The MEPA Chairman & private practice

Vince-Cassar

The Malta Independent  focuses on the fact that the newly appointed MEPA Chairman is a part-timer and that he is allowed to carry out private work as an Architect & Civil Engineer.

The Malta  Independent is correct in pointing out that this is asking for trouble.  But, I hasten to add that this is just theoretical in the case of the newly appointed MEPA Chairman Vince Cassar.

In all fairness one should add the following relevant information on Vince Cassar. He is past retirement age having served in the public service for over 30 years primarily in the Works Department in various positions up to the post of Director General and lately as Permanent Secretary in the Transport Ministry until 2008. He was in fact the Permanent Secretary attached to Jesmond Mugliette’s Ministry.

As far as I am aware Vince Cassar has no history of private practice during the past 30 years.  He may have been a director since retirement of a limited liability company. But I am not sure of that.  Knowing Vince Cassar I have no doubt that if this is the case he would withdraw immediately if there is the least possibility of a potential conflict of interest.

In view of the above I am of the opinion that Vince Cassar has been unfairly criticised.

One final point: is the role of MEPA Chairman a full-time post?  The answer depends on whether MEPA has a Chief Executive Officer.  If in the affirmative, that is if MEPA has a CEO it is reasonable to expect that a part-time MEPA Chairman could do the job adequately. With a CEO in place the role of MEPA Chairman is to Chair Board meetings and not to run the organisation. With the MEPA Chairman not being involved in the daily running of the organisation he would be more in a position to hold MEPA’s officers to account. That is the MEPA Board’s function and can only be carried out adequately if the MEPA Chairman is not a full timer.

L-iskola ta’ Santu Wistin f’Tal-Pieta

 

Il-Bord tal-MEPA ma approvax applikazzjoni biex tkun imkabbra l-iskola tal-Agostinjani f’ Tal-Pieta’ nhar il-Ħamis li għadda. Jiena kont presenti minħabba applikazzjoni oħra u allura kelli ċ-ċans li nisma’ sagħtejn u nofs sħaħ ta’ argumenti. Id-deċiżjoni fl-aħħar kienet ta’ sitt voti kontra l-applikazzjoni u erba’ voti favur l-applikazzjoni.

Il-MEPA kellha quddiema żewġ argumenti.

F’naħa waħda hemm raġunijiet validi edukattivi biex l-iskola toffri servizzi aħjar. Dan qed tipprova tagħmlu billi tipprovdi skola primarja flimkien mal-iskola sekondarja. Fr Alan ir Rettur tal-Iskola spjega tajjeb ħafna r-raġunijiet edukattivi għala għandu bżonn iktar spażju. Il-Perit Mannie Galea fisser fit-tul kif jista’ jipprovdi dak meħtieġ fis-sit.

Mit-tweġiba tad-Direttorat tal-Ippjanar tal-MEPA ħareġ ċar li għalkemm jista’ jkun hemm raġunijiet validi (edukattivi) għaliex l-iskola għandha bżonn tikber, is-sit f’Tal-Pieta’ m’huwiex wieħed addattat.

L-iskola illum hi imdawwra bir-residenzi li diġa għandhom inkonvenjent kbir matul il-jum kollu bi skola ta’ 450 tifel. L-inkonvenjent hu propost illi jirdoppja jekk ma skola sekondarja tiżdied skola primarja ta’ 450 tifel.

L-inkonvenjent hu wieħed ta’ traffiku, ta’ storbju, ta’ dellijiet iġġenerati mill-bini propost …….. Noel Grima tal-Indipendnent li kien preżenti spjega dak li ġara b’mod eżawrjenti fl-artiklu tiegħu nhar il-Ġimgħa.

Naħseb li hemm soluzzjonijiet oħra. In-numru ta’ tfal qiegħed jonqos. Jekk l-iskejjel tal-Knisja ser jipprovdu spazju għal iktar tfal huwa żgur li ser ikun hemm inqas li jmorru fi skejjel tal-Gvern. Is-soluzzjoni allura tista’ tkun mhux daqstant li jitkabbru skejjel fl-abitat iżda li jinstab mod kif l-iskejjel l-oħra inklużi dawk propjeta tal-Gvern, imxerrdin ma’ Malta u Għawdex jistgħu jintużaw aħjar.

Delimara għall-Kabinett

Sirna nafu illi l-Ministru tal-Ambjent (jiġifieri Lawrence Gonzi) iddeċieda illi l-appell li l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Marsaxlokk ippreżenta dwar il-permess li jikkonċerna l-estensjoni tal-Power Station ta’ Delimara għandu jkun deċiż mill-Kabinett u mhux mill-Bord tal-Appell dwar l-Ippjanar.

Din m’hiex proċedura komuni u ftit li xejn ġiet użata fil-passat.

Sal-lum hi proċedura regolata mill-artiklu 15A tal-Att dwar l-Ippjanar ta’ l-Iżvilupp li ġie introdott  9 snin ilu permezz tal-Att XXI tal-2001 bl-emendi li kien introduċa George Pullicino, dakinhar Segretarju Parlamentari responsabli mill-Awtorita’ tal-Ippjanar (l-ambjent kien għandu ma żdiedx mar-responsabbiltajiet tagħha).

Din il-proċedura tagħti d-dritt lill-Gvern li jirreferi appell għal deċiżjoni mill-Kabinett wara li l-Bord tal-Appell dwar l-Ippjanar ikun ġabar il-provi w iffinaliza rakkomandazzjoni dwar il-kaz meta :

1)      l-applikant ikun Dipartiment tal-Gvern jew korp imwaqqaf b’liġi u

2)      l-applikazzjoni kollha sinifikat strateġiku, jkollha x’taqsam mas-sigurta’ nazzjonali, teffettwa l-interessi ta’ xi Gvernijiet oħra jew tirrikjedi studju tal-impatt ambjentali.

Din il-proċedura fiha innifisha ma fiha xejn ħażin u naħseb li teżisti f’diversi pajjiżi oħra ukoll. Id-diffikulta m’hiex għalhekk fid-dover tal-Kabinett li jieħu deċiżjoni imma l-fatt li f’Malta l-Gvern sa l-istadju tal-appell diġa huwa mdaħħal sa għonqu fid-deċiżjoni.

Kif ?  forsi jistaqsu uħud.

Il-membri kollha tal-Bord tal-MEPA li ddeċidew il-każ huma kollha appuntati mill-Gvern. L-ebda wieħed minnhom ma kien kritiku la ta’ din l-applikazzjoni u l-anqas ta’ kwalunkwe’ applikazzjoni oħra li ssottometta l-Gvern jew xi entita’ oħra tiegħu. B‘żieda ma dan, il-każ kien wieħed ikkargat b’deċiżjonijiet politiċi li dwarhom mhux dejjem kien hemm spjegazzjoni li tikkonvinċi. L-iktar importanti fosthom it-tibdil fir-regolamenti dwar x’tip ta’ emissjonijiet huma permissibli. Żid l-involviment tal-Lehmayer International bħala konsulenti tal-Enemalta minkejja li l-Bank Dinji poġġihom fuq il-Black List minħabba korruzzjoni ippruvata.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan kollu l-proċedura użata għalkemm skond il-liġi tista’ tkun inġusta.

Nawgura lill-Kunsill ta’ Marsaxlokk li appella mid-deċiżjoni tal-estensjoni tal-Power Station f’Delimara illi jsib soluzzjoni li biha jkun jista’ jsemma’ leħnu b’mod effettiv.

The Wied il-Buni Buffer Zone

When the current parliamentary session was inaugurated in May 2008 the then President of the Republic read the government’s programme listing those of its political pledges it felt safe to announce.

The President had informed Parliament 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.”

He further emphasised that “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”.

Now consider this policy direction and apply it to the Freeport at Birżebbuġa.

Had the Freeport been designed today it would have a much smaller footprint. When the Freeport was designed in the 1980s such large-scale projects were not subject to any land use planning control. Nor were any environmental criteria relative to the impacts on the Birżebbuġa community given any weight. (Some would justifiably argue that not much has changed since.)

When, in the early 1990s, the then Planning Authority was faced with a Freeport already in operation (even though it was still in its initial stages) it sought to contain its spread through the policies which it approved.

One important policy contained in the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan creates a buffer zone between the Freeport and Birżebbuġa. In fact, Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan policy MB 28 states: “Any use allocated to the area of land at Wied il-Buni should act as a buffer to shield the leisure activity along the seafront from the industry of the Freeport and, in any case, must not cause inconvenience to nearby residents due to noise, fumes, vibrations and/or hours of work. The preferred use is public open space.”

Policy could not be any clearer, yet, notwithstanding this, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority board last month approved an extension to the Freeport Terminal using part of this buffer zone. As a result, the Freeport’s increased activity in the future is possible but the welfare of the community was thrown overboard by a Mepa board which felt it could ignore the regulator’s own policies. They did not only ignore the above local plan policy but, in addition, they also ignored the social and environmental impacts of the terminal extension focusing only on perceived economic benefits. In so doing, they also threw overboard the government’s declarations in favour of sustainable development and future generations.

In an explanatory note immediately after the above-quoted policy, the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan further explains as follows: “The site referred to (the buffer zone) is immediately adjacent to Freeport Terminal between Triq San Patrizju and the shore.

“The site is currently used partly as a sailing club and the rest as a dump-yard. It is close to houses along Triq San Patrizju and, if not carefully controlled, its eventual use could have a detrimental impact on local residents.

“It also presents an opportunity to assist in reducing the effects of the industrial activity of the Freeport.”

This was approved and published by the then Planning Authority in May 1995.

An increased environmental sensitivity of the community since 1995 should have led Mepa to observe its own rules. In fact, the first decision taken relative to the Freeport Terminal extension was to refuse it. This the Mepa board did on February 26, 2009. However, after it was requested to reconsider this refusal, the Mepa board overturned its original decision on January 21, 2010. There were no changes to the project between the two dates.

There was only one occurrence which could be of relevance: the elections of the Maltese members of the European Parliament in June 2009. Whether this had any bearing on the decision of the individual Mepa board members is difficult to say, as none gave any indication. It is, however, a fact that some Mepa board members had second thoughts and changed the manner in which they voted. Being independent, they are obviously entitled to change their mind. One wonders, however, why none considered it ethical to give a reasonable explanation. Those who will have to bear the brunt of their decision are entitled to such an explanation.

The decision is now being contested in the Planning Appeals Board by the local NGO, Birżebbuġa Environmental Action Group.

Until such time as a definite decision is taken, it may be opportune to ponder as to why it is possible that this country can have clear and specific policies but then cannot identify competent boards capable of ensuring that they are applied as originally intended.

published in The Times today,July 24, 2010

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On this blog you can also see the following posts on the same subject :

17th July 2010 : Wara l-Bieb.

12th June 2010 : Past Mistakes ……. Present Day Decisions.

1st February 2010 : Malta Freeport : Impacts on Residents should be dealt with effectively.

21st March 2009 : The Freeport : Will MEPA backtrack ?

26th February 2009 : Kisba Importanti wara suġġeriment ta’ AD – MEPA accepts AD proposal.

5th March 2008 : Birżebbuġa u l-Port Ħieles