Free public transport

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is right when he emphasises the need to have free public transport. Public transport is much better today than when we were subject to the Arriva fiasco piloted by Austin Gatt and his sidekick Manwel Delia.

In the past, government had introduced free public transport which it made available to a limited number of categories, notably young people and pensioners. The number of people using of public transport has increased significantly from 39.9 million in 2015 to 53.4 million during 2018: a staggering increase of 33.8 per cent in four years.

The numbers are significant and hats off to Malta Public Transport. These numbers signify that we can have hundreds, possibly thousands, of cars off our roads thanks to these millions of commuters who have opted to use public transport. This is a basic fact that must feed the implementation of a Transport Policy.

The Transport Master Plan 2025, which runs for a ten-year period that began in 2016, identified the basic problem of Maltese Transport policy: we think in the short term. As a result, positive policy initiatives are not as effective as intended because they seek to resolve the problem being considered without considering its long-term impact. Four years is the maximum span of our vision, opines the Transport Master Plan 2025.

Consider, for example, the Prime Minister’s statement in favour of free public transport for everyone. How does this statement fit in with large-scale road infrastructure projects such as the Central Link project?

In my view, the two are contradictory. The Prime Minister’s statement signifies that more of us will be encouraged to take the plunge in favour of public transport, occasionally or on a regular basis. As a result, there is great potential for a further reduction in the number of cars on our roads. So what, may I ask, what is the purpose of the Central Link project in view of this laudable initiative? Is this not a textbook case of one branch of government not being aware of what is going on elsewhere, within government?

We are aware, courtesy of the Transport Master Plan 2025, that 50 per cent of journeys by private cars are of a short duration: less than 15 minutes. These would be short distances either within the same area or between neighbouring areas. Imagine transport policy effectively targeting these journeys through, for example, well-planned regional public transport, or frequent circular bus routes in the large localities. Isn’t the prize of being able to reduce traffic by a staggering 50 per cent worth the effort? We do not need fly-overs and massive investment in road infrastructure to achieve this target. Just some common sense and the ability to plan long-term is all that is needed. The alternative will further increase traffic, and, consequently, congestion on our roads.

The long-term aim of Maltese transport policy is spelled out in the Transport Master Plan 2025: it is a reduction in the number of cars from our roads. This will increase mobility through the use of sustainable alternatives such as public transport, cycling, walking and even sea transport between places in our harbour areas.

We may remember that a study carried out by the University of Malta in 2015 indicated that, on average, we spend 52 hours a year stuck in traffic. Congestion can be tackled without resorting to meddling with our road infrastructure.

Transport Minister Ian Borg needs to sort out his priorities as soon as possible. We are still awaiting his commitment to his own government’s Transport Master Plan!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 27 January 2019

It-tibdil fil-klima hi kawża ta’ inġustizzji

Kulħadd hu konxju li f’partijiet differenti tad-dinja t-temp għaddej minn estrem għall-ieħor. In-National Geographic, riċentement, taħt it-titlu “It-tibdil fil-klima tisforza Gwatemali biex jemigraw” irrappurtat ukoll li “n-nixfa u t-tibdil fil-klima qed jagħmilha diffiċli għall-bdiewa ta’ mezzi żgħar biex jgħajxu lill-familji tagħhom. Dan qed iwassal għal kriżi umanitarja.”

L-Organizzazzjoni Dinjija tal-Ikel (FAO) u l-Programm Dinji tal-Ikel tal-Ġnus Magħquda huma kkonċernati li n-nixfa qed ikollha impatt sostanzjali fuq dawk l-iktar vulnerabbli fl-Amerika Ċentrali. Din diġa wasslet biex intilfu 280,000 ettaru ta’ raba’ fil-Gwatemala, l-El Salvador u l-Honduras, u bħala riżultat ta’ dan effettwat is-sigurta tal-ikel ta’ żewġ miljun ruħ.

Nafu anke minn esperjenza tagħna stess f’Malta kif in-nixfa u l-għargħar huma kawża ta’ ħsara kbira lill-uċuħ tar-raba’: ħsara li qed tkun iktar spissa.

Xi pajjiżi qed isofru min-nuqqas ta’ xita. Oħrajn għaddejjin minn esperjenza differenti: fi ftit ġranet ikollhom ix-xita kollha li normalment tagħmel f’sena u dan bil-konsegwenza ta’ għargħar kbar. Dan it-tibdil fil-klima qed iseħħ ħtija tal-ħidma u l-imġieba tal-bniedem, ħidma mifruxa fuq ħafna snin li wasslet għal żidiet sostanzjali ta’ emissjonijiet ta’ karbonju (carbon emissions).

Hu ċar li t-tibdil fil-klima hu theddida għar-riżorsi bażiċi tal-ikel u l-ilma li fuqhom jiddependu l-komunitajiet tal-ġnus: dan kollu hu ostaklu kbir għad-dritt għal ħajja li għandu kull wieħed u waħda minna.

Il-politika dwar il-bidla fil-klima, fuq inizjattiva u l-insistenza ta’ stati gżejjer, ewlenin fosthom il-gżejjer fil-Paċifiku, preżentement qed tiffoka fuq il-ħtieġa li ż-żieda fit-temperatura tad-dinja ma taqbiżx 1.5 grad Celsius fuq it-temperatura pre-industrijali. Hemm kunsens fost il-komunità xjentifika globali li jekk iż-żieda taqbeż din iċ-ċifra hemm possibilità kbira ta’ apokalissi klimatika. Dan ma jikkawżax biss estremitajiet ta’ nixfa u għargħar imma ukoll jogħla l-livell tal-baħar b’mod li jinqerdu z-zoni kostali kif ukoll gżejjer diversi jispiċċaw taħt wiċċ l-ilma.

Ir-rapport speċjali tal-lnter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ippubblikat f’Ottubru li għadda jispjega fid-dettall il-veduti tal-komunità xjentifika globali dwar x’inhu jiġri: jispjega x-xjenza tal-bidla fil-klima u l-effett ta’ dan fuq id-dinja. 224 xjenzjat ewlieni minn 40 pajjiż differenti eżaminaw 30,000 studju xjentifku: il-konklużjonijiet tagħhom ma jistgħux ikunu injorati.

Ir-rapport tal-IPPC iwissina li t-temperatura tad-dinja diġa għoliet bi grad Celsius fuq it-temperatura pre-industrijali. Jekk nibqgħu għaddejjin bl-istess livell ta’ attività, sa mhux iktar tard mis-sena 2050 din it-temperatura ser tiżdied b’nofs grad Celsius ieħor, ikompli jwissina r-rapport. Għal din ir-raġuni l-komunità xjentifika hi tal-fehma li l-emmissjonijiet tal-karbonju għandhom jonqsu tant li sa mhux iktar tard mis-sena 2050 l-emmissjonijiet netti jkunu zero.

Hemm resistenza għal dan l-oġġettiv f’numru ta’ pajjiżi. Erbgħa minnhom (ir-Russia, l-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika, l-Kuwajt u l-Arabja Sawdita) ippruvaw ixellfu l-kunsens globali dwar il-konklużjonijiet tar-rapport tal-IPPC waqt il-laqgħa f’Katowice dwar il-klima iktar kmieni dan ix-xahar.

Kull pajjiż għandu sehem x’jagħti biex it-tnaqqis fl-emmissjonijiet jintlaħaq, u dan soġġett għall-prinċipju ambjentali li jistabilixxi li r-responsabbilta għalkemm hi waħda komuni tintrefa b’mod differenti (principle of common but differentiated responsibility). Anke Malta teħtieġ li terfa’ is-sehem tagħha ta’ din ir-responsabbiltà b’mod li tikkontribwixxi biex jonqsu l-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju ħalli jkun assigurat li ż-żieda ta’ 1.5 gradi fit-temperatura tad-dinja ma tinqabizx.

Meta l-ġenerazzjoni tal-enerġija f’Malta ma baqgħitx issir bl-użu tal-HFO (heavy fuel oil), żejt maħmuġ, u minflok qlibna għall-gass sar pass importanti l-quddiem. Imma meta nħarsu fit-tul dan mhux biżżejjed għax il-gass hu fuel ta’ transizzjoni: transizzjoni fit-triq lejn enerġija li tkun iġġenerata kompletament minn sorsi renovabbli. Neħtieġu iktar enerġija ġġenerata mix-xemx u mir-riħ kif ukoll għandna bżonn nagħrfu nagħmlu użu tajjeb mill-enerġija ġġenerata mill-mewġ li hi abbundanti fl-ibħra madwarna.

L-applikazzjoni tat-teknologija f’dawn l-oqsma toħloq xogħol sostenibbli u fl-istess ħin ittejjeb il-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ kulħadd.

F’dan is-sens il-qasam tat-trasport f’Malta għadu ta’ uġiegħ ta’ ras u dan minħabba l-emmissjonijiet tal-karbonju li jirriżultaw miż-żieda astronomika ta’ karozzi fit-toroq tagħna. Sfortunatament, flok ma jinvesti f’trasport sostenibbli, l-gvern għaddej bi programm intensiv ta’ żvilupp tal-infrastruttura tat-toroq li inevitabilment ser iwassal biex jinkoraġixxi użu ikbar tal-karozzi fit-toroq tagħna. Dan iwassal biex jikkanċella l-progress li sar biż-żieda reġistrat fl-użu tat-trasport pubbliku.

Biex tkompli tagħmel l-affarijiet agħar, il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex hi essenzjalment mina għall-karozzi,mhux mina għan-nies. Hu stmat li bħala riżultat ta’ din il-mina proposta ċ-ċaqlieq ta’ karozzi bejn iż-żewġ gżejjer jiżdied minn medja ta’ 3,000 għal medja ta’ 9,000 kuljum, u dan fi żmien 15-il sena. Hu possibli li jkun provdut serviz alternattiv u sostenibbli, indirizzat biss lejn in-nies, permezz ta’ dak li nirreferu għalih bħala fast ferry. Dan jista’ jwassal lin-nies dritt minn Għawdex saċ-ċentri kummerċjali tal-pajjiż. Il-karozzi, imma, huma fattur ċentrali għall-mina proġettata u dan għax il-ħlas li jsir għall-użu tal-mina huwa dipendenti fuq in-numru ta’ karozzi li jagħmlu użu minnha!

Dan kollu jmur kontra l-ispirtu tal-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport-2025 li jistabilixxi l-oġġettiv ta’ tnaqqis ta’ karozzi mit-toroq tagħna bħala mira li tista’ tintlaħaq. It-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna mhux biss itejjeb il-kwalità tal-arja li permezz tagħha nieħdu n-nifs: hu ukoll il-kontribut żgħir tagħna bħala pajjiż kontra l-inġustizzji maħluqa minn tibdil fil-klima għax inkun qed innaqqsu l-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju bil-konsegwenza ta’ tnaqqis fiż-żieda tat-temperatura tad-dinja.

Għax il-ġlieda kontra l-inġustizzji li qed jinħolqu bit-tibdil fil-klima hi responsabbiltà tagħna ukoll.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 30 ta’ Diċembru 2018

Climate justice is our responsibility too

Everyone is aware that different parts of the world are experiencing weather extremes.  Under the heading “Changing climate forces desperate Guatemalans to emigrate”, National Geographic recently reported that “Drought and shifting weather are making it difficult for many small-scale farmers to feed their families, fuelling a human crisis”.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme of the United Nations are concerned that drought is having a considerable impact on the most vulnerable in Central America. It has led to a loss of 280,000 hectares of agricultural land in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, as a result affecting the food security of more than two million human persons.

We are aware, even as a result of local experience, that drought and floods cause considerable damage to agriculture and are occurring with increasing frequency. Some countries are experiencing an acute lack of rain while others are experiencing a concentration of a year’s rainfall in the space of a few days. These changing patterns of the weather are the result of human behaviour, accumulated over a large number of years through ever-increasing carbon emissions.

Clearly, climate change threatens essential resources – such as water and food – on which communities depend, putting in question their very right to life.

The politics of Climate Change, on the initiative and insistence of island states, in particular Pacific island micro-states, is currently focusing on the need to limit increases in global warming to not more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. There is a consensus among the global scientific community that, beyond such an increase, a climatic apocalypse would be more likely. This will be the cause of not just more drought and floods but also of unprecedented rise in sea level, as a result wiping out coastal areas, and low-lying islands all around the globe.

The special report issued by the lnter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October explains in detail the views of the global scientific community on the current state of play: it explains the science of climate change and the future of the Earth. A total of 224 leading scientists from 40 countries have assessed 30,000 scientific papers and their conclusions cannot be ignored.

Its report warns that the earth has already warmed by one degree Celsius more than the pre-industrial age. If we retain the present level of activity, we are warned that the temperature will rise a further half of a degree before the year 2050.

This is the reason why the scientific community considers that carbon emissions must be reduced, achieving net zero emissions before the year 2050. However, there are various pockets of resistance to attaining such an objective in a number of countries. So much that four of them (Russia, the United States, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) have sought to water down the global consensus on the IPPC report conclusions in Katowice, at the climate change summit held earlier this month.

Each and every country has a role in achieving this substantial reduction of carbon emissions, subject to the principle of common but differentiated responsibility. Malta also has such a responsibility to contribute to a reduction of carbon emissions in order to ensure that the 1.5 degree barrier is not breached.

In Malta, the switching of energy generation from one dependent on heavy fuel oil to gas was a positive step. However, in the long term, this is not enough as gas is considered a transition fuel: a step on the path to energy generation completely dependent on renewable sources. We require more energy generated from the sun and wind and we also need to ensure that good use is made of energy generated from waves – so abundant in the sea around us. The application of technology will lead to the creation of new, sustainable jobs and simultaneously contribute to an improvement in the quality of life for everyone.

Transport, however, is still a major problem considering Malta’s carbon emissions due the astronomic increase in the number of cars on our roads. Unfortunately, instead of investing in sustainable transport, the government has embarked on a massive programme of further development of the road infrastructure which will only result in encouraging more cars on our roads. Consequently, this will cancel out the progress being achieved with the registered increase in the use of public transport.

To add insult to injury, the proposed tunnel below the seabed between Malta and Gozo is essentially a tunnel for the use of cars. It is estimated that, as a result of this tunnel, the vehicle movement between the two islands will increase from 3000 to 9000 vehicle movements daily over a 15-year period. An alternative sustainable service providing for the movement of people would be a fast ferry service from Gozo to the commercial centres of Malta. However, the encouragement of the use of cars is central to the projected tunnel as tolls will be paid by car owners.

All this runs counter to the National Transport Master-Plan 2025 which establishes the reduction of cars from Maltese roads as an achievable target.

Reducing the number of cars on our roads will not only improve the quality of the air we breath but will also be a small but important contribution to global climate justice through a reduction in carbon emission levels.

Climate justice is our responsibility too.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 December 2018

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

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

New Petrol Stations: immediate moratorium needed

For a short period of time, the number of new petrol stations in Malta was on the decline but recently this trend has reversed, undoubtedly as a result of the Planning Authority 2015 Fuel Service Station Policy.

New petrol stations are mushrooming all over the place, and not only is it easier to obtain a development permit to construct a petrol station but you get the added “concession” to ruin up to 3,000 square metres of surrounding land.

Those proposing the development of new petrol stations claim to be doing us a favour. They argue that the increasing number of cars on the road necessitates more and more petrol stations. The number of petrol stations in the Maltese islands currently stands at around 80 and new ones are mushrooming, undoubtedly fuelled by the 3,000 square metres permissible footprint in the 2015 planning policy.

It is submitted that the policy on the development of fuel stations should complement the policy on the phasing out of internal combustion engines and an immediate moratorium on the development of new petrol stations is essential.

During the 2017 General Election campaign, Alternattiva Demokratika proposed the phasing out of vehicles running on internal combustion engines in Malta over a 20-year period. This time-frame was deemed sufficient to develop an infrastructure for electric-driven cars. It was also deemed to be a reasonable time-frame to permit those who possessed vehicles running on internal combustion engines to adjust to a new reality without petrol or diesel.

This position was also taken up by the Labour government in Malta after the June election. However the details have not yet been determined.

Various other countries have decided on, or are considering, eliminating internal combustion engine driven vehicles from their roads, including Norway (by 2025), the Netherlands (by 2025), Germany (by 2030), France (by 2040), the United Kingdom (by 2040), India (by 2040) and China (by 2040). Others will soon inevitably follow.

In addition, car manufacturers are considering shifting to a manufacturing mode that will only produce hybrid or fully electric cars. Volvo will proceed on such a path by 2019 and no doubt others will follow fast on Volvo’s heels.

Within this context, does it make any sense to continue issuing development permits for more petrol stations?

We need an in-depth examination of transport related policies. It is clear to everyone  that our roads are bursting at the seams and that the further development of our road infrastructure is opening up our roads to more cars, as a consequence adding to our pollution problems and simultaneously making our accessibility worse.

An overhaul of Malta’s transport policies should seek to promote sustainable transport policies thereby reducing the number of cars on our roads.

Yesterday, I addressed a press conference on the site of the proposed extension to the road network at Attard. This project, when implemented, will take up valuable irrigated agricultural land. This is one more instance which will increase the number of cars on our roads, gobble up agricultural land and ruin the life of full time farmers.

Transport policy on these islands seems to be multi-directional, sending mixed signals in all directions. Some coherence is required. Establishing a moratorium on the construction of new petrol stations and establishing a date by which internal combustion engine driven vehicles are phased out from our roads would be a good first step. This should then be followed by ending the crazy spree of the development of new roads.

It is a process which will lead us to reclaim our roads for our own use, but then it will take some time.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 December 2017

Beyond roundabouts and flyovers

 

The need for adequate traffic management is apparently, at last, very high on the list of matters preoccupying the Maltese public. The solutions to the problems we face, however, depends on the behaviour of each and every one of us.

Traffic congestion is a constant irritation, as our roads are clogged for longer periods of time and in addition to wasting an ever-increasing amount of time in traffic, we are simultaneously constantly reducing the quality of the air we breathe.

Tackling traffic management adequately would hence address two fundamental issues: air quality and our clogged roads.

I do not dispute that improving the road network eases the flow of traffic. However, it has to be stressed that this is only a short-term measure. Adjusting the roundabout at Manwel Dimech Street in Qormi or the traffic lanes close to the airport or constructing flyovers at Kappara and Marsa will address and rationalise traffic movement now.

However, this further development of the road infrastructure is simply an encouragement for more cars to use our roads. It is only a matter of time when it will be the turn of the new developments to burst at the seams.

The present state of affairs is the direct result of the long-term neglect of transport policy. Public transport – as well as alternative means of transport – has been given the cold shoulder for far too long.

We require a transport policy that actively encourages the reduction of the number of vehicles on the road. Having around 800 cars on the road for every one thousand people in a small country is ridiculous. The small distances between localities in Malta and Gozo should make it much easier to encourage a reduction in dependence on the privately-owned car. Initiatives can be taken on a local level as well as between neighbouring localities. In such instances, it can be much easier to encourage the use of bicycles or the use of public transport or even to walk short distances: our health will surely benefit.

Isn’t it about time that we claim back ownership of our streets? We need more pedestrianised streets inaccessible to cars at any time of the day in every locality in Malta and Gozo. More streets need to be traffic-free, safe for children and parents to walk to school and back. We also need wider pavements for the use of pedestrians (not for tables and chairs to service catering establishments).

In the 2016 Budget speech, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna announced that, during 2017, government entities should be finalising sustainable transport plans. In the coming weeks these should be made public and, as a result, we expect that all government entities will commence addressing the mobility requirements of their employees and their customers. If carried out properly, this exercise could also impact on the private sector thereby (hopefully) substantially reducing a substantial number cars from our roads at peak times. In turn, this could have a considerable impact on public transport because with fewer cars on the roads, it should be more efficient.

Concurrently, government should also address the proposal to electrify the whole private transport sector through banning petrol and diesel cars from our roads, after a reasonable transition, and switching over to cars running on electricity. In Malta, this proposal was launched as part of Alternattiva Demokratika’s 2017 election manifesto. Since then, it has also been taken up by the French and UK governments. Removing petrol and diesel cars from our roads would substantially improve the quality of the air we breathe in all our localities and consequently in the long term will contribute to a considerable reduction of respiratory ailments.

This is the only way forward by which traffic is brought under serious control simultaneously ensuring sustainable mobility and improving the quality of our air.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 September 2017