Undermining the rule of law

The “rule of law” is a basic democratic principle codified in the laws of democratic countries.

We are all servants of the law in order to be free and in a democracy, the law should apply to one and all without exception. A weak “rule of law” thus results in less and less democracy until one is left with only a free-standing façade.

The law is there to be observed: it should be a constraint on the behaviour of individuals as well as on that of institutions. All individuals ought to be subject to the same laws, whereas institutions are there to protect us all, not just from ourselves but also from all possible attempted abuse of authority by the institutions themselves.

It is within this context that the report of the ad hoc delegation of the Committee of Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament has to be considered. The report is an illustration of how others see the state of our democracy, even though at points it may be inaccurate.

The delegation’s brief was to investigate “alleged contraventions and maladministration in the application of Union law in relation to money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion”.

The observations and conclusions of the delegation in its 36-page report are certainly not edifying. The common thread running through the different pages of the report is that in Malta there are more masters of the law than servants; this is how others see us.

In my opinion they are not far off the mark. The report repeatedly emphasises the point that the law should be observed in both letter and spirit.

The institutions in Malta are very weak. I would add that they are weak by design, in other words they are designed specifically to genuflect when confronted by crude political power. This is reflected both in the type of appointees as well as in the actual set-up of the institutions which are supposedly there to protect us.

The above-mentioned report observes, for example, that none of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) reports on Maltese politically exposed persons (PEPs) were investigated by the Police, notwithstanding the fact that the said reports had been forwarded to them “for any action the Police may consider appropriate”.

Is it too much to expect that the police do their duty in at least investigating? The fact that no such investigation was carried out drives home the clear unequivocal message that for the police, PEPs are not subject to the law like any other person. The EU Parliament report is very clear as to why such investigations are essential. In fact it is stated that: “Persons perceived to be implicated in serious acts of corruption and money- laundering, as a result of Panama Papers revelations and FIAU reports, should not be kept in public office and must be swiftly and formally investigated and brought to justice. Keeping them in office affects the credibility of the Government, fuels the perception of impunity and may result in further damage to State interests by enabling the continuation of criminal activity.”

The question to be asked is: why is this possible? Why do Maltese authorities tend to bend the rules or close an eye here and there?

You may find an indication as to why this is so in two small incidents occurring in Malta this year. These illustrate the forma mentis of the Maltese “authorities”.

The first example is associated with the fireworks factory at Iż-Żebbiegħ. After 30 years in Court the rural community of iż-Żebbiegħ won a civil case as a result of which a permit for a fireworks factory was declared null and void by the Court of Appeal. The government reacted by rushing through Parliament amendments to the Explosives Ordinance. These amendments with approved by Parliament with the full support of the Opposition. As a result, notwithstanding the decision of the Court of Appeal, a permit for the fireworks factory can still be issued.

The second example is still “work in progress”. The Court of Appeal has, in the application of rent legislation, decided that the Antoine de Paule Band Club in Paola was in breach of its lease agreement. As a result the Court of Appeal ordered the eviction of the band club from the premises they leased within four months.

The government reacted by publishing proposed amendments to the Civil Code, as a result of which the eviction ordered by the Court of Appeal will be blocked.

These are two examples of the government reacting to decisions of our Courts of Law by moving the goalposts – with the direct involvement of the Opposition. The public reactions to these two cases have been minimal. Maltese public opinion has become immune to such “cheating” and bending of the rules because this method of operation has become an integral part of the way in which our institutions function. The Opposition is an active collaborator in this exercise that undermines the rule of law in Malta.

Is it therefore reasonable to be surprised if this “cheating” and bending of the rules is applied not just in minor matters but in very serious ones too? Moving the goalposts whenever it is politically expedient is, unfortunately, part of the way in which this country has operated to date. It is certainly anything but democratic and most obviously anything but respectful towards the rule of law.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 May 2018

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Parliament moves the goalposts in support of fireworks lobby

On Friday, 26 January 2018, Malta’s Court of Appeal delivered judgement on a fireworks factory law suit which had originally been presented way back in 1989. The Court of Appeal accepted the requests of the plaintiffs (the rural community) and declared the building permit for a fireworks factory at iż-Żebbiegħ null and void.

The wheels of justice grind slowly, very slowly, we are told: 30 years in fact. Unfortunately, the wheels of injustice are too fast.

Fast-forward two months to March 2018: Parliament debates and approves amendments to the Explosives Ordinance, consequently removing the legal requirements as a result of which the Court of Appeal declared the permit for the Żebbiegħ fireworks factory null and void. Malta’s Parliament is of course very respectful of the rule of law, to the extent that if a powerful lobby falls foul of the law, the law is changed as quickly as possible thereby ensuring that after all, it is possible to be in full alignment with the law.

Parliament has caved-in to the demands of the fireworks lobby and restored its privileged status of being above the law. As a result, Parliament has set aside the expectations of the Żebbiegħ rural community which, for 30 years, has been battling against the Maltese state to ensure that the rule of law prevails.

As a result of the amendments just approved, Parliament has granted the Commissioner of Police the discretion to consider issuing a licence for a fireworks factory when this is closer that the minimum distance prescribed by law – which is 183 metres. Parliament has decided to give the Commissioner of Police this additional authority which he can apply “after giving due consideration to the exigencies of public safety”. Among those MPs accepting the granting of such additional authority to the Commissioner of Police where those who, until a few days ago were insisting that he should resign.

Parliament rushed legislation through practically all its stages on the 20 March 2018. The minutes of the Parliamentary session do not indicate a single Member of Parliament standing up to the fireworks lobby and its Ministerial lackeys. None of the 67 MPs stood up for the Żebbiegħ rural community: they preferred to protect the operation of fireworks factories instead.

It would be more appropriate if Parliament were to start debating the Vella report presented by the Commission of Inquiry headed by Professor Alfred Vella some years ago [Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Accidents in Fireworks Factories]. The 97- page report, published on 11 November 2011, contained a list of 24 recommendations, most of which dealing with the required quality of the materials used in the local manufacture of fireworks. Apparently a discussion on these conclusions is not a priority for the time being. Such a discussion seems to have been shelved until the next deadly fireworks accident.

Then maybe another inquiry and another report would be produced. Another smokescreen.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 May 2018

Wrong messages from the National Audit Office

 

The National Audit Office (NAO) has recently published its report for 2017. In a democracy, the role of the NAO is of paramount importance. Its role of ascertaining the presence (or absence) of good governance at all levels is crucial in determining the health of the public sector.

The report lists the investigations carried out during 2017 in respect of which separate reports have been published and discussed publicly. These include the annual report on the public accounts, the consolidated annual report on local government, special audits and investigations and performance audits. Last year also saw the publication of a stand-alone report on the results achieved by the three main revenue-generating departments of the government, namely the Inland Revenue Department, the Value Added Tax Department and the Department of Customs.

In his overview, Auditor General Charles Deguara welcomes the positive developments, highlighting the administration’s commitment to implementing the NAO’s recommendations as far as possible. This has been done for two consecutive years and it is to be hoped that it becomes an annual occurrence.

The report explains the efforts made to continuously train the staff, thereby ensuring that, as far as possible, an internal team of experts is available to monitor and investigate as required. This is essential in order that the NAO keeps the administration on its toes.

The NAO, in its present format, was set up 20 years ago. Since 1997, it has been part of Parliament, accountable directly to Parliament. Previously, although technically independent it formed part of the Ministry of Finance.

During the past 20 years, it has had much to do. Its specific investigations are the ones about which we hear the most but the workings of the NAO go much deeper. Its continuous examination of the country’s public accounts, and the recommendations made to fine tune or correct methods of operation are always work in progress.

In order for the NAO to be as effective as possible, it should ensure that it keeps at arm’s length from the administration’s day to day operations. For this reason I was worried when reading in the 2017 report a short list of a number of domestic working groups in which the NAO participated. These range from the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) Implementation Project Board, the Financial Legislation Working Group, the Local Government Good Governance Working Group and others. The NAO should have oversight and not sit around the same table forming part of working groups to implement or draft a proposal for implementation.

Some years back the Auditor-General, together with the Ombudsman and the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, had decided to go beyond their terms of remit and accepted the Prime Minister’s invitation to examine the issue of the salaries of MPs and holders of political office. I had taken the Ombudsman Said Pullicino to task about his stand when, together with Arnold Cassola I had met the trio. They then justified their stand by referring to legal advice from the Attorney General’s office and others! The three wise men did not realise that they had compromised their office because they cannot – and should not – switch from being regulators to being advisors, even if temporarily.

The NAO would do well to take a step back, thereby ensuring that it is at arm’s length from the administration. Otherwise it risks sending the wrong messages.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 April 2018

Manoel Island: one step forward

The controversy on the future of Manoel Island has been going on for ages.

The citizen’s action some 18 months ago led by eNGO Kamp Emergenza Ambjent and publicly supported by the Gżira Mayor Conrad Borg Manchè as well as various eNGOs led to the current breakthrough with MIDI, as a result of which common sense will be given the opportunity to prevail.

The setting up of the Manoel Island Foundation with environmentalist Claire Bonello as chair is a landmark decision. It does not signify agreement with what has been done to date but rather a determination that in the future, if we put our heads together, we can possibly avoid past mistakes. In time, perhaps, we can also seek to reverse some of the mistakes carried out so far.

When, together with countless others, I joined the protest at Manoel Island 18 months ago, I had one objective in mind: that access to the open spaces and the foreshore of Manoel Island belonged to all of us. There was an urgent need that this access be claimed back and subsequently guaranteed. This has now been done.

The Guardianship agreement focus specifically on the public’s right of access which right has always been in existence even though MIDI did its best to obstruct its use over the years. MIDI has (at last) bound itself to respect such a right of access and together with the Gżira Local Council has spelled out the details on how this can be reasonably exercised. The efforts put in by all environmentalists bore fruit such that MIDI clearly understood that it could no longer avoid the negotiating table. It risked further reputational damage which it could ill-afford.

The cynics among us correctly maintain that there is nothing for which to thank MIDI that has after all obstructed the public’s right of access for so many years! They are of course right, but it is time to move on to the next challenges. We move forward incrementally, one small step at a time.

The Guardianship agreement seeks to address two diametrically opposed positions: the Gżira community’s right of access as supported by the environmental lobby on the one hand and the MIDI development rights granted by Parliament in the 1990s on the other hand.

One can argue until eternity that Malta’s Parliament was irresponsible when it unanimously approved the motion granting development rights to MIDI over the Tigne peninsula and Manoel Island. I still hold that same view. No Green could ever support such a Parliamentary motion, not even with the restoration sugar-coating obligations woven into the agreed concession.

Given that Parliament has no political will to reverse the 1990s decision and take Manoel Island back into public ownership, the Gżira Local Council, supported by eNGOs was right to seek and arrive at the Guardianship agreement. The agreement fills a void which Parliament and government could not even understand, and consequently could not address.

A price had to be paid for the Guardianship agreement to be concluded. This was the acceptance, subject to the provisions of the agreement, of the Manoel Island Masterplan and commitment on the part of those around the negotiating table not to oppose or object to its implementation. I think that this is the point of contention brought forward by those who disagree with the Guardianship agreement. This might be considered a high price to pay. However, it must be pointed out that the agreement contains a number of limitations on the Masterplan’s implementation and grants the Manoel Island Foundation a legal basis to halt the commercialisation of the foreshore or the green open spaces.

Alternattiva Demokratika considers the Guardianship agreement to be a positive step forward as it addresses the pressing issue of access based of a realistic appraisal of the situation. Gżira Local Council and the eNGOs involved are to be applauded for their determination in reaching this goal. Moreover, the Guardianship agreement does not exclude the possibility that in future, a responsible Parliament would seriously consider taking all of Manoel Island back into public ownership. It should however be noted that only a green MP can guarantee that the matter makes it to Parliament’s agenda. The others are too “business friendly” to even consider the matter.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 1st April 2018

Pensjoni għall-allat u oħra għall-bqija

 

Darba waħda, Evarist Bartolo kien qalilna li r-Rumani kienu jgħidu li hemm liġi għall-allat u oħra għall-annimali.

Ma kienx hemm għalfejn immorru lura sar Rumani biex insiru nafu dan, għax il-ġrajja ta’ dawn l-aħħar ġranet dwar il-pensjonijiet tpinġi b’mod ċar li anke lil hinn mir-Repubblika ta’ Ruma, ftit l-isfel, fir-Repubblika ta’ Malta għandna pensjonijiet għall-allat, pensjonijiet bla limitu, kif ukoll pensjonijiet għall-annimali, għall-bqija.

L-istorja tas-Sunday Times tal-bieraħ hi gravi, imma fiha żball.

L-ewwel nikkoreġi l-iżball.

Philip Sciberras kien Membru Parlamentari f’żewġ leġislaturi. Tela’ l-ewwel darba f’byelection fl-1979 meta kien irreżenja l-Ministru Ġuże Abela, dakinnhar Ministru tal-Finanzi. Reġa’ tela’ fl-elezzjoni ta’ Diċembru 1981. Total li jaqbez il-minimu ta 65 xahar servizz.

Alternattiva Demokratika hi preokkupata bl-allegazzjoni gravi ħafna li qed tagħmel is-Sunday Times dwar indħil lit-Teżor fl-ipproċessar tal-applikazzjoni għall-pensjoni parlamentari ta’ Philip Sciberras. Jekk dan hu minnu, dan ikompli jżid l-isfiduċja enormi li bħalissa hawn f’dawk li jeżerċitaw il-poter politiku. Min-naħa l-oħra jekk din l-allegazzjoni hi biss qlajja huwa meħtieġ li jkunu ċċarati l-fatti malajr kemm jista’ jkun. Għax mhux sew li jintefa’ l-ħmieġ lejn ħadd.

Qegħdin fl-istat li kull ċaħda li tista’ issir mill-Gvern, ħadd ma hu ser jemmina u dan bħala riżultat tal-iskandli wieħed wara l-ieħor li qed ifaqqsu madwarna u qiesu ma ġara xejn.

F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi l-Awditur Ġenerali biss għandu l-kredibilitá u l-awtoritá morali li jitkellem. Għall-kelma tiegħu f’każ bħal dan inbaxxi rasi. Bħalma bla dubju jagħmlu bosta oħrajn.

Għalhekk għada fil-għodu f’isem Alternattiva Demokratika ser nitlob lill-Awditur Ġenerali biex jinvestiga bir-reqqa ċ-ċirkustanzi li fihom ġiet approvata l-pensjoni ta’ Philip Sciberras. Mhux biss jekk kienx intitolat għaliha, imma fuq kollox jekk saritx pressjoni fuq it-Teżor biex din il-pensjoni tingħata.

Illum : wara li l-Arċisqof beżaq mis-sunnara tal-PN

 

L-emendi Kostituzzjonali reġgħu fuq l-agenda.

Nafu li tul dawn l-aħħar snin il-possibilita li tiltaqa’ l-konvenzjoni kostituzzjoni kienet limitata minħabba li ġie mdeffes fin-nofs Franco Debono. Il-Partit Laburista ried lilu u l-Partit Nazzjonalista oppona. Nifhmu li għad qed isiru sforzi biex din il-problema tingħeleb.Imma qed jingħadu diversi affarijiet oħra li huma ta’ interess kbir.

Madwar tlett ġimgħat ilu, Mons Scicluna qal li l-Knisja ma jkollha l-ebda oġġezzjoni li titneħħa r-referenza għal Kattoliċiżku mill-Kostituzzjoni Maltija. Il-Knisja, qal Mons. Scicluna, ma tridx privileġġi imma trid il-libertà reliġjuża. Dikjarazzjoni makakka u f’waqtha ta’ Mons Scicluna li indirizzat waħda mill-issues jaħarqu quddiem il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali. Jaħarqu fis-sens li kien (u għadu) antiċipat li l-PN jopponi din il-bidla. Dan minkejja li din il-bidla kostituzzjonali ma għandhiex bżonn żewġ terzi tal-Parlament għall-approvazzjoni, iżda teħtieġ biss maġġoranza sempliċi. Bid-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Mons Scicluna l-Knisja beżqet mis-sunnara tal-P.N. u mhux ser tħalli lill-P.N. jinqeda biha!

Issa li l-Knisja beżqet mis-sunnara tar-Religio et Patria, illum ħarġet ir-reazzjoni ta’ Adrian Delia, mexxej tal-PN, u dan kif antiċipat. Ser jibda jbeżża’ bil-babaw ġaladarba l-Knisja mhux ser tħallieh jinqeda biha. Dalgħodu kien rappurtat li Adrian Delia qal li l-Prim Ministru jrid ineħħi l-kurċifissi mill-iskejjel! Daqt jibda jgħidilna li sejrin l-infern!

Ir-realta hi li Malta għandha bżonn Kostituzzjoni lajka, jiġifieri kostituzzjoni li filwaqt li tirrispetta l-liberta reliġjuża tkun waħda li ma tpoġġi l-ebda reliġjon fiċ-ċentru tagħha. Tkun kostituzzjoni sekulari. Il-pajjiż hekk hu fir-realtà, wieħed lajk, u l-kostituzzjoni tiegħu għandha tirrispetta dan il-fatt.

Hemm bżonn ftit iktar serjeta meta niddiskutu l-kostituzzjoni. B’mod partikolari mill-partit tal-avukati!

Sadanittant Alternattiva Demokratika qed tistenna li tibda l-konvenzjoni kostituzzjonali biex tkun tista’ tinvolvi ruħha fid-diskussjoni dwar it-tibdil meħtieġ fil-kostituzzjoni Maltija. S’issa, AD ma hiex involvuta f’xi diskussjjonijiet li jidher li għaddejjin.

L-Ippjanar rasu l-isfel

Nhar l-Erbgħa, l-Kumitat Parlamentari dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar beda d-diskussjoni dwar jekk għandux ikun hemm tibdil fil-politika dwar il-pompi tal-petrol (u d-disil) (Fuel Service Stations Policy) tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Bla dubju kien xprunat mid-deċiżjonijiet riċenti tal-istess awtorità dwar pompi tal-petrol f’f’Burmarrad, Marsaskala u l-Magħtab. Hemm applikazzjonijiet pendenti għal pompi ġodda f’Ħ’Attard, l-Imqabba u l-Iklin fil-waqt li hemm madwar 60 pompa oħra qed jistennew il-permessi mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar biex itejbu l-faċilitajiet inkluż protezzjoni ambjentali u dan minn total eżistenti ta’ 85 pompa.

Il-kummenti validi kienu bosta. Ikkonċentraw l-iktar fuq il-ħtieġa li l-pompi tal-petrol fiż-żona urbana jingħalqu u li dawn jiċċaqalqu xi mkien ieħor. Ftit iżda kien hemm ħeġġa biex tkun diskussa l-qalba tal-materja: xi bżonn għandna tal-pompi tal-petrol?

Madwar ħames xhur ilu, il-Prim Ministru, wara li għal darba oħra ħares ħarsa sewwa lejn il-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika tal-2017, ħabbar, li l-Gvern immexxi minnu kien ser jagħti bidu għal process ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika. Dan biex jistabilixxi data minn meta karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-disil ma jkunux jistgħu jinbiegħu iktar biex minflok ikollna karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku. Ma smajna xejn iktar dwar dan ħlief artiklu miktub mill-Ministru tat-Trasport Ian Borg entużjażmat li fis-snin li ġejjin ser nimxu fuq il-passi ta’ pajjiżi Ewropej oħra.

Il-Prim Ministru, bir-raġun kollu emfasizza li din il-bidla fil-politika tal-Gvern kienet meħtieġa minħabba li l-emmissjonijiet tal-karozzi kienu l-ikbar sors ta’ tniġġiż tal-arja fil-pajjiż. Għalfejn dan id-dewmien kollu biex ikunu stabiliti u mħabbra d-dettalji ta’ din id-deċiżjoni tajba? Uħud mill-pajjiżi Ewropej ilhom żmien li għamlu dan. In-Norveġja u l-Olanda stabilew is-sena 2025, il-Ġermanja qed tikkonsidra s-sena 2030, fil-waqt li Franza u r-Renju Unit huma mħajra għas-sena 2040 biex iwaqqfu l-bejgħ ta’ karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-disil.

Id-diskussjoni dwar il-politika li tikkonċerna l-pompi tal-petrol/disil għandha issir f’kuntest wiesgħa tal-politika tat-trasport inkluż l-elettrifikazzjoni tal-mezzi privati tat-trasport.

Il-punt ewlieni tad-diskussjoni huwa li bħala riżultat tal-elettrifikazzjoni n-numru ta’ pompi tal-petrol/disel meħtieġa mhux ser jiżdied imma ser jonqos fuq medda ta’ snin u dan sakemm jasal għal xejn jew kważi xejn. Allura għalfejn nibnu u ninkoraġixxu l-bini ta’ iktar pompi tal-petrol/disil? Ikun ferm iktar għaqli kieku l-investiment nindirizzawh lejn is-soluzzjoni tal-problemi, mhux lejn it-tkattir tagħhom!

Il-pompi tal-petrol eżistenti fiż-żoni urbani qed jintużaw bħala skuża biex jippruvaw jiġġustifikaw it-tħarbit ta’ 3000 metru kwadru ta’ art. Fil-fatt dan hu l-iskop ewlieni tal-politika dwar il-pompi tal-fjuwil approvata fl-2015.

Ma jkunx aħjar li flok ma jingħalqu l-pompi tal-petrol fl-abitat ikunu konvertiti f’lok fejn tiċċarġja l-batteriji tal-karozzi? Dawn il-pompi qegħdin fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom f’żoni ċentrali u huma ġeneralment ta’ qies żgħir. Kull pompa tal-petrol urbana li tkun salvata u konvertita biex fiha niċċarġjaw il-batteriji tfisser ukoll li nkunu salvajna 3000 metru kwadru ta’ art minn spekulazzjoni. Fl-istess ħin inkunu qed nippovdu servizz li ser ikun essenzjali eżatt fejn hu meħtieġ.

Dan ikun użu tajjeb għall-investiment, aħjar milli jintuża f’bini ta’ pompi ġodda barra miż-żona ta’ l-iżvilupp. Jekk dan isir inkunu qed nittrasformaw problema eżistenti f’diversi lokalitajiet f’soluzzjoni addattata għall-bini tal-infrastruttura meħtieġa għall-eletrifikazzjoni tat-trasport privat f’Malta.

Dan ovvjament ifisser li nkunu qed naqilbu ta’ taħt fuq il-politika dwar il-pompi tal-fjuwil. Flok ma nużaw il-pompi urbani bħala skuża biex tkun ġustifikata l-ispekulazzjoni tal-art inkunu qed nagħtu spinta tajba lill-ħarsien ambjentali.

Hu eżattament dan li għandna bżonn f’dan il-mument: naqilbu l-ippjanar rasu l-isfel.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 4 ta’ Frar 2018

 

Turning the Fuel Service Stations Policy on its head

Last Wednesday, the Parliamentary Environment and Land Use Planning Committee discussed the possible revision of the Fuel Service Stations Policy. The three development permits issued in the past weeks by the Planning Authority for fuel service stations at Burmarrad, Marsaskala and Magħtab without doubt was the spark that motivated the discussion. Among the pending applications, Attard, Mqabba and Iklin are queuing for new service stations, while over 60 more, from a current total of 85 stations are awaiting the Planning Authority go-ahead for upgrading.

A number of valid observations were made. Most of the discussion dealt with the need to relocate service stations currently within urban areas but there was, however, a reluctance to address head-on the real issue: do we need fuel service stations?

Almost five months ago, the Prime Minister – taking a leaf from Alternattiva Demokratika’s 2017 election manifesto – announced that his government will be launching a public consultation to establish a cut-off date for the sale of diesel and petrol cars in Malta and the use of only electricity-driven vehicles instead. We have not heard much more about this proposal, apart for an article by Transport Minister Ian Borg who wrote about following in the footsteps of other European countries in “phasing out new petrol and diesel vehicles in the next few decades”.

The Prime Minister has rightly emphasised that this change in policy is required in view of the fact that vehicle emissions are the largest source of pollution in Malta, but why wait so long to put flesh on the bare bones of the declared policy? Other European countries have already determined their cut-off date. Norway and the Netherlands are considering the year 2025, Germany is considering 2030, while France and the United Kingdom are opting for the year 2040 by which to halt the sale of diesel and petrol vehicles.

Revisiting the Fuel Service Stations Policy should not be discussed in a vacuum. It has to be placed in the context of related transport policies and in particular the fact (hopefully) that Malta should now be going electric.

The main issue clearly is that, as a result of going electric, the number of fuel service stations required will at some point in the future – hopefully the not so very distant future – will be next to nil. So why build more of them? Why encourage investment in something that is not needed? It would be much better to channel investment into resolving problems instead of adding to them.

The relocation of urban area fuel service stations – the main thrust of the Fuel Service Stations Policy approved in 2015 – is being used to justify the uptake of 3,000 square metres of land. But instead of relocating the existing service stations in urban areas, would it not be much better if these were converted into charging stations? These service stations are centrally located and mostly of a relatively small size. Every conversion one into a charging station would potentially save 3000 square metres of land in the middle of nowhere and simultaneously provide the service of electrically charging vehicles right where that service is required: in our urban areas.

It is towards the conversion of these fuel stations that investment should be channelled. They can be transformed from being a problem in our residential communities to being an integral and focal part of the strategy to develop a suitable, reliable and – above all – sustainable infrastructure so necessary for the electrification of private transport.

This would obviously turn the Fuel Service Stations policy upside down. Instead of using urban service stations as an excuse to trigger more land speculation, it is about time to inject some environmental considerations right where they are most needed.

This is what we need right now: the turning of the Fuel Service Stations Policy on its head.

 

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 4 February 2018

Thank-you Ryan; thank-you, Clayton.

I was present for both public sessions of the Planning Authority Board’s meetings to discuss the planning application for a petrol station at Salini Road Magħtab.

The first meeting, on 7 December, was attended by eight members of the Board. At the meeting on the 11 January, however, an additional five members made an effort and were present. These additional five members voted in favour of the application, but they had not followed the detailed public discussion held on 7 January, as is their duty.

At the first meeting, two of the Board members publicly indicated their intention to vote against the application but, at the second meeting, both changed their mind and decided to vote in favour. However, no public explanation was forthcoming as to what caused them to change sides.

The Planning Authority Board includes two Members of Parliament: Ryan Callus (PN) and Clayton Bartolo (PL). Both of them consider it to be desirable to have more petrol stations and both voted in favour of the Magħtab Petrol Station. Ryan Callus was clearly observed raising his hand very reluctantly to vote in favour of the development application: apparently he wanted those present to note that he was not sure of what he was doing.

More worrying was Clayton Bartolo’s behaviour. He had already publicly indicated his opposition to giving the permission for the petrol station on 7 December. However, last Thursday he switched sides and voted in favour. Obviously, he had every right to vote in whichever way he chooses, but he owes the public an explanation for his change of heart. No such explanation was forthcoming.

Of the 14 members of the Planning Authority Board, 13 are regular members and the additional member is an ad hoc member representing the Local Council of the locality involved – in this case Naxxar. Eight members of the Board were present for both meetings. Five turned up only for the second meeting. The 14th member of the Board, although present for both meetings, left the room as soon as the subject of the petrol station came up for discussion on both occasions! Clearly he did not want to participate in this latest planning farce.

This is the third new petrol station to be approved by the Planning Authority in a short period of time: approval for the Magħtab petrol station came immediately after the approval of those at Marsaskala and Burmarrad in the past weeks.

Do we need so many petrol stations?

Last September, the Prime Minister announced that government would shortly carry out a consultation exercise to determine the cut-off date beyond which all new cars purchased would have to be electric or similar vehicles. This signified one thing: that soon we will start the count-down leading to no more petrol and/or diesel cars on our roads. Bearing this policy declaration by the Prime Minister leads to one inevitable question: what do we need new petrol stations for? Each new petrol station gobbles up approximately 3,000 square metres of land.

A big thank-you to Ryan and Clayton.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 14 January 2018

Meta l-Opposizzjoni toħroġ il-barra mill-Parlament

Li bħala protesta titlaq il-barra mill-Parlament waqt seduta parlamentari hi materja gravi għax tfisser li ma hemmx mod ieħor kif iż-żewġ naħat jikkomunikaw.

Dan mhux sinjal sabiħ u ma jagħmel l-ebda ġid lid-demokrazija parlamentari tagħna. Ovvjament il-Parlament baqa’ għaddej bix-xogħol tiegħu.

Saru ħafna żbalji li ħtija tagħhom il-pajjiż jinsab fil-qagħda attwali. Hu neċessarju li illum qabel għada jinstab mezz effettiv ta’ komunikazzjoni. Sfortunatament jidher li għadna l-bogħod.

Hemm bżonn li nikkomunikaw aktar. Forsi naslu biex nirrispettaw iktar lil xulxin, kif ukoll lill-pajjiżna. Għax pajjiżna jixraqlu ħafna aħjar.