It-taxxa fuq it-turiżmu

tax

It-taxxa fuq it-turiżmu f’artiklu fit-Times tal-lum, il-Ministru tat-Turiżmu Edward Zammit Lewis isejħilha kontribuzzjoni ambjentali! Donnu jistħi juża’ l-kelma taxxa. M’hi kontribuzzjoni xejn għax ħadd m’hu ser jagħtiha voluntarjament.  L-istess bħall-eko-kontrubuzzjoni li kien introduċa George Pullicino fl-2004. It-tnejn issejħu kontribuzzjoni meta fil-fatt it-tnejn huma taxxa.

L-introduzzjoni ta’ din it-taxxa fuq it-turiżmu hu pass tajjeb.  Hi miżura li qed joħduha diversi pajjiżi biex permezz tat-turiżmu jinġabru fondi għat-titjib neċessarju biex il-prodott turistiku innifsu jkun dejjem aħjar. It-turiżmu għandu impatti mhux żgħar fuq l-ambjent. Kull turist iħalli warajh impatt ambjentali ta’ 50% iktar minn dawk li jħalli l-persuna residenti permanenti. Dan skond studju li kien sar f’Malta xi snin ilu.

Fl-2010 l-Gvern Malti ta’ dakinnhar ukoll kien ipprova jintroduċi miżura simili. Imma iffaċċjat b’resistenza mill-industrija tat-turiżmu kien bidel il-miżura f’taxxa alternattiva.

Id-dettalji ta’ din it-taxxa għadhom m’humiex ċari. Għadu mhux ċar, per eżempju, jekk din it-taxxa hiex ser tinġabar ukoll minn fuq akkomodazzjoni turistika apparti mil-lukandi. Jiġifieri minn fuq flats, farmhouses u vilel li jinkrew lit-turisti (kif ukoll lill-Maltin) li jippreferu din ix-xorta ta’ akkomodazzjoni flok kamra f’lukanda.

Id-diffikulta, ovvjament hi biex tinġabar. Hu faċli li tinġabar minn fuq il-lukandi. Mill-bqija diffiċli. L-akkomodazzjoni alternattiva hi waħda problematika għar-regolatur u għaldaqstant mhux ser tkun faċli li tinġabar, apparti minn fuq it-turiżmu li jagħmel użu mil-lukandi. Din hi problema li iffaċċjaw ukoll pajjiżi oħra, u aħna f’Malta m’aħniex eċċezzjoni.

It-taxxa proposta hi ta’ 50 ċenteżmi tal-euro kuljum, sa massimu ta’ €5. Żgħażagħ (u tfal) taħt it-18-il sena ser ikunu eżentati.

Hu stmat li matul l-2016 ser jinġabru €6 miljuni permezz ta’ din it-taxxa fuq it-turiżmu. Il-Gvern ser iżid ma dan l-ammont li ser ikun afdat f’idejn Fondazzjoni għall-Iżvilupp ta’ Żoni Turistiċi bl-iskop li jkun hemm ugrading, titjib u manutenzjoni ta’ żoni pubbliċi ewlenin. Din il-Fondazzjoni, skond id-diskors tal-budget, ser tinvolvi fiha lill-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Lukandi u Restoranti (MHRA), imma l-Kunsilli Lokali, għal darba oħra ma jissemmew imkien.

Ir-responsabbiltajiet li ser ikunu finanzjati b’din it-taxxa fuq it-turiżmu diġa huma (bil-liġi) assenjati bħala responsabbilta tal-Kunsilli Lokali li jixtiequ jaħdmu iktar, imma m’humiex jingħataw biżżejjed flus biex ikunu jistgħu jagħmlu xogħolhom. Issa għax instabu l-flus għal darba oħra l-Kunsilli Lokali ser ikunu injorati.

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Resurrection of eco-Gozo

The Gozo Channel

There is much more to a Gozo Channel bridge than its financial cost calculated in euros. There are also social and  environmental costs.

The proposal to link Malta and Gozo permanently has been around for ages. It involves connecting the islands such that there are no physical obstructions to proceed from one island to the other.

Gozo’s connectivity is a serious matter. Yet Gozo’s double insularity may well be its greatest asset which has been misunderstood and ill-used throughout the years.

The improvement of existing transport links  by introducing more efficient means or through alternative  means of transport is one way of looking at the channel crossing-challenge. Almost all  alternatives have been tried out in the past. Fast sea links linking Mġarr Gozo directly with a central location have been tried and subsequently discontinued. Alternatively, air links through the use of amphibious small planes  and helicopters too have been tried.

Will Gozo be better off if it is permanently linked to Malta?  I think that those insisting on the bridge or the tunnel genuinely believe that because they themselves may be better off everyone else will possibly be better off too.

Reality, unfortunately, is considerably different as with a physical link between Malta and Gozo there will be both winners and losers.   The process leading to a decision has to be both honest and transparent if it is to be of any help.

It has to be honest as it has to consider all the anticipated impacts of each proposal under consideration. Improved connectivity for industry to deliver goods produced in Gozo to Malta and elsewhere also signifies improved connectivity for working men and women living in Gozo and working in Malta. This could suggest that there may then be no more scope in locating industry in Gozo as the labourforce would easily access their working place. To date, providing work for Gozitans in Gozo has been an important social and political objective. If a physical link materialises this may no longer be so. Gozo will then be a locality just like any other in Malta.

Double insularity, if ditched by choice, will no longer be able to justify subsidies and incentives to lure industry to Gozo.  Double insularity will no longer be justification for EU regional development funds as it will no longer exist. What purpose then for the projected Gozo office in Brussels?

What about the impacts on the tourism industry?  Tourism policy relative to Gozo has always focused on Gozo as the destination with a difference. Gozo’s potential as an eco-tourism destination has been occassionally tapped. Diving is a well-developed niche market for eco-tourism in Gozo. Agri-tourism in Gozo has substantial potential, which is to date largely untapped.

These are issues whose potential could and should have been developed within the context of the eco-Gozo project. Unfortunately, this project has been hijacked by those who, after plagiarising the idea from  Alternattiva Demokratika used it as a slogan and ignored it as a vision.

The contribution to tourism of cultural activities such as opera performances  in Gozo is not to be underestimated. Such cultural activities contribute substantially to the viability of hotel operations in Gozo through the generation of revenue in the winter months. The introduction of a permanent link will undoubtedly increase the potential audiences for opera and other cultural activities in Gozo. However, with a bridge or tunnel in place, the use of hotels in Gozo will not be required by opera enthusiasts as they would be in a position to drive back home immediately. This has already been evident when Gozo Channel increased its trips through the introduction of late night trips.

In addition one has to consider environmental impacts. Impacts on protected marine areas in the Gozo Channel would be substantial. Add visual impacts in the case of the bridge or over two million cubic metres of excavated material in the case of the tunnel.

And what about the geological features of the Gozo Channel? As the area is riddled with geological faults, the first logical step is obviously a detailed geological examination of the area.  But what is obviously a logical first step seems not to have been given due weight.

Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta advocates a different line of action. A connectivity strategy for Gozo considering in detail all the different options is to be drawn up. After subjecting it to a Strategic Environment Assessement in line with the EU environmental legislation such a strategy should be subject to a public consultation, not just with the Gozitans but on a national level.

Taking into consideration all impacts would ensure that the decison taken is a sustainable one. Not in the interests of one specific sector but in the interests of all. Resurrecting (the real) eco-Gozo in the process would not be a bad idea.

Published in The Times of Malta – Saturday June 29, 2013 

Iktar dellijiet, inqas enerġija mix-xemx

solar rights

Qed jipproponu li lukandi li jeħtieġu iktar spazju jkollhom il-possibilita’ li jibnu żewġ sulari oħra. Nifhem li dawn ser ikunu żewġ sulari iktar milli l-pjan lokali preżentement jippermetti.

L-iskuża hi li bidla bħal din tgħin lit-turiżmu u lill-ekonomija.

Fil-fehma tiegħi bidla bħal din m’hiex meħtieġa. La tgħin lit-turiżmu u l-anqas lill-ekonomija. Toħloq chaos iktar milli hawn bħalissa fil-qasam tal-ippjanar fl-użu tal-art. Għax jekk ir-regoli jinbidlu għal settur wieħed, ġustament ser iqumu setturi oħra u jippretendu trattament ugwali.

Għax għandek tippermetti għoli addizzjonali għat-turiżmu u mhux għoli addizzjonali għall-uffiċini jew għar-residenzi?

Imbagħad hemm argument addizzjonali dwar l-enerġija solari. Il-bini eżistenti madwar dawn il-lukandi ser ikun effettwat ħażin. Ser ikun hemm diversi minn dan il-bini li fih sar investiment f’apparat li jagħmel użu mix-xemx. Dan l-apparat  (pannelli foto-voltaiċi u solar water heaters) li issa ser ikun fid-dell ser ikun investiment moħli.

Tiftakru lill-Labour Party jitkellem fuq solar rights?  Leo Brincat, 5 snin ilu kien qalilna: MLP calls for solar rights as civil rights. M’ilux ħafna li qalulna dan, iżda konvenjentement ġja insew!

Small is beautiful in water policy

The press was recently briefed that the sewage treatment plant at Ta’ Barkat in Xgħajra will be commissioned shortly. Treating around 80 per cent of sewage produced in Malta it has the capacity to process 50,000 cubic metres of sewage daily. It is one of three plants, the other two being at Iċ-Ċumnija, limits of Mellieħa and at Ras il-Ħobż, in Gozo.

When the plant at Ta’ Barkat is in operation, Malta will at last be in line with the Urban Waste Water Directive of the EU. In addition, it will also be honouring another commitment entered into in terms of the protocol on pollution from land-based sources forming part of the United Nations Mediterranean Action Plan.

Without in any way belittling the efforts and expense entered into, it is to be stated that all three sewage treatment projects mentioned above ignore the potential reuse of the treated sewage effluent and discharge it directly into the sea.

The siting of the three plants is itself indicative of the fact the whole exercise has only been considered as an “end of pipe solution” to marine pollution through the discharge of untreated urban waste water. What was considered as a problem could instead have been viewed as an opportunity to redefine Malta’s approach to the management of water resources.

It was unfortunately very late in the day the government considered the possibility of redefining its approach.

Two years ago, on March 4, 2009, during the inauguration of the Mellieħa sewage treatment plant it was announced that studies would be carried out on the possible use of the treated sewage effluent for agricultural purposes as an alternative to its being discharged into the sea.

Studies should have been carried out before the design of the sewage treatment plants and not when two had already been completed and financial commitments on the third had been made.

Proper studies prior to the formulation of the design brief would have led to a different strategy and, consequently, to an alternative infrastructure.

If a decision on the reuse of treated sewage effluent is now arrived at, a distribution system will have to be introduced to transport the treated water from the sewage treatment plants to the point of use.

This cost could have been avoided by introducing small treatment plants directly at the points where the treated effluent needs to be used.

The above has been countered by a statement which emphasised there is no demand for treated sewage effluent by the agricultural community. This, I submit, is due to the fact that the agricultural community (and others) are today more than amply satisfying their requirements using boreholes to tap the water table.

The recent decision of the Malta Resources Authority to meter all boreholes (even if taken very late in the day) could be a first step to introduce some sense in the management of Malta’s groundwater. The next step would undoubtedly be the decision as to the quantum of payments to be made by whosoever extracts water from the water table.

Offering the use of treated sewage effluent as an alternative water source for agriculture purposes could be an acceptable alternative to extracting groundwater if the water so produced is adequately treated to acceptable standards.

The first use of treated sewage effluent for agricultural purposes in Malta was carried out in the mid-1980s as a result of the commissioning of the Sant’Antnin sewage purification plant at Wied iz-Ziju, limits of Marsascala. Although large tracts of agricultural land were as a result irrigated for the first time, there were complaints on the quality of the treated effluent produced and, subsequently, also on the quality of the agricultural products originating from the area. Technology has made substantial leaps since the 1980s and, in addition, I hope experience garnered throughout the years would be put to good use.

It is also pertinent to draw attention to research carried out by hydrologist Marco Cremona. This research project carried out at Għajn Tuffieħa in conjunction with the Island Hotels Group and the Department of Public Health developed a water recovery and reuse system for use in hotels and large scale commercial buildings.

In the early 1970s, Ralph Schumacher had advocated that “small is beautiful”. Applying Schumacher’s dictum to water policy in Malta could have led to considering a network of small sewage purification plants spread all over the islands to cater for the use of non-potable water. At the end of the day, I have no doubt the cost of such an approach would not have exceeded that of the three sewage purification plants. And we would have large quantities of second-class water available for use at no expense.

This is what the politics of sustainable development could deliver to governments which practise what they preach.

Published in The Times of Malta on March 5, 2011 

Addressing Our Environmental Deficit

published on Sunday 27 July 2008

by Carmel Cacopardo

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 In his address to Parliament last May, the President had stated: “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.”

In December 2006, the National Sustainability Commission had drawn up the National Sustainable Development Strategy. Having been approved by Cabinet, it is appropriate that the pre-budget document just published ignites the debate on its implementation. The strategy is a blueprint for action representing a holistic perspective as to how this country should be administered. Its eventual handling will in due course give a clear indication of the government’s real views on sustainable development.

Malta’s energy policy is undoubtedly up for an upheaval. Due to the absence of strategic planning over the years, Malta is one of the few countries without any significant alternative energy generated. Other countries identified their vulnerability because of fuel oil dependency years ago and took action. Denmark has since built up its wind energy industry from scratch since the oil crises in the 1970s and is now a world leader. In 2005 Denmark generated 18.5 per cent of its electrical energy needs through wind.

The pre-budget document identifies near shore wind technology as the next step forward, contributing 95MW of wind energy or seven per cent of Malta’s projected electricity demand in 2010. The shortfall in meeting the EU target of having 10 per cent of electricity demand met by alternative energy is planned to be met with wind turbines at other exposed land sites and industrial estates, including those to be identified within the framework of the eco-Gozo project.

The pre-budget document focuses on macro-generation and does not give sufficient weight to micro-generation of energy, both with small wind turbines as well as with photovoltaic panels. It must be borne in mind that micro-generation if adequately motivated could add up to a substantial amount of energy generated through alternative technology. In addition to residential application (not flats or maisonettes!), schools and public buildings could be ideal sites for the micro-generation of energy. Moreover, one can consider fitting micro-turbines to the structures of the hundreds of disused windmills (water pumps) that pepper the countryside. These windmills were strategically located by our ancestors in wind-prone areas and are now an integral part of the Maltese countryside.

The pre-budget document rightly refers to energy generated through waste. It speaks of the generation of electricity using animal waste through biogas in a facility to be constructed in the north of the island. This is a long overdue initiative. However, I believe that it is badly conceived. The lessons that should have been learnt following the Sant’ Antnin debacle seem to have been forgotten.

The point at issue is whether one facility covering the whole island is sufficient or desirable. Would it be a good idea to transport animal manure across the whole island to a facility in the north?

One point resulting from the public debate relative to the Sant’ Antnin waste recycling plant was the applicability of the proximity principle. The required plant should be sited as close as possible to the source of the waste being processed. This had led to the Sant ‘Antnin projected operation itself being scaled down to deal with one third of the islands’ waste. The rest, it was stated, should be processed on other sites (possibly two) that have not yet been identified! These other sites should be used for the production of biogas too and they should be identified in a location as close as possible to those areas that have the largest number of animal farms in order to minimise the movement of animal waste. Knowing that a number of these farms are sited very close to each other should make matters easier for our waste management planners.

Bad planning brings out another sore point, which was not discussed in the pre-budget document: namely the management of our water resources. Groundwater (a ‘free’ source of freshwater) still accounts for 40 per cent of our potable water supply. Groundwater accounts for the greater part of the water used by agriculture, the construction sector, landscaping activities and various other industrial and commercial concerns, including some hotels which are supplied by bowsers. However, as a result of over-extraction, the quality of the water in the aquifer is becoming saltier by the day and will become useless within our lifetime.

Yet, illegal extraction of ground water continues unabated and the authority responsible for the sustainable use of this precious resource (the Malta Resources Authority) persists in not taking any concrete action. The recent increase in the surcharge on mains water will inevitably result in a rush to drill more boreholes and extract more groundwater, with the consequence that our aquifer will die an earlier death.

Within this context, the construction of wastewater treatment plants treating urban wastewater and discharging it directly into the sea assumes an alarming relevance. A country whose natural water resources are not sufficient for its use ought to manage its water resources in a much better way. It certainly ought not to permit the illegal extraction of water or the discharge of treated water into the sea. The siting of the wastewater treatment plants in Malta and Gozo is such that discharging treated water into the sea is a foregone conclusion. This decision, undoubtedly arrived at based on the original siting of the sewage outfalls, ignores the possibilities to reuse the treated water, either as a second-class source or (with additional treatment) as potable water. Other developed countries, notably Singapore, produce an ever-increasing percentage of their potable water in this manner. This issue is ignored in the pre-budget report.

All this could easily have been prevented with a proper water management planning strategy, which, instead of large-scale plants for wastewater treatment, could have identified a number of smaller sites along the sewer route on the islands for the construction of small packaged wastewater treatment plants. These would have provided ample treated effluent where and when required for agricultural use, landscaping and other uses not requiring water of potable quality – at little or no distribution costs. The widespread availability of this water would have substituted the need to extract groundwater and facilitated the required enforcement action on its illegal extraction.

The total costs would have been substantially less. By costs I do not just mean economic ones but also the ecological cost of losing a strategic resource (the aquifer), which loss will have to be borne by future generations.

As indicated in the public hearings carried out by Minister Tonio Fenech, the pre-budget document deals with the sustainability of localities, rightly linking this issue to the proposed reform of local councils. It refers to the need for localities to draw up a Local Sustainable Development Strategy. In environmental management, we normally consider this within the Local Agenda 21 process currently espoused by thousands of localities around the globe: think global act local.

The sustainable localities proposal is undoubtedly well intentioned, and if adequately planned and applied can lead to positive results. The difficulty that will arise is that of economies of scale. Our localities vary substantially in size: from the largest – Birkirkara, to the smallest – San Lawrenz in Gozo. I believe that the best manner to apply Local Agenda 21 in Malta would be on a regional level. It would entail the setting up an additional level of local government that could be made up of all the local councils in the region. One possibility for the identification of regions would be to follow the boundaries of the seven local plans. These regions could be the channel for drawing up a Local Agenda 21 in conformity with national policy and strategies, which allow ample room for adequate planning. The proposed Conference on Local Sustainable Development would be a good start.

The basic point at issue in all deliberations is to view the economy as a tool at the service of the eco-system rather than as master of all. Adopting sustainable development as a policy instrument is no easy task. It entails taking a holistic view of public administration and its consequences. It signifies that national policy and administrative action need to have a continuous long-term view.

Economic policy generally takes on board social policy. It now needs to ensure that it is subservient to the eco-system because at the end of the day the eco-system is the source of our being. It is only at this point that we will be in a position to settle our country’s accumulated environmental deficit!

Dawl li jniġġes

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mill-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa bil-lejl dan tara

Il-Birdlife għadha kif ippubblikat rapport dwar it-tniġġis ikkawżat mid-dawl u kif dan jeffettwa għasafar li jbejtu f’Malta. Ir-rapport huwa intitolat Light Pollution and its effect on Yelkouan Shearwaters in Malta; causes and solutions. Dan ir-rapport huwa parti minn proġett iffinanzjat mill-EU biex tkun imħarsa l-Garnija u fejn din tbejjet, magħruf bħala l-Rdum tal-Madonna fl-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa.

It-tniġġis kawżat mid-dawl huwa problema fiż-żoni madwar il-kosta u jeffettwa lill-għasafar li jtiru l-iktar bil-lejl. Dan it-tnġġis mid-dawl ma jeffettwax biss lill-għasafar. Minbarra ħlejjaq oħra jeffettwa ukoll lilna.

Fid-dwal mixgħula bil-lejl għandna ħafna ħela. Ir-rapport jirrakkomanda x’miżuri jistgħu jittieħdu biex dan it-tniġġis mid-dawl ikun ikkontrolat u possibilment eliminat.

It-tip ta’ fittings għad-dwal użati fit-toroq jista’ jnaqqas ħafna din il-problema ta’ tniġġis u dan billi jidderiġi d-dawl lejn fejn hu meħtieġ. F’ċerti toroq hemm dawl żejjed.

L-istudju jiffoka fuq il-kolonja tal-garnija fl-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa u jikkonkudi li l-garnija li tbejjet hawn hi efettwata mit-tniġġis tad-dawl li qed joriġina minn Buġibba, l-Mellieħa, il-Campsite fl-Aħrax stess, iċ-Ċirkewwa u l-Għadira.

Ir-rapport fih lista ta’ rakkomandazzjonijiet li jinkludu mod kif jitnaqqas it-tniġġis mid-dawl kkawżata mid-dwal fit-toroq, mal-bajjiet, mal-lukandi u anke dak madwar bini pubbliku, bħas-swar u l-knejjes.