Il-MEPA u l-froġa tal-Mistra Village

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Il-Kummissarju tal-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar David Pace f’rapport li ġie ippubblikat il-bierah it-Tnejn 2 ta’ Diċembru 2013 fi ftit kliem jgħid li l-permessi għall-iżvilupp mill-ġdid tal-Mistra Village huma froġa oħra tal-MEPA. Dan jagħmlu wara li mexxa investigazzjoni fuq talba ta’ Din l-Art Ħelwa.

Il-frejjeġ fil-MEPA li kienu jsiru taħt Lawrence Gonzi, George Pullicino u Mario Demarco għadhom qed isiru taħt Joseph Muscat u Michael Farrugia.

Hu ġustifikat, jgħidilna l-Kummissarju tal-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar, li l-permessi għall-iżvilupp tal-Mistra Village jkunu irtirati.

Ir-rapport li tistgħu taqrawh fuq is-sit elettroniku ta’ Din l-Art Ħelwa jagħti raġunijiet dettaljati biex jispjega għaliex il-Kummissarju David Pace wasal għal din il-konklużjoni. Ir-rapport jispjega xi tħalla barra fil-konsiderazzjonijiet li għamel id-Direttorat tal-Ippjanar u jgħid li l-Bord tal-MEPA kien iggwidat ħażin mill-Major Projects Unit tal-istess MEPA. Il-Bord tal-MEPA ngħata informazzjoni nieqsa u informazzjoni żbaljata.

F’pajjiż ċivilizzat il-Bord tal-MEPA kien jirreżenja en bloc wara deċiżjoni bħal din.

Darba waħda hekk kien sar meta l-Perit Joseph Falzon kien ħareġ rapport dwar il-permess abbużiv tal-LIDL ta’ Ħal-Safi fuq talba għal investigazzjoni li dakinnhar kienet saret minn Alternattiva Demokratika . Dakinnhar 6 minn 7 membri tal-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll ta’ l-Iżvilupp li approvat il-permess kienu irriżenjaw lejlet l-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2008.

Ma nafx kemm il-wieħed jew waħda mill-membri tal-Bord tal-MEPA għandhom il-kuraġġ li jammettu li għamlu żball u li għandhom iħallsu tiegħu billi jirreżenjaw.

Nistennew u naraw.

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Ħalluna naħdmu ………ħalluna ngħixu

Ħalluna naħdmu.

Hekk qal l-iżviluppatur Sandro Chetcuti waqt laqgħa organizzata man-nies tan-negozju mill-Partit Laburista. Dan hu slogan li qed jintuża issa biex ifisser ġlieda kontra l-burokrazija. Fost oħrajn kontra l-hekk imsejħa burokrazija fil-MEPA.

Qalulna li fil-Ġermanja permess ta’ żvilupp joħroġ fi tlett xhur iżda f’Malta jieħu ta’ l-inqas tmien xhur.

Li ma qalulniex li f’Malta l-industrija tal-bini tħalliet għal snin sħah tagħmel prattikament dak li trid. Bil-konsegwenza li presentement hawn iktar minn 70,000 post residenzjali vojt. Dawn il-postijiet vojta huma ekwivalenti għal 9 darbiet daqs iż-żona residenzjali ta’ B’kara.

Ma qalulniex li minkejja l-attaparsi kontrolli l-MEPA ħarġet permessi li qatt ma kellhom joħorġu.

Il-Lidl ta’ Ħal Safi inbena bħala riżultat ta’ permess ta’ żvilupp li qatt ma kellu joħroġ. Tant li wara li l-Uffiċjal tal-Verifika (Audit Officer) tal-MEPA fi Frar 2008 ikkonkluda l-investigazzjoni tiegħu kienet irreżenjat il-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll ta’ l-Iżvilupp.

Il-Lidl ta’ Ħal-Luqa mhux biss nbena f’żona li ma kienx permess li jsir dan il-bini talli l-parkeġġ tiegħu qiegħed sitwat taħt l-aħħar parti tal-flight path għall-mitjar internazzjonali ta’ Malta. Jiena infurmat li waqt li kien għaddej ix-xogħol ta’ kostruzzjoni fis-sit tal-Lidl f’Ħal-Luqa minħabba l-jib tal-krejnijiet li kien hemm fil-parking area l-aċċess għall-mitjar ingħalaq għal xi ħin. Huma u neżlin l-ajruplani tant ikunu fil-baxx meta jkunu fuq il-parkeġġ tal-Lidl ta’ Ħal-Luqa li kien hemm periklu serju ta’ inċident minħabba dawn il-krejnijiet.

Il-problemi konnessi mal-MEPA huma is-swaba politiċi li hemm fiha l-ħin kollu. Ir-riforma tal-MEPA ma indirizzatx l-iżjed element essenzjali u ċjoe kif jinħatru dawk li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Dwar dan Alternattiva Demokratika fil-manifest elettorali li ser tippreżenta għall-elezzjoni ġenerali li għandna wara l-bieb ser terġa’ tipproponi soluzzjoni li lill-politiku toħorġu l-barra mill-proċess li permezz tiegħu preżentement qiegħed involut direttament fid-deċiżjonijiet u minflok issaħħaħ ir-rwol tiegħu (tal-politiku) fejn tidħol is-sorveljanza.

Il-MEPA għandha rwol importanti. Sfortunatament m’hiex titħalla taqdi dan ir-rwol. Tkun tista’ taqdi dan ir-rwol meta jinħatru persuni kapaċi fit-tmexxija tal-MEPA. Dawn il-persuni jeħtieġ li jkunu disponibbli biex kontinwament jagħtu kont ta’ egħmilhom. Ir-rwol tal-MEPA mhux biss li toħroġ jew iżżomm il-permessi tal-iżvilupp. Fuq kollox għandha l-obbligu li fid-deċiżjonijiet tagħha u permezz tagħhom tassigura li l-kwalita’ ta’ ħajja li ngħixu lkoll kemm aħna titjieb.

Biex dan ikun jista’ jsir il-MEPA trid trabbi is-snien mal-Gvern u l-awtoritajiet pubbliċi. (Għax fost l-agħar deċiżjonijiet tal-MEPA hemm dawk fejn huwa involut il-Gvern: il-power station f’Delimara, il-Freeport f’Birzebbuga, l-impjant tal-iskart ta’ Sant’ Antnin f’Marsaskala……) Meta dan ikun jista’ jsir, imbagħad  ikun possibli li jingħad li l-MEPA qed taqdi l-missjoni tagħha.

Ħalluna ngħixu!

More Voodoo Planning

The proposed Mepa legislation fails to address basic issues bedevilling land use planning and environment protection. It is basically a consolidation of current legislation with some amendments. Important provisions in the Environment Protection Act, such as reference to the National Commission for Sustainable Development, are being repealed. While acknowledging that they may crop up in other legislation, the government has not to date publicly indicated its intentions.

After almost two years of consultations I expected something quite different. There has been no attempt at ensuring that appointees to the Mepa board are at least conversant with planning and environmental issues. If past appointments are any indication of what to expect we will have more voodoo planners. Appointing one Mepa board member from an environmental NGO area of influence will not solve anything. We have been there before with the appointee resigning after a few weeks.

Appointment of architects to boards and commissions is no guarantee that Mepa will function within current policy and legislation. Censurable decisions have been taken by DCCs chaired by architects. Some resigned their posts as a result.

There will always be those who err. In addition to human error, some will err as a result of incompetence and others as a result of pressures applied. In the past, some members of the DCC and the Mepa board have taken up the practice of voodoo planning: discarding their role of applying policy, opting instead to create it.

This is the result of not being aware of their role and not being familiar with planning and environmental policy.

Voodoo planning is also a reaction to pressures applied or perceived in the so-called closed-door meetings. Mepa’s executive committee, for example, has developed the role of advising DCCs as to the manner of deciding particular applications. This unacceptable intrusion into the DCCs competence does not feature in the proposed legislation. It is to date left unregulated.

Through its Select Committee, Parliament should develop the role of a permanent monitor: a spotlight focused on Mepa. It should also have a role in screening the government’s nominees to the Mepa board and DCCs, which screening can be carried out through subjecting such nominees to public hearings. Such hearings can weed out most undesirable appointees. Those with a glaring conflict of interest and those whose only qualification is their political allegiance would be the first casualties. A system through which Parliament’s Select Committee screens potential appointees can also nudge the government into discarding the tradition as a result of which competent individuals not close to the government of the day are not considered for appointment.

MPs should not be able to decide specific planning or environmental applications. Hence, I query whether Parliament should continue appointing two of its members to sit as voting members of the Mepa board. MPs would fulfil their role as representatives of the community much better if they develop Parliament’s monitoring role. Parliaments in other jurisdictions function very effectively in this manner.

Up till 2002, the government was still considering the setting up of a separate authority dealing exclusively with the environment and had, in fact, commissioned and received draft legislation on the subject.

The issue of having two separate authorities, one dealing with land use planning and the other with environmental protection, is not one of principle. It is rather one of ensuring that the environment protection function is not stifled as has been done to date. The environment protection voice has been continuously suffocated, available resources withheld or diverted, with appointments to sensitive environment posts being dished out to persons whose competence and experience was in other fields, primarily land use planning. Coupled with the appointment of boards and commissions insensitive to environmental issues, these attitudes have led to the current state of affairs.

If the government persists in its policy of retaining the environment protection function within Mepa, the least it can do is to embark on recruiting qualified personnel at all levels, thereby reversing the accumulated negative legacy. This includes the need to appoint more members of the Mepa board equipped with a suitable knowledge of environmental protection issues.

A positive aspect of the proposed reform is that the government has re-dimensioned its role in forward planning. While rightly affirming that policy decisions are the role of the politician, Mepa’s role in policy formulation has been retained. In addition, the Ombudsman’s comments on fine-tuning of the consultation process as explained in his report dated April 2007, titled The Duty To Consult And The Right To Be Consulted, have been taken on board.

Land use planning and environmental protection will always be controversial. These are surely not the paths to popularity. Parliament needs to take a more active role as an overseer. While the government has a role in leading the way, Parliament has the duty to ensure that the country’s resources are used in a sustainable manner, holding the government to account in the process.

Meetings Behind Closed Doors

published on November 28, 2009

by Carmel Cacopardo

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The debate on the functioning of the Mepa audit office has identified a number of contentious issues. Foremost among them is whether land use planning decision-makers are entitled to meet behind closed doors with applicants/objectors as part of the process leading to a decision.

Those who insist that Mepa decision-makers are so entitled have clutched to Magistrate Edwina Grima’s decision of October 28, as if it were the proverbial straw. They conveniently ignore however that Magistrate Grima qualified her decision by stating that it is not an examination as to whether the Development Planning Act was observed or not but one as to whether the criminal charges brought forward by the police were proven.

Land use planning is not just about the issuing of development permits. It is an exercise whereby the community decides the manner in which development is permissible, if at all. This signifies that the decision-makers, in arriving at a conclusion, must not only consider the interests of the applicant for a development permit.

The community has the right to be heard at all stages of the decision-making process irrespective of whether it formally submits an objection to a proposal for development. It also has the right to monitor proceedings, in particular as to the information fed into the decision-taking process.

The Development Planning Act (DPA) of 1992 accepts the important role of the community in the decision-making process. Amendments throughout the years have sought to reinforce the procedures through which the community can ensure that the decision-making process is fair and reasonable.

One such procedure is that provided for in sub-section five of section 13 of the DPA. The crucial first words of the said sub-section are fundamental: “The meetings of the commission shall be open to the public.” This important statement is qualified later in the said sub-section by the authorisation to hold deliberations “in private”, that is no one except members of the Development Control Commission (DCC) and its staff can be present.

The members of the DCC have just one function: to sit as members of the commission and decide on applications in respect of which the Director of Planning, through his staff, has submitted recommendations. The DCC members have no role outside the meetings of the DCC in the same manner that a judge or a magistrate has no role outside the courtroom.

The point has been raised by Mepa chairman Austin Walker in an article titled (To Meet Or Not To Meet? (November 10) that it is perfectly legitimate for the decision-maker to seek additional information, which assists him/her in understanding the matter under consideration and, thereby, leading to a decision based on better or more accurate information.

Mr Walker knows that the ends do not justify the means. While I do not quarrel with the objective of seeking additional information where it is considered necessary, this must be carried out in a manner that is consistent with the provisions of both the letter and the spirit of the DPA. That meetings of the DCC must be held in public is fundamental in identifying the correct methods to employ in receiving information. This, to my mind, means that the decision-maker must at all times ensure that there is no direct contact with an interested party outside the formal DCC meetings open to the public. The decision-maker must be aware of the quasi-judicial role he/she is carrying out. Meeting behind closed doors with one of the parties does not contribute to ensuring that impartiality is the order of the day. It encourages the perception of both partiality and the existence of sinister motives irrespective of whether these exist or not.

How can the decision-maker ensure that the information received does not prejudice the interests of the community in general or specific objectors in particular when these are generally not aware of what went on behind closed doors? On the other hand, receipt of additional information during a public session would ensure that the information submitted is subject to public scrutiny. The community has the right to communicate its version, thereby countering, if necessary, the additional information submitted.

In a legal system based on the rule of law this is a principle of natural justice, which, in legal jargon, is referred to as audi alteram partem – listen to the other party. The practice of Mepa decision-makers meeting behind closed doors ignores this basic legal principle enshrined in the provisions of the DPA when it provides that the meetings of the commission have to be held in public.

It was on this basis that reports issued by the Mepa audit office of which I formed part during 2004-7 has continuously emphasised that meetings of Mepa decision-makers with interested parties behind closed doors are illegal.