The Metro consultation: taking us for a ride

In 2008 Professor Mir Ali from the School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published a paper entitled “Urban Design Strategy Report on Tall Buildings in Malta.”

Professor Ali comments on the lack of mass transport facilities in Malta and links the functionality of tall buildings with the availability of mass transport facilities. He emphasises that: “Once there is a BRT or MRT system, integration of tall buildings with transportation can result in high efficiency, consolidation of services and a better urban life.” BRT signifies Bus Rapid Transit System. MRT signifies Mass Rapid Transport.

The need for a mass transport network has been felt for a long time. Greens in Malta have been emphasising that it is one of various solutions to address transport issues in the Maltese islands.

Government’s announcement last weekend on a three-route metro is just a first step. Greens definitely agree with the objective though not with the specifics proposed. As ARUP emphasised, government’s massive expenditure on long-term road building will not solve anything. Most of it is money down the drain.

Government’s announcement has only presented a sketch of a solution. The proposal needs to be much more detailed than that. While the identification of the routes as well as the location of the stations is definitely important information, we need more analytical information to digest.

ARUP identified potential routes and stations on the basis of studies. It is said that studies were also carried out on various options, as a result of which ARUP discarded the Bus Rapid Transit, the surface tram, the elevated light metro and combinations. We need to be able to digest these studies to understand why ARUP have discarded alternative solutions. All studies carried out by ARUP should be available for examination in the Metro public consultation. If this is not possible what is the purpose of a public consultation?

The proposal for a Metro should not be an excuse for developing open spaces as has already been pointed out with reference to the proposed B’Kara and Pembroke Metro stations. We already have too few open spaces.

Proposals have to be analysed within the wider context of transport policy in Malta.  Specifically private car use must be substantially reduced for any mass transport proposal to be economically feasible! This must be clear even at this stage. It is inevitable, but government is conveniently being silent on the matter! Has ARUP advised on the matter in its feasibility studies? We have a right to know.

It is the intention to utilise the stations to attract metro users from the surrounding areas. Some, living nearby, will come on foot. Others living or working slightly further away may come by private car, by bus or by bike.  Most potential metro stations do not have parking areas around them. This signifies that it is essential that more emphasis is laid on the interaction between the proposed Metro and local and regional transport.

The metro’s functioning has to be seen within the existing urban context. This is very relevant to the debate but unfortunately the detailed advice which government has received in this respect has not been divulged. Just one tit-bit of information has inadvertently emerged. When asked as to why the Metro will not make it to Gozo, it was stated that there is not sufficient population on the sister island. This begs the question: how come then that a tunnel is planned below the sea to link the two islands?

The announcement further informed us that most of the Metro will be underground with only a small stretch being above ground for topographical reasons.  Depending on the size of the tunnels between the metro stations this could generate a substantial amount of inert waste. An estimated excavation volume of 4.9 million cubic metres, presumably measured in situ, is indicated. Once excavated this would amount to around 8.6 million cubic metres after taking account of the increase in volume after excavation. This is a substantial amount of inert waste which, as already hinted, can only be utilised in land reclamation projects. For comparative purposes 8.6 million cubic metres of inert waste is close to the amount that was used in the whole Freeport project at Kalafrana for land reclamation purposes!

I am not aware of any land reclamation currently required in the national interest. We cannot be forced into land reclamation as the only solution to dispose of the inert waste generated by the Metro project.

Excavation of an underground Metro does not only generate excessive inert waste. It also endangers our historical heritage: in particular when excavating below, around or close to national monuments in Valletta, Mosta, Balluta and elsewhere. Excavation is also proposed next to ecologically sensitive sites.

This is definitely not on.

Proposed solutions above ground have to be examined in detail too and discussed as part of the public consultation. A hybrid metro-tram system mostly above ground, and/or a Bus Rapid Transit system, are other possibilities which should make it on the table of any serious public consultation. They do not generate inert waste, can be implemented in a shorter time frame from that proposed by ARUP and cost a fraction of the proposed outlay. In addition, substantially less environmental impacts are involved. Any selected solutions should respect our historical and ecological heritage.

Through constructive criticism we can explore alternative solutions which are being deliberately shut out with a stage-managed consultation. We need more than PR stunts: logos and flashy video clips are not the information we need for a mature public consultation. Government must put all its cards on the table. The ARUP studies must be subject to public scrutiny. Otherwise, the public consultation is taking us for a ride.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 October 2021

Il-metro: ħtieġa ta’ informazzjoni

Fi tmiem il-ġimgħa l-Gvern ħabbar il-posizzjoni tiegħu dwar il-Metro. Imma l-istudji li għandu ma ippubblikahomx.

Kif jista’ jkollna diskussjoni matura dwar il-proposta jekk il-Gvern iżomm għalih l-informazzjoni li għandu?

Naqblu dwaril-ħtieġa urġenti li l-pajjiż ikollu mezz ta’ transport tal-massa. Dan ilna ngħiduh bħalma ilna ngħidu lil-infieq massiċċ tal-Gvern fuq it-toroq ma solva xejn. Kien ħela ta’ flus. Anke l-konsulenti tal-Gvern qed jgħidu li minkejja l-infieq fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq għad għandna problem kbar.

L-issue l-kbira li teħtieġ diskussjoni hi dwar jekk il-metro jkunx taħt l-art inkella jekk ikunx prinċipalment f’livell tat-triq. Prinċipalment dan qed ngħidu minħabba l-iskart li ser ikun ġġenerat kemm-il darba l-metro jsir taħt l-art.

Jekk, kif indika l-Gvern, l-għażla tmur favur metro taħt l-art l-iskart ġġenerat ser jispiċċa radam fil-baħar, reklamazzjoni sfurzata. Aħna ma naqblux ma dan u jidhrilna li għandu jsir sforz biex dan ikun evitat.

L-għażla ta’ metro f’livell tat-triq [jeżistu ukoll sistemi hybdrid: metro/tramm] jelimna l-parti l-kbira tal-iskart, inaqqas iż-żmien tal-implimentazzjoni, inaqqas l-ispiża u jkun ta’ benefiċċju ambjentali ferm ikbar.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan hu meħtieġ li jkunu ppubblikati b’mod urġenti ir-rapporti u l-istudji kollha li saru u dan għax sa llum ftit li xejn ġiet ippubblikat informazzjoni li tista’ tkun ta’ għajnuna għad-diskussjoni pubblika. Il-logos u l-videos huma ‘PR’, mhux informazzjoni. Ma jistax ikollna diskussjoni matura dwar dawn il-proposti jekk  l-informazzjoni li għandu l-Gvern iżommha għalih u din tibqa’ moħbija mill-iskrutinju pubbliku.

Marsaskala: the yacht marina strings

The publication by Transport Malta, last week, of a pre-qualification questionnaire relative to the “award of a concession contract for the design, build, finance, operate, maintain and transfer of a marina” at Marsaskala requires further explanation. What has been going on behind the scenes? Specifically, on whose initiative has the ball been set rolling? Is this part of the ongoing development spree, intended to bolster existing or planned development elsewhere in Marsaskala?

At some point the truth will come out. It would be hence much better if Transport Malta, and whosoever may be pulling the strings, to put all the cards on the table now.

The proposed Marsaskala yacht marina is tainted, even at this stage, with the general local plan defects: a lack of adequate environmental assessment. The assessment of the cumulative impacts of the various local plan proposals has never been carried out. These impacts add up and seen together they should have been cause for concern, even at the drawing board stage. Unfortunately, nothing was done at that stage to mitigate the anticipated cumulative impacts of the local plan proposals.

Those of us who have been subjecting land use planning to a continuous scrutiny, have, since way back in 2006, emphasised that the local plans were then not subjected to the emerging Strategic Environment Assessment procedures. In fact, the local plans, those still pending approval, after having been retained in draft form for some time, were rushed through all the approval stages during the summer months of 2006 specifically to avoid being subjected to the provisions of the Strategic Environment Assessment Directive of the EU which entered into force during August of 2006 or thereabouts!

The specific impacts of the proposed yacht marina will undoubtedly be eventually analysed by an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which will be triggered if a planning application for the yacht marina is eventually submitted.  Legislation in force provides ample room for involvement of all, when this commences, starting off from the basic EIA terms of reference right up to the consideration of the detailed studies, and more. We have been through that many times in respect of various development proposals.

However, the cumulative impacts on the Marsaskala community, both residential and commercial, will not be carried out as that was avoided at the outset when the local plan for Marsaskala (part of the Local Plan for the South) was approved. This is the basic underlying worry expressed in not so many words by all those who have stood up to object to the sudden unexplained intrusion of Transport Malta into Marsaskala affairs. Kudos to John Baptist Camilleri, Marsaskala local councillor, for prodding the Marsaskala Local Council to stand up and be counted. The Marsaskala local council ought to have been consulted even in terms of the Local Council Act which makes it incumbent on central government and its agencies to consult with local councils whenever any initiative having local impacts is being considered.

Transport Malta is acting as an agent of central government. Government, led by the Labour Party, has conveniently distanced itself from the political responsibilities which result from the local plans , coupled with the rationalisation exercise, which have been shouldered by its predecessor in government, the Nationalist Party.  It has been very convenient for Labour to politically lump all the local plan fallout on the PN. However, sixteen years down the line, it is pretty evident that the Labour Party, in government for over eight years, has been very reluctant to handle the long overdue revision of the local plans and factoring in considerations resulting from a study of the cumulative impacts abovementioned. This is not only applicable to the local plan relative to Marsaskala, but to all local plans! It has obviously been too hot to handle.

Minister Aaron Farrugia, politically responsible for both land use planning and the environment, has been reported in the media, in the past few days, as stating that the local plan revision will start immediately after the general election, expected shortly. He has stated that the process will take around three years.  His predecessor as Minister responsible for land use planning, Ian Borg, had made some statements in the distant past about this, indicating the then parameters for a revision of the local plans. But nothing has materialised yet except his extreme reluctance to act!

I would, at this stage, remind the Hon Minister of the proposals from the Maltese Greens on the need to reverse the rationalisation exercise as well as on the urgent need to implement a moratorium on large scale development throughout the islands. These proposals have been part of our electoral manifesto repeatedly since 2006. Over-development and the building industry have to be brought under control the soonest.

It is not just about Marsaskala and its proposed yacht marina.  It is time to take stock of the ruin inflicted on these islands by a mismanaged land use planning process, by an irresponsible rationalisation exercise and by local plans which do not consider cumulative environmental impacts.

The proposed yacht marina at Marsaskala is just the latest example of this mismanagement.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 22 August 2021

Malta: it-theddida mit-tibdil fil-klima

Malta hi waħda mid-diversi gżejjer li huma vulnerabbli għat-tibdil fil-klima.  Malta mhiex vulnerabbli daqs il-gżejjer Maldives, li huma fost l-iktar pajjiżi ċatti. Għandhom għoli medju ta’ 150 ċentimetru il-fuq minn livell il-baħar bl-iktar punt għoli jkun 5.10 metri.  Fil-mument li bħala riżultat tat-tibdil fil-klima jibda jogħla l-livell tal-baħar il-gżejjer Maldives ikunu minn tal-ewwel li jisparixxu taħt l-ilma. Il-gżejjer Maldives huma destinazzjoni turistika popolari fl-Oċejan Indjan. 

Jekk dak miftiehem fis-Summit ta’ Pariġi fl-2015 jitwettaq u ż-żieda fit-temperatura medja globali ma taqbizx il-1.5 grad Celsius fuq dik pre-industrijali, xorta jkollna niffaċċjaw għoli fil-livell tal-baħar ta’ madwar 50 ċentimetru. Min-naħa l-oħra jekk iż-żieda fit-temperatura tkun bejn il-1.5 u 2 gradi Celsius iż-żieda fil-livell tal-baħar tista’ twassal anke sa tlett metri.  L-impatti ta’ dan ikunu katastrofiċi u jiddependi minn kemm idub silġ u kemm dan idum biex idub

Ir-rapport tal-IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) li ħareġ nhar it-tnejn, jemfasizza li jekk l-emissjonijiet serra mhux ser ikunu indirizzati sewwa u jonqsu b’mod sostanzjali l-istima hi ta’ żieda medja fit-temperatura globali ta’  2.7 gradi Celsius sal- 2100 liema żieda twassal għal tibdil mhux żgħir fil-livell tal-baħar.

Il-pass li jmiss nittamaw li jsir f’Novembru li ġej fi Glasgow fl-Iskozja fejn rappresentanti tad-dinja kollha jiltaqgħu biex jippruvaw isibu soluzzjoni li tkun kapaċi twettaq il-konklużjonijiet tas-Summit ta’ Pariġi fl-2015.  

Ir-rapport tal-IPCC jgħidilna li huwa ċar li bir-ritmu presenti tal-emissjonijiet tal-gassijiet serra, iz-żieda ta’  1.5 gradi Celsius fit-temperatura medja tista’ tintlaħaq anke sal-2030, ferm qabel mistenni. Huwa biss bħala riżultat ta’ tnaqqis immedjat ta’ dawn l-emissjonijiet li jistgħu jonqsu l-impatti li diġa qed naraw madwarna: żieda qawwija fit-temperaturi, maltempati iktar spissi u b’qilla li dejjem tiżdied, xixfa fit-tul f’inħawi u għargħar f’oħrajn ……………  Irridu niffaċċjaw ħafna iktar minn dan kollu, flimkien ma żieda fil-livell tal-baħar u dan sakemm naddottaw stil ta’ ħajja li tirrispetta lin-natura.  

Jekk irridu insibu tarf tal-ħerba kbira li qed takkumula, u l-gwaj kawża tat-tibdil fil-klima li hemm lest għalina, irridu nibdew naħdmu man-natura u mhux kontriha.  Dan hu l-iskop tad-dibattitu dwar il-mira ta’ karbonju zero (carbon neutrality): li innaqqsu l-emissjionijiet malajr kemm jista’ jkun biex il-ħsara li saret tibda tkun imsewwija u fuq perjodu ta’ żmien forsi tkun rimedjata ukoll, anke jekk in parti. Imma hu essenzjali li kulħadd jagħti sehmu. Ma nistgħux nippretendu li ħaddieħor joħroġ għonqu u li aħna nibqgħu gallarija, qiesu ma ġara xejn!

Il-vulnerabilità tal-gżejjer Maltin għandha minnha innifisha tikkonvinċina mhux biss biex niċċaqalqu aħna, imma biex inċaqilqgħu lil ħadddieħor ukoll.

Biex nilħqu din il-mira jeħtiġilna li naddattaw l-imġieba tagħna u l-istil ta’ ħajjitna ma’ dak li turina u tgħidilna n-natura: b’mod speċifiku jeħtieġilna ekonomija li tirrispetta lin-natura u taħdem mal-forzi ekoloġiċi, mhux kontrihom.  

It-turiżmu u t-trasport huma żewġ oqsma ta’ ħidmietna, bħala pajjiż, li jeħtieġilhom li jkunu mmansati. Qed jagħmlu wisq ħsara u huma fost il-kontributuri ewlenin għall-impatti Maltin fuq il-klima.

Meta nibdew nindirizzaw it-turiżmu, wara snin twal li kulħadd fittex li jaħleb din il-baqra ekonomika, ser ikun hemm min iweġġa’. Ilna ngħidu li l-pajjiż ma jiflaħx għat-tlett miljun turist li ġew fl-2019, il-parti l-kbira minnhom bl-ajru. L-impatti kumulattivi tagħhom huma sostanzjali, mhux biss fuq l-ambjent lokali imma ukoll fuq dak reġjonali u globali. Issa hu l-aħjar mument li jibda’ dan il-proċess ta’ tibdil fil-qasam tat-turiżmu, aħna u nirkupraw bil-mod mill-impatti tal-ħerba li ħalliet warajha l-COVID-19.

M’għandniex nibqgħu bl-attitudni ta’ qiesu ma ġara xejn (business-as-usual) imma għandna nibdew minn issa nimmiraw biex jonqos it-turiżmu tal-massa u fl-istess ħin jiżdied it-turiżmu ta’ kwalità u bħala riżultat ta’ hekk jonqsu n-numri kbar ta’ turisti li għamlu tant ħsara.  L-impatti soċjali jkunu ferm inqas  jekk nitgħallmu ftit minn dak li ġarrabna bħala riżultat tal-pandemija COVID-19. Ikun utli jekk nifhmu li l-ħeġġa ta’ uħud għall-mudell low-cost iħallina mwaħħlin fil-problema fejn qegħdin issa.  

Huwa ukoll essenzjali li nindirizzaw ukoll it-trasport bil-karozzi privati. Ilkoll nifhmu li f’pajjiż żgħir bħal tagħna, imkien m’hu l-bogħod. L-istrateġija nazzjonali tat-trasport innifisha fil-fatt temfasizza dan il-punt għax tgħidilna li fil-gżejjer Maltin madwar 50 fil-mija tal-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati huma għal distanzi qosra li jdumu inqas minn ħmistax-il minuta.  Għal dawn id-distanzi l-qosra hemm bosta alternattivi sostenibbli. Lil hinn mid-distanzi l-qosra, f’dan il-pajjiż imkien ma hu l-bogħod! Trasport pubbliku organizzat b’mod effiċjenti jista’ jindirizza kważi b’mod assolut il-kontribut tat-trasport f’Malta għat-tibdil fil-klima.

Biex tieħu deċiżjoni dwar il-passi meħtieġa ħalli tindirizza t-tibdil fil-klima trid il-kuraġġ għax kull deċiżjoni hi iebsa. Mhux ser inkun kritiku tal-inizjattiva ta’ ġnien li ma jiġġenerax emissjonijiet (carbon neutral public garden) jew tal-għajnuna biex ikunu nkoraġġiti “bjut ħodor”.  Imma għandu jingħad li dawn l-inizjattivi huma insinifikanti ħdejn dak meħtieġ li jsir biex ikunu indirizzati l-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima.  

Malta hi vulnerabbli. L-għoli ta’ livell il-baħar, anke jekk ikun l-inqas mill-istimi li qed isiru fir-rapport tal-IPCC ikun ta’ dannu għall-infrastruttura kostali. Joħloq ukoll bosta problemi għal dawk li jgħixu fil-lokalitajiet madwar il-kosta. Ma nistgħux nibqgħu nipposponu id-deċiżjonijiet biex dawn forsi jittieħdu għada flok illum. Għandna responsalliltà etika jekk il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri: din il-pjaneta, imsejħa d-dinja qed nieħdu ħsiebha biex wara ngħadduha lilhom f’kundizzjoni aħjar milli ta’ qabilna għaddewha lilna.  

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 15 t’Awwissu 2021

Malta’s climate-change vulnerability

Malta is one of many climate-vulnerable islands.  Malta is not as vulnerable as the Maldives, which has an average altitude of 150 centimetres above sea-level and a highest natural point of 5.10 metres, as a result of which it is the world’s lowest lying country. Most of the Maldives will disappear once sea-level rise takes over. The Maldives is a touristic destination in the Indian Ocean. 

If the Paris 2015 Climate Summit target of restraining temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial age temperature is achieved, we will still face a sea level rise of around 50 centimetres. If on the other hand this target is exceeded but the temperature rise is still below 2 degrees Celsius the sea level rise will be close to three metres.

The current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, emphasises the IPCC report issued last Monday, if unchecked, points to an estimated 2.7-degree Celsius temperature increase by 2100 which increase could signify a substantial rise in sea level.

Where do we go from here? It is the answer which level headed climate diplomats will seek to hammer out in Glasgow this coming November, and in the preparatory meetings leading thereto.

It is clear that at the present emission rate of greenhouse gases, the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold could be reached as soon as 2030. Only immediate reduction of emissions will reduce the impacts which are already evident all around us: excessive increase in temperature extremes, increased frequency of intensive storms, prolonged drought in areas and floods in others. We will have to face more of this together with a sea-level rise until such time that we can reduce it through adopting climate friendly policies and lifestyles.

We need to work in tandem with nature if we expect to stand a chance in mitigating the havoc which awaits us. This is the objective of the carbon neutrality debate: reducing emissions in order that the damage done to date is contained the soonest and hopefully reversed, even if partially. In this process everyone must do his bit. We should not wait for others to act and expect that we are exempted from doing anything.

Our vulnerability as an island should be convincing enough that it is in our interest that we not only take action ourselves but also that we convince others about it. 

In order to reach this objective, we need to align our behaviour with what nature expects: the specific requirement is to have a climate friendly economy. Tourism and transport are two areas of activity which need to be cut down in size as they are among the major contributors of the Maltese islands to climate change.

Tackling tourism adequately will be painful. We must however realise once and for all that having 3 million tourists annually, most of them flying over, is not on. Their cumulative impacts are substantial not just on the local environment but even on a regional and global level. Now is the time to do it when we are in the process of recovering from the COVID-19 devastation. We should not aim for business-as-usual but should opt specifically against mass tourism and in favour of quality tourism at a much-reduced level. It would be less painful if we learn the COVID-19 lessons and ensure that tourism is more climate friendly.  In this respect if we keep on encouraging low-fare policies we will continue the process of digging our own grave.

Addressing land transport is also imperative. In a small country such as ours it should be obvious that everywhere is within easy reach. The Transport Strategy in fact clearly points out that over 50 per cent of car trips in the Maltese islands are for short distances of a duration of less than 15 minutes. There are better alternatives to using private cars for such very short distances. Beyond short distances, nowhere on the islands is so far away. Public transport when efficiently organised could go a long way to solving the contribution of transport to climate change.

Tackling climate change requires the courage to take tough decisions. I will not be critical of the initiative to have a carbon neutral public garden or making available grants and subsidies to encourage roof gardens! Such initiatives are however insignificant when viewed in context of what needs to be done. 

Malta is very vulnerable. A sea-level rise, even if this is at the lower end of what is being estimated, would seriously jeopardise our coastal infrastructure. It would also create havoc in a number of coastal settlements. We cannot keep postponing decisions into the future.  We have an ethical responsibility towards future generations: the planet we have in trust should be in better shape when they take over. The longer we take to decide on the action required, the more painful the consequences.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 August 2021

Mina : rovina

Il-mina proposta bejn Malta u Għawdex, għal darba oħra qegħda fl-aħbarijiet.

Waqt konferenza stampa, iktar kmieni matul il-ġimgħa, kelliema tal-PN fissru kif jaħsbuha dwar il-mina proposta bejn Malta u Għawdex. Bħas-soltu jippruvaw jogħġbu liż-żewġ naħat (favur u kontra l-mina), din id-darba bil-proposta ta’ referendum dwar jekk il-mina għandhiex issir jew le.

Kieku kellu jseħħ referendum ta’ din ix-xorta, dan għandu jinvolvi lil kulħadd, u mhux biss lill-Għawdxin. Dan billi l-impatti negattivi tal-mina, jekk isseħħ, ser jolqtu liż-żewġ naħat tal-fliegu: kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex.  

Mid-dettalji li nafu s’issa dwar il-mina, hu magħruf li f’Malta din ser tibda minn ħdejn l-Għerien, villaġġ ċkejken, villaġġ trogloditiku fil-limiti tal-Mellieħa. Kif jixhed ismu dan il-villaġġ hu parzjalment fl-għerien, fejn kienu jgħixu uħud mill-ewwel abitanti f’dawn il-gżejjer. Riżultat tat-tħaffir għall-mina dan il-villaġġ ser jinqered kompletament. F’Għawdex, min-naħa l-oħra, l-mina tibda fl-inħawi Ta’ Kenuna, fil-limiti tan-Nadur b’impatt qawwi u negattiv fuq il-biedja lokali.  

Tajjeb li neżaminaw mill-ġdid uħud mill-argumenti għala mhemmx ħtieġa ta’ mina li kull ma ser iġġib hu rovina.  

Il-mina proposta bejn Malta u Għawdex ser tkun tiddependi mill-karozzi w inġenji oħra li għax jagħmlu użu minnha jħallsu. Biex il-mina tagħmel sens ekonomiku n-numru ta’ karozzi u inġenji li jagħmlu użu mill-mina jrid ikun wieħed sostanzjali.  F’wieħed mill-istudji li saru u li hu pubbliku kien hemm estimu li l-moviment ta’ karozzi u inġenji oħra bejn Malta u Għawdex jiżdied bi tlett darbiet, minn tlett elef kuljum għal disat elef 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 u kien ikkummissjunat mill-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija flimkien ma’ Transport Malta.

Jagħmel sens li l-karozzi li kull jum jiżdiedu fit-toroq Għawdxin jiżiedu bi tlett darbiet? 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, dan ma jagħmilx sens. Bosta minna huma konxji li anke illum, it-toroq Għawdxin diġa ma jifilħux għat-traffiku li jiġi minn Malta kuljum.

Is-servizz tal-katamaran (fast-ferry service) li riċentement beda jitħaddem għandu l-potenzjal għal soluzzjoni fit-tul biex tkun indirizzata b’mod raġjonevoli l-mobilità sostenibbli bejn il-gżejjer.  Imma dan is-servizz, waħdu, mhux biżżejjed, jeħtieġ li jkun rinfurzat mis-servizz tat-trasport pubbliku kif ukoll minn faċilitajiet aħjar fil-port tal-Imġarr Għawdex.

Mid-dibattitu tul ix-xhur qed tissaħħaħ l-idea li minbarra r-rotta diretta bejn l-Imġarr u l-Port il-Kbir jista’ jkun utli li jkun hemm xi waqfiet. Din hi proposta li tajjeb li tkun ikkunsidrata, imma irridu noqgħodu attenti li din ma tkunx skuża li warajha tinħeba strateġija biex jiżdied l-iżvilupp mal-kosta, b’mod partikolari dawk il-partijiet tal-kosta li għadhom mhux mittiefsa. Ikun tajjeb li nillimitaw ruħna għall-infrastruttura kostali eżistenti.

L-iżvilupp tas-servizz tal-katamaran, b’dan il-mod, mhux biss iwassal għal ħolqa effiċjenti u permanenti bejn il-gżejjer. Iwassal ukoll għal tnaqqis ta’ karozzi mit-toroq tagħna, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex.  

Il-mina proposta mhiex soluzzjoni, hi problema, iġġib rovina. Nistgħu nsolvu l-problemi ta’ mobilità bis-sens komun. Is-servizz tal-katamaran hi waħda minn dawn is-soluzzjonijiet: issolvi problema illum mingħajr ma tgħabbi l-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri.  

ippubblikata fuq Illum : 8 t’Awwissu 2021

The Gozo tunnel white elephant

The Gozo tunnel issue is once more on the agenda. It forms part of the Father Christmas politics of the Nationalist and the Labour Party.

At a press conference earlier during the week, spokespersons on behalf of the PN put forward their arguments on the Gozo tunnel, as usual trying to straddle both sides of the debate through a proposal for a referendum as to whether the tunnel should proceed or not!

If such a referendum were to take place it should involve everyone and not just Gozitans, as the proposed tunnel will have considerable (negative) impacts on both sides of the Channel.

The details of the proposed tunnel, as known to date, signify that the tunnel will have a Malta starting point close to the troglodytic hamlet at l-Għerien in the limits of Mellieħa which hamlet would, as a result, be completely obliterated. At Gozo the tunnel will start at Ta’ Kenuna, within the limits of Nadur impacting considerably the agricultural community in the area.

It would be pertinent however to reiterate some of the arguments as to why we do not need another white elephant.

The proposed Gozo tunnel is dependent on cars and other vehicles making use of it, consequently paying the relevant 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 the current daily movements of vehicles between Malta and Gozo should 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 by the Gozo Business Chamber together with Transport Malta.

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 vehicles crossing over at this point in time.

The fast-ferry service, recently commencing operation is the potential long-term solution to having a reasonable and sustainable mobility between the islands. It has however to be buttressed by a more focused public transport service and better port facilities at Mġarr Gozo.

The debate over the months has suggested that in addition to a direct Mġarr-Valletta-Mġarr route one could consider intermediate stops on the coast along the route. This is an option worth considering in some depth. Care should however be taken that this would not increase development along the coast, particularly in those stretches of the coast which are still in an almost natural state. The preference for establishing intermediate stops should go for existing coastal infrastructure which could be improved.

The further development of the fast-ferry service would thus not only lead to a permanent efficient link between the islands, but also to a considerable reduction of cars from our roads on both sides of the Channel.

The proposed tunnel is not a solution, it is a problem. We can solve our mobility problems by opting for common sense solutions. The fast-ferry service is one such solution: it solves today’s problem without burdening future generations.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 August 2021

Min jitwieled tond, ma jmutx kwadru

Uħud ma kienux qed jistennew li Malta tiżdied fuq il-lista l-griża tal-Financial Action Task Force (FATF).  Il-kitba, iżda, ilha fuq il-ħajt għal bosta żmien. Sfortunatament il-linġwaġġ tal-governanza tajba ma jinftiehemx minn kulħadd. B’mod partikolari, min l-unika valur li jifhem fih hu dak tal-flus, ftit li xejn ser jifhem u jagħti kaz.  

Uħud donnhom jgħixu kontinwament fid-dellijiet. Donnhom jippreferu li jinsatru fid-dell tal-kważi anonimità. It-taħwid f’dan it-tip ta’ ambjent hu ferm iktar faċli.

Skond rapporti fil-media, l-awditur intern tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet,  Charlene Muscat, qed tingħata l-ġemb u ġiet miżmuma milli taqdi r-responsibbiltajiet tagħha. Qed jingħad li dan ilu jseħħ numru ta’ xhur.  Wara li ħejjiet rapport kritiku dwar ħidmet l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet issa ser tispiċċa trasferita x’imkien ieħor fis-servizz pubbliku.  

Charlene Muscat, li kienet ġurnalista mal-One kif ukoll hi ex-Sindku Laburista tal-Imqabba kienet impjegata biex tiffaċilita l-governanza tajba fl-Awtorità tal-Artijiet u dan billi tagħmel il-verifiki interni ta’ ħidmet l-awtorità.  Ġiet miżmuma milli tagħmel xogħolha billi, fost oħrajn ma tħallietx tattendi laqgħat tal-Bord u nżammilha aċċess għall-files meħtieġa biex tagħmel xogħolha. Fi ftit kliem xi ħadd iddeċieda li xogħol l-awditur intern ma kienx iktar meħtieġ. Nifhem dan xi jfisser għax dan għaddejt minnu jiena ukoll f’ċirkustanzi oħra xi żmien ilu.

Dan hu eżempju ieħor ta’ Gvern li jgħid ħaġa u jagħmel oħra: jikkuntrasta ma dak kollu li ntqal dwar il-posizzjoni ta’ Malta fuq il-lista l-griża tal-FATF. Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela ilu jxerred id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli dwar kemm Malta ġiet ittrattata ħażin meta tqegħdet fuq din il-lista l-griża, għax ma ħaqqiex hekk. Imbagħad, fl-istess ħin il-Gvern tiegħu stess jirresisti proċessi ta’ verifika trasparenti, tant essenzjali biex tkun assigurata governanza tajba.  Mingħajr  governanza tajba, trasparenza u kontabilità, ftit hemm ċans li neħilsu minn posizzjoni fuq il-lista l-griża!

L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet twaqqfet ftit wara li tfaċċa l-iskandlu Gaffarena, bħala rimedju għat-taħwid li kien tfaċċa dakinnhar. Għad hemm lok għal bosta spjegazzjonijiet anke dwar dan, għax il-ħolqien tal-Awtorità jidher li ma solviet xejn, għax min jitwieled tond, ma jmutx kwadru.

Dak li kien CEO tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, James Piscopo, kien warrab mill-kariga tiegħu ftit inqas minn sena ilu. Il-kuntratt tiegħu ma kienx ġie mġedded, u dan meta bdew jissemmew numru ta’ allegazzjonijiet serji fil-konfront tiegħu.  Kien intqal li t-taqsima tar-reati ekonomiċi fil-korp tal-Pulizija kienet qed tinvestiga numru ta’ transazzjonijiet offshore. Investigazzjoni kumplessa li jekk u meta tkun konkluża setgħet possibilment titfa’ dawl fuq  bosta ħwejjeġ. Dak li kien skrivan mal-Air Malta għad hemm bosta ħwejjeġ x’jispjega!

Iil-qarrejja bla dubju jiftakru x’għadda bejn is-sidien tal-Lukanda Fortina u l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet. Kif art pubblika li oriġinalment ngħatat b’kundizzjonijiet favorevoli għat-turiżmu spiċċat tiġi sviluppata b’mod spekulattiv għal ufiċċini u appartamenti. Żvilupp li qed iwassal għal qliegħ ta’ miljuni, a spejjes tal-kaxxa ta’ Malta. S’issa għad mhux ċar kif dan seħħ u min kien responsabbli biex ippermettieħ. L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet għad trid tispjega x’ġara eżattament.

Fid-dell, kważi mistura, hemm numru ta’ interessi kummerċjali marbutin flimkien. Interessi li nifhem li bdew ifeġġu fuq l-iskrijn tal-komputer ta’ dik li kienet l-awditur intern tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet. L-ispjegazzjonijiet iżda qatt ma ngħataw.

Meta nħolqot l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, flok dak li kien id-Dipartiment tal-Artijiet, kien intqal b’ħafna pompa li ser tiddaħħal iktar serjetà fl-amministrazzjoni tal-art pubblika. Ma kienx ser ikollna iktar “King tal-Lands”, għax kollox kien ser jgħaddi f’idejn ir-Repubblika!  Fir-rapporti annwali tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet hu emfasizzat li din hi mibnija fuq prinċipji sodi: fuq sens ta’ ġustizzja, kontabilità u trasparenza. Probabbilment li dik li kienet awditur intern ma taqbel xejn ma dan!  

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 4 ta’ Lulju 2021

Old habits die hard

Malta’s grey-listing by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) may have caught some on the wrong foot.  The writing, however, has been on the wall for some time. The language of good governance does not have any meaning or significance to those who appreciate values only within the context of the skills required to handle a bank account.

Unfortunately, lurking in shadowy grey areas has been a favourite past-time for some, where they consider themselves as being quite at home.

According to reports in the media, the Internal Auditor at the Lands Authority, Charlene Muscat, has been side-lined, prevented from carrying out her duties and responsibilities for a number of months. She is now being redeployed elsewhere in the civil service. This follows her critical report on the Lands Authority.

Charlene Muscat, a former One TV reporter and former Labour Mayor of Mqabba was employed in order to ensure that proper internal checks and balances are in place thereby facilitating good governance at the Lands Authority. She has been obstructed from doing her work properly by being prevented from attending board meetings, and from having access to files. In a few words, someone, somewhere made sure that the Internal Auditor is rendered useless and ineffective. I have a personal understanding of what this means and feels, having been through it myself elsewhere.

This is another example of the double-talk of government and comes hot on the heels of the FATF grey listing. The Prime Minister Robert Abela whines and whinges about Malta’s grey-listing by the FATF, shedding many crocodile tears in the process. However, at the same time, his own government actively resists the implementation of transparent internal auditing processes, a basic prerequisite for good governance. Without good governance, transparency and accountability we will never get rid of grey-listing.

Set up in the wake of the Gaffarena scandal, the Lands Authority has quite a lot of pending explanations, as apparently, old habits die hard!

Former Lands Authority Chief Executive James Piscopo stepped down from his role less than a year ago after his contract was not renewed in the wake of a number of serious allegations in his regard.  The economic crimes unit is apparently still investigating a number of offshore transactions of the former Air Malta purchasing clerk: a complex investigation which, once concluded, could possibly join a lot of dots, as a result placing more grey areas under the spotlight.

Readers may remember the dealings of the Fortina Hotel owners with the Lands Authority as a result of which public land made available to the Fortina developers in the past for tourism purposes is currently being redeveloped partly as offices and apartments. It is not so far clear as to who and how made it possible for subsidised public land to be available for speculation. A very grey area which the Lands Authority has a duty to be very transparent about.

In the grey shadows there are a number of interlocking commercial interests which I presume time and again appear on the computer screens of the Lands Authority internal auditor. Explanations have not been forthcoming yet.

When the Lands Authority was created, rising from the ashes of the former Lands Department, it was depicted as the long-awaited solution to the opaque internal secretive dealings involving land in public ownership. The Lands Authority would no longer have a king. Now it ought to be part of the republic! Its annual reports emphasise that it has a corporate philosophy grounded in the values of fairness, accountability and transparency. Really? The (former) internal auditor is definitely not convinced about that!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 July 2021

Another fake consultation

Reading through the Green Paper entitled “Towards Cleaner Vehicles on Our Roads” it is evident that this consultation process is flawed. After being 4 years in the making, instead of proposing solutions it just asks questions which should have been answered by the Green Paper itself as part of the consultation process.

This is symptomatic of a government which has been continuously emitting conflicting signals on transport issues. The Green Paper recognises the obvious when it states that transport combustion emissions increased by 86 per cent over the period 1990-2018. The massive investment in unnecessary road infrastructure has been a major contributor in this respect, a point which is conveniently ignored by the Green Paper.

The proposed shift to cleaner vehicles on our roads is welcome, but on its own it is not sufficient. This measure will definitely reduce combustion emissions. It will however also shift the said emissions from our roads to the sources of the electrical energy used to electrify our roads. Knowing that government is planning to install a second interconnector to the Sicilian mainland for the supply of electricity it is clear that part of the emissions will be shifted 80 kilometres to the north, the rest to Delimara. It is still unclear how this will be reflected in the price we pay for electricity, as information on the matter is conveniently absent from the Green Paper.

The Green Paper rightly discusses the need to upgrade the skills of the technical personnel required in servicing and maintaining electric and hybrid vehicles. It also points towards the need for substantial investments in the infrastructure required particularly for charging points. However, it fails to address a number of points of controversy which require urgent resolution and should have been addressed through this consultation process.

The consumption of petrol and diesel is bound to decrease as a result of the drive towards the electrification of our roads. The rate of decrease of fuel consumption will depend on the manner in which the electrification exercise will proceed throughout the transition period. Why then has no moratorium been announced on the development and construction of new fuel stations? A number of controversial applications for fuel stations are still burdening the land use planning process when it should be crystal clear to all that in view of the electrification process, they will no longer be required. The consultation process is conveniently silent on the matter thereby encouraging unnecessary pressures on the planning process.

Simultaneously it is pertinent to point out that the sale of fuel contributes a substantial income to the exchequer which income will now slowly taper to near zero through the transition period. The Green Paper fails to volunteer information in this respect. How will this substantial income be substituted? Will the electrification process itself provide the substitute financial resources or will other areas of activity be tapped to make good? The amounts involved are substantial. In fact, the budgetary estimates for 2021 indicate a projected income of €154 million from excise duties on petroleum products. What are government plans for the substitution of this income? The Green Paper is once more completely silent on the matter.

The Green Paper refers to Low Emission Zones but it does not have the courage to make specific proposals. It is imperative that the transition period from now until the full electrification of our roads gradually adopts the identification of Low Emission Zones within which internal combustion engine vehicles will have a prohibited access. The Green Paper fails in this respect too.

The Green Paper refers to two studies which have been commissioned by the Cleaner Vehicles Commission on the electrification of our roads. These studies are not however available to inform this public consultation.

Notwithstanding having been announced four years ago, with ample time for preparation, this consultation process is deficient. It fails to address the basics: it fails to inform. It is a fake consultation.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 June 2021