Wanted: a transport policy which makes sense

Everywhere is within reach in the Maltese islands: distances are relatively small. It is, in addition, an established fact, documented in the Transport Masterplan, that 50 per cent of private car trips on our roads take less than fifteen minutes. Do we need to be dependent on private cars for such short distances?

Over the years public transport was neglected. In the absence of suitable public transport, and as a reaction thereto, a pattern of car dependency has inevitably developed. The resulting congested roads are a symptom of this fact rather than being, as suggested in Parliament earlier this week by a government backbencher, the direct consequence of an increase in the country’s standard of living.

There have been improvements in public transport in the last years: these are however insufficient. Having free public transport is a good but pre-mature initiative as public transport has yet to be efficient and reliable. The decision announced last week by Transport Minister to invest in cycle lanes, is welcome, even if it comes a little late in the day.

The heavy investment in road infrastructure over the years has been misdirected as it has focused on the effects instead of on the causes of traffic congestion. The financial resources utilised in the Marsa Road network, the Central Link and elsewhere, will, at the end of the day, prove to be monies down the drain as traffic congestion will build up once more. This is already evident even in these early days. Others have been there before us as is revealed by countless studies carried out all over the world on the link between traffic congestion and improvement of the road infrastructure.

It is only through the provision of alternative means of sustainable mobility that the problematic behavioural pattern we have developed over the years can be addressed. Moving away from car dependency will however be a very slow process if policy makers keep continuously sending conflicting signals.

Making it easier for the car user through more or better roads is no help in solving the problem. It will make matters worse. Likewise, the subsidisation of petrol and diesel is sending a clear message to all that car dependency is not even considered to be a problem.

Three specific factors are currently in play: traffic congestion, fuel cost and the transition to transport electrification. If properly managed, together they can help us move towards a state of sustainable mobility. The transition period is however necessarily painful unless it is properly managed.

Postponement in tackling traffic congestion properly will only make matters worse.

Improvement of road infrastructure has postponed the issue of tackling traffic congestion into the future. Fuel subsidies have added to the problem as they blatantly ignore it. Electrification, unless coupled with a reduction of cars on the road will add acute electricity dependency on foreign sources to our current problems. Energy sovereignty has been problematic for quite some time: it will get worse.

The second electricity interconnector with the Sicilian mainland will worsen our car dependency as a result of linking it with a dependency on electricity generated outside our shores. We know quite well what that signifies whenever the interconnector is out of service, whatever the cause!

We need to go beyond the rhetoric and act before it is too late. It is also possible to ensure that the vulnerable are adequately protected. This would mean that instead of having across-the-board subsidises, these would be focused on those who really need them. All those who have mobility problems should receive focused assistance to help them overcome the difficulties which could result from a modal shift in transport. We cannot however go on with subsidies for all: it is not sustainable, neither economically, nor environmentally or socially

Land use planning can also be of considerable help if it is focused on the actual needs of the whole community instead of being at the service of the developers. We need to ensure that each community is self-sufficient in respect of its basic needs. This will, on its own, decrease traffic generated by the search for such needs.

The climate change debate is a unique opportunity to rethink the way we plan our cities as one way in which to combat the climate crisis. The idea crystallised as ‘the 15-minute city’ by Carlos Moreno, an architect advising the Paris mayor, entails turning current urban planning on its head to ensure that all our basic needs are available within easy reach, not more than 15 minutes away.

Carlos Moreno speaks of a social circularity for living in our urban spaces based on six essential functions: to live in good housing, to work close by, to reach supplies and services easily, to access education, healthcare and cultural entitlement locally by low-carbon means. Can we reassess the nature and quality of our urban lifestyles within these parameters?

All we do is essentially linked. At the end of the day traffic congestion and the related car dependency are a product of our mode of behaviour.  Thinking outside the box, we can tackle it successfully, as a result unchaining ourselves from our car dependency, consequently adjusting to a better sustainable lifestyle.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 20 November 2022

Kultura ta’ dipendenza

Il-baġit għall-2023 li l-Ministru tal-Finanzi Clyde Caruana ippreżenta lill-Parlament nhar it-Tnejn għandu jkun deskritt bħala wieħed li jsaħħaħ kultura ta’ dipendenza.  Il-Gvern jagħmel użu mit-tqassim taċ-ċekkijiet biex jilħaq dan l-iskop! Id-dipendenza fuq il-Gvern, taħt il-Labour hi oġġettiv  inkoraġġit. Is-sitwazzjoni minn baġit għall-ieħor tmur mill-ħażin għall-agħar.

Dan hu forsi l-iktar ċar mill-mod kif il-Gvern imexxi l-quddiem il-politika tiegħu dwar il-pagi. Żviluppat differenza kbira bejn id-daqs tal-paga minima u kemm verament teħtieġ biex tgħix. Il-Gvern qed jipprova jindirizza din id-differenza billi jqassam iċ-ċekkijiet. Issa ħoloq COLA ġdida biex jgħin lill-vulnerabbli u dan flimkien ma numru ta’ sussidji li uħud minnhom mhux neċessarji inkella huma ta’ ħsara.

 Il-ħolqien ta’ dan il-benefiċċju ġdid għall-persuni vulnerabbli (80,000 skond il-Ministru) li ma jistgħux ilaħħqu mal-ħajja, hu pass pożittiv. Il-vulnerabbli jeħtieġu l-għajnuna, imma jeħtieġu ferm iktar minn ċekk ta’ madwar €300 li ser jitqassam fi żmien il-Milied. Kien ikun ferm iktar għaqli kieku l-Gvern iffoka fuq il-problema reali u indirizza din il-probema bis-serjetà. Issa ilu żmien ikaxkar saqajh.

Il-problema reali hi li l-paga minima hi baxxa ħafna: hi ferm il-bogħod minn paga li tista’ tgħix biha. Gvern wara l-ieħor għamel ħiltu biex din il-problema jevitha. Tajjeb li niftakru li l-benefiċċji soċjali, fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom, huma marbuta mal-paga minima u huma rifless tagħha. Paga minima diċenti awtomatikament teffettwa l-benefiċċji soċjali li riżultat ta’ hekk jitjiebu sostanzjalment, bi dritt.

Tul dawn l-aħħar għaxar snin tlett rapporti tal-Caritas analizzaw din il-materja fil-fond. L-aħħar rapport, li nħareġ fl-2021, kien ikkonkluda li hemm diskrepanza ta’ 40 fil-mija bejn il-paga minima u dak meħtieġ biex wieħed jgħix b’mod diċenti. Dan jammonta għal diskrepanza ta’ madwar €4,000 fis-sena. Din hi l-problema rejali!

Sakemm nibqgħu bil-paga minima baxxa daqshekk, it-tqassim fuq stil tar-rigali tal-Milied (Father Christmas) ser jibqgħu jsiru biex jitnaqqas il-piz minn fuq spallejn il-vulnerabbli. Xi drabi ir-rigali ta’ Father Christmas ma jkunux limitati għall-vulnerabbli imma qed jinfirxu ma kulħadd. Hekk ġara biċ-ċekkijiet ta’ qabel l-elezzjoni, u l-hekk imsejħa rifużjoni tat-taxxa!

Flok din id-dipendenza fuq dan it-tqassim, ikun iktar xieraq li l-paga minima tiżdied u issir paga li tista’ tgħix biha.  Dan jista’ jsir billi l-baskett ta’ oġġetti u servizzi li fuqu tkun ikkalkulata l-paga minima jkun aġġornat regolarment. Dan jelimina l-ħtieġa tat-tqassim ta’ cekkijiet ta’ kull xorta fil-parti l-kbira tal-każi għax il-paga raġjonevoli tkun ir-regola: ma jkunx hemm ħtieġa tal-benvolenza politika tal-Gvern, la fi żmien il-baġit u l-anqas, fi żmien ta’ elezzjoni ġenerali kif, b’mod abbużiv diġa sar.

B’żieda ma’ dan it-tqassim taċ-ċekkijiet bi pjaċir, flok pagi ġusti bi dritt, tajbin biex wieħed jgħix bihom, il-Gvern qiegħed ukoll japplika numru ta’ sussidji li huma mfasslin b’mod żbaljat.

Is-sussidji tal-petrol u d-dijżil huma żejda. Iż-żieda internazzjonali fil-prezz tal-petrol u d-dijżil, li huma madwar id-doppju ta’ dak li qed inħallsu Malta, hi opportunità unika li f’idejn kapaċi tista’ tikkoreġi l-iżbalji li għamel il-Gvern fil-konfront tal-problema tagħna tad-dipendenza fuq il-karozza privata.

Flok is-sussidji fuq il-prezz tal-petrol u d-dijżil ikun aħjar kieku ninvestu fl-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tat-trasport pubbliku. Din hi opportunità unika li, f’idejn min jifhem tista’, fit-tul, twassal għal tibdil fl-imġieba tan-nies favur użu iktar tat-trasport pubbliku u użu inqas tal-karozzi privati.  L-introduzzjoni ta’ transport pubbliku b’xejn għal kulħadd mill-bidu ta’ dan ix-xahar kien pass primatur: l-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tat-trasport pubbliku kellu jkun indirizzat ferm qabel ma ttieħed dan il-pass importanti.

Li tkun indirizzat id-dipendenza fuq il-karozzi privati hu oġġettiv politiku li l-Gvern stess ippropona fil-Pjan Nazzjonali dwar it-Trasport. Il-Gvern qiegħed jinjora l-pjan tiegħu stess.

Min-naħa l-oħra hu xieraq li l-konsum bażiku tal-ilma u l-elettriku fir-residenzi tagħna jibqa’ jkun issussidjat. Imma hu żball li is-sussidju japplika ukoll għall-konsum kollu ta’ kulħadd. Ikun ferm aħjar jekk setturi differenti tal-ekonomija jkollhom aċċess għal għajnuna mfassla għall-ħtiġijiet tagħhom sakemm iddum il-kriżi kurrenti.   Dan jista’ jagħti protezzjoni ferm ikbar kemm lill-impiegi kif ukoll lill-ekonomija. Fuq kollox b’dan il-mod jista’ jkun evitat li jkun issussidjat il-ħela u l-abbuż fl-użu tal-ilma u l-elettriku.

Ma hemmx ħtieġa li nsaħħu kultura ta’ dipendenza fil-forma ta’ tqassim ta’ ċekkijiet inkella b’sussidji mhux meħtieġa.  Huwa tajjeb li l-vulnerabbli jkunu mgħejjuna. Imma li tinbena u tissaħħaħ kultura ta’ dependenza bħala riżultat ta’ politika skaduta dwar il-pagi hi xi ħaġa ferm differenti. Dan jagħmel ħsara lit-tessut soċjali tal-pajjiż u għandu jinġieb fit-tmiem l-iktar kmieni possibli.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 30 t’Ottubru 2022

A Culture of Dependency

The budget for 2023 presented to Parliament by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana last Monday may be described as one which reinforces a culture of dependency. Government handouts are used, left, right and centre to achieve this objective. Under Labour the culture of dependency is actively encouraged: it gets worse with every budget.

This is most clear in the manner in which government deals with incomes policy. A chasm has developed between the actual minimum wage and what is required as a living wage. Government tries to bridge this through various handouts including the newly created special COLA for the vulnerable as well as through subsidies, some of which are unnecessary or damaging.

The creation of a new ad hoc benefit payable to vulnerable persons (estimated by the Minister at 80,000 persons) who cannot cope with the current rate of inflation is a positive step. They definitely need help, but they need much more than an approximately €300 handout at Christmas time.  It would have been much better if government focused on the real problem and addressed it head-on. It has been procrastinating for ages.

The real problem is that the minimum wage is ridiculously low: it is far from being a living wage. Governments have repeated sought to avoid addressing this issue. It is pertinent to point out that social benefits are mostly pegged to the minimum wage. A minimum wage at a reasonable level would automatically adjust all social benefits to an equally reasonable level too.

Three Caritas reports have analysed the issue in depth in the last ten years. The last report issued in 2021 had found a 40 per cent discrepancy between the minimum wage and what is required as a living wage. This translates into approximately a €4,000 shortfall per annum. This is the real problem!

For so long as the minimum wage remains at such a low level, government handouts in Father Christmas style will remain the norm in order to reduce the burdens on the vulnerable. At times, this Father Christmas benevolence is not limited to the vulnerable but spread to the benefit of one and all. The pre-electoral handouts and the so-called tax refunds are just two examples.

Instead of being dependent on handouts, it would be appropriate if the minimum wage is a living wage. This can only be achieved through a regular updating of the basket of goods and services on the basis of which the quantum of the minimum wage is determined. This would eliminate the need for most handouts at any time of the year as all would get their dues as of right, on a regular basis, and not be dependent on the political benevolence of government, be it at budget time or else, abusively, on the eve of general elections as has already happened.

In addition to a policy of preferring handouts to a clear statutory determination of a fair living wage Government has also embarked on a policy of increased subsidies, designed in an ill-advised manner.

The subsidies applied to petrol and diesel are uncalled for. The current international spike in fuel prices – approximately double what we pay locally– is a unique opportunity which, if properly managed could make up for government’s lack of action to address the car dependency problem on the Maltese islands.

Instead of subsidising the price of petrol and diesel it would be much better to invest in the efficiency and reliability of public transport. This is a unique opportunity which if properly managed could be the beginning of a long-term behavioural change: away from the private car and towards public transport. Having free public transport for all as of this month was a pre-mature step: the efficiency and reliability of public transport should have been adequately addressed before embarking on such an important step.

Addressing car dependency head-on is a policy objective proposed by government’s own National Transport Master Plan but repeatedly ignored by government itself.

On the other hand, it is appropriate to subsidise basic water and electricity domestic consumption. One should however think beyond an across-the-board subsidy.  Having focused assistance to different sectors of the economy tailor-made to their specific needs for the duration of the current crises would yield far better results in protecting employment and the economy in the long-term. It would definitely avoid subsidisation of waste and misuse of water and electricity.  

We do not need to create or reinforce a culture of dependency in the form of handouts and unnecessary subsidies. Helping the vulnerable is laudable. Reinforcing a culture of dependency as a result of an outdated incomes policy is something quite different: it damages the social fabric and should be reversed the soonest!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 30 October 2022

Jgħadduna biż-żmien

L-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA) għadha kif ippubblikat abbozz ta’ Strateġija Nazzjonali dwar l-Ambjent għal konsultazzjoni pubblika. Dan l-abbozz ippubblikatu bl-Ingliż biss. Qiesu t-tmexxija tal-ERA ma tafx bil-Malti.

Minn awtorità pubblika nistennew ferm aħjar minn hekk. Kemm ser iddumu tinsulentawna? L-iskuża li l-Malti mhux addattat għal dokument tekniku mhiex waħda aċċettabbli. In-nuqqas ta’ dokument bil-Malti hi opportunutà mitlufa biex l-ERA tikkomunika iktar man-nies.

Iżda lil hinn mil-lingwa, l-istrateġija ambjentali li qed tkun proposta hi waħda ġenerika. Fiha tmien għanijiet li hu propost li jintlaħqu sal-2050. Il-lista tal-għanijiet li l-ERA trid tindirizza mhiex il-problema, għax il-problema hija li dawn l-għanijiet huma affarijiet li ilna niddiskutu żmien: ġew ippubblikati biżibilju rapporti, strateġiji u regoli jew policies li jkunu saru b’intenzjonijiet tajba tul is-snin!  Il-problemi jinqalgħu dejjem meta nfittxu li nimplimentaw il-miżuri meħtieġa biex jitwettqu dawn l-għanijiet. F’dak il-mument jinqagħu elf skuża, għax fir-realtà ma hemmx il-volontà politika li jittieħdu passi bis-serjetà.

Dan hu bil-bosta differenti milli jipprova jgħid ic-Chairman tal-ERA fid-daħla bl-Ingliż li kiteb għad-dokument konsultattiv! Din hi storja li għaddejna minnha diversi drabi!

Il-ħsara ambjentali li saret tul is-snin mhiex xi ħaġa li ser tkun irranġata mil-lum għall-għada.  Ħadd m’għandu jistenna riżultati malajr fil-mixja biex insewwu l-ħsara ambjentali li tħalliet takkumula tul is-snin.

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent jinvolvi li jinbidlu deċiżjonijiet politiċi diversi li ittieħdu tul is-snin li kienu parti mill-kawża ta’ ħsara konsiderevoli. Ifisser ukoll li nibdlu attitudnijiet, drawwiet u l-mod kif inġibu ruħna.

Fid-daħla għad-dokument konsultattiv iċ-Chairman tal-ERA Chairman, Victor Axiak, jistqarr li jista’ jkun hemm ħtieġa ta’ sagrifiċċji żgħar fl-immedjat biex niksbu benefiċċji ambjentali fit-tul li jitgawdew minn ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. Din hi dikjarazzjoni li prattikament kulħadd jaqbel magħha. Imma dikjarazzjoni bħal din teħtieġ ukoll li tkun segwita minn lista ta’ miżuri meħtieġa biex tittieħed azzjoni dwarhom,  lista li tvarja minn miżuri li jistgħu jittieħdu immedjatament għal oħrajn li jħarsu iktar fit-tul.

Ma baqax iktar żmien biex noqgħodu niffilosifizzaw dwar l-ambjent.  Il-problemi nafu x’inhuma u  nafu ukoll min fejn ġejjin u min hu l-kawża tagħhom! Tħejjew kwantità ta’ rapporti, strateġiji, pjani t’azzjoni u x’naf jien tul is-snin. Kull Ministru ġdid ipprova jagħti l-impressjoni li hu jew hi sabet is-soluzzjoni b’nisġa ta’ kliem sabiħ li jipprova jimpressjona. Sfortunatament ir-rapporti tekniċi li saru kif ukoll dak li qalu in-nies waqt konsultazzjonijiet pubbliċi, bosta drabi ġie injorat.  Anzi xi drabi l-gvernijiet saħansitra aġixxew bil-maqlub ta’ dak propost jew maqbul!

L-istrateġija proposta illum, per eżempju,  tiffilosofizza dwar il-ħtieġa li innaqqsu id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi u tinsisti li għandhom jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna.  Jekk wieħed imur lura u jerġa’ jaqra ftit l-istrateġija nazzjonali dwar it-trasport, li kienet iffinalizzat sitt snin ilu, jsib eżattament l-istess argumenti. Imma minflok ma ħa l-passi meħtieġa, l-Gvern – kemm direttament kif ukoll permezz tal-agenziji u l-awtoritajiet tiegħu – għamel bil-maqlub!

Kull studju li sar, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll barra minn xtutna, repetutament ikkonkluda li żvilupp massiċċ tal-infrastruttura tat-toroq twassal biex awtomatikament jiżdiedu l-karozzi fit-toroq. Kif mistenni, anke f’Malta, hekk ġara. Il-konġestjoni u l-problemi tat-traffiku żdiedu mhux naqsu riżultat tal-proġetti diversi tat-toroq. Dan seħħ għax kuntrarju tal-pariri li kellu, l-Gvern ma indirizzax il-kawza tal-problemi, imma indirizza l-effett.  Il-problema mhiex il-wisa’ jew it-tul tat-toroq, imma n-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq. Is-sitwazzjoni illum – f’ħafna każi  – hi agħar milli kienet qabel ma saru dawn il-proġetti.  

Minnbarra dan, daqslikieku mhux biżżejjed, l-awtoritajiet għamlu is-snin jinkoraġixxu l-iżvilupp ta’ petrol stations kbar, qieshom supermarkets. Dawn ħarbtu ammont mhux żgħir ta’ raba’. Biex issa jiġu jgħidulna kemm iridu jipproteġu l-agrikultura!

Kif nistgħu ntejbu l-kwalità tal-arja jekk nibqgħu nżidu l-karozzi fit-toroq tagħna?  Uħud forsi jargumentaw li s-soluzzjoni qegħda wara l-bieb bl-introduzzjoni tal-karozzi tal-elettriku inkella bl-użu tal-idroġenu jew xi fuel ieħor alternattiv. Dan ikun biss soluzzjoni parzjali għax fl-aħħar mill-aħħar irridu naraw kif ikun ġġenerat l-elettriku meħtieġ inkella kif ikun prodott l-idroġenu jew fuel alternattiv.

M’għandiex ammont suffiċjenti ta’ enerġija rinovabbli iġġenerata lokalment għax l-għorrief li ħadu id-deċiżjonijiet ftaħru fil-passat kemm kien irnexxielhom jinnegozjaw deroga tajba biex il-mira nazzjonali ta’ ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli ma tkunx 20% imma 10% tal-elettriku ikkunsmat. Ħtija ta’ hekk, illum m’għandniex ammont suffiċjenti ta’ enerġija rinovabbli.  Meta għandna l-ħtieġa ta’ enerġija elettrika bi prezz raġjonevoli  għandna nuqqas f’dan il-qasam li għalih qed inħallsu bizzalza.

Id-dipendenza li għandna bħala pajjiż fuq il-karozzi privati hi riżultat ta’ traskuraġni politika tat-trasport pubbliku tul is-snin. Li t-trasport pubbliku jkun b’xejn minn dan ix-xahar kienet deċiżjoni prematura. L-ewwel pass messu kien li tkun indirizzata l-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tas-servizz. Il-prezz qatt ma kien problema.

Hu meħtieġ li l-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tas-servizz ikunu indirizzati b’urġenza. Meta dan isir jagħmel ġid ambjentali ferm iktar mill-argumenti tekniċi kollha dwar kemm hemm ħtieġa li nħarsu l-ambjent. Trasport pubbliku effiċjenti flimkien ma investiment f’modi alternattivi ta’ transport hu ta’ benefiċċju ambjentali enormi.

Din hi uġiegħ ta’ ras kbira. Pariri ċari kien hemm. Iżda meta kien possibli li l-problema tkun indirizzata, l-Gvern, direttament kif ukoll permezz tal-awtoritajiet u aġenziji diversi tiegħu, ġie jaqa’ u jqum minn dan u għamel bil-maqlub!

Argumenti simili jistgħu jsiru dwar numru kbir ta’ materji ta’ importanza ambjentali: mill-ilma sal-pestiċidi, mill-użu tal-art sal-bijodiversità, mill-isforzi favur ekonomija ċirkulari għal taxxi ambjentali iddiżinjati sewwa.

Il-mod kif il-politika dwar it-trasport tħalliet għan-niżla hu biss eżempju wieħed żgħir minn fost bosta li jwassal għall-konklużjoni inevitabbli li ma teżistix rieda politika biex il-ħsara ambjentali tkun indirizzata bis-serjetà.

Il-konsultazzjoni pubblika tal-ERA sfortunatament hi fażi oħra fi proċess li permezz tiegħu qed jippruvaw jgħadduna biż-żmien.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Hadd 23 t’Ottubru 202https://www.illum.com.mt/opinjoni/politika/66843/carmel_cacopardo__jgadduna_bimien?fbclid=IwAR1CqEPhkXnPODQTe040-dkJEpxDoX2Z2ZxgMLB6K3UofHZ4qjdFXa8WY2Y#.Y1kATbZBzIV2

aqra ukoll dokument sottomessmill-ADPD lill-ERA hawn

Greenwashing by ERA

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has published a draft National Strategy for the Environment for public consultation. The proposed strategy is not specific but generic in nature. It lists eight strategic goals which it proposes to address till 2050.

There is no problem with the listed goals. We have, in fact been there before with a multitude of strategies and well-meaning policies. The problems arise when seeking to implement the specific measures required to achieve the said goals. When push comes to shove 1001 difficulties arise as it becomes clear that there exists no political will to act decisively. This is quite contrary to the impression conveyed in the forward penned to the strategy by the ERA Chairman!

ERA seeks a long-term vision since it is well known that the reversal of environmental damage takes time. One should not expect immediate results in the quest to reverse the accumulated damage to the environment.

Protecting the environment involves reversing political decisions which have been the cause of considerable environmental damage. It involves changing attitudes and behaviour.

In the forward to the document released for public consultation ERA Chairman Victor Axiak states that: “Short-term sacrifices may need to be made for long-term benefits to be reaped by future generations.” It is a statement that anyone in his right senses would agree with. Such a statement should however have been followed by a list of measures which require action, ranging from short term to long-term ones.

The time for philosophising on the environment is long overdue. We all know what the problems are. We also know who and what has caused them. A countless number of reports, strategies, masterplans, and action plans have been produced over the years. Unfortunately, they have been repeatedly ignored. At times governments have acted in a manner which is directly in opposition to what has been proposed or even agreed to!

The currently proposed environment strategy, for example, philosophises on reducing our car dependence and advises on the need to reduce cars from our roads. Leafing through the National Transport Master Plan finalised six years ago one finds the same admonition. Instead of taking definite steps, government, directly as well as through its agencies and authorities followed a path leading in the opposite direction.

All studies carried out in Malta and abroad have repeatedly concluded that large scale road infrastructural improvement leads to more cars on the road. As was expected this is what is happening in Malta at the time being. Traffic congestion has worsened, as instead of addressing the cause of the problem the authorities addressed the effects. They sought to widen roads and introduce new ones instead of addressing the exponential increase of cars on the roads. The traffic situation is worse than ever notwithstanding the monies spent or rather wasted in these projects.

In addition, the authorities have spent years encouraging the construction of large fuel stations, comparable to supermarkets in size, gobbling up quite an amount of good agricultural land in the process. Now, they are telling us how important it is to protect agricultural land!

How can we improve the quality of our air if we keep increasing cars on our roads? Some would say that a solution is round the corner with the electrification of vehicles or with the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel. This would only partly solve the problem. One must consider the source of electricity utilised or how the hydrogen (or other fuel) is produced.

We do not have enough renewable energy generated from local sources as the ignoramuses leading the country were (in the past) overjoyed at their successful EU negotiations to reduce the national target for the generation of renewable energy from 20 to 10 per cent of the electrical energy consumed. Now, when we desperately need more electricity which is reasonably priced, we are faced with a substantial deficit which is costing the national exchequer considerable expense.

We are faced with a national problem of car addiction as a result of the political neglect of public transport over the years. Having it free of charge as of this month was premature as the first step should have been to address its efficiency and reliability.   Price was never an issue.

This lack of efficiency and reliability of public transport is essential to address with urgency as, once addressed, it will do more for environmental protection that all the philosophising on the environment over the years! An efficient public transport together with a substantial investment in alternative modes of transport would be quite beneficial for the environment.

This is one of the major problems we currently face. Clear advice was available, yet when it was possible to address the problem, government through its various authorities and agencies deliberately made it worse.

Similar arguments can be made about a multitude of other areas of environmental importance ranging from water to pesticides, from land use to biodiversity, from efforts to set up a circular economy to adequate environmental taxes which are appropriately designed.

The way transport policy has developed in a downhill direction is just one small example of many on the basis of which it is inevitable to conclude that there is no political will to address environmental issues seriously. The ERA public consultation is unfortunately another phase of an on-going greenwashing exercise.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 23 October 2022

see also detailed submissions by ADPD to ERA here

Miljun euro kuljum f’sussidji

Is-susidji li qed jitħallsu mill-kaxxa ta’ Malta għall-petrol, dijżil u elettriku huma sostanzjali. Sa nofs Lulju anke d-dijżil użat minn inġenji kbar tal-baħar kien issussidjat! Permezz ta’ avviż legali, effettiv mid-29 ta’ Lulju il-Ministeru tal-Finanzi waqqaf dan is-sussidju, u għamel tajjeb.

Din il-bidla, bl-eliminazzjoni tas-sussidju tad-dijsil u petrol għal inġenji kbar tal-baħar kienet pass tajjeb il-quddiem biex ma jibqgħux jintużaw fondi pubbliċi fuq sussidji li la kienu meħtieġa u l-anqas ma kienu ġustifikabbli.

Is-sussidji li presentement huma użati għall-petrol, dijżil u l-elettriku jeċċedu l-miljun ewro kuljum. Fil-fatt huma qrib il-miljun u nofs euro (€1,500,000) kuljum.

Il-Prim Ministru, Robert Abela, f’dawn il-ġranet qal li mhux faċli li tillimita s-sussidji biex l-għajnuna ma tispiċċax għand min għandu l-mezzi, inkelli għand min jaħli. Naqblu perfettament li qatt mhu faċli tieħu dawn id-deċiżjonijiet. Speċjalment meta jkun meħtieġ li taqta’ l-benefiċċji lil min m’għandux ħtieġa għalihom!

Hu possibli li nikkunsidraw bis-serjetà t-tnaqqis tas-sussidji għall-petrol, dijżil u elettriku biex ikunu jistgħu jintużaw biss minn min jeħtieġhom. Dan it-tnaqqis jassigura li jkun hemm ferm iktar fondi għal dawk li verament għandhom bżonn. Miżura bħal din tnaqqas il-ħtieġa li tkun indirizzata l-ispiża għall-edukazzjoni jew għal xi qasam jew proġett ta’ utilità biex tagħmel tajjeb għas-sussidji.

It-tnaqqis fl-ispiża għall-edukazzjoni universitarja, kif qed jippjana li jagħmel il-Gvern bi tnaqqis fil-fondi għall-Università hu kastig indirizzat lejn il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri.  Il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri huma diġa mgħobbija bid-dejn pubbliku akkumulat, b’riżorsi naturali li kważi spiċċaw u b’wirt nazzjonali li qiegħed kontinwament taħt assedju. M’għandniex nagħmlu l-affarijiet agħar milli diġa huma!

Is-sussidji eżistenti jistgħu jonqsu iktar.

Is-sussidji fuq il-petrol u d-dijżil jistgħu jonqsu sakemm gradwalment jinġiebu fix-xejn.  Dan iwassal għal benefiċċju addizzjonali, ta’ inqas karozzi fit-toroq, u dan billi żieda fil-prezz tal-petrol u d-dijżil inevitabilment jikkawża ċaqlieqa lejn użu ikbar tat-transport pubbliku. Irridu fuq kollox niftakru li numru sostanzjali tal-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati huma għal distanzi qosra. Dan ġie emfasizzat ukoll mill-iStrateġija Nazzjonali tat-Trasport li tgħid li 50 fil-mija tal-vjaġġi bil-karozzi privati fil-gżejjer Maltin huma għal distanzi qosra li jieħdu inqas minn ħmistax-il minuta.

F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi, t-trasport pubbliku jista’ joffri alternattiva raġjonevoli. Iktar u iktar issa li minn Ottubru ser ikun bla ħlas! Jeħtieġ imma li jkun effiċjenti, jżomm il-ħin, dejjem, u jilħaq l-ikbar numru possibli ta’ lokalitajiet f’kull ħin. Dan għandu jinkludi servizz ridott imma effiċjenti matul il-lejl.

F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi, it-tnaqqis tas-sussidju fuq il-petrol u id-dijżil hi l-aħjar għażla li tista’ issir.

Imbagħad ikun jinħtieġ li jkunu indirizzati b’mod dirett l-impatti ta’ dawk is-setturi ekonomiċi dipendenti fuq il-petrol u d-dijżil. Dawn jeħtieġu għajnuna diretta u iffokata li tindirizza l-impatti ta’ din id-dipendenza.

Konsiderazzjonijiet simili għandhom japplikaw għas-sussidji li preżentement japplikaw għall-konsum tal-elettriku.

Il-konsum domestiku bażiku tal-elettriku għandu jibqa’ jkun issussidjat. Imma lil hinn minn dan il-konsum bażiku, anke hawn hu ġustifikat li tkun ikkunsidrata għajnuna iffukata u mfassla għas-setturi ekonomiċi differenti. Dan jagħmel ferm iktar sens milli jkun issussidjat il-konsum kollu bla limitu.

Għandha tibqa’ prijorità l-għajnuna li twassal għall-ġenerazzjoni u użu ikbar ta’ enerġija rinovabbli.  Hemm ħtieġa ta’ sforz ikbar biex tkun iġġenerata enerġija solari permezz ta’ użu iktar effiċjenti tal-bjut tal-bini pubbliku kif ukoll, fejn dan hu possibli, tal-ispazji miftuħa. Flimkien ma investiment ikbar fit-titjib meħtieġ fis-sistema tad-distribuzzjoni tal-elettriku dan jista’ jnaqqas l-impatt ta’ din il-kriżi enerġetika fuq il-pajjiż b’mod sostanzjali.

Li ngħinu li dawk li għandhom ħtieġa, tibqa’ prijorità. Imma l-għajnuna li tingħata għandha tkun waħda li tkun sostenibbli. In-nefqa ta’ miljun euro kuljum fuq sussidji (probabbilment ferm iktar) definittivament mhux sostenibbli.

Il-futur niffaċċjawh b’serenità permezz ta’ viżjoni sostenibbli. Dan jaqbel u hu fl-interess ta’ kulħadd. Kemm fl-interess tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti kif ukoll fl-interess tal-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. L-għażliet li għandna quddiemna mhumiex faċli. Hu biss jekk nagħrfu nidentifikaw il-prijoritajiet tagħna bil-għaqal li nistgħu nkunu f’posizzjoni li nħejju futur sostenibbli.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 18 ta’ Settembru 2022

One Million euro every day

The subsidies being currently forked out by the public exchequer relative to the current price of fuel and electricity are substantial. Until mid-July subsidised fuel was also available for use by large seacraft. Through a legal notice effective on the 29 July the Finance Ministry tweaked the subsidy rules to stop this. This was a correct step to take.

This tweaking of fuel subsidy rules was a good step in diverting subsidies from being mis-used for non-essential purposes.  The subsidies currently applied to fuel and electricity exceed the sum of one million euro per day. In fact, they are getting closer to one and a half million euro (€1,500,000) per day.

Prime Minister Robert Abela is on record as stating that it is not easy to limit subsidies from being used by the wealthy and the wasteful. I agree that decision-taking is never easy. Especially when limiting access to benefits such that those who are not in need and the wasteful do not end up being subsidised by the state!

It is however possible to seriously consider limiting the fuel and electricity subsidies to be used only by those who need them. Such a limitation would ensure that more funds are available for those who really need them. It would reduce the need to curtail expenditure on education or other useful areas/projects to make good for the subsidies.

Reducing expenditure on university education, as government is planning to do through a reduction in its operational budget, penalises future generations. Future generations are already burdened with the accumulated national debt, with the depletion of natural resources and with the continuous ruining of our national heritage. We should not make matters worse than they already are.

Existing subsidies could be further tweaked.

Subsidies on petrol and diesel could be reduced until they are completely eliminated. This would have the additional benefit of less cars on the road as increased petrol/diesel prices would inevitably shift more of us to make more use of public transport. We should remember that a substantial amount of private car use can be avoided as it is for short distances. This has been clearly emphasised in the National Transport Master Plan which states that 50 per cent of car trips in the Maltese Islands are for short distances of less than fifteen minutes duration. Public Transport can offer the reasonable alternative in these circumstances, in particular being free of charge as from next month! It must however improve its reliability as well as its efficiency. It should also aim to reach as many localities as possible, including through an efficient night service.

In these circumstances reducing gradually and eventually removing subsidies on petrol/diesel could be the way forward.

The issue remains as to those economic areas which are dependent on petrol/diesel. In these cases, government should identify suitable focused aid which addresses the specific needs of the economic areas under consideration.

Similar considerations should apply to subsidies currently applicable to electricity.

Basic domestic use of electricity should remain subsidised. Beyond that, however, it would make sense to focus the required aid to industry and business in a focused manner, in tailor-made fashion. This would make much more sense than a blanket policy of subsidies across the board.

Increased emphasis on assistance to generate and make use of renewal energy should continue to be a priority. An increased effort must be made to generate more renewable energy through an efficient use of the roofs of public buildings as well as, wherever possible, adequate use of public open spaces. Coupled with an increased expenditure on improvements to the electricity distribution system this could reduce the impacts of this energy crisis on the Maltese taxpayer in a substantial manner.

Helping those in need is a priority. In should however be done in a sustainable manner! Spending more than one million euro per day on these subsidies is definitely not sustainable.

A sustainable vision is the way forward. It is in the interest of all. This is in the interest of both the present as well as future generations. The choices we need to make are tough. It is only if we get our priorities right that we can plot the way for a sustainable future.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 18 September 2022

Climate Change and the 15-minute city

The latest report on climate change was published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) earlier this month. The full document is almost 3,000 pages long!

The current international debate on climate change is focusing on whether the objectives of the 2015 Paris Climate Summit are achievable. It is clear to all that, without profound and imminent changes in our lifestyles, these objectives will not be achieved.

The clear objective agreed to in Paris is to reduce carbon emissions in order to achieve carbon neutrality soonest. This would ensure that the global mean temperature does not surpass the pre-industrial temperature by more than 1.5ºC. This would in turn tame the climate over time.

As an island, Malta should be at the forefront in the international climate change debate. We will be severely impacted like all other countries. In fact, we are already at the receiving end of the impact of extreme weather conditions at an increased frequency. Long periods of drought are more frequent. Likewise, we have experienced more than a fair share of floods, which have caused considerable damage all over the islands.

As islands, sea-level rise will add to our problems in Malta and Gozo in a manner which is dependent on the rate at which this will take place. A substantial part of our essential infrastructure lies along our coast. This will potentially be severely impacted as a result of a sea-level rise. Just think about the impacts on the tourism infrastructure, for example.

One of the ideas doing the rounds in the climate change debate is to rethink the way we plan our cities as one way in which to combat the climate crisis. The idea crystallised as ‘the 15-minute city’ by Carlos Moreno, an architect advising the Paris mayor, entails turning current urban planning on its head to ensure that all our needs are available not more than 15 minutes away.

Moreno speaks of a social circularity for living in our urban spaces based on six essential functions: to live in good housing, to work close by, to reach supplies and services easily, to access education, healthcare and cultural entitlement locally by low-carbon means.

Can we reassess the nature and quality of our urban lifestyles within these parameters?

COVID-19 has given most of us a taste of remote working. In a limited way, this could become a permanent feature of our urban lifestyles. Some of us need not travel to work every day. With proper planning, remote working could reduce a substantial number of cars from our roads permanently and, consequently, the associated carbon emissions.

In the Maltese islands, distance should not be an issue: almost everywhere is within easy reach. Our National Transport Master Plan, in fact, advises us that 50 per cent of trips carried out by our private vehicles are for short distances, having a duration of less than 15 minutes. Achieving 15-minute cities should not be that difficult if we put our heads together to address it.

Our contribution to climate change mitigation, as a result of which we can accelerate our path to carbon neutrality, could be achieved through a substantial reduction of cars from our roads. We can achieve this without impacting our mobility. Through a judicious use of public transport and the facilitation of other sustainable mobility options, our mobility can be substantially improved as a result.

Come October, all public transport will be free. Hopefully, it will also be reliable and efficient. If adequately planned, this could be a turning point in climate change mitigation measures as, over a period of time, it can lead to a reduction of cars from our roads. Initially, such a reduction would necessarily be of a temporary nature. Eventually, we can move towards a permanent change.

Real change takes time to achieve.

Giving shape and form to 15-minute cities could be the next realistic challenge in our climate mitigation road map. All that is required is the political will.

published in The Times of Malta: 21 April 2022

L-istupru t’Għawdex

Il-PLPN kontinwament jipperfezzjonaw l-istrateġija tagħhom dwar l-istupru t’Għawdex. Din l-istrateġija illum il-ġurnata jispjegawha fil-wegħdiet elettorali tagħhom.  Sfortunatament, f’din il-ħidma tagħhom għandhom l-appoġġ ta’ għaqdiet bħall-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija li għadhom kif ħarġu dokument bil-prijoritajiet li huma qed jipproponu għall-leġislatura li jmiss.

Il-mina taħt il-fliegu bejn Malta u Għawdex, għalihom tibqa’ prijorità. Ma’ dan issa żdied mitjar rurali. Jidher li jridu jassiguraw li l-istupru li qed jippjanaw fuq Għawdex ikollu effett massimu.

Il-mina proposta mhiex għan-nies iżda għall-karozzi. Hi mina dipendenti b’mod assolut fuq il-karozzi u l-inġenji kummerċjali oħra li jkunu jistgħu jagħmlu użu minna. Kull waħda minn dawn il-karozzi jew inġenji kummerċjali tħallas biex tgħaddi mill-mina. Il-vijabilità ekonomika tal-mina tiddependi milli jkunu mħajjra jagħmlu użu minna l-ikbar numru possibli ta’ karozzi.

F’wieħed mill-istudji li saru kien ħadem stima li bħala riżultat tal-mina proposta, il-moviment ta’ karozzi bejn Malta u Għawdex jimmultiplika ruħu bi tlieta, minn 3000 moviment kuljum għal 9000 movement kuljum. L-istudju hu intitolat Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options.  Dan l-istudju kien ikkummissjonat mill-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija  u  Transport Malta.

Il-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdija qegħda fuq quddiem nett fl-isforz biex Għawdex ikun stuprat. Flimkien mal-PLPN iridu jerfgħu r-responsabbiltà għall-konsegwenzi.

X’sens jagħmel li żżid bi tlett darbiet il-moviment tal-karozzi Maltin fit-toroq Għawdxin? It-toroq Għawdxin jifilħu għal dan? Għandna nissagrifikaw il-kwalità tal-arja f’Għawdex ukoll?  Jagħmel sens li nesportaw il-problemi tat-traffiku minn Malta għal Għawdex?

It-tweġiba ovvja għal kull waħda minn dawn il-mistoqsijiet hi le. Bosta minnha huma konxji li t-toroq Għawdxin ma baqax fejn tqiegħed labra fihom u dan bħala riżultat tal-karozzi li diġa qed jaqsmu l-fliegu f’dan il-mument.

Anke fit-toroq Għawdxin hemm il-ħtieġa li jonqsu l-karozzi.  Diġa hemm wisq. Ma jagħmilx sens li jiżdiedu. Dan imur kontra dak kollu li jipprovdi l-pjan nazzjonali għat-trasport. Dan il-pjan japplika għal-Għawdex ukoll.

Is-servizz tal-fast-ferry service, jekk organizzat sewwa b’mod li jwassal in-nies f’punti differenti tul il-kosta Maltija, jibqa’ soluzzjoni tajba. B’hekk tkun assigurata mobilità sostenibbli bejn il-gżejjer.  Imma biex dan ikun effettiv, jeħtieġ ukoll transport pubbliku iffukat u faċilitajiet aħjar fil-port tal-iMġarr Għawdex. Dan jassigura mobilità aħjar b’impatt ambjentali sostanzjalment imnaqqas.  

Il-pjan nazzjonali għat-trasport, ippubblikat mill-Gvern Laburista jemfasizza l-ħtieġa li jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Il-proposta għal mina bejn Malta u Għawdex tikkontradixxi dan il-pjan. Għalfejn il-Gvern jieħu parir, iħallas għalih minn fondi pubbliċi u imbagħad jinjorah? Għaliex il-Gvern qiegħed kontinwament jinjora l-pjan tat-trasport tiegħu stess?

Jekk il-proġett tal-mina isseħħ, dan ser ikun il-kawża ta’ ħsara ambjentali sostanzjali kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex.  F’Malta ser jinqered il-villaġġ trogloditiku tal-Għerien fil-limiti tal-Mellieħa. F’Għawdex ser jinqered ammont mhux żgħir ta’ raba’ f’ Ta’ Kenuna, limiti tan-Nadur.

Hemm iktar soluzzjonijiet biex tkun indirizzata l-mobilità bejn Malta u Għawdex. Dan jirrikjedi li niffukaw fuq il-mobilità tan-nies. Jirrikjedi li nindirizzaw id-dipendenza li żviluppajna fuq il-karozza, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex. Sakemm nieħdu d-deċiżjoni li nibdew nindirizzaw din id-dipendenza, kull soluzzjoni li nippruvaw, ftit tista’ tkun effettiva.  

Ilna nopponu l-proposta għall-mina sa mill-ewwel jum minn meta, madwar għaxar snin ilu, din ġiet proposta mill-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdija bl-appoġġ tal-PLPN. Jekk inti ukoll ma taqbilx li issir din il-mina żomm quddiem għajnejk li huma biss membri parlamentari eletti f’isem ADPD li jistgħu jmexxu l-quddiem l-idejat tiegħek.  

Bl-appoġġ tiegħek nhar is-26 ta’ Marzu hu possibli li dan l-istupru li l-PLPN qed jippjanaw nevitawh.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 13 ta’ Marzu 2022

The rape of Gozo

The PLPN have elevated their strategy to accelerate the rape of Gozo to manifesto status. Unfortunately, they are supported in their endeavours by the likes of the Gozo Business Chamber which has just issued its key priority areas for the next legislature.

The tunnel below the Gozo Channel remains a priority on their books. To this they have now added a “rural airfield”. It seems that they want to ensure that their planned rape has maximum effect on Gozo.

The proposed tunnel is a tunnel for cars not for people.

The proposed Gozo tunnel is dependent on cars and other vehicles making use of it. It is these cars which will be subject to the payment of tolls. Maximising such vehicular use is crucial for the proposed tunnel to make any economic sense.

One of the studies carried out, which is in the public domain, had estimated that as a result of the proposed tunnel, the current daily movements of vehicles between Malta and Gozo would be trebled from 3000 daily movements to 9000 daily movements. The study entitled Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options was commissioned some years back by the Gozo Business Chamber together with Transport Malta.

The Gozo Business Chamber is in the front seat in this effort to rape Gozo. Together with the PLPN it has to shoulder responsibility for the consequences.

Does it make sense to treble the daily vehicle movements on Gozitan roads? Do Gozitan roads have that capacity? Should we sacrifice air quality in Gozo too? Does it make sense to export traffic problems from Malta to Gozo? The obvious answer to all these questions is a clear no. Most of us are aware that Gozitan roads are already bursting at the seams as a result of the number vehicles crossing over at this point in time.

Cars should be decreased on Gozitan roads too! There are already too many on the road. Increasing them exponentially is not on. This is the antithesis of the underlying theme of the National Transport Master Plan.

The fast-ferry service, suitably organised and servicing multiple destinations along the Maltese coast, is the potential long-term solution to ensure having a reasonable and sustainable mobility between the islands. In order for this to be effective, however, it has to be buttressed by a more focused public transport service and substantially improved port facilities at Mġarr Gozo. This will ensure better mobility with a much-reduced environmental impact.

The National Transport Master Plan published by this Labour administration advocates the need to reduce the number of cars on our roads. The proposal for the Gozo tunnel contradicts this objective. Why does government seek advice and then ignore it? Why does government repeatedly ignore its own Transport Master Plan?

If the tunnel materialises, it will result in significant environmental damage in both Malta and Gozo. On the Malta side it would include the obliteration of the troglodytic village at l-Għerien in the limits of Mellieħa. In Gozo it would ruin extensive agricultural holdings in the Ta’ Kenuna area, in the limits of Nadur.

There are other solutions which can adequately address the mobility between Malta and Gozo. It does however require thinking outside the box and focusing on the real issue: the sustainable mobility of people. This would require a bold initiative of addressing head-on car-dependency in both Malta and Gozo. Until we take the decision to start shedding our car- dependency, however, no solution can be really effective.

The Green Party has been opposing the proposal for an undersea tunnel continuously since it was first tabled by the Gozo Business Chamber and supported by the PLPN, around ten years ago. If you disagree with this tunnel proposal kindly note that it is only green members of parliament on the ADPD list that can represent your views.

Your support on the 26 March is essential to prevent this from happening.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 13 March 2022