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

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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

The drummer’s call

The drummer was floored. A photo on the social media depicted a drum departing from the hand of a uniformed policeman and flying in the direction of the floored drummer.

Last Thursday’s protest by Moviment Graffiti and Kamp Emergenza Ambjent was not about the pending decision on the proposed fuel service station at Bulebel in Żejtun. It was rather about the lethargy of the authorities in considering the overhaul of the Fuel Service Stations policy.

The mishandling of the protestors by the police apparently marks a new season: it has been ages since the police force was so employed in Malta. Apparently, the authorities are getting very itchy.

Appreciation of the environment is limited to clean-up days subject to the media’s glare, with the remaining days of the year being a free-for-all. There is nothing new in such an attitude. We have been facing it year-in, year-out for a considerable time. By now we are accustomed to greenwashing and some of us have developed an acute allergy to the authorities’ greenwashing.

Playing on the drum, the drummer was announcing to one and all that we are all fed up by the authorities’ procrastination and that it was about time that they realised that this is another case of abuse of authority and maladministration. The Republic belongs to everyone and not just to the privileged few.

The number of pending applications for fuel service stations is considerable, notwithstanding the fact that we do not need even one of them. The long-term policy direction is to reduce our dependency on private cars. In addition, as indicated by the Prime Minister around twelve months ago, we are awaiting the announcement of the cut-off date when the remaining cars on our roads are primarily electrically driven.

It has been repeatedly emphasised that the 3,000 square metres permissible footprint that the Fuel Service Station policy allows for the development of fuel service stations outside the development zone is excessive and the proposal by the Environment and Resources Authority to reduce this footprint to 2,000 square metres is not much of an improvement. If a fuel service station is required its footprint could be substantially less. Obviously, this would necessitate doing away with all the ancillary commercial activity at ODZ fuel service stations that the current fuel service station policy introduced in reaction to those seeking pastures new for their “investments”. The current policy gives more weight to ensuring a return on investment than to the need to protect our countryside from further rape.

Last Thursday, the Planning Authority Board turned down the application for a fuel service station at Bulebel in Żejtun. There are other applications pending, most of which will be eventually approved. This will be done notwithstanding the fact that there is no need for more fuel service stations. We have more than enough of them and it is certainly about time that we start closing some of the existing ones.

In my article last week, I emphasised that we need to implement the vision put forward by the National Transport Master Plan 2025 which advocates the need to reduce our dependency on cars. The need to overhaul the Fuel Service Station Policy has to be considered in this context. If we need to reduce (drastically) the number of cars on our roads, it follows that we do not need any more fuel service stations.

In the coming weeks the drummer’s call through more rhythmic movements of the drum sticks will be required to alert us to more sessions of the Planning Authority Board which will be convened to approve the further rape of our countryside.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 16th September 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

Il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex: il-qerda finali t’Għawdex wara l-bieb

Nhar l-Erbgħa festa pubblika. Hi ukoll id-data tal-egħluq għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika li qed tagħmel l-Awtoritá tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA) fuq it-termini ta’ referenza għall-istudju dwar l-impatt ambjentali (EIA) tal-mina proposta bejn Malta u Għawdex.

Is-sit elettroniku tal-ERA jippreżenta żewġ dokumenti sabiex jassistu lil dawk li qed jipparteċipaw f’din il-konsultazzjoni pubblika. Dawn id-dokumenti jispjegaw il-proposta u jidentifikaw numru ta’ fatturi li jistgħu jkunu jeħtieġu investigazzjoni, u dan biex dawk li jieħdu d-deċiżjoni jkunu megħjuna jagħmlu l-“aħjar” għażla.

F’dawn id-dokumenti hemm numru ta’ nuqqasijiet li jistunaw u juru kemm Transport Malta tiġi taqa’ u tqum mill-wirt ambjentali tagħna.

Transport Malta tibbaża l-proposti tagħha fuq ir-rapport ta’ Mott MacDonald, datat Marzu 2012 u intitolat: Preliminary Analysis: Assessment of Road Tunnel Options between Malta and Gozo. Wara li kkunsidrat erba’ proposti differenti għall-mina kif imfisser fir-rapport ta’ Mott MacDonald, Transport Malta ddeċidiet li tagħżel il-proposta numru 4 b’emenda: hi proposta li tkun tikkonsisti f’mina waħda b’żewġ karreġjati u tibda mill-inħawi taħt Ta’ Kenuna fin-Nadur Għawdex u tispiċċa fl-Imbordin biswit il-Wied tal-Pwales f’San Pawl il-Baħar.

Fid-dokumenti jgħidulna li l-ewwel tliet proposti kienu skartati għax setgħu jikkawżaw ħsara ambjentali sostanzjali, f’qiegħ il-baħar jew lir-riżerva naturali tal-Għadira. Imma la Transport Malta u l-anqas l-ERA ma ħassew il-ħtieġa li jgħidulna fid-dokumenti li ippubblikaw li meta ntagħżlet il-proposta numru 4 u ġġebbdet sal-Imbordin biswit il-Wied tal-Pwales din ġiet viċin wisq tar-riżerva naturali l-oħra, tas-Simar, u tgħaddi dritt mill-Miżieb, mal-pjan tal-ilma.

Ir-riżerva naturali tas-Simar hi sit ikklassifikat bħala Natura 2000 tal-UE, u l-pjan tal-ilma tal-Miżieb hu l-unika wieħed sura li fadlilna. Allura hemm il-possibilitá kbira li din il-proposta għal mina tmur kontra żewġ direttivi importanti tal-Unjoni Ewropea: id-Direttiva Qafas dwar l-Ilma u d-Direttiva dwar il-Abitat.

Fl-2015 il-medja ta’ movimenti ta’ karozzi bejn Malta u Għawdex, kif jirriżulta mill-istatistika uffiċjali, hi ta’ madwar 3000 kuljum. Id-diversi studji u rapporti ppubblikati sal-lum jikkalkulaw li l-mina, meta tkun lesta, tista’ twassal sabiex in-numru ta’ karozzi li jaqsmu bejn iż-żewġ gżejjer jitla’ bejn 9000 u 10000 kuljum. Gordon Cordina minn Ecubed fir-rapport tiegħu kkummissjonat minn Transport Malta u l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija jindika li ser tintlaħaq iċ-ċifra ta’ 9000 karozza kuljum, fil-waqt li r-rapport Mott MacDonald jipponta lejn l-10,000 karozza kuljum.

Din iż-żieda konsiderevoli fil-moviment ta’ karozzi teħtieġ li tkun analizzata fil-kuntest tal-politika kurrenti dwar it-trasport. Il-master plan dwar it-trasport addottat mill-Gvern preżenti u ffinanzjat mill-Fond Ewropew għall-Iżvilupp Reġjonali hu ċar. Dan il-pjan jgħid li matul l-għaxar snin li fih ser ikun effettiv (2016-25), wieħed mill-oġġettivi ewlenin tal-politika tat-trasport f’Malta hi emfasi fuq l-użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi għall-karozzi privati u li fil-gżejjer Maltin jonqos l-użu tal-karozza privata.

Mela Transport Malta, għan-nom tal-Gvern Malti fl-2016, tistabilixxi politika dwar it-trasport biex tkun indirizzata l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku billi tinkoraġixxi bdil fl-imġieba favur mobilitá sostenibbli, u mbagħad toħroġ bi proposti bħal dawn tal-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex, li biex jagħmlu sens, jirrikjedu żieda enormi fit-traffiku.

Id-dokumenti fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-ERA għall-informazzjoni ta’ dawk li jridu jipparteċipaw f’din il-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex jinjoraw kompletament il-politika dwar it-trasport.

Din hi s-sitwazzjoni li għandna illum. Drajna b’awtoritá tal-ippjanar sinkronizzata mal-lobby favur l-iżvilupp. Sfortunatament jidher li l-Awtoritá dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi miexja fuq l-istess passi. Il-jiem huma magħduda. Bla dubju dan ser iwassal għall-qerda ta’ Għawdex ukoll.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 12 t’Awwissu 2018

The Malta-Gozo tunnel: the final countdown to Gozo’s plunder starts now

Next Wednesday is a public holiday. It is also the closing date of the public consultation being carried out by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) on the terms of reference for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be carried out on the proposed Malta-Gozo tunnel.

The ERA website presents two documents to assist those participating in the public consultation. These documents explain the proposal and highlight a number of issues that will require further investigation in order to assist the decision-takers in choosing for the “optimum” solution.

There is a number of glaring deficiencies in these documents which indicate the contempt that Transport Malta has for our environmental heritage.

Transport Malta bases its proposals on the Mott MacDonald Report of March 2012 entitled: Preliminary Analysis: Assessment of Road Tunnel Options between Malta and Gozo. After considering the four options for a tunnel as resulting from the Mott MacDonald report, Transport Malta opted for an amended version of option number 4 which is proposed as consisting of a single bore two lane tunnel between the area below Ta’ Kenuna in Nadur, Gozo and L-Imbordin along the Pwales Valley in St Paul’s Bay in Malta.

We are told in the published documentation that the first three options were discarded because they could be the cause of considerable environmental damage to the seabed, as well as to the Għadira Nature Reserve. However, neither Transport Malta nor the ERA considered it appropriate to mention that the selected option, an amended option 4, stretches the Malta portal of the proposed tunnel to the Pwales valley very close to the Simar Nature Reserve and right through the Miżieb perched aquifer.

The Simar Nature Reserve is an EU Natura 2000 site, while the Miżieb perched aquifer is the only part of our water table that is still in a relatively good state. Consequently, two important EU Directives will most probably be infringed: The Water Framework Directive and the Habitats Directive.

Based on NSO statistics, in 2015 average number of daily vehicular crossings between Malta and Gozo was around 3,000. The various studies and reports published to date indicate that it is estimated that a tunnel between the two islands would trigger an increase to between 9,000 and 10,000 vehicle crossings daily. Gordon Cordina of Ecubed in his report commissioned by Transport Malta and the Gozo Business Chamber indicates a 9,000-daily mark, while Mott MacDonald points towards the 10,000 mark.

This considerable increase in vehicular movements needs to be analysed in terms of current transport policy. The Transport Master Plan, adopted by the current government and funded by the European Regional Development Fund, is very clear. It lays down that during its 10-year lifespan (2016-25) it will be an operational objective of transport policy in Malta to aim to provide alternatives to the use of private vehicles and to reduce the role of the private car as a means of transport in the Maltese Islands.

So, Transport Malta, on behalf of the Maltese government, spells out transport policy in 2016 aimed at addressing traffic congestion in Malta by encouraging a modal shift towards sustainable mobility. Yet it then comes out with proposals such as the Malta-Gozo Tunnel, which can only be feasible if there is an astronomical increase in vehicular traffic on our roads.

The documents placed by the ERA on its website to feed the public consultation process on the proposed Malta-Gozo tunnel ignore transport policy altogether.

This is the current state of affairs. By now we are accustomed to having a Planning Authority acting in synch with the development lobby. Unfortunately, it seems that the Environment and Resources Authority is closely following in its footsteps. The final countdown is on. It will inevitably lead to the plunder of Gozo as well.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 12 August 2018

Beyond the trees

The public debate of the Central Link project is currently concentrated on the manner in which it will impact the tree population along its route. It is an important discussion because it is concentrating on one of the visible impacts of the project. The trees should definitely by protected and preferably increased in number.

However the number of trees impacted is just an (important) detail. There are other “important details” which need to be considered, amongst which the agricultural land to be taken up, the emissions – which need to be reduced, in particular the minute particulate matter- as well as noise pollution.

Little discussion has, however, ensued on the basic question: do we need the proposed improvement of the road network?

To answer this basic issue, we need to consider the different options available to facilitate sustainable mobility around our islands. These are options that are available to each and every one of us, but do we make use of them?

Why do we make use of private cars for very short distances? Are we aware of the fact that around 50 per cent of journeys in private cars on our roads are of under 15 minutes duration?

To answer the basic question we cannot just focus on traffic congestion. Traffic congestion is, in reality, the effect and not the cause of our transport problems: it means that our roads are bursting at the seams. We need to consider the issue in depth and in a holistic manner.

The National Transport Master Plan for the Maltese Islands does just that. When considering the proposals listed in the Master Plan, it is not a question of pick and choose: it is an integrated plan. Some of the proposals are easy to implement, others are tough as they strike at the real cause of our transport problems: our behaviour. Little effort is being expended in this direction.

The operational objectives for road transport in the Master Plan place great emphasis on the need to reduce the role of the car in the busy congested urban areas as well as on the provision of alternatives to private vehicular demand in these areas.

Unfortunately, instead of implementing these basic operational objectives Transport Malta is focusing on increasing the capacity of the road network in order to address traffic congestion. As a result, it is addressing the effects and ignoring the cause of the miserable state of our road network.

Government’s policy of massive investment in the road network, will, in the long term, be counter-productive as it will only serve to increase the number of vehicles on our roads and, consequently, cause more congestion.

Just throwing money at problems in the form of substantial subsidies of public transport is not as effective as we would like. The positive impacts of these and other subsidies are being cancelled out through the massive road network investment: a declaration that the private car is the preferred mode of transport of the policy maker.

As a result, the clear message of Malta’s transport policy is that public transport is only tolerated as life is only made easy for the users of private vehicles. It should, in fact, be the other way around.

The National Transport Master Plan clearly emphasises that 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.

It is about time that the government starts implementing its own Master Plan which so far it has consistently ignored.

published in The Independent on Sunday : 24 June 2018

Id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi

Il-qoxra tal-pjan nazzjonali għat-trasport intitolat National Transport Master Plan 2025 fuq nett juri l-emblema tal-Fond Ewropew għall-Iżvilupp Reġjonali biex jurina li kien iffinanzjat minn fondi tal-Unjoni Ewropea. Dan il-pjan li hu ppubblikat minn Transport Malta kien iffinalizzat f’Ottubru 2016.

Iċ-Chairman (u CEO) ta’ Transport Malta, jgħidilna f’dikjarazzjoni stampata qabel il-pjan, li l-iskop tal-pjan hu biex itejjeb il-kwalitá tak-ħajja tagħna.

Wieħed mill-oġġettivi ta’ dan il-pjan li ftit nisimgħu dwaru huwa dak li jfittex li jipprovdi alternattivi għall-użu ta’ karozzi privati biex tkun inkoraġġita mobilitá sostenibbli u bħala riżultat tonqos id-domanda għall-karozzi fit-toroq tagħna.

Billi, kif anke jgħidilna l-pjan innifsu, madwar nofs il-vjaġġi bil-karozzi privati idumu inqas minn kwarta, nistgħu nikkonkludu li l-mobilitá meħtieġa hi waħda ta’ natura lokali u dan għal distanzi ferm qosra. Xi bżonn għandna ta’ karozzi privati għal dan? Il-mezzi ta’ transport alternattiv mhumiex biżżejjed għal dawn il-ħtiġijiet f’pajjiż fejn prattikament kullimkien hu tefa’ ta’ ġebla ‘l-bogħod?

Sirna dipendenti wisq fuq il-karozzi privati. Il-Malti, jgħidilna l-pjan nazzjonali għat-trasport fil-paġna 88, jippretendi li kulħadd jibdel id-drawwiet tiegħu biex hu jkun jista’ jibqa’ jsuq il-karozza!

Din hi l-problema rejali tat-toroq Maltin: l-imġieba u l-aspettattivi tagħna. Il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku hi fil-fatt il-konsegwenza ta’ din id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi privati.

Sfortunatament il-proġetti massiċċi li jindirizzaw l-infrastruttura tat-toroq, kemm dawk li bdew kif ukoll dawk ippjanati, jinjoraw kompletament din id-dipendenza u minflok jiffukaw fuq il-ħtieġa immaġinarja ta’ żieda fil-kapaċitá tat-toroq. Mela l-politika dwar it-trasport tagħna, flok ma tindirizza dak li qed joħloq il-problemi tal-mobilitá, qed tiffoka fuq l-effetti bit-tama li tnaqqashom. Dan sakemm l-effetti jerġgħu jakkumlaw u mbagħad ikun ovvjament wasal iż-żmien għal iktar toroq u flyovers! Viżjoni mċajpra iktar minn din għad irrid nara!

L-istat Malti ftit qed jinvesti bejn jgħinna nikkuraw ruħna minn din id-dipendenza.

Dan l-investiment massiv fl-iżvilupp ta’ iktar toroq qiegħed jibgħat messaġġ wieħed, li jkolli ngħid qiegħed jinftiehem b’mod ċar ħafna: il-karozza privata hi l-mezz preferut tal-Gvern Malti għat-trasport. Dan hu l-iktar mod faċli kif tindirizza l-problema: għax bil-flus it-toroq mhux fil-baħar biss tbniehom. B’hekk ikun evitati d-diffikultaiet kbar biex ikunu indirizzati l-attitudnijiet u l-imġiba tagħna lkoll. Attitudnijiet u mġiba li huma r-reazzjoni tagħna, bħala komunitá, għan-nuqqas tal-istat Malti (fuq perjodu twil ta’ żmien) li jindirizza l-ħtiġijiet tagħna għal mobilitá sostenibbli.

Meta l-istat jibgħat messaġġ daqshekk ċar jkun qiegħed jinnewtralizza l-impatti posittivi kollha tal-ftit inizjattivi (b’finanzjament relattivament limitat) favur il-mobilitá sostenibbli. Dawn jinkludu, fost oħrajn, sussidji għat-trasport pubbliku, inċentivi biex jinxtraw ir-roti u sussidji biex jinħolqu l-faċilitajiet neċessarji għal xowers fuq il-post tax-xogħol bħala inkoraġġiment għal min irid imur ix-xogħol bir-rota.
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Madwar erba’ snin ilu, l-Istitut għall-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli u t-Tibdil fil-Klima tal-Universitá ta’ Malta kien ippubblika studju li kien ġie ffinanzjat mill-Unjoni Ewropea li kien intitolat The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta. Dak l-istudju kien ikkonkluda li l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku kien qed jiekol 1.7% minn dak kollu li jipproduċi l-pajjiż fis-sena.

Ma jkunx forsi aħjar kieku flok ma nibqgħu iffissati fuq in-numru u l-qisien tat-toroq inħarsu ftit fil-mera u nirrealizzaw li l-problema mhux it-toroq imma aħna u l-imġiba tagħna? Id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi teħtieġ kura mingħajr iktar dewmien.

 

 

ippubblikat fuq Illum il-Ħadd – 3 ta’ Ġunju 2018

Our car addiction

The front cover of Malta’s National Transport Master Plan 2025 boldly bears the logo of the European Regional Development Fund, indicating that it was funded by European Union funds.

This Master Plan, published by Transport Malta, was finalised in October 2016. The Transport Malta Chairman and CEO, in the statement preceding the actual text of the said Master Plan emphasises that it is fundamentally “about improving the quality of life of our citizens”.

One of the objectives of the Master Plan which we do not hear much about is the one that seeks to provide alternatives to private vehicles in order to encourage sustainable travel patterns and thus reduce private vehicular demand.

Given that, as pointed out by the Master Plan, 50 per cent of trips with private cars are of under 15 minutes duration, it follows that mobility is primarily local in nature and on very short routes. Do we need private cars for this? Are not alternative means of transport sufficient for this need (and more) in a country where practically everywhere is within a stone’s throw?

We have become too dependent on private cars. The Maltese traveller, we are informed by the Master Plan (page 88) expects that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.

This is the real problem with our roads: our behaviour and our expectations. Traffic congestion is, in fact, the result of this addiction to private vehicles. Unfortunately, the massive infrastructural road projects planned or in hand ignore this national addiction and instead focus on the perceived need of removing bottlenecks through an increased road capacity. Instead of transport policy being focused on the causes of our mobility problems, they are more focused on reducing the impacts of the effects. That is until such time that the effects increase once more – at which point it would be time for more roads and obviously more flyovers! A truly myopic vision.

Too little investment is made by the state on the need to cure us of our addiction.

This massive investment in road development sends one clear message: the private car is the Maltese government’s preferred mode of transport. This attitude is clearly the easy way out as it throws money at the problem of congested roads and avoids the very difficult task of addressing our attitudes and behaviour. Our attitudes and behaviour are an accumulated response of the country’s sustainable mobility requirements to the state’s neglect over a long time.

When the state sends out such a clear message it neutralises the positive impact of the few under-funded initiatives which promote sustainable mobility. These include, among others, public transport subsidies, incentives to purchase bicycles and subsidies for the creation of facilities such as showers at places of work encouraging cycling to work.

Some four years ago, the University of Malta’s Institute for Sustainable Development and Climate Change published an EU-funded study entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta. The conclusions of that study had indicated that, every year, traffic congestion in Malta gobbles up 1.7 per cent of our GDP.

Isn’t it about time that we start tackling the issue seriously, which means focusing on our attitudes and behaviour instead of on the number and dimensions of our roads? Our addiction to cars needs a cure.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 3 June 2018