Ignoring residents and their local councils

strait street valletta 2

 

Government has published a consultation document dealing with the use of open public spaces by catering establishments, entitled Guidelines on Outdoor Catering Areas on Open Public Space : a holistic approach to creating an environment of comfort and safety.

This document was launched earlier this week at a press conference addressed by the Minister for Tourism Edward Zammit Lewis and the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for planning and simplification of administrative processes Michael Falzon.

The inter-Ministerial committee set up by government to draft the policy document was limited to representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, MEPA, Transport Malta, the Government Property Division, the Malta Tourism Authority and the Association of Hotels and Restaurants (MHRA). Representatives of the local councils were excluded from participating.

It seems that when the matter was being considered by Cabinet, the Minister for Local Councils Owen Bonnici was fast asleep as otherwise he would undoubtedly have drawn the attention of his colleagues that the Local Councils Act, in article 33, deems it a function of local councils “to advise and, where applicable, be consulted by, any authority empowered to take any decisions directly or indirectly affecting the Council and the residents it is responsible for”.

Surely the use of public open spaces by catering establishments is a matter which is of considerable interest to local councils as it affects both the councils and the residents they represent. Yet the government has a different opinion as representatives of local councils were not invited at the drawing board where the guidelines on the use of public open spaces by catering establishments were being drafted.

The guidelines introduce a one stop shop at MEPA, thereby eliminating the need to apply for around four other permits for the placing of tables and chairs in public open spaces. This would be a positive development if MEPA can take on board all the considerations which are normally an integral part of the four other application processes.

If the utilisation of public open spaces was limited to the squares in our towns and villages, I do not think that there would be any issue. There is sufficient space in such areas and using part of it for open air catering activities there would not be cause for concern.

However, problems will definitely arise in areas of mixed use, that is, areas where the ground floor is used commercially and the overlying areas are used as residences. This is a common occurrence in many of the localities where there is a high demand by the catering business for the utilisation of public open space. The guidelines, however, ignore the impacts which placing chairs and tables at street level could have on the residents in such areas, in particular those living in the floors immediately above ground level. Such impacts would primarily be the exposure of residents to secondary cigarette/tobacco smoke as well as noise and odours. The issue of noise will undoubtedly arise, in particular during siesta time, as well as late into the evenings while secondary smoke from cigarettes/tobacco as well as odours will be an ever present nuisance. Maybe if the local councils were not excluded from the inter-Ministerial Committee, these matters would have been taken into consideration.

In such instances it would be necessary to limit the placing of tables and chairs at such a distance from residences where impacts on residents from secondary smoke, noise and odours are insignificant: that is if there is sufficient space.

The guidelines establish that a passageway of 1.50 metres on pavements is to be reserved for pedestrians. In addition they establish that where a permit is requested to place chairs and tables outside third-party property, specific clearance in front of doors and windows is to be observed. Isn’t that thoughtful of the inter-Ministerial Committee? Instead of categorically excluding the placing of chairs and tables along the property of third parties it seeks to facilitate the creation of what would inevitably be a nuisance to the users of such a property. This, too, is the result of the lop-sided composition of the inter-Ministerial Committee.

Nor are parking spaces spared. The inter-Ministerial Committee makes provision in the proposed guidelines for the possibility that catering establishments can also make use of parking spaces for the placing of tables and chairs when other space is insufficient. The guidelines leave no stone unturned in ensuring that tables and chairs get priority, even though this is worded in terms that make it appear that it would be an exception.

Enforcement, as usual, will be another headache. We already have quite a number of cases in various localities where passageways are minimal or inexistent and pedestrians, excluded from walking along the pavement have to move along with the traffic, right in the middle of the road. At times this may prove quite difficult and dangerous, in particular for wheelchair users or in the case of parents with small children. Enforcement to date is practically inexistent and I do not think that matters will change much in this respect.

Unfortunately, MEPA is a repeat offender in ignoring the interests of the residential community when faced with all types of development. The guidelines on the use of public open space by catering establishments are thus more of the same.

While cars have taken over our roads, catering establishments will now be guided on how to take over our pavements and open spaces, parking included!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 13 September 2015  

Fil-BOV bil-benefiċċju tal- “early retirement”, iżda tista’ tiġi lura !

BOV HQ

 

Il-Bank of Valletta qiegħed fl-aħbarijiet. M’humiex aħbarijiet li jagħmlu l-ġid  lill-bank.

Mhux qed nitkellem dwar il-garanzija għas-self dwar il-power station ta’ Delimara, jew il-garanzija għall-avvanzi biex l-Air Malta tixtri l-fuel, iżda dwar l-iskema ta’ irtirar kmieni.

Kif, qrajna, l-ftehim kollettiv tal-Bank jagħti dritt lill-bank li jkollu skema ta’ irtirar kmieni mix-xogħol (early retirement). Il-punt mhux jekk Michael Falzon ġiex mogħti inqas jew iktar minn Fenech Adami inkella xi ħaddieħor b’kunjomu Borg Costanzi (ismijiet li ssemmew fil-Parlament). Iżda jekk skema ta’ irtirar kmieni fil-BOV tagħmilx sens.

Hemm xi sens li tħarreġ lin-nies u fl-eta ta’ madwar ħamsin sena tħallashom biex jitilqu? Il-bank qed iberbaq il-“kapital uman” tiegħu apparti l-kapital finanzjarju.  Dan apparti li għadni ma nistax nifhem kif tieħu l-benefiċċju minn skema biex tirtira kmieni u mbagħad iżżomm id-dritt li tidħol lura. Jew irtirajt kmieni jew ma irtirajtx.

Il-BOV qed iberbaq ir-riżorsi u jista’ juża’ flus il-bank ferm aħjar minn hekk, mhux biss fl-interess tal-bank innifsu iżda anke fl-interess tal-impjegati tiegħu.

Anke l-Greċja, sa ftit ilu, kinet mimlija skemi ta’ irtirar kmieni!

 

Is the abrogative referendum under threat ?

article 14. Referenda Act

 

Until Alternattiva Demokratika announced the abrogative referendum campaign  on spring hunting almost two years ago, few Maltese citizens were aware that they had such a right.  Now that this right has been used for the first time since it has been placed on the statute book, it is apparently under threat.

The hunters’ lobby is now aiming at curtailing the right to an abrogative referendum. The hunters maintain that when the Referenda Act was applied in trying to abrogate the regulations permitting spring hunting it was aiming at their rights – “minority rights” they said.

Hunters had presented these same arguments though their representatives for the consideration of the Constitutional Court, which shot them down last January. In fact the Constitutional Court in paragraphs 51 to 54 of its 24-page decision, considers this very point. The hunters, said the Constitutional Court, claim that their rights are minority rights. However no potential breach of a provision of the Constitution of Malta or of the European Convention of Human Rights have been indicated in their submissions. The Constitutional Court goes on to say the following :

“It is right to emphasise that in implementing majority rule the rights of the minority should be respected. However this respect is not attained, as suggested by the Federation [FKNK] by obstructing people from expressing themselves through a referendum.”  [Tassew illi d-dritt tal-maġġoranza għandu jitwettaq b’rispett lejn id-dritt tal-minoranza, iżda dan ir-rispett ma jinkisibx billi, kif trid il-Federazzjoni, il-poplu ma jitħalliex isemma’ leħnu f’referendum.]

This same argument  was also the subject of a petition to Parliament organised by the hunters’ lobby and presented in Parliament by Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon some months ago.  In recent days, comments have been made indicating that shortly we may be hearing of the government’s reactions to this petition. These reactions will most probably be in the form of proposals for amendments to the Referenda Act of 1973, in particular amendments to the provisions regulating the holding of an abrogative referendum – provisions which were originally approved by Parliament in 1996 and brought in force in 1998.

The provisions of  the Referenda Act in Malta providing for the holding of an abrogative referendum are already very restrictive.  From what has been stated, hunters want such provisions to be even more restrictive.  In this sense they have already made public a proposal that a definite time window within which signatures for an abrogative referendum have to be collected has to be established.  In Italian legislation, for example, there exists a 90-day window within which the collection of signatures has to be carried out. Such a time window may be a reasonable proposal within the Italian legal system, but then in Italy the number of voter signatures required to trigger the abrogative referendum process is proportionately much lower than that required in Malta.

The number of signatures required to kick-start the abrogative referendum process in Malta is 10 per cent of the registered voters. This currently stands at slightly under 34,000 signatures. In Italy, by contrast, half-a-million signatures – or the consent of five regional councils – is required. The number  of signatures required in Italy amount to approximately one per cent of the electorate, meaning that the corresponding requirement in Malta is ten times as much!

I will not speculate over how the government will seek to translate the hunters’ petition into legislation. I have limited myself to one specific proposal.

It is still unclear as to what type of amendments to the Referenda Act will be submitted by government. One thing is, however, very clear:  we need to keep our eyes wide open to ensure that our rights are not reduced.

The abrogative referendum is an important tool in our democratic society, even though it has been made use of only once in its 19-year existence.  Let us hope that government will not succumb to pressures to have it diluted or removed.

published in The Malta Indpendent on Sunday : 19 April 2015

Il-marċ tal-kaċċaturi kontra d-drittijiet demokratiċi

Michael Falzon hunter

 

Għada t-Tnejn il-kaċċaturi ser jimmarċjaw il-Belt Valletta biex jippreżentaw petizzjoni lill-Parlament.

Il-petizzjoni li ser tkun ippreżentata f’isimhom mis-Segretarju Parlamentari u kaċċatur Michael Falzon titlob li jitnaqqas id-dritt tar-referendum. Il-kaċċaturi huma tal-fehma illi għandhom isiru emendi għall-liġi tar-referendum biex ikomplu jonqsu l-possibilitajiet fejn il-votanti jkunu jistgħu jsejħu referendum abrogattiv.

Il-proposta tal-kaċċaturi hi waħda li timmira li tnaqqas id-drittijiet demokratiċi fil-pajjiż. Il-kaċċaturi jidher li ma jaqblux illi jittieħdu deċiżjonijiet b’mod demokratiku billi nivvutaw dwarhom. Minflok il-kaċċaturi jippreferu li d-deċiżjonijiet jittieħdu fi kmamar magħluqin fejn deċiżjonijiet politiċi jitpartu ma voti ta’ appoġġ lil partit politiku jew ieħor. Żmien dawn it-tip ta’ konfoffi għadda.

Fejn il-Parlament wera ruħu impotenti li jieħu deċiżjonijiet importanti bħal dik dwar il-kaċca fir-rebbiegħa ma hemm l-ebda triq oħra għajr dik tar-referendum abrogattiv.

Mhiex triq faċli. Fil-fatt sal-lum hi triq li qatt ma intuzat. L-użu tagħha huwa biss f’każi eċċezzjonali fejn il-Parlament wera, tul is-snin, illi huwa impotenti.

L-għażla ta’ Lawrence Gonzi

Lawrence Gonzi kellu għażla.

Fil-Parlament ġew ippreżentati żewġ mozzjonijiet.

L-ewwel mozzjoni kienet il-mozzjoni numru 260 imressqa minn Franco Debono u li kienet tittratta dwar diversi miżuri ta’ riforma u tibdil li l-istess Debono ħass li kien meħtieġ fil-qasam tal-Ġustizzja u l-Intern. Kienet mozzjoni li ġiet ippreżentata nhar it-8 ta’ Novembru 2011. Għalkemm kritika il-mozzjoni kienet essenzjalment waħda posittiva.

It-tieni mozzjoni kienet il-mozzjoni numru 280 ipreżentata mill-kelliema tal-Opposizzjoni Michael Falzon u Jose’ Herrera nhar il-5 ta’ Diċembru 2011. Kienet mozzjoni ta’ kritika u ċensura. Mozzjoni negattiva.

Lawrence Gonzi u ta’ madwaru ippreferew illi l-ewwel ipoġġu fuq l-agenda l-mozzjoni negattiva. Ippreferew li jagħżlu azzjoni negattiva flok azzjoni posittiva.

Ir-riżultat tal-lum hu l-konsegwenza. Dak li ġara illum Lawrence Gonzi ġiebu b’idejħ mgħejjun minn l-għorrief ta’ madwaru. Bil-ħsieb u bil-għaqal seta ġie evitat.

X’ser jiġri minn issa l-quddiem hu biss tiġbid. L-elezzjoni qegħda wara l-bieb.