The Dingli “oversight”

The National Audit Office (NAO) has just concluded an investigation into the Dingli Interpretation centre which sought to determine if there had been collusion between various government officials so that the site will be transformed from an interpretation centre into a catering establishment.

The investigation, as explained in the NAO’s report, did not uncover any evidence to suggest fraud and/or corruption. There is, however, reference to what is being described as an “oversight”. Of central importance in the development of this “oversight” was the authority dealing with land-use planning – then known as MEPA, today rebranded as PA!

When an application for an outline development permission was submitted by the Dingli Local Council in 2002 (application PA5314/02) the local council was requesting the incorporation of a catering area in the submitted plans. Drawing on planning documentation, the NAO report explains in detail how Dingli Local Council was requested by MEPA to revise the submitted proposal. These changes, the NAO report emphasised, “included the elimination of catering services”. To be very clear, MEPA insisted on a change to the development proposal itself.

The original development proposal submitted by the Local Council consisted of the demolition of the two existing buildings and the construction of a new building, consisting of three floors, of a modern design, which occupied a larger footprint than the existing structures. The plans included a kitchenette and a large area designated for seating.

MEPA insisted – and Dingli Local Council agreed – that the description of the proposed development be amended to read ‘restore existing structures, carry out alterations and additions to convert them to an interpretive centre’. The sale of food and drink on site was to be limited to the use of vending machines.

Subsequently, an application for full development permission was submitted by Dingli Local Council and approved by MEPA. We are informed by the NAO report that the approved application (PA0425/08), “allowed food and drink to be served at the Interpretation Centre as an ancillary activity” notwithstanding the fact that these were prohibited by the previous approved outline development permit which established the basic acceptable parameters of the project.

The NAO report states that when the Chairperson of the Development Control Commission (DCC) was queried on the matter, she explained this variance as an “oversight” and said that she was under the impression that the permit issued reflected the Board’s discussion, and therefore excluded catering on site.”

Now an “oversight”, according to my dictionary is “a mistake made through a failure to notice something”.

Going through the MEPA documentation available, I came across the minutes of the DCC which do not indicate an oversight. In fact, the minutes of the DCC held on 18 March 2009 specifically state that there was the intention to refuse the application specifically because catering facilities (that is Class 6 use) were not approved in the outline development permission.

In the MEPA documentation which is referred to as DPAR (Development Permit Application report) in the section entitled “Notes to Committee”, it is written that the Local Council architect reacted by submitting a revised set of drawings in which the catering facility was removed.

In later meetings of the DCC, this intention disappeared and the application (including the catering facilities) was approved on 20 January 2010.

This is anything but an “oversight”: they knew all along what was going on.

The NAO report states: “This Investigation notes that between 18 March 2009 and 10 March 2010, MEPA’s position changed from excluding Class 6 facilities to one that allowed catering as an ancillary facility.”

The basic question is: what happened between the 18 March 2009 and 10 March 2010, as a result of which the DCC changed its views? It is a question which the NAO report fails to answer.

Only idiots would accept that this is an “oversight”.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 16 June 2018


Making hay …….. in St George’s Bay

The 23-storey Pender Gardens high-rise is nearly completed, after nearly 10 years of continuous construction activity. The application for the 31-storey Mercury House was approved last month and next Thursday, the Planning Authority Board will consider planning application PA2478/16 submitted by Garnet Investments Limited in respect of a substantial stretch of land along St George’s Bay on the outskirts of Paceville St Julian’s.

The applicant has requested the following: “Demolition of all existing buildings forming part of St. George’s Bay Hotel and ancillary facilities, Dolphin House, Moynihan House and Cresta Quay. Construction of Parking facilities, Hotels and ancillary facilities, Commercial Area, Multi Ownership holiday accommodation, Bungalows, Language school with accommodation. Restoration of the Villa Rosa and upgrading of the facilities including parking facility, kitchen and toilets all below existing site levels within the Villa Rosa Area to address catering facilities/wedding hall.”

The project includes mixed-uses covering a total site area of 48,723 square metres, a building footprint of 18,345 square metres and a total gross floor area of 82,917 square meters.

It is a small part of the area that was tentatively tackled by a draft Masterplan for Paceville which, after being rejected by public opinion was sent back to the drawing board. I consider it highly unethical for the Planning Authority to proceed with considering this application after the clear and resounding verdict of public opinion. As a minimum, the consideration of this application should have been postponed until a new, reasonable and acceptable Masterplan has received the go-ahead. A minimum effort at achieving consensus as to what development is acceptable is essential.

The Planning Authority is unfortunately insensitive to public opinion. It is amply clear that it, and those who appoint most of its Board members, are on the same wavelength as the development lobby, which is hell-bent on making hay while the sun shines. At this point in time, it is the turn of the St George’s Bay area.

The project is obviously recommended for approval in the 43-page report from the Planning Directorate.

The basic point of contention with such large-scale projects is that they are considered in isolation. Most of them would never get off the drawing board (real or virtual) if the consolidated impact of all neighbouring projects (existing or in the pipeline) are taken into account. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to address similar concerns to the EIA public consultation on the db Group ITS site project.

Five large-scale projects are earmarked for St George’s Bay. Each will generate considerable havoc from excavation throughout construction and right through operation in the whole St George’s Bay area. Cumulatively it will be hell. Who cares?

Way back in 2006, when the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive of the EU was about to be implemented in Malta, the Lawrence Gonzi – George Pullicino tandem rushed through the approval of the Local Plans in such a manner as to ensure that the accumulated environmental impact resulting from their implementation was not scrutinised and acted upon. The present state of affairs is the direct result of that irresponsible Gonzi-Pullicino action 12 years ago.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) occasionally tries to patch things up. For example, within the framework of the ITS EIA exercise ERA suggested that the traffic assessment of the ITS and the Villa Rosa projects be consolidated. This has, however, been avoided: a case of too little, too late.

So where do we go from here?

The development lobby is maximising its efforts to make hay while the sun shines. In reality, a consolidated mess is taking shape with massively built-up areas in a relatively restricted space punctured by high rises mimicking phallic symbols of all shapes and sizes spread all over the place. Pender Place has 23 floors. Mercury House will have 31. The ITS phallus will have a 37-floor residential tower. The Villa Rosa/Cresta Quay project will have more modest heights.

Next Thursday, the Planning Authority has the opportunity to scrutinise the proposal for this Villa Rosa-Cresta Quay project. We will see once more the extent to which the concrete lobby still holds the Authority by its balls – obviously where this is applicable.


published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 18 February 2018

Is-sit tal-ITS f’Pembroke : l-art pubblika, profitti tal-privat

L-iżvilupp tas-sit preżentement okkupat mill-Istitut tal-Istudji Turistiċi f’Pembroke reġa’ fl-aħbarijiet. Is-settur pubbliku jipprovdi l-art filwaqt li l-Grupp dB jimpala l-euro, bil-miljuni.

Matul din il-ġimgħa l-media tkellmet dwar il-miljuni li qed jiġi miftieħem li jitħallsu għall-bejgħ eventwali ta’ sulari sħaħ fit-torrijiet tal-Grupp dB. Dawn m’humiex flejjes li ser jitħallsu għal xiri ta’ propjetà fuq il-pjanta, għax s’issa la hemm permessi u l-anqas għad m’hemm l-ebda pjanta ffinalizzata. L-awtoritajiet tal-ippjanar għadhom fl-istadji inizzjali fl-eżami tagħhom tal-proġett propost: l-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA) għadha kif bdiet il-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni statutorja dwar l-Istudju tal-Impatt Ambjentali (EIA) li għandu għaddej sat-12 ta’ Frar. Minkejja li l-ERA għad tista’ tirrakkomanda tibdil, żgħir jew kbir, fil-proġett wara li tkun ikkunsidrat bir-reqqa l-EIA, qiesu li l-iżviluppaturi huma ċerti li mhu ser ikun hemm l-ebda konsiderazzjoni ta’ ippjanar jew ambjent li ser ixxekkel dak li bosta jqiesu li hu proġett żejjed u mhux meħtieġ.

Id-dokumenti ppreżentati għall-iskrutinju pubbliku huma sostanzjali u voluminużi. Imma possibilment fihom in-nieqes u għaldaqstant diġa ktibt lill-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi biex tirrimedja u tippubblika dak li ġie identifikat bħala nieqes s’issa.

Dokument ta’ interess li insibuh fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-ERA huwa l-Project Description Statement (PDS) li tħejja minn ditta (partnership) ta’ periti li ftit kienet magħrufa s’issa. Din id-ditta iġġib l-isem ta’ Landmark Architects u jirriżulta li titmexxa mill-ekx-Ministru tat-Trasport il-Perit Jesmond Mugliett.

Fil-paġna 5 ta’ dan id-dokument, il-Perit Mugliett jikteb hekk “Nhar it-2 ta’ Frar 2017, il-Gvern u s-soċjetà dB San Gorg Property Limited iffirmaw il-kuntratt għat-trasferiment tal-art li dwarha ħarġet sejħa pubblika għall-proposti. Kemm il-Gvern ta’ Malta kif ukoll is-soċjetà dB San Gorg Property Limited jaqblu li l-evalwazzjoni tal-proġett ta’ żvilupp m’għandhiex iddum iktar mill-perjodu minimu stabilit mill-leġislazzjoni tal-ippjanar. (On the 2nd of February 2017, the Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Limited signed the contract for the granting of the RFP site. Both the Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Ltd. agree that evaluation of the project development should not extend beyond the minimum time frames established by Planning Law.) Fil-fehma tiegħi dan ifisser li l-Gvern diġa rabat idejn l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar dwar kif din għandha topera f’dan il-kaz.

L-iżviluppatur donnu mhux inkwetat li l-Masterplan imfassal għal Paceville ġie skartat u beda l-proċess biex dan jitfassal mill-ġdid u dan wara l-konsultazzjoni pubblika mqanqla li kellna lejn tmiem l-2016. L-awtur tal-PDS fil-fatt jinfurmana li “L-Gvern ta’ Malta u s-soċjetà dB San Gorg Property Limited komplew bin-negozjati, u eventwalment qablu li ma kienx fl-interess tal-proġett, tal-industrija Maltija tat-Turiżmu u tal-ekonomija Maltija li joqgħdu jistennew li jkun konkluż dan il-Masterplan.” (The Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Limited continued with negotiations, eventually coming to an agreement that it was not in the interest of the project, the Maltese Tourism Industry and the Maltese economy to wait for the conclusion of this masterplan.)

Dan, fil-fehma tiegħi jimmina l-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika. Għax liema huma r-regoli u policies tal-ippjanar li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ser isegwi fuq is-sit illum okkupat mill-Istitut tal-Istudji Turistiċi? Il-proposta diġa tidher ċar li tmur kontra dak li jipprovdi l-pjan lokali tal-2006 li hu applikabbli. Allura fuq liema kriterji ser tkun ivvalutata l-proposta ta’ żvilupp?

Xi żmien ilu konna infurmati li l-ebda żvilupp fl-inħawi m’hu ser jitħalla jibda sakemm ikun konkluż Masterplan ġdid għal Paceville. Dakinnhar kien emfasizzat li l-proposti dwar is-sit tal-ITS f’Pembroke seta jkun evalwat biss wara l-approvazzjoni tal-Masterplan ġdid għal Paceville.

Din hi wegħda li kienet skartata kompletament!

Kien ukoll ġie mwiegħed li l-Masterplan il-ġdid ma kienx ser ikun imniġġes minn kunflitti ta’ interess. Tgħid din il-wegħda ser tkun injorata ukoll?


ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd : 21 ta’ Jannar 2018

Pembroke ITS site : public land – private profits


The redevelopment of the site currently occupied by the Institute for Tourism Studies (ITS) in Pembroke is again in the news: the public sector is providing the land while the dB Group will rake in the profits – amounting to millions of euro.

During the week various media outlets focused on the millions being forked out for the eventual purchase of entire floors in the dB Group towers. These are not the price for purchase of property still on plan, because no permits have yet been issued, nor have the plans as yet been finalised. The examination of the proposed development by the planning authorities is still in its initial stages: the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has just kicked off the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) statutory consultation period, which is scheduled to run until 12 February. Notwithstanding the fact that the ERA may recommend changes to the planned project as a result of its consideration of the EIA, it seems that the developers are sure that there will be no planning or environmental issues which can put the breaks to what most people consider an ill-advised project.

The documents presented for public scrutiny are voluminous, but possibly incomplete, and I have already written to ERA to complete the missing information gaps, at least those identified to date.

A basic document of interest, available on the ERA website, is the Project Description Statement (PDS) – the work of an as yet unknown partnership of architects going by the name of “Landmark Architects”. It transpires that this partnership is headed by former Transport Minister Jesmond Mugliett, who writes on page 5 of the PDS : “On the 2nd of February 2017, the Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Limited signed the contract for the granting of the RFP site. Both the Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Ltd. agree that evaluation of the project development should not extend beyond the minimum time frames established by Planning Law.” To my mind this signifies that the government has already tied the Planning Authority’s hands as to how it should operate in this case.

The developer is not (apparently) worried that the Paceville Master Plan was sent back to the drawing board after the agitated public consultation late in 2016. The author of the PDS, in fact, informs us that “The Government of Malta and dB San Gorg Property Limited continued with negotiations, eventually coming to an agreement that it was not in the interest of the project, the Maltese Tourism Industry and the Maltese economy to wait for the conclusion of this masterplan.”

Does this not undermine the whole consultation process? What planning rules and/or policies will the Planning Authority follow at the former ITS site? On what criteria will the development proposal be evaluated – it already clearly goes beyond what is permitted in the applicable 2006 local plan.

Some time ago, we were informed that no new developments in the area would be given the go-ahead until such time as a new draft Paceville Master Plan was launched. It was then emphasised that the proposals for the Pembroke ITS site can only be properly assessed when the Paceville Master Plan is in place.

This pledge has been blatantly ignored by the development proposal.

It was also pledged that the new proposed Master Plan will not be tainted by conflicts of interest as was the original one. Will this pledge also be ignored?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 January 2018

Ħmar il-lejl: l-ippjanar għall-kosta u r-riżorsi marittimi

Nhar it-Tnejn il-Parlament beda d-diskussjoni dwar l-implimentazzjoni tal-leġislazzjoni tad-dimanju pubbliku u b’mod partikolari dwar rapport li ħejjiet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar fuq is-siti nominati. Ir-rapport jirreferi għal 24 sit nominati prinċipalment mill-għaqdiet ambjentali: 16-il sit kienu nominati minn Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), seba’ siti minn Friends of the Earth u sit wieħed mill-Ministru għall-Ambjent Josè Herrera.

Id-diskussjoni għadha fl-istadji inizzjali u s’issa kienet limitata għal spjegazzjoni tal-liġi li l-Parlament approva lejn nofs l-2016.

Moħbi mill-attenzjoni pubblika hemm il-ħtieġa urġenti li tkun implimentata d-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar l-Ippjanar tal-Ispazju Marittimu. Din id-Direttiva kellha tkun addottata sa tmiem l-2014. Permezz tal-Avviż Legali 341 tal-2016 Malta nnominat lill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar bħala l-awtorità kompetenti li ser tieħu ħsieb dak li għandu x’jaqsam mal-ippjanar tal-ispazju marittimu fil-gżejjer Maltin.

Wara li staqsejt inġibdet l-atttenzjoni tiegħi li l-Pjan dwar l-Ispazju Marittimu għal Malta diġà jifforma parti mill-Pjan Strateġiku dwar l-Ambjent u l-Iżvilupp (Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development – SPED). Ngħid il-verità ma kontx irrealizzajt dan. Ħsibt li kien hemm xi paġni f’dak id-dokument li kienu qabżuli u allura mort infittex mill-ġdid u sibt sezzjoni intitolata Coastal Zone and Marine Area u taħtha tlett oġġettivi għall ħarsien tal-kosta. Dawn l-oġġettivi jistgħu, u nittama li jkunu, sviluppati fi strateġija dettaljata dwar l-Ispazju Marittimu Malti.

Waqt li Malta jidher li llimitat ruħha għal tlett oġġettivi xotti, pajjiżi oħra għamlu ħidma kbira biex jippreparaw il-pjani tagħhom dwar l-Ispazju Marittimu. L-Irlanda, per eżempju, ippubblikat dokument ta’ 88 paġna intitolat Harnessing our Ocean Wealth. An Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland. Min-naħa l-oħra, ir-Renju Unit ippubblika dokument ta’ 55 paġna intitolat UK Marine Policy Statement.

Dawn iż-żewġ dokumenti jidħlu fid-dettall dwar l-Ippjanar għall-Ispazju Marittimu meħtieġ fl-Irlanda u r-Renju Unit. Bla dubju dawn id-dokumenti jeħtieġ li jkunu supplimentati bi pjani ħafna iktar dettaljati. Id-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja fil-fatt tistabilixxi s-sena 2021 bħala d-data sa meta għandhom ikunu ffinalizzati l-Pjani għall-Ispazju Marittimu.

Malta hi gżira mdawra bil-baħar Mediterran. Fatt li għandu jkun rifless f’politika marittima serja u aġġornata. Sfortunatament dan mhux il-kaz għax jidher li għalina f’Malta it-tlett oġġettivi dwar il-kosta fil-Pjan Strateġiku dwar l-Ambjent u l-Iżvilupp (SPED) huma biżżejjed.

Id-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropeja dwar l-Ippjanar tal-Ispazju Marittimu bla dubju hi intenzjonata biex iċċaqlaqna ħalli nimlew it-toqob fil-politika tagħna. L-ekonomija l-blu, jiġifieri l-ħidma ekonomika li tiddependi fuq l-użu tar-riżorsi marittimi, teħtieġ attenzjoni ħafna iktar dettaljata.

Il-Gvernijiet Maltin, wieħed wara l-ieħor, għamlu ħerba fuq l-art u ħsara bla qies fiż-żoni naturali. F’xi kazi l-ħsara li saret ftit tista’ tiġi rimedjata. L-ilma tal-pjan hu l-eżempju ewlieni.

L-ippjanar b’attenzjoni tal-Ispazju Marittimu jista’ jkun ta’ għajnuna biex din l-imġieba żbaljata tal-Gvernijiet ma tkunx esportata lil hinn mill-kosta ħalli wara li ħarbatna l-art ma nħarbtux il-baħar ukoll.

Snin ilu kien pass għaqli li kienet indirizzata l-kwalità tal-ilma baħar bl-introduzzjoni tal-impjanti għat-tisfija tad-drenaġġ. Għad baqa’ xi jsir biex l-ilma msoffi, flok jintrema, jibda jintuża. Kontinwament għadna niffaċċjaw it-tniġġiż mill-gaġeġ tal-ħut li għandna fl-ibħra u li qed ikollhom impatti kemm fuq iż-żoni residenzjali kif ukoll fuq il-faċilitajiet turistiċi. Imbagħad hemm ukoll is-sajd, it-tibdil fil-klima, l-bijodiversita, is-sigurtà marittima, il-fdalijiet arkeologiċi fil-baħar kif ukoll il-ħmar il-lejl li nassoċjaw mar-riklamazzjoni tal-baħar. Pjan għall-Ispazji marittimi fil-gżejjer Maltin irid jindirizza dawn l-oqsma u bosta oħra b’mod integrat.

Il-gżejjer Maltin fihom 316 kilometru kwadrat. L-ibħra Maltin sa 25 mil nawtiku mill-kosta fihom medda ferm ikbar b’kejl ta’ 11,480 kilometru kwadrat filwaqt li l-blata kontinentali taħt il-ġurisdizzjoni Maltija fiha 75,779 kilometru kwadrat.
Din hi l-isfida li għandna quddiemna biex inħarsu l-ibħra tagħna.

ippubblikat fuq Illum – 24 ta’ Diċembru 2017 

Planning nightmares: the coastline and marine resources


Last Monday, Parliament commenced a discussion on the implementation of the Public Domain legislation, in respect of which the Planning Authority has submitted a report entitled “Sites Nominated to be declared as Public Domain”. This report refers to 24 sites, nominated primarily by eNGOs: 16 sites were nominated by Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), seven by Friends of the Earth and one by Minister for the Environment Josè Herrera.

The discussion is still in its initial stages and so far it has been limited to an explanation of the legislation enacted by Parliament in mid-2016.

Currently under the radar is the urgent need to implement the EU Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning, which had to be adopted by end of 2014. Malta has, in fact, adopted it and through Legal Notice 341 of 2016 it identified the Planning Authority as the competent authority which will deal with issues of maritime spatial planning in the Maltese Islands.

After submitting a query, it was pointed out to me that the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED) shall constitute Malta’s Maritime Spatial Plan – something I had not realised. Thinking that I had missed something, I checked the SPED and found a text entitled Coastal Zone and Marine Area under which are listed three coastal objectives. These are clearly objectives that can (and hopefully will) be developed into a detailed Maritime Spatial Plan.

While Malta has apparently limited itself to three brief objectives, other countries have gone into considerable detail to prepare their Maritime Spatial Plans. Ireland, for example, has published an 88-page document entitled Harnessing our Ocean Wealth – an Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland and the United Kingdom has published a 55-page document entitled UK Marine Policy Statement.

Both documents go into some detail as to the Maritime Spatial Planning required in Ireland and the United Kingdom and they will undoubtedly have to be supplemented with more detailed plans. The EU Directive determines the year 2021 as the deadline for the establishment of Maritime Spatial Plans.

The fact that Malta is an island should be reflected in more importance being given to maritime policy. Unfortunately, this is clearly not the case as it seems that we have to manage with three coastal objectives in our Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED).

The EU Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning is intended to nudge us to fill the gaps in our policies and plans. The blue economy, which is the economic activity dependent on the utilisation of marine resources, requires much careful planning.

Successive Maltese governments have ruined land-based resources and natural habitats. At times this has been done almost beyond repair. The water table is one such glaring example.

Careful maritime spatial planning could be of assistance in not exporting this erroneous behaviour beyond the coastline so that the environmental damage inflicted on the land is not repeated at sea.

Some years ago, addressing the quality of seawater by ensuring that urban wastewater dumped into the sea was adequately treated was a positive step. More still needs to be done to use the treated water. We repeatedly face issues of contamination arising out of fish-farms that has a negative impact on our residential and tourist facilities. What about fishing, energy, climate change, biodiversity, maritime safety, marine archaeological remains and land reclamation nightmares? A Maritime Spatial Plan for the Maltese Islands has to address all these issues and many more, in an holistic manner.

The Maltese Islands have a land area of 316 square kilometres. On the other hand, the area around the Maltese islands up to 25 nautical miles from the shoreline measures 11,480 square kilometres, while the area of the Continental Shelf under Malta’s jurisdiction in terms of the Continental Shelf Act measures approximately 75,779 square kilometres.

This is the physical extend of the challenge we face to protect our sea.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday – 24th December 2017 

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