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

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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.