisn sena fiħ nuqqas ta’ bjar (jew bjar ta’ qisien żgħar) bil-konsegwenza li f’kull ħalba xita miljuni ta’ litri ta’ ilma tax-xita jispiċċa fit-toroq ta’ B’Kara flok fil-bjar li suppost inbnew. Dan mhux biss hu ħtija ta’ nuqqas ta’ bjar f’B’Kara imma ukoll fil-lokalitajiet fil-madwar. F’dan is-sens B’Kara hi l-vittma ta’ amministrazzjoni pubblika inkompetenti li tul is-snin injorat ir-responsabbiltà li tara illi kull binja hi mgħammra b’bir ta’ daqs adegwat.

Hemm il-ħtieġa li nenfasizzaw iktar fuq il-ħtieġa li tkun implimentata mingħajr iktar dewmien l-istrateġija nazzjonali dwar it-trasport li teżiġi li jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna, primarjament għax m’għandniex bżonn din il-kwantità ta’ karozzi. Għandna bżonn investiment ikbar fit-trasport pubbliku, inkluż transport pubbliku reġjonali u lokali għax dan iservi biex inaqqas l-użu ta’ karozzi privati fit-toroq tagħna għal distanzi qosra. Irridu nirrealizzaw li 50% tal-vjaġġi li jsiru bil-karozzi privati fit-toroq Maltin isiru għal distanzi qosra li jdumu inqas minn 15-il minuta.

Fuq kollox hemm bżonn ta’ investiment ikbar fl-infrastruttura lokali, iffukata fuq il-ħtieġa li niffaċilitaw dejjem iktar l-aċċessibilità għal in jagħżel li jimxi inkella li jsuq ir-rota.

Il-kwalità tal-ambjent urban jirrifletti l-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna. Jeffettwa l-arja tant essenzjali biex ngħixu. Jeffettwa l-ispazji pubbliċi tant essenzjali biex bħala l-pulmun tal-lokalitajiet tagħna jagħtuna in-nifs u l-ispazju fejn ngħixu.

Il-karozzi ħadulna t-toroq. In-negożji ħadulna l-bankini. Irriduhom lura. Dawn huma essenzjali għall-ħajja urbana. Huma l-ispazji pubbliċi bażiċi li flimkien mal-pjazez tagħna jimmarkaw lill-komunitajiet tagħna.

Neħtieġu toroq u bankini li jkunu aċċessibli għal kulħadd. Il-Kunsilli Lokali, għandhom ikunu fuq quddiem biex iħeġġu lill-gvern sabiex mis-€700 miljun li qed jipproġetta bħala nefqa biex jirranġa t-toroq, jitbiddlu ukoll il-bankini. Ħafna minnhom saru biex jaġevolaw il-karozzi fil-garaxxijiet bil-konsegwenza li diversi bankini spiċċaw tlajja u nżul kontinwi b’detriment għal min huwa vulnerabbli. Bl-istess mod, il-Kunsilli Lokali għandhom jaraw li l-bankini ikunu ħielsa minn ostakli li ħafna drabi iġiegħlu lir-residenti, partikolarment dawk l-iktar vulnerabbli jimxu fin-nofs tat-triq.

Għal kunsilliera f’isem Alternattiva Demokratika, din hija kwistjoni prijoritarja ta′ aċċessibilità għar-residenti kollha.

Irridu nsellmu lill-dawk il-kunsilliera kollha li tul is-snin ħarġu għonqhom b’konvinzjoni kbira biex inħarsu l-wirt storiku u l-wirt ekoliġiku ta’pajjiżna. Mhux xogħol faċli. Ħidma li f’Alternattiva Demokratika nagħmluha bla waqfien. Uħud mill-proġetti l-kbar li huma fuq l-aġenda tal-pajjiż għax-xhur u s-snin li ġejjin huma ta’ ħsara kbira. M’għandix f’moħħi biss il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex li barra li mhiex meħtieġa ser tagħmel ħsara mhux biss lill-Għawdex fit-totalità tiegħu imma ukoll lill-agrikultura madwar in-Nadur f’ Ta’ Kenuna kif ukoll lill-Wied tal-Pwales u z-zona tal-Għerien fil-limiti tal-Mellieħa. Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ippreżentajna oġġezzjini għall-bini tat-torri tat-Toyota f’Ħaż-Żebbuġ li qed ifittex li joħloq mostru ta’ 14-il sular, 11 minnhom il-fuq mit-triq f’zona li ser ikollha impatti kbar fuq ir-residenti ta’ Ħaż-Żebbuġ.

Aħna qegħdin hawn biex inservu. Ilkoll.

Qed noffru mill-ġdid is-servizz tagħna fil-Parlament Ewropew u fil-Kunsilli Lokali. Hi ħidma li ser tkun imsejsa fuq il-valuri bażiċi li fuqhom hi mibnija l-ħidma ħadra: l-għarfien ekoloġiku, il-ġustizzja soċjali, id-demokrazija parteċipattiva, n-non-vjolenza, s-sostenibilità u r-rispett lejn id-diversità.

Qegħdin nippreżentaw Manifest li jiftaħ il-bibien u t-twieqi għal żiffa li tnaddaf, għal diskussjoni li tfittex risposti għall-mistoqsijiet u teżamina s-soluzzjonijiet possibli. Irridu b’mod kontinwu nisfidaw l-istatus quo u f’dan il-proċess inneħħu l-għanqbut li hemm f’diversi irkejjen mhux biss f’Malta imma ukoll fi Brussell.

Il-politika ħadra tfisser li ma tibża’ tiddiskuti xejn.

Jekk inti tfittex u tistaqsi kif il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll tista′ tkun aħjar, kif għandha tonqos u eventwalment tkun eliminata l-emarġinazzjoni, kif tissaħħaħ id-demokrazija, m’għandekx wisq minn fejn tagħżel.

Pajjiżna ma jistax jibqa’ b’rasu fir-ramel: għalhekk l-aħdar hu r-risposta għall-mistoqsijiet tiegħek.

Alternattiva Demokratika hi l-unika garanzija li leħen kulħadd jinstema’ .

 

Il-Manifest Elettorali issibu hawn

Il-mina mhix soluzzjoni: hi problema

Il-mina li hi proposta taħt qiegħ il-baħar bejn Għawdex u Malta ser ikollha impatti negattivi konsiderevoli kemm fuq Għawdex kif ukoll fuq Malta. L-iżjed wieħed ovvju hu l-ġenerazzjoni ta’ madwar miljun u nofs metru kubu ta’ radam li ser jispiċċa fil-baħar. Dan ser jagħti bidu għal ħmar il-lejl ambjentali ieħor: għax l-iżviluppaturi ma baqgħalhomx fejn “jiżviluppaw” fuq l-art! Qed ifittxu l-ispazju. L-Awtorità dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi diġa identifikat fejn dan jista’ jsir. Mhux ta’ b’xejn li r-residenti tax-Xgħajra qed jirvellaw.

Il-problemi assoċjati mal-mina proposta huma bosta. Art agrikola madwar il-punti tad-dħul, fuq iż-żewġ naħat, kemm f’ Ta’ Kenuna fil-limiti tan-Nadur kif ukoll ħdejn

L-Għerien fil-periferija tal-Mellieħa u ma tul il-wied tal-Pwales ser ikollha tagħmel il-wisgħa. Din ser tispiċċa tkun trasformata f’toroq kif ukoll f’faċilitajiet għall-kontroll tad-dħul fil-mina. Magħhom imbagħad jiżdiedu pompi tal-petrol, kull naħa tal-mina.

Hu ċar, minn dak magħruf s’issa, li d-dħul għall-mina min-naħa ta’ Malta ser ikun viċin ħafna tal-ilma tal-pjan tal-Miżieb, jekk mhux dritt minn ġo fih ukoll! Dan l-ilma tal-pjan hu f’kundizzjoni tajba, l-aħjar wieħed fil-gżejjer Maltin. Din kienet ukoll waħda mir-ragunijiet ewlenin l-għaliex fil-passat riċenti kellhom ikunu abbandunati żewġ proġetti kbar fl-inħawi, dak tal-golf course u ieħor konness mat-toroq (in-network TEN-T).

Għandu jingħad ukoll li volum kbir ta’ traffiku ser ikun iġġenerat u dan ser jgħaddi viċin ħafna tar-riżerva naturali tas-Simar fix-Xemxija. Il-ħsejjes, id-dwal u t-tniġġiż tal-arja ser ikollhom impatt negattiv konsiderevoli fuq ir-riżerva, b’mod partikolari matul il-lejl, ħin li fih in-natura ukoll tfittex li tistrieħ.

Dawn il-problemi li inevitabilment jinħolqu mill-mina għandhom iwasslu lil min hu rasu fuq għonqu biex ifittex soluzzjoni alternattiva biex titjieb il-konnettività bejn Għawdex u Malta. Soluzzjoni li tevita dawn il-problemi u iktar.

Ħa nkun ċar: il-konnettività bejn il-gżejjer ta’ Għawdex u Malta teħtieġ titjib konsiderevoli: is-soluzzjoni imma, mhiex il-mina. Is-soluzzjoni għandha tkun waħda li tiffaċilita l-moviment bejn il-gżejjer mingħajr ma żżid mal-problemi li diġa għandna. B’mod partikolari għandna nevitaw li nkabbru l-problema tat-traffiku iktar milli hi diġa. Dan nistgħu nagħmluh jekk niżviluppaw soluzzjoni li tnaqqas flok ma tkabbar id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi.

Hu stmat li l-mina proposta ser iżżid il-medja kull jum tal-movimenti tat-traffiku bejn il-gżejjer mit-3000 tal-lum għal madwar 9000: żieda bi tlett darbiet fuq perjodu ta’ ħmistax-il sena. Wieħed ma jridx wisq għerf biex jifhem dawn iċ-ċifri, li nsibuhom ukoll fl-istudju ekonomiku kkummissjonat fl-2015 mill-Awtorità tat-Trasport u l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija. Għax il-ħlas biex tgħaddi mill-mina ser jinġabar minn fuq kull karozza u allura d-dħul ser jiddependi mill-ġenerazzjoni tal-ikbar ammont possibli ta’ traffiku. L-eżistenza tal-mina tiddependi fuq dan: bla traffiku ma tistax teżisti. Dan imur kontra l-oġġettiv ewlieni tal-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Trasport (National Transport Master-Plan 2025) li fi kliem mill-iktar ċar jispjega kemm it-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna hu l-mira fit-tul tal-politika tagħna dwar it-trasport.

Is-soluzzjoni meħtieġa trid tindirizza l-moviment tan-nies u mhux il-moviment tal-karozzi. L-unika soluzzjoni raġjonevoli allura hi l-introduzzjoni ta’ katamaran (fast ferry service) bejn Għawdex u Malta: bejn l-Imġarr f’Għawdex u punti varji mal-kosta f’Malta li jistgħu jinkludu x-Xemxija, Tas-Sliema u l-Belt Valletta. Ma dan imbagħad ikun hemm ħtieġa tat-titjib tas-servizz tat-trasport pubbliku minn fejn jieqaf il-katamaran għall-bqija tal-pajjiż.

Hu essenzjali li s-soluzzjonijiet li nagħżlu għall-problemi tagħna tat-trasport ikun jħarsu fit-tul ħalli nnaqqsu u mhux inżidu l-problemi li nħallu lil ta’ warajna.

Ippubblikat f’Illum: il-Ħadd 3 ta’ Frar 2019

The proposed Tunnel is not a solution: it is a problem

The proposed tunnel below the seabed linking Malta and Gozo will have considerable negative impacts on both Gozo and Malta. The most obvious one is the generation of around one and a half million cubic metres of bits of rock which will be dumped into our seas, kick-starting another environmental nightmare, land reclamation. The construction lobby has run out of space to “develop” on land. The Environment and Resources Authority has already started identifying potential sites. The residents of Xgħajra have good reason to be up in arms.

The problems associated with the proposed tunnel are manifold. Agricultural land around the two points of exit of the proposed tunnel will be gobbled up: at Ta’ Kenuna on the outskirts of Nadur, and close to L-Għerien, on the periphery of Mellieħa and further along the Pwales valley. This agricultural land will make way for the roads and toll-control facilities leading to the tunnel. Then, they will inevitably be complemented by more petrol stations.

On the basis of what is known so far, it is already clear that on the Malta side the tunnel will be bored through or very close to the Miżieb aquifer, which is still in a very good state – the only one on the island so graded. This fact has been one of the determining issues leading to the abandonment of other large scale projects in the area (the golf-course and part of the TEN-T network).

One could also add that a substantial amount of traffic will be channelled very close to the Simar Nature Reserve in Xemxija. The resulting noise, light and air pollution will have a considerable negative impact on the reserve, especially at night, a time when nature seeks its resting time.

The problems generated by the proposed tunnel are substantial. There is, however, a reasonable solution to the connectivity issue.

Let me be clear: connectivity between the islands of Gozo and Malta needs considerable improvement. The proposed tunnel, however, is not the solution. The solution should be one which facilitates movement between the islands without creating more problems than we already have! In particular, we should avoid worsening the traffic problem. This can be done if the solution we seek is not one which increases our car dependency.

It is estimated that the proposed tunnel will increase average daily traffic movements between the two islands from the current 3,000 to a projected 9,000 – a threefold increase estimated over a fifteen-year period. One immediately understands the purpose of these projections referred to in the feasibility study commissioned jointly by Transport Malta and the Gozo Business Chamber in 2015. The toll to be charged – and, consequently, the tunnel’s economic performance – is dependent on generating the maximum traffic possible. Traffic underpins the very existence of the tunnel. This runs counter to the basic objective of the National Transport Master-Plan 2025 which in crystal clear language spells out the reduction of cars from our roads as the long-term objective of Malta’s National Transport Policy.

The solution needs to address the movement of people between the islands, not the movement of cars. The only reasonable solution would be the introduction of a fast-ferry service between Gozo and Malta, between Mġarr in Gozo and various points in Malta, which would include Xemxija, Sliema and Valletta. This should be linked to an improvement in the public transport links between these points and the rest of the country.

It is essential that we seek long-term solutions to our transport problems, such that we do not leave future generations burdened by our problems.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 3 February 2019

Il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex: il-qerda finali t’Għawdex wara l-bieb

Nhar l-Erbgħa festa pubblika. Hi ukoll id-data tal-egħluq għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika li qed tagħmel l-Awtoritá tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA) fuq it-termini ta’ referenza għall-istudju dwar l-impatt ambjentali (EIA) tal-mina proposta bejn Malta u Għawdex.

Is-sit elettroniku tal-ERA jippreżenta żewġ dokumenti sabiex jassistu lil dawk li qed jipparteċipaw f’din il-konsultazzjoni pubblika. Dawn id-dokumenti jispjegaw il-proposta u jidentifikaw numru ta’ fatturi li jistgħu jkunu jeħtieġu investigazzjoni, u dan biex dawk li jieħdu d-deċiżjoni jkunu megħjuna jagħmlu l-“aħjar” għażla.

F’dawn id-dokumenti hemm numru ta’ nuqqasijiet li jistunaw u juru kemm Transport Malta tiġi taqa’ u tqum mill-wirt ambjentali tagħna.

Transport Malta tibbaża l-proposti tagħha fuq ir-rapport ta’ Mott MacDonald, datat Marzu 2012 u intitolat: Preliminary Analysis: Assessment of Road Tunnel Options between Malta and Gozo. Wara li kkunsidrat erba’ proposti differenti għall-mina kif imfisser fir-rapport ta’ Mott MacDonald, Transport Malta ddeċidiet li tagħżel il-proposta numru 4 b’emenda: hi proposta li tkun tikkonsisti f’mina waħda b’żewġ karreġjati u tibda mill-inħawi taħt Ta’ Kenuna fin-Nadur Għawdex u tispiċċa fl-Imbordin biswit il-Wied tal-Pwales f’San Pawl il-Baħar.

Fid-dokumenti jgħidulna li l-ewwel tliet proposti kienu skartati għax setgħu jikkawżaw ħsara ambjentali sostanzjali, f’qiegħ il-baħar jew lir-riżerva naturali tal-Għadira. Imma la Transport Malta u l-anqas l-ERA ma ħassew il-ħtieġa li jgħidulna fid-dokumenti li ippubblikaw li meta ntagħżlet il-proposta numru 4 u ġġebbdet sal-Imbordin biswit il-Wied tal-Pwales din ġiet viċin wisq tar-riżerva naturali l-oħra, tas-Simar, u tgħaddi dritt mill-Miżieb, mal-pjan tal-ilma.

Ir-riżerva naturali tas-Simar hi sit ikklassifikat bħala Natura 2000 tal-UE, u l-pjan tal-ilma tal-Miżieb hu l-unika wieħed sura li fadlilna. Allura hemm il-possibilitá kbira li din il-proposta għal mina tmur kontra żewġ direttivi importanti tal-Unjoni Ewropea: id-Direttiva Qafas dwar l-Ilma u d-Direttiva dwar il-Abitat.

Fl-2015 il-medja ta’ movimenti ta’ karozzi bejn Malta u Għawdex, kif jirriżulta mill-istatistika uffiċjali, hi ta’ madwar 3000 kuljum. Id-diversi studji u rapporti ppubblikati sal-lum jikkalkulaw li l-mina, meta tkun lesta, tista’ twassal sabiex in-numru ta’ karozzi li jaqsmu bejn iż-żewġ gżejjer jitla’ bejn 9000 u 10000 kuljum. Gordon Cordina minn Ecubed fir-rapport tiegħu kkummissjonat minn Transport Malta u l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija jindika li ser tintlaħaq iċ-ċifra ta’ 9000 karozza kuljum, fil-waqt li r-rapport Mott MacDonald jipponta lejn l-10,000 karozza kuljum.

Din iż-żieda konsiderevoli fil-moviment ta’ karozzi teħtieġ li tkun analizzata fil-kuntest tal-politika kurrenti dwar it-trasport. Il-master plan dwar it-trasport addottat mill-Gvern preżenti u ffinanzjat mill-Fond Ewropew għall-Iżvilupp Reġjonali hu ċar. Dan il-pjan jgħid li matul l-għaxar snin li fih ser ikun effettiv (2016-25), wieħed mill-oġġettivi ewlenin tal-politika tat-trasport f’Malta hi emfasi fuq l-użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi għall-karozzi privati u li fil-gżejjer Maltin jonqos l-użu tal-karozza privata.

Mela Transport Malta, għan-nom tal-Gvern Malti fl-2016, tistabilixxi politika dwar it-trasport biex tkun indirizzata l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku billi tinkoraġixxi bdil fl-imġieba favur mobilitá sostenibbli, u mbagħad toħroġ bi proposti bħal dawn tal-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex, li biex jagħmlu sens, jirrikjedu żieda enormi fit-traffiku.

Id-dokumenti fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-ERA għall-informazzjoni ta’ dawk li jridu jipparteċipaw f’din il-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex jinjoraw kompletament il-politika dwar it-trasport.

Din hi s-sitwazzjoni li għandna illum. Drajna b’awtoritá tal-ippjanar sinkronizzata mal-lobby favur l-iżvilupp. Sfortunatament jidher li l-Awtoritá dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi miexja fuq l-istess passi. Il-jiem huma magħduda. Bla dubju dan ser iwassal għall-qerda ta’ Għawdex ukoll.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 12 t’Awwissu 2018

The Malta-Gozo tunnel: the final countdown to Gozo’s plunder starts now

Next Wednesday is a public holiday. It is also the closing date of the public consultation being carried out by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) on the terms of reference for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be carried out on the proposed Malta-Gozo tunnel.

The ERA website presents two documents to assist those participating in the public consultation. These documents explain the proposal and highlight a number of issues that will require further investigation in order to assist the decision-takers in choosing for the “optimum” solution.

There is a number of glaring deficiencies in these documents which indicate the contempt that Transport Malta has for our environmental heritage.

Transport Malta bases its proposals on the Mott MacDonald Report of March 2012 entitled: Preliminary Analysis: Assessment of Road Tunnel Options between Malta and Gozo. After considering the four options for a tunnel as resulting from the Mott MacDonald report, Transport Malta opted for an amended version of option number 4 which is proposed as consisting of a single bore two lane tunnel between the area below Ta’ Kenuna in Nadur, Gozo and L-Imbordin along the Pwales Valley in St Paul’s Bay in Malta.

We are told in the published documentation that the first three options were discarded because they could be the cause of considerable environmental damage to the seabed, as well as to the Għadira Nature Reserve. However, neither Transport Malta nor the ERA considered it appropriate to mention that the selected option, an amended option 4, stretches the Malta portal of the proposed tunnel to the Pwales valley very close to the Simar Nature Reserve and right through the Miżieb perched aquifer.

The Simar Nature Reserve is an EU Natura 2000 site, while the Miżieb perched aquifer is the only part of our water table that is still in a relatively good state. Consequently, two important EU Directives will most probably be infringed: The Water Framework Directive and the Habitats Directive.

Based on NSO statistics, in 2015 average number of daily vehicular crossings between Malta and Gozo was around 3,000. The various studies and reports published to date indicate that it is estimated that a tunnel between the two islands would trigger an increase to between 9,000 and 10,000 vehicle crossings daily. Gordon Cordina of Ecubed in his report commissioned by Transport Malta and the Gozo Business Chamber indicates a 9,000-daily mark, while Mott MacDonald points towards the 10,000 mark.

This considerable increase in vehicular movements needs to be analysed in terms of current transport policy. The Transport Master Plan, adopted by the current government and funded by the European Regional Development Fund, is very clear. It lays down that during its 10-year lifespan (2016-25) it will be an operational objective of transport policy in Malta to aim to provide alternatives to the use of private vehicles and to reduce the role of the private car as a means of transport in the Maltese Islands.

So, Transport Malta, on behalf of the Maltese government, spells out transport policy in 2016 aimed at addressing traffic congestion in Malta by encouraging a modal shift towards sustainable mobility. Yet it then comes out with proposals such as the Malta-Gozo Tunnel, which can only be feasible if there is an astronomical increase in vehicular traffic on our roads.

The documents placed by the ERA on its website to feed the public consultation process on the proposed Malta-Gozo tunnel ignore transport policy altogether.

This is the current state of affairs. By now we are accustomed to having a Planning Authority acting in synch with the development lobby. Unfortunately, it seems that the Environment and Resources Authority is closely following in its footsteps. The final countdown is on. It will inevitably lead to the plunder of Gozo as well.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 12 August 2018

L-Ippjanar rasu l-isfel

Nhar l-Erbgħa, l-Kumitat Parlamentari dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar beda d-diskussjoni dwar jekk għandux ikun hemm tibdil fil-politika dwar il-pompi tal-petrol (u d-disil) (Fuel Service Stations Policy) tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Bla dubju kien xprunat mid-deċiżjonijiet riċenti tal-istess awtorità dwar pompi tal-petrol f’f’Burmarrad, Marsaskala u l-Magħtab. Hemm applikazzjonijiet pendenti għal pompi ġodda f’Ħ’Attard, l-Imqabba u l-Iklin fil-waqt li hemm madwar 60 pompa oħra qed jistennew il-permessi mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar biex itejbu l-faċilitajiet inkluż protezzjoni ambjentali u dan minn total eżistenti ta’ 85 pompa.

Il-kummenti validi kienu bosta. Ikkonċentraw l-iktar fuq il-ħtieġa li l-pompi tal-petrol fiż-żona urbana jingħalqu u li dawn jiċċaqalqu xi mkien ieħor. Ftit iżda kien hemm ħeġġa biex tkun diskussa l-qalba tal-materja: xi bżonn għandna tal-pompi tal-petrol?

Madwar ħames xhur ilu, il-Prim Ministru, wara li għal darba oħra ħares ħarsa sewwa lejn il-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika tal-2017, ħabbar, li l-Gvern immexxi minnu kien ser jagħti bidu għal process ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika. Dan biex jistabilixxi data minn meta karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-disil ma jkunux jistgħu jinbiegħu iktar biex minflok ikollna karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku. Ma smajna xejn iktar dwar dan ħlief artiklu miktub mill-Ministru tat-Trasport Ian Borg entużjażmat li fis-snin li ġejjin ser nimxu fuq il-passi ta’ pajjiżi Ewropej oħra.

Il-Prim Ministru, bir-raġun kollu emfasizza li din il-bidla fil-politika tal-Gvern kienet meħtieġa minħabba li l-emmissjonijiet tal-karozzi kienu l-ikbar sors ta’ tniġġiż tal-arja fil-pajjiż. Għalfejn dan id-dewmien kollu biex ikunu stabiliti u mħabbra d-dettalji ta’ din id-deċiżjoni tajba? Uħud mill-pajjiżi Ewropej ilhom żmien li għamlu dan. In-Norveġja u l-Olanda stabilew is-sena 2025, il-Ġermanja qed tikkonsidra s-sena 2030, fil-waqt li Franza u r-Renju Unit huma mħajra għas-sena 2040 biex iwaqqfu l-bejgħ ta’ karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-disil.

Id-diskussjoni dwar il-politika li tikkonċerna l-pompi tal-petrol/disil għandha issir f’kuntest wiesgħa tal-politika tat-trasport inkluż l-elettrifikazzjoni tal-mezzi privati tat-trasport.

Il-punt ewlieni tad-diskussjoni huwa li bħala riżultat tal-elettrifikazzjoni n-numru ta’ pompi tal-petrol/disel meħtieġa mhux ser jiżdied imma ser jonqos fuq medda ta’ snin u dan sakemm jasal għal xejn jew kważi xejn. Allura għalfejn nibnu u ninkoraġixxu l-bini ta’ iktar pompi tal-petrol/disil? Ikun ferm iktar għaqli kieku l-investiment nindirizzawh lejn is-soluzzjoni tal-problemi, mhux lejn it-tkattir tagħhom!

Il-pompi tal-petrol eżistenti fiż-żoni urbani qed jintużaw bħala skuża biex jippruvaw jiġġustifikaw it-tħarbit ta’ 3000 metru kwadru ta’ art. Fil-fatt dan hu l-iskop ewlieni tal-politika dwar il-pompi tal-fjuwil approvata fl-2015.

Ma jkunx aħjar li flok ma jingħalqu l-pompi tal-petrol fl-abitat ikunu konvertiti f’lok fejn tiċċarġja l-batteriji tal-karozzi? Dawn il-pompi qegħdin fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom f’żoni ċentrali u huma ġeneralment ta’ qies żgħir. Kull pompa tal-petrol urbana li tkun salvata u konvertita biex fiha niċċarġjaw il-batteriji tfisser ukoll li nkunu salvajna 3000 metru kwadru ta’ art minn spekulazzjoni. Fl-istess ħin inkunu qed nippovdu servizz li ser ikun essenzjali eżatt fejn hu meħtieġ.

Dan ikun użu tajjeb għall-investiment, aħjar milli jintuża f’bini ta’ pompi ġodda barra miż-żona ta’ l-iżvilupp. Jekk dan isir inkunu qed nittrasformaw problema eżistenti f’diversi lokalitajiet f’soluzzjoni addattata għall-bini tal-infrastruttura meħtieġa għall-eletrifikazzjoni tat-trasport privat f’Malta.

Dan ovvjament ifisser li nkunu qed naqilbu ta’ taħt fuq il-politika dwar il-pompi tal-fjuwil. Flok ma nużaw il-pompi urbani bħala skuża biex tkun ġustifikata l-ispekulazzjoni tal-art inkunu qed nagħtu spinta tajba lill-ħarsien ambjentali.

Hu eżattament dan li għandna bżonn f’dan il-mument: naqilbu l-ippjanar rasu l-isfel.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 4 ta’ Frar 2018

 

Turning the Fuel Service Stations Policy on its head

Last Wednesday, the Parliamentary Environment and Land Use Planning Committee discussed the possible revision of the Fuel Service Stations Policy. The three development permits issued in the past weeks by the Planning Authority for fuel service stations at Burmarrad, Marsaskala and Magħtab without doubt was the spark that motivated the discussion. Among the pending applications, Attard, Mqabba and Iklin are queuing for new service stations, while over 60 more, from a current total of 85 stations are awaiting the Planning Authority go-ahead for upgrading.

A number of valid observations were made. Most of the discussion dealt with the need to relocate service stations currently within urban areas but there was, however, a reluctance to address head-on the real issue: do we need fuel service stations?

Almost five months ago, the Prime Minister – taking a leaf from Alternattiva Demokratika’s 2017 election manifesto – announced that his government will be launching a public consultation to establish a cut-off date for the sale of diesel and petrol cars in Malta and the use of only electricity-driven vehicles instead. We have not heard much more about this proposal, apart for an article by Transport Minister Ian Borg who wrote about following in the footsteps of other European countries in “phasing out new petrol and diesel vehicles in the next few decades”.

The Prime Minister has rightly emphasised that this change in policy is required in view of the fact that vehicle emissions are the largest source of pollution in Malta, but why wait so long to put flesh on the bare bones of the declared policy? Other European countries have already determined their cut-off date. Norway and the Netherlands are considering the year 2025, Germany is considering 2030, while France and the United Kingdom are opting for the year 2040 by which to halt the sale of diesel and petrol vehicles.

Revisiting the Fuel Service Stations Policy should not be discussed in a vacuum. It has to be placed in the context of related transport policies and in particular the fact (hopefully) that Malta should now be going electric.

The main issue clearly is that, as a result of going electric, the number of fuel service stations required will at some point in the future – hopefully the not so very distant future – will be next to nil. So why build more of them? Why encourage investment in something that is not needed? It would be much better to channel investment into resolving problems instead of adding to them.

The relocation of urban area fuel service stations – the main thrust of the Fuel Service Stations Policy approved in 2015 – is being used to justify the uptake of 3,000 square metres of land. But instead of relocating the existing service stations in urban areas, would it not be much better if these were converted into charging stations? These service stations are centrally located and mostly of a relatively small size. Every conversion one into a charging station would potentially save 3000 square metres of land in the middle of nowhere and simultaneously provide the service of electrically charging vehicles right where that service is required: in our urban areas.

It is towards the conversion of these fuel stations that investment should be channelled. They can be transformed from being a problem in our residential communities to being an integral and focal part of the strategy to develop a suitable, reliable and – above all – sustainable infrastructure so necessary for the electrification of private transport.

This would obviously turn the Fuel Service Stations policy upside down. Instead of using urban service stations as an excuse to trigger more land speculation, it is about time to inject some environmental considerations right where they are most needed.

This is what we need right now: the turning of the Fuel Service Stations Policy on its head.

 

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 4 February 2018

Thank-you Ryan; thank-you, Clayton.

I was present for both public sessions of the Planning Authority Board’s meetings to discuss the planning application for a petrol station at Salini Road Magħtab.

The first meeting, on 7 December, was attended by eight members of the Board. At the meeting on the 11 January, however, an additional five members made an effort and were present. These additional five members voted in favour of the application, but they had not followed the detailed public discussion held on 7 December, as is their duty.

At the first meeting, two of the Board members publicly indicated their intention to vote against the application but, at the second meeting, both changed their mind and decided to vote in favour. However, no public explanation was forthcoming as to what caused them to change sides.

The Planning Authority Board includes two Members of Parliament: Ryan Callus (PN) and Clayton Bartolo (PL). Both of them consider it to be desirable to have more petrol stations and both voted in favour of the Magħtab Petrol Station. Ryan Callus was clearly observed raising his hand very reluctantly to vote in favour of the development application: apparently he wanted those present to note that he was not sure of what he was doing.

More worrying was Clayton Bartolo’s behaviour. He had already publicly indicated his opposition to giving the permission for the petrol station on 7 December. However, last Thursday he switched sides and voted in favour. Obviously, he had every right to vote in whichever way he chooses, but he owes the public an explanation for his change of heart. No such explanation was forthcoming.

Of the 14 members of the Planning Authority Board, 13 are regular members and the additional member is an ad hoc member representing the Local Council of the locality involved – in this case Naxxar. Eight members of the Board were present for both meetings. Five turned up only for the second meeting. The 14th member of the Board, although present for both meetings, left the room as soon as the subject of the petrol station came up for discussion on both occasions! Clearly he did not want to participate in this latest planning farce.

This is the third new petrol station to be approved by the Planning Authority in a short period of time: approval for the Magħtab petrol station came immediately after the approval of those at Marsaskala and Burmarrad in the past weeks.

Do we need so many petrol stations?

Last September, the Prime Minister announced that government would shortly carry out a consultation exercise to determine the cut-off date beyond which all new cars purchased would have to be electric or similar vehicles. This signified one thing: that soon we will start the count-down leading to no more petrol and/or diesel cars on our roads. Bearing this policy declaration by the Prime Minister leads to one inevitable question: what do we need new petrol stations for? Each new petrol station gobbles up approximately 3,000 square metres of land.

A big thank-you to Ryan and Clayton.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 14 January 2018