L-idjoti (bla sens ta’ etika) fit-tmexxija tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar

L-aħbar fil-media li Jacqueline Gili, Direttur tal-Kuntratti fil-Ministeru tal-Finanzi, persuna nnominata mill-Gvern fuq il-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, inġiebet minn Catania bil-jet għal-laqgħa tal-Bord kienet aħbar xokkanti. Fatt li jistabilixxi standards ġodda ta’ governanza ħażina għal din l-amministrazzjoni.

Id-dikjarazzjoni taċ-Chairman Eżekuttiv tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar Johann Buttigieg, li jkun idjota kieku kellu jerġa’ jikri jet privat darba oħra meta jaf li m’għandux appoġġ politiku għal deċiżjoni bħal din, turina b’mod ċar daqs il-kristall in-natura tal-problema reali tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar. Id-deċiżjonijiet ma jittieħdux fuq bażi ta’ prinċipji etiċi ta’ tmexxija imma biss jekk ikunx hemm appoġġ politiku għalihom. L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għandha tmexxija amorali li tippermetti kollox, sakemm ikun hemm l-appoġġ politiku neċessarju.

Hemm mod sistematiku kif jivvutaw il-parti l-kbira tal-membri tal-Bord tal-Ippjanar. M’hemmx bżonn wisq għerf biex tbassar min minnhom jista’ jivvota favur jew kontra applikazzjonijiet kontroversjali. Xi kultant ivarjaw ftit imma ġeneralment tista’ tipprevedi bi kważi preċiżjoni kif ser tmur il-votazzjoni.

Dan ifisser li d-deċiżjoni li jinkera l-jet kien eżerċizzju sempliċi biex ikun assigurat li l-voti favur l-applikazzjoni jkunu kollha preżenti madwar il-mejda. Meta wieħed iqis li Jacqueline Gili m’attendietx 29 minn l-aħħar 75 laqgħa tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar dan kollu jassumi sinifikat ikbar.

Dan kollu, minkejja Ii hu importanti hu huwa kważi insinifikanti f’kuntrast mal-problemi kkawżati mill-konflitt ta’ interess eżistenti fil-laqgħat tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar.

Intqal li żewġ membri tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għandhom kunflitt ta’ interess li minħabba fih ma kellhomx jipparteċipaw fil-laqgħa li kkunsidrat u approvat l-applikazzjoni tad-dB għal żvilupp f’Pembroke.

Iż-żewġ każi huma ta’ natura kompletament differenti.

L-ewwel każ ta’ kunflitt ta’ interess hu dak tal-membru parlamentari Laburista Mellieħi Clayton Bartolo. Meta kien mistoqsi dwar il-każ wara d-deċiżjoni, l-Onor. Clayton Bartolo spjega li missieru u zijuh jikru fond kummerċjali mingħand id-dB Group: huma sidien ta’ kumpanija fil-qasam tal-isports tal-baħar li topera mit-Tunny Net, propjetá ta’ Silvio Debono. Il-fatt enfasizzat mill-Onor. Bartolo li l-qraba tiegħu ma jirċievu l-ebda ħlas mingħand id-dB Group hu rrelevanti. Dak li hu relevanti hu li Clayton Bartolo qatt ma seta biss jikkunsidra li jivvota kontra l-proġett tad-dB f’Pembroke għax li kieku għamel dan kien ikun qed jipperikola l-interessi kummerċjali ta’ qrabatu. Dan hu l-kunflitt ta’ interess ta’ Clayton Bartolo. Huwa kellu jiddikjara dan l-interess tiegħu immedjatament fil-bidu tal-laqgħa u sussegwentement kellu jwarrab u ma jipparteċipax fid-diskussjoni u d-deċiżjoni dwar il-proġett propost minn dB f’Pembroke.

It-tieni kunflitt ta’ interess hu ferm iktar serju minn hekk. Jinvolvi lil Matthew Pace membru tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar u l-ishma li għandu fl-aġenzija tal-propjetá Remax. Dan l-interess ta’ Matthew Pace fin-negozju tal-propjetá huwa f’kunflitt dirett mad-doveri tiegħu ta’ membru tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar. Bħala sid ta’ ishma f’Remax hu perfettament naturali li Matthew Pace jieħu interess attiv fil-permessi ta’ żvilupp li jistgħu jwasslu għal iktar negozju għall-aġenzija li fiha għandu sehem. Imma bħala membru tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar m’għandu jkollu l-ebda interess ta’ din ix-xorta għax dan inevitabilment iċajpar il-ġudizzju tiegħu huwa u jikkonsidra u jiddeċiedi l-applikazzjonijiet li jkollu quddiemu. Hu ċar li qatt ma messu kien appuntat. Il-fatt li ġie appuntat juri l-importanza li jagħti l-Gvern preżenti lill-imġieba korretta ta’ dawk li jiġu maħtura.

Hu floku ukoll li niġbed l-attenzjoni li Matthew Pace hu direttur eżekuttiv tal-kumpanija MFSP Financial Management Limited li f’Ġunju li għadda kienet immultata €38,750 mill-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) talli ma osservatx numru tal-liġijiet kontra l-ħasil tal-flus. Ir-rapporti fl-istampa f’Ġunju li għadda jindikaw li l-kontijiet inkwistjioni kienu ta’ Keith Schembri, Kap Amministrattiv tal-Uffiċju tal-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat, u ta’ Adrian Hillman li kien Direttur Maniġerjali tal-Allied Newspapers.

Dan jgħinna mhux ftit biex nifhmu ħafna iktar dak li qiegħed jiġri. It-taħwid li għaddej fl-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għandu l-barka diretta minn Kastilja, u allura huwa l-Prim Ministru li jeħtieġ li jerfa’ r-responsabbiltá diretta għal dan kollu.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 30 ta’ Settembru 2018

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Amoral idiots at the Planning Authority

The revelation that Jacqueline Gili, Director of Contracts at the Ministry of Finance and government appointee on the Planning Authority Board, was brought over for a meeting by a jet plane from Catania is shocking. It takes bad governance under this administration to a new level.

The declaration by PA Executive Chairman, Johann Buttigieg, that he would be an idiot to hire an executive jet next time in view of his not having any “political backing” for his decision to do so on this occasion identifies the real problem. Governance at the PA is dependent on political backing and not upon solid ethical behaviour. The authority has an amoral leadership and anything is permissible, as long as there is political backing.

The voting patterns of the Planning Authority Board members are clear enough. It is not rocket science to identify a priori which members of the Planning Authority Board are in favour and which are against controversial applications. They vary at times, but generally one can be 75 per cent spot-on in identifying who will vote “yes” and who will vote “no” on most applications.

This signifies that the jet plane decision was simply an exercise in ensuring that the potential yes votes were all on board. This in view of the large number of absences of Jacqueline Gili at Planning Board meetings in the recent past: she has not been present at  29 of the last 75.

I submit, however, that the jet plane issue almost pales into insignificance compared with the issue of conflict of interest at Planning Authority Board meetings. It has been said that two members of the Board had a conflict of interest in view of which they should not have participated in the meeting that considered and approved the dB Pembroke development proposal.

The two cases are however of a completely different nature.

The first conflict of interest is of Mellieħa Labour MP Clayton Bartolo. When prodded, after the decision was taken, the Hon Clayton Bartolo explained that his father and uncle are tenants of commercial premises owned by the dB Group: they are shareholders of a water sports company that operates from Silvio Debono’s Tunny Net Complex. The fact underlined by Hon Bartolo that the Bartolo relatives do not receive any payments from the dB Group is irrelevant. What is relevant is that, had Clayton Bartolo decided to vote against the dB Pembroke proposal, the existing commercial relationship between his immediate relatives and the dB Group would have been at considerable risk. This is what gives rise to Clayton Bartolo’s conflict of interest. He should have declared his interest before the PA Board meeting and not participated in the discussion and decision on the dB Pembroke project.

The second conflict of interest is much more serious. It involves PA Board member Matthew Pace and his shareholding in the Remax Estate Agency. Mr Pace’s interests in an estate agency is in direct conflict with his duties as a member of the Planning Authority Board. As a shareholder in Remax, it is natural for him to have an active interest in development permits as this would inevitably lead to more business for his agency. As a PA Board member, he should not have such an interest in any potential development permit as it would inevitably cloud his judgement in accessing and deciding on the applications for his consideration.

It is clear that Matthew Pace should have never been appointed in the first place and the fact that he was signifies the importance that the present government attaches to the ethical behaviour of its appointees.

It would be pertinent to also point out that Mr Pace is also Executive Director of MFSP Financial Management Ltd, an investment company which, last June, was fined €38,750 by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit for breaching a number of anti-money laundering laws. Reports in the press at the time indicated that the accounts in question belonged to Keith Schembri, Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and Adrian Hillman former Managing Director of Allied Newspapers.

This makes matters substantially easier to decipher: the useful idiots at the Planning Authority are in the good books of the powers that be at Castille. The buck therefore stops on Joseph Muscat’s desk: it is he who has to shoulder political responsibility for this mess.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 September 2018

Transport and the budget

budget-2017-speech

 

The Finance Minister  is apparently delighted that, during the past year, over 40 million passengers made use of public transport. While this represents a seven per cent increase on the previous year, it  could have been much more had the government not wasted millions of euros in the improvement of the road network. This money should have instead been channelled towards initiatives encouraging sustainable transport.

When the road network is improved, traffic congestion eases temporarily and, as a result, more cars take to the roads. This in turn leads to more traffic congestion – a direct result of government investment. Transport policy-makers have yet to realise that rather than improve the road network, they should increase exponentially initiatives to reduce the number of cars on our roads. It is in this area that major investment is required.

The government has decided to make a slow start in this area by announcing two initiatives to encourage group transport in relation to working places. The private sector is being encouraged to provide this through tax credits, whilst government entities employing more than 50 people have been instructed to prepare a sustainable transport plan. This is a belated slow start to addressing traffic congestion, which is related to people going to work using their own transport. The government has opted to use the carrot rather than the stick. Most probably, in the long term there is both the room and the need to use both.

A token incentive of free public transport for five thousand 18-year-olds who will reach that age in 2017 will do no harm. It could, however, have been presented in a more innovative manner – linking a longer period of free public transport with bicycle incentives as well as an undertaking from recipients not to seek a driving licence for at least 10 years. Now that would be an investment which would reduce cars from the road in the long term!

All initiatives that seek to encourage the use of public transport are worth a try, as they are a step in the right direction. It is, however, necessary that more investment in alternative and sustainable means of transport is forthcoming, primarily in setting up the required basic infrastructure. For example, the infrastructure required to encourage bicycle use is practically non-existent. This needs to be addressed adequately. A first step would be the sustainable transport plans which the Finance Minister is expecting from government entities during 2017. I would expect that, in 12 months time, these plans will start being implemented because government entities should be the first to set an example.

Most of our localities are a stone’s throw away from each other and this should make it much easier to encourage a reduction in dependence on the privately-owned car. Initiatives can also be taken on a local level and between neighbouring localities. In such instances, it can be much easier to encourage the use of bicycles. This would require streets where access to cars is prohibited, such access being reserved for bicycle users. In such instances, school  children, under supervision,  should be encouraged to go to school on bicycles, in bicycle-friendly streets.

Initiatives at a local level add up over time and slowly contribute to the formation of a bicycle-friendly society.  Even in matters of transport, national problems can be resolved at the town and village level, eventually leading to a solution at a national level. This is a practical way of applying the environmental maxim “think global, act local”.

The problem of traffic congestion will not be resolved by the construction of a new generation of flyovers but by equipping our young generations to challenge the status quo.

It can be done.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday 23 October 2016

Mill-karità għall-ġustizzja soċjali

Charity

Il-ġenerosità tal-poplu Malti hi kbira, kważi bla limitu. Dan jixhduh il-fondi li nġabru mill-Istrina għall-Community Chest Fund l-għada tal-Milied kif ukoll il-fondi li nġabru l-bieraħ b’risq id-Dar tal-Providenza.

Matul is-sena jinqalgħu diversi ċirkustanzi oħra li għalihom ukoll ikun hemm rispons tajjeb.

Huwa tajjeb li nagħmlu l-karità. Peró dan mhux biżżejjed.

Mill-karità irridu naslu għal ġustizzja soċjali iktar effettiva. Għas solidarjetà. Għax il-fatt li hemm il-ħtieġa ta’ din il-karità kollha ifisser bla ebda dubju li x-xibka tas-servizzi soċjali li għandu l-istat m’humiex jilħqu lil kulħadd.

Huwa neċessarju li flok ma naraw lill-Ministru tal-Finanzi fl-Istrina jippreżenta ċekk ta’ €60,000 mill-Fond tal-Kawżi Ġusti naraw żieda sostanzjali fil-fondi allokati lill-Ministeri tas-Saħħa u tas-Sigurtà Soċjali.

Imma jekk il-Gvernijiet ser jibqgħu jnaqqsu it-taxxa tad-dħul, dan ma jistax isir.

Gvern progressiv, minn dan kollu jasal għall-unika konklużjoni loġika: mill-karità jgħaddi għal ġustizzja soċjali iktar effettiva.

 

Tunnel vision

cart-horse

 

Gozo’s connectivity issues are considered as a problem when in reality they define Gozo and determine its distinct features. Unfortunately, in this respect both the government and the opposition have developed a tunnel vision, that is they tend to focus on just one view and ignore everything else.

The latest twist in the current debate is the declaration by the Finance Minister in his budget statement earlier this month that the feasibility study commissioned by Transport Malta, together with the Gozo Business Chamber has been concluded positively  and that the next step would be  the commissioning of a technical and geological study relative to the projected tunnel across the Gozo Channel.

Transport Malta, prodded by the Gozo Business Chamber, seems to be bent on putting the cart before the horse as it is inconceivable how a feasibility study could be concluded without first having identified all the geological issues and examined them in detail.  Knowing that the Gozo Channel contains a number of geological faults, including active ones, leads to the logical preliminary conclusion that geological studies of the area proposed to be tunnelled could have a substantial bearing on the technical parameters of the project. This would include the specific  route to be selected, the actual works to be carried out and the costings. The geological studies could also lead to a technical recommendation to select an alternative solution other than boring a tunnel below the seabed .

When the PN-led government placed the issue on the national agenda, former Minister Chris Said gave his guesstimate that the tunnel would cost in the region of €150 million. We have recently been informed that this guesstimate has increased substantially to between €250 and €300 million.

These guesstimates are on the low side, because when the geological issues have been examined the estimate could well shoot up to over €1 billion- this being around 4 times what has been taken into consideration in the so-called “feasibility study”.

These type of project very rarely follow estimated costs. The tunnel linking the Marsa and Delimara powers stations in Malta, for example, overshot its projected costs by around 100% due to the absence of adequate geological information. As a result, parts of the  tunnel caved in during works, necessitating substantial additional work, including redirecting parts of it. On the other hand,  expenditure on the Channel Tunnel linking Folkestone in Kent to Coquelles near Calais exceeded the projected estimates by around 80% notwithstanding the availability of detailed geological studies.

Last week, one of the Sunday newspapers referred to a survey carried out by the Gozo Tourism Association which indicates that 64% of tourism operators in Gozo are adamantly against the proposed tunnel because the direct result of this would be to render Gozo as an appendage of Malta. Gozo would be transformed into a one- day destination, just like most of the other tourism attractions spread over the Maltese islands.

Gozitan tourism operators have a very valid point, as the direct result of this tunnel vision is that Gozo would be transformed from an island into a remote village. Most hotels in Gozo as well as the flats and farmhouses available to let, could then require the identification of another use.

This matter has not yet been examined and yet it is fundamental to the decision-making process and should have been the first step in the whole exercise.

All this muddle and I have not yet commenced discussing the environmental impacts of the proposed tunnel!

The tunnel will generate large quantities of rock which require disposal. The precise amount would depend on the route to be followed (and consequently the length of the tunnel) as well as the selected design (the cross sectional area) and could be anything between one and two million cubic metres of fragmented rock.

In addition, the proposed point of entry of the tunnel at Iċ-Ċumnija on the outskirts of Mellieħa, would most probably be accessed through a new road network in the area immediately behind the Għadira Nature Reserve and bird sanctuary. This means that all the environmental issues which were discussed when the proposed TEN-T network was being debated will once more be of relevance.

There are many other ways through which Gozo’s connectivity issues can be addressed and there are certainly more cost effective ways than the proposed tunnel. The costs to be considered are not just financial: they include social and environmental costs, which should be considered on the drawing board and not as an afterthought.

This is the problem with the tunnel vision – you just have one view, excluding all the others.

Il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex

Gozo_tunnel_route_alignment_options

 

Ma nafx jekk il-Ministru tal-Finanzi kienx jaf x’inhu jgħid meta qal li l-feasibility study “ikkummissjonat minn Transport Malta u l-Gozo Business Chamber” dwar il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex kien lest. Imbagħad fis-sentenza ta’ wara jgħidilna li l-pass li jmiss issa huwa l-istudju tekniku u ġeoloġiku dwar il-mina.

Il-mistoqsija toħroġ waħedha: kif tista’ tagħmel feasibility study sura, jiġifieri studju dwar jekk jaqbilx li jsir il-proġett, meta għadek ma lestejtx l-iktar studju importanti: dak ġeoloġiku.

Dan ilu żmien jingħad minn kull min jaf l-affarijiet.

Jiena ktibt dwar dan kważi ħames snin ilu.

Iktar importanti milli ktibt jien, illum tkellem mat-Times il-ġeoloġista Peter Gatt. Tkellem ukoll mat-Times nhar it-3 ta’ Frar 2011.

Dr Peter Gatt jispjega fit-Times tal-lum għaliex qabel ma jsir l-istudju ġeoloġiku ma tista’ tikkonkludi xejn. Dan l-istudju hu “a vital first step”. Dan minħabba li l-istudju ġeoloġiku, jekk isir sewwa, jidentifika l-problemi ġeoloġiċi fuq ir-rotta li tkun ser titħaffer. Min-naħa l-oħra, jispjega Dr Gatt, jekk l-istudju ma jsirx, jew ma jsirx sewwa l-ispejjes tal-proġett jimmoltiplikaw. Kif ġara, jgħidilna Dr Gatt, fil-mina bejn Delimara u l-Marsa [bejn iż-żewġ power stations] li swiet id-doppju ta’ dak ippjanat minħabba li, billi ma kienx hemm informazzjoni ġeoloġika adegwata f’idejn min fassal il-proġett, kien hemm kollass tal-blat f’diversi partijiet tal-mina.

Dr Gatt isemmi l-eżempju tal-istudju ġeoloġiku li sar bi preparazzjoni għaċ-Channel Tunnel bejn l-Ingilterra u Franza. Dan l-istudju dam 50 sena biex sar u minkejja dan, l-ispiża taċ-Channel Tunnel xorta varjat bi 80% mill-istima oriġinali.

Meta wieħed iqis dan kollu ma nafx x’feasibility study sar!

Qalulna ukoll (mhux fil-baġit) li l-mina ser tiġi tiswa madwar €250 miljun. Meta tqis l-ispejjes li jistgħu jkunu meħtieġa minħabba l-kundizzjonijiet ġeoloġiċi taħt il-Fliegu bejn Malta u Għawdex, naħseb li din l-istima hi baxxa ħafna. Fil-fatt jiena fl-artiklu tiegħi tal-2011 kont għidt li probabbilment li l-ispiża tkun bejn €1 biljun u €1.5 biljun. Dan kont ibbażajtu fuq l-ispiża stmata għall-mina bejn il-gżira Daniża ta’ Lolland u l-gżira Ġermaniża ta’ Fehmarn li kienet qed tkun diskussa f’dak iż-żmien. Għalkemm dawn huma stimi imma xorta hemm diskrepanza kbira li mhiex ġustfikata.

Hemm dawn il-problemi kollha u għandna ma bdejniex nitkellmu dwar impatti ambjentali, li minnhom hemm bosta.

Il-mina, biex issir, ser tiġġenera kwantità kbira ta’ blat imqatta. Dan ivarja skond id-diżinn u jista’ jammonta sa żewġ miljun metri kubi ta’ blat. Hemm ukoll is-siti Natura 2000 li qegħdin viċin ħafna taż-żona fejn ser tiżbokka l-mina fl-inħawi taċ-Ċumnija limiti tal-Mellieħa.

Imma l-feasibility study lest, qalilna l-Ministru!

Transport planning : a long-term view required

new_road_traffictraffic congestion and GDP

 

The pre-budget document for 2016 published by the Finance Ministry projects a real GDP increase of 3.2 per cent the year 2016, yet at least half of this projected increase will be wiped out as a result of the impact of traffic congestion in the Maltese Islands.

In fact, earlier this year the University of Malta’s Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development published an EU funded study entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta. This study estimated that 1.7 per cent of our GDP is wasted annually as a result of traffic congestion, a conclusion reached after taking into account both the fuel wasted as well as the time lost.

It is in this context that one has to consider the Education Ministry’s White Paper entitled School Opening Hours and Traffic Congestion, published earlier this week. Unfortunately, the Education Ministry had to fill the void created by the Transport Ministry.

Traffic congestion is not caused by school transport alone – this is just one of many causes. The solution advocated by the Transport Ministry over the years has been to focus on the effects rather than the causes, with the result of even more space being ceded to cars. It has opened up more roads, widened existing ones and introduced flyovers. These “solutions” have encouraged more cars so that our roads are now bursting at the seams, with 340,981 licensed vehicles on the road at the end of the second quarter of this year.

This translates into 802 cars per thousand population, and most probably is the highest vehicle ownership profile in the world. It is even higher than the vehicle ownership profile of the USA (786). Comparing it to other EU countries, the figure for Italy is 682, the UK 516, Spain 592 and Switzerland 573. Even Luxembourg – at  741 per thousand is lower than Malta.

Such a large number of cars is not an indication of affluence. It is rather a clear indication of the failure of the state of Malta to realise that the smallness of these islands was an untapped benefit in developing policies that ensure sustainable access.

It is clear that, over the years, the state of public transport has been the single biggest incentive to private car ownership and use. Cars have been allowed to fill the void and take over our streets.

The cumulative impacts of this take-over has been a reduced access to public spaces in our towns and villages, a general deterioration of air quality and the associated respiratory diseases and accelerated urban decay in such areas as Pietà, Ħamrun, Msida, Paola, Fgura and Marsa.

This present state of affairs is the result of a lack of long-term planning. Transport planners in Malta preferred the easy way out: the construction of new roads, tunnels and flyovers engulfing more land as well as the creation of more parking spaces. The resulting impact compounded the problem: In the 25 years since 1990, the number of vehicles on the Maltese Islands roads increased by a staggering 145 per cent.

The situation was made worse by the removal of a number of bus termini in a number of localities, the decisions to build a number of schools in the middle of nowhere and having industrial zones not serviced by public transport.

In addition, the lack of enforcement of speed limits for vehicles making use of our roads served to squeeze out bicycles and small motorcycles as alternative means of transport.

This is the situation which has to be addressed.

The long term solution is an efficient public transport system and a corresponding decrease in the number of vehicles on the road.

The White Paper published by the Education Ministry is one such exercise, intended to reduce the number of vehicles on the road as a result of ferrying school children to and from schools in their parents’ private cars.

Better organisation of school transport, as well as more incentives to encourage its use, is a definite step forward. In addition, the  Education Ministry could try to ensure that the catchment areas of its secondary schools are not spread over a very wide area as this is one other contributory factor that has not yet been identified as an additional culprit.

The debate, however, has to be much wider than schools, because, at the end of the day, our schools are just victims of the accumulated lack of transport planning.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 6th September 2015