Planning for the foreseeable future

Human nature has always been preoccupied with the future. However, at times we tend not to realise that we mould a substantial part of the future through our actions today. Unfortunately, sometimes our actions today and the future we want, point towards completely different directions.

Our future is necessarily a common one, as explained in the 1987 report of the UN Commission on Environment and Development -, the Brundtland report – aptly entitled Our Common Future. Drafted by an international commission led by former Norwegian Socialist Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, this report placed sustainable development on the global discussion platform, emphasising that we are responsible not only for each other’s welfare today but also for that of future generations. We need to consider carefully that our actions today have a considerable impact and can possibly limit the choices that future generations would have to make.

The impact of our behaviour on the climate is one such example. The impact of climate change is causing havoc in weather patterns and consequently also impacting on all areas of human activity. The patterns and intensity of rainfall is unpredictable. Our road infrastructure never coped, and now it is getting worse.

Earlier this week The Guardian reported that the planet has just a five per cent chance of reaching the Paris climate goals. Rather than avoiding warming up by more than 2oC by the end of the century, it is more likely that Mother Earth will heat up to around 5oC beyond the pre-industrial era.

The predicted consequences are catastrophic. Another report published in April this year had informed us that there are worrying signs for Greenland ice sheet which covers 80 percent of its 1.7 million square kilometres surface area: it has been observed melting faster than ever before. On its own, this factor could potentially cause a rise of many meters in sea level – as many as seven metres.

This is certainly not the future we want. Any rise in sea level rise, even if minimal, would threaten the functionability of all coastal areas and facilities. It would also wipe out entire coastal communities and islands worldwide would disappear. It would be a future of climate- change refugees pushed to higher ground by a rising sea-level. This will not only have an impact low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean: it will also hit closer to home.
Take a look at and consider the places along the Maltese coast: Msida, Ta’ Xbiex, Pietá, Sliema, Marsaskala, Marsaxlokk, San Pawl il-Baħar, Burmarrad, Birżebbuġa, Marsalforn, Xlendi and many more.
Readers will remember the occasional rise in sea-level at Msida. In one such instant – on 11 May last year – the change in sea level was of more than a metre as a resulting flooding the roads along the coast. This phenomenon is known as seiche (locally referred to as “Il-Milgħuba”) and reported in this newspaper under the heading “Phenomenon: sea-water level rises in Msida, traffic hampered.” It also occurs at St George’s Bay in Birżebbuġa – on a small scale but on a regular basis, causing quite a nuisance to car users.

Now this phenomenon only occurs temporarily, yet it still substantially affects traffic movements when it does. Imagine if the rise in sea level rise is of a permanent nature?

Large parts of our coast are intensively developed – with roads and residential properties, as well as substantial sections of the tourism infrastructure and facilities. In addition, there is also the infrastructure of our ports which we have developed as a maritime nation over the centuries. All this points to the need for adequate planning to implement urgent adaptation measures in order to reinforce Malta’s coastal infrastructure. If we wait too long it may be too late.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 August 2017

Coalition building: beyond the arithmetic

It is pretty obvious that the primary – and possibly the only – objective that the Nationalist Party seeks to attain through its proposed coalition is to numerically surpass the Labour Party when the first count votes are tallied after  the forthcoming general election. Should this materialise, it could be a stepping stone on the basis of which, possibly, it could return to office on its own or in coalition.

The rest, that is to say beyond the first count vote tally, is all a necessary evil for the PN.

In contrast, Alternattiva Demokratikas objectives go beyond arithmetic. Alternattiva Demokratika favours a principle-based coalition, ethically driven,  in conscious preference to a pragmatic-based one that is driven exclusively by arithmetic considerations.

A principle-based coalition asks questions and demands answers continuously. The path to be followed to elect the first Green MPs is just as important as the objective itself. This is not simply  a minor inconsequential detail: it is a fundamental difference in approach.

Alternattiva Demokratika is continuously being tempted to discard its principled approach on the basis of a possible satisfactory result being within reach: now is the time, we are told, to join Simon Busuttils coalition in the national interest.  

Alternattiva Demokratika has always given way to the national interest. It is definitely in the national interest to discard (at the earliest possible opportunity) the two-party system that is the cause of the current political mess. In this context, at AD we do not view the PN (or the PL for that matter) as a solution. Both are an intrinsic part of the problem. Even if they are not exactly equivalent, together they are the problem. Parliament has been under the control of the two-party system  without interruption for the past 52 years. This is ultimately responsible for the current state of affairs as, due to its composition, Parliament has been repeatedly unable to hold the government of the day to account.

It is the worst kind of political dishonesty to pretend that the PN is whiter than white when criticising the Labour Partys gross excesses during the past four years. Labour has been capable of creating the current mess because the last PN-led government left behind quasi-toothless institutions, such that, when push came to shove, these institutions were incapable of biting back against abuse in defence of Maltese society: so much for the PNs commitment to good governance.

The PN is also  still haunted by its own gross excesses including:

1) Claudio Grechs incredible declaration on the witness stand in Parliaments Public Accounts Committee that he did not recollect ever meeting George Farrugia during the development of the oil sales scandal, George Farrugia being the mastermind  behind it all.   

2) Beppe Fenech Adamis role in the nominee company behind the Capital One Investment Group/Baltimore Fiduciary Services . In quasi similar circumstances, former Labour Party Treasurer Joe Cordina was forced to resign and was withdrawn as a general election candidate.

3) Mario DeMarcos error of judgement (with Simon Busuttils blessing) in accepting the brief of Silvio Debonos db Group in relation to the provision of advisory legal services on the Groups acquisition from Government of land at Pembroke, currently the site of the Institute for Tourism Studies, and this when his duty a Member of Parliament was to subject the deal to the minutest scrutiny and thereby hold government to account.

4) Toni Bezzinas application for a proposed ODZ Villa at the same time that, together with others, he was drafting an environment policy document on behalf of the PN in which document he proposed that this should henceforth  be prohibited.

5) Simon Busuttils alleged attempt to camouflage political donations as payment for fictitious services by his partys commercial arm, thereby circumventing the Financing of Political Parties Act.

How can the Nationalist Party be credible by declaring itself as the rallying point in favour of good governance and against corruption when it took no serious action to clean up its own ranks? Apologies are a good start but certainly not enough: heads must roll.

A coalition with a PN that closes more than one eye to the above is bound to fail, as the behaviour of the PN and its leadership is clearly and consistently diametrically opposed to its sanctimonious declarations.

These are very serious matters: they need to be suitably and satisfactorily addressed as a pre-condition to the commencement of any coalition talks.  Time is running out and this is being stated even before one proceeds to identify and spell out the red lines – ie the issues that are non-negotiable.

Addressing the arithmetic issues concerning the general election and then ending up with a new government with such an ambivalent attitude to good governance would mean that we are back to the point from which we started.    Nobody in his right mind would want that and Alternattiva Demokratika would certainly not support such double speak.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 16 April 2017

Alleanza Elettorali: m’hemmx għaġġla

 

Id-dibattitu pubbliku dwar jekk, meta u kif għandha tkun żviluppata alleanza elettorali bejn Alternattiva Demokratika u l-Partit Nazzjonalista qabad ritmu sewwa fuq il-media soċjali matul il-ġimgħa li għaddiet. Dan seħħ l-iktar bħala riżultat  tal-intervista ta’ Michael Briguglio fuq din il-gazzetta l-ġimgħa l-oħra.

Il-veduti ta’ Michael Briguglio, bla dubju, jirriflettu l-esperjenzi tiegħu u jwassluh għall-konklużjoni li t-toroq li jippuntaw lejn alleanza elettorali (jew kif ġieli nirreferu għaliha, koalizzjoni) għandhom ikunu eżaminati sewwa u mingħajr wisq dewmien. Jiena m’għandi l-ebda għaġġla. Dan qed ngħidu minħabba li l-imġieba tat-tmexxija tal-Partit Nazzjonalista hi ta’ tħassib mhux żgħir u li bħala riżultat ta’ dan qed nifforma l-opinjoni li wara kollox jista’ jkun li dan mhux il-mument addattat għal inizjattiva ta’ din ix-xorta.

Il-kobba mħabbla dwar id-donazzjonijiet li qed tiżviluppa bejn il-Partit Nazzjonalista u Silvio Debono tad-db Group tirrikjedi li jitqegħdu l-karti kollha fuq il-mejda biex ikun assigurat li l-fatti kollha huma magħrufa. Kemm hu veru li l-PN irċieva donazzjonijiet moħbija bħala ħlas għal serviżżi li ma nagħtawx u dan billi għamel użu mill-kumpanija kummerċjali tiegħu?  Apparti l-grupp db kemm-il entitá kummerċjali oħra hemm li għamlet din it-tip ta’ donazzjoni moħbija lill-PN?  Dan kollu ma jmurx kontra dak li l-PN ilu jgħid żmien dwar is-suppost tmexxija serja li jrid?  Allura jekk anke fuq xi ħaġa bażika bħas-serjetá fit-tmexxija l-PN jgħid ħaga u jagħmel oħra kif qatt nistgħu nemmnu u nagħtu piż lil dak li jgħid il-PN dwar prinċipji u kwalunkwe xorta ta’ proposta politika?

Hemm diversi materji oħra li jinvolvu l-imġieba ta’ membri parlamentari ewlenin tal-Partit Nazzjonalista li dwarhom tinħtieġ li tingħata spjegazzjoni.

Per eżempju d-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Claudio Grech li ma jiftakarx jekk qatt iltaqa’ ma George Farrugia, u dan fil-kuntest tal-iskandlu taż-żejt, xejn ma tikkonvinċi. L-aċċettazzjoni da parti tal-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni ta’ din id-dikjarazzjoni tixhed dubju fuq kemm qiegħed jiffunzjona l-kumpass etiku tant meħtieġ u essenzjali għal min appunta lilu nnifsu fit-tmexxija tal-koalizzjoni kontra l-korruzzjoni.

L-anqas ma huma ċari l-affarijiet fejn jidħol ir-rwol ta’ Beppe Fenech Adami fil-Capital One Investment Group u l-Baltimore Fiduciary Services. F’sitwazzjoni kważi identika, Joe Cordina, dakinnhar Teżorier tal-Partit Laburista, kien imġiegħel jirreżenja.

Min-naħa l-oħra Mario de Marco għamel apoloġija pubblika dwar il-ġudizzju żbaljat tiegħu meta huwa aċċetta l-inkarigu mill-Grupp db dwar l-akkwista ta’ l-art f’Pembroke fejn illum hemm l-Istitut għall-Istudji Turistiċi. F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi, bla ebda dubju, apoloġija mhux biżżejjed.

Irridu nikkunsidraw ukoll il-villa proposta biex tinbena barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp minn Toni Bezzina kelliemi għall-agrikultura tal-PN u  flimkien ma oħrajn awtur tad-dokument dwar il-politika “ġdida” ambjentali tal-PN. Proposta li tmur kontra dak kollu li kien propost fid-dokument. Il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni flok ma tajru immedjatament ipprova jeħilsu billi qal li “ma għamel xejn ħażin.

Meta tqies kollox, tista’ tifhem aħjar kemm it-tmexxija tajba u l-iġieba etika huma bosta drabi nieqsa fost l-Opposizzjoni. Kull wieħed minn dawn il-kazijiet, anke jekk meqjus għalih waħdu, kien ikun iktar minn biżżejjed biex tkun xkupata l-barra t-tmexxija kollha tal-Opposizzjoni.

Kif tista’ Alternattiva Demokratika taħdem favur alleanza elettorali ma’ partit politiku li t-tmexxija tiegħu hi kompromessa b’dan il-mod u għandha daqstant x’tispjega dwar l-imġieba tagħha? Kif jista’ l-Partit Nazzjonalista jippretendi t-tmexxija morali ta’ koalizzjoni kontra l-korruzzjoni qabel ma jagħti spjegazzjoni konvinċenti tal-imġieba tal-esponenti ewlenin tiegħu? Il-fatt li l-Partit Laburista għandu ħafna iktar x’jispjega mhu ta’ l-ebda konsolazzjoni u bl-ebda mod ma jiġġustifika l-imġieba tal-Opposizzjoni.

Il-mintna li jinsab fiha pajjiżna hi riżultat dirett tat-tmexxija tal-Partit Laburista tul dawn l-aħħar erba’ snin. Imma hi ukoll riżultat tas-sistema ta’ żewġ partiti politiċi li iktar ma tispiċċa malajr, iktar aħjar għal kulħadd. Is-sistema ta’ żewġ partiti li kkontrollat il-makkinarju tal-istat bla interruzzjoni mill-1966 sal-lum hi responsabbli ukoll għas-sitwazzjoni attwali. Dan minħabba li bħala konsegwenza tat-tip ta’ Parlament li ġie elett kien prattikament impossibli (b’xi eċċezzjonijiet żgħar) li dan jeżamina b’reqqa l-ħidma tal-Gvern b’mod li jkun imġiegħel jagħti kont ta’ egħmilu bis-serjetá.

Filwaqt li l-ħolqien ta’ alleanza elettorali tista’ tkun ta’ ġid għall-pajjiż, iċ-ċirkustanzi preżenti ma naħsibx li jipprovdu l-mument addattat. Il-bibien għad-diskussjoni Alternattiva Demokratika żżommhom dejjem miftuħin imma bħalissa hu l-mument li wieħed joqgħod attent biex ikun evitat li jingħataw messaġġi żbaljati.

Huwa biss meta jkunu ċċarati l-affarijiet li jkun il-mument addattat biex jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet dwar il-jekk u l-kif ta’ alleanza elettorali.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 26 ta’ Marzu 2017

Electoral Alliance : a cautious approach

The public debate on whether, and to what extent, it is appropriate to have an electoral alliance between Alternattiva Demokratika and the Nationalist Party has been in full swing on social media during the past week, fuelled as it was by Michael Briguglio’s interview on the Maltese weekly Illum last Sunday.

Michael Briguglio presented his views, no doubt based on his experiences and perceptions, concluding that the avenues leading to an electoral alliance (at times also referred to as a coalition) should be explored without delay. The fact that the ethical behaviour of leading members the PN Opposition leaves much to be desired necessitates more caution. There is no need to rush.

The political party donation mess in which the PN and Silvio Debono of the db Group are entangled requires full disclosure in order to ascertain the precise facts. Has the PN (illegally) avoided the provisions of the political party financing legislation through the channelling of funds to its commercial arm under the guise of payment for (fake) services? Is the db Group “donation” a one-off, or is it one of a number?

Wouldn’t this give the lie to the PN’s declared commitment to good governance? If such a basic issue in the PN’s electoral platform is just paying lip service, how can one give weight to any PN declaration of adherence to principle or policy of whatever form or shape?

There are other issues related to the behaviour of senior PN MPs which need clarification.

For example, Claudio Grech’s declaration that he does not recollect ever meeting George Farrugia with reference to the oil sales scandal, is not convincing at all. The acceptance of Claudio Grech’s declaration by the Leader of the Opposition throws considerable light on the functionability of the ethical compass which is an essential tool for the self-appointed leader of an anti-corruption coalition!

Nor are matters on Beppe Fenech Adami’s role in the Capital One Investment Group/Baltimore Fiduciary Services any clearer. In quasi similar circumstances, Joe Cordina, former Labour Party Treasurer was forced to resign.

Mario DeMarco has made a public apology on his error of judgement, which error of judgement was made when accepting the brief of the db Group relative to its acquisition of the land at Pembroke, currently hosting the Institute for Tourism Studies, fro the government. Fine, but apologies are certainly not enough.

One has also to consider the proposed ODZ Villa which Toni Bezzina, PN spokesperson on agriculture and co-author of the PN policy document,  sought to develop contrary to both letter and spirit  of the policy document he had just proposed. The Leader of the Opposition instead of dismissing him on the spot absolved him as “he had done nothing wrong”.

Taken together, the above shed considerable light on the extent to which “good governance” and “ethical behaviour” is often absent in the Opposition’s ranks. In any other democratic country, each one of the above, even if considered separately, would have been more than enough to wipe out the whole Opposition leadership.

Can Alternattiva Demokratika forge an electoral alliance with a political party whose leading members are so compromised and have so much to explain as to their behaviour? Moreover, how can the PN claim moral leadership in a coalition against corruption before it gives satisfactory explanations on the behaviour of its leading exponents? The fact that the Labour Party has even much more to explain is no justification for the Opposition’s behaviour.

The mess in which the country is currently submerged, the direct result of Labour Party stewardship over the past four years, is also the direct consequence of a two-party system which needs to be smashed to smithereens. The two- party system which has controlled the machinery of the state uninterruptedly since 1966 is ultimately responsible for the current state of affairs as it has continuously returned a Parliament which, due to its composition, has, with insignificant exceptions, been unable to hold the government of the day to account.

While the setting up of an electoral alliance could eventually be beneficial to the country, in the present circumstances it is not the right time to rush. At this point in time, linking Alternattiva Demokratika to the PN through an electoral alliance may send wrong messages.

While Alternattiva Demokratika will never close the doors to possible discussions on an electoral alliance, I believe that it is certainly the season to be extremely cautious until such time as the murky waters have cleared. It is only then that the time would be ripe for the necessary decisions.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 26 March 2017

Shock therapy to the political system

 

 

Regulation of the financing of political parties is of fundamental importance in any modern democratic society. Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta – has been at the forefront in campaigning for legislation since the day when it was founded way back in 1989. When legislation was finally brought forward it was welcomed, even though it could have been much better.

The Financing of Political Parties Act deals with more than just the financing of political parties. It also establishes the formalities on the basis of which political parties must register with the Electoral Commission. It is indeed ironic that the Labour Party, the political party which piloted this legislation through Parliament, failed to register by the date established in the legislation. In so doing the Labour Party – for some reason as yet unknown – sent an unmistakable message that it wanted to delay its being subject to regulation. It had more than ample time to adjust its Party Statute to bring it in line with the law, but it procrastinated for more than twelve months.

Earlier this week, the Electoral Commission announced that it would be setting up a Board to investigate allegations of breaches of the Financing of Political Parties Act that have been brought to its attention. As far as is known there are three such alleged breaches.

The first breach is that brought forward by Alternattiva Demokratika and involves the use of public property by the Labour Party Parliamentary Group for holding one of its recent meetings. I have already written about the matter in the 26 February edition of TMIS (Joseph tweets a selfie from Girgenti). On Friday the Secretary-General of Alternattiva Demokratika Ralph Cassar was informed in writing  that AD’s request for the Electoral Commission to investigate the use of the Girgenti Palace by the Labour Party Parliamentary Group will be taken in hand by the Investigation Board established for the purpose.

We are so used to the use and abuse of public property by the major political parties that it has, over the years, been considered a fait accompli, taken for granted. It may be a “minor abuse” compared to others in the news, but we cannot tolerate even the smallest breach of the provisions of the Financing of Political Parties Act.

The second breach is the one highlighted by the Labour Party regarding the Silvio Debono donations to the Nationalist Party. Silvio Debono has clearly spilled the beans in retaliation to the PN criticism of the ITS land at Pembroke being transferred for peanuts.  It is an issue of fake invoices and tainted donations as described in my article in this newspaper last week. The whole case rests on the existence of possible fake invoices by which illegal donations to the Nationalist Party could have been channelled through its commercial arm. If the investigating board is presented with the fake invoices, which Silvio Debono says he paid on prodding by senior members of the PN leadership, it is difficult to fathom how the PN can avoid carrying the responsibility for the matter.

The third breach has been highlighted by the PN, obviously against the Labour Party. It refers to a number of One journalists who have been selected to occupy positions of trust in various Ministries and authorities. The PN complaint list may have some mistakes, as some names are most probably erroneously listed, but I believe that it is correct to point out this corrupt practice through which the Labour Party media are being subsidised through state salaries – i.e. through the taxes that we pay.

The fact that these three alleged breaches will be investigated under the auspices of the Investigating Board appointed by the Electoral Commission is a step forward. However, it all depends on those selected to carry out the investigation.  I look forward to some shock therapy to the political system as I consider all three complaints to be justified. It is about time that both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party are brought to their senses and made to realise that they, too, are subject to the law. But then, maybe I am hoping for too much from the Investigating Board!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 19 March 2017

 

 

Mhux kulħadd bħal Salvu

Għamel tajjeb il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni li rrefera t-trasferiment tal-art fPembroke fejn hemm l-Istitut għall-Istudji Turistiċi għand l-Awditur Ġenerali għal investgazzjoni, għax dan hu trasferiment li fih bosta irregolaritajiet.

Ftit ħin wara li Simon Busuttil għamel id-dikjarazzjoni li ser imur għand l-Awditur Ġenerali huwa irċieva SMS li biha ċ-CEO tal-kumpaniji ta Silvio Debono talbu lura l-flus li kienu ngħataw bħala donazzjoni lill-PN. Hu ċar għal kulħadd li dan mgħamlux brispett lejn il-liġi, jew minħabba li jrid is-serjetá, iżda bi tpattija immedjata. Kuntrarjament għal dak li qal il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni dan ma kienx rikatt iżda ritaljazzjoni għal dak li kien diġa intqal.

Imma bħala riżultat ta din ir-ritaljazzjoni min-naħa ta Silvio Debono, sirna nafu mingħand l-istess Debono li fl-2016 huwa kien intalab jagħmel ħlasijiet ta 70,800 għal servizzi li ma kellux bżonn imma li kienu ser iservu għall-ħtiġijiet ta Partit Nazzjonalista. Debono żied jgħid li tħejjew invoices u ħallashom.

Ħadd ma jista jeħodha kontra l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni li mar għand l-Awditur Ġenerali biex dan jinvestiga dak li jidhru li huma irregolaritajiet kbar. Imma bla dubju dan il-pass tajjeb ta Simon Busuttil ma jikkanċellax l-abbużi li qed ikun allegat li saru dwar donazzjonijiet lill-Partit Nazzjonalista li ukoll jeħtieġu li jkunu investigati.

Huwa ovvju li Debono mhux qed jitkellem għax iħobb l-ordni, is-serjetá u l-osservanza tal-liġi. Imma jekk dak li qed jgħid Debono seħħ, u nistennew li jkunu prodotti l-provi dwar dan, dan huwa abbuz gravi u jeħtieġ li jkun investigat.  Dan mhux tfettieq kif qed jippruvaw jgħidu xuħud.

Jekk dak li qed jgħid Debono seħħ ifisser li nkisru l-iktar prinċipji bażiċi tal-liġi dwar il-Finanzjament tal-Partiti Politiċi. Nistenna li ma ndumux ma naraw kopja tal-irċevuti u l-kontijiet li nħarġu biex jiġġustifikaw il-ħlas.

L-istorja ma tieqafx hawn. Għax dan kollu għandu konsegwenzi li m’humiex żgħar.

Jekk ippruvat, dan ifisser li l-Partit Nazzjonalista jipprietka s-serjetá fil-pubbliku, imma imbagħad, fejn ma jidhirx, jagħmel mod ieħor.

Jekk ippruvat dan ifisser li hi illużjoni li naħsbu li wara dawk l-uċuħ mimlija qdusija hemm min għandu rieda tajba.

Ifisser fuq kollox li filwaqt li qatt mgħandna nagħlqu l-bibien għal ħadd, irridu noqgħodu bseba għajnejn il-ħin kollu għax bejn dak li jidher u dak li hemm fil-fatt tezisti differenza kbira.

Għax kif tista tippreżenta front wieħed u magħqud kontra l-korruzzjoni jekk min jilgħaba tal-paladin tal-imġieba tajba jgħid mod fid-deher u jagħmel ieħor meta ma jidhirx. Mhux kulħadd għandu fiduċja għamja f’Simon Busuttil bħalma għandu Salvu. Dak jaħseb li l-maħmuġ jista xi darba jirreklama l-indafa. Erħilu li sa ftit ilu kien konvintissimu li mhemmx xtagħżel bejn il-PN u l-PL. Imma issa ikkonverta u donnu nesa’ kollox.

Dak li naraw bgħajnejna u mmissu bidejna ma nistgħux ninjorawh. Il-ħmieġ jibqa’ ħmieġ, jagħmlu min jagħmlu. Imma meta jitwettaq minn min jagħmel il-ġurnata kollha jipprietka l-indafa, tajjeb ukoll li jkun ċar li mhux qed jirnexxielu jgħaddina biżżmien.

 

 

Paceville Master Plan: greed or need?

paceville-mp-land-use

Land use planning is essentially public control over the use and development of land, so it necessarily follows that it should not be a speculators’ shopping list implemented by the state.

Unfortunately, the Paceville Master Plan is just such a shopping list as it collates together the requirements of nine mega-projects and presents them as a “master plan”. In fact Sandro Chetcuti, on behalf of the Malta Developers’ Association, reacted to the Master Plan by stating that it “ fails to address the possibility of new projects that could involve existing buildings and concentrated too much on nine particular sites.”   Mr Chetcuti’s Association is also feeling excluded.

And the residents have the same feeling; they have been excluded by a master plan which focuses on the interests of business – in particular  the interests of mega-speculators.

Not so long ago, in May 2012, The Social Affairs Committee of Malta’s Parliament  published a 63-page report on Paceville in which it emphasised the fact that right there, in the midst of this entertainment Mecca, there was also  a residential community. The conflicts between these two interests can at times be substantial and yet the Master Plan ignores these conflicts completely. The only residents in which the Master Plan is interested  are those who will purchase  apartments in the new developments.

The five over-arching objectives of the Master Plan emphasise the creation of a development vision which can be described in one word : “Dubai-ification”. Painted in glossy words as “Clear Brand and Identity” , “Access and Connectivity”,  “Planned and Managed Change”, “Quality Place-Making” and “Private-Public Partnerships”, at the end of the day “Dubai-ification” is what the Paceville Master Plan is all about.

The problems currently faced by Paceville are basically no different from those faced by other parts of Malta. Yet the Master Plan document wastes a substantial number of its 234 pages in order to emphasise the obvious. For example, it emphasises that Paceville is dominated by traffic and on-street parking. However, the consultants drawing up the plan then stopped short of proposing – as a preferred option –  measures that would  radically address the area’s dependence on cars. They did not choose the option to create an environment that is not dominated by the car, thus missing an opportunity to eliminate traffic congestion in Paceville that would have had the additional  benefit of improving local air quality.

While the Master Plan consultants went into great detail about issues that are covered in various national environmental policy documents, they did not consider it necessary to examine in any detail the area’s tourism-carrying capacity. The Master Plan does not examine whether it makes sense to keep on encouraging hotel construction in an area that is already saturated with such development. It takes the issue for granted and opts to propose reserving the Paceville coastline for future hotel redevelopment and expansion. This matter calls for some serious consideration, as tourism cannot continue on a never ending expanding trajectory due to the substantial environmental constraints which we face on a daily basis.

The cherry on the cake is the reference to “potential land reclamation” on the Portomaso site. The Master Plan warns that, though relatively shallow, the site lies very close to a Marine Special Conservation Area, a fact which necessitates a very sensitive approach.

The manner in which the Master Plan is presented tries to camouflage its obvious speculator “shopping list” features. Most of the projects indicated have been in the pipeline for years, and for each and every one of them there is a growing list of concerned residents from the whole of Paceville and neighbouring localities. By trying to present the mega-speculators greed as a national need the proposed Master Plan is doing a disservice to the never ending debate on land use planning in Malta.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 9 October 2016

Comino: beyond sun-block and deckchairs

comino-mp-op-objective

During the past weeks, the island of Comino has been in the news. The controversy surrounding the deckchair/umbrella hawkers free-for-all at the Blue Lagoon focused on overcharging, breaching of permit conditions and the resulting lack of space for the public making use of public facilities at the beach.

Fines were imposed by the Malta Tourism Authority. This is fine (pun intended) in the short term. However, we need to plan for the long term, keeping in mind  that the island of Comino, is first and foremost a Natura 2000 site and a touristic destination second. Sites forming part of the Natura 2000 network are designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA) according to the Habitats and Birds Directives of the European Union, where habitats and species are listed. The Directives are designated to provide protection to the most vulnerable of the species listed.

It has been stated that every day, at the peak of the summer season, as many as 5,000 visitors land on Comino, most of whom remain in the Blue Lagoon and its environs .

The Natura 2000 Management Plan for Comino published recently, considers that tourism at the Blue Lagoon needs to be controlled efficiently in order to ensure that it is “in harmony with the site’s conservation needs”. One of the measures which the Comino Management Plan establishes as an operational objective is “to plan and implement a tourism carrying capacity assessment of the Blue Lagoon”.

The Management Plan believes that the tourism carrying capacity assessment should be carried out within the first year of the plan’s implementation, which means pretty soon! The issue is of fundamental importance in ensuring that the activity permitted on the island of Comino is compatible with its ecological requirements.

It is not known whether this carrying capacity assessment has been carried out yet. If not it should be done at the earliest.

This is not the first time that Maltese authorities have been asked to consider a proposal to study the possibility of limiting access to a specific site for protection purposes. Around 12 years ago, after rehabilitation work carried out at the Hypogeum in Ħal-Salfieni was concluded, it was decided that there was an urgent need to control its microclimate in order to better protect this archeological jewel so a maximum limit of 80 visitors per day was established.

Various other countries place limits on tourism in order to better control its environmental impacts. There are various examples, but permit me to point to the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, 545 kilometres off the coastal city of Recife. The archipelago is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the number of visitors is restricted in order  to adequately protect its environmental patrimony. The environmental protection rules of the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha go into such detail as to even forbid the use of sunprotection lotions/creams or even the use of footwear on the beach, as well as curtailing various other activities incompatible with the archipelago’s ecological characteristics!

It is a path we should consider following for Comino, if we are serious about protecting the little that we still have.

It is welcome news earlier this week as three of Malta’s environmental NGOs, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Friends of the Earth and Nature Trust, have endorsed the proposal for carrying out the capacity assessment of the Blue Lagoon at Comino. Comino deserves our protection. Implementing the Natura 2000 Management Plan for Comino would be a suitable first step.

And the sooner, the better.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 11 September 2016

Kemmuna: mhux dwar l-umbrelel

comino

 

Matul il-ġimgħat li għaddew diversi paġni tal-gazzetti imtlew b’aħbarijiet minn Kemmuna: il-battalja bejn dawk li jikru l-umbrelel.

Issa l-għaqdiet ambjentali ħarġu bi proposta dwar il-kontrolli rejali li hemm bżonn isiru fuq Kemmuna: kemm għandhom jirfsu l-art persuni? X’inhu dak in-numru li  jkun aħjar li ma jinqabiżx?

In-numru jrid ikun stabilit bi ħsieb. Imma jeħtieġ li jkun stabilit.

L-idea tal-għaqdiet ambjentali (Nature Trust, Din l-Art Ħelwa u Friends of the Earth) m’hiex oriġinali għax diġa tqegħdet fil-prattika f’diversi postijiet oħra mhux biss fil-postijiet li ġew indikati fil-gazzetti (Blue Lagoon fl-Iżlanda u fir-reġjun pittoresk Taljan Cinque Terre).

Il-Bhutan (pajjiż fil-Lvant imbiegħed) jikkontrolla n-numru ta’ turisti li jidħlu fil-pajjiż għax hu kinxju li numru esagerati ta’ turisti jistgħu jagħmlu ħsara mhux żgħira. Hemm ukoll il-ġzira turistika Latino Amerikana ta’ Fernando de Noronha (parti mit-territorju Brażiljan) li kienet tillimita n-numru massimu ta’ turisti li jistgħu joqgħodu fuq il-gżira għal 420, u kull wieħed minn dawn kellu jħallas taxxa ambjentali li tiżdied iktar ma jdum!

F’Malta ukoll xi żmien ilu kienu ġew introdotti kontrolli fuq in-numru ta’ turisti li f’ħin wieħed jistgħu jidħlu fl-Ipoġew ta’ Ħal-Saflieni kif ukoll in-numru massimu li setgħu jidħlu matul il-ġurnata. Dan kien sar għax kien ġie stabilit li biex dan is-sit arkejolġiku jkun protett aħjar kellhom ikun hemm kontrolli tal-mikro-klima. Dan fil-fatt sar billi kien ġie identifikat in-numru massimu ta’ 80 persuna li setgħu jidħlu f’ġurnata fl-Ipoġew.

L-istess jista’ jsir dwar il-gżira ta’ Kemmuna. Tista’ tiġi protetta billi jkunu limitati n-numri ta’ persuni li jistgħu jinżlu l-art. Dan ikun pass tajjeb li jagħmel il-ġid, lill-Kemmuna, naturalment mhux lil dawk li jikru l-umbrellel!

Serqa fid-dawl tax-xemx: min jidher u min ma jidhirx

Two Towers on ITS site

 

It-tender dwar żvilupp turistiku fuq l-art tal-ITS (Institute of Tourism Studies) ilu li għalaq. Ilna nisimgħu li hemm ħadma kbira.

Is-Sunday Times tal-lum f’artiklu ta’ Caroline Muscat tagħtina l-istorja bażika.

L-offerti intefgħu minn Silvio Debono tas-Seabank Group : offra €6.5 miljuni għal art tal-qies ta’ madwar 25,000 metru kwadru (iva: ħamsa u għoxrin elf metru kwadru, qed taqra tajjeb).

Din l-art li l-pjan lokali [North Harbours Local Plan] jiddeskrivi bħala Entertainment Priority Area tiswa’ ferm iktar minn hekk. Ċertament mhux inqas minn €100 miljun. Probabilment viċin il-€120 miljun.

S’issa l-art għadha ma ġietx trasferita imma wieħed mill-ágenti tal-propjetà diġa qiegħed jaċċetta deposits għal appartamenti lussużi li huma ippjanati għaż-żona, inkuż fis-żewġ torrijiet li hemm ippjanati.

Biex Silvio Debono, permezz tal-kumpaniji tiegħu, tefa’ offerta daqshekk baxxa għal art li għandha potenzjal enormi, bil-fors li għandu rasu mistrieħa li mhux ser ikollu diffikultajiet li jinfetħulu l-bibien għal biċċa “business” tajba.

Bil-fors li jitqanqlu suspetti kbar. Dwar min qed jidher u min possibilment ma jidhirx f’din is-serqa. Għax dan mhux “business” imma serq fid-dawl tax-xemx.

Huwa l-kaz ta’ investigazzjoni mhux biss mill-Awditur Ġenerali imma ukoll mill-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija. Illum qabel għada.