Santiago and maritime affairs

Aerial View_Grand Harbour

Ernest Hemingway’s Santiago in “The Old Man and the Sea” was unlucky. It took him 85 days to catch his big fish. But when he did, being on his own out at sea without any help, he had to tow it back to port, only to discover then that the sharks had reduced his catch to a mere skeleton.  It is the same with maritime policy. We need to coordinate with our Mediterranean neighbours to have meaningful and lasting results. On our own we can achieve very little.

A national integrated maritime strategy is an essential policy tool. Yet, as was pointed out by Parliamentary Secretary Edward Zammit Lewis, it is still unavailable. On May 19, European Maritime Day,  it was emphasised by Zammit Lewis that such a strategy would identify Malta’s maritime policy priorities required to support the Blue Economy.

The economic opportunities presented by the sea which surrounds Malta are substantial. We do however have to make use of such opportunities carefully, knowing that various impacts may result. Through the sea surrounding us we are subject to impacts as a result of the actions of others. Similarly Malta’s maritime activities necessarily will impact other countries, for better or for worse.

The excellent quality of seawater around the Maltese islands resulting from Malta’s recent adherence to the Urban Wastewater Directive of the EU is one positive contribution to a better Mediterranean Sea even though the sewage treatment system is badly designed as it ignores the resource value of the discharged treated water.

Through Arvid Pardo in the 1960s Malta made a lasting contribution to global maritime thought by emphasising that the seabed forms part of the common heritage of mankind.

The sea and its resources have always had a central importance in Malta’s development. Tourism, fisheries and water management easily come to mind. Maritime trade and services as well as the sustainable utilisation of resources on the seabed are also essential for this island state.

Whilst a national maritime strategy will inevitably seek the further utilisation of the coastline and its contiguous areas it is hoped that environmental responsibilities will be adequately addressed in the proposals considered.

A national integrated maritime policy, though essential, cannot however be effective if it  does not take into consideration the activities of our neighbours: both their maritime  as well as their coastal activities.

This is an issue which is given considerable importance within the European Union which seeks to assist member states in coordinating their maritime policies for the specific reason that the impacts of such policies are by their very nature transboundary.  In fact one of the EU Commissioners, Maria Damanaki,  is tasked with Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.  Her work is underpinned by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive which seeks to protect the sea in order that it could be utilised sustainably thereby contributing to attaining the objectives of EU2020, the ten year growth strategy of the European Union.

Within its maritime competencies the EU has also developed effective instruments of transboundary cooperation foremost amongst which are the Baltic Strategy and the Danube Strategy.  These macro-strategies of the European Union, as their name implies, focus on the Baltic Sea and the river Danube respectively. They bring together the European regions bordering the Baltic Sea and the Danube to cooperate in various policy areas such that the resulting coordination addresses challenges which no single country can address on its own.

Such strategies also serve as an instrument of cooperation with non-EU countries. Through the Baltic Strategy it is cooperation with Russia, Iceland and Norway whilst through the Danube Strategy eight EU member states cooperate with six European non-EU member states.  The EU has also more recently launched an Atlantic Ocean Strategy.

A national maritime strategy will  seek to identify those areas which can absorb strategic investments in order to develop the blue economy.  An important point worth emphasising is that a sustainable development of the blue economy will ensure that no negative impacts are borne by our communities residing along and adjacent to the coastal areas. Unfortunately not enough attention has been paid to this aspect in the past. Such negative impacts can be avoided not only through careful planning but also through proper consultation with both civil society as well as directly with residents.

Impacts which have to be avoided include air and sea pollution. In addition potential noise and light pollution need careful attention in particular if the operating times of the newly identified activities span into the silent hours.

Malta’s Maritime strategy needs a double focus: a national and a regional one.  Both are essential elements neither of which can be ignored. It is in Malta’s interest to take part in initiatives addressing transboundary impacts and simultaneously to integrate these initiatives within a national maritime policy strategy. Otherwise we will face Santiago’s fate. The result of our good work will be taken up by the sharks!

Originally published in The Times of Malta, Saturday June 8, 2013

Tibdil fil-Kostituzzjoni u l-ħatra ta’ Franco Debono

Franco Debono 1


L-inkarigu ta’ Franco Debono biex jieħu ħsieb il-konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali li tista’ twassal għall-hekk imsejħa Tieni Repubblika fl-opinjoni tiegħi hi deċiżjoni żbaljata.

Fil-programm elettorali tiegħu il-Partit Laburista ġustament jgħid li t-tibdil kostituzzjonali meħtieġ għandna naslu għalih wara diskussjoni li fiha tkun involuta is-soċjeta’ ċivili. Is-soċjeta’ ċivili kellha tkun involuta anke’ fl-għażla tal-persuna bl-inkargu li tipprepara din il-konvenzjoni. Taqbel jew ma taqbilx miegħu Franco Debono hu persuna diviżiva u m’huwiex fil-fehma tiegħi l-persuna addattata għal din il-biċċa xogħol delikata.

Partijiet kbar mill-Kostituzzjoni jeħtieġu maġġoranza ta’ żewġ terzi biex jinbidlu. Jiġifieri għall-parti l-kbira tal-Kostituzzjoni ma jistax ikun hemm tibdil jekk ma jkunx hemm kunsens. Il-kunsens tista’ tasal għalih bħala riżultat ta’ diskussjoni serena li fiha kull min ikun involut iħossu liberu li jesprimi l-veduti tiegħu.

Hemm diversi partijiet delikati tal-Kostituzzjoni li jeħtieġu li jkunu mibdula, imħassra jew aġġornati għaż-żminijiet tal-lum. Għalhekk hu neċessarju li l-proċess kollu tal-konvenzjoni jkun wieħed li kull persuna involuta jkollha fiduċja fih.

Naħseb li bl-inkarigu ta’ Franco Debono l-proċess tal-konvenzjoni kostituzzjonali beda ħażin.


Thoughts for an Environmental Policy

The government has published a number of policy documents for public consultation. Two deal with different aspects of water policy while a third deals with issues for a National Environment Policy.

Also of relevance is an Ernst & Young Report commissioned by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority on a 2008 Public Attitudes Survey. It is dated April 2010. Although recently published I do not recollect reading anything in the press about this survey. One of the conclusions of this survey should be an eye opener to policy makers as to the central importance which the Maltese public attaches to the environment.

In the 2008 Public Attitudes Survey it was concluded that 69 per cent of respondents held the view that the environment was as important as the economy. On the other hand 23 per cent of respondents considered that the environment was more important than the economy while only eight per cent considered the economy as being of overriding importance.

To my mind these are significant conclusions contrasting with current national policy which considers that the economy has an ­overriding priority over the environment. The Maltese public thinks otherwise: 92 per cent of respondents of the Mepa Public Attitudes Survey have understood that the economy should not be an overriding consideration in environmental policy formulation. Now this is what sustainable development is all about.

Contrary to what green-washers imply, being committed to sustainable development does not mean that one seeks to balance or mitigate environmental, social and cultural impacts of economic development. Sustainable development speaks another language altogether for which unfortunately there is still a lack of translators. Real commitment to sustainable development conveys the message that humankind does not own the earth. It shares the earth with other species together with which it forms part of one eco-system.

The way in which our society has evolved and is organised is such that it considers human activity as meriting overriding importance. In fact it is often stated that policies are anthropocentric. Both PN and PL environmental policies can be grouped in this category. AD together with other Green parties around the globe differs as it follows a eco-centric path. But then the ecology has no vote!

Sustainable development properly construed considers the need of an eco-centric environmental policy. This signifies that a holistic approach is applied through which impacts on the whole eco-system are considered.

Now this is completely different from the manner in which our society is accustomed to look at itself. An eco-centric approach leads us to take a long term view in contrast to the short-sighted view of our immediate interests. This does not only impact land use but also waste management, agriculture and fishing, light pollution, acoustic pollution, air quality, water resources, mineral deposits, transport policy, the protection of our ecological heritage and many other areas.

When one considers the above I cannot understand why the authors of the National Environment Policy Issues Paper ignored the National Sustainable Development Strategy when formulating the Issues Paper for public consultation. They considered the 2008 State of the Environment Report and the Parliamentary debate which ensued together with the Ernst & Young report above quoted as the basis for a discussion.

In so doing they ignored completely a consultation process spanning a number of years which answered most of the questions which the Issues Paper poses.

This is surely not a new way of doing politics. It is a way with which most of us are familiar as it does away with past achievements and seeks to start a fresh page, ignoring everything and everyone. Knowing that at least one of the drafters of the National Environment Policy Issues Paper was actively involved in the process leading to the National Sustainability Strategy, I must ask the obvious question: Is the Issues Paper the first step towards the scrapping of the National Sustainability Strategy?

The current Bill before Parliament which seeks to consolidate existing legislation on land use planning and the environment removes all references to the National Sustainable Development Commission. It was stated repeatedly that a separate legislative measure will be proposed dealing with issues of sustainable development. Yet to date this is nowhere in sight. Does this confirm that there have been second thoughts on the National Sustainability Strategy?

The Strategy should currently be in the process of implementation. Section 5 of the Strategy entitled “The Way Ahead” provides that ministers have to produce action plans for the implementation of the National Sustainable Development Strategy in their portfolio within 18 months from the adoption of the strategy.

The strategy was adopted by Cabinet more than 18 moons ago yet the action plans are nowhere in sight.

I have never had any doubt that this government is being consistent with its beliefs: it says one thing, but when push comes to shove it proceeds with doing something else.

published in The Times : August 14, 2010

Bis-serjeta? Il-Politika Nazzjonali dwar l-Ambjent.


Il-Gvern permezz tas-Segretarju Parlamentari Mario Demarco għadu kif ta’ bidu għal proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar il-Politika Nazzjonali għall-Ambjent.         L-ewwel fażi hi waħda ta’ konsultazzjoni dwar liema huma dawk il-materji li għandhom ikunu mistħarrġa u indirizzati.

Dan fih innifsu hu pass posittiv. Imma jekk tqiesu li ftit ilu (fl-2007/8) kien konkluż il-proċess li bih wara konsultazzjoni pubblika estensiva u fit-tul ġiet infassla l-Strateġija Nazzjonali dwar  is-Sostenibilita naħseb li malajr nifhmu li qed naħlu l-ħin niddiskutu biss. Xi kultant naħseb li din hi strateġija maħsuba biex jiġi iġġustifikat għaliex ftit li xejn qed isir.

Fl-Istrateġija Nazzjonali dwar is-Sostenibilita  diġa, wara konsultazzjoni pubblika ġew identifikati l-materji li għandhom ikunu indirizzati. Għaldaqstant minflok ma nerġgħu niftħu d-diskussjoni beraħ li kien hemm bżonn issa kien li jiġu pprezentati l-proposti konkreti min-naħa tal-Gvern, jekk verament jemmen li għandu jindirizza l-materja.

Ir-riżorsi li għandu dan il-pajjiż huma limitati u għalhekk hu iktar għaqli li l-enerġija u r-riżorsi ma naħluhomx.

L-istrateġija nazzjonali dwar is-sostenibilita diġa’ tistabilixxi l-prijoritajiet ambjentali li għandhom ikunu segwiti u dan fil-kuntest tal-politika ekonomika u soċjali tal-pajjiż.

Għadaqstant il-pedamenti għall-istrateġija nazzjonali għall-ambjent qegħdin hemm. Dawn huma r-riżultat ta’ proċess wiesa’ u estensiv ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika li ħa s-snin.

Din il-ħidma kollha ser tintrema ? Għax din hi l-konklużjoni loġika tal-emfasi li qed issir għall-konsultazzjoni mill-ġdid. Għax sentejn wara li spiċċa l-eserċizzju li wassal għall-istrateġija Nażżjonali dwar is-Sostenibilita ma terġax tibda mill-ġdid iżda tibni fuq dak li lestejt. Dejjem jekk trid li jeħduk bis-serjeta’.

Issa jiena ma nafx jekk il-Gvern iridx li neħduh bis-serjeta’ meta jitkellem dwar l-ambjent. Id-dubji li kelli qed jikbru!