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

When caves collapse: people may be killed

On the 14 September the Planning Authority approved application PA3487/19 which proposed the   “stabilization of dangerous rock slope; repair to deteriorated concrete wall and construction of wave dissipation slope along the Qui Si Sana coastline”.

In simple language this involves a permit for remedial works after a cave along the Sliema Qui Si Sana coastline collapsed, thereby exposing the MIDI development works immediately behind the cave: the basement level of residential blocks T14 and T17.

We have been told that the cave collapsed as a result of erosion along the coastline. Some readers may tend to forget that way back in 2016, a Maltese geologist had sounded the alarm that a “high-rise had been constructed over a fractured and eroded sea cliff, which could collapse any time soon.” The collapse in fact occurred relatively quite soon, signifying that the geologist was pointing out the obvious which was being ignored or not given due consideration by the developer and his advisors.

The point to be made is why the Planning Authority permitted the development to take place so close to the coastline. As far as I am aware, the EIA relative to the Tigne Development by MIDI does not reveal any detailed studies on the condition of the coast as well as on the impacts of erosion on the Qui Si Sana coastline and its relevance to the development of the MIDI project. The issue is not just one of remedial works but on why the Planning Authority  ignored the state of the coast, as a result permitting development too close to the coastline for comfort. The collapse is adequate proof of all this. The Planning Authority has much to explain in this specific case. Its actions, or lack of them, should be investigated.

The issue is not one relative to the structural stability of the development but of the protection of the coastline.

Erosion as a result of natural elements occurs continuously. It is a natural ongoing phenomenon.

In this respect it may be pertinent to draw attention to a report, authored by a team of geologists, dated October 2007 and entitled : “Report on Coastal Sliema. Geology, geomorphology, sites of scientific interest and coastal protection considerations.” This report was commissioned by the Sliema Local Council.

The 50-page report, which makes interesting reading, emphasises that a number of sites along the Sliema coast “are undergoing rapid coastal erosion that will increase with climate change, resulting in instability or failure in coastal infrastructure.”

Of particular interest is that the report, authored in 2007, goes on to state that “The faulted coast along Għar id-Dud is retreating rapidly by dislodgement of boulders along joints and faults. Public structures that may be affected include Tower Road promenade. The Għar id-Dud cave may also partially or totally collapse, leading to the caving-in of the overlying pedestrian promenade. If collapse is sudden and during daytime/early night time, injury and loss of lives may result.”

I have personally drawn attention of the Transport Minister to the above some time ago, however to date I am not aware that any action has been taken.

The matter was already very worrying way back in 2007 and most probably it is even worse now, after thirteen years, given that no coastal protection works have been taken in hand in the area in the intervening period.

The Għar id-Dud cave is the result of natural erosion and collapse accelerated by wave action. This is a natural process that cannot be halted unless adequate coastal protection works are initiated. If nature is left on its own, the end result is quite predictable: a complete collapse of Għar id-Dud, a caving in of the overlying pedestrian promenade and a number of dead or injured pedestrians, depending on the time of day when a collapse possibly occurs.

Will Transport Malta and the other authorities wake up from their slumber and act immediately please?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 27 September 2020

We need a Carbon Budget

Searching for the word “climate” through the 2021 Pre-Budget document published earlier this week entitled Towards a Sustainable Economy one finds the word three times: twice referring to the United Nations Agenda which has to be addressed by Malta as a prospective UN Security Council member, while a third reference is to policy documents under preparation in Malta. The word climate in the pre-budget document is not associated with any climate change policy implementation or action and its impact on the Maltese economy.

It is already five years since the Paris Climate Summit and its conclusions are still being “studied” in Malta. If we keep on procrastinating, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 will be very difficult to attain.

When Parliament approved the Climate Action Act in 2015 it identified that one of the tools to be used in the politics of climate change was the formulation of a Low Carbon Development Strategy. Consultation on a Vision to develop such a strategy was carried out in 2017, but three years down the line the final policy document is nowhere in sight, even though the Minister for Climate Change Aaron Farrugia has indicated that it may be concluded towards the end of this year. 

A Low Carbon Development Strategy will identify those sectors which are of considerable relevance in developing a low carbon strategy. Some of them are major carbon emission contributors to be addressed. Other sectors are part of the solution as they provide alternative tools which serve to decouple the economy from intensive energy use, in the process reducing carbon emissions.

The Vision which was subject to public consultation three years ago identifies a number of sectors as areas for climate action, namely: enterprise, energy, transport, waste, water, agriculture, tourism, information and communication technologies (ICT) and finance.

The Low Carbon Development Strategy, when published, should address these areas of action. It would also be expected that such a strategy would also identify the manner in which we will be in a position to achieve our target of carbon neutrality. Such a strategy would also, for completeness be expected to be coupled with a carbon budget which would break down the general target into specific manageable objectives which could be achieved over a specific and reasonable timeframe.

At the Paris Climate Summit, together with all other countries, Malta made pledges to take action in order to lay the foundations for reducing climate impacts. If all the pledges made at Paris are honoured, however, we will still be very far off from achieving the target of not exceeding a two-degree Celsius temperature rise. Much more is required.

Unfortunately, Malta’s climate related policies are double faced. On one hand the Malta government publicly pledges action to address climate change. Simultaneously, however, it proceeds with massive road infrastructural projects which encourage more cars on our roads. On the other hand, plans for the electrification of our roads are apparently subject to an elephantine gestation period. In the meantime, car emissions compete with power generation emissions as Malta’s major contributor to climate change.

It is unfortunate that the Low Carbon Development Strategy and the associated Carbon Budget are taking too long to be formulated. It will take much longer to implement them as special interest groups will undoubtedly seek to protect their specific areas to the detriment of attaining our carbon-neutral objective.  

Malta should be at the forefront of climate change action. Parliament’s declaration recognising the existence of a climate emergency is not enough. Words must give way to action. As an island, Malta should be aware that a primary climate change challenge in the years to come will be a rising sea level as a result of which the coastline may recede inwards at a rate so far unknown. The coast, we may remember, is home to most of our maritime and tourism infrastructural facilities, all of which are under threat. Even residential areas close to the sea level will be impacted. This would include all sandy beaches and the residential/commercial areas at l-Għadira, Xemxija, Salini, Gzira, Msida, Sliema, Ta’ Xbiex, Pietà, Marsa, Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala, Birzebbuga, Xlendi, and Marsalforn. Impacts could also move towards inland low-lying areas such as Qormi.

If we take too long to bring our own house in order, it may be too late.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 September 2020

It-turiżmu għarkuptejh

It-turiżmu hu ewlieni fost l-oqsma tas-setturi ekonomiċi milquta mill-pandemija Covid-19. Dan japplika iktar għat-turiżmu tal-massa li għadu s’issa settur importanti li fuqu hi dipendenti l-industrija turistika Maltija. Julia Farrugia-Portelli, Ministru għat-Turiżmu, (flimkien mal- Ministri għat-Turiżmu tal-Italja, Ċipru, Spanja, Franza, l-Portugall, il-Greċja, ir-Rumanija u l-Bulgarija) f’laqgħa virtwali iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa fittxet kunsens biex jinħolqu kurituri siguri għat-turiżmu fit-triq lura lejn in-normalità u f’żona ħielsa mill-Covid-19.

Sfortunatament, tal-inqas fl-immedjat, irridu ngħixu mal-virus Covid-19 u l-limitazzjonijiet li ħoloq fuq il-ħajja normali tagħna. It-triq lura lejn in-normalità hi waħda twila. Ir-restrizzjonijiet straordinarji fuq ħajjitna li huma fis-seħħ presentment ma jistgħux jibqgħu għaddejjin b’mod indefinit u dan minkejja li illum huma meħtieġa.

Ir-restrizzjonijiet kważi totali imposti fil-gżejjer Maltin tul il-ġimgħat li għaddew kienu effettivi biex ikunu indirizzati il-biżgħat dwar is-saħħa. Bħala riżultat ta’ dawn ir-restrizzjonijiet, f’Malta, l-mixja tal-virus kienet imrażżna, kif jixhdu l-aħbarijiet ta’ kuljum imxandra mis-Supretendent dwar is-Saħħa Pubblika.

It-turiżmu qiegħed għarkuptejh. Prattikament waqaf, kullimkien madwar id-dinja, anke jekk temporanjament.

Fl-Unjoni Ewropea mit-turiżmu jiddependu qrib is-27 miljun impieg li jiġġeneraw madwar għaxra fil-mija tal-prodott gross nazzjonali. F’Malta u fil-pajjiżi ġirien fin-nofsinnhar tal-Ewropa, aħna dipendenti iktar mit-turiżmu mill-medja Ewopeja. Ix-xibka tad-dipendenza tal-ekonomija tagħna fuq it-turiżmu hi ferm ikbar minn hekk. It-tbatija kkawżat illum hi għaldaqstant ikbar u r-ritorn għal xi forma ta’ normalità inevitabilment tieħu iktar fit-tul.

Meta ser nirritornaw lura għan-normal? Ċertament li mhux fl-immedjat. Hu ferm dubjuż jekk din ix-xewqa għar-ritorn lejn in-normal magħruf tistax tintlaħaq, anke jekk inħarsu ftit fit-tul. Li hu żgur hu li ma hu ser jinbidel xejn mil-lum għal għada.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa l-Ministri tat-Turiżmu tal-Unjoni Ewropea iddiskutew inizjattivi biex jinkuraġixxu t-turiżmu intern fl-unjoni nnifisha u dan permezz tal-ħolqien ta’ speċi ta’ passaporti tas-saħħa bejn żoni ħielsa mill-Covid-19. Sakemm tibqa’ fis-seħħ il-miżura dwar iż-żamma ta’ distanza soċjali, l-proposta mhiex waħda realistika, ta’ l-inqas għall-futur immedjat u probabbilment għal bosta xhur wara.

Sfortunatament l-ivvjaġġar b’mod ġenerali, u b’mod partikolari t-turiżmu, għandu l-potenzjal li jservi għat-tixrid tal-pandemija bl-istess mod kif fil-passat kien il-kummerċ li serva biex xtered mard ieħor f’kull rokna tad-dinja. Fid-dawl ta’ dan, hu probabbli li t-turiżmu tkun fost l-aħħar mill-attivitajiet ekonomiċi li jibdew t-triq lura għan-normal, u dan wara li l-Covid-19 tkun taħt kontroll effettiv fl-Ewropa b’mod ġenerali.

Kulħadd jifhem u japprezza l-ħeġġa tal-Ministeru tat-Turiżmu biex jonqsu r-restrizzjonijiet fuq l-ivvjaġġar u allura fuq dawk is-setturi li minnhom hi dipendenti l-industrija tat-turiżmu. Sfortunatament, iżda, fil-futur immedjat dan mhux realistiku li jintlaħaq. Hemm dubji kbar anke dwar x’jista’ jseħħ fuq tul ta’ żmien.

L-ekonomija tal-parti l-kbira tan-nofsinnhar tal-Ewropa, u in partikolari dik tal-pajjiżi Mediterranji, hi dipendenti fuq it-turiżmu u dan billi tipprovdi vaganzi bi prezzijiet raġjonevoli tul is-sena kollha għal dawk ġejjin mit-tramuntana u ċ-ċentru tal-Ewropa f’kuntest ta’ suq Ewropew wieħed. Il-miġja tal-vjaġġi b’irħis mifruxa mal-Ewropa kollha komplew kabbru l-firxa ta’ din ix-xibka ta’ dipendenza.

F’dan il-kuntest huwa ċar li ftit jista’ jsir ippjanar bil-quddiem. Hemm ħaġa waħda li hi ċara: il-futur huwa nċert u t-turiżmu għad ma nafux x’sura ser jieħu fix-xhur u fis-snin li ġejjin. It-tbatija mhux ser tintemm hekk kif nieqfu nistennew. Għax it-turiżmu qiegħed għarkuptejh.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 3 ta’ Mejju 2020

Tourism is on its knees

Tourism has been among the hardest hit sectors of the economy as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. This applies more so to mass tourism which still constitutes an important sector on which Malta’s tourism industry is dependent. Julia Farrugia-Portelli, Minister for Tourism, (together with Tourism Ministers from Italy, Cyprus, Spain, France, Portugal, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria) in an online meeting earlier this week advocated the creation of safe corridors, desperately seeking to create a return to normal in a Covid-19 free zone.

Unfortunately, at least in the short term, we have to live with a virus that has overturned ordinary life. The path back to normalcy will take a very long time even though it is clear that the extraordinary restrictions currently enforced cannot go on indefinitely, notwithstanding that today they are clearly a necessity.

The partial lockdown in operation in the Maltese islands for the past weeks has been effective in addressing public health concerns. As a result, in Malta, the spread of the virus has been contained and adequately managed as is evidenced by the daily briefings of the Superintendent of Public Health.

Tourism is however on its knees. It has been practically wiped out, temporarily, everywhere across the globe.

Within the European Union tourism accounts for close to 27 million jobs and around 10 per cent of GDP. In Malta, as well as in other neighbouring Southern European countries, tourism makes a larger contribution to the GDP. The web of dependence of the economy on tourism is larger. The pain is consequently larger and the expected time for recovery will be much longer.

Will we return to normal? Certainly not in the short term. It is even doubtful whether such a return to the “known normal” is achievable in the long term. Definitely any recovery will not occur overnight.

Earlier this week EU Tourism Ministers discussed whether initiatives should be taken to encourage internal tourism within the EU itself through some sort of health passports between areas within the EU which are Covid-19 free. As long as keeping a social distance rule remains in force this is not a realistic option, at least for the foreseeable future, certainly not for a number of months.

Unfortunately, travel in general and tourism in particular has the potential of being the perfect vehicle for the spreading of the pandemic just as trade, in the past, served to spread other pandemics across the globe. Keeping this in mind, most probably tourism would be the last economic activity to be reactivated once Covid-19 is sufficiently under control, at least on the European mainland.

It is understandable that the Ministry for Tourism seeks an early scaling down of the restrictions on travel and consequently on the sectors servicing the tourism industry. It has however to be underlined that this is not realistic to achieve in the short term. It is also dubious as to what lies in store in the long term.

The economy of the greater extent of Southern Europe, and in particular that of Mediterranean countries, is reliant on tourism primarily through providing reasonably priced holidays, not just during the summer months, for citizens of Northern and Central Europe within an EU single market. Low-cost flights throughout the European area further adds to this web of dependence.

Even though in this context it is difficult to plan ahead, one thing is certain: the future is as yet undefined and tourism will never be the same. Recovery will be as painful as the waiting time. Tourism is definitely on its knees.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 May 2020

Tniġġiż tal-arja fil-portijiet

Il-kwalità tal-arja fil-portijiet tagħna hi ta’ tħassib kbir. Niddependu minnha biex nieħdu n-nifs. Ir-residenti fil-lokalitajiet madwar il-portijiet qed isiru iktar konxji ta’ dan u jinsistu b’qawwa li tittieħed azzjoni. Ilkoll huma mħassbin miż-żieda astronomika fil-mard respiratorju madwarhom u fil-pajjiż kollu.

Madwar sena ilu l-għaqda ambjentali Maltija Birdlife flimkien ma’ esperti minn għaqda ambjentali Ġermaniża ħadet sehem f’eserċizzju li fih tkejlet il-kwalità tal-arja. Il-kampjuni tal-arja li nġabru minn madwar il-Port il-Kbir kienu jindikaw presenza għolja ta’ trab fin, li ħafna drabi jispiċċa fil-pulmun tagħna.

Il-Port il-Kbir hu ċentru ta’ attività marittima. Jinkludi terminal tal-cruise liners li tul dawn l-aħħar ħames snin kellu medja ta’ 300 cruise liner fis-sena li ġie Malta.

Il-Cruise liners jużaw ħafna elettriku.

Il-grupp ambjentali T & E (Transport and Environment) f’ rapport li kien ħareġ u li kien hemm referenza għalih fil-media lokali, kien qal li l-emmissjonijiet tal-kubrit mill-cruise liners li żaru Malta żdiedu biex fl-2017 kienu madwar 148 darba tal-emissjonijiet tal-kubrit mill-karozzi karozzi kollha fil-gżejjer Maltin dakinnhar. Din il-konklużjoni kienu waslu għaliha meta studjaw informazzjoni li kisbu mis-satelliti.

L-istazzjon televiżiv Ingliż Channel 4, f’rapport investigattiv li xandar madwar sentejn ilu li kien jiffoka fuq il-linja tal-cruise liners P & O kien ikkonkluda li t-tniġġiż li joħloq cruise liner li jġorr madwar 2,000 passiġġier matul kull ġurnata li jopera kien ekwivalenti għat-tniġġiż ta’ miljun karozza kuljum. Dawn il-vapuri l-kbar jagħmlu użu mill-heavy fuel oil, żejt li kif smajna ħafna drabi tul is-snin iħammeġ ħafna. Fost oħajn fih ammont għoli ta’ kubrit – madwar 3,500 darba daqs kemm hemm fil-fuel li jintuża għall-karozzi.

Jista’ jkun hemm nuqqas ta’ qbil fuq iċ-ċifri eżatti tal-emissjonijiet minn dawn il-vapuri. Ħadd iżda ma jkkontesta li dawn huma sostanzjali.

Il-komunità internazzjonali tfittex kontinwament li tirregola dak li jseħħ fl-ibħra internazzjonali. Aħna, iżda, bħala pajjiż għandna noqgħodu ferm iktar attenti għal dak li qed jiġri fil-portijiet u l-ibħra tagħna. L-emissjonijiet, b’mod partikolari dawk ta’ trab fin minn vapuri fil-portijiet u l-ibħra Maltin għandhom impatt dirett fuq il-komunitajiet residenzjali li jgħixu fil-madwar. Dan jgħodd b’mod partikolari għall-lokalitajiet fil-Port il-Kbir kif ukoll għal dawk fill-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk.

Hemm żewġ materji partikolari li għandhom jingħataw prijorità. L-ewwel nett hemm ħtieġa li l-awtoritajiet regolatorji Maltin jinfurzaw b’mod strett ir-regoli ta’ l-Unjoni Ewropea li jobbligaw lill-operaturi tal-vapuri li fil-portijiet juzaw zjut li jniġġsu inqas u b’mod partikolari li dawn ikollhom kontenut baxx ta’ kubrit. It-tieni miżura meħtieġa hi dwar it-titjib fl-infrastruttura tal-portijiet tagħna biex ikun possibli illi l-vapuri li jidħlu fil-portijiet tagħna jagħmlu użu minn elettriku ġġenerat fuq l-art u b’hekk ikun possibli illi jintfew il-ġeneraturi tal-elettriku fuq il-vapuri. Miżura ta’ din ix-xorta telimina t-tniġġiż tal-vapuri fil-portijiet tagħna minn dak il-mument li jitfew il-ġeneraturi.

F’Malta diġa saru tal-inqas żewġ studji dwar l-implikazzjonijiet kemm-il darba l-vapuri li jżuru Malta jkollhom jagħmlu użu minn elettriku ġġenerat fuq l-art. L-ewwel studju kien sar fuq talba ta’ Transport Malta u kien konkluż fl- 2014 filwaqt li t-tieni wieħed, li kienkonkluż fl-2018 kien ġie kkummissjonat mill-management tat-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles. Iż-żewġ studji kkonkludew illi kemm-il darba l-vapuri li jżuru Malta jibdew jagħmlu użu minn elettriku ġġenerat mill-art, meta jkunu fil-portijiet tagħna, ikun hemm titjib sostanzjali fil-kwalità tal-arja fl-istess portijiet u fil-lokalitajiet kollha li jmissu magħhom. Ir-rapporti jikkonkludu ukoll li dwar jekk dan jaqbilx ekonomikament jew le, fl-aħħar jiddependi fuq kif jaġixxu l-kompetituri tagħna!

Irridu nistaqsu mistoqsija waħda ċara: jagħmel sens li ninkoraġixxu u niddependu fuq ħidma ekonomika li tagħmel ħsara lil saħhitna?

It-tweġiba għal din il-mistoqsija hi ovvjament le. Il-portijiet tagħna huma riżors prezzjuz li għandna nużawh biex intejbu l-kwalità tal-ħajja tal-kommunitajiet madwar il-kosta.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 18 t’Awwissu 2019

Air Pollution in our ports

The quality of the air we breath in our major ports is worrying. More residents in the areas around our ports are aware of this and are demanding action: they are all worried by the astronomic increases in the incidence of respiratory illnesses.

Around 12 months ago Maltese eNGO Birdlife carried out an air quality measurement exercise with the support of German experts from the German eNGO Nature and Biodiversity Union (NABU). Air samples taken from the Grand Harbour area indicted the presence of a high level of microscopic particulate matter, which ends up in our lungs.

The Grand Harbour is a hub of shipping activity and also includes a cruise liner terminal which, during the last five years, has had an average annual call rate of over 300 cruise liners.

Cruise liners make use of a large amount of electricity.  In a report covered in the local media, the campaign group T & E (Transport and Environment) said that sulphur emissions from cruise liners visiting Malta in 2017 were around 148 times as much as those emitted from the entire car fleet on the islands. This conclusion was reached after analysing satellite data.

In an investigative report it carried out two years ago focused on the P & O cruise liner company, the UK Television Channel 4 concluded that a cruise liner carrying around two thousand passengers had a daily pollution equivalent to one million cars. Large ships run on heavy fuel oil, which contains 3.5% sulphur – 3,500 times what is permitted in road fuel. There may be a lack of agreement on the exact figures for emissions from the shipping industry, but no one contests that they are substantial.

The international community continuously deals with what happens on the high seas. We can, however, deal more appropriately with what goes on in our ports. Particulate emissions in our ports by the shipping industry has a direct bearing on the residential communities surrounding our ports, notably Grand Harbour and Marsaxlokk Bay.

There are two specific issues which need to be prioritised. The first is for the regulatory authorities to ensure that EU legislation on restricting fuel use to the low sulphur type is observed. The second concerns the need to focus on infrastructural improvements in our ports to facilitate supplying the shipping industry with shore-based electricity, as a result ensuring that the ships’ generators – and consequently the resulting emissions to air –  stops when the ship berthed.

Two studies have already been carried out in Malta on the implications of a shore-to-ship electricity supply for the shipping industry. The first, which was completed in 2014, was carried out by Transport Malta and the second, carried out on behalf of the Malta Freeport Terminals, was completed in 2018. Both studies came to the conclusion that if the shipping industry changed to shore-side electricity there would be a substantial improvement in air quality in our ports. The issue of feasibility, however, is substantially dependent on what our competitors decide!

Does it make sense to keep encouraging economic activity that harms our health? The answer to this question is a definite “no”. Our ports are a most precious natural resource that we should use to enhance the quality of life of our coastal communities.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 18 August 2019

12-il minuta pjaċir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 21 t’April 2019