The budget: beyond the €s

Liza Minelli’s song “Money makes the world go round” is the underlying theme of the Budget speech delivered by Finance Minister in Parliament last Monday. The message driven home was that money and the accompanying affluence clearly indicate that we have never had it so good and that handouts to all are not a problem, both to those who need them, and, more importantly to those who don’t.

Today, taxation is a dirty word in our political lexicon: hence, it was suggested that the message that no increases in existent taxes or new taxes have been proposed is a positive one by the Honourable Minister. Handouts are for all, almost. First for those in need, secondly for most of the rest. The dictum “from each according to his means, to each according to his needs” no longer has any significance when trying to understand the political philosophy underlying the budget of this “labour” government.

Taxation collected in Malta apparently only has some significance when taxing foreign companies operating outside Maltese territory but having some small office, or just a letterbox, on this rock. This is done so that they can avail themselves of reduced taxation rates, substantially lower that those payable in the countries where they operate.

Similarly, companies operating in the financial services sector benefit from a tax package which offers them substantial savings on their tax bills in order to entice them to set up shop.

The government thinks it is smart, but all it is doing is encouraging tax avoidance. Malta’s message is clear: those who want to avoid tax in their country are welcome as long as they are prepared to pay a small part of the taxes avoided to the Maltese exchequer.

In this respect, the case study entitled “Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance” published by the Green Group in the European Parliament around two years ago is indicative. In that study, it was concluded that BASF, the German chemical giant with its headquarters in Ludwigshafen, used mismatches in national tax systems in order to avoid paying its taxes. It is estimated that, over a five-year period spanning 2010 to 2014, BASF avoided the payment of close to one billion euros in taxes, paying instead a small amount of the taxes avoided, in gratitude for this wonderful opportunity made possible by the Maltese governments, blue and red.

In this context the Finance Minister’s declaration against tax evasion, tax avoidance and money laundering is deemed mere rhetoric. It has to be viewed in the context of the Panama Papers saga, as well as the established fact that a Cabinet Minister and the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister set up companies in Panama, a tax haven, and no punitive action was taken against them. With this background, the Minister’s sanctimonious declaration is in no way credible.

The Budget proposals strengthen the social safety net as it assists the vulnerable financially. However, the quality of life is not measured solely by financial metrics. The Budget has various green gaps that affect our quality of life.

The welfare of cars assumes an importance over human quality of life, as government considers it is important to widen and improve roads in order to facilitate the passage of cars, thereby aiming at reducing congestion. An inverted sense of logic: reduction of the number of cars on our roads should have been the target as that is the real and actual problem. Widening roads and improving road infrastructure with flyovers and underpasses only serves to grow the number of cars on our roads, thereby increasing the problem. Providing and facilitating alternative transport is the only solution. Paying lip service to alternative means of transport but simultaneously financing an exponential
increase of the problem signifies that we still have to learn the ABC of transport policy.

The government’s own transport master-plan places considerable emphasis on the need to reduce cars from our roads but it seems that the government is not interested.

Therefore, we have a government which is more interested in the welfare of cars than in our quality of life.

This is just one example. There are countless of others.

The Budget loses an opportunity to make a lasting difference in a number of areas important for our quality of life that goes beyond finances.

published (online) at Malta Independent

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Il-baġit : lil hinn mill-€s

Id-diska ta’ Liza Minelli “Money makes the world go round” donnha li hi t-tema li madwarha hu minsuġ id-diskors tal-Baġit li nqara mill-Ministru tal-Finanzi nhar it-Tnejn fil-Parlament. Il-messaġġ ċar li wasal fi djarna kien li l-flus u l-“ġid” li hawn jagħmlu possibli li tirċievi ċekk id-dar, kemm jekk għandek bżonnu kif ukoll jekk m’għandekx.

F’dawn iż-żmienijiet il-kelma taxxa donna saret kelma moqżieża fid-dizzjunarju politiku: għalhekk ġie suġġerit li n-nuqqas ta’ taxxi ġodda, inkella ta’ żieda fit-taxxi eżistenti kien element pożittiv fid-diskors tal-Onorevoli Ministru. Ċekkijiet għal kważi kulħadd. L-ewwel għal dawk li għandhom il-ħtieġa u mbagħad għall-parti l-kbira tal-bqija. Dak li kien jingħad li “jittieħed mingħand kull wieħed skont ma jiflaħ, u jingħata lil kulħadd skont il-ħtiġijiet tiegħu” donnu li ma għandu l-ebda piz illum meta nippruvaw nifhmu l-filosofija politika li fuqha hu mfassal dan il-baġit ta’ Gvern “Laburista”.

It-taxxa li tinġabar f’Malta donnha li hi utli biss meta tinġabar mingħand kumpaniji barranin li fil-waqt li joperaw barra mit-teritorju Malti jkollhom uffiċċju żgħir jew sempliċi letterbox f’Malta. Dan biex ikunu jistgħu jibbenefikaw minn rati ta’ taxxa sostanzjalment iktar baxxi minn dawk li jkunu soġġetti għalihom fil-pajjiżi fejn joperaw.

Diversi kumpaniji fis-settur tas-servizzi finanzjarji ukoll jibbenefikaw minn rati ta’ taxxa li bihom jiffrankaw sostanzjalment minn dak li jħallsu band’oħra.

Il-Gvern mingħalih li għamel opra. Fir-realtá qed jibgħat messaġġ li Malta tilqa’ li min irid jevadi t-taxxa f’pajjiżu, kemm-il darba jkun lest li jħalli xi ħaġa minn dak li jiffranka fil-kaxxa ta’ Malta!

F’dan il-kuntest l-istudju intitolat Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance. ippubblikat mill-Grupp tal-Ħodor fil-Parlament Ewropew madwar sentejn ilu jispjega b’mod ċar x’inhu jiġri. F’dan l-istudju ġie konkluż li l-BASF, ġgant Ġermaniz fil-qasam tal-industrija kimika ibbazat f’Ludwigshafen, jagħmel użu minn differenzi fis-sitemi nazzjonali tat-taxxa biex jevita milli jħallas it-taxxi dovuti. Huwa stmat li, tul il-ħames snin bejn l-2010 u l-2014, BASF evitaw madwar biljun euro fi ħlas ta’ taxxi. Minflok ħallsu ammonti ferm inqas, b’ħajr lill-gvernijiet Maltin (blu u ħomor) talli għinhom jevitaw dawn it-taxxi kollha.

F’dan il-kuntest id-dikjarazzjoni tal-Ministru tal-Finanzi kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus jidhru dak li fil-fatt huma: eżerċizzju ta’ retorika. Inżommu f’moħħna ukoll il-kaz tal-Panama Papers, li kien stabilixxa l-fatt li membru tal-Kabinett u ċ-Chief of Staff fl-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru kellhom kumpaniji fil-Panama, pajjiż rinomat għall-evażjoni tat-taxxa, u dwar dan ma kienu ittieħdu l-ebda passi kontra tagħhom. Fid-dawl ta’ dan, id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ “qdusija” da parti tal-Onorevoli Ministru hi nieqsa minn kull kredibilitá.

Il-proposti tal-Baġit isaħħu ix-xibka soċjali u dan billi jgħinu finanzjarjament lill-vulnerabbli. Imma l-kwalitá tal-ħajja ma titkejjilx biss f’termini ta’ flus. Fil-Baġit hemm bosta miżuri ambjentali nofs leħja.

Il-ħarsien tal-karozzi huwa iktar importanti mill-kwalitá tal-ħajja għalina. Il-Gvern jikkunsidra li hu iktar importanti li jwessa’ t-toroq biex jiffaċilita ċ-ċaqlieq tal-karozzi u b’hekk jipprova jnaqqas il-konġestjoni. Loġika rasha l-isfel. Il-mira kellha tkun it-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna għax dik hi l-problema. It-twessiegħ tat-toroq u t-titjib tal-infrastruttura bil-kostruzzjoni ta’ flyovers lil hawn u lil hemm iwassal biss għaż-żieda ta’ karozzi fit-toroq tagħna u b’hekk tikber il-problema tal-konġestjoni. L-unika soluzzjoni hi li jkun inkoraġġit bis-serjetá t-trasport alternattiv. Il-Gvern qiegħed fl-istess nifs jinkoraġixxi kemm lit-trasport alternattiv kif ukoll iż-żieda fenomenali ta’ karozzi: dan ifisser li għadu ma tgħallem xejn. Wara kollox huwa l-pjan nazzjonali tat-trasport imfassal minn dan il-Gvern stess li jpoġġi quddiemna l-mira tat-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Imma jidher li l-Gvern qed iwarrab il-pjani tiegħu stess.

L-Gvern hu iktar interessat mill-ħarsien tal-karozzi milli mill-ħarsien tal-kwalitá tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.

Dan hu biss eżempu wieħed. Hemm bosta oħrajn.

Il-Baġit qed jitlef l-oportunitá li jagħmel differenza f’numru ta’ oqsma fejn li troxx il-flus mhux biżżejjed.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 28 t’Ottubru 2018

Green gaps in the Budget

The green gaps in the Budget speech cannot be patched up with the millions of euros spread in the pockets of both those in need as well as those who are well off.

Edward Scicluna’s Budget speech last Monday was far too long. Yet in its over 100 pages it missed addressing a number of environmental issues on which different government spokespersons pontificate throughout the rest of the year: confirming that they just pay lip-service to the issues.

The lack of good environmental governance has considerable economic and social impact as is evident to one and all.

While the Budget proposals strengthen the social safety net, it is to be underlined that quality of life is not measured solely in terms of financial metrics. Throwing euros at problems does not lead to any solutions.

The budget speech correctly emphasises the necessity of waste recycling. Unfortunately, the Minister for Finance did not explain how this effort should be integrated into a circular economy, even though the Environment Minister repeatedly boasts of how supposedly the move towards a circular economy is a priority for government. In the entire speech, the circular economy is not mentioned once. Nor does the Economic Survey dwell on the matter or even faintly refer to the matter.

This raises the suspicion that government has lost the plot and does not have any policy ideas on such an important aspect of the economy with its social, economic and environmental effects.

The Budget speech emphasises the energy generation potential from waste incineration which requires large volumes of waste in order to be viable. But the budget speech is silent on how this fits in with the stated commitment to actually reduce the volume of waste.

The government is trying to square the circle; on the one hand it wants to reduce waste but on the other hand it needs more and more waste to make its huge incinerator viable.
The Budget speech also gives the impression that it addresses important aspects which impact the quality of life when in fact offers only half-baked and token solutions.

Among them is the point on water policy. The speech mentions incentives to encourage repairs of existing wells but then it avoids altogether a real and focused effort to address the acute issue of dwellings built without water cisterns, with the consequence that water ends up in the public sewers or flooding our streets.

Developers are let of the hook even when roads are flooded and sewers are overflowing, not to mention the sheer waste of perfectly good water.

The same can be said of the supposed solutions to traffic congestion. The Budget speech refers to the financial incentives available to encourage the use of alternative modes of transport, but here again it ignores the roots of the problem. The government spending of millions of euros for the development of the road infrastructure will only increase traffic congestion, thereby squeezing users of alternative means of transport off the roads.

It is useless to incentivize the purchase of bicycles and pedelecs when there is no investment in adequate infrastructure to ensure that people can commute safely using these important alternative means of transport, which actually help to decrease congestion in our roads.

Over one year ago the Prime Minister had taken a leaf from Alternattiva Demokratika’s electoral manifesto and declared that the government will determine a cut-off date by which new cars will need to be electrically driven or possibly of a hybrid nature.

This declaration had heralded the issue of electrification of transport on our roads addressing two major issues: the quality of air and the contribution of transport emissions to climate change. This, once implemented, would be a substantial contribution to the decarbonisation of the Maltese economy. We are none the wiser on government plans after listening to or reading the budget speech.

Clearly financial parameters are not the only indicators of our quality of life. The green gaps in the budget speech need plugging at the soonest.

published in The Sunday Times of Malta : Sunday 28 October 2018

The Guardian of Future Generations

The politics of sustainable development advocates a long-term view. The familiar Brundtland definition put forward in Our Common Future – the concluding report of the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987 – is clear enough: meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations to meet their own needs. (Gro Harlem Brundtland is a former Norwegian Social Democrat Prime Minister.)

This definition has been quoted quite often, but when it comes to its implementation, matters generally develop on a different path. Short-term needs take over, making a mockery of all declarations in favour of sustainable development. Way back in 1987,
Brundtland sought to drawn our attention to this. In fact, her report emphasises the fact that:  “We act as we do because we can get away with it: future generations do not vote; they have no political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions.”

This was the reason why, on behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika, way back in 2012 I  proposed the setting up of a Guardian of Future Generations – a proposal that had originally been presented by Malta at the preparatory meetings for the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and which was taken on board by Mario de Marco, then Environment Minister.

The position was set up as part of the provisions of the Sustainable Development Act of 2012 but unfortunately, since day one, not enough resources have been made available in order that the Guardian of Future Generations may act today on behalf of a better tomorrow.

Chev. Maurice Mizzi, who currently heads the Guardian of Future Generations, recently issued a statement which gave the thumbs down to the dB-ITS project at Pembroke. Chev. Mizzi emphasised that it was the lack of a masterplan for the area that justified applying the breaks to the project at this point in time. He further stated that there was a need for all authorities to place more value on the views of the common citizens, so that they are empowered to ensure that their rights, as well as their quality of life, are properly protected.

Without in any way diminishing the positive step taken by the Guardian of Future Generations in respect of the dB-ITS project, I would respectfully point out that we have not heard much more from that end. The list of responsibilities of the Guardian is long and if acted upon, would make the Guardian much more than a post of symbolic value, as described by the local press recently.

The list of responsibilities of the Guardian are grouped in the legislation under ten headings ranging from the promotion of sustainable development advocacy across national policy making, legislation and practices, to encouraging sustainable development within the private sector right and up to the need to direct the focus of the Office of the Prime Minister to safeguard future generations.

After six years of existence it is about time that the Guardian of Future Generations stands up on its feet and speaks out loud and clear on all matters that will have an impact on future generations. Unfortunately, so far it has rarely spoken up, apart from regarding the db-ITS project statement. This is certainly not enough. I have no doubt that the Guardian would like to do more, but it cannot because it has been deprived of resources – which has been the situation since it was created.

The Guardian of Future Generations has a lot of potential which is as yet undeveloped. The time for taking action is ripe.

 

published in The Independent on Sunday : 14 October 2018

Il-politika dwar it-trasport: ħtieġa li nħarsu fit-tul

Biex nindirizzaw sewwa l-ħtiġijiet tal-pajjiż jeħtieġ li nħarsu fit-tul. Biex dan iseħħ hu meħtieġ ippjanar serju: li wara li jikkonsidra l-possibilitajiet kollha u janalizza l-impatti li jistgħu jirriżultaw iwassal għal deċiżjoni dwar l-aħjar soluzzjoni u mbagħad sussegwentement li din tkun imwettqa.

L-implimentazzjoni tal-politika dwar it-trasport, f’Malta, ma tħarisx fit-tul. Dan minkejja li għandna pjani ppreparati riċentement: il-Master Plan dwar it-Trasport li jwassal sal-2025 u l-Istrateġija Nazzjonali dwar it-Trasport li twassal sal-2050.

Imma sfortunatament hemm diskrepanza mhux żgħira bejn il-politika dwar it-trasport u l-implimentazzjoni tagħha. L-interventi fl-infrastruttura mwettqa jew li qed jitħejjew minn Trasport Malta u/jew Infrastruttura Malta ftit li xejn jaqblu mal-għanijiet dikjarati tal-Master Plan u l-Istrateġija dwar it-Trasport.

Ħa nkun ċar: mhux qed ngħid li m’għandu jsir xejn. Id-diżastru li qed niffaċċjaw fil-qasam tat-trasport jista’ jsir agħar milli hu illum jekk ma jsir xejn. Jeħtieġ bla dubju intervent mill-Gvern, imma dan jeħtieġ li jkun ippjanat u iffukat fuq il-problemi reali kif identifikati fil-pjani mfassla għall-Gvern Malti fl-2015 mill-konsulenti tiegħu tal-konsortju Italo-Spanjol Ineco-Systematica, imħallsa mill-fondi Ewropej dwar l-iżvilupp reġjonali.

L-għanijiet li jeħtieġ li jintlaħqu huma mfissra fid-daħla għall-Master Plan dwar it-Trasport li hi ffirmata mill-Ministru tat-Transport ta’ dak iż-żmien Joe Mizzi: “Malta, bħal bosta pajjiżi oħra qed tiffaċċja l-isfidi riżultat ta’ bdil fl-istil ta’ ħajja li ngħixu u li qed iwasslu f’domanda ikbar għall-mobilitá personali u dipendenza ikbar fuq karozzi privati. Iktar minn qatt qabel illum jeħtieġilna li nfittxu bilanċ bejn, fuq naħa waħda l-ħarsien tal-ambjent, il-protezzjoni ta’ saħħitna u li nilqgħu għall-impatti negattivi tat-tibdil fil-klima u fuq in-naħa l-oħra t-titjib fl-ekonomija tal-pajjiż. Dan iwassal għal insistenza għal transport pubbliku li jkun aħjar u ta’ min joqgħod fuqu, u għall-użu ta’ mezzi oħra (ta’ transport) kif ukoll integrazzjoni aħjar ta’ dawn il-mezzi.”

Dan hu messaġġ ċar li jemfasizza l-ħtieġa urġenti li nagħmlu użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi ta’ transport kif ukoll li nassiguraw illi nintegraw sewwa l-facilitajiet ta’ transport li għandna. Huwa propju dan li jagħmel il-Master Plan tat-Trasport.

Huwa tajjeb li ninnotaw illi l-Master Plan jemfasizza li nofs il-vjaġġi li jsiru b’karozzi privati fil-gzejjer Maltin jdumu inqas minn 15-il minuta. Dan jindika li din il-mobilitá hi waħda primarjament ta’ natura lokali fuq distanzi qosra. Dan, fil-fehma tal-Master Plan, jagħtina l-opportunitá li ninkoraġixxu iktar mixi u użu tar-rota. Imma, iżid jgħid il-Master Plan, hemm il-ħtieġa ta’ titjib fil-kwalitá tal-faċilitajiet fiċ-ċentri tal-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna, kemm għal min jimxi kif ukoll għal min jagħmel użu mir-rota.

Dan jurina b’mod ċar li jeżistu soluzzjonijiet li jindirizzaw il-mobilitá tagħna kemm fil-lokalitajiet infushom kif ukoll bejn l-lokalitá u oħra. Dawn is-soluzzjonijiet, li jħarsu fit-tul, għandhom il-possibilitá li jindirizzaw nofs il-vjaġġi li jsiru bil-karozzi privati, l-parti l-kbira minnhom fil-ħinijiet li jkun hemm ħafna traffiku fit-toroq tagħna. Dan mingħajr ma biss nikkunsidraw xi bypass jew proġett ta’ toroq massiċċ. Safejn naf jiena, s’issa, fit-tliet snin li suppost illi ilu fis-seħħ il-Master Plan tat-Trasport, ma ittieħdet l-ebda inizjattiva ta’ din ix-xorta. Dan hu qasam ta’ ħidma li fih is-sehem tal-kunsilli lokali huwa essenzjali għax ifisser li hemm il-ħtieġa li niddiżinjaw mill-ġdid it-toroq u l-ispazji pubbliċi kollha tagħna b’mod li nittrasformawhom biex ikunu għas-servizz tar-residenti u mhux iktar biex jiffaċilitaw l-użu tal-karozzi kif wara kollox huma illum.

Il-karozzi ħadulna t-toroq. Hemm bżonn li neħduhom lura.

Li ntejbu l-infrastruttura tat-toroq tagħna u dik li nsejħulha l-għamara tat-triq twassal biex jibda jkun implimentat il-Master Plan tat-Trasport għax jinkoraġixxi t-tnaqqis fl-użu tal-karozzi privati għad-distanzi qosra: u dan ftakru li jinvolvi nofs il-vjaġġi li jsiru bil-karozzi! Iktar emfasi fuq il-ħtieġa ta’ użu tat-transport pubbliku fuq livell ta’ lokalitá għandu jwassal ukoll għal żieda fl-użu bejn lokalitajiet fil-qrib. Jekk dan isir sewwa, bla dubju, tonqos id-dipendenza fuq il-karozza privata u iktar nies tifhem kemm ma hemmx ħtieġa tal-proġetti kbar ta’ toroq li hawn għaddejjin bħalissa li huma sempliċiment ħela ta’ flus li nistgħu nużaw ħafna aħjar.

Din hi stampa żgħira tal-ħarsa fit-tul li l-konsulenti Italo-Spanjoli tal-gvern fasslu fil- Master Plan tat-Trasport. Hi għodda tajba li tista’ tgħinna nnaqqsu d-dipendenza żejda tagħna fuq il-karozza privati, li wasslet għall-qagħda diżastruża fit-toroq tagħna illum. Għandna nimplimentaw dawn il-proposti malajr kemm jista’ jkun: illum qabel għada.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 9 ta’ Settembru 2018

 

 

 

 

Transport policy: missing the long term view

To  adequately tackle a country’s needs, a long-term view is essential. This necessitates serious planning: that is to say considering all the possible options, analysing the resulting possible impacts, taking a decision on the optimum solution and then implementing that decision.

The implementation of transport policy in Malta is such that the long-term view is almost completely discarded. I say “almost” because it exists on paper in the form of a Transport Master Plan running untill 2025 and a National Transport Strategy running untill 2050.

Unfortunately, there is a mismatch between transport policy and action. The infrastructural interventions being planned or being carried out through Transport Malta and/or Infrastructure Malta do not match the declared objectives in the Transport Master Plan and Strategy.

Let me be clear: doing nothing is not an option. The current transport mess cannot be left unattended as it can only get worse. It requires government intervention, which must be planned and focused on addressing the real issues identified in the transport plans drawn for the Maltese government in 2015 by the Ineco-Systematica Consortium, the Italo-Spanish consultants paid for from EU regional development funds.

The objectives to be achieved are encapsulated in the forward to the Transport Master Plan signed by former Transport Minister Joe Mizzi: “Malta, like many other countries, faces the challenges of lifestyle changes that have resulted in increased demand for personal mobility and more dependence on private cars. Today, more than ever, we need to strike a fine balance between protecting our environment, preserving our health and mitigating the negative impacts of climate change, on the one hand, and improving economic performance on the other. This will call for better quality and more reliable public transport, a shift to alternative modes and better integration between these modes.”

It is a clear and unambiguous statement emphasising the urgent need for a modal shift to alternative transport means and ensuring appropriate integration between the transport facilities available. The Transport Master Plan does precisely this: it plans the way to achieve this modal shift in a 10-year timeframe.

It is pertinent to point out that the Transport Master Plan 2025 underlines the fact that 50 per cent of journeys by private vehicles in the Maltese islands are of under 15-minutes duration, indicating that substantial mobility produced at local levels on very short paths. This, opines the Master Plan, creates the opportunity to increase the modal share for walking and cycling, as the distances travelled are short. However, it adds: “there is the need to promote and strengthen the quality of the pedestrian and cycling facilities” within and around town centres.

This clearly indicates that long term solutions can be found in addressing the mobility preferences within localities themselves, as well as between neighbouring localities. This has the potential of tackling 50 per cent of vehicles movements, a substantial portion of them during peak-traffic time, without even considering any bypass or major road project. I am not aware of any such initiative so far, three years after the approval of the Transport Master Plan. It is an area of action in which the involvement of local councils is essential, as it will involve redesigning practically all of our roads and public spaces in each and every locality in order that they are transformed to be resident-friendly rather than vehicle-friendly, as they have been to date.

Cars have taken up our roads and we need to take them back.

Improving our locality infrastructure and street furniture so that our roads are resident-friendly should be the first step in implementing The Transport Master Plan and, remember, this involves 50 per cent of trips made by private vehicles. Adding emphasis to the need to make more use of public transport, even at a local level, should also increase its use between neighbouring localities. If done properly, this could further reduce the dependency on private vehicles and consequently put a substantial break on the perceived need of massive road infrastructural projects which are just monies down the drain which we could definitely put to better use.

This is just a snapshot of the long-term view that the government’s Italo-Spanish advisors provided in the Transport Master Plan 2025. It is a tool which can help wean us away from excessive dependency on private cars that has resulted in a transport policy failure over the years. It is about time that the provisions of this Master Plan are implemented, and the sooner, the better.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 9th September 2018

Sandro’s Monaco: as if tomorrow never comes

 

Having an area of 2.02 square kilometres, the principality of Monaco is around 58 per cent the size of Comino, which has an area of 3.50 square kilometres. Monaco is home to 38,000 persons: Comino having only one resident!

There is practically no ODZ in Monaco: in fact land development there is so intensive that it has been taking up small chunks of the Mediterranean along its coastline which it has been reclaiming since way back in 1880 in order to make up for a lack of land for development.

Malta Development Association (MDA) President Sandro Chetcuti is on record as stating that Malta’s future ought to be one that follows the path traced by Monaco. This, in my opinion, signifies just one thing: the development of every possible square metre of these islands.

The building development lobby is only concerned about today: making hay (today) while the sun shines. Sandro Chetcuti believes that the Monaco blueprint is the only realistic one. This is a vision very similar to Joseph Muscat’s “Dubaification” of the Maltese islands: a vision of high rises and land reclamation.

Chetcuti and Muscat sing from the same song sheet. They think and act as if tomorrow never comes. Development cannot stop, maintains Chetcuti, as “many” would be hurt. The “many”, obviously, being those seeking to make hay, while their sun still shines. They are aware that, at some point, their sun will set and hence they will no longer be able to make hay. Until such a day comes, should they be allowed to ruin everywhere?

Tomorrow will come, and the sun will rise again only for us to realise that we have increased substantially the problems bequeathed to future generations.

Obviously, the point about Monaco which sets Chetcuti ticking is that practically all its 2.02 square kilometres is an urban area. Monaco has no ODZ which can be taken up by rationalisation schemes to increase its building stock. Instead, it reclaims land from the sea and thus slowly adding to its land mass over the years.

The concrete jungle developing all around us is suffocating. It is fuelled by a building development industry which has no idea of where to stop and which wants more land for development.

It is about time that the building industry is cut down to size. We  should all realise, before it is too late, that the ongoing building spree is unsustainable and that progress is not measured in terms of buildings, roads or the enormous number of cars on our roads.

Our quality of life is actually measured through the open spaces we can enjoy and through rediscovering our natural roots, which have been obliterated through the ever- expanding urban boundaries.

The building industry is bent on producing more hay while the sun shines: on building more and more until such time that the Dubaification policy of the present government remains in implementation. Unfortunately the resulting “hay-fever” is being inflicted on all of us.

The sun rises for everyone, not just for those seeking to make hay, and when it sets, we rest – preparing for the morrow and hoping that, when it comes, we will still be in time to repair the extensive damage being done to us all.

(note cartoon published in Malta Today)

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 August 2018

The Planning Authority and its “principles”

Searching through the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED), the term “principle” is not found in any shape or form. We are slightly luckier if we conduct a similar search in the Development Planning Act (DPA) of 2016: there are three references to principles – guiding principles – which should be observed by the Maltese state in promoting a “comprehensive, sustainable, land use planning system”.

These guiding principles are briefly explained in article 3 of the 2016 DPA. Their objective is to enhance the quality of life for the benefit of present and future generations and is qualified by the standard Brundtland quote from her UN report Our Common Future: ” ………without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” That means that sustainability is included in the actual wording of the 2016 DPA. Actually, as we are all aware, this is lip-service in its worst form, because in real life we know full well that Malta’s Planning Authority does not seek the benefit of either the present or future generations.

Article 3 of the 2016 DPA lists various measures which need to be taken. They are specific and range from the need “to preserve, use and develop land and sea for this and future generations”, to ensuring that “planning policies are unambiguous”. Then Article 4 of the 2016 DPA states that we cannot go to a Court of Law to directly enforce the principles announced in the previous article, but, it is underlined that these principles are of a fundamental nature and have to be employed in the interpretation of planning law and policies.

This begs the question as to what extent the Planning Authority, as government’s land use planning agent, observes these basic principles and, in particular, whether the various planning policies in use are actually meant to enhance the quality of life of present and future generations.

There have been various political declarations that land use planning should be more friendly to developers, obviously assisting them to “make hay while the sun shines”. The developers, we are repeatedly told, need to be assured of reasonable expectations, as, poor fellows, they have to earn a living – even if this is at the expense of our quality of life.

As an example, may I ask to what extent is, for example, the Fuel Service Station Policy compatible with the basic principles that the Planning Authority is obliged to apply? In recent weeks I have written extensively about the matter because, to me, it is crystal clear that this Policy is not in any way compatible with the Planning Authority’s basic principles. In neither its present form, nor in the slightly diluted format proposed by the Environment and Resources Authority, does the Fuel Service Stations Policy respect the basic principles enshrined in the 2016 DPA.

The government knows this because, as far back as last September, it announced that “shortly” a public consultation exercise would commence on the manner of implementing a policy to ban cars having an internal combustion engine from being used on our roads.

After almost eight months, this “shortly” to be announced public consultation has still not commenced. The announcement that the public consultation would be announced “shortly” was not made by a new Minister, enthusiastic and overwhelmed by a difficult portfolio; it was made by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in one of his Sunday sermons – the one delivered at the Rialto Bormla on 10 September 2017.

If we will not have cars on our roads running on petrol or diesel “shortly” why does the Planning Authority consider it necessary to permit more fuel service stations? It is certainly not in the interest of future generations.

The Planning Authority is entrusted to defend the interests of future generations. In my opinion it has failed in observing its brief as it has lost sight of its basic principles.

Published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 22 April 2018

L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar tinkoraġixxi l-ispekulazzjoni tal-art

L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar qed toħroġ il-permessi ta’ żvilupp għall-pompi tal-petrol u d-dijsil ħierġin bħall-pastizzi.

Xi xhur ilu, f’diskors li għamel il-Prim Ministru kien qal li l-Gvern immexxi minnu jaqbel li karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-dijsil għandhom jispiċċaw mit-toroq Maltin. Nhar l-10 ta’ Settembru 2017 Joseph Muscat kien ħabbar li l-Gvern kien fi ħsiebu li “dal-waqt” jagħti bidu għal konsultazzjoni pubblika biex ikun stabilit meta u kif għandha tkun implimentata din il-politika li bħala riżultat tagħha jkunu jistgħu jinxtraw biss karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku jew karozzi simili.

Għaddew seba’ xhur u għadna qed nistennew li jibda dan il-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika. Sadanittant, aħna u nistennew, l-ispekulaturi tal-art, bl-għajnuna tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għaddejjin xalata: jippjanaw kif jirrovinaw iktar raba’, 3000 metru kwadru kull darba, u dan biex jibnu pompi li ftit ieħor mhux ser ikollna bżonn. Imbagħad x’nagħmlu bl-art li tkun diġa ġiet rovinata?

Alternattiva Demokratika taqbel li m’għandniex ħtieġa ta’ karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-dijsil fit-toroq tagħna. Fil-fatt kienet Alternattiva Demokratika, bil-ħsieb li tintlaħaq il-mira strateġika ta’ Karbonju Żero fil-gżejjer Maltin li fil-Manifest Elettorali ta’ l-aħħar elezzjoni ġenerali poġġiet quddiem l-elettorat din il-proposta speċifika: li fi żmien 20 sena, ċjoe sal-2037, għandhom jispiċċaw il-karozzi kollha li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-dijsil mit-toroq Maltin. Alternattiva Demokratika kienet l-uniku partit politiku f’Malta li kien ċar fuq dan f’Malta sa minn qabel l-elezzjoni ġenerali.

Id-dikjarazzjoni tal-Prim Ministru tal-10 ta’ Settembru 2017 kellha twassal għall-konklużjoni loġika li m’għandniex bżonn ta’ iktar pompi tal-petrol u d-dijsil. Kien ikun floku kieku tħabbar moratorju immedjat. Fil-fatt messna qegħdin ngħoddu l-ġranet li neħilsu darba għal dejjem mill-karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-dijsil. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan messu hu ovvju li fil-futur qarib m’hu ser ikollna bżonn l-ebda pompa tal-petrol jew dijsil: dawn għandhom jonqsu mit-80 li għandna illum sa xejn u dan meta tkun implimentata b’mod sħiħ il-politika mħabbra mill-Prim Ministru u li dwarha ilna 7 xhur nistennew il-konsultazzjoni pubblika.

M’għandniex bżonn ta’ pompi ġodda: imma għandna bżonn li jagħlqu l-pompi li ġja hawn mingħajr ma jinħolqu oħrajn flokhom. L-20 sena proposti minn Alternattiva Demokratika fil-manifest elettorali tal-2017 biex jispiċċaw mit-toroq Maltin karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-dijsil kienu meqjusa raġjonevoli, suffiċjenti u fl-istess direzzjoni ta’ deċiżjonijiet politiċi simili li ittieħdu minn pajjiżi oħra. Dan hu żmien biżżejjed biex tkun żviluppata l-infrastruttura nazzjonali meħtieġa għall-karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku. Hu ukoll biżżejjed biex dawk li għandhom dawn it-tip ta’ karozzi jibdew jidraw ftit l-iżvilupp ta’ din ir-realtá ġdida bla petrol jew dijsil.

Bosta pajjiżi oħra diġa ddeċidew, inkella qegħdin fil-proċess li jiddeċiedu li fit-toroq tagħhom ma jkollhomx iktar karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-dijsil. Dawn jinkludu in-Norveġja u l-Olanda (it-tnejn sal-2025), il-Ġermanja (sal-2030), Franza, r-Renju l–Indja u ċ-Ċina (lkoll sal-2040). Ma jdumx ma jkun hemm oħrajn ukoll.
L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar qegħda tkompli tinjora dan l-iżvilupp importanti fil-politika tal-pajjiż billi tibqa’ għaddejja bl-applikazzjoni tal-politika imsejħa 2015 Fuel Service Stations Policy b’mod robotiku. Din il-politika dwar il-pompi tal-petrol u d-dijsil tippermetti qies massimu permissibli ta’ 3000 metru kwadru imma l-Awtoritá qatt ma qieset li kien neċessarju li tordna tnaqqis fil-qies tal-proposti li kellha quddiema. Għax kollha kellhom il-qies massimu ta’ 3000 metru kwadru. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan l-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar flok għal pompi qed toħroġ permessi għal żoni massiċċi kummerċjali barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.

Din hi l-agħar forma ta’ spekulazzjoni tal-art u f’dan il-kaz it-tort hu unikament tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar. L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar hi ta’ theddida għall-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. Dan hu l-punt li għamlu ż-żgħażagħ mill-Moviment Graffiti u l-Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent meta nhar il-Ħamis ipprotestaw u ħarbtu laqgħa tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar waqt li dan kien qiegħed jikkunsidra applikazzjoni għall-pompa ġdida tal-petrol u d-dijsil f’Ħal-Luqa.

Għandna Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar li hi ala bieba mill-ambjent u mill-kwalitá tal-ħajja. Bil-provi.

 

 

The Planning Authority encourages land speculation

Development permits for fuel stations are being approved left, right and centre by the Planning Authority.

Some months ago,  in a speech made in public, the Prime Minister said that the Government agrees that use of petrol and diesel cars should be phased out and that, in future, all cars should be electric. On the 10 September 2017, Joseph Muscat announced that government would “shortly” be launching a consultation on “setting a cut-off date beyond which all new car purchases would have to be electric or similar vehicles.”

Seven months have elapsed, and we are still waiting for the consultation exercise to be launched. And while we wait, land speculators (with the Planning Authority’s assistance) are in festive mood, plotting the ruin of 3000 square metres at a time to develop fuel stations that we will shortly not need any more. And what will be done with the spoiled land then?

Alternattiva Demokratika agrees with the proposal to establish a cut-off date for cars that run on petrol and diesel. Indeed in its manifesto at the last general election,  with a strategic zero carbon future for the Maltese Islands in mind, it put forward this specific proposal to the electorate: that internal combustion engine cars should be off our roads in 20 years time, that is by 2037. Alternattiva Demokratika was the only political party in Malta that took this clear stand before the general election.

In view of the Prime Minister’s declaration of the 10 September 2017, the logical conclusion is that new fuel stations are not required. An immediate moratorium would be in order and, in fact, we should be on the eve of the start of a countdown that would rid us of cars that run on petrol or diesel. Consequently, there will be no need for fuel stations in the not too distant future: reducing from the current 80 to none, when the phase-out – which is still subject to public consultation – is fully implemented.

We do not need new fuel stations: what we need is that existing fuel stations are closed down without their being replaced. The 20-year time-frame proposed by Alternattiva Demokratika in its 2017 electoral manifesto was considered to be reasonable, sufficient and in line with similar policy decisions taken in other countries. This time-frame was deemed sufficient to develop the required national infrastructure for electric-powered cars. It was also deemed to be a reasonable length of time to permit those who own vehicles running on internal combustion engines to adjust to the development of a new reality without petrol or diesel.

Various other countries have decided on – or are considering – the elimination of internal combustion engine driven vehicles from their roads. These include Norway and the Netherlands (both by 2025), Germany (by 2030), France, the United Kingdom, India and China (all by 2040). Others will soon follow.

The Planning Authority continues to ignore this policy development by applying the 2015 Fuel Service Stations Policy robotically. This policy establishes a maximum permissible size of 3000 square metres but the Authority did not consider it appropriate to scale down any of the proposals submitted for its consideration as all the approved stations cover the maximum size possible. As a result, the Planning Authority is churning out permits for massive commercial areas outside the development zone.

This is land speculation at its worst and the Planning Authority has no one to blame but itself and is a threat to future generations. This is the point made by the protestors from Graffiti and Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent last Thursday, when they stormed a Planning Authority Board meeting considering a development application for a new fuel station at Luqa.

We have a Planning Authority which doesn’t give two hoots about the environment and our quality of life.

 

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 April 2018