Il-proġett Central Link: riżultat ta’ inkompetenza

Ilkoll naqblu li l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku fit-toroq tagħna hi problema kbira.

Imma hi sfortuna kbira li dawk responsabbli biex jimplimentaw il-politika dwar it-trasport qieshom mhumiex konxji li meta qed japprovaw il-proġett Central Link qed jinjoraw il-kawża tal-problema u minflok qed jikkonċentraw fuq l-effetti. Il-konġestjoni tat-toroq tagħna mhix ikkawżata mit-tul jew mill-wisa’ tat-toroq imma min-numru ta’ karozzi li jagħmlu użu minnhom.

It-toroq tagħna ma jesgħux iktar karozzi li żdiedu b’mod sproporzjonat għad-daqs u l-ħtiġijiet ta’ dawn il-gżejjer.

Id-dibattitu fuq il-proġett Central Link iffoka fuq ħafna materji importanti: l-kwalità tal-arja, l-ħarsien tal-agrikultura, l-ħarsien tas-siġar, l-passaġġi riżervati għar-roti, imma li lkoll kemm huma għandhom importanza marġinali għas-soluzzjoni tal-problema reali tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku. Il-kawża tal-problema mhix id-daqs tat-toroq imma n-numru tal-karozzi li jagħmlu użu minnhom u li sirna dipendenti wisq fuqhom.

Il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport fih referenza għall-analiżi bażika li tindika x’qed jikkawża l-problemi tagħna: s’issa ma konniex kapaċi nħarsu fit-tul fl-ippjanar tat-trasport. Jiġifieri aħna nfittxu l-benefiċċji mmedjati u ninjoraw l-impatti fit-tul.
B’mod speċifiku taħt it-titlu “Intejbu l-ippjanar u d-diżinn għat-traport integrat u li jħares fit-tul” il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport jgħid hekk: “……….. nistgħu naraw, mill-esperjenza, li l-politika u l-ippjanar tat-trasport f’Malta ġeneralment ħares lejn l-immedjat ( 4 sa 5 snin). In-nuqqas li tingħata importanza lejn l-ippjanar fit-tul ifisser li ma hemm l-ebda pjan integrat ibbażat fuq analiżi solida, b’miri ċari li jħarsu fit-tul. Dan wassal għal nuqqas ta’ direzzjonji strateġika u n-nuqqas ta’ kapaċità li jkunu indirizzati materji diffiċli bħall-kontroll fuq l-użu ta’ karozzi privati. Is-soċjetà Maltija bil-mod biex tiċċaqlaq, u dan f’kuntrast mal-ħtieġa għal azzjoni biex il-problema tat-traffiku tkun indirizzata kemm illum kif ukoll fil-futur. Dan iwassal biex il-vjaġġatur Malti jistenna li kulħadd jibdel id-drawwiet tiegħu ħalli hu jkun jista’ jibqa’ jsuq il-karozza. ” (sezzjoni 2.2.1 tal-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Transport)

L-affarijiet ma jistgħux ikunu iktar ċari minn hekk. Il-problema hi waħda: d-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi. Toroq li jkunu usa’ jew itwal jistgħu jsolvu l-problema tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku għal żmien limitat. Imma kif ġie repetutament ippruvat minn studji li saru f’diversi pajjiżi oħra, l-interventi fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq, fl-aħħar jispiċċaw biex iżidu l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku, u dan għax iżidu it-traffiku.

Min-naħa l-oħra, il-proċess biex jitnaqqas id-dipendenza fuq il-karozza jieħu l-ħin, u l-votanti mhux ser jieħdu ġost!

Sfortunatament, uħud mill-dawk li kienu kritiċi tal-proġett iffukaw fuq id-dettalji u ma ħarsux lejn il-proġett fih innifsu, fit-totalità tiegħu, u allura ma rnexxilhomx japprezzaw kemm hi kbira l-ħsara li ser jagħmel il-proġett fit-totalità tiegħu.

Dan il-proġett m’għandniex bżonnu. Neħtieġu li niffukaw fuq il-problema li ġiet evitata kontinwament għax il-politiċi fil-Parlament u fil-Gvern ma jridux jieħdu deċiżjonijiet li m’humiex popolari. Għal din ir-raġuni iroxxu l-flus u jonfquhom, taparsi qed isolvu l-problemi. Mhux flushom, ovvjament, imma dak li jiġbru mit-taxxi minn fuqna. Il-problemi tal-lum, b’hekk, ikunu trasferiti f’ħoġor il-ġenerazzjonjiet futuri.

Is-soluzzjoni meħtieġa ma tinvolvix ħafna xogħol infrastrutturali imma prinċipalment inizjattivi politiċi biex jinkoraġixxu l-użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi ta’ mobilità u dan flimkien ma inizjattivi li jippenalizzaw l-użu tal-karozzi privati.

Biex inkun ġust fil-kritika tiegħi ngħid li xi inizjattivi ittieħdu diġà u oħrajn bla dubju jitwettqu ukoll. Żdied sostanzjalment is-sussidju għat-trasport pubbliku. Ittieħdu inizjattivi diversi dwar aċċess b’xejn għat-trasport pubbliku lil diversi kategoriji u eventwalment hu ippjanat li dan ikun b’xejn għal kulħadd. Dan kollu tajjeb, iżda mhux biżżejjed. Flimkien ma dawn il-miżuri u bosta oħrajn hemm bżonn inizjattivi li jippenalizzaw l-użu tal-karozzi privati. Dawn jistgħu jinkludu żieda fit-taxxi applikabbli kemm għar-reġistrazzjoni tal-karozzi kif ukoll għall-liċenzji. Dan iwassal għal tnaqqis fin-numru tal-karozzi fit-toroq.

It-taxxi ambjentali jagħmlu l-ġid. Huma l-għodda politika li jekk użati tajjeb jgħinu biex tissolva l-problema tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku illum.

Għax il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku hu l-prezz li l-ġenerazzjoni tal-lum qed tħallas għall-inkompetenza akkumulata tal-gvernijiet differenti fl-amministrazzjoni tal-politika tat-trasport. Sal-lum ġie evitat li jkunu ndirizzati l-problemi reali. Fir-realtà ma hemmx soluzzjonjijiet maġiċi: irridu naffrontaw il-problema. Sakemm nagħmlu hekk, il-problema tikber tista’.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 21 ta’ Lulju 2019

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Central Link project: the cost of incompetence

We are all in agreement that traffic congestion is a massive problem.

However, it is indeed unfortunate that those responsible for implementing transport policy at times give the impression that they are not aware that, in approving the Central Link project they are ignoring the cause of the problem and instead they are focusing on the effects. The issue in question is not the length or width of our roads but the number of cars making use of them.

Our roads are bursting at the seams as a result of an ever-increasing number of cars that is out of proportion to the size and needs of our islands.

The debate on the Central Link project focused on many important issues: air quality, the protection of agriculture, the protection of trees, cycling lanes –  all of which are of marginal significance to the real issue. The cause of the problem is not the size of our roads but the number of cars on which we are so dependent.

The National Transport Master Plan contains a reference to the basic analysis which identifies our transport problems: a lack of long-term vision. We seek immediate gains and ignore the long-term impact.

Specifically, under the heading “Improve integrated and long-term strategic transport planning and design” the following is included in the National Transport Master Plan: “This objective has been defined since, historically, it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint. There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal action to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.” (section 2.2.1 of Transport Master Plan)

Can it be clearer than this? The problem is car dependency and nothing else. Congestion can be temporarily solved with new and wider roads. It has been proven by studies carried out in other countries that infrastructural interventions in the road network will, in the end, increase traffic congestion because they end up generating more traffic.

On the other hand, addressing car dependency adequately will take a long time and it comes with a voter backlash!

Unfortunately, some critics have focused on the details and ignored the holistic view of the whole project, and consequently failed to grasp the real damaging issues at stake. We do not need a central link. We require focusing on the central problem which has been avoided time and again because politicians in Parliament and in government do not want to make unpopular decisions. Hence, they throw money at problems, thereby postponing them into the future. Today’s problems being once more shifted onto future generations.

The solution required should not involve substantial infrastructural work but policy initiatives which encourage the use of alternative means of mobility, as well as initiatives that penalise the use of private cars. We need to use both carrots and sticks as effective policy instruments.

In fairness, some initiatives are being taken and others are undoubtedly in the pipeline. Subsidies applicable to public transport have been increased substantially. Initiatives regarding access to free public transport – presently for various categories but eventually free to everyone – are laudable carrots. On their own, however, they are not enough. They need to be coupled with adequate policy initiatives which penalise the use of private cars. This could include increase to car registration tax as well as in car circulation taxes.

Environmental taxation is not a dirty expression. It is a policy that holds the keys to the solution of our traffic congestion that we should be solving now.

Traffic congestion is, in reality, the cost that the present generation is paying for the accumulated incompetence of our governments to date in managing transport policy. So far, the real issues have been avoided. It is about time we realise that there is no magical solution: we have to face the real cause of our problem head-on and, until this happens, the problem will get worse.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 July 2019

12-il minuta pjaċir

F’waħda mill-ħrejjef minsuġa mill-konsulenti tal-Gvern, ġejna nfurmati li l-infieq massiċċ fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq ser iwassal biex ikollna 12-il minuta iktar fil-ġimgħa miżjuda mal-ħin liberu tagħna, ħin li illum hu mitluf.

Din iż-żieda fil-ħin liberu tagħna, qalulna, ser tkun possibli għax ser neħlu inqas fit-traffiku. Sa fejn naf jien, dak li ntqal eżatt f’din il-ħrafa għad mhuwiex ippubblikat. Nafu bl-eżistenza tagħha permezz ta’ waħda mill-attivitajiet pubbliċi tal-Onorevoli Ministru tat-Trasport Ian Borg!

Xi snin ilu, kien ippubblikat studju serju, intitolat The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles use in Malta. Dan kien ippubblikat mill-Istitut dwar il-Bidla fil-Klima u l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli fl-Università ta’ Malta. F’dan l-istudju, iffinanzjat mill-Unjoni Ewropeja, kien ġie stmat li l-ħin li jintilef fil-konġestjoni tat-traffiku f’Malta minn kull persuna li ssuq jammonta għal madwar 52 siegħa fis-sena, u ċjoe madwar 60 minuta fil-ġimgħa. Billi dan l-istudju kien ippubblikat erba’ snin ilu, fl-2015, probabbilment li s-sitwazzjoni illum hi xi ftit agħar minn hekk ukoll. Imma anke minn din iċ-ċifra ta’ 60 minuta fil-ġimgħa, diġa jidher li l-konsulenti tal-Gvern għadhom ftit lura: għax għad baqa’ 80% tal-ħin mitluf fil-konġestjoni tat-traffiku li għadhom l-anqas biss xammewh.

Il-problema bażika li għandu l-Gvern bil-politika tat-trasport tiegħu hi li l-miżuri u l-inizjattivi li qed jieħu biex jindirizza l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku huma indirizzati lejn l-effetti li jirriżultaw mill-użu tat-toroq. Mhux qed ikun indirizzat b’mod adegwat dak li qed jikkawża din il-konġestjoni. Jekk inħarsu fit-tul, li jitwessgħu t-toroq, inkella li tkun żviluppata l-infrastruttura tat-toroq biex dawn jifilħu iktar karozzi qatt ma ser jagħti riżultati sodisfaċenti. Is-sitwazzjoni inevitabilment taqleb għall-agħar, għax nispiċċaw nipposponu l-problemi għal iktar tard, meta ibagħad ikunu ferm agħar.

Miżuri li jimmiraw għal riżultati immedjati biex tiżdied l-effiċjenza tat-toroq jistgħu jagħtu riżultati kemm-il darba jintrabtu ma miżuri bl-iskop li jnaqqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna.

Ikun floku li nħarsu mill-ġdid lejn l-Istrateġija Nazzjonali tat-Trasport li twassal sal-2025: din identifikat li madwar ħamsin fil-mija tal-vjaġġi b’karozzi privati jieħdu inqas minn kwarta. Dan ifisser li l-inizjattivi tal-politika tat-trasport għandhom ikunu iffukati lejn il-movimenti tat-traffiku lokali u reġjonali. Ħidma iffukata f’din id-direzzjoni, bla dubju, tagħti riżultati fi żmien raġjonevoli.

Il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku hi riżultat tad-dipendenza akuta tagħna lkoll fuq il-karozzi. Hija din id-dipendenza li għandha tkun indirizzata bla iktar dewmien. Sfortunatament hu propju dan li l-Gvern u l-agenziji tiegħu qed jagħmlu ħilithom kollha biex jevitaw illi jindirizzaw.

Biex inkun ġust fil-kritika tiegħi għandi ngħid ukoll li ġew introdotti diversi miżuri biex iħeġġu lil min jagħmel użu minn mezzi alternattivi ta’ transport. Dawn jinkludu aċċess bla ħlas għat-trasport pubbliku għal diversi kategoriji kif ukoll miżuri biex ikun inkuraġġit l-użu tar-rota. L-enfasi fuq l-użu tat-trasport bil-baħar fil-portijiet huwa ukoll ta’ benefiċċju u dan billi mhux biss hu mezz effiċjenti ta’ mobilità imma għandu l-kosegwenza diretta li jnaqqas il-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Miżuri biex ikun indirizzat it-trasport tal-iskejjel kienu ukoll inizjattiva oħra importanti. Fil-ħidma tal-gvern hemm nuqqas wieħed importanti li jagħmel id-differenza kollha: il-gvern għażel inċentivi biex iħajjar lil min jibdel l-iġieba tiegħu. Jonqos li jieħu miżuri fil-konfront ta’ dawk li jibqgħu jużaw il-karozzi privati meta hu għaqli li dan m’għandux isir. Dan qed isir għal raġuni ovvja: biex ikunu evitati konsegwenzi politiċi tal-miżuri iebsa li huma meħtiega.

Għandhom ikunu użati b’mod estensiv miżuri fiskali biex jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq kemm b’mod permanenti kif ukoll f’ħinijiet speċifiċi.

Fost il-miżuri li jistgħu jkunu użati hemm il-congestion charge li hi użata f’bosta pajjizi. Din tinvolvi ħlas skont kemm iddum f’zoni li jkun fihom ħafna traffiku, intenzjonata biex ħadd ma jdum iktar milli għandu bżonn f’dawn iż-żoni, kif ukoll biex min jista’ jevithom jagħmel hekk ukoll.

Sfortunatament, din il-congestion charge li xi snin ilu kienet applikata l-Belt Valletta ġiet limitata fil-mod kif kienet qed tiġi applikata b’mod li naqqset l-effettività tagħha. Jekk l-applikabilità ta’ din il-congestion charge tkun imsaħħa hu estiża lil hinn mill-Belt Valletta l-impatt tagħha biex tkun indirizzata l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku fiz-zoni urbani ewlenin f’kull ħin tal-ġurnata tista’ tkun waħda sostanzjali. Gradwalment miżura bħal din twassal għal tnaqqis permanenti ta’ karozzi mit-toroq tagħna flimkien ma żieda sostanzjali kemm fl-użu tat-trasport pubbliku kif ukoll fl-użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi ta’ mobilità sostenibbli.

Politika tat-trasport iffukata biex tindirizza bis-serjetà dak li qed jikkawża l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku, bla ebda dubju, tagħtina ferm iktar minn 12-il minuta żieda fil-ħin liberu tagħna. Dejjem, imma, jekk tindirizza l-kawża reali: id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi. Sakemm dan iseħħ ser nibqgħu nisimgħu iktar ħrejjef minsuġa mill-konsulenti tal-Ministru Ian Borg.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 21 t’April 2019

12 minutes of fun

In one of the many fairy tales spun by government advisors, we have been informed that the heavy infrastructural investment in roads will result in all of us having the possibility of an additional 12 minutes of fun every week. This additional quality time, we are told, will result from spending less time in traffic congestion. As far as I am aware, the text of this fairy tale has not yet been published. So far, we have only been informed of its existence in one of the many media appearances of Transport Minister Ian Borg!

Some years back, a more serious study entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles use in Malta, published by the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development of the University of Malta and funded by the EU, had estimated that the time lost in traffic congestion per commuter in Malta was 52 hours per annum. This works out at approximately 60 minutes per week. Matters are today much worse, as this study was published four years ago in 2015 and the situation has deteriorated further. Apparently, advisors to Infrastructure Malta have not yet accounted for at least 80% of the time estimated to be lost in traffic congestion.

The basic problem with government’s current transport policy is that its measures and initiatives to address traffic congestion are focused on the effects of road usage. The causes of traffic congestion are generally addressed in an inadequate manner. In the long term, increasing road capacity will not give satisfactory results. It will only make matters worse, as a result postponing the problem until a later date when it will be substantially much worse.

Short term measures which increase the efficiency of our roads will only yield results if they are coupled with robust measures intended to reduce cars from our roads.

It is pertinent to point out once more that the National Transport Master Plan 2025 has identified that around 50% of private vehicle trips on Maltese roads involve journeys of a duration of less than 15 minutes. This signifies that local and/or regional traffic movements should be the real focus of transport policy initiatives. This is the low-lying fruit which could give results in a reasonable time, if tackled adequately.

Traffic congestion is the symptom of our malaise: car dependency. It is car dependency which should be addressed head on. This is the real issue which government and its agencies are doing their utmost to avoid.

To be fair various measures have been introduced which seek to encourage the use of alternative means of transport. These include free access to public transport to various categories and various measures to encourage bicycle use. Emphasis on the use of sea transport in the port areas is also beneficial as in addition to being an efficient means of mobility it also reduces cars from our roads. Addressing school transport was also an important initiative. Government has however opted to use mostly carrots and not sticks in implementing transport policy and initiatives. The reasons for this are obvious: to avoid political backlash as much as possible.

Fiscal measures should be used extensively to reduce cars from roads both permanently as well as during particular and specific times of the day.

Among the measures that can be utilised, congestion charges are the most used in other countries. This involves the payment of a charge depending on the duration of your stay in those zones subject to heavy traffic. Its aim is to reduce traffic in such zones.

Unfortunately, the congestion charge applied some years ago in Valletta was curtailed such that nowadays it is not very effective. If the congestion charge is strengthened and gradually extended beyond Valletta its impact could be substantial in addressing traffic congestion at all times of the day around the major urban areas. Gradually such a measure would lead to a permanent reduction of cars from our roads and a substantial increase in use of public transport as well as alternative means of sustainable mobility.

A focused transport policy which seriously tackles the causes of traffic congestion would yield much more than an additional 12 minutes of fun. It has however to deal with the real issue: car dependency. Until such time we will keep listening to the fairy tales spun by Minister Ian Borg’s consultants.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 April 2019

Il-bidla fil-klima: mill-kliem għall-fatti

Fit-tmiem ta’ attivita’ dwar il-bidla fil-klima organizzata minn Alternattiva Demokratika Żgħażagħ (ADŻ), dalgħodu jiena u Mina Tolu (flimkien miegħi u ma Arnold kandidat għall-Parlament Ewropew) indirizzajt konfernza stampa dwar il-bidla fil-klima.
Tajjeb li Alternattiva Demokratika Żgħażagħ ħadet din l-inizjattiva għax hemm ħtieġa li insemmgħu leħinna anke dwar dan.

Il-bidla għall-ġenerazzjoni tal-enerġija mill-heavy fuel oil għall-gass kien pass tajjeb. Il-gass iżda, jitqies bħala fjuwil ta’ tranżizzjoni għal enerġija rinnovabbli. Neħtieġu iktar energija mix-xemx u mir-riħ kif ukoll li naraw li jkun hemm użu tal-energija mill-mewġ li bħala gżira aħna mdawwrin bih is-sena kollha. L-applikazzjoni tat-teknoloġija li qegħda dejjem tiżviluppa twasslu għal tipi ta’ xogħol ġdid u sostenibbli u fl-istess ħin jikkontribwixxu lejn kwalita’ ta’ ħajja aħjar għal kulħadd.

It-trasport għadu problema kbira u jidher li l-problema se tkompli tikber minħabba żieda astronomika fin-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq Maltin u Għawdxin. Sfortunatament l-Gvern minflok jinvesti f’trasport sostenibbli u nadif qiegħed għaddej fuq programm qawwi ta’ xogħol infrastrutturali li qed iservi biex jinkoraġġixxi iktar użu tal-karozzi u per konsegwenza qiegħed iħassar il-progress li qed jinkiseb biż-żieda fl-użu tat-trasport pubbliku. Irridu investiment serju f’infrastruttura għar-roti u r-roti elettriċi, kif ukoll fl-użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi għat-trasport li jinkludu dawk bil-baħar.

Il-mina proposta għal bejn Malta u Ghawdex hi essenzjalment mina għall-karozzi u mhux mina għan-nies. Fil-fatt huwa stmat li fi żmien 15-il sena l-ammont ta’ movimenti ta’ karozzi bejn il-gżejjer ser jiżdied minn 3000 għal 9000 karozza kuljum. Servizz għan-nies ifisser servizzi ta’ fast-ferry minn Għawdex sal-qalba ta’ Malta. Il-mina tinkoragixxi l-uzu tal-karozzi għax il-ħlas li jinġabar minn dawk li ser jinvestu fil-mina ser jiddependi esklussivament fuq in-numru ta’ karozzi li jgħaddu mill-mina.

Huwa essenzjali li n-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq tagħna jonqos. Dan wara kollox hu ukoll wiehħed mill-iskopijiet ewlenin tal-istrateġija Nazzjonali tat-Trasport approvata mill-Gvern Malti fl-2015. Il-Gvern Malti ma jistax jibqa’ għaddej kif inhu. Bħalissa qed jagħti messaġġi konfliġġenti kontinwament.

Jekk irridu nindirizzaw il-bidla fil-klima bis-serjetà huwa essenzjali li nindirizzaw l-impatti ikkawżati mit-trasport. Żmien il-paroli għadda. Għandna ngħaddu mill-kliem għal fatti.

The budget: beyond the €s

Liza Minelli’s song “Money makes the world go round” is the underlying theme of the Budget speech delivered by Finance Minister in Parliament last Monday. The message driven home was that money and the accompanying affluence clearly indicate that we have never had it so good and that handouts to all are not a problem, both to those who need them, and, more importantly to those who don’t.

Today, taxation is a dirty word in our political lexicon: hence, it was suggested that the message that no increases in existent taxes or new taxes have been proposed is a positive one by the Honourable Minister. Handouts are for all, almost. First for those in need, secondly for most of the rest. The dictum “from each according to his means, to each according to his needs” no longer has any significance when trying to understand the political philosophy underlying the budget of this “labour” government.

Taxation collected in Malta apparently only has some significance when taxing foreign companies operating outside Maltese territory but having some small office, or just a letterbox, on this rock. This is done so that they can avail themselves of reduced taxation rates, substantially lower that those payable in the countries where they operate.

Similarly, companies operating in the financial services sector benefit from a tax package which offers them substantial savings on their tax bills in order to entice them to set up shop.

The government thinks it is smart, but all it is doing is encouraging tax avoidance. Malta’s message is clear: those who want to avoid tax in their country are welcome as long as they are prepared to pay a small part of the taxes avoided to the Maltese exchequer.

In this respect, the case study entitled “Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance” published by the Green Group in the European Parliament around two years ago is indicative. In that study, it was concluded that BASF, the German chemical giant with its headquarters in Ludwigshafen, used mismatches in national tax systems in order to avoid paying its taxes. It is estimated that, over a five-year period spanning 2010 to 2014, BASF avoided the payment of close to one billion euros in taxes, paying instead a small amount of the taxes avoided, in gratitude for this wonderful opportunity made possible by the Maltese governments, blue and red.

In this context the Finance Minister’s declaration against tax evasion, tax avoidance and money laundering is deemed mere rhetoric. It has to be viewed in the context of the Panama Papers saga, as well as the established fact that a Cabinet Minister and the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister set up companies in Panama, a tax haven, and no punitive action was taken against them. With this background, the Minister’s sanctimonious declaration is in no way credible.

The Budget proposals strengthen the social safety net as it assists the vulnerable financially. However, the quality of life is not measured solely by financial metrics. The Budget has various green gaps that affect our quality of life.

The welfare of cars assumes an importance over human quality of life, as government considers it is important to widen and improve roads in order to facilitate the passage of cars, thereby aiming at reducing congestion. An inverted sense of logic: reduction of the number of cars on our roads should have been the target as that is the real and actual problem. Widening roads and improving road infrastructure with flyovers and underpasses only serves to grow the number of cars on our roads, thereby increasing the problem. Providing and facilitating alternative transport is the only solution. Paying lip service to alternative means of transport but simultaneously financing an exponential
increase of the problem signifies that we still have to learn the ABC of transport policy.

The government’s own transport master-plan places considerable emphasis on the need to reduce cars from our roads but it seems that the government is not interested.

Therefore, we have a government which is more interested in the welfare of cars than in our quality of life.

This is just one example. There are countless of others.

The Budget loses an opportunity to make a lasting difference in a number of areas important for our quality of life that goes beyond finances.

published (online) at Malta Independent

Il-baġit : lil hinn mill-€s

Id-diska ta’ Liza Minelli “Money makes the world go round” donnha li hi t-tema li madwarha hu minsuġ id-diskors tal-Baġit li nqara mill-Ministru tal-Finanzi nhar it-Tnejn fil-Parlament. Il-messaġġ ċar li wasal fi djarna kien li l-flus u l-“ġid” li hawn jagħmlu possibli li tirċievi ċekk id-dar, kemm jekk għandek bżonnu kif ukoll jekk m’għandekx.

F’dawn iż-żmienijiet il-kelma taxxa donna saret kelma moqżieża fid-dizzjunarju politiku: għalhekk ġie suġġerit li n-nuqqas ta’ taxxi ġodda, inkella ta’ żieda fit-taxxi eżistenti kien element pożittiv fid-diskors tal-Onorevoli Ministru. Ċekkijiet għal kważi kulħadd. L-ewwel għal dawk li għandhom il-ħtieġa u mbagħad għall-parti l-kbira tal-bqija. Dak li kien jingħad li “jittieħed mingħand kull wieħed skont ma jiflaħ, u jingħata lil kulħadd skont il-ħtiġijiet tiegħu” donnu li ma għandu l-ebda piz illum meta nippruvaw nifhmu l-filosofija politika li fuqha hu mfassal dan il-baġit ta’ Gvern “Laburista”.

It-taxxa li tinġabar f’Malta donnha li hi utli biss meta tinġabar mingħand kumpaniji barranin li fil-waqt li joperaw barra mit-teritorju Malti jkollhom uffiċċju żgħir jew sempliċi letterbox f’Malta. Dan biex ikunu jistgħu jibbenefikaw minn rati ta’ taxxa sostanzjalment iktar baxxi minn dawk li jkunu soġġetti għalihom fil-pajjiżi fejn joperaw.

Diversi kumpaniji fis-settur tas-servizzi finanzjarji ukoll jibbenefikaw minn rati ta’ taxxa li bihom jiffrankaw sostanzjalment minn dak li jħallsu band’oħra.

Il-Gvern mingħalih li għamel opra. Fir-realtá qed jibgħat messaġġ li Malta tilqa’ li min irid jevadi t-taxxa f’pajjiżu, kemm-il darba jkun lest li jħalli xi ħaġa minn dak li jiffranka fil-kaxxa ta’ Malta!

F’dan il-kuntest l-istudju intitolat Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance. ippubblikat mill-Grupp tal-Ħodor fil-Parlament Ewropew madwar sentejn ilu jispjega b’mod ċar x’inhu jiġri. F’dan l-istudju ġie konkluż li l-BASF, ġgant Ġermaniz fil-qasam tal-industrija kimika ibbazat f’Ludwigshafen, jagħmel użu minn differenzi fis-sitemi nazzjonali tat-taxxa biex jevita milli jħallas it-taxxi dovuti. Huwa stmat li, tul il-ħames snin bejn l-2010 u l-2014, BASF evitaw madwar biljun euro fi ħlas ta’ taxxi. Minflok ħallsu ammonti ferm inqas, b’ħajr lill-gvernijiet Maltin (blu u ħomor) talli għinhom jevitaw dawn it-taxxi kollha.

F’dan il-kuntest id-dikjarazzjoni tal-Ministru tal-Finanzi kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus jidhru dak li fil-fatt huma: eżerċizzju ta’ retorika. Inżommu f’moħħna ukoll il-kaz tal-Panama Papers, li kien stabilixxa l-fatt li membru tal-Kabinett u ċ-Chief of Staff fl-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru kellhom kumpaniji fil-Panama, pajjiż rinomat għall-evażjoni tat-taxxa, u dwar dan ma kienu ittieħdu l-ebda passi kontra tagħhom. Fid-dawl ta’ dan, id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ “qdusija” da parti tal-Onorevoli Ministru hi nieqsa minn kull kredibilitá.

Il-proposti tal-Baġit isaħħu ix-xibka soċjali u dan billi jgħinu finanzjarjament lill-vulnerabbli. Imma l-kwalitá tal-ħajja ma titkejjilx biss f’termini ta’ flus. Fil-Baġit hemm bosta miżuri ambjentali nofs leħja.

Il-ħarsien tal-karozzi huwa iktar importanti mill-kwalitá tal-ħajja għalina. Il-Gvern jikkunsidra li hu iktar importanti li jwessa’ t-toroq biex jiffaċilita ċ-ċaqlieq tal-karozzi u b’hekk jipprova jnaqqas il-konġestjoni. Loġika rasha l-isfel. Il-mira kellha tkun it-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna għax dik hi l-problema. It-twessiegħ tat-toroq u t-titjib tal-infrastruttura bil-kostruzzjoni ta’ flyovers lil hawn u lil hemm iwassal biss għaż-żieda ta’ karozzi fit-toroq tagħna u b’hekk tikber il-problema tal-konġestjoni. L-unika soluzzjoni hi li jkun inkoraġġit bis-serjetá t-trasport alternattiv. Il-Gvern qiegħed fl-istess nifs jinkoraġixxi kemm lit-trasport alternattiv kif ukoll iż-żieda fenomenali ta’ karozzi: dan ifisser li għadu ma tgħallem xejn. Wara kollox huwa l-pjan nazzjonali tat-trasport imfassal minn dan il-Gvern stess li jpoġġi quddiemna l-mira tat-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Imma jidher li l-Gvern qed iwarrab il-pjani tiegħu stess.

L-Gvern hu iktar interessat mill-ħarsien tal-karozzi milli mill-ħarsien tal-kwalitá tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.

Dan hu biss eżempu wieħed. Hemm bosta oħrajn.

Il-Baġit qed jitlef l-oportunitá li jagħmel differenza f’numru ta’ oqsma fejn li troxx il-flus mhux biżżejjed.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 28 t’Ottubru 2018

Green gaps in the Budget

The green gaps in the Budget speech cannot be patched up with the millions of euros spread in the pockets of both those in need as well as those who are well off.

Edward Scicluna’s Budget speech last Monday was far too long. Yet in its over 100 pages it missed addressing a number of environmental issues on which different government spokespersons pontificate throughout the rest of the year: confirming that they just pay lip-service to the issues.

The lack of good environmental governance has considerable economic and social impact as is evident to one and all.

While the Budget proposals strengthen the social safety net, it is to be underlined that quality of life is not measured solely in terms of financial metrics. Throwing euros at problems does not lead to any solutions.

The budget speech correctly emphasises the necessity of waste recycling. Unfortunately, the Minister for Finance did not explain how this effort should be integrated into a circular economy, even though the Environment Minister repeatedly boasts of how supposedly the move towards a circular economy is a priority for government. In the entire speech, the circular economy is not mentioned once. Nor does the Economic Survey dwell on the matter or even faintly refer to the matter.

This raises the suspicion that government has lost the plot and does not have any policy ideas on such an important aspect of the economy with its social, economic and environmental effects.

The Budget speech emphasises the energy generation potential from waste incineration which requires large volumes of waste in order to be viable. But the budget speech is silent on how this fits in with the stated commitment to actually reduce the volume of waste.

The government is trying to square the circle; on the one hand it wants to reduce waste but on the other hand it needs more and more waste to make its huge incinerator viable.
The Budget speech also gives the impression that it addresses important aspects which impact the quality of life when in fact offers only half-baked and token solutions.

Among them is the point on water policy. The speech mentions incentives to encourage repairs of existing wells but then it avoids altogether a real and focused effort to address the acute issue of dwellings built without water cisterns, with the consequence that water ends up in the public sewers or flooding our streets.

Developers are let of the hook even when roads are flooded and sewers are overflowing, not to mention the sheer waste of perfectly good water.

The same can be said of the supposed solutions to traffic congestion. The Budget speech refers to the financial incentives available to encourage the use of alternative modes of transport, but here again it ignores the roots of the problem. The government spending of millions of euros for the development of the road infrastructure will only increase traffic congestion, thereby squeezing users of alternative means of transport off the roads.

It is useless to incentivize the purchase of bicycles and pedelecs when there is no investment in adequate infrastructure to ensure that people can commute safely using these important alternative means of transport, which actually help to decrease congestion in our roads.

Over one year ago the Prime Minister had taken a leaf from Alternattiva Demokratika’s electoral manifesto and declared that the government will determine a cut-off date by which new cars will need to be electrically driven or possibly of a hybrid nature.

This declaration had heralded the issue of electrification of transport on our roads addressing two major issues: the quality of air and the contribution of transport emissions to climate change. This, once implemented, would be a substantial contribution to the decarbonisation of the Maltese economy. We are none the wiser on government plans after listening to or reading the budget speech.

Clearly financial parameters are not the only indicators of our quality of life. The green gaps in the budget speech need plugging at the soonest.

published in The Sunday Times of Malta : Sunday 28 October 2018

Il-politika dwar it-trasport: ħtieġa li nħarsu fit-tul

Biex nindirizzaw sewwa l-ħtiġijiet tal-pajjiż jeħtieġ li nħarsu fit-tul. Biex dan iseħħ hu meħtieġ ippjanar serju: li wara li jikkonsidra l-possibilitajiet kollha u janalizza l-impatti li jistgħu jirriżultaw iwassal għal deċiżjoni dwar l-aħjar soluzzjoni u mbagħad sussegwentement li din tkun imwettqa.

L-implimentazzjoni tal-politika dwar it-trasport, f’Malta, ma tħarisx fit-tul. Dan minkejja li għandna pjani ppreparati riċentement: il-Master Plan dwar it-Trasport li jwassal sal-2025 u l-Istrateġija Nazzjonali dwar it-Trasport li twassal sal-2050.

Imma sfortunatament hemm diskrepanza mhux żgħira bejn il-politika dwar it-trasport u l-implimentazzjoni tagħha. L-interventi fl-infrastruttura mwettqa jew li qed jitħejjew minn Trasport Malta u/jew Infrastruttura Malta ftit li xejn jaqblu mal-għanijiet dikjarati tal-Master Plan u l-Istrateġija dwar it-Trasport.

Ħa nkun ċar: mhux qed ngħid li m’għandu jsir xejn. Id-diżastru li qed niffaċċjaw fil-qasam tat-trasport jista’ jsir agħar milli hu illum jekk ma jsir xejn. Jeħtieġ bla dubju intervent mill-Gvern, imma dan jeħtieġ li jkun ippjanat u iffukat fuq il-problemi reali kif identifikati fil-pjani mfassla għall-Gvern Malti fl-2015 mill-konsulenti tiegħu tal-konsortju Italo-Spanjol Ineco-Systematica, imħallsa mill-fondi Ewropej dwar l-iżvilupp reġjonali.

L-għanijiet li jeħtieġ li jintlaħqu huma mfissra fid-daħla għall-Master Plan dwar it-Trasport li hi ffirmata mill-Ministru tat-Transport ta’ dak iż-żmien Joe Mizzi: “Malta, bħal bosta pajjiżi oħra qed tiffaċċja l-isfidi riżultat ta’ bdil fl-istil ta’ ħajja li ngħixu u li qed iwasslu f’domanda ikbar għall-mobilitá personali u dipendenza ikbar fuq karozzi privati. Iktar minn qatt qabel illum jeħtieġilna li nfittxu bilanċ bejn, fuq naħa waħda l-ħarsien tal-ambjent, il-protezzjoni ta’ saħħitna u li nilqgħu għall-impatti negattivi tat-tibdil fil-klima u fuq in-naħa l-oħra t-titjib fl-ekonomija tal-pajjiż. Dan iwassal għal insistenza għal transport pubbliku li jkun aħjar u ta’ min joqgħod fuqu, u għall-użu ta’ mezzi oħra (ta’ transport) kif ukoll integrazzjoni aħjar ta’ dawn il-mezzi.”

Dan hu messaġġ ċar li jemfasizza l-ħtieġa urġenti li nagħmlu użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi ta’ transport kif ukoll li nassiguraw illi nintegraw sewwa l-facilitajiet ta’ transport li għandna. Huwa propju dan li jagħmel il-Master Plan tat-Trasport.

Huwa tajjeb li ninnotaw illi l-Master Plan jemfasizza li nofs il-vjaġġi li jsiru b’karozzi privati fil-gzejjer Maltin jdumu inqas minn 15-il minuta. Dan jindika li din il-mobilitá hi waħda primarjament ta’ natura lokali fuq distanzi qosra. Dan, fil-fehma tal-Master Plan, jagħtina l-opportunitá li ninkoraġixxu iktar mixi u użu tar-rota. Imma, iżid jgħid il-Master Plan, hemm il-ħtieġa ta’ titjib fil-kwalitá tal-faċilitajiet fiċ-ċentri tal-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna, kemm għal min jimxi kif ukoll għal min jagħmel użu mir-rota.

Dan jurina b’mod ċar li jeżistu soluzzjonijiet li jindirizzaw il-mobilitá tagħna kemm fil-lokalitajiet infushom kif ukoll bejn l-lokalitá u oħra. Dawn is-soluzzjonijiet, li jħarsu fit-tul, għandhom il-possibilitá li jindirizzaw nofs il-vjaġġi li jsiru bil-karozzi privati, l-parti l-kbira minnhom fil-ħinijiet li jkun hemm ħafna traffiku fit-toroq tagħna. Dan mingħajr ma biss nikkunsidraw xi bypass jew proġett ta’ toroq massiċċ. Safejn naf jiena, s’issa, fit-tliet snin li suppost illi ilu fis-seħħ il-Master Plan tat-Trasport, ma ittieħdet l-ebda inizjattiva ta’ din ix-xorta. Dan hu qasam ta’ ħidma li fih is-sehem tal-kunsilli lokali huwa essenzjali għax ifisser li hemm il-ħtieġa li niddiżinjaw mill-ġdid it-toroq u l-ispazji pubbliċi kollha tagħna b’mod li nittrasformawhom biex ikunu għas-servizz tar-residenti u mhux iktar biex jiffaċilitaw l-użu tal-karozzi kif wara kollox huma illum.

Il-karozzi ħadulna t-toroq. Hemm bżonn li neħduhom lura.

Li ntejbu l-infrastruttura tat-toroq tagħna u dik li nsejħulha l-għamara tat-triq twassal biex jibda jkun implimentat il-Master Plan tat-Trasport għax jinkoraġixxi t-tnaqqis fl-użu tal-karozzi privati għad-distanzi qosra: u dan ftakru li jinvolvi nofs il-vjaġġi li jsiru bil-karozzi! Iktar emfasi fuq il-ħtieġa ta’ użu tat-transport pubbliku fuq livell ta’ lokalitá għandu jwassal ukoll għal żieda fl-użu bejn lokalitajiet fil-qrib. Jekk dan isir sewwa, bla dubju, tonqos id-dipendenza fuq il-karozza privata u iktar nies tifhem kemm ma hemmx ħtieġa tal-proġetti kbar ta’ toroq li hawn għaddejjin bħalissa li huma sempliċiment ħela ta’ flus li nistgħu nużaw ħafna aħjar.

Din hi stampa żgħira tal-ħarsa fit-tul li l-konsulenti Italo-Spanjoli tal-gvern fasslu fil- Master Plan tat-Trasport. Hi għodda tajba li tista’ tgħinna nnaqqsu d-dipendenza żejda tagħna fuq il-karozza privati, li wasslet għall-qagħda diżastruża fit-toroq tagħna illum. Għandna nimplimentaw dawn il-proposti malajr kemm jista’ jkun: illum qabel għada.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 9 ta’ Settembru 2018

 

 

 

 

Transport policy: missing the long term view

To  adequately tackle a country’s needs, a long-term view is essential. This necessitates serious planning: that is to say considering all the possible options, analysing the resulting possible impacts, taking a decision on the optimum solution and then implementing that decision.

The implementation of transport policy in Malta is such that the long-term view is almost completely discarded. I say “almost” because it exists on paper in the form of a Transport Master Plan running untill 2025 and a National Transport Strategy running untill 2050.

Unfortunately, there is a mismatch between transport policy and action. The infrastructural interventions being planned or being carried out through Transport Malta and/or Infrastructure Malta do not match the declared objectives in the Transport Master Plan and Strategy.

Let me be clear: doing nothing is not an option. The current transport mess cannot be left unattended as it can only get worse. It requires government intervention, which must be planned and focused on addressing the real issues identified in the transport plans drawn for the Maltese government in 2015 by the Ineco-Systematica Consortium, the Italo-Spanish consultants paid for from EU regional development funds.

The objectives to be achieved are encapsulated in the forward to the Transport Master Plan signed by former Transport Minister Joe Mizzi: “Malta, like many other countries, faces the challenges of lifestyle changes that have resulted in increased demand for personal mobility and more dependence on private cars. Today, more than ever, we need to strike a fine balance between protecting our environment, preserving our health and mitigating the negative impacts of climate change, on the one hand, and improving economic performance on the other. This will call for better quality and more reliable public transport, a shift to alternative modes and better integration between these modes.”

It is a clear and unambiguous statement emphasising the urgent need for a modal shift to alternative transport means and ensuring appropriate integration between the transport facilities available. The Transport Master Plan does precisely this: it plans the way to achieve this modal shift in a 10-year timeframe.

It is pertinent to point out that the Transport Master Plan 2025 underlines the fact that 50 per cent of journeys by private vehicles in the Maltese islands are of under 15-minutes duration, indicating that substantial mobility produced at local levels on very short paths. This, opines the Master Plan, creates the opportunity to increase the modal share for walking and cycling, as the distances travelled are short. However, it adds: “there is the need to promote and strengthen the quality of the pedestrian and cycling facilities” within and around town centres.

This clearly indicates that long term solutions can be found in addressing the mobility preferences within localities themselves, as well as between neighbouring localities. This has the potential of tackling 50 per cent of vehicles movements, a substantial portion of them during peak-traffic time, without even considering any bypass or major road project. I am not aware of any such initiative so far, three years after the approval of the Transport Master Plan. It is an area of action in which the involvement of local councils is essential, as it will involve redesigning practically all of our roads and public spaces in each and every locality in order that they are transformed to be resident-friendly rather than vehicle-friendly, as they have been to date.

Cars have taken up our roads and we need to take them back.

Improving our locality infrastructure and street furniture so that our roads are resident-friendly should be the first step in implementing The Transport Master Plan and, remember, this involves 50 per cent of trips made by private vehicles. Adding emphasis to the need to make more use of public transport, even at a local level, should also increase its use between neighbouring localities. If done properly, this could further reduce the dependency on private vehicles and consequently put a substantial break on the perceived need of massive road infrastructural projects which are just monies down the drain which we could definitely put to better use.

This is just a snapshot of the long-term view that the government’s Italo-Spanish advisors provided in the Transport Master Plan 2025. It is a tool which can help wean us away from excessive dependency on private cars that has resulted in a transport policy failure over the years. It is about time that the provisions of this Master Plan are implemented, and the sooner, the better.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 9th September 2018