Drittijiet Ambjentali bir-riforma kostituzzjonali

Il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, meta tiġi, tkun opportunità unika biex ikunu ntrodotti drittijiet ambjentali fil-Kostituzzjoni. Dan jista’ u għandu jseħħ billi dawn id-drittijiet jinkitbu b’mod ċar u li ma jħallux lok għal miżinterpretazzjoni f’riforma li ilna nistennew żmien kbir.

Id-drittijiet ambjentali, għandhom ikunu ċari daqs id-drittijiet dwar il-propjetà. Għax il-Kostituzzjoni, b’mod pervers, filwaqt li tipproteġi drittijiet dwar il-propjetà, illum ma toffri l-ebda protezzjoni għal drittijiet ambjentali bħad-dritt għal arja nadifa inkella għal aċċess għal ilma nadif. L-anqas ma tipproteġi l-bijodiversità jew il-pajsaġġ jew kwalunkwe dritt ambjentali ieħor bħall-ħarsien tar-riżorsi naturali. Id-drittijiet tal-individwi huma b’xi mod protetti imma d-drittijiet tal-komunità l-anqas biss jissemmew.

Meta wieħed iqis li d-drittijiet tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti huma kemm kemm protetti, xejn ma hemm biex niskantaw jekk il-liġi bażika tagħna tinjora lill-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri għal kollox.

Waqt li dan kollu kien għaddej, Malta, fuq livell internazzjonali nsistiet dwar il-ħarsien ta’ qiegħ il-baħar (1967), dwar il-klima (1988) u dwar il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri (1992). Imma minkejja dawn l-isforzi fuq livell internazzjonali, ma sar l-ebda sforz lokali biex dak li nippriedkaw barra minn xtutna nipprattikawh f’artna.  

Il-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, fil-Kapitlu 2 tagħha, għanda sett ta’ linji gwida biex dawn ikunu ta’ għajnuna lill-Gvern billi b’mod ġenerali jindikaw it-triq li jeħtieġ li jimxi fuqha.  Wieħed minn dawn il-prinċipji gwida huwa dwar il-ħarsien ambjentali. Dan tfassal oriġinalment fl-1964 u ġie emendat riċentement.  

Wara din il-lista ta’ linji gwida, fl-aħħar tagħhom, il-Kostituzzjoni tgħidilna li ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom!

Dan il-kapitlu tal-Kostituzzjoni huwa mfassal fuq dak li hemm fil-Kostituzzjoni tal-Irlanda u tal-Indja. Kif jispjega Tonio Borg fil-kummentarju tiegħu dwar il-kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, l-Qorti Suprema Indjana minkejja kollox, imma, interpretat il-linji gwida fil-Kostituzzjoni Indjana bħala l-kuxjenza tal-kostituzzjoni : linja gwida tabilħaqq.  Għax x’jiswa’ li toqgħod tipprietka u tħambaq dwar il-prinċipji bażiċi u l-linji gwida jekk imbagħad iżżomhom milli jkunu infurzati?

Sfortunatament, din l-istess attitudni kienet addottata meta tfasslet leġislazzjoni dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art u dwar l-ambjent. Anke hawn wara ħafna dikjarazzjonijiet ta’ prinċipji nsibu li dwar dawn ukoll ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom.

Fis-sottomissjonijiet tagħha lill Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, Alternattiva Demokratika,  ipproponiet li dan il-kapitlu fil-kostituzzjoni għandu jkun revedut b’mod li jkun assigurat li l-Gvern dejjem jimxi mal-linji gwida kostituzzjonali.   

F’pajjiżi oħra, s-soċjetà ċivili, meta meħtieġ, tieħu azzjoni legali kontra l-Gvern biex tassigura li dan jerfa’ r-responsabbiltajiet ambjentali tiegħu f’kull ħin.

Għandi f’moħħi żewġ eżempji partikolari.

L-ewwel wieħed hu dwar azzjoni legali fir-Renju Unit mill-għaqda ambjentali  Client Earth dwar il-mod kajman li bih il-Gvern Ingliż mexa fil-konfront ta’ strateġija nazzjonali dwar il-kwalità tal-arja. Il-materja spiċċat quddiem il-Qorti Suprema li f’deċiżjoni ta’ struzzjonijiet lill-Gvern dwar iż-żmien sa meta għandha tkun lesta din l-istrateġija.   

It-tieni eżempju qiegħed l-Olanda u jikkonċerna t-tibdil fil-klima u l-grupp ambjentali  Urgenda li mar il-Qorti biex iġiegħel lil Gvern jistabilixxi miri raġjonevoli dwar emissjonijiet li għandhom impatt fuq il-bidla fil-klima.

F’dawn l-eżempji, u probabbilment f’bosta oħrajn, l-azzjoni tal-Gvern kienet ferm inferjuri għall-aspettattivi tas-soċjetà ċivili. Ikun tajjeb li l-kostituzzjoni tipprovdina bl-għodda biex kull meta l-Gvern jonqos milli jimxi mal-miri kostituzzjonali ikun possibli li nippruvaw inġibuh f’sensieh.

Sal-lum niddependu mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja bit-tama li meta jkun meħtieġ din tieħu passi. Nistqarr li f’materji ambjentali, bosta drabi tiddisappuntana u ma tagħmilx dak li nistennew minn għandha.

Il-konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali sal-lum, tista’ tkun l-unika forum fejn dan id-difett kostituzzjonali jkun possibli li nikkoreġuh. Għax hu l-waqt li d-drittijiet ambjentali jsiru parti integrali mill-kostituzzjoni.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Settembru 2020

Green rights through Constitutional reform

The forthcoming Constitutional Convention, whenever it happens, is an opportunity to entrench green rights in the Constitution. This can be carried out through spelling out such rights unequivocally during the long overdue constitution reform process.

Environmental rights should be spelled out just as clearly as property rights. Our Constitution perversely protects property rights but then does not protect our right to clean air or the access to clean water. Nor does it protect our biodiversity or our landscape or any other environmental right. Individual rights are somehow protected but then the rights of the community are not even given a mention.

When one considers that the rights of the present generations are very poorly protected no one should be surprised that future generations are completely ignored in our basic law.

While this has been going on, Malta has on an international level been insisting on protecting the seabed (1967), the climate (1988) and future generations (1992). Notwithstanding the efforts made on an international level, however, there was no corresponding local effort to put in practice what we preached in international fora.

Malta’s Constitution contains a set of guiding principles in its Chapter 2 which are intended to guide government in its workings. One of these guiding principles relates to environmental protection. Originally enacted in 1964 it was amended recently.

Yet there is a catch. Towards the end of this list of guiding principles our Constitution announces that these principles cannot be enforced in a Court of Law.

This Chapter of our Constitution is modelled on similar provisions in the Irish and the Indian Constitutions. As explained in Tonio Borg’s A Commentary on the Constitution of Malta, however, the Indian Supreme Court has over the years interpreted similar constitutional provisions as the conscience of the Constitution, a real guiding light. It does not make sense to proclaim basic and guiding principles, declare that they should guide the state but then stop short of having them enforceable in a Court of Law.    

Unfortunately, the same attitude was adopted when drafting land use planning and environmental legislation. This legislation contains similar provisions: the announcement of basic guiding principles which are not enforceable in a Court of Law.

In its submissions to the Constitutional Convention, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party has proposed revisiting this Chapter of the Constitution in order that it would be possible to ensure that government follows the guiding principles at all times instead of selectively.  

In other countries it is possible for civil society to take legal action to ensure that government carries out its environmental responsibilities adequately and at all times.

Two particular examples come to mind.

The first is legal action in the United Kingdom by environmental NGO Client Earth relative to the UK government’s lack of action on the formulation of an air quality masterplan. The matter ended up in a Supreme Court decision which instructed the UK government to act and established the parameters for such action including the relative timeframe.  

The second example comes from Holland and concerns climate change and the environmental action group Urgenda Foundation which went to Court to force government’s hand on the establishment of reasonable climate change emission targets.

In both the above examples, and probably in many others, government action was far below the expectations of civil society. It is right that the Constitution should provide us with the necessary tools such that whenever government fails to live up to the Constitutional benchmarks, (be these environmental or any other) then, civil society may call government to order.

To date we depend on the EU Commission as a fallback position, but the EU Commission, unfortunately, does not always live up to what we expect of it. It has let us down many times. The Constitutional Convention is the only forum possible, so far, through which this constitutional deficiency can be corrected. It is about time that our green rights are entrenched in the Constitution.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 6 September 2020

Lil hinn mir-rapport tal-KPMG dwar l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni

Kif mistenni, ir-rapport tal-KPMG dwar l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni jpinġi stampa sabiħa tal-industrija. Dan minkejja li l-awturi tar-rapport jikkonċedu li l-informazzjoni fir-rapport faċli li tintuża biex biha tasal għal konklużjonijiet ferm differenti minn tagħhom.

Jiena eżaminajt ir-rapport biex nara kemm dan jitkellem dwar numru ta’ affarijiet importanti bħall-iżvilupp esaġerat (over-development), ir-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni, l-ambjent u l-klima. Kien ikun importanti kieku konna infurmati dwar il-veduti tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni dwar dawn il-materji u oħrajn. Imma ftit li xejn hemm kummenti dwarhom, skond l-awturi tar-rapport.

Ma jiena bl-ebda mod sorpriż li l-KPMG ma qalulna xejn fir-rapport dwar l-iżvilupp esaġerat jew ir-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni. Dan ovvjament juri, għal min għadu ma ndunax, li l-industrija la jidhrilha li hemm żvilupp esaġerat u l-anqas ma għandha ebda interess fir-riċiklaġġ tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni. Kif diġa spjegat f’artiklu riċenti tiegħi (Illum 22 ta’ Settembru 2019: Sħab ma min iħammeġ), l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni ma għandha l-ebda interess li tirriċikla l-iskart li tiġġenera hi stess, meta dan ikun possibli: interessata biss li jkollha fejn tarmi l-iskart tagħha b’mod issussidjat.

Hi tħammeġ u int tħallas. KPMG jaqblu ma dan?

Fir-rapport tal-KPMG hemm żewġ referenzi ghall-ambjent. L-ewwel referenza hi dwar in-nuqqas ta’ użu ta’ materjal sensittiv ambjentalment fil-bini u jenfasizza li dan ma jsirx ħtija tal-konsumaturi li ma jinteressawhomx! It-tieni referenza hi dwar l-għaqdiet ambjentali u tisfidhom biex il-proposti li jagħmlu jkunu realistiċi!

L-awturi tar-rapport jinsistu li dawn is-suġġerimenti mhux biss għandhom ikunu realistiċi imma għandhom jirrikonoxxu li mhuwiex realistiku li twaqqaf il-kostruzzjoni u l-iżvilupp.

KPMG qed jgħixu fis-sħab għax kieku forsi kienu jirrealizzaw li l-ambjentalisti ilhom żmien twil iressqu proposti li l-gvernijiet kontinwament jinjoraw għax il-gvernijiet moħħhom biss f’kif jinkoraġixxu iktar bini a spejjes tal-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna. Ikkunsidraw pereżempju l-eżerċizzju tar-razzjonalizzazzjoni, approvat fl-2006 imma li l-impatti tiegħu għadna inħossuhom kuljum f’kull rokna ta’ dawn il-gżejjer. Il-ħsara li saret, u li għadha qed issir, mill-Gvern id f’id mal-iżviluppaturi, hi waħda enormi. Imma, dwar dan, skiet komplet mingħand KPMG.

It-tibdil fil-klima, skont ir-rapport ta’ KPMG, qiesha ma teżistix, għax fir-rapport ma hemm l-ebda referenza għaliha. Dan ovvjament ifisser li l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni mhiex interessata fil-materja.

M’aħniex qed nistennew lill-awturi tar-rapport ta’ KPMG jispjegawlna kif l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni ħarbtet pajjiż bi żvilupp esaġerat u l-pretensjoni tagħhom li aħna, l-bqija, nħallsu d-djun ambjentali tagħhom. Il-ġungla tal-konkos li qed tiżviluppa madwarna qed tifgana. L-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni kontinwament trid iktar art għal żvilupp li donnu ma jintemm qatt.

L-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni hemm bżonn li tiġi f’sensiha. Ilkoll jeħtieġilna nifhmu, qabel ma jkun tard wisq, li dan il-bini li għaddej kullimkien mhux sostenibbli u li l-progress ma jitkejjilx bil-bini, bit-toroq jew bin-numru ta’ karozzi li ma jispiċċaw qatt.

Il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna għandha titkejjel bl-ispazji miftuħin li jipperpettulna li niskopru mill-ġdid l-egħruq naturali tagħna fil-ħajja naturali li l-urbanizzazzjoni bla limitu qed teqred ftit ftit.

L-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni hi determinata li tisfrutta dan il-mument fejn qed titħalla tagħmel prattikament dak li trid: tibqa’ għaddejja b’bini bla limitu sakemm timla kull ċentimetru possibli, inkluż il-baħar, fuq skala li jħabbatha ma Dubaj! Dik hi l-viżjoni.

Imma għada jasal għal kulħadd, mhux biss għal dawk li jridu jisfruttaw is-sitwazzjoni illum li tippermettilhom iħaxxnu bwiethom bi ħsara għall-komunità kollha. Nittama li meta jasal jibqalna l-enerġija u l-kapaċità li nsewwu l-ħsara enormi li qed issir lil kulħadd.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 6 t’Ottubru 2019

 

Beyond the KPMG construction industry report

As expected, KPMG’s report on the construction industry paints a very rosy picture of it, although its authors concede that “others may arrive at a different conclusion” on the basis of the information contained therein.

I have searched through the report to identify the incidence of a number of important expressions like “over-development”, “re-cycling” (of construction waste), “the environment”, and “the climate”. The views of the construction industry on these terms (and others) would have been quite interesting, had they been expressed. According to the authors of the report, however, practically none of them were.

I am not surprised that the terms “over-development” and “recycling” do not feature in the report. This obviously indicates that the industry does not consider there is any “over-development” and, in addition, that the industry is not bothered about recycling its construction waste. As explained in a recent article of mine (TMIS, 22 September 2019 entitled In cahoots with the polluter), the construction industry is not interested in recycling its waste, when this is possible; it is only interested in subsidised dumping sites. They pollute, you pay. Does KPMG endorse this?

There are two references to the environment in the KPMG report. The first points fingers at consumers and emphasises that there is a lack of environmentally-friendly materials in properties because there is no demand for them! The second focuses on environmental lobby groups and challenges them to come forward with realistic suggestions! The authors of the report, however, point out that “such suggestions should be grounded in reality, and recognise that halting all construction and development is not a realistic option.”

KPMG is apparently reporting from the moon as it would have otherwise realised long ago that the environmental lobby has brought forward a multitude of proposals which have been generally ignored by governments, which have continuously sought to ensure that development is facilitated at the expense of our quality of life. It would suffice for a moment if they were to consider, for example, the rationalisation exercise introduced way back in 2006 but the impacts of which are still being felt still being felt up to this very day all around our islands. The damage done by government in cahoots with the developers is enormous but KPMG is, however, completely silent on the matter.

Climate change does not feature at all in the report, meaning that the construction industry is generally not bothered.

We do not expect the authors of the KPMG report to explain how the construction industry has been a major force in ruining this country through over-development and through expecting us to foot their environmental bills.

The concrete jungle developing all around us is suffocating. It is fuelled by a construction industry which has no idea of where to stop and that continuously wants more land for development.

It is about time that the construction industry is cut down to size. We should all realise, before it is too late, that the ongoing building spree is unsustainable and that progress is not measured in terms of buildings, roads or the enormous number of cars on our roads.
Our quality of life is actually measured through the open spaces we can enjoy and through rediscovering our natural roots, which have been obliterated as a result of the ever-expanding urban boundaries.

The construction industry is bent on making even more hay while the sun shines: on building more and more for as long as their Dubaification vision remains in place.

The sun rises for everyone, not just for those seeking to make hay while it shines. When it sets, we rest – preparing for tomorrow and hoping that, when it comes, there will still be time to repair the extensive damage being done to us all.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 October 2019

 

Harvesting rainwater

flooding.Bkara

At the time of writing the average rainfall in Malta from 1st September 2014 to date is recorded at 442.4 mm. The actual rainfall varies from a high of 529.6mm recorded at Selmun to a low of 373.7mm noted at Valletta. With still some months to go, it seems that precipitation in the Maltese islands during the current year will shortly exceed the average annual precipitation of 553.12mm, computed by Charles Galdies in his National Statistics Office publication entitled The Climate of Malta: statistics, trends and analysis 1951-2010. It will however be far short of 955.62mm, the maximum recorded precipitation in Malta which was recorded at Luqa Airport in 1951.

Since 1880, legislation in Malta has specifically provided for the construction of water cisterns in buildings, primarily residential ones. The dimensions of these water cisterns varied over time. Originally they were related to the floor area of the residential building. Recently, the required volume was reduced to be related to the footprint of the building.

These regulatory provisions are however more honoured in the breach, even when reduced. This is not a recent phenomenon. Regulatory control in Malta has been in decline since the 1960s building boom.

Instead of being collected in rainwater cisterns, in an ever increasing number of cases, rainwater is discharged directly onto our roads, or else into the public sewers. As a result, navigating some of our roads during or immediately after heavy rainfall is a dangerous exercise.

This is a case of water literally going down the drain. Large volumes of storm water, which can be utilised for various purposes, are being wasted. Much has been written about the potential use of harvested rainwater. Its use domestically can substantially reduce water bills.

It is also an issue of civil protection. Large quantities of rainwater in our streets, at times moving at an excessive velocity, are a danger to life and limb. Fortunately, it is very rare for people to lose their life in storms in Malta, but damage to property is a more frequent occurrence.

When rainwater is discharged into our overburdened public sewers, not only does the water overflow onto our streets, but it also increases the costs of sewage purification unnecessarily. These costs are recovered through our water bills. Hence, in the end, we all pay the costs of this abuse, irrespective of whether we are participants or not.

The major culprits are a substantial portion of the developers of blocks of flats and maisonettes. The government, directly, as well as through its agencies, has also been responsible for the development of housing estates without providing for rainwater harvesting.

In particular, it is common knowledge that in cases where basement or semi-basement garages are constructed, the duty to provide for rainwater harvesting is very rarely complied with. Since 1992, MEPA has been responsible for determining and ensuring the observance of the conditions of development permits, which in most cases, specify the required capacity of a rainwater cistern.

The Water Services Corporation (WSC) has during the last years, taken over the responsibility for the management of the public sewers from the former Drainage Department. This responsibility includes authorising owners of newly- constructed properties to connect the drains with the public sewer.

Is the WSC verifying that it is only the drains that are connected and, in particular, that rainwater pipes are not connected to the public sewer too? The obvious answer is provided by our streets on a rainy day. No one is bothering to check what is connected to the public sewer . This leads to the conclusion that, while the culprit for the present state of affairs is the building industry as, more often than not, it does not provide for rainwater storage in new developments, it is not the only one to blame. The authorities and government departments must take a substantial share of the blame for not shouldering their regulatory responsibilities. They could have stopped the abuse, but they did not.

A number of areas are practically out of bounds whenever heavy or continuous rainfall hits the Maltese islands. This is a source of danger and, in fact, the Civil Protection Department is heavily involved in assisting residents or motorists who are trapped as a result of flooding. The Birkirkara local council had, some years back installed a storm warning system to alert residents and passers-by that, “danger was on the way”! Public authorities in Malta, unfortunately, have developed the habit of dealing with the effects but continuously ignore the cause of flooding!

Monies made available by the EU have been used to fund a project for the construction of underground tunnels through which it is planned to collect rainwater from our streets and roads and to discharge most of the collected storm water into the sea.

The EU funds utilised in the construction of these tunnels have been utilised to squander a very precious resource. European taxpayers’ monies too have been flushed down the drain. They could have been put to a much better use if they had been applied to address the lack of adequate rainwater harvesting in our towns and villages.

We have been inundated with political speeches lauding sustainability and sustainable development. However, when push comes to shove, it is more than amply clear that this is just a case of some Members of Parliament showing off a newly-acquired vocabulary they have not yet understood. In 2015, Malta still lacks a sustainable water policy.

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 22 February 2015