Politika dwar turiżmu sostenibbli

L-Awtorità Maltija tat-Turiżmu għadha kif ħabbret li tul l-2019 2.75 miljun turist żaru Malta. Din qabża kbir fuq perjodu ta’ għaxar snin. Fl-2010 iċ-ċifra kienet ta’ 1.33 miljun turist. Ġejna infurmati wkoll li t-turisti li żaru Malta tul l-2019, kemm damu fostna, nefqu iktar minn 2.2 biljun euro, ċifra li taqbeż ir-rekord stabilit fl-2018.

Dawn numri impressjonanti, sakemm tistaqsi (u jkollok tweġiba għal) mistoqsija bażika. Dan kollu, sostenibbli?

Xi snin ilu l-Awtorità tat-Turiżmu kienet ikkonkludiet studju li minnu joħroġ li t-turist li jiġi jżura, ras għal ras, jikkonsma 50% mir-riżorsi iktar minna li noqgħodu hawn. Din l-informazzjoni kont sibtha jiena u naqra wieħed mir-rapport dwar il-qagħda ambjentali tal-pajjiż (State of the Environment Report). Fil-qosor, dan ifisser impatt addizzjonali ras għal ras fuq ir-riżorsi li nagħmlu użu minnhom u mhux biss l-ilma u l-elettriku imma wkoll l-iskart iġġenerat, it-trasport, l-art żviluppata u ħafna iktar.

L-istatistika ppubblikata mill-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Istatistika tiffoka fuq l-aħbar pożittiva relatata mat-turiżmu lejn Malta. Imma dan kollu xejn ma jispjega l-impatti ġġenerati bħala riżultat. L-istatistika, wara kollox, m’għandiex dan l-iskop! Mhuwiex xieraq li tiffoka fuq l-aħbar li timpressjona mingħajr ma tfisser u tispjega l-impatti kkawżati biex jitlaħqu dawn ir-riżultati. .

Xi ġimgħat ilu, fuq dawn il-paġni kont iddiskutejt turiżmu li qed jikber iżżejjed (overtourism). Dakinnhar kont staqsejt jekk l-impatt ekonomiku tat-turiżmu jiġġustifikax l-effetti soċjali u ambjentali tiegħu. Dak li jiflaħ pajjiżna, jiġifieri dak li nirreferu għalih bħala l-carrying capacity tal-gżejjer Maltin, ċioe n-numru ta’ turisti li għalihom għandna riżorsi adegwati, hu ta’ importanza fundamentali f’din id-diskussjoni. Politika dwar it-turiżmu li dan kollu ma tqiesux sewwa hi politka difettuża.

Julia Farrugia Portelli, Ministru għat-Turiżmu, donnha hi tal-istess ħsieb. Fil-fatt, hi u titkellem dwar iċ-ċifri tat-turiżmu għas-sena 2019 ħabbret li l-abbozz tal-pjan għat-Turiżmu li għandu jwassalna sal-2025 ser ikun ibbażat fuq il-prinċipji ta’ turiżmu sostenibbli, kif ukoll fuq il-kisbiet tas- snin li għaddew.

Jista’ t-turiżmu qatt ikun sostenibbli? Kif bosta minna bla dubju ntebħu, is-sostenibilità hi terminu minn l-iktar abbużat.

Aħna u neżaminaw il-kontribut tat-turiżmu lis-soċjetà Maltija m’għandniex nillimitaw ruħna għad-dħul finanzjarju: għandna nagħtu każ ukoll tal-ispejjeż, mhux biss f’termini ta’ flus imma wkoll l-ispiża soċjali u ambjentali.

B’żieda mal-eċċessività ta’ riżorsi ikkunsmati ras għal ras mit-turisti wieħed għandu jżid mhux biss l-iżvilupp esaġerat tal-art, li għalih it-turiżmu wkoll jagħti sehem mhux żgħir, imma ukoll il-kontribuzzjoni lejn it-tibdil fil-klima mill-industrija tal-avjazzjoni. Din hi materja li ma nistgħux nibqgħu ninjorawha. Bla dubju ser nisimgħu ħafna iktar dwar dan matul il-ġimgħat u x-xhur li ġejjin huwa u jiżviluppa d-dibattitu dwar il-Patt Ġdid Aħdar tal-Unjoni Ewropea (EU Green Deal) ippilotat mill-Kummissarju Frans Timmermanns. Dakinhar nifhmu aħjar dwar kif jaħsbuha dwar is-sostenibilità u l-iżvilupp sostenibbli dawk li jfasslu l-politika.

Il-viżjoni għat-turiżmu għas-snin li ġejjin tkun waħda werċa jekk ma tagħtix kaz tal-impatti soċjali u ambjentali tal-industrija. Dawk li jfasslu l-politika għat-turiżmu għandhom iħarsu lil hinn mid-dħul finanzjarju.

Lura fl-2008 l-antropologu Katalan Manoel Delgado kien ħoloq it-terminu turistofobia, biża’ mit-turiżmu, terminu li jwassal taħlita ta’ sentimenti ta’ stmerrija, nuqqas ta’ fiduċja u tmaqdir tat-turiżmu. Il-politika dwar it-turiżmu għandha tindirizza dawn l-impatti tat-turiżmu billi tassigura li t-turiżmu jkun limitat u ma jaqbiżx dak li jiflaħ il-pajjiż (carrying capacity). Dan ikun pass tajjeb il-quddiem għat-turiżmu u jikkuntrasta mal-qagħda xejn sostenibbli li għandna illum.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 9 ta’ Frar 2020

A sustainable tourism policy!

The Malta Tourism Authority has announced that, during 2019, the Maltese Islands received a record 2.75 million tourists, an impressive jump from the 2010 figure of 1.33 million.

We are told that the expenditure on the part of tourists visiting Malta during 2019 exceeded €2.2 billion, surpassing the previous record set in 2018.

The numbers are quite impressive but the basic question to ask, however, goes beyond impressive numbers. Is this sustainable?

Some years back, a study carried out by MTA concluded that a tourist visiting the Maltese islands makes use of 50 per cent more resources that locals. I originally came across this information when going through one of the State of the Environment Reports. In brief, this signifies an additional per capita impact on all resources that we use – not just water and electricity, but also waste generated, transport, land developed and much more.

The statistics published by the National Statistics Office give positive news regarding inbound tourism to Malta. They do not, however, explain in any way the impacts generated as a result, which is something beyond the scope of statistics. It is not, however, appropriate to sing the praises with numbers and ignore these impacts. Some weeks ago, I discussed the issue of over-tourism in these pages. I posed the question as to whether the economic impact of tourism justifies its social and environmental impacts. The carrying capacity of our islands – that is, the number of tourists with which our resources can reasonably cope – is of fundamental importance. A tourism policy that does not adequately consider the carrying capacity of the Maltese Islands is fundamentally flawed.

Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli is apparently thinking on the same wavelength. When discussing the 2019 tourism results, she announced that a draft tourism policy leading us up to 2025, will be based on the principles of sustainable tourism “while building on achievements of the past years”.

Can tourism ever be sustainable? The term “sustainability”, as most of us are by now aware, is a much-abused word and it is often used out of context in an effort to try and justify anything.

In order to gauge the contribution of tourism to Maltese society, we should not only consider the earnings derived there from but should also factor in the costs – not just financial ones but also social and environmental costs.

To the 50 per cent excess consumption of resources per capita one must add not only the overdevelopment of land generated by tourism but also the contribution to climate change by the aviation industry. This is certainly not negligible and we only ignore it at our peril. We will undoubtedly hear much more about this as the debate on the EU Green Deal – piloted by EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans – unfolds over the coming weeks and months. We will then understand much better what policy-makers assume when they use the terms “sustainability” and “sustainable development”.

The proposed tourism vision for the years ahead will be myopic if it does not factor in environmental and social impacts. Policy makers should look beyond the financial bottom-line.

Way back in 2008, Catalan anthropologist Manoel Delgado had coined the term “turistofobia” which term conveys a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists. A tourism policy should address these negative impacts of tourism by ensuring that it is restrained within the carrying capacity of the Maltese Islands. This would be a reasonable first step towards a tourism that is less unsustainable than at present.

published on The Independent on Sunday : 9 February 2020

Investigating Konrad’s MTA contract

It is known that Johann Buttigieg, former Chief Executive at the Planning Authority, was squeezed out of his post by Minister Ian Borg. Johann Buttigieg, however, found an ally in Konrad Mizzi, then Minister for Tourism, who facilitated his employment as the new Chief Executive of the Malta Tourism Authority.

By the time Johann Buttigieg had taken up his new post at the Malta Tourism Authority, Konrad Mizzi had already resigned as Minister. Although Konrad Mizzi had announced his resignation after a Cabinet meeting on the 26 November 2019 it is not clear if he had volunteered to step down or if he had been forced to go. He was reported as having said: “I felt it my duty – in the context of current political circumstances – to resign in loyalty to the people, the Labour Party and the Prime Minister.”

It would be reasonable to assume that Johann Buttigieg returned the favour from Konrad Mizzi when, on 9th December, he signed the contract appointing Konrad Mizzi as a consultant to the Authority – as one of his first decisions as CEO! However, this would not necessarily be a correct assumption. In fact, elsewhere in the press it has been opined that the decision to engage Konrad Mizzi as consultant was taken by Joseph Muscat himself, because after Konrad Mizzi’s resignation he was directly responsible for the Tourism Ministry.

As Chief Executive of the Malta Tourism Authority, Johann Buttigieg must shoulder substantial responsibility although it is most probable that he was acting on the instructions of Joseph Muscat. He should by now be aware that illegitimate (and unethical) superior orders can – and should be – ignored.

After Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli announced the rescinding of Konrad Mizzi’s contract she was asked to explain the reasons which justified such a revocation. She was very brief in her reply, saying that there were legal and ethical reasons that justified such a course of action. She was reluctant to state more in order to avoid prejudicing any legal action, should this result.

It is very interesting to note that the Honourable Minister has justified the revocation of the contract on ethical grounds. She is, of course, correct, although she chose not to point fingers. The point at issue then is who acted unethically?

I suggest that there are four persons who acted unethically in this specific case.

Irrespective of what they say, former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his sidekick Konrad Mizzi resigned in disgrace for a number of reasons, including being the cause of reputational damage to the country through their involvement and/or failure to act on the Panama Papers debacle, as well as a direct result of the role of the Office of the Prime Minister in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder: a role, the details of which are still emerging.

Joseph Muscat and Konrad Mizzi are at the top of the list of those who acted unethically as they set in motion the revolving recruitment mechanism as a result of which Konrad Mizzi was parachuted straight into the organisation for which he, as Minister, was politically responsible just two weeks earlier. This is unacceptable in any country that has a minimum degree of adherence to good governance: normally there would be a cooling-off period of some two to three years before such appointments are even considered.

Muscat and Mizzi tried to cash in on the fact that, the rules governing the ethical behaviour of holders of political office are still in their infancy. Dr George Hyzler, recently appointed by Parliament as the first Commissioner for Standards in Public Life, is still in the initial phase of his term and has yet to draft some of the appropriate rules.

The same applies to Chairman of the Malta Tourism Authority and Chief Executive Johann Buttigieg, who should not have allowed Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his sidekick Konrad Mizzi to bully them into submission. The recruitment of Mizzi was kept secret as long as was possible due to the fact that, knowledge of its existence would undoubtedly have created further turmoil within the Labour Party, then in the process of electing a successor to the disgraced Joseph Muscat.

Where do we go from here? In my view those acting unethically should shoulder their responsibilities. I have thus requested the Commissioner for Standards in Public Life to investigate the role of Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi, Gavin Gulia and Johann Buttigieg in the matter and consequently to recommend the necessary action required.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 February 2020

Pass tajjeb Julia: u issa?

Għada kif ħarġet l-aħbar li l-Ministeru tat-Turiżmu, wara li rċieva parir legali, ordna lill-Awtorità tat-Turiżmu biex il-kuntratt ta’ konsulenza ta’ Konrad Mizzi bi ħlas ta’ €80,000 fis-sena jkun annullat.

Pass tajjeb dan għal Julia Farrugia, l-Ministru ġdid tat-Turiżmu li sabet din il-ħatra ma wiċċha u ħadet passi. Ħatra li saret bil-moħbi fl-aħħar jiem tal-Gvern ta’ Joseph Muscat.

Li tħassar il-kuntratt hu pass tajjeb. Imma jeħtieġ ukoll li jittieħdu passi oħra.

Min ordna li Konrad Mizzi jkun ingaġġat bħala konsulent tal-Awtorità tat-Turiżmu? Ma naħsibx li dan sar minn wara dahar Joseph Muscat.

Bla dubju huma nvoluti ukoll Gavin Gulia Chairman tal-Awtorità tat-Turiżmu u Johann Buttigieg Chief Executive li ġie ngaġġat dan l-aħħar wara li Ian Borg ra kif għamel u ħeles minnu mill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Il-kuntratt fil-fatt hu iffirmat minn Johann Buttigieg.

L-istorja m’għandhiex tieqaf hawn. Diġa saret talba biex il-Kumitat tal-Kontijiet Pubbliċi tal-Parlament jinvestiga.

Imma dan il-kaz hu ukoll wieħed dwar nuqqas ta’ mġieba etika u għandu jkun eżaminat mill-Kummissarju dwar l-Istandards fil-Ħajja Pubblika fil-konfront kemm ta’ Joseph Muscat kif ukoll ta’ Gavin Gulia u Johann Buttigieg.

Ser nagħmel talba lil Dr George Hyzler biex jinvestiga dan.

L-impjieg ta’ Melvin Theuma

Mela issa sirna nafu li Melvin Theuma vera li ġie impjegat ma’ kumpanija tal-Gvern. Il-kumpanija jisimha Housing Maintenance and Embellishment Company Limited.

L-impjieg tiegħu beda fl-1 ta’ Mejju 2019.

Id-Diretturi ta’ din il-kumpanija tal-Gvern huma dawn:
George Meli Chairman, Gavin Gulia Segretarju u Elizabeth Ellul, Jemond Tanti, Mandy Gatt u Joan Morris bhala Diretturi.

Tgħid Elizabeth Ellul hi l-Viċi Chairperson tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar?

 

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