Environmental Governance

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Having over 70,000 vacant residential properties is a very serious matter which both the Nationalist and the Labour parties have ignored in their electoral manifestos. Rather than being ignored this fact ought to serve as the launching pad for a different way of looking at land use planning issues.

The Housing Authority in the past months has opted not to build new social housing units but instead decided to tap the stock of vacant dwellings held by the private sector. It was a very positive decision pushed forward by Minister Chris Said on taking up his Ministerial responsibilities early in 2012.

In its electoral manifesto Alternattiva Demokratika has listed a number of specific proposals which would go a long way to address the land use planning chaos which will be inherited by the government that takes office after the 9 March general elections.

As a first step Malta requires a moratorium on large scale residential development. The building industry cannot keep constructing flats and maisonettes in hundreds, adding to the stock of vacant dwellings. The number of vacant residential properties is equivalent to 9 times the size of the residential parts of B’Kara.

While the Malta Environment and Planning Authority has issued development permits, the State has, through our taxes, been paying up for the development of the infrastructure (roads, public sewer, water and electricity distribution networks………) which is underutilised. These funds could have been put to better use than to service vacant dwellings.

The boundaries of the development zone have to be rolled back. Those lands which, in August 2006, were included as land suitable for development as part of the so-called rationalisation exercise and have not yet been committed to development should return forthwith outside the development zone where they belong.

The construction industry, aided by a myopic MEPA, has made a havoc of our towns and villages through encouraging overdevelopment. In 2006, when the final decisions on most of the Local Plans were being considered,  the Government had access to the 2005 census results which determined the existence of 53,136 vacant dwellings. This was a substantial increase over the 17,413 vacant dwellings identified 10 years earlier as part of the 1995 census.

Publication of the 2011 census results on property is long overdue, but it is expected that the numbers this time will exceed the 70,000 mark substantially.

Faced with these numbers, a responsible government would never have proposed extending the development zones. The 2005 census result provided the evidence for their curtailment not for their extension. In addition to extending the development zones, the PN-led government increased the permissible building heights practically all over Malta, the end result being a further substantial increase in the number of vacant dwellings.

In addition, the height relaxation policy put in place in 2006 had another serious impact. It placed a number of dwellings in the shade of new buildings surrounding them, these being built in line with the new permissible heights. As a result, the residents in these dwellings cannot make use of solar energy. Not only the use of photovoltaic panels is out of the question but also their solar water heaters are in most cases no longer of any use!

Faced with this situation, it is political madness to propose considering the construction industry as an important and fundamental component of the economy, as the PL is proposing. The construction industry must shrink rather than expand. It must be assisted to manage its essential and unavoidable restructuring.

The construction industry can be directed towards three specific areas of activity: rehabilitation of old properties, road construction/maintenance and marine construction works. Each of these three areas of activity requires training in construction skills. Rehabilitation works require old building trades on the verge of disappearance. Roadworks, though improving in quality, still require a more skilled labourforce. We also need to take stock of our marine infrastructure which requires substantial improvement as well as regular maintenance.

The Government can assist the construction industry to change through providing training facilties for its labour force, thereby reducing the social impacts of change. Funds from the European Social Fund are available to assist in this exercise.

Land use planning should be subject to environmental governance rules. It is for this reason that AD considers it essential that rather then splitting up MEPA, the Government should go for a defragmentation, consolidating all environmental functions in one authority through the amalgamation of MEPA with the Resources Authority.

In such a consolidated authority, environmental considerations should be overriding and, in particular, land use planning should be put in its proper place: under the continuous supervision of a properly staffed Environment Directorate.

This is the basic change required in environmental governance. Placing the land use planning and the construction industry in their proper place and ensuring that environmental governance is defragmented.

published in The Times, Saturday 23rd February 2013

Malta’s reputation and the Olympics

Lino Farrugia Sacco 1

Last June The Times informed us that Justice Minister Chris Said had called on the Commission for the Administration of Justice to investigate Mr Justice Lino Farrugia Sacco in view of reports carried in London’s Times on the Olympics ticketing scam.

Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco had stated that there was no wrong-doing at his end. In fact he had informed The Times that: “We would never go against the rules of the International Olympic Committee ( IOC). It’s not worth it.”

On the 22 June 2012 The Times had informed its readers that His Excellency President George Abela would abstain from presiding over the investigation requested by the Justice Minister as in the past he (Abela) had represented Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco as legal counsel. The investigation consequently was to be led by the Vice President  of the Commission, the Chief Justice Dr Silvio Camilleri.

No one knows anything else about the investigation requested by Justice Minister Chris Said.

Yesterday 7 December 2012 The Times reported the conclusions of the IOC five-month international investigation into Olympic ticket selling.

I have accessed the website of the International Olympics Committee which reported that on the 5th December 2012 the Executive Committee of the IOC considered and approved “the Ethics Commission proposed recommendations, which were based on a thorough analysis of the evidence provided by the Sunday Times and several hearings.”

The report of the Ethics Committee of the IOC makes interesting reading.

Paragraph 17 of the IOC Ethics Committee Report states the following :

“With regard to the NOC [National Olympic Committee] of Malta,

a) Mr Lino Farrugia, President of the Maltese NOC:

After taking cognisance of all the evidence and his observations, the Commission observes that, by agreeing to take part, with the NOC Secretary General, in a discussion concerning the ATR contract for the Games in Sochi, when it was apparent that his interlocutors seemed to be looking for ways to circumvent the official mechanism, Mr Farrugia allowed the journalists to prove their point.

b) Mr Joe Cassar, Secretary General of the Maltese NOC:

After taking cognisance of all the evidence and his observations, the Commission observes that, by agreeing to discuss the ATR contract for the Games in Sochi when his interlocutors were clearly looking for ways to circumvent the official mechanism and knowing that some of the tickets could be sold in the Middle East; and finally by explaining which means could be used to get around the mechanism, Mr Joe Cassar helped to prove the point being made by the journalists, namely that the sports world and those who work with it are prepared to violate the rules. As a result, Mr Joe Cassar helped the reputation of the Olympic Movement to be tarnished.”

The IOC Ethics Committee concluded by giving its opinion which was unanimously approved: either the local Olympic Committees take action against the named officals who have tarnished the reputation of the Olympic Movement, or else :

“The Commission is further of the view that, in the absence of appropriate action by the NOCs or the individuals concerned, the IOC Executive Board has the authority to take the appropriate administrative measures, particularly with regard to issuing accreditations for the various IOC organized events such as the Olympic Games, the Youth Olympic Games, Sessions and other IOC meetings.”

In view of the above it is clear that the matter is not just an internal matter for the Malta Olympic Committee. It may well involve non-participation of maltese sportsman and women in Olympic activities.

I have no hope that Parliament will act by impeaching Mr Justice Farrugia Sacco, even if that is what he deserves.

What will happen now is anybody’s guess. Will the sports organisations stand up to be counted?

The International Olympic Movement is worried because its reputation has been tarnished. Unfortunately it seems that no one is worried in Malta. No one seems to care that Malta’s reputation is being severely tarnished. It gets worse.

The silence of the authorities is deafening. It defines the ethical standards of public officials!

The right link that remains missing

The proposal by Franco Mercieca (Minding Our Gap, The Sunday Times, January 23) and Parliamentary Secretary Chris Said (Light At The End Of The Tunnel, The Times, January 31) to permanently link Malta and Gozo need to be considered in a strategic context.

Various proposals have been discussed throughout the years addressing Gozo’s double insularity. While the difficulties encountered by Gozitans to cross the channel are to be addressed it has to be underlined that if a permanent link is introduced it may have various other effects in addition to addressing mobility between the islands.

None of the proposals has assessed whether Gozo’s isolation is a positive feature, which, once lost, will never be regained.

Once Gozo is permanently linked with the mainland it will be an integral part of it, for better or worse. In particular, one would have to consider whether a permanent link would impact negatively the contribution of tourism towards the Gozitan economy.

Certainly, with an easier access, Gozitan consumers could tap the retail outlets of northern Malta. With Dr Said being responsible for consumer protection this could be an added bonus.

Whether the proposal is a bridge or a tunnel, a land based or an amphibious airplane. all come at a cost and leave considerable impacts. Costs are not just economic but social and environmental too.

A tunnel excavated below the seabed will undoubtedly eliminate visual intrusion into the Comino and Ċirkewwa landscape but it will certainly cause another rubble mountain resulting from excavating through at least six kilometres of rock under the seabed as well as additional kilometres to create the tunnel’s points of access on land. This rubble mountain could be anything between 1.5 and two million cubic metres of excavated rock depending on the actual design of the tunnel and its selected route.

The experience of various Nordic countries has been mentioned. At the time of writing a similar project has just been approved by the Danish Parliament to link the Danish island of Lolland to Fehmarn, a German island. Both islands are already linked through bridges to their respective countries. When finalised, this project would reduce the duration of a rail journey between Hamburg and Copenhagen by 33 per cent, from 4.5 hours to three hours. The tunnel will be 18 kilometres long. Works are projected to commence in 2014 and will take about six years to conclude. Costs are estimated to be in the region of 32 billion kroner, that is €4.2 billion. The projected tunnel across the Fehmarn strait will not be of the excavated type but prefabricated sections will be laid on the seabed.

The costs of these types of projects are indicative as there are a lot of variables involved. The Channel Tunnel between England and France, for example, overshot its final estimates based on actual designs by over 80 per cent.

Geologist Peter Gatt, commenting on The Times (February 3), pointed out that the Gozo Channel’s geology is riddled with faults. In addition, he pointed out there are areas of the seabed around Comino where clay abounds. This, it was pointed out, compounds the issue of expenses relative to civil engineering solutions, which have to be based on a thorough examination of the geology of the Gozo Channel.

There are a large number of caves in the areas. In addition, as pointed out by marine biologists, the Gozo Channel contains various marine protected areas.

On the basis of the above, it would seem the cost of the projected tunnel would be substantially higher than the €150 million guesstimate of Dr Said. The Fehmarn strait projected tunnel costings point towards an estimate of between €1 billion and €1.5 billion for the Gozo Channel tunnel, that is between six and 10 times the Said guesstimate. This estimate could become more precise when all the constraints, foremost being those of a geological and environmental nature, have been identified.

The government is unfortunately approaching the issue of identifying the suitable missing link between Malta and Gozo in a very amateurish and populist manner. It has so far failed to produce a strategy addressing the interlinking of transport between Gozo and the north of Malta. When such a strategy has been produced it should be subjected to a strategic assessment as laid down by the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive of the European Union. The social, environmental and economic impacts of the various options on both Malta as a whole and Gozo as a region would thus have been identified and analysed.

The necessary decision can then be taken in the interest of the whole community.

It has to be clear to all that if we are to arrive at a solution in identifying the suitable missing link the populist approach utilised so far should be discarded.

Published in The Times of Malta, February 12, 2011

Riforma tal-Kunsilli Lokali : Proposti ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

 

 

Illum delegazzjoni ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika immexxija minn Arnold Cassola iltaqgħet mal-Onor. Chris Said Segretarju Parlamentari responsabbli għall-Kunsilli Lokali biex iddiskutiet miegħu r-riformi meħtieġa fil-qasam tal-Kunsilli Lokali.

 

Arnold Cassola ippreżenta lis-Segretarju Parlamentari b’dokument li fih sittax-il proposta dwar is-segwenti :

 

  1. Dritt għall-vot mas-16-il sena,
  2. Estensjoni tat-terminu tal-Kunsill Lokali,
  3. Is-Segretarji Eżekuttivi,
  4. Ir-rwol tas-Sindku,
  5. Ir-responsabbiltajiet tal-Kunsilliera,
  6. Remunerazzjoni għall-Kunsilliera kollha,
  7. Finanzjament tal-Kunsilli Lokali,
  8. Tenders tal-Kunsilli Lokali,
  9. Gvern Reġjonali,
  10. Użu ta’ fondi mill-EU,
  11. Rwol għall-Kunsilli Lokali fil-ħidma tal-MEPA,
  12. Referendum Lokali dwar proġetti li jeħtieġu EIA,
  13. Konflitti bejn il-Kunsilli Lokali, l-Awtoritajiet imwaqqfa b’liġi u/jew Dipartimenti tal-Gvern,
  14. Taħriġ għall-kunsilliera lokali,
  15. Devoluzzjoni tal-edukazzjoni fuq livell lokali,
  16. Bye-laws.

 

Id-dokument sħiħ jista’ jinqara jekk taghfas hawn.