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

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Muscat’s priorities : the environment not included

Labour u l-Ambjent

 

The manner in which the government is handling the Żonqor University issue is a failure in environmental governance. It is a mishandling of Malta’s natural resources.

How can the government say that the feasibility of the Żonqor project depends on the low monetary value of the ODZ land and expect to be taken seriously? Is this not placing the profits of the Jordanian businessman above everything else, including Malta’s interests?

After the government signed a preliminary agreement with Jordanian businessman Hani Hasan N Salah on what has been labelled as the “American University of Malta” (at Żonqor Point) civil society erupted. The site site earmarked for development will gobble up thousands of square metres of agricultural land. Earlier this week, Joseph Muscat  tried to minimise the impact by stating that only one per cent of the agricultural land to be taken up for the project is used for growing crops. He was immediately rubbished by the farmers themselves who told the Independent on Friday that most of the agricultural land in question was, in fact, used to produce potatoes for the export market.

The term ODZ (Outside Development Zone) is associated with rural areas where development is limited to what is necessary in the interests of agriculture. There have been a number of exceptions, but, so far, such exceptions have been made where ODZ development was considered to be in the national interest. Such instances included the state hospital, the airport terminal, Malta’s only University, the Freeport, a number of both state and private schools, a home for the elderly, industrial estates, sewage purification plants and waste management facilities.

We have also had the case of Smart City. This replaced the former Ricasoli Industrial Estate but the site was extended into ODZ territory.

The general feeling is that ODZ land should only be developed in exceptional cases which have a social policy dimension or else are required in the national interest. The proposed American University is not such a case.

The government has not done its homework: in particular, it has not, to date, examined alternative sites for the proposed University. The ongoing debate has identified a myriad of such alternatives, most of which are located in Malta’s political south. In some instances, the alternatives sites that have been identified are competing with other uses proposed through “expressions of interests” currently being assessed. Whilst this might be understandable at this point, the government needs to explain why it has issued these “expressions of interests” when it knew quite some time ago that it had this competing demand for a substantial area.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister  Muscat embarked on a damage limitation exercise through which he seeks to collect from the public a list of possible alternative sites for his consideration.   This is a farce in the making, because suitable sites for this type of project are not selected in this manner.  The government  should have embarked on a meticulous search months ago, and should have entrusted a group of experts with the study of all possible options, analysing in detail the advantages and disadvantages of each site, including the relative opportunity costs.

The fact that it did not proceed in this manner is a testimony to the amateurishness of the Muscat administration, an administration which clearly imagines that it knows it all. It is bad governance at its worst.

Malta has a right to land use planning that is sensible and sensitive. Each one of us has the right to expect as much from Labour, which promised that the environment would be its priority.

By now it should  be pretty obvious to everyone that the Audrey Harrison billboard stating that, for Labour, the environment is a priority is just another gimmick. The environment never was a Labour priority, and it will never be.

Published in the Independent on Sunday, 24 May 2015

Il-prijorità li Joseph qatt ma kellu

Labour u l-Ambjent

Wara l-froġa tal-Cafè Premier, Joseph kien qalilna li l-affarijiet setgħu saru aħjar. Kien għadu qed jitgħallem!

Issa reġa’ għaffiġha.

Wara li s-soċjetà ċivili għal darba oħra semmgħet leħinha, Joseph qed jitlob li l-pubbliku jindikalu siti alternattivi fejn jista’ jpoġġi l-Universita “Amerikana”.  Qed iħokk rasu biex jara jsibx sit flok iż-Żonqor! Dan minkejja li gie dikjarat li intagħzlet l-art ODZ għax din tiswa’ inqas! Qalulna li kieku l-art tiswa’ iktar il-proġett ma jkunx vijabbli, jiġifieri l-investitur iħoss li ma jagħmilx biżżejjed qliegħ!

Fid-diskussjoni li għaddejja fil-pajjiż diġà ssemmew diversi siti. Uħud huma addattati iktar minn oħrajn!

Din x’serjetà hi li wara li tiddeċiedi u tkun ankè iffirmajt ftehim preliminari taparsi tikkonsulta? Konsultazzjoni bis-serjeta kienet tkun ferm differenti.  Gvern serju  kien jaħdem differenti.

Fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru Muscat qed jitlob proposti mill-pubbliku għal siti alternattivi għaż-Żonqor liema siti jridu josservaw 5 kriterji :

  1. jkunu fis-“South”,
  2. jkunu użabbli bħala Università internazzjonali,
  3. li l-qies tal-proposti jkun ta’ madwar 90,000 metru kwadru, avolja l-Gvern lest li jikkunsidra li dawn ikunu mqassma fuq iktar minn sit wieħed,
  4. li biex titwassal l-infrastruttura neċessarja fis-sit identifikat ma jkunx hemm bżonn interventi kbar,
  5. li s-siti ma jkunux soġġetti għal protezzjoni ambjentali, b’mod partikolari protezzjoni li tirriżulta minn Direttivi Ewropej (jsemmi tlett eżempji: Habitats Directive, Birds Directive, Water Framework Directive).

Issa kieku Muscat nieda din il-konsultazzjoni qabel ma iddeċieda kont bla dubju ngħid li kien ikun pass tajjeb. Imma li mexa b’dan il-mod wara li l-opinjoni pubblika ġabitu dahru mal-ħajt, il-proċess  jista’ jkun deskritt biss bħala farsa.

 

Fi ftit kliem dan mhux eżerċiżżju ta’ konsultazzjoni, iżda wieħed ta’ damage control.  Joseph qed ifittex li jsewwi l-ħsara li għamel billi għal darba oħra għaffeġ. Għax nesa li suppost għall-Labour fil-Gvern l-ambjent kellu jkun prijorità.

Għax ngħiduha kif inhi issa ma setax jibqa’ jgħidilna li l-affarijiet setgħu saru aħjar. Għax it-tweġiba ovvja tkun: kemm ser iddum ma titgħallem?

Il-billboard ta’ Audrey Harrison hu ħafna l-bogħod mill-prijorità ta’ Joseph. Għax l-ambjent qatt ma kien prijorità ta’ Joseph. Kieku l-ambjent kien prijorità għal Joseph, kien jibda mill-ewwel fuq sieq tajba!

Joseph : ABŻ mill-ODZ

euros-loads-of-money

 

Bl-iktar mod solenni  waqt l-aħħar kampanja elettorali Joseph Muscat wiegħed li l-Labour fil-Gvern mhux ser imiss il-linja tal-iżvilupp. B’mod partikolari waqt laqgħa mal-kuntratturi (li uħud isejħu lilhom infushom żviluppaturi) u mal-Periti kien wiegħed li mhux bi ħsiebu jmiss il-linja tal-ODZ.

Bil-proposta ta’ żvilupp ta’ l-Università taż-Żonqor Muscat mhux ser imiss il-linja tal-ODZ iżda ser jinjorha kompletament.

Fejn jidħol l-ambjent Joseph paroli biss. ABŻ mill-ODZ.

Il-Kunsilli Lokali: qed iberraq?

localcouncils

 

X’għandu f’moħħu l-Partit Laburista dwar il-Kunsilli Lokali? Id-diffikulta li għandi huma is-sinjali konfliġġenti li qegħdin joħorġu mill-Partit Laburista.

Nibda mill-Manifest Elettorali ta’ l-aħħar elezzjoni li naħseb li għandu xi forma ta’ rabta!

Il-Manifest Elettorali Laburista jipproponi rwol ikbar għall-Kunsilli Lokali milli għandhom illum. Prinċipalment jiffoka fuq rwol ċentrali għal Kunsilli Lokali fil-qasam tal-politika soċjali, fl-aspetti kollha tagħha. Jipproponi ukoll involvement fl-ippjanar, fi proġetti dwar l-effiċjenza fl-użu tal-enerġija u fiż-żamma ta’ kwalita’ fiż-żoni turistiċi. Jipproni ukoll t-tisħiħ tal-funzjonijiet eżistenti, bħar-rwol fl-istrateġija dwar l-immaniġjar tal-iskart.

Il-Labour, fil-Manifest Elettorali jipproponi rwol ukoll lokali fil-qasam tal-kultura u sport.

Hemm ukoll il-vot mas-16 li l-Labour ħadu mill-Manifest taż-Żgħażagħ ta’ Alternattiva Demorkatika fl-Elezzjoni Ġenerali tal-2008. (Irrid inżid li din il-proposta hi amplifikata fil-Manifest ta’ AD għall-elezzjoni tal-2013 biex tinkludi vot ukoll fl-elezzjonijiet għall-Kunsilli Lokali kif ukoll fl-Elezzjonijiet Ġenerali.)

Fid-dawl ta’ dan kollu bil-fors li wieħed jistaqsi x’ġara biex f’daqqa waħda hemm ħafna diskors li jindika attitudni differenti da parti tal-Partit Laburista fil-konfront tal-Kunsilli Lokali?

L-ewwel bdejna bil-proposta li jkunu posposti l-elezzjonijiet tal-Kunsilli Lokali li huma ippjanati għall-2015 u l-2016. Għandna artiklu tal-Kunsillier Laburista f’Ħal-Balzan Desmond Zammit Marmara li qiegħed irewwaħ dwar jekk wara kollox għandniex bżonn il-Kunsilli Lokali.

Il-Kunsilli Lokali huma ħolqa importanti fil-proċess demokratiku fil-pajjiż. Hemm garr kontra l-Kunsilli Lokali bħalma hemm garr kontra d-Dipartimenti tal-Gvern. Dan huwa naturali għax mhux kollha jaħdmu bl-aħjar mod. Saru l-iżbalji ukoll għax mhux kull min ġie elett kien kapaċi jmexxi. Hemm uħud li jeħtieġu li jtejbu l-operat tagħhom.

Imma hu fatt rikonoxxut minn kull min hu ta’ rieda tajba illi l-pajjiż huwa ħafna aħjar bil-Kunsilli Lokali. Għamlu differenza kbira u dan billi l-lokalitajiet qed jieħdu ħsiebhom residenti eletti mill-istess lokalitajiet.

Ma hu veru xejn li n-nies għejjiet tivvota! Kieku dan hu l-każ m’għandniex rati għoljin ta’ votazzjoni.

Anke għall-Kunsilli Lokali, rata ta’ votazzjoni ta’ madwar 66% (li għal uħud f’Malta hi baxxa) hi ferm għola minn dawk li jivvutaw f’pajjiżi oħra Ewropej. Fir-realta’  n-nies f’Malta tieħu ġost tivvota.

Bħal kull ħaġa oħra l-Kunsilli Lokali jistgħu jkunu imtejba. Tajjeb li jkun hemm diskussjoni dwar dan. Imma ħażin li jkun hemm minn jipprova jbagħbas il-kredenzjali demokratiċi tas-sistema tal-Gvern Lokali. Ikun tajjeb li kulħadd jitkellem ċar.