The professor who messed things up

Victor Axiaq

 

Professor Victor Axiaq, Chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority, is not at fault for being absent at a Planning Authority public meeting on the 4 August which discussed the Mrieħel and Sliema high-rise applications. By now everyone is aware that he had just been discharged from hospital and was instructed to rest for 15 days.

There were various officers of the Environment and Resources Authority present for the 4 August public meeting, yet instead of entrusting one of them with presenting the environment’s case on the Sliema high-rise, Professor Axiaq preferred to entrust Dr Timothy Gambin with a memorandum which Gambin opted to keep to himself.

There were various environmentalists, Sliema Local Councillors and civil society activists present for the public hearing. Those of us who were present for the public hearing presented the environment case and managed to convince six out of 13 Planning Authority members to vote against the proposed high-rise at TownSquare Sliema. Support for the environment case from a representative of the Environment and Resources Authority during the public hearing would have been most welcome. It could also have had a determining impact.  Yet it was not forthcoming notwithstanding the presence of a number of the Environment and Resources Authority employees at the public hearing.

The split of MEPA into two separate and distinct authorities, we were irresponsibly told by Government representatives some months ago, would ensure that the environmental issues would be more easily defended when considering land use planning applications. Yet prior to the split, an official of The Environment Protection Directorate would have addressed the public hearing. On the 4 August none were invited. The only person who was briefed to speak (Dr Timothy Gambin) opted instead to ignore his brief and instead openly supported the development proposal for a high-rise at TownSquare.

Professor Victor Axiaq, as Chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority, missed the opportunity to contribute to convince the majority of members of the Planning Authority due to his two basic mistakes. He entrusted his memorandum to another Planning Authority member (Dr Timothy Gambin) who had opposing views and hence had no interest in communicating Professor Axiaq’s memorandum on TownSquare to the Planning Authority. Professor Axiaq also failed to engage with his own staff at the Environment and Resources Authority as none of those present for the public hearing uttered a single word in support of the case against the high-rise proposal. The person sitting on the chair next to me, for example, preferred to communicate continuously with his laptop correcting with track changes some report he was working on. I have no idea why he even bothered to be present for the public hearing.

Unfortunately, Professor Axiaq, as chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority, messed up the first opportunity at which the input of the authority he leads could have made a substantial difference in the actual decision taken. It would have been much better if a proper decision was taken on the 4 August instead of subsequently considering whether to present an appeal, as this will be an uphill struggle as anyone with experience in these matters can confirm.  This could only have happened if Professor Axiaq had acted appropriately, which he unfortunately did not.

Next Wednesday, the Sliema Local Council will be convened for an extraordinary session in order to discuss the planning appeal relative to the TownSquare high-rise development permit. Environmental NGOs will also be meeting presently to plot the way forward and consider whether they too will appeal the decision.

Even the Environment and Resources Authority will be shortly considering whether to appeal. In view of the way in which Professor Axiaq handled the whole issue, the Sliema Local Council and the environmental NGOs would do well if they do not place any trust in the Authority led by Professor Victor Axiaq. They will avoid ending up in another mess.

After creating this mess, there is only one option left for Professor Victor Axiaq in my opinion. He should immediately resign from his post as chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority. The sooner he resigns the better.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 14 August 2016

L-għarbiel hu meħtieġ

 

MEPA_building

Id-dibattitu ambjentali fil-pajjiż qed irabbi l-għeruq. Iktar nies huma konxji ta’ dak li qiegħed  jiġri. Peró dan mhux rifless biżżejjed fil-mod kif in-nies iġġib ruħha. F’dan is-sens għadna ftit lura. Imma, wara kollox, dan huwa proċess li jieħu żmien mhux żgħir biex minn għarfien aħjar ngħaddu għall-impenn.

Waħda mid-diffikultajiet li rridu niffaċċjaw kuljum hi l-frammentazzjoni tas-settur pubbliku b’mod li r-riżorsi li għandu, l-pajjiż ma jagħmilx użu tajjeb biżżejjed tagħhom, għax dawn huma mifruxa żżejjed. Il-qasma tal-MEPA f’żewġ awtoritajiet jiena nħares lejha f’dan is-sens.

Il-MEPA ma kienitx qed taħdem tajjeb, imma li taqsamha f’żewġ biċċiet, qatt ma kienet soluzzjoni, għax kull waħda miż-żewġ biċċiet qatt mhu se tkun b’saħħitha biżżejjed, l-anqas fil-qasam tagħha.

Il-MEPA ma kienitx b’saħħitha biżżejjed minħabba li fil-ħidma tagħha tul is-snin, qatt ma poġġiet l-interess tal-komunità sħiħa fiċ-ċentru tal-ħidma tagħha. Dejjem iffukat fuq l-iżvilupp tal-art u assigurat li l-bqija ta’ ħidmieta ma jtellifx dan l-iskop primarju. Meta fl-2002 l-ambjent ingħaqad mal-iżvilupp tal-art f’awtorità waħda kien hemm opportunità tad-deheb, li sfortunatament ma ġietx użata sewwa.

F’pajjiż żgħir bħal tagħna, l-eżistenza ta’ awtorità waħda għall-ambjent u l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art kienet opportunità unika biex il-ħidma ambjentali tkun iffukata u effettiva. (Il-ħidma ambjentali tinkludi l-ippjanar għall-użu ta’ l-art.) Minflok, din l-opportunità intużat ħażin. Kien hemm il-possibilità ta’ sinerġija, imma din ġiet skartata. Minflok, ġie assigurat li d-Direttorat tal-Ambjent jibqa’ bla riżorsi umani u tekniċi inkluż bla direttur għal diversi snin, kif għadu sal-lum li qed nikteb. Kif kien, bla snien u bla idejn, id-Direttorat tal-Ambjent ftit seta jkun effettiv.

Fil-bidu ta’ din il-ġimgħa ġiet konkluża d-diskussjoni fil-Parlament biex il-MEPA tinqasam mill-ġdid f’żewġ awtoritajiet: awtorità għall-ambjent u oħra għall-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art. Il-liġijiet li tressqu f’ħafna aspetti huma identiċi għal-liġi l-qadima, bid-difetti b’kollox.

Kull waħda miż-żewġ liġijiet ewlenin ippreżentati, fiha lista ta’ prinċipji li qegħdin hemm biex iservu ta’ gwida għall-Gvern, u anke għall-awtoritajiet il-ġodda infushom, dwar il-mod kif għandhom jaġixxu. Imma, sfortunatament dawn tħallew biss bħala prinċipji fuq il-karta għax mhuwiex possibli li ċittadin ordinarju inkella għaqda ambjentali tmur il-Qorti bl-insistenza li dak li l-Parlament approva fil-prinċipju jitwettaq. Din mhix xi ħaġa ġdida, għax dan id-difett fil-liġijiet ġie ikkupjat mil-liġi l-qadima li fis-sustanza tgħid l-istess affarijiet.

Bid-difetti kollha tal-liġijiet, dawn jitħaddmu, tajjeb jew ħażin, skond x’tip ta’ persuni jinħatru biex imexxuhom. Kellna, u għad għandna, kemm persuni kapaċi kif ukoll persuni li mhumiex kapaċi biex imexxu dawn it-tip ta’ awtoritiajiet. Kultant, xi persuni kapaċi ddakkru mill-bqija.

Qatt mhu tajjeb li l-Gvern jiddeċiedi waħdu dwar il-persuni li għandhom ikunu fdati bit-tmexxija ta’ dawn l-awtoritajiet. Il-prattika fl-Unjoni Ewropeja u anke fl-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika hi li l-persuni li jinħatru jkunu mgħarbla fil-pubbliku minn kumitati tal-Parlament. Il-proċess fl-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika huwa ħafna iktar rigoruż minn dak fl-Unjoni Ewropeja. Hemmhekk anke l-imħallfin prospettivi jgħarblu u mhux l-ewwel darba li kien hemm persuni nominati li ma kisbux l-approvazzjoni biex jinħatru.

Dan ifisser li wara li l-Gvern jinnomina lill-persuni li għandhom imexxu dawn jidhru quddiem kumitat parlamentari li jistaqsihom diversi mistoqsijiet, u jiddibatti magħhom il-fehmiet u l-esperjenzi tagħhom relatati mall-oqsma differenti ta’ ħidma tal-awtorità li jkunu ġew nominati biex imexxu. Dan isir biex ikun stabilit jekk humiex kompetenti biex imexxu.

Hi sistema li meta tkun addottata għandha isservi ta’ xprun fuq il-Gvern tal-ġurnata biex joqgħod iktar attent dwar il-persuni maħtura, għax id-difetti jew in-nuqqasijiet tagħhom b’dan il-mod hemm ċans tajjeb illi jiġu esposti immedjatament.

Din il-proposta saret kemm fil-manifest elettorali tal-Alternattiva Demokratika kif ukoll fil-manifest elettorali tal-Partit Laburista. Fil-Parlament f’dawn il-ġranet, ġew ippreżentati proposti f’dan is-sens kemm minn Marlene Farrugia f’isem Alternattiva Demokratika kif ukoll minn esponenti tal-Partit Nazzjonalista.

Minkejja li kien hemm l-opportunità ta’ kunsens dwar dawn il-proposti, il-Gvern sfortunatament għażel li jirreżisti dak li kien ikun ċertament pass kbir il-quddiem fil-kontabilità tat-tmexxija tal-awtoritajiet.

Kien biss nhar il-Ġimgħa 4 ta’ Diċembru, li waqt id-diskussjoni pubblika organizzata mill-Kummissjoni Ambjent tal-Knisja li l-Prim Ministru iddikjara illi l-Partit Laburista ma abbandunax l-idea imma li għadu qed jiżviluppa qafas li jkun japplika għal firxa wiesa’ ta’ awtoritajiet. Filwaqt li dan hu tajjeb jibqa’ l-fatt li intilfet opportunità unika fid-dibattitu parlamentari li tiġi introdotta s-sistema tal-għarbiel bi prova fil-qasam li hi l-iktar meħtieġa, dak ambjentali.

Għax wara koIlox huma dawk afdati bit-tmexxija li jistgħu jagħmlu d-differenza, anke jekk il-liġijiet jibqgħu difettużi. Għalhekk il-ħtieġa li ngħarblu aħjar il-ħatriet li jsiru, illum qabel għada. Hu b’hekk li l-għarfien aħjar tal-obbligi ambjentali tagħna nistgħu nittrasformawhom f’awtoritajiet impenjati bis-serjeta biex jagħmlu dmirhom.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il- Ħadd 13 ta’ Diċembru 2015

Wara li qerdu kullimkien, issa jmiss Kemmuna ?

San  Niklaw-Comino

Jidher li qed toqrob id-daqqa ta’ Kemmuna.

Madwar sena ilu kienet inbniet triq illegali fuq Kemmuna. Wara kellna s-skiet.

Issa l-Malta Today qed tirrapporta li qed jitħejjew pjani biex il-lukanda u l-bungalows f’Kemmuna jkun żviluppati mill-ġdid.

Kemmuna hi protetta bħala sit Natura 2000. Imma ma nistgħux neskludu logħob tas-soltu biex iduru ma din il-protezzjoni u fl-aħħar, għal darba oħra, tinqered biċċa oħra mill-wirt naturali ta’ dan il-pajjiż.

Id-Direttiva dwar il-Habitats tal-EU tagħti protezzjoni lill-Kemmuna. Meta Kemmuna kienet ġiet dikjarata sit Natura 2000 kienu ġew identifikati l-ispeċi tal-flora u l-fawna li kienu qed jiġu protetti b’din il-miżura. Irridu naraw kemm din il-protezzjoni tista’ tiddgħajjef bħala riżultat tal-iżvilupp li ser ikun propost fuq Kemmuna.

L-impatti kollha huma importanti, kemm dawk waqt il-kostruzzjoni proposta (inkluża t-twaqqiegħ tal-lukanda u bungalows eżistenti u l-possibli tqattiegħ ta’ blat biex jiżviluppaw parti ġdida taħt l-art) kif ukoll bl-użu ta’ dak li eventwalment ikun kostruwit. minflok il-bini li jkun twaqqa’.

Fis-snin li għaddew, jiena infurmat li diġa saru diskussjonijiet u negozjati bejn dawk li għandhom għajnejhom fuq Kemmuna u d-Direttorat għall-Ħarsien tal-Ambjent li llum hemm fil-MEPA. Billi d-Direttorat dakinnhar żamm iebes, naħseb li jkun hemm min jipprova jibdel id-deċiżjonijiet li diġa ittieħdu fil-passat bit-tama li jkunu jistgħu jiżviluppaw biċċa ikbar minn Kemmuna: biċċa ikbar mill-art li illum hi okkupata mill-lukanda u l-bungalows, inkluż faċilitajiet sportivi taħt l-art fejn qed jiġi ippjanat li jitqatta’ l-blat.

Ħalluna naħdmu, kienu qalulna! Issa naraw safejn ser jaslu.

Wara li qerdu kullimkien, issa jmiss Kemmuna, għax il-kilba tagħhom għall-flus ma tixba’ qatt.

 

The elephant in the room

elephant-in-the-room

 

When Malta’s EU accession negotiations approached the final stages, a merger of the then Planning Authority and the Department for the Environment was announced.

While the merger was the right thing to do, it was done in a hurry and as a result, an organised Planning Directorate overshadowed an understaffed Environment Directorate.  A number of  civil servants employed in the former Environment Department had refused to go along to MEPA, thus further diluting the newly established Environment Directorate. This was further exacerbated by long spells during which the post of Environment Director was vacant. This did not involve weeks, but years. Currently, in fact, there is no Environment Director in place- the post having been vacated around two years ago.

The Environment Department was then one of the youngest departments in the civil service which, overnight, as a result of EU accession had to shoulder responsibility for a substantial portion of the EU acquis for which it was largely not equipped. The situation has slightly improved over the years. The previous administration declared many times that it would bridge the gap in human resources, but, unfortunately, it never lived up to its declarations. As a result, the Environment Directorate was, and still is, overshadowed. In addition, to make matters worse, the consolidated authority was (and still is) led by a Board in which environmental knowledge  was (very) scarce. This was the perfect recipe for a good initiative not to yield any results by design.

Malta requires more consolidation of environmental governance, not its fragmentation. Further consolidation will increase the chances of being more effective in coordinating related areas of policy: land-use planning and environment protection are two such areas. Fragmentation, on the other hand, increases ineffectiveness. However, mergers require commitment and resources – both of which have been manifestly lacking.

The potential fruits of the merger would only have been reaped if the consolidated MEPA had been led by an Environment Directorate. Unfortunately, it was designed differently: a combination of bad design and an absence of good faith.

The solution to this problem is not to reverse the merger but rather to reverse the roles of land-use planning and environment protection in a consolidated MEPA, meaning that land-use planning should be subjected to rigorous environmental control. Unfortunately, this was never on the cards, nor is it contemplated in the de-merger bills. The agenda of the parliamentary political parties has always been very clear: to ensure that land-use planning is subject to the least possible environmental controls in the interests of the development lobby.

This is the elephant in the room. The PN in government implemented this objective by a merger of a highly organised Planning Directorate with a weak but dedicated Environment Department. Labour has opted to achieve the same objective through fragmentation.

At the end of the day, the government’s misguided de-merger will not  cause additional damage: it will be more of the same, as we have been accustomed to throughout the years. The attainment of the full potential of the newly-created authorities will be postponed until such time as they are inevitably reunited under the leadership of a revamped Environment Directorate.

In the meantime, other important issues in the projected legislation can be focused upon. The manner of appointment of boards and top officers of the newly created authorities is one such issue.

Having the Minister’s trust is not a sufficient requirement justifying appointments to boards and authorities – and this not just with reference to appointments of an environmental nature. It would be appropriate if the competence of those selected for office is scrutinised in public. Other democracies, the United States of America for example, regularly use public hearings as an instrument for carrying out such  public scrutiny for a number of appointments of national importance.

In its 2013 election manifesto, Alternattiva Demokratika  specifically proposed the adoption of this method in order to examine the government’s nominees to public bodies. In particular, AD proposed  that government nominees to land-use planning, environment and resource-management boards (including directors and CEOs) should not take up their post until Parliament’s Environment and Land Use Planning Committee had examined such nominations in public and signified its consent thereto. Such a public hearing  should be carried out to establish whether the nominees are suitable for the posts to which they have been nominated.

Were nominees  required to subject themselves to such a public hearing, Malta would  definitely have a much better crop of administrators than that which it has been accustomed over the years. This would also reinforce the notion that administrators of public authorities are, at the end of the day, accountable to the whole country and not just to the government Minister who nominates them for the post.

The merger of land-use planning and environment protection at MEPA should be strengthened by ensuring that the Environment Directorate calls the shots. It is, however, equally important to ensure that those nominated to lead the authority (irrespective of whether we have one or more) are suitable for running the show.  Parliament should thus reclaim back its powers and vet the government’s nominees in public. When this has been done, we will be able to state that we have commenced down the path to improving environmental governance. Otherwise, it will be more of the same for many years to come.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 12 July 2015

Ħatriet politiċi fis-settur pubbliku (Positions of trust)

Ombudsplan 2015

Fl-Ombudsplan għall-2015 l-Ombudsman jirrimarka li l-ħatriet diretti fis-settur pubbliku [dawk li nirreferu għalihom bħala ħatriet politiċi] jistgħu jwasslu għal-nuqqas ta’ trasparenza.

Kull persuna impjegata fis-servizz pubbliku għandha tkun persuna ta’ fiduċja. L-Ombudsman fil-fatt jgħid li s-servizz pubbliku għandu jkun apolitiku u dan għax għandu jkun lejali lejn kull amminjistrazzjoni. Is-servizz pubbliku għandu jkun il-ħolqa bejn l-amministrazzjonijiet differenti u l-istrument li permezz tiegħu l-politika tal-Gvern tal-ġurnata tkun imwettqa, mhux biss b’lejalta’ lejn il-vot popolari imma fuq kollox b’ġustizzja u ekwita. Għax l-amministrazzjoni pubblika, ġdida jew qadima, hi hemm għal kulħadd. Mhiex hemm biss għal dawk li ivvutaw għaliha.

Minn mudell ta’ servizz pubbliku fuq stil Anglu-Sassonu fejn għandek servizz pubbliku permanenti mexjin lejn mudell Amerikan fejn numru kbir ta’ persuni jinbidlu mal-bidla fil-Gvern. Meta dan ma jsirx b’regoli ċari u trasparenti joħloq inġustizzji u nuqqas ta’ trasparenza.

Il-każ tal-bdil tas-Segretarji Permanenti kważi kollha mal-bidla fil-Gvern hu wieħed mill-eżempji li lkoll nafu bih. Ma ġratx biss taħt l-amministrazzjoni ta’ Joseph Muscat. Anke fi żmien Lawrence Gonzi kellna każijiet fejn il-Gvern ried jaħtar persuni li ried hu f’posizzjonijiet li qieshom bħala li huma ta’ fiduċja. Niftakru l-ħatra ta’ Direttur għall-Ħarsien tal-Ambjent u ta’ Chief Executive tal-MEPA li qabel l-2013 kienu nħatru direttament mill-MEPA bl-approvazzjoni tal-Ministru għall-Ambjent u dan mingħajr sejħa għal applikazzjonijiet.  Il-Gvern ta’ dakinnhar ma kienx qabel  mar-rapporti tal-Perit Joe Falzon (Uffiċjal tal-Verifika tal-MEPA) li kien qal b’mod ċar li dawn it-tip ta’ ħatriet ma kienux korretti.

L-Ombudsman jemfasizza li l-ħatriet f’ position of trust (ħatriet politiċi) għandhom ikunu minimi. Wieħed jifhem li kemm is-Segretarjati Privati fil-Ministeri kif ukoll uħud mill-persuni meħtieġa biex ifasslu policies għandhom ikunu persuni ta’ fiduċja. In-numru tagħhom iżda għandu jkun ċar, limitat u regolat b’mod li kulħadd ikun jaf fejn hu.

Ma dan jiena nżid nirreferi għall-ħatriet ta’ Bordijiet u Awtoritajiet. Dawn il-ħatriet għadhom jibdew isiru wara skrutinju pubbliku [public hearing] minn Kumitat Parlamentari. Dan hu punt li temfasizza Alternattva Demorkatika fil-Manifest Elettorali għall-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2013. Huwa neċessarju li jkun assigurat li jkun hemm iżjed persuni kompetenti li jinħatru fil-Bordijiet u l-Awtoritajiet. Skrutinju pubbliku tal-persuni nominati jista’ jkun mod kif dan ikun assigurat.

 

Il-ħatriet politiċi fl-amministrazzjoni pubblika ma jistgħux ikunu eliminati. Imma nistgħu bħala pajjiż nassiguraw li l-mertu jkollu rwol ferm iktar importanti milli għandu sal-lum fil-ħatriet pubbliċi.

Environmental Governance

construction_site_img_9716

Having over 70,000 vacant residential properties is a very serious matter which both the Nationalist and the Labour parties have ignored in their electoral manifestos. Rather than being ignored this fact ought to serve as the launching pad for a different way of looking at land use planning issues.

The Housing Authority in the past months has opted not to build new social housing units but instead decided to tap the stock of vacant dwellings held by the private sector. It was a very positive decision pushed forward by Minister Chris Said on taking up his Ministerial responsibilities early in 2012.

In its electoral manifesto Alternattiva Demokratika has listed a number of specific proposals which would go a long way to address the land use planning chaos which will be inherited by the government that takes office after the 9 March general elections.

As a first step Malta requires a moratorium on large scale residential development. The building industry cannot keep constructing flats and maisonettes in hundreds, adding to the stock of vacant dwellings. The number of vacant residential properties is equivalent to 9 times the size of the residential parts of B’Kara.

While the Malta Environment and Planning Authority has issued development permits, the State has, through our taxes, been paying up for the development of the infrastructure (roads, public sewer, water and electricity distribution networks………) which is underutilised. These funds could have been put to better use than to service vacant dwellings.

The boundaries of the development zone have to be rolled back. Those lands which, in August 2006, were included as land suitable for development as part of the so-called rationalisation exercise and have not yet been committed to development should return forthwith outside the development zone where they belong.

The construction industry, aided by a myopic MEPA, has made a havoc of our towns and villages through encouraging overdevelopment. In 2006, when the final decisions on most of the Local Plans were being considered,  the Government had access to the 2005 census results which determined the existence of 53,136 vacant dwellings. This was a substantial increase over the 17,413 vacant dwellings identified 10 years earlier as part of the 1995 census.

Publication of the 2011 census results on property is long overdue, but it is expected that the numbers this time will exceed the 70,000 mark substantially.

Faced with these numbers, a responsible government would never have proposed extending the development zones. The 2005 census result provided the evidence for their curtailment not for their extension. In addition to extending the development zones, the PN-led government increased the permissible building heights practically all over Malta, the end result being a further substantial increase in the number of vacant dwellings.

In addition, the height relaxation policy put in place in 2006 had another serious impact. It placed a number of dwellings in the shade of new buildings surrounding them, these being built in line with the new permissible heights. As a result, the residents in these dwellings cannot make use of solar energy. Not only the use of photovoltaic panels is out of the question but also their solar water heaters are in most cases no longer of any use!

Faced with this situation, it is political madness to propose considering the construction industry as an important and fundamental component of the economy, as the PL is proposing. The construction industry must shrink rather than expand. It must be assisted to manage its essential and unavoidable restructuring.

The construction industry can be directed towards three specific areas of activity: rehabilitation of old properties, road construction/maintenance and marine construction works. Each of these three areas of activity requires training in construction skills. Rehabilitation works require old building trades on the verge of disappearance. Roadworks, though improving in quality, still require a more skilled labourforce. We also need to take stock of our marine infrastructure which requires substantial improvement as well as regular maintenance.

The Government can assist the construction industry to change through providing training facilties for its labour force, thereby reducing the social impacts of change. Funds from the European Social Fund are available to assist in this exercise.

Land use planning should be subject to environmental governance rules. It is for this reason that AD considers it essential that rather then splitting up MEPA, the Government should go for a defragmentation, consolidating all environmental functions in one authority through the amalgamation of MEPA with the Resources Authority.

In such a consolidated authority, environmental considerations should be overriding and, in particular, land use planning should be put in its proper place: under the continuous supervision of a properly staffed Environment Directorate.

This is the basic change required in environmental governance. Placing the land use planning and the construction industry in their proper place and ensuring that environmental governance is defragmented.

published in The Times, Saturday 23rd February 2013

Mercaptan: blunder or collusion ?

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Beyond the Rhetorical declarations

The fact that a common vocabulary of environmental and related terms has been adopted ac­ross the political divide may lead some to the mistaken conclusion there exists a widespread agreement as to environmental objectives to be attained. However, while a common vocabulary is in existence through the use of the same terms and expressions, we sometimes seem to refer to dictionaries that vary substantially. As a minimum, they may be said to be substantially different editions!

Consider sustainable development. The term is ubiquitous but there is a wide range of and, at times, conflicting views as to what constitutes sustainable development.

When this Parliament met, at its inaugural sitting, the President as head of state and on behalf of the government read what is known as the Speech from the Throne, that is the government’s political objectives and programme it intended to fulfil while in office. It was then stated that: “The government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development of the economy, of society and of the environment. When making decisions today, serious consideration will be given to the generations of tomorrow.

“Sustainable development has three main dimensions: economic, social and environmental. Our challenge is to ensure continuous economic development, promoted by education, social development, with particular attention to environmental protection. When we evaluate our activities in view of these three interrelated dimensions, we would be placing every person at the heart of the government’s actions.”

The notions of sustainable development the President put forward on behalf of the government were the minimum possible. They are reasonable as a first step as they contain the seminal ideas that should form the building blocks of a strategy for ending business as usual and moving towards a path eventually leading to a sustainable society.

Economic, social and environmental dimensions are rightly defined as being interrelated. I would go further by stating the social and environmental impacts we must continuously address are the result of the manner in which the economy has been permitted to operate.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The government’s commitment towards sustainable development is not to be gauged by its rhetoric but through its actions.

The Commission for Sustainable Development set up in terms of the Environment Protection Act has not met for more than four years, since December 2006. Then it had approved the final version of the National Sustainable Development Strategy, which it submitted to Cabinet. A primary function of the commission now is to oversee the implementation of the Sustainable Development Strategy for the Maltese Islands, approved by Cabinet prior to the March 2008 election and having a 10-year lifespan (2007-2016).

This fact on its own speaks volumes as to the government’s unwritten policies. It is in line with the abolition of the Commission for Sustainable Development by the Conservative/Liberal coalition government in the UK as a result of its bonfire of quangos. The UK government too describes itself as being the greenest ever. Actions, however, speak louder than words. Lip service is clearly the name of the game.

Instead of honouring its commitments and ensuring that each one of the 20 priority areas identified in the Sustainable Development Strategy are implemented throughout the lifetime of this Administration, a free-for-all has ensued.

How can a government committed to sustainable development justify an administrative set-up that subjugates responsible environmental management to the whims of those who still consider the building construction industry as a prime economic mover on these islands?

The Dwejra debacle, which will, hopefully, soon enter into its final stages, has confirmed once more that, within the set-up of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, the Environment Protection Directorate may be consulted, yet, it is set aside when decisions are taken.

What is the purpose of drawing up local plans to regulate development if these are repeatedly ignored as has been shown once more by the Mepa audit officer in his report on the extension of the Church-run Seminary at Tal-Virtù?

Why speak of eco-Gozo yet issue a development permit for a Church-run cemetery, which is in the process of completely ruining a rainwater harvesting infrastructure that has served the agricultural community at Nadur’s Għajn Qasab for about three centuries?

Government actions speak louder than words. As aptly stated by Marco Cremona (The Times, January 18) we are witnessing mixed messages and conflicting policies.

There is no coordination of environment policy across government. This is in part the result of the abandonment of the sustainable development infrastructure. It is clear there is no one who has the ability to enforce environment policy throughout the government.

Late in 2010, Parliament approved a motion moved by the Prime Minister to introduce a Sustainable Development Bill, which has been given a first reading. The political will to act is, however, nowhere in sight.

Published in The Times of Malta on January22, 2011

AD comments on the Dwejra report of the MEPA Audit Officer

AD has published the report which the MEPA Audit Officer finalised after an AD request for an investigation of MEPA’s processing of the application relative to the Dwejra protected site.

Carmel Cacopardo AD Spokesman on Sustainable Development and Local Government stated that the report shows once more that the Environment Protection Directorate has been set aside and practically ignored in the whole process. The fact that the application was processed by the Planning Directorate with minor and informal roles for the Environment Protection Directorate demonstrates how the environment role of MEPA has been reduced  to one of mere decoration.

Carmel Cacopardo added that it is worrying that the MEPA Audit Officer has concluded that the Environment Protection Directorate has abdicated its responsibilities to the Planning Directorate. This is the logical consequence of years of ignoring by MEPA of its environmental responsibilities. This is also reflected in the report’s conclusion that the Environment Protection Directorate has failed to screen the application to establish the impact of the proposed activity and this in direct contrast to the guidelines issued by the EU on the implementation of the Habitats Directive transposed onto the Maltese statute book as per Legal Notice 311 of 2006.

AD’s chairperson, Michael Briguglio added  that the report concluded that MEPA was aware at least since the 14th October 2010 that the applicant was not observing the conditions which it had established yet it remained static and apprehensive as it wanted to avoid litigation and action for damages for possible disruption of filming activities. This is grossly irresponsible and AD expects an explanation from the MEPA CEO who needs to also explain why no monitoring was carried out when the permit clearly explained that this was to be carried out at the applicant’s expense. The substantial sums of money being paid by the taxpayer to finance MEPA  are not resulting in responsible management added Michael Briguglio.

Finally AD insists that Mr Austin Walker as one of the most paid CEOs in the public sector does not only owe the public an explanation but he must also shoulder responsibility for MEPA’s inability to react.

MEPA Audit Office Dwejra Report

Dak li tiżra’ taħsad

Il-Qorti Ewropeja tal-Ġustizzja f’deċizjoni li tat nhar l-Erbgħa 22 ta’ Diċembru 2010 qalet li Malta kisret id-Direttiva dwar l-Ilma (Water Framework Directive) meta naqset milli tagħmel il-moniteraġġ neċessarju u tirrapporta dwaru.

It-Times tirrapporta illum fil-paġna 4 “Malta guilty of violating Water Framework Directive”. Irrappurtat l-istorja ukoll online nhar l-Erbgħa “One size fits all as EU Court convicts Malta” .

Qiegħed jingħad  illi dawn ir-regoli li saru fis-sena 2000 ma jgħoddux għal Malta.  Ngħid jien, allura, għaliex fin-negozjati għad-dħul ta’ Malta fl-EU ma tqajjimx dan il-punt kif tqajmu diversi oħra biex jieħdu in konsiderazzjoni ċ-ċirkustanzi partikolari tal-pajjiż? Ir-realta hi li din hi biss skuża biex tgħatti inkompetenza grassa.  

Hemm ħafna mistoqsijiet x’jiġu imwieġba.

Din kienet responsabbilta’ tal-MEPA.

Ninsab infurmat li għal perjodu ta’ żmien  kien hemm min kien qiegħed iħejji biex isir il-moniteraġġ neċessarju. Imma min kien imexxi dak iż-żmien ġie jaqa’ u jqum tant li l-uffċjali inkarigati kienu irreżenjaw. Għax xebgħu jaħdmu f’ċirkustanzi li min kien imexxi ma kienx jinteressaħ li jisma’ u jsegwi l-pariri tekniċi.

Tajjeb ħafna li l-Gvern jgħid illi issa fi ħsiebu jikkoordina mal-Kummissjoni Ewropea biex isib mod prattiku ħalli tkun implimentata d-deċiżjoni tal-Qorti. Imma naħseb li kien ikun ħafna aħjar li kieku l-Gvern ta każ tal-pariri li kellu f’waqthom. Ninsab infurmat li anke’ pariri bil-miktub  hemm. Dawn kienu wissew illi it-traskuraġni u l-inkompetenza ser iwasslu għal dak li qed jiġri llum.

Għax dejjem bla eċċezzjoni dak li tiżra’ taħsad.