In Roman mythology the god Janus was depicted as having a head with two faces. One looking eastwards and the other westwards. One symbolically looking into the future and the other into the past.
Unfortunately it is not Janus who overlooks the entrance to the Ministry for the Environment in Valletta. Janus could symbolically motivate environmental policy through learning through past mistakes and applying the lessons learnt into the future. Janus could however symbolise the two political faces of government. One compatible with its declarations and rhetoric. The other with its actions.
Consider this government’s commitments in favour of sustainable development. In May 2008 the Head of State reading the speech from the throne on behalf of Gonzipn promised one and all that :
“The government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development of the economy, of society and of the environment. When making decisions today, serious consideration will be given to the generations of tomorrow.
Sustainable development has three main dimensions – economic, social and environmental. Our challenge is to ensure continuous economic development, promoted by education, social development, with particular attention to environmental protection. When we evaluate our activities in view of these three inter-related dimensions, we would be placing every person at the heart of the Government’s actions.”
The member of Cabinet responsible for issues of sustainable development is the Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi. Dr Gonzi’s commitment towards sustainable development is not to be gauged by his rhetoric but through his actions. He excels in rhetoric but he fails miserably in implementation.
The Commission for Sustainable Development set up in terms of the Environment Protection Act has not met for almost five years, since December 2006. Its Chairman is Dr Gonzi. During its last meeting it had approved the final version of the National Sustainable Development Strategy, which it then submitted to Cabinet for approval. The main function of the commission now is to oversee the implementation of the Sustainable Development Strategy for the Maltese Islands, approved by Cabinet prior to the March 2008 election and having a 10-year lifespan (2007-2016). The strategy is half way past its lifespan and the process for its implementation is nowhere in sight.
This fact on its own speaks volumes as to government’s strategy. The National Sustainable Development Strategy was drafted after years of discussions with civil society. The Commission which in terms of the Environment Protection Act had to be chaired by the Prime Minister hardly ever met in the presence of Dr Gonzi. He delegated his responsibilities to others. When the National Sustainable Development Strategy was finalised government ignored it and commenced the formulation of another document dealing with a National Environment Policy. The information available to date about this National Environment Policy is substantially a duplication of what’s been said and written on the Sustainable Development strategy.
All this leads to one conclusion. The current government is primarily interested in talking about sustainable development and environmental issues. But when the time comes for implementation it goes back to square one. More talk and more documents.
Well it seems that the Minster for the Environment, Dr Lawrence Gonzi, needs some images of Janus at his office. It would remind him constantly that in the long run having two faces on the same head is only suited to mythology.
Published Sunday 7th August 2011
The Independent on Sunday – Environment Supplement