Il-pandemija u l-kummerċ tal-Milied

Bħala riżultat tal-pandemija Covid-19, dan il-Milied ser ikun wieħed differenti minn dawk li ġew qablu.  Normalment il-Milied  huwa ż-żmien meta  nissoċjaliżżaw iktar mill-bqija tas-sena. Żmien li fih niltaqgħu iktar mal-ħbieb u mal-familjari. Huwa ż-żmien li fih hu normali li niltaqgħu fi gruppi għal attivitajiet differenti.  

Dan hu kompletament bil-maqlub tal-mod kif issa jeħtieġ li naġixxu biex nikkumbattu kontra l-coronavirus. Li nnaqqsu drastikament u possibilment nevitaw il-kuntatti tagħna hu l-minimu meħtieġ f’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi biex tonqos l-imxija tal-coronavirus.  Bosta minna hekk jagħmlu, minkejja li l-Gvern kontinwament jagħtina sinjali konfliġġenti.   

Wieħed minn dawn is-sinjali konfliġġenti ngħata waqt il-konferenza stampa biex ikun imniedi  Christmas in the City iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa. Il-Ministri  Josè Herrera u Julia Farrugia-Portelli, imwieżna miċ-Chairman tas-Super One Jason Micallef, u oħrajn, tkellmu dwar il-ħinijiet tax-xiri u dwar kemm ser ikun faċli l-parking għal min jitħajjar imur il-Belt biex jixtri r-rigali tal-Milied. L-ispirtu tal-Milied xejn ma jiddependi mis-siegħat ta’ xiri fil-ħwienet. L-anqas ma jiddependi minn kemm ikollna aċċess faċli għall-parking.  

Is-sinifikat propju tal-Milied hu tal-istaġun tas-solidarjetà li fiċ-ċirkustanzi preżenti, maħluqa mill-pandemija, hu importanti iktar minn qatt qabel.

Fl-istess ħin li l-Ministri Herrera u Farrugia-Portelli kienu kienu qed jitkellmu dwar Christmas in the City, epidemologisti kienu qed iwissuna li matul ix-xahar ta’ Diċembru r-rata tal-imwiet f’Malta mill-Covid-19 mistenni li tiżdied bi tlett darbiet: minn żewgt imwiet kuljum għal sitta kuljum. In-numru tal-imwiet mill-Covid-19 diġa żdied b’mod konsiderevoli sa minn meta tnaqqsu r-restrizzjonijiet f’Lulju li għadda. Fil-ħin li qed nikteb in-numru ta’ mwiet ħtija tal-Covid-19 laħaq il-108, u sa x’ħin dan l-artiklu jinqara n-numru sfortunatament ikompli jikber.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan ma jagħmilx sens li tistieden lin-nies biex jinżlu l-Belt għax-xiri tar-rigali tal-Milied. Huwa l-waqt li nagħmlu eżatt bil-maqlub:  innaqqsu l-moviment tan-nies bit-tama li dan jgħin fit-trażżin tal-pandemija.  Huwa dan li messu qed iħeġġeġ il-Gvern.

Ikoll nirrikonoxxu li l-pandemija kellha impatt qawwi u negattiv fuq l-għixien ta’ bosta.  Is-setturi tal-ikel u tal-ospitalità  kellhom sfida qawwija matul ix-xhur tas-sajf. Iż-żmien meta normalment imorru tajjeb, kien iż-żmien meta qalgħu l-ikbar daqqa.  Iktar ma noqorbu lejn il-Milied mhux talli l-pandemija ma naqqsitx, talli donna iktar irrankat. L-irkupru ekonomiku jidher li għad baqalu.

In-numru ta’ dawk li qed ikunu infettati qiegħed jikber.  Fl-istess ħin lkoll nifhmu li l-iskop wara x-xewqa li jkunu mħajra n-nies lejn il-Belt u ċ-ċentri kummerċjali hi motivata mill-ħtieġa tad-dinja tal-kummerċ biex ittaffi d-daqqa li qalgħet billi tipprova issarraf ftit mill-kummerċ li normalment jiġġenera l-Milied. Il-konsiderazzjonijiet ta’ saħħa, imma, għandhom dejjem jibqgħu l-prijorità: issa mhux iż-żmien li jkunu nkoraġġiti l-ebda tip ta’ celebrazzjonijiet.  Flok ma ninkoraġixxu lin-nies biex tersaq lejn ic-ċentri kummerċjali l-Gvern għandu jkun fuq quddiem biex iħeġġeġ l-attenzjoni u prudenza. Mhux Ministru wieħed, imma l-Gvern kollu! Il-vouchers, l-għotjiet, l-għajnuniet u s-supplimenti għall-pagi li l-Gvern qed iqassam f’isimna lkoll, wara kollox, għandhom l-iskop li jtaffu dan il-piz li nħoloq bħala riżultat tal-pandemija.

Għalfejn f’dan il-mument kritiku narmu l-kisbiet li ġibna bis-sagrifiċċji ta’ bosta? Għax huwa dan li nkunu qed nagħmlu kull meta jingħata ħjiel li wara kollox tajjeb li ninġabru u niċċelebraw. Issa mhux il-waqt għal dan.

Il-Covid-19 mhux ser joqtol il-Milied jekk inqas nies jixtru ir-rigali! L-ispirtu tal-Milied ma jitkejjilx  mill-volum ta’ rigali li jinxtraw imma minn kemm aħna kapaċi nkun solidali mal-vulnerabbli tal-lum.

U issa?

L-ikbar att ta’ solidarjetà, bħalissa, hu li harsu lill-vulnerabbli fostna billi nimxu mad-direttivi tal-awtoritajiet tas-saħħa intenzjonati biex iżommu lill-pandemija milli tkompli tixtered.  Il-vaċċin jidher li hu fil-qrib. Dan inissel tama li possibilment matul l-ewwel nofs tas-sena l-ġdida nibdew l-ewwel passi fil-mixja bil-mod lejn in-normalità.  

Imma sadakinnhar hu obbligu tagħna li nħarsu kemm lilna nfusna kif ukoll lil ħaddieħor b’imġieba prudenti. Din hi s-solidarjetà prattika li dan l-istaġun tal-Milied jistenna minn għandna.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 22 ta’ Novembru 2020

Covid-19 and the City

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, this Christmas is essentially different from all past ones.

Christmas is normally time for meeting with friends and family, for socialising. It is the time when we normally gather in large groups for a variety of purposes. This is exactly the opposite of what is required to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Avoiding and reducing unnecessary contacts to the bare minimum helps to prevent the further spread of Covid-19. That is what we all say and believe, notwithstanding government’s continuous conflicting signals. 

One of the last such conflicting signals was given during a Press Conference launching Christmas in the City earlier this week. Ministers Josè Herrera and Julia Farrugia-Portelli, buttressed by Super One Chairman Jason Micallef and others spoke about shopping hours and parking requirements when launching Christmas in the City.  The Christmas spirit is not dependent on shopping hours, nor does it have any parking requirements.

In my book Christmas is the solidarity season which in the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic assumes additional significance.

Almost simultaneously with the Christmas in the City launching, epidemiologists were warning us that the daily number of deaths from Covid-19 in Malta was expected to triple during the month of December: from two to six deaths daily. At the time of writing the Covid-19 death count is 106 and rising. The death count has increased substantially since restrictions were reduced in July 2020.

Within this context it is not on to encourage large numbers to descend on Valletta for their Christmas shopping. It is the time to do exactly the opposite: discourage movements, hoping that as a result, movements are restricted to the bear minimum.

All of us acknowledge that Covid-19 has seriously impacted the livelihood of many. Economic sectors such as the food and the hospitality industries have experienced severe challenges during the summer season, when ordinarily this business would have been booming. As we approach Christmas, the pandemic not only does not show any sign of slowing down: it may well spike once more. An opportunity for economic recovery remains under threat.

More people are succumbing to the virus every day. The desire to draw people to Valletta and other commercial centres in an effort to tap the Christmas spirit for commercial gain, thereby providing a lifeline to businesses is understandable. Health considerations should however take priority: now is however not the time to encourage celebrations of whatever nature. Instead of encouraging people to get out to the commercial centres, government should encourage more cautious behaviour. Government handouts and wage supplements have the specific purpose of helping shoulder the burden created by all this.

Why do we threaten the sacrifices of the many at this critical time by encouraging unreasonable behaviour?

Covid-19 will not kill Christmas if fewer people do their Christmas shopping. The Christmas spirit is not measured in terms of the volume of Christmas shopping but in terms of our acts of solidarity.

Where do we go from here?

The greatest act of solidarity, at this time, is to protect the vulnerable amongst us by following the advice of the health authorities intended to contain the Covid-19 spread as much as possible. A vaccine may be on the horizon, possibly heralding the beginning of a slow return to normality in the first half of the new year.

Until then, it is our duty to take care of ourselves and others by ensuring cautious behaviour. This is the practical solidarity expected from all of us this Christmas season.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 November 2020

When caves collapse: people may be killed

On the 14 September the Planning Authority approved application PA3487/19 which proposed the   “stabilization of dangerous rock slope; repair to deteriorated concrete wall and construction of wave dissipation slope along the Qui Si Sana coastline”.

In simple language this involves a permit for remedial works after a cave along the Sliema Qui Si Sana coastline collapsed, thereby exposing the MIDI development works immediately behind the cave: the basement level of residential blocks T14 and T17.

We have been told that the cave collapsed as a result of erosion along the coastline. Some readers may tend to forget that way back in 2016, a Maltese geologist had sounded the alarm that a “high-rise had been constructed over a fractured and eroded sea cliff, which could collapse any time soon.” The collapse in fact occurred relatively quite soon, signifying that the geologist was pointing out the obvious which was being ignored or not given due consideration by the developer and his advisors.

The point to be made is why the Planning Authority permitted the development to take place so close to the coastline. As far as I am aware, the EIA relative to the Tigne Development by MIDI does not reveal any detailed studies on the condition of the coast as well as on the impacts of erosion on the Qui Si Sana coastline and its relevance to the development of the MIDI project. The issue is not just one of remedial works but on why the Planning Authority  ignored the state of the coast, as a result permitting development too close to the coastline for comfort. The collapse is adequate proof of all this. The Planning Authority has much to explain in this specific case. Its actions, or lack of them, should be investigated.

The issue is not one relative to the structural stability of the development but of the protection of the coastline.

Erosion as a result of natural elements occurs continuously. It is a natural ongoing phenomenon.

In this respect it may be pertinent to draw attention to a report, authored by a team of geologists, dated October 2007 and entitled : “Report on Coastal Sliema. Geology, geomorphology, sites of scientific interest and coastal protection considerations.” This report was commissioned by the Sliema Local Council.

The 50-page report, which makes interesting reading, emphasises that a number of sites along the Sliema coast “are undergoing rapid coastal erosion that will increase with climate change, resulting in instability or failure in coastal infrastructure.”

Of particular interest is that the report, authored in 2007, goes on to state that “The faulted coast along Għar id-Dud is retreating rapidly by dislodgement of boulders along joints and faults. Public structures that may be affected include Tower Road promenade. The Għar id-Dud cave may also partially or totally collapse, leading to the caving-in of the overlying pedestrian promenade. If collapse is sudden and during daytime/early night time, injury and loss of lives may result.”

I have personally drawn attention of the Transport Minister to the above some time ago, however to date I am not aware that any action has been taken.

The matter was already very worrying way back in 2007 and most probably it is even worse now, after thirteen years, given that no coastal protection works have been taken in hand in the area in the intervening period.

The Għar id-Dud cave is the result of natural erosion and collapse accelerated by wave action. This is a natural process that cannot be halted unless adequate coastal protection works are initiated. If nature is left on its own, the end result is quite predictable: a complete collapse of Għar id-Dud, a caving in of the overlying pedestrian promenade and a number of dead or injured pedestrians, depending on the time of day when a collapse possibly occurs.

Will Transport Malta and the other authorities wake up from their slumber and act immediately please?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 27 September 2020

We need a Carbon Budget

Searching for the word “climate” through the 2021 Pre-Budget document published earlier this week entitled Towards a Sustainable Economy one finds the word three times: twice referring to the United Nations Agenda which has to be addressed by Malta as a prospective UN Security Council member, while a third reference is to policy documents under preparation in Malta. The word climate in the pre-budget document is not associated with any climate change policy implementation or action and its impact on the Maltese economy.

It is already five years since the Paris Climate Summit and its conclusions are still being “studied” in Malta. If we keep on procrastinating, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 will be very difficult to attain.

When Parliament approved the Climate Action Act in 2015 it identified that one of the tools to be used in the politics of climate change was the formulation of a Low Carbon Development Strategy. Consultation on a Vision to develop such a strategy was carried out in 2017, but three years down the line the final policy document is nowhere in sight, even though the Minister for Climate Change Aaron Farrugia has indicated that it may be concluded towards the end of this year. 

A Low Carbon Development Strategy will identify those sectors which are of considerable relevance in developing a low carbon strategy. Some of them are major carbon emission contributors to be addressed. Other sectors are part of the solution as they provide alternative tools which serve to decouple the economy from intensive energy use, in the process reducing carbon emissions.

The Vision which was subject to public consultation three years ago identifies a number of sectors as areas for climate action, namely: enterprise, energy, transport, waste, water, agriculture, tourism, information and communication technologies (ICT) and finance.

The Low Carbon Development Strategy, when published, should address these areas of action. It would also be expected that such a strategy would also identify the manner in which we will be in a position to achieve our target of carbon neutrality. Such a strategy would also, for completeness be expected to be coupled with a carbon budget which would break down the general target into specific manageable objectives which could be achieved over a specific and reasonable timeframe.

At the Paris Climate Summit, together with all other countries, Malta made pledges to take action in order to lay the foundations for reducing climate impacts. If all the pledges made at Paris are honoured, however, we will still be very far off from achieving the target of not exceeding a two-degree Celsius temperature rise. Much more is required.

Unfortunately, Malta’s climate related policies are double faced. On one hand the Malta government publicly pledges action to address climate change. Simultaneously, however, it proceeds with massive road infrastructural projects which encourage more cars on our roads. On the other hand, plans for the electrification of our roads are apparently subject to an elephantine gestation period. In the meantime, car emissions compete with power generation emissions as Malta’s major contributor to climate change.

It is unfortunate that the Low Carbon Development Strategy and the associated Carbon Budget are taking too long to be formulated. It will take much longer to implement them as special interest groups will undoubtedly seek to protect their specific areas to the detriment of attaining our carbon-neutral objective.  

Malta should be at the forefront of climate change action. Parliament’s declaration recognising the existence of a climate emergency is not enough. Words must give way to action. As an island, Malta should be aware that a primary climate change challenge in the years to come will be a rising sea level as a result of which the coastline may recede inwards at a rate so far unknown. The coast, we may remember, is home to most of our maritime and tourism infrastructural facilities, all of which are under threat. Even residential areas close to the sea level will be impacted. This would include all sandy beaches and the residential/commercial areas at l-Għadira, Xemxija, Salini, Gzira, Msida, Sliema, Ta’ Xbiex, Pietà, Marsa, Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala, Birzebbuga, Xlendi, and Marsalforn. Impacts could also move towards inland low-lying areas such as Qormi.

If we take too long to bring our own house in order, it may be too late.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 September 2020

Kontradizzjonijiet

Jekk wieħed joqgħod biss fuq dak li jgħidu dawk li jitkellmu f’isem il-Gvern, malajr jasal għal konklużjoni żbaljata li qatt ma kellna Gvern favur l-ambjent daqs dan tal-lum. Sfortunatament l-affarijiet huma ferm differenti minn hekk!

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ġie fi tmiemu l-perjodu ta’ sitt ġimgħat konsultazzjoni dwar l-iskop tal-Istrateġija Nazzjonali tal-Biodiversità u l-Pjan t’Azzjoni dwarha li għandu jwassal sal-2030. Għal xi raġuni li s’issa għad mhiex magħrufa l-Awtorità dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA), għal dawn l-aħħar snin qed tikkonċentra l-konsultazzjonijiet importanti għax-xhur tas-sajf (b’mod partikolari tul Awwissu) meta hu magħrufa li n-nies tieħu l-vaganzi u allura tistrieħ!

L-Istrateġija Nazzjonali dwar il-Biodiversità u l-Pjan t’Azzjoni assoċjat magħha, bla dubju, meta jkun konkluż ser ifittex li jħares il-kapital naturali tal-pajjiż fit-totalità tiegħu.  

Imma iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Clint Camilleri, l-Ministru għall-Kaċċa u l-Insib, ħabbar li l-Gvern, għal darb’oħra, ser jerġa’  jipprova jissabotaġġa l-implementazzjoni tal-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-Għasafar billi jipprova jisfrutta xi partijiet minnha!   Il-konsulenti tal-Gvern qed jippruvaw jagħmlu użu minn dik il-parti tad-Direttiva tal-Għasafar li tipprovdi dwar l-istudji xjentifiċi: din tippermetti  l-qbid ta’ numru żgħir ta’ għasafar ħajjin. Dan kollu, fil-fehma tal-Gvern u l-konsulenti tiegħu, jista’ jiġġustifika xi forma ta’ nsib!

Jidher li għadhom ma fehmu xejn: id-Direttiva tal-Għasafar tal-Unjoni Ewropea hi għodda Ewropeja dwar il-ħarsien tal-biodiversità u mhux strument biex jiġġustifika l-kaċċa jew l-insib!

Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela, il-ġimgħa li għaddiet, waqt li kien qed jindirizza l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ ħabbar viżjoni msejsa fuq ħames punti. Wieħed minn dawn il-punti, li fl-aħħar induna bih, hu l-ħtieġa li naddottaw bħala mira li nilħqu n-newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju. Mira tajba, kieku dak li qed jgħid hu veru!

Dan hu każ ieħor fejn għal darb’ oħra, l-Gvern, ambjentalment qed juri wiċċ b’ieħor, kif wara kollox issa ilna li drajna!  Il-Gvern ilu s-snin iberbaq il-miljuni tal-euro fi żvilupp ta’ infrastruttura ta’ toroq li mhiex meħtieġa: l-iskop uniku hu li jirrinforza d-dipendenza fuq il-karozzi privati għax minnhom jiddipendi ammonti kbar tad-dħul tal-Gvern: minn taxxi fuq petrol u diesel sa taxxi u liċenzji assoċjati mal-karozzi.

Il-Gvern ikkummissjona studji, strateġiji u Pjani Nazzjonali u meta waslu għandu qalibhom ta’ taħt fuq.  Id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Robert Abela favur viżjoni bil-mira ta’ newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju hija f’kontradizzjoni mal-infieq massiċċ tal-Gvern fuq infrastruttura tat-toroq li mhix meħtieġa.  Il-Gvern ta’ Abela, bħal dawk ta’ qablu (ħomor u blu), jaħseb li l-problemi jistgħu jissolvew billi jkunu  bbumbardjati bil-miljuni tal-euro. Il-flus ċertament dejjem ikunu ta’ għajnuna, imma jeħtieġ li jintużaw tajjeb u mhux jitberbqu kif qed iseħħ presentement.

L-ispazju li għandi hu limitat u allura ma nistax nispjega mill-ġdid il-proposti kollha li Alternattiva Demokratika għamlet dwar dan kollu tul is-snin: proposti Ii jiswew farka mill-miljuni li l-Gvern qiegħed iberbaq.  

Ikun biżżejjed li niftakru li l-Pjan Nazzjonali dwar it-Trasport jispjega illi 50 fil-mija tal-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati fil-gżejjer Maltin għandhom tul li ma jaqbizx il-ħmistax-il minuta. Dan juri b’mod mill-iktar ċar  mobilità primarjament ta’ natura lokali u reġjonali!  Għal dan la hemm bżonn ta’ flyovers u l-anqas ta’ mini imma qafas biex fih jitħaddem transport lokali u reġjonali.  Huma inizjattivi ta’ din ix-xorta li jnaqqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq li jgħinuna fit-triq diffiċli lejn n-newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju!

Għaddew madwar tlett snin minn meta l-predeċessur ta’ Robert Abela ħa proposta mill-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika dwar il-ħtieġa li nistabilixxu data li minnha lil hemm ma jinbiegħux karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-diesel u dan flimkien ma proposti oħra dwar l-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport fit-toroq tagħna. Imma l-istudji mwegħda ma jidhrux b’nemes!

Il-kontradizzjonijiet fil-politika ambjentali tal-Partit Laburista jimxu fuq l-eżempju tal-predeċessuri tagħhom fil-Gvern li waqt li kienu jokorbu biex nipproteġu l-ilma fasslu proġett biex l-ilma tax-xita jispiċċa kważi kollu l-baħar. Proġett li spiċċa biex mal-ilma tax-xita, rema’ l-baħar, miljuni ta’ euro f’fondi Ewropej!

Il-paroli tal-Labour u tal-PN dwar l-ambjent qatt ma solva xejn. Għax dejjem jgħidu ħaġa u jagħmlu oħra.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 23 t’Awwissu 2020

Contradictions

Taking government spokespersons at face value could lead to the mistaken conclusion that Labour in government is a defender of the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Earlier this week saw the end of a six-week consultation period relative to the Intent and Objectives of a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan leading to 2030. For some unknown reason the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), for the past years has been concentrating its most important consultations during the summer months, in particular August, the least productive months as they coincide with the holiday period. The National Biodiversity Strategy and relative Action Plan will, when concluded, strive to actively protect our natural capital in its widest sense.

Yet earlier this week Clint Camilleri, Minister for Hunting and Trapping, announced another government attempt to try and sabotage the implementation of the EU Birds’ Directive through seeking potential additional loopholes.  Government advisors are trying to use the provisions of the Birds’ Directive relative to scientific studies, which permit the live capture of a small number of birds, to make a case for local trapping! They seem to not have yet understood that the EU Birds’ Directive is a biodiversity protection tool and not an instrument to justify hunting or trapping in whatever form or shape.

Prime Minister Robert Abela, when addressing the Chamber of Commerce last week, deemed it fit to announce a five-point vision. One of the points which he has at last adopted is the aim of attaining carbon neutrality. Very laudable indeed, if it were true!

This is another case of environmental lip service which we have become accustomed to for a number of years. Government has over the past years been squandering millions of euros in large scale transport infrastructural projects with the specific aim of reinforcing our dependence on the private car. Private cars are the source of large chunks of government income, ranging from taxes on fuel to car licences and registration taxes. Government has commissioned studies, strategies and National Plans which it then turns on their head. Robert Abela’s late conversion to a vision of a carbon neutral Malta is in direct contradiction to the spending spree on road transport infrastructure. His government, like that of his predecessors, red and blue, thinks that problems can be solved by being bombarded with euros, millions of them. Euros certainly help but they must be well spent, not squandered as they currently are.

I haven’t got space today to go through all the proposals which Greens have brought forward over the years, costing a fraction of the millions currently going down the drains. It would suffice to point out that the National Transport Master Plan had identified that 50 per cent of trips using private cars in the Maltese Islands are of a duration of less than fifteen minutes, clearly indicating primarily a mobility that it is local or regional in nature!  We don’t need flyovers, tunnels or underpasses to address this but an efficient local and regional transport network which we currently lack. It is such initiatives which encourage reduction of cars from our roads and help us climb the steep road to carbon neutrality!

It is now almost three years since Robert Abela’s predecessor took a leaf out of the Green Electoral manifesto on proposing a cut-off date on the sale of vehicles operating with internal combustion engines, and on other measures relating to the electrification of our roads. Yet the promised studies are nowhere in sight!

The constant contradictions in environmental positions taken by Labour follow the path entrenched by its predecessors, who, while emphasising the need to protect our water resources devised a project to throw away our storm water directly into the sea, using millions of euros of EU funds which ended up down the drain, with the water.

The environmental lip-service of Labour and the PN has never solved anything, nor will it ever do.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 August 2020

It-turiżmu wara l-pandemija

It-turiżmu kien wieħed mis-setturi li l-iktar intlaqat bħala riżultat tal-pandemija Covid-19. Tul is-snin in-numri tat-turisti li ġew iżuruna żdied kull meta tjiebet il-konnettività: min-naħa l-oħra hekk kif il-konnettività naqset u eventwalment waqfet kompletament, ġara bil-maqlub.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa bdew jaslu l-ewwel turisti fil-port u l-ajruport tagħna. Bil-mod qed terġa’ tiġi stabilita l-konnettività li twassal biex it-turiżmu jibda jirpilja bil-mod. Il-Ministru tat-Turiżmu Julia Farrugia-Portelli f’dawn il-ġranet ħabbret il-mira tal-Gvern: 700,000 turist sal-aħħar tas-sena. Iktar kmieni t-tmexxija tal-Ajruport Internazzjonali ta’ Malta kienet emfasizzat li jeħtieġ madwar sentejn biex il-wasla tal-passiġġiera tirkupra u naslu fejn konna qabel ma faqqgħet il-pandemija.

Jista’ t-turiżmu qatt jilħaq il-livelli ta’ qabel il-pandemija?

Jeżistu stimi diversi dwar il-kontribut tat-turiżmu lejn l-ekonomija. Stima minnhom tipponta lejn kontribut dirett ta’ 5 fil-mija tal-ekonomija. Imma, bħala riżultat tal-impatt fuq setturi oħra dan is-sehem jitla għal madwar 12 fil-mija. Barijiet, restoranti, ħwienet li jbiegħu bl-imnut, attivitajiet pubbliċi, l-industrija tad-divertiment u t-trasport (in partikolari l-kiri tal-karozzi) huma dipendenti fuq it-turiżmu. Setturi partikolari bħat-tagħlim tal-Ingliż u ċ-ċentri tal-għaddasa huma meqjusa bħala parti integrali mill-ekonomija turistika.

Intqal ħafna dwar l-impatt tal-pandemija fuq il-lukandi. Imma anke dawk li jipprovdu sodod turistiċi barra mil-lukandi ġarrew fuq spallejhom impatt sostanzjali avolja ftit li xejn issemmew fid-dibattitu konness mal-impatti tal-pandemija. Dan huwa settur li jinvolvi negozjanti żgħar u dawk li nirreferu għalihom bħala micro-businesses li kull wieħed minnhom jimpjega inqas minn għaxar persuni.

UNCTAD, l-Aġenzija tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar il-Kummerċ u l-Iżvilupp, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ħabbret li l-iġġammjar tat-turiżmu minħabba l-pandemija ser jiswa’ lill-industrija globali tat-turiżmu madwar $1.2 triljun . Din l-istima tista’ tirdoppja skond kif tiżviluppa t-tieni mewġa tal-pandemija.

Il-Ġamajka tista’ titlef madwar 11 fil-mija tal-Prodott Gross Domestiku, t-Tajlandja 9 fil-mija, l-Italja 5 fil-mija. Fl-Unjoni Ewropeja l-agħar impatti huma mal-kosta Mediterranja fejn l-ekonomija hi dipendenti ħafna fuq it-turiżmu. Minbarra Malta hemm l-Italja, l-Kroazja, is-Slovenja, Cipru u l-Greċja li kollha ntlaqtu sew. It-Turkija u t-Tunesija, parteċipanti Mediterranji fl-industrija turistika ukoll iġġammjaw, wara li gawdew minn żidiet sostanzjali fin-numri ta’ turisti tul is-snin.

Jagħmel sens li l-Gvern, f’dan il-waqt, permezz tal-Awtorità Maltija tat-Turiżmu, qiegħed jiffoka fuq li jġib lill-industrija tat-turiżmu lura fuq saqajha. Dan imma, mhux biżżejjed. Jeħtieġ li nibdew naħsbu dwar il-futur tal-industrija u dan billi neżaminaw fid-dettall dak li l-industrja teħtieġ li tiffaċċja fit-tul.

Fi tmiem is-sena li għaddiet, l-2019, ilħaqna in-numru ta’ 2.8 miljun turista iżuruna. Il-punt hu jekk dawn in-numri humiex sostenibbli. Dan hu argument ta’ dejjem li ilu għaddej sa minnmeta n-numri kienu ferm iżgħar. Id-dibattitu kien, u għandu jibqa’ jkun dwar jekk għandniex niffukaw iktar fuq il-kwalità milli fuq il-kwantità.

Il-miġja fostna tal-linji tal-ajru low-cost bħala parti essenzjali mill-politika tat-turiżmu illum tpoġġi emfasi ikbar fuq in-numri. Din hi għażla politika li saret u li teħtieġ li tkun eżaminata u analizzata fil-fond. L-impatti ekonomiċi għandhom jitqiesu fl-istess ħin mal-impatti ambjentali. Irridu niftakru kontinwament li t-turiżmu jiġġenera bosta impatti ambjentali.

Wasal iż-żmien li nirrealizzaw li d-dibattitu meħtieġ dwar il-futur tat-turiżmu jeħtieġ li jsir fl-isfond tal-Patt l-Aħdar: The Green Deal.

L-emissjonijiet tal-ajruplani ser ikollhom ikunu indirizzati fil-futur qarib. Hu inevitabbli li jiddaħħlu taxxi dwar dawn l-emissjonijiet (carbon taxes) fi żmien mhux il-bogħod. Jekk mhux ser jittieħdu passi immedjati dwar dawn l-emissjonijiet ser ikun ħafna iktar diffiċli, biex ma ngħidx impossibli, biex ikunu ndirizzati l-konklużjonijiet tas-Summit Klimatiku ta’ Pariġi tal-2015. Summit li Malta ħarġet tiftaħar li kienet wieħed mill-ewwel pajjiżi li rratifikatu. F’dak il-mument (jekk nibqgħu ma nieħdux passi) mhux biss it-turiżmu jaqla’ daqqa kbira oħra imma tkun il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll li tieħu daqqa l-isfel.

Il-gżejjer Maltin, bħall-parti l-kbira tal-gżejjer imxerrda mal-ibħra, ikunu minn tal-ewwel biex jaqilgħu ġo fihom l-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima. Il-kosta tkun effettwat bl-għoli tal-livell tal-baħar. Tajjeb li niftakru li l-infrastruttura tat-turiżmu qegħda kważi kollha mal-kosta! Iktar ma ninjoraw dan il-fatt bażiku ikbar tkun id-daqqa li naqilgħu.

S’issa naħseb li kulħadd irrealizza kemm l-industrija tat-turiżmu hi waħda fraġli. Kull xokk li l-industrija issofri jista’ jwassal għal tnaqqis kbir fl-impiegi f’din l-industrija. It-turiżmu għadu staġjonali wisq u dan minnu innifsu jwassal għal kundizzjonijiet tax-xogħol ta’ natura prekarja.

Jeħtieġ li nippjanaw iżjed billi nħarsu il-bogħod u fuq medda twila ta’ żmien: naħsbu u nippjanaw sewwa dwar l-impatti soċjali, ambjentali u ekonomiċi ta’ kull deċiżjoni. Dan wara kollox hu l-proċess li jwassal għal żvilupp sostenibbli. Hu l-unika mod kif nistgħu nassiguraw li l-impatti negattivi tal-industrija tat-turiżmu nistgħu nindirizzawhom illum qabel għada.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 5 ta’ Lulju 2020

Post-Covid Tourism

Tourism is understandably one of the hardest hit sectors as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the years, tourism numbers increased substantially as a result of an increased connectivity: the reverse happened the moment that connectivity was restricted or became practically inexistent.

Earlier this week saw the first arrivals at our air and seaports. Slowly, connectivity is being restored. It is expected that tourism will now start a slow recovery. Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia-Portelli is on record with a 700,000-tourist target for year end. Malta International Airport CEO had earlier opined that it will take at least two years to recover to pre-pandemic level airport movements.

Will tourism ever recover to the pre-pandemic levels?

There are various estimates of the contribution of tourism to the economy. One such estimate points at a direct contribution of around 5 percent of our economy. However, as a result of its impacts on other sectors the overall contribution rises to around 12 percent. Bars, restaurants, retail trade, events, entertainment and transport (in particular car hire), are heavily dependent on tourism. Specific sectors such as the English language school sector as well as diving are important sectors in the tourism economy.

Much has been stated on the impact of the pandemic on the hotel industry. The providers of non-hotel beds, however, have also been heavily impacted by the pandemic, but they have not featured much in the post-Covid-19 debate. This is a sector which involves a number of small-scale investors and micro-businesses each employing less than ten employees.

UNCTAD, the UN Trade and Development Agency, earlier this week stated that the four-month standstill of the tourism industry due to the pandemic Covid-19 could cost the industry around $1.2 trillion. This estimated cost could more than double, depending on the severity and spread of a second wave of the pandemic.

Jamaica could lose as much as 11 percent of its GDP, Thailand 9 percent, Italy 5 percent. In the EU, the worst impacts are along the Mediterranean coast where the economy is heavily dependent on tourism. In addition to Malta, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Greece are also heavily impacted. Turkey and Tunisia, Mediterranean players in the tourism industry have also been almost at a standstill, after experiencing a substantial expansion of their tourism industry throughout the years.

It is understandable that government through the Malta Tourism Authority is currently focused on getting tourism back on its feet. This is however not enough. We must start discussing a long-term view of the tourism industry.

At the end of 2019 the 2.8 million mark of tourists visiting the Maltese islands had been attained. The point at issue is whether this is sustainable in the long-term. This has been a perennial issue in tourism politics since the days when the numbers were much lower. The debate was and should be whether we should focus more on quality than on quantity.

The advent of low-cost carriers as an essential part of the tourism equation places more emphasis on numbers than on quality. It is a choice which may need to be analysed and revisited. Economic impacts have to be viewed concurrently with environmental impacts. We must remember that tourism has a considerable environmental impact. It is about time that the tourism debate is carried out within the parameters of the Green Deal.

Aeroplane emissions will at some point in time in the near future have to be addressed. Carbon taxes will sooner or later come into play. Unless they are addressed immediately it will be more difficult, if not practically impossible, to address the Paris Climate Change conclusions to which Malta has adhered. At that point it will not be just the tourism industry but our whole lifestyle which will be in for the chop.

The Maltese archipelago, like all islands, will bear the brunt of climate change impacts. The coastline will be severely hit by a sea level rise. It may be pertinent to remember that the coast houses practically all of the tourism infrastructure. The longer we ignore this basic fact, the more severe will the impacts be.

By now all of us are aware that Tourism is a very volatile industry: any shock will result in mass redundancies. Tourism is currently way too seasonal, and consequently it only serves to create precarious working conditions.

It is the time to plan ahead: thinking carefully of the social, environmental and economic impacts of all decisions. This is what sustainable development is, after all, about. It is the only way to ensure that the negative impacts of the tourism industry are addressed by us sooner rather than later.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 July 2020

Edward Scicluna u l-bajtar tax-xewk

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, l-President tal-Kummissjoni tal-Unjoni Ewropea, Ursula von der Leyen, ippreżentat lill-Parlament Ewropew pjan ta’ €750 biljun biex inqumu fuq saqajna. Pjan li jista’ jiġġenera investiment stmat €3.1 triljun fl-ekonomija Ewropea. Permezz ta’ għotjiet flimkien ma’ self, il-Kummissjoni Ewropea qed tfittex li tegħleb l-impatti ekonomiċi negattivi tal-Covid-19 kif ukoll li tagħti bidu għall-azzjoni meħtieġa biex ikun implimentat il-Ftehim l-Aħdar (the Green Deal).

It-triq biex nirkupraw mhiex faċli. Mhux il-każ li mmorru lura għal kif konna. Dak spiċċa. Irridu nimxu l-quddiem lejn normal ġdid. Li nintegraw flimkien il-ħidma biex nirkupraw mill-impatti tal-pandemija flimkien mal-azzjoni meħtieġa dwar it-tibdil fil-klima mhux ser tkun faċli imma hi essenzjali u mhux possibli li tkun posposta. Kif ġie emfasizzat fuq Euroactive nhar l-Erbgħa, it-triq biex nirkupraw tiddependi minn ħafna kundizzjonijiet konnessi mal-ambjent. 25 fil-mija tal-finanzjament propost mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja hu fil-fatt marbut ma’ ħidma klimatika.

Edward Scicluna, il-Ministru tal-Finanzi, fl-ewwel reazzjoni tiegħu għall-pjan tal-Kummissjoni ikkummenta mħasseb dwar miżuri prattiċi konnessi mal-klima. Bħala gżira ser inweġġgħu ħafna qal, jekk jindirizzaw l-emissjonijiet tal-ajruplani u l-vapuri. Il-pjan, qal Edward Scicluna, jixbah lill-bajtar tax-xewk. Scicluna jippreferi li ma jsir xejn ħlief paroli. L-anqas m’hu jieħu pjaċir b’dak li qed jingħad dwar it-tassazzjoni tal-kumpaniji, avolja konxju li m’għadx baqa’ żmien biex fl-Unjoni Ewropea tħajjar kumpaniji jibqgħu jħarbu l-obbligi tagħhom tal-ħlas tat-taxxi.

Hu korrett li jingħad li ser nintlaqtu bil-miżuri dwar il-klima. Hekk għandu jkun, għax il-ħidma tagħna għandha impatt fuq il-klima. Nistgħu imma ninnegozjaw biex dawn l-impatti fuqna jonqsu mingħajr ma nnaqqsu l-impenn (reali) tagħna biex ikunu indirizzati l-impatti klimatiċi tal-industrija tal-avjazzjoni u tal-vapuri. Bla ebda dubju dan ser ikun ifisser impatti sostanzjali kemm fuq it-turiżmu kif ukoll fuq il-kummerċ.

Dan ma jistax ikun evitat għax dawn l-industriji għandhom l-obbligu li huma ukoll jġorru fuq spallejhom l-impatti li qed jikkawżaw. Dak hu li wegħdna bħala pajjiż fis-Summit ta’ Pariġi dwar il-klima. Wasal il-waqt li nwettqu dak li ġie imwiegħed. Biex niġu fuq saqajna irridu nfasslu l-futur mill-ġdid. Il-ħsara li teħtieg li tissewwa mhiex biss dik ekonomika u ambjentali. Jinħtieġ li tul l-Unjoni Ewropea kollha nibnu s-solidarjetà fuq pedamenti sodi. Dak li Edward Scicluna jqis bħala l-bajtar tax-xewk huma fil-fatt l-għodda bażiċi tas-solidarjetà.

Għax is-solidarjetà hi meħtieġa mhux biss meta aħna bir-raġun kollu nokorbu ma’ kull mewġa ta’ immigranti fl-ibħra Maltin. Is-solidarjetà hi dak li Malta tinjora meta tfittex li tkun attraenti għal min irid jevadi t-taxxi f’pajjiżu: dawk li jħallsu ftit lill-kaxxa ta’ Malta biex jevitaw milli jħallsu l-biljuni band’oħra. Il-politika dwar l-armonizzazzjoni tat-tassazzjoni fl-Unjoni Ewropea hi r-risposta bis-sens għall-politika li tinkoraġixxi l-evażjoni tat-taxxa f’Malta, l-Olanda, il-Lussimburgu u l-Irlanda.

L-Oxfam f’rapport ippubblikat fl-2019 u ntitolat “Off the Hook. How the EU is about to whitewash the world’s worst tax havens” temfasizza li “l-Irlanda, il-Lussimburgu, Malta u l-Olanda huma fost il-pajjiżi li l-iktar jinkoraġixxu l-evażjoni tat-taxxa fid-dinja, b’mod li jagħmluha possibli li kumpaniji kbar jirnexxielhom iħallsu ammont żgħir ta’ taxxa. Per eżempju, ir-regoli internazzjonali tat-taxxa jippermettu lill-Vodafone Group Plc biex jallokkaw kważi 40 fil-mija tal-profitti taxxabbli tagħhom f’Malta u l-Lussimburgu.”

Rajna ukoll rapporti dwar il-BASF, ġgant fl-industrija kimika fil-Ġermanja, li jispjegaw kif din tevadi t-taxxa. Fir-rapport tal-Ħodor Ewropej ippubblikat fl-2016, intitolat “Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance” kien spjegat kif il-BASF irnexxiela tevadi madwar biljun euro f’taxxa, u minflok ħallset ammonti żgħar bil-kompliċità ta’ Gvernijiet Maltin: ħomor u blu.

Jeħtieġ li l-ewwel u qabel kollox nirkupraw l-imġieba etika tagħna, anke qabel ma nirkupraw ekonomikament u ambjentalment. Ir-riġenerazzjoni tal-valuri tagħna għandha tkun prijorità qabel ma nippruvaw insewwu l-kaxxa ta’ Malta li minnha, bħalissa ħerġin il-flus maħmuġin akkumulati mill-bejgħ tal-passaporti. Flejjes miġburin minn persuni bħall-biljunarju Russu Boris Mints, l-Eġizzjan Mustafa Abdel Wadood, il-biljunarju Ċiniż Liu Zhongtian, in-negozjant Russu Pavel Melenikov u l-Iżraeli Anatoly Hurgin, li irnexxielhom jiżgiċċaw minn eżami suppost rigoruż u ngħataw iċ-ċittadinanza Maltija: però xorta spiċċaw għaddejjin proċeduri kriminali f’diversi pajjiżi oħra primarjament dwar frodi u ħasil tal-flus!

F’dan iż-żmien ta’ ħtieġa l-Ministru tal-Finanzi Edward Scicluna spiċċa dipendenti fuq flejjes li oriġinaw minn dawn is-sorsi maħmuġin. Ma tkunx esaġerazzjoni li ngħid li spiċċa dipendenti minn flus li oriġinaw mill-kriminalità.

Fir-reazzjonijiet tagħha għall-proposti tal-Kummissjoni tal-Unjoni Ewropea Evelyne Huytebroech, waħda miż-żewġ mexxejja tal-Partit tal-Ħodor Ewropej, emfasizzat li din il-proposta flimkien ma dik tal-Parlament Ewropew u l-proposta Franco-Tedeska ilkoll qed jaraw proċess ta’ self komuni. Dan hu pass il-quddiem għas-solidarjetà Ewropea. Għax is-solidarjetà tinbena bil-mod u bit-tbatija. Imma għal Edward Scicluna dan kollu bajtar tax-xewk!

ippubblikat fuq Illum :il-Ħadd 31 ta’ Mejju 2020

The recovery plan and Edward Scicluna’s prickly pears

Earlier this week, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, presented for the consideration of the European Parliament a recovery plan worth €750 billion but which can unleash an investment estimated at €3.1 trillion in the EU economy. Through a combination of loans and grants the EU Commission seeks to integrate the reversal of the economic downturn resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic together with the action required to implement the Green Deal.

The road to recovery will be tough. It is not the case of going back to normal but of going forward to a new normal. Integrating the recovery from the pandemic impacts with climate change action will not be easy but it is essential and cannot be postponed. As emphasised by Euroactive on Wednesday, the road to recovery has plenty of green strings attached. 25 per cent of the funding proposed by the EU Commission is in fact earmarked for climate action.

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, in his first reaction to the recovery plan, voiced concern on practical climate action measures. It hurts, he says, to address air traffic emissions or shipping pollution. As an island this would impact us substantially. The proposed recovery plan is comparable to prickly pears, he stated. He prefers the status quo: all talk and little walk. Edward Scicluna is not amused by rumblings heard on corporate taxation even though he is well aware that the days of attracting corporations seeking tax havens within the EU may well be numbered.

It is correct to state that we will be impacted substantially. We can however negotiate to reduce such impacts without diminishing our commitment to addressing climate change impacts of the airline and shipping industry. This would mean significant impacts on tourism and trade. These however cannot be avoided as climate change impacts have to be internalised: that is they have to be shouldered by the industries generating them. This is what we promised in the Paris Climate Summit. Promises that we must now honour.

Operation recovery must re-design the future. It must not be just an economic recovery or an environmental rebirth. It must also be a recovery of practical solidarity all over the Union. What Edward Scicluna views as prickly pears are in fact instruments of solidarity.

Solidarity is not just what we rightly cry for when immigrants crash through our borders. Solidarity is what we ignore when Malta insists on being attractive to tax evaders: those who pay peanuts to the Maltese exchequer in order to avoid paying billions elsewhere. The issue of tax harmonisation on an EU level is the sensible response to the tax haven fiscal policies of Malta, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Ireland.

Oxfam in its 2019 report entitled “Off the Hook. How the EU is about to whitewash the world’s worst tax havens” emphasises that “Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands are among the most significant tax havens in the world, enabling some of the biggest corporations to pay minimal amounts of tax. For example, currently, international tax rules allow Vodafone Group Plc to allocate nearly 40% of its taxable profits to Malta and Luxembourg.” We have also seen reports on BASF clearly explaining how the German chemical giant avoids paying taxes due. The European Greens report “Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance” published in 2016 had outlined how BASF had successfully avoided close to a billion euros in tax, paying just a small amount thanks to Maltese governments blue and red.

The recovery must be primarily ethical before being economic and environmental. Regenerating our values should be a priority higher on the list than the regeneration of our coffers, currently dishing out dirty money originating from the sale of citizenship schemes. Monies collected from the likes of Russian billionaire Boris Mints, Egyptian national Mustafa Abdel Wadood, Chinese billionaire Liu Zhongtian, Russian businessman Pavel Melenikov and Israeli Anatoly Hurgin, who slipped through what is described as a rigorous due diligence process and gain Maltese citizenship only to be prosecuted in different jurisdictions for various crimes primarily fraud and money laundering.

It is indeed telling that in time of need Finance Minister Edward Scicluna is dependent on monies originating from such dubious sources! It would not be an exaggeration to state that he is dependent on the proceeds of crime.

In her reaction to the EU Commission proposals Evelyne Huytebroech co-Chair of the European Greens emphasised that the EU Commission’s proposal together with the proposals of the EU Parliament and the Franco-German initiative all foresee a mutualised debt instrument: a major breakthrough for European solidarity. Solidarity is constructed slowly and painfully, while Edward Scicluna juggles with his prickly pears.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 31 May 2020