Townsquare: qed jgħadduk biż-żmien?

Townsquare.Fawlty Tower 

Il-bieraħ kont preżenti għall-ewwel seduta tal-appell mid-deċiżjoni tat-torri ta’ Townsquare.

Ir-rappreżentant legali tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar nixxef lil kulħadd meta talab lill-membri tat-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni għall-Ambjent  l-Ippjanar [dak li sa ftit ilu kien il-Bord tal-Appell] biex jikkunsidraw li l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ tas-Sliema, l-għaqdiet ambjentali u l-Awtoritá tal-Ambjent ma kellhomx dritt li jippreżentaw  dan l-appell.

Tafu għaliex?

Għax kull wieħed minnhom kellu rappreżentant fil-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar meta din ħadet id-deċiżjoni dwar it-torri ta’ Townsquare.

Uħud minnkom forsi tiftakru kemm kien hemm min ftaħar li s-separazzjoni tal-Ippjanar mill-Ambjent kien ser iwassal għal iżjed attenzjoni u fuq kollox li l-Awtoritá tal-Ambjent kien ser ikollha id-dritt mhux biss li tipparteċipa fil-Bord imma li fuq kollox kien ser ikollha d-dritt li tappella mid-deċiżjonijiet tal-Ippjanar biex tħares l-ambjent aħjar.

L-Avukat Robert Abela jidher li għandu ideat differenti minn dawk li ħabbru diversi Ministri fil-Parlament.

Inkella, dawn l-istess Ministri ppruvaw jgħadduk biż-żmien!

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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

Fl-2015, l-ambjent taħt assedju. Fl-2016 l-assedju ikompli.

msida_water. 021015

 

Is-sena 2015 kienet waħda li fiha l-ambjent kien taħt assedju. Assedju li bla dubju ser jintensifika ruħu matul is-sena d-dieħla. Għax ma hemm l-ebda dubju li l-aġenda tal-Labour hi waħda kontra l-ambjent.

Bla dubju mument importanti fl-2015 kien ir-referendum abrogattiv dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. Referendum li intilef bi sbrixx imma li xorta wassal messaġġ qawwi, prinċipalment minħabba li huwa riżultat li nkiseb minkejja li kemm il-PN kif ukoll il-PL dejjem appoġġaw il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa.

Wara spikka il-każ taż-Żonqor li wassal għal dimostrazzjoni kbira ġol-Belt. Iktar tard il-Gvern ipprova jagħti l-impressjoni li kien qed jagħti kaz u dan billi ċċaqlaq ftit.

Il-qagħda tat-trasport pubbliku matul l-2015 tjibiet ftit imma għadha lura ħafna minn dak li jixraqlu u għandu bżonn dan il-pajjiż. Hi l-unika tama li tista’ tnaqqas il-pressjoni taż-żieda tal-karozzi fit-toroq. Hi l-unika tama għal titjib fil-kwalità tal-arja. Inutli jwaħħlu fil-ħinijiet tal-ftuħ tal-iskejjel.

Matul l-2015 l-ilma tax-xita flok ma jinġabar fi bjar li qatt ma saru, baqa’ jintefa’ fit-toroq. Issa li x-xogħol fuq il-mini taħt l-art ġie konkluż il-periklu fit-toroq ser jonqos għax il-parti l-kbira tal-ilma ser jispiċċa l-baħar. Il-flus li intefqgħu fuq dawn il-mini kienu fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom flus moħlija. Kien ikun iktar għaqli kieku intefqgħu biex l-ilma jinġabar flok biex jintrema.

F’nofs dawn l-aħbarijiet negattivi kollha ġiet ippubblikata l-enċiklika ambjentali tal-Papa Franġisku. Fiha tinħass sewwa t-togħma Latino-Amerikana ta’ Leonardo Boff li tenfasizza r-rabta bejn il-faqar u t-tħassir ambjentali. Hemm tama li din l-enċiklika tista’ tkun ta’ siwi biex iktar nies jiftħu għajnejhom.

F’Ġunju l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni qalilna li l-PN fil-Gvern għamel diversi żbalji ambjentali u li jixtieq li jibda paġna ġdida. Din id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Busuttil tikkuntrasta ma dak li ntqal fir-rapport tal-PN dwar it-telfa fejn ġie emfasizzat li l-PN kien vittma ta’ sabutaġġ minn dawk maħtura biex imexxu (inkluż ovvjament mill-MEPA).

Il-battalja tat-torrijiet għadha magħna. Preżentement hemm pendenti żewġ applikazzjonijiet f’tas-Sliema, waħda f’Townsquare (38 sular) u oħra f’Fort Cambridge (40 sular). Ir-residenti, li bħal dejjem jispiċċaw iġorru l-konsegwenzi ta’ dawn id-deċiżjonijiet, huma injorati.

Kellna t-tniġġiż fil-baħar. Diversi inċidenti fil-Port ta’ Marsaxlokk li bihom ġie ikkonfermat, jekk qatt kien hemm ħtieġa ta’ dan, li l-Bajja s-Sabiħa m’għandhiex iktar sabiħa. Dan minħabba li issa l-port sar definittivament wieħed industrijali. L-unika ħaġa li jonqos huwa t-tanker sorġut b’mod permanenti fil-port biex fih jinħażen il-gass.

Nhar is-Sibt jorħos il-prezz tal-petrol u d-diesel. Għal uħud imissu ilu li raħas. Forsi kien ikun aħjar li ma raħas xejn. Hemm bżonn kull mezz possibli biex jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq. Il-prezz tal-fuel hu wieħed minn diversi miżuri li jekk użati bil-għaqal jistgħu jagħtu frott. Il-problema imma, sfortunatament hi li ma hemmx volontà politika.

IL-MEPA ser tinqasam. L-ippjanar għalih u l-ambjent għalih. Mhux ser isir wisq ġid b’din il-miżura għax is-saħħa amministrattiva li għandu pajjiż żgħir ġejja miċ-ċokon tiegħu. Meta taqsam l-awtorita f’biċċiet tkun ferm inqas effettiv. Hekk ser jiġri. Il-MEPA ma kienitx qed taħdem sewwa għax ma ħallewiex taħdem sewwa. Għax kienet imxekkla minn bordijiet li jew ma jifhmux inkella b’aġenda moħbija.

Dan hu l-wirt li s-sena 2015 ser tħalli lis-sena 2016. L-unika ħaġa pożittiva hi li bil-mod qed tiżviluppa kuxjenza ambjentali fost il-ġenerazzjonijiet li tielgħin.

Is-sena t-tajba? Forsi.

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

Sound governance protects the environment

 

green hands

Demerger will cause institutional fragmentation.

The state’s duties are not enforceable in a Court of Law.

 

 

Protection of the environment is not achieved in proportion to the number of authorities established to deal with the environment, resources and land use planning. In fact, subject to sound governance, the number of established authorities is irrelevant.

The government has, through its election manifesto, created a storm in a teacup, raising expectations that the demerger of MEPA would result in a government locked into a green commitment. The Opposition, on the other hand, has spoken of a doomsday scenario which will be triggered by the proposed demerger.

Both are wrong as the path to a green commitment requires a political will that is not easily detectable in the House of Representatives as presently composed. The Labour government and the Nationalist Opposition have entered into other commitments intended to bolster the building development industry. Labour is currently moving along that path, whilst the Nationalists did it throughout their 26 years in government.

As a nation, we are still reeling from the devastating actions of the PN-led government which caused considerable environmental damage. Former Environment Minister Mario de Marco has recently been on record as stating that maybe too much has been sacrificed in the pursuit of economic growth. This is not simply a revival of the past, it is an exercise in trying to understand past PN issues of environmental governance that contradict all the sweet green talk of Simon Busuttil.

When the 2005 census indicated the existence of over 53,000 vacant or under-utilised residential properties, the PN-led government increased the uptake of land for development through the rationalisation exercise. It addition, it simultaneously increased the permissible height in several areas. In a number of instances, this increased from 2 to five floors. It also facilitated the construction of penthouses. This has led to an increase (as of 2011) in the number of  vacant and under-utilised residential properties to 72,000 units.

The proposed demerger of MEPA will neither address nor reverse this mess which is the PN’s environmental legacy to the nation.

Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party – is not in agreement with the MEPA demerger proposed by government due to the resulting institutional fragmentation. As a result, human and financial resources will be spread thin over two authorities, thereby weakening effective environmental governance. As a small country, we actually require defragmentation, as this reinforces effective environmental stewardship.

Earlier this week, I and AD’s General Secretary Ralph Cassar had a meeting with Environment Minister Leo Brincat during which we discussed AD’s views in relation to the Environment Protection Act currently pending on Parliament’s agenda.

AD noted that whilst the proposed Environment Protection administrative structures do not contain any parliamentary representation, this has been retained in the land use planning structures. In fact, in paragraph 63(2)(d) of the Development Planning Act 2015, it is provided that two MPs will sit on the Planning Board.

AD does not consider it necessary for Parliament to be present in the planning decision-taking structures. It serves no purpose to have MPs involving themselves in decisions as to which individual development permit is approved or rejected. Alternattiva Demokratika suggested to Minister Brincat that MPs have no direct role to play in operational matters regarding land use planning. It would be more appropriate if Parliament’s Standing Committee on the Environment and Development Planning is given wider powers to monitor both the Planning Authority as well as the authority dealing with the environment and resources. This would entail the availability of financial and human resources so through its Standing Committee, Parliament would be in a better position to identify, and consequently nip in the bud any irregularities or inconsistencies.

Both the Development Planning Act as well as the Environment Protection Act list the duties and principles which the state should observe to ensure “a comprehensive sustainable land use planning system” and “to protect the environment”.   However, after going into detail to explain such duties, the legislation before Parliament then proceeds to state that these “are not enforceable in a Court of Law”. This is specified in Article 4 of the Development Planning Act and in Article 5 of the Environment Protection Act.

One should state that there are similar provisions in present legislation. It is, however, high time that such provisions are removed so that it will be possible for Maltese citizens to seek redress against the state if it attempts to circumvent its duties and abdicate its responsibilities.

Last April, following a legal challenge by the environmental NGO Client Earth, the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court  squashed Her Majesty’s government’s ineffective plans to reduce illegal levels of air pollution in Britain and ordered it to deliver new ones by the end of 2015.

Similarly,  last June Courts in Holland ordered the Dutch Government to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 25 per cent within 5 years in what is being termed as the world’s first climate liability suit.

Maltese citizens deserve no less. It would therefore be appropriate if the above mentioned provisions of the Development Planning Act and the Environment Protection Act are enforceable in a Court of Law.

Another proposal made by Alternattiva Demokratika in the meeting with Minister Brincat concerns the method of selection of the board members of the  two Authorities, as well as their senior executives (CEOs and Directors). AD believes that before government proceeds to appoint such members/executives, it should seek and subsequently follow the advice of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Environment and Development Planning . Such advice should be given by the Parliamentary Committee after the persons nominated are examined by the Committee during a sitting held in public. This change would increase the possibility of the appointment of a higher percentage of competent people as members of the board/senior executives. It would also reduce the possibility of appointing people whose only qualification is membership in the government party.

The proposed demerger is, in my view a non-issue. Legislating to facilitate the entrenching of good governance should be the real objective. After discussing the matter with Minister Leo Brincat I believe that, even at this late hour, this is still attainable.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 16 August 2015

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

Il-qasma tal-MEPA

MEPA cartoon cartoon by Steve Bonello

 

Il-Gvern għadu kif ippubblika numru ta’ abbozzi ta’ liġijiet konnessi mal-proposta biex il-MEPA tinqasam f’biċtejn. Hemm erba’ abbozzi ta’ liġi (mhux tlieta kif qed jgħidu) li ġew ippubblikati.

Abbozz minnhom hu dwar awtorità għall-ippjanar, ieħor hu abbozz dwar awtorità tal-ambjent (u r-riżorsi), ieħor dwar proċeduri ta’ appell minn deċiżjonijiet ta’ dawn iż-żewġ awtoritajiet u r-raba’ abbozz hu dwar it-twaqqif ta’ regolatur għall-ilma u l-elettriku (funzjoni li s-issa kienet responsabbiltà tal-awtorità dwar ir-Riżorsi).

Dawn l-abbozzi flimkien jgħoddu ħames mija u erba’ paġni. Mill-ftit li lħaqt qrajt, il-parti l-kbira ta’ dawn l-abbozzi hu eżerċizzju ta’ cut and paste, jiġifieri, b’mod ġenerali jirriproduċu l-liġijiet eżistenti imma f’kuntest regolatorju differenti. Bla dubju hemm ukoll xi tibdil li nkun naf bih (u l-konsegwenzi tiegħu) meta naqra dawn il-504 paġni waħda waħda.   Il-kummenti fuq id-dettalji għaldaqstant inħallihom għal iktar tard, jekk ikun il-każ. Għal-lum għaldaqstant ser nillimta ruħi għal kummenti ta’ natura ġenerali.

Din il-proposta tal-Gvern (jiġifieri li l-MEPA tinqasam) hi imniżżla bl-iswed fuq l-abjad fil-manifest elettorali tal-Partit Laburista għall-elezzjoni li għaddiet. B’daqshekk, iżda, ma jfissirx li għax kienet inkluża fil-manifest elettorali hi xi proposta tajba. Ikkritikajtha qabel l-elezzjoni għax fil-fehma tiegħi kienet proposta ħażina. Wara sentejn, għadha ħażina kif kienet sentejn ilu.

Il-proposta hi waħda li ġġib il-quddiem sistema ta’ tmexxija ħażina għax tinkoraġixxi l-frammentazzjoni: jiġifieri taqsam f’biċċiet dak li jkun aħjar kieku jibqa’ sħiħ. L-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art hu funzjoni ambjentali. Ikun tajjeb li jibqa’ fl-istess awtorità. Bid-differenza li flok  mal-ambjent ikun dominat mill-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art (kif b’mod malizzjuż sar fl-2002 meta saret l-għaqda) hemm bżonn eżattament bil-maqlub: li l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art ikun ikkontrollat u immexxi mill-funzjoni ambjentali, kif għandu jkun.  Forsi fl-aħħar tibda tonqos il-ħsara li saret. Għax li hemm bżonn m’huwiex “bilanċ” artifiċjali iżda li nirrealizzaw li hemm bżonn li f’dak kollu li nagħmlu nirrispettaw l-eko-sistema li minnha niffurmaw parti. Dejjem u bla eċċezzjoni, u mhux biss meta jidher li jaqbel.

Il-problemi l-kbar li għandha l-MEPA illum mhux ser jissolvew bil-qasma bejn l-ippjanar u l-ambjent. Għax il-problemi mhux l-istrutturi (awtorità waħda jew tnejn) iżda n-nuqqas ta’ volontà politika li jkun hawn tmexxija ambjentali serja. (Id-dilettantiżmu fil-każ taż-Żonqor hu eżempju ċar dwar dan.) F’pajjiż żgħir bħal tagħna ma jagħmilx sens li nimmultiplikaw l-awtoritajiet. Dawn ifissru mhux biss iktar spejjeż iżda ukoll ħtieġa ta’ iktar impjegati imħarrġin f’oqsma li m’għandniex.

Il-MEPA għandha bżonn iktar riżorsi u inqas indħil. Għandha bżonn uffiċjali li jpoġġu l-interess pubbliku f’dak kollu li jagħmlu. Għax awtorità li tirregola, isimha magħha. Qegħda hemm biex tmexxi, mhux biex titmexxa. Xogħol il-Gvern hu li jagħti direzzjoni politika, mhux li jiddetta ukoll kif din id-direzzjoni tkun implimentata.  U l-gvern ma jiddettax billi jgħid lill-membri tal-bordijiet x’għandhom jew x’m’għandhomx jagħmlu. Ħafna drabi l-anqas biss m’hemm ħtieġa li jgħidilhom xejn. Għax ikun diġà qagħad attent ħafna meta ħatarhom.

Fl-aħħar kollox jiddependi minn dawk magħżula biex imexxu. Hawn hu l-qofol ta’ kollox. Jekk aħna kapaċi bħala pajjiż insibu mod kif nagħżlu l-aħjar nies, il-problemi jonqsu ħafna. L-anqas  ir-rapprezentanti tal-partiti politiċi m’hemm bżonnhom fuq il-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Minflok ma jaħtar Membri Parlamentari biex jieħdu sehem dirett fl-awtorità tal-ippjanar kien ikun ħafna aħjar kieku l-Parlament jagħmel xogħolu billi jissorvelja l-ħidma tal-awtoritajiet, kontinwament.

Fil-manifest elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika għall-elezzjoni tal-2013 dan hu kollu spjegat dettaljatament. Tista’ taqra hawn, dwar il-frammentazzjoni, dwar il-ħatriet u dwar il-rwol tal-Parlament li jissorvelja.

Dan hu it-tibdil vera li għandha bżonn il-MEPA fl-2015. L-uniku tibdil li hu meħtieġ.

 

 

Ir-riforma tal-MEPA: pass lura

MEPA cartoon

(cartoon ta’ Steve Bonello : http://www.stevebonellocartoons.com)

Wara li teżamina d-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni ippubblikat mill-Gvern dwar ir-riforma tal-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art intitolat For an Efficient Planning System ma tista’ tasal għall-ebda konkluzjoni ħlief li dan hu pass lura. Iċ-ċokon tal-pajjiż għandu jwassal għal konsolidazzjoni  mhux għal frammentazzjoni tal-funzjonijiet ta’ governanza ambjentali.

Kien ikun iktar għaqli li kieku l-ambjent u l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art baqgħu t-tnejn fl-istess Awtorita’. Il-konsolidazzjoni f’awtorita’ waħda li seħħet tnax-il sena ilu kienet pass il-quddiem li iżda ma kenitx segwita bl-allokazzjoni ta’ iktar riżorsi għad-Direttorat tal-Ambjent. Il-membri tal-Bord tal-MEPA li nħatru tul is-snin ma kienux kapaċi jagħrfu l-importanza ta’ iktar emfasi fuq ir-responsabbiltajiet ambjentali tal-MEPA. Id-Direttorat tal-Ambjent inħonoq u ma tħalliex jiżviluppa leħnu.

Id-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni jiffoka fuq l-effiċjenza tal-proċess tal-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art. Taħt dan l-iskop ġeneriku jnaqqas il-protezzjoni għaż-żona barra l-iżvilupp, għall-bini protett  u għaż-żoni protetti.

Sal-lum, bl-emendi tal-2010, zvilupp  bla permess barra miż-żona ta’ żvilupp, jew bdil f’bini protett inkella żvilupp f’zona protetta, ma setax ikun sanzjonat. Dan kien wieħed mill-ftit passi l-quddiem li seħħew fil-passat mhux mertu tal-Gvern ta’ dakinnhar iżda riżultat tal-pressjoni tal-opinjoni pubblika, tas-soċjeta’ ċivili u anke, għax le, mertu ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika. Dawn l-irregolaritajiet issa, f’isem l-effiċjenza,ser ikun possibbli li jkunu regolarizzati. Dan hu pass lura u ser jippremja lil min abbuża u li bl-emendi tal-2010 inqabad fuq sieq waħda.

Id-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni dwar l-ippjanar jipproponi ukoll li l-iskedar ikun ikkunsidrat mill-ġdid wara 10 snin. Din il-proposta ukoll hi pass lura għax ser isservi biex tinkoraġgixxi n-nuqqas ta’ ħarsien tal-patrimionju tagħna u dan billi taghti tama li min ihares lejn l-iskedar bħala xkiel. Tagħtih tama li b’xi mod ikun jista’ jirranġa hu ukoll.

Id-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni ftit li xejn jitkellem dwar il-kompozizzjoni tal-Bordijiet tal-Ippjanar. Alternattiva Demokratika, kif anke saħqet fil-manifest elettorali għall-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2013, jidhrilha li wasal iż-żmien li ma jibqax ikun hemm involviment dirett tal-Membri Parlamentari fit-teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet tal-ippjanar tal-uzu tal-art. Ir-rwol tal-Parlament permezz tal-kumitati tiegħu għandu jiffoka fuq is-sorveljanza tal-awtorita’, inkluż li jgħarbel il-ħatriet li jagħmel il-Gvern.

Id-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni dwar l-ippjanar konsistentement ifittex li jħares l-interessi ta’ min irid jiżviluppa l-art iżda fl-ebda parti tiegħu ma jfittex li jħares l-interessi tal-komunita. F’ħafna każi t-tħaffif u l-għaġġla tal-proċess tal-ħruġ tal-permessi ta’ żvilupp ser ifisser inqas ħarsien  għad-drittijiet ta’ terzi u għall-ħarsien tal-ispazji pubbliċi, ta’ bini skedat u żoni protetti.

Għaldaqstant, meta wieħed iħares b’mod komplessiv lejn id-dokument ta’ konsultazzjoni huwa ċar li l-proposta tal-Gvern hi pass lura.

Snippets from AD’s electoral manifesto: (9) Against Fragmentation (of Environmental Governance)

mepa1

The following extract is taken verbatim from Chapter 14 of AD’s Electoral Manifesto

Against Fragmentation.

MEPA which was established in 2002 through the amalgamation of the Planning Authority and the Department for the Environment has been generally ineffective in carrying out its duty of protecting the environment. This has come about because as a result of the structures created, even after the so-called 2010 reforms, the environmental function of MEPA has been entrusted in the hands of those who consistently indicated that their interest was in encouraging unbridled development. The Directorate for the Protection of the Environment is suffocated and can hardly act except in some exceptional case where it would be to the political benefit of Government.

In addition to this there is a serious problem resulting from the spreading of various environmental responsibilities under different Ministries and Authorities. Fragmentation reduces the effectiveness of any action taken.

In the past AD focused on the need to separate the environmental function from the land use planning function. This emphasis was made as the basic problem then was that the environment protection function was continuously over-ruled by those bent on development at all costs.

AD is today proposing a different solution. This solution is intended to address environment protection and identify it as a central function whilst simultaneously addressing the existing fragmentation: this can be carried out by consolidating all the environmental functions in one authority. We thus propose that MEPA and the Malta Resources Authority (MRA) are brought together in one authority. In a consolidated authority the environmental function should be central and should lead the Planning Directorate to take a secondary role.

The consolidated authority will eliminate existing duplication and will thus lead to a better utilisation of resources as well as trained staff currently on the books at MEPA and MRA .

L-Estratt segwenti hu mehud kelma b’kelma mill-Kapitlu 14 tal-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

Kontra l-Frammentazzjoni.

Il-MEPA li inħolqot fl-2002 bl-amalgamazzjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar u d-Dipartiment tal-Ambjent kienet ħafna drabi ineffettiva fil-qadi ta’ dmirha li tħares l-ambjent. Dan minħabba li bl-istruttura li nħolqot, anke wara l-hekk imsejħa riforma tal-2010 il-ħidma ambjentali tal-MEPA hi fdata f’idejn min konsistentement wera li l-interess tiegħu hu li jinkoraġġixxi l-iżvilupp bla rażan. Id-Direttorat għall-Ħarsien tal-Ambjent fil-MEPA hu maħnuq u ftit li xejn jista’ jaġixxi għajr f’xi eċċezzjoni fejn ikun jaqbel politikament għall-Gvern.

B’żieda ma’ dan hemm problema kbira kkawżata minn responsabbiltajiet ambjentali mifruxa fuq diversi Ministeri u awtoritajiet. Il-frammentazzjoni tnaqqas l-effettività tal-ħidma li ssir.

Fil-passat Alternattiva Demokratika iffokat fuq il-ħtiega tas-separazzjoni tal-funzjoni ambjentali mill-funzjoni tal-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art. Din l-enfażi kienet saret minħabba li l-problema prinċipali dakinnhar kienet li l-ħarsien tal-ambjent kien maħnuq minn dawk li riedu jmexxu ’l quddiem l-iżvilupp bla rażan tal-art.

Alternattiva Demokratika illum qed tipproponi soluzzjoni differenti. Din is-soluzzjoni hi intiża biex tindirizza l-importanza li l-ħarsien tal-ambjent ikun il-mutur li jmexxi, iżda ukoll li tkun indirizzat l-frammentazzjoni u dan billi jkunu kkonsolidati l-funzjonijiet ambjentali f’awtorità waħda. Nipproponu għalhekk li jingħaqdu f’awtorità waħda l-MEPA u l-Awtorità dwar ir-Riżorsi (MRA). Fl-awtorità kkonsolidata, il-funzjoni ambjentali għandha tkun dik ċentrali u għandha sservi biex id-Direttorat tal-Ippjanar jieħu funzjoni sekondarja.

L-awtorità kkonsolidata telimina d-duplikazzjoni eżistenti u b’hekk isservi biex ikunu utilizzati aħjar il-faċilitajiet u l-istaff imħarreġ li hemm illum fil-MEPA u l-MRA.

Parties in cahoots with squatters

Earlier this month, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment and planning commission, which deals with applications outside the development zone, turned down an application by Enemalta Corporation for the construction of a substation at L-Aħrax in the limits of Mellieħa. The planning directorate itself had recommended the refusal of this application.

This substation aimed at reinforcing the supply of electricity in L-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa with Enemalta effectively posting the message that the crime of taking over public property does pay.

While Alternattiva Demokratika and seven environmental NGOs opposed this application, both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party have not uttered one single word on Enemalta’s attempt at ensuring that the squatters are adequately supplied with electricity. Clearly, the PN and the PL think that being silent is essential in view of their commitments to purchase votes through squatters taking over public property.

The PL and the PN have not taken up the challenge spelt out by the greens to go public on their position relative to the illegal development of boathouses at L-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa, that is at Armier, Little Armier and It-Torri l-Abjad.

During the Mepa reform exercise, the Prime Minister repeatedly emphasised that “ODZ is ODZ”, meaning that no development will be authorised or permitted outside the development zone unless really necessary.

Dr Gonzi tried to convey the message that his safe pair of hands would ensure that abusive development would now grind to a halt. Yet, on the eve of the 2008 general election, Dr Gonzi participated in secret meetings with the illegal boathouse lobby which considers that its members have some god-given right over the public land that they have taken hold of. The result of those meetings was a PN commitment to protect illegal development carried out before 1992 on public land.

At stake are 230 tumoli of land (26 hectares), which, since way back in 2003, on the eve of another election, the PN-led government had agreed to transfer to the squatters’ holding company, Armier Developments Limited. The agreement between the government and the squatters’ holding company indicates a lease for 65 years against payment of €366,000 per annum. To date, this agreement has not been submitted for Parliament’s approval in terms of the Disposal of Government Land Act.

The squatters also expected the PL to protect their illegal constructions, which agreement was forthcoming. The newsletter Il-Bajja, published by the squatters, in October 2007 had referred to a meeting with the then Leader of the Opposition, Alfred Sant. It said that he had promised to honour an earlier agreement with the squatters, which was entered into way back in 2002.

As far as is known, Joseph Muscat has not repudiated Labour’s agreement with the squatters.

During this legislature, Minister Jason Azzopardi has embarked on a crusade of evicting squatters from public property including clearing squares and pavements of encroachments by restaurants and open air cafés. His staff members were meticulous in ensuring that an extra chair or table not covered by a permit was removed forthwith.

While noting and acting on the odd chair or table, Dr Azzopardi has turned the Nelson’s eye to the large-scale use of public land by the squatters at L-Aħrax tal-Mellieha. In so doing, he has applied the policy of being strong with the weak and weak with the strong.

Former Minister Michael Falzon wrote in an article entitled They Never Heard Of Jason Azzopardi (Malta Today, February 15, 2009) that he (Mr Falzon) was not supported by his Cabinet colleagues when, as the minister responsible for land use planning, he tried to clean up the Mellieħa boathouse mess. He was left “to burn my fingers alone, nay, my palms, arms and body. The lack of support from my then Cabinet colleagues – let alone the then backbench – was overwhelming. I could almost hear them chant: ‘Burn, Michael, burn!’”

It is clear that the PN is committed to supporting the illegal development on public land. By being silent on the issue, Labour too supports the PN’s stand without any reservations.

This is the new politics of Labour and the PN: being in cahoots with the squatters in order to exchange votes for public land, which they have occupied illegally for years. It is an issue on which PL and PN policies converge!

The environmental NGOs campaigning for a resolution of the illegal development at L-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa undoubtedly understand that there is only one way through which the land used by the squatters is restored and returned to public ownership and use. This can only be achieved through the election of green members of Parliament. The others are committed to supporting the squatters as they have been doing throughout the years.

There is no other way. If you seek real change, voting green is the only option. The others are compromised.

published in The Times on Saturday January 21, 2012