Birżebbuġa: minn ġot-taġen għal ġon-nar

Id-deċiżjoni tal-Gvern li jagħżel sit għal trakka għat-tlielaq tal-karozzi f’Ħal-Far, viċin ta’ Birżebbuġa juri nuqqas kbir ta’ sensittività fil-konfront tal-komunità ta’ Birżebbuġa. Ir-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa ilhom is-snin jaqilgħu ġo fihom bl-istorbju madwarhom. Imma ħadd mill-awtoritajiet m’hu qed jagħti każ. Kollha għala biebhom.

Il-parti l-kbira tal-ajruplani jinżlu fl-Ajruport Internazzjonali tal-Gudja minn fuq parti miż-żona residenzjali ta’ Birżebbuġa. Dan iseħħ kuljum. Ir-residenti tant draw b’dan, li uħud ftit li xejn għadhom jagħtu kaz bl-ajruplani storbjużi jittajjru fil-baxx : avolja xorta qed issir ħsara lill-saħħithom kif tispjega repetutament l-Organizzazzjoni Dinjija tas-Saħħa (WHO). Ma’ dan żid l-impatti tat-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles, kuljum, xi drabi lejl u nhar. Xi drabi diffiċli biex tissaporti. Meta wara ġurnata xogħol tfittex il-mistrieħ u ma issibux, tkun ilħaqt il-limitu tal-paċenzja.  

Dan it-tniġġiż xi kultant jitnaqqas ftit bħala riżultat ta’ titjib fl-iżviluppi teknoloġiċi. Imma huwa ċar li sostanzjalment, Birżebbuġa, ser tibqa’ tgħum fl-istorbju.

Iż-żona residenzjali Tal-Papa f’Birżebbuġa hi l-iktar waħda effettwata mill-istorbju ġġenerat mill-ajruplani u mit-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles. Hi ukoll iż-zona l-iktar viċin tat-trakka għat-tlielaq tal-karozzi.   Apparti ż-żona Tal-Papa li qegħda ġol-limiti tal-iżvilupp hemm ukoll il-komunità residenzjali ċkejkna ta’ Bengħajsa kif ukoll numru żgħir ta’ residenzi rurali: fihom ukoll jgħixu in-nies!  

Iz-zona residenzjali Tal-Papa qegħda 1,500 metru biss il-bogħod mit-trakka proposta. Hemm numru ta’ residenzi rurali, barra miz-zona tal-iżvilupp li huma ferm iktar viċin tat-trakka minn hekk.  

L-art li fuqha hemm il-proposta għal trakka tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi illum hi parti miż-żona industrijali ta’  Ħal-Far. Issa jidher li anke l-Malta Industrial Parks ser tibda tilgħab il-logħob elettorali. Mhix xi ħaġa normali li l-Malta Industrial Parks tirrilaxxja art li tifforma parti minn żona industrijali. Għall-ebda raġuni! L-unika żvilupp li jista’ jsir fuq art ta’ din ix-xorta hu żvilupp industrijali. Il-bqija mhux aċċettabbli għax imur kontra dak li jipprovdi l-pjan lokali.  Is-saltna tad-dritt tapplika għall-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art ukoll: għar-regoli u r-regolamenti tal-ippjanar. Il-Pjani Lokali m’għandhomx jibqgħu jġebbdu fihom. Giebuhom agħar miċ-chewing gum.

L-iżvilupp tat-trakka għat-tlielaq tal-karozzi fuq l-art li ġiet indikata ser iwassal għal tniġġiż sostanzjali mill-ħsejjes ġġenerati li ser ikollhom impatt fuq iż-żona residenzjali f’Birżebbuġa li hi viċin ħafna. Miżuri ta’ mitigazzjoni jistgħu jnaqqsu xi ftit dawn l-impatti, imma dawn l-impatti sostanzjalment ser jibqgħu hemm, idejqu lir-residenti.

Is-sit hu diġa użat għat-tlielaq fi tmiem il-ġimgħa. L-istorbju ġġenerat f’dawn il-ġranet jasal anke sa Ħal-Safi u Ħal-Kirkop, aħseb u ara sa Birżebbuġa. Residenti infurmawni li xi drabi l-attività konnessa mat-tlielaq tal-karozzi ġieli damet sas-sagħtejn ta’ fil-għodu. Lir-residenti, id-dilettanti tat-tlielaq tal-karozzi dejjem ġew għala biebhom minnhom!  Hu ftit diffiċli li wieħed jifhem kif jistgħu jibdlu l-imġiebha tagħhom issa.

It-tniġġiż ikkawżat mill-ħsejjes ser ikollu ukoll impatt fuq iż-żona ta’ importanza ekoloġika li qegħda fil-viċin ħafna. Issa ser ikun possibli li naraw kif dawk li jmexxu l-ERA, l-awtorità li tħares l-ambjent, jitgħawġu ġanċ biex jippruvaw jiġġustifikaw dak li mhux ġustifikabbli.

Safejn naf jien, f’Malta ma hawn l-ebda sit li jista’ jakkomoda b’mod raġjonevoli t-trakka proposta għat-tlielaq tal-karozzi mingħajr ma tikkawża impatti negattivi fuq in-nies jew fuq l-ambjent jew it-tnejn. Malta żgħira fid-daqs u iktar ma nirrealizzaw dan malajr iktar ċans li tieqaf issir il-ħsara permezz ta’ proġetti li ma hawnx spazju għalihom. In parti dan hu l-prezz li jeħtieg li nħallsu għal nuqqas ta’ ippjanar tul is-snin.

Kemm il-PN kif ukoll il-PL jappoġġaw dan il-ġenn. It-tnejn li huma jitgħawġu ġanċ biex jappoġġaw dawn il-proposti. Sal-lum ma iddejqux li jissagrifikaw il-kwalità tal-ħajja tar-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa biex jissodisfaw il-lobby tat-tiġrijiet tal-karozzi.  Il-komunità residenzjali ta’ Birżebbuġa ilha taqla’ ġo fiha.  Li l-Gvern ikompli jżid ma dan hu inuman. Birżebbuġa ser tispiċċa minn ġot-taġen għal ġon-nar.

Huwa biss b’membri parlamentari ħodor minn ADPD fil-Parlament li jmiss li nistgħu nibdew nindirizzaw dawn l-abbużi. Il-PLPN ma jinteresshomx mill-kwalità tal-ħajja tan-nies imma biss mill-poter!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 3 t’Ottubru 2021

Birżebbuġa: adding insult to injury

Government’s decision to select a site for a car-racing track at Ħal-Far, on the outskirts of Birżebbuġa, betrays a gross lack of sensitivity towards the welfare of the Birżebbuġa community. Birżebbuġa residents have been at the receiving end of noise pollution for ages. Apparently, no one in authority cares. They are not the least bothered.

Most aircraft approach landing at Gudja International Airport over part of the Birżebbuġa residential area. This happens throughout most of any normal day. Birżebbuġa residents are so used to it that at times they barely notice the noise from aeroplanes at low altitude blasting above: nothwithstanding, this is damaging to their health as attested to repeatedly by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Added to this, Birżebbuġa residents have to bear the impacts of the Freeport Terminal, likewise a round the clock operation! At times the noise pollution from the Freeport Terminal in areas of Birżebbuġa is unbearable. After a day’s work you seek some resting time and you are obstructed from doing so by the excessive noise around you.

These noise sources may be slightly mitigated through the application of technological improvements. It is however clear for Biżebbuġa residents that these impacts are substantially here to stay.

The Tal-Papa residential area in Birżebbuġa is already the zone most impacted by aircraft and Freeport Terminal noise pollution. It is also the zone closest to the planned car-racing track.  Beyond the residential development within the limits of development there is also the Bengħajsa hamlet as well as a number of rural units, some of which are still used for residential purposes.

The Tal-Papa residential area is as close as 1,500 metres to the proposed racing track. A number of rural residences, outside the development zone are even closer than this to the projected racetrack. 

The land on which the racing track proposal may be developed forms part of the Ħal-Far Industrial Estate. It seems that now, even Malta Industrial Parks is playing electoral games.  It is not normal for Malta Industrial Parks to release land forming part of an industrial estate for any purpose whatsoever! The only permissible development on such land is related to industrial development. Anything beyond that is unacceptable as it goes against the parameters determined by the Local Plan. The rule of law is applicable to planning rules and regulations too. Local Plans should not be further transformed into chewing gum, having unlimited elasticity!

The development of the car-racing track on the indicated land will generate substantial noise pollution which will impact a residential area in Birżebbuġa which is not so far away. Mitigation measures may reduce slightly the impacts but it will keep annoying the residents just the same!

The site is already in use on weekends: the resulting acoustic pollution is being picked up as far away as Kirkop and Safi, let alone in Birżebbuga itself. At times, residents inform me that this goes on well into the night, even as late as 2am. Car-racing enthusiasts never had the minimum of respect towards the residential community! It is difficult to imagine how they could change their behaviour at this point in time.

The acoustic pollution generated will also have an impact on an area of ecological importance close by. We will now be able to see how far the ERA bigwigs twist their spine to enable them to justify the unjustifiable.

As far as I am aware no site in Malta can reasonably accommodate this racing track without being the cause of extreme nuisance to residents, damaging to the environment or both. Malta is small in size. The sooner this basic fact sinks in, the better. It should be realised that there is no room for projects such as this car-racing track!  In part this is the price we have to pay for a lack of planning over the years.

Both the PN and the PL are supporting this madness. Both of them are willing to accommodate the racing track lobby. They have so far considered the Birżebbuġa residential community as unavoidable collateral damage in their drive to satisfy the racing track lobby. The Birżebbuġa residential community has already been at the receiving end of all sorts of acoustic pollution. Adding to this is grossly inhumane. It adds insult to accumulated injury.

Only Green MPs in the next parliament can apply the brakes to this madness. PLPN is not interested in the welfare of residents: they are only interested in raw power.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 October 2021

Inħarsu l-ODZ

Kważi kulħadd, illum il-ġurnata jaf li l-ittri ODZ ifissru “outside the development zone”, jiġifieri barra miz-zona tal-iżvilupp. Ir-regoli u r-regolamenti tal-ippjanar diġa jħarsu l-ODZ. Hi l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar flimkien mal-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u ir-Riżorsi li għandhom din ir-responsabbilta.

Kull meta jsiru proposti biex jiżdied il-ħarsien tal-ODZ, ifisser biss li l-miżuri attwali ta’ ħarsien  mhux qed jitwettqu sewwa. Fil-prattika jfisser ukoll li l-awtoritajiet maħtura mhux qed jagħmlu xogħolhom u li l-kontrolli fis-seħħ mhux jiffunzjonaw!  

L-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art hu minnu nnifsu kontroversjali għax jinvolvi għażliet, ħafna drabi għażliet diffiċli.  Anke deċiżjonijiet żgħar, ukoll iħallu lil uħud diżappuntati: aħseb u ara deċiżjonijiet maġġuri li jkollhom impatti konsiderevoli fuq bosta.  Li tiddetermina n-natura tal-iżvilupp permissibli u l-limiti tiegħu hu mill-iktar kontroversjali. Dan rajnieh iseħħ quddiem għajnejna huma u jkunu ifformulati l-pjani lokali ħmistax-il sena ilu, u iktar waqt l-implimentazzjoni tagħhom.

Il-pjani lokali jistgħu jkunu wieħed minn żewġ tipi: jistgħu jkunu ċari ħafna u rigidi b’mod li jispeċifikaw eżatt x’għandu jsir bla ebda eċċezzjoni. F’dan il-kaz ikun jeħtieg li dawn ikunu aġġornati regolarment biex jirriflettu l-aspettattivi raġjonevoli tal-komunità.  Minflok, il-pjani lokali jistgħu jkun flessibli, b’mod li jipprovdu soluzzjonijiet differenti għal cirkustanzi differenti. F’dan il-kaz il-proċess ta’ interpretazzjoni hu wieħed kruċjali: jeħtieġ li jkun wieħed konsistenti.

F’kull kaz, dan kollu hu dipendenti fuq li jkollok persuni ta’ integrità li jamministraw l-affarijiet. Tul is-snin id-dibattitu pubbliku żviluppa b’mod li kien hemm qbil li l-politiku għandu joqgħod lura milli jinvolvi ruħu fil-proċess tal-ippjanar. Sfortunatament ma sarx hekk għax il-politiku għażel persuni oħrajn biex jaġixxu f’ismu, imma kontinwament jassigura ruħu li jibqa’ jikkontrolla hu, bir-remote control! 

Dawk li jiffurmaw parti mill-proċess ta’ teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet kienu “persuni ta’ fiduċja” lesti biex jagħmlu li jgħidulhom u dan sfortunatament xejjen l-iskop kollu tar-riformi li saru tul is-snin.  Dan rajnieh iseħħ quddiem għajnejna. Fost dawn “il-persuni ta’ integrità” li appuntaw fuq il-bordijiet insibu agent tal-propjetà, jirreklama żvilupp li għadu ma sarx u li kien għad irid japprova hu. Dan weħel multa sostanzjali dwar ħasil ta’ flus u bħalissa għaddej bi proċeduri kriminali dwar iktar akkużi ta’ ħasil ta’ flus!

Din hi l-vera problema tal-ippjanar fl-użu tal-art f’Malta u tal-ħarsien tal-ODZ: l-għażla ta’ dawk li ser jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet! Qabel ma din tissolva ser jibqa’ jsir it-tħarbit.

Tul it-tlett snin li għamilt naħdem fl-uffiċċju tal-verifika tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kelli l-opportunità li nifhem dan ferm iktar u dan billi eżaminajt numru mhux żgħir ta’ kazijiet.

Il-lobbying favur jew kontra deċiżjoni speċifika tal-ippjanar hi parti integrali mill-proċess kollu.  Dan jista’ jagħmel il-ġid jekk ikun dokumentat kif imiss u jkun ikkunsidrat bis-serjetà. Imma jekk l-argumenti jsiru bil-ħabi u bis-segretezza jew bit-tfesfis fil-widnejn, jista’ jwassal għal deċiżjonijiet ħżiena u anke għall-korruzzjoni.

Tul is-snin kellna numru ta’ professjonisti tal-ippjanar li ġew imwarrba għax kienu kompetenti iżżejjed!  Ma ġewx imwarrba għal raġunijiet politiċi. Li dawn ġew imwarrba kellu effett doppju:  intilfu professjonisti validi imma bihom ingħatat twissija lill-bqija. Xejn ma hemm allura għax niskantaw li l-bqija jimxu mal-kurrent: għax hekk jaqbel!

F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi hu ċar li ma hemm l-ebda futur għal ippjanar raġjonevoli dwar l-użu tal-art sakemm il-politiku jibqa’ jiġbed l-ispag: fid-deher jew fil-moħbi.  Ir-rwol tal-politika u tal-politiku hu li jistabilixxi direzzjoni politika u li jara li jkunu allokati r-riżorsi meħtieġa. L-implimentazzjoni, iżda, għandha titħalla f’idejn min hu mħarreġ biex jagħmel dan ix-xogħol. Dan sfortunatament  bħalissa jidher li hu holm!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: 19 ta’ Settembru 2021

Protecting the ODZ

Most of us are aware that the letters ODZ stand for the term “outside the development zone”. Planning rules and regulations already protect the ODZ. The protection of the ODZ is the responsibility of both the Planning Authority as well as the Environment and Resources Authority.

Whenever proposals are made to further protect the ODZ, this signifies just one thing: that current measures are not functioning as expected. In practice it also signifies that the appointed authorities are not carrying out their responsibilities adequately. Specifically, the underlying problem is that checks and balances in land use planning and environmental protection are malfunctioning.

Land use planning is by its very nature controversial as it involves choices as to how best to proceed. Even normal day-to-day decisions tend to disappoint some, let alone major decisions having considerable impacts! Determining the nature of the permissible development and its limits is the most controversial of all. We have seen all this unfolding when the local plans were formulated fifteen years ago, and more in the manner in which they have and are being implemented.

Local plans can be one of two types: they can be very rigid, determining exactly what can or cannot be done without any exception. In such a case they would require frequent revision to keep up-to-date with reasonable expectations of the community.  Alternatively, they may be flexible, catering for different situations. The problem in such a case is their interpretation, which has to be carried out in a consistent manner.

In all cases, however, it boils down to having persons of integrity administering the process. Over the years the local public debate has developed in a manner that it was considered adequate to keep the politician out of the planning process as much as possible. In reality this was not done as the politicians at the end of the day selected others to do their bidding, subject to remote controlling. Those forming part of land use planning decision-taking have generally been “persons of trust”, ready to do the politician’s bidding, which unfortunately brings us back to square one.

We have seen the process function unashamedly in this manner over the years. Among the “persons of integrity” appointed as decision-takers one finds an estate agent, advertising the developments which he was yet to approve. He was subject to an administrative fine for money-laundering and is currently undergoing criminal proceedings on more charges of money laundering!

This is the real problem in land use planning and the protection of the ODZ: selecting the decision-taker! Until this is solved, we have to witness much more damage.

During the three years when I worked as part of the land use planning audit office, I had the opportunity to understand the matter by examining in depth a number of specific cases.

Lobbying in favour or against a specific planning decision is an integral part of the land use planning process. It can be healthy if it is well documented and tackled above board. It may however lead to bad decisions and eventually corruption if done secretly or in an underhand manner.

Over the years I have seen a number of very competent professional planners being side-lined as they were too competent! The political persuasion of the planner in such cases was irrelevant. Their side-lining had a double effect: in addition to losing the competent planner this served as a warning shot to the rest. Consequently, it is no surprise that most of the rank-and-file planners choose the path of least resistance: it is to their personal benefit!

There is no future for reasonable land use planning if the politician keeps fiddling around. The role of politics is about setting the political direction and allocating the required resources. Its implementation should be left to those who are trained to carry out the job. Unfortunately, so far, that has proven to be too much to expect!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 19 September 2021

ERA’s accountability: keeping up the pressure

On Tuesday, slightly after 11am I received a telephone call from the EIA office at the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) informing me that the Waste to Energy (WtE) Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) has been resubmitted for public consultation by Wasteserv.

Last October I had presented a number of submissions in response to the Waste to Energy EIA. Hence being informed by ERA of this latest development.

Exchanges between ERA and Wasteserv on the matter are not in the public domain. However, from the various reports in the media one can draw a fairly accurate picture as to what has transpired between 23 December 2020, when the “original” EIA was subject to an online public hearing and last Monday when the ERA website made the “new” EIA available for the latest round of public consultation. The minutes of the public hearing are available on the ERA website.

ERA has rejected the original EIA submitted by Wasteserv and sent it back to the drawing board.

Some may rejoice that ERA has, for the first time ever, rejected an EIA. It would, in my view, be more pertinent to ask why ERA has taken so long to assert its authority.  It has been hibernating for too long a time. There were many instances in the past when it should have acted similarly but it did not. That is an issue worth examining in depth. In particular ERA needs a thorough overhaul of the procedures in use for the vetting of EIA experts and coordinators.

Notwithstanding, I believe that ERA’s rejection of the original WtE EIA is a positive first. It is an encouraging sign that the environmental lobby’s work is bearing fruit. We need to keep up the pressure to ensure that all public authorities get to their senses the soonest. They must realise that the public is fed up with authorities that are generally insensitive to good governance.

From the various press reports it has transpired that ERA’s instructions to Wasteserv were that the EIA had to be drawn up again without making use of the services of Engineer Mario Schembri, the coordinator of the original EIA. ERA issued this instruction in order to address my submissions that Engineer Schembri’s involvement at various levels of the waste management industry in Malta constituted a conflict of interest as a result of which he could be neither independent nor impartial as an EIA coordinator, as is clearly spelt out in sub-regulation 17(2) of the EIA Regulations.

Did ERA need to be in receipt of such submissions in order to act? The relative information is public knowledge and has been so for quite some time: ERA could and should have acted on its own initiative long ago!

I had also pointed out that the EIA documentation submitted under the direction of coordinator Engineer Mario Schembri was incomplete as it quoted relevant reports which were not made available to the public to be scrutinised as part of the public consultation exercise. These reports dealt with the site selection exercise for the WtE project, a major issue of controversy. No explanation was ever forthcoming for this omission. However, I note that the “new” EIA now includes both “missing” reports.  The first report was drawn up in December 2015 while the second one was drawn up in December 2019.

The next steps require an analysis of the coordinated assessment submitted by the new coordinator Dr Joe Doublet specifically in order to identify and assess the difference in his assessment of the technical studies which are being resubmitted. The coordinated assessment by Dr Joe Doublet runs into 507 pages. Its perusal will therefore take some time!

This should lead to considering the extent to which the submitted studies together with the new coordinated assessment address the concerns of stakeholders thereby ensuring that the country’s environmental objectives can be met without subjecting anyone to unnecessary impacts and/or hardships.

Various stakeholders have so far, to their credit, spoken up.

It is up to the environment lobby to ensure that Wastserv’s proposed operations are properly scrutinised. This is the purpose of the EIA process which is managed by ERA.

The current public debate is one way of being sure that ERA’s accountability to the public is real, not fake. This is the only way that the whole community can be protected.

I will keep up the pressure, holding ERA continuously to account for its shortcomings.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 2 May 2021

Il-governanza tajba u l-ħarsien tal-ambjent

Fl-assenza ta’ governanza tajba ma nistgħux inħarsu l-ambjent sewwa. Il-governanza tajba hi essenzjali għall-ħarsien ambjentali.  Huwa għalhekk li iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ssottomettejt oġġezzjonijiet dettaljati bħala parti mill-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika mniedi mill-ERA fil-kaz tal-istudji dwar l-impatt ambjentali (EIA) dwar l-inċineratur propost għall-Magħtab.  

Li jkunu regolati l-kunflitti ta’ interess li b’mod inevitabbli jitfaċċaw f’kull proċess regolatorju huwa element essenzjali mill-proċess ta’ governanza tajba.

Ir-regolamenti f’Malta dwar l-istudju tal-impatt ambjentali, imsejsa fuq is-sens komun u fuq id-direttivi tal-Unjoni Ewropea jfittxu li jassiguraw illi dawk involuti fil-proċess tal-EIA ikunu ħielsa minn kull xorta ta’ konflitt ta’ interess. Kunflitt ta’ interess hi sitwazzjoni li tinħoloq meta persuna b’interessi varji jispiċċa  jaqdi interess u fl-istess ħin jikkonfliġġi ma ieħor.

Ħmistax ilu fl-artiklu intitolat Il-fiduċja: għal ġol-inċineratur emfasizzajt li dawk li jaħdmu fuq EIA għandhom ikunu professjonali, indipendenti u imparzjali. B’referenza partikolari għall-applikazzjoni dwar l-inċineratur għidt li m’huwiex aċċettabbli li dawk inkarigati biex jagħmlu EIA ikunu fl-istess ħin li qed jagħtu parir lill-iżviluppatur parti ukoll mill-awtorità regolatorja. Dawk li jixtiequ jagħmlu karriera fil-qasam tat-tħejjija ta’ rapporti tekniċi għall-EIA huma liberi li jagħmlu dan imma mbagħad m’għandhomx jitħallew jikkontaminaw il-proċess tal-EIA.

F’artiklu f’ġurnal ieħor bl-Ingliż il-ġimgħa l-oħra l-Professur Alan Deidun, is-suġġett ta’ din il-kitba, kien kritiku ta’ dan kollu. M’għandi l-ebda diffikulta dwar dan għax jagħtini opportunità li nispjega iktar.   

Il-Professur Deidun li hu membru tal-Bord tal-ERA ġibed l-attenzjoni tagħna li kieku hu ma jinvolvix ruħu darba kull tant f’rapporti tekniċi għall-EIA, bħalma għamel fil-kaz tal-inċineratur, ikun hemm il-periklu li nispiċċaw b’numru ta’ konsulenti mhux Maltin li jieħdu f’idejhom partijiet sħaħ tal-proċess tat-tfassil tal-EIA. Fil-fehma tal-Professur Deidun dan jiġġustifika li waqt li hu regolatur, fl-istess ħin jagħti parir lill-iżviluppatur!

Jiena konxju li għandna numru żgħir ta’ konsulenti, uħud minnhom professuri fl-Università tagħna li fil-passat mhux imbiegħed ġiebu ruħhom bl-istess mod tal-Professur Deidun: membri fuq il-Bord tar-regulatur u jagħtu l-pariri lil dawk regolati, imbagħad meta l-kaz jiġi quddiemhom jastjenu!  

Waqt li dan kien ħażin, fil-kaz tal-Professur Deidun l-affarijiet huma agħar. Deidun ġie maħtur biex ikun membru tal-Bord tal-ERA biex hemmhekk huwa jirrappreżenta lill-għaqdiet ambjentali. Jekk jastjeni mill-jieħu sehem fi kwalunkwe kaz li jiġi quddiemu fil-Bord ikun qed joħnoq il-vuċi tal-għaqdiet ambjentali. Għaldaqstant, b’żieda mal-kunflitt ta’ interess ikun qed imur ukoll kontra l-iskop li għalih inħatar fuq il-Bord tal-ERA.  Minħabba l-kunflitt ta’ interess tiegħu il-Professur Deidun ser joħnoq il-vuċi tal-għaqdiet ambjentali fl-iktar mument kritiku: meta jeħtieġilhom isemmgħu leħinhom.  

Apparti lill-Professur Deidun l-EIA tal- inċineratur jippreżentalna persuna oħra: il-koordinatur tal-EIA, l-Inġinier  Mario Schembri.

Is-Sur Schembri ilu żmien attiv fil-qasam tal-immaniġjar tal-iskart fejn kien ta kontribut pożittiv sostanzjali. Kien strumentali biex twaqqfet il-GreenPak li taħdem bħala kooperattiva: iġġib flimkien diversi negozji li jpoġġu fuq is-suq Malti diversi prodotti. Il-GreenPak taħdem biex f’isem il-membri tal-kooperattiva tirkupra l-iskart tal-ippakkeġġjar (packaging waste). Kienet fuq quddiem nett biex tinkoraġixxi ir-riċiklar fil-gżejjer Maltin, kontinwament tħeġġeġ lill-Kunsilli Lokali u lill-pubbliku biex jirriċiklaw.  

Is-Sur Schembri ilu CEO tal-GreenPak sa mill-2005. Għandu għarfien u esperjenza sostanzjali fl-immaniġjar tal-iskart. Huwa operatur fl-immaniġjar tal-iskart u għaldaqstant fil-proċess tal-EIA tal-inċineratur ma jistax ikun la imparzjali u l-anqas indipendenti huwa u janalizza d-dokumenti u r-rapporti li għandu quddiemu.  Anke hu għaldaqstant għandu kunflitt ta’ interess li jkompli jikkontamina l-process tal-EIA.

Ma nistax nifhem kif l-ERA ħalliet dan kollu għaddej u ma ħaditx passi, għax dak li qed ngħid m’huwiex xi sigriet, iżda huma fatti magħrufa minn kulħadd.  

F’soċjeta demokratika li tfittex li tapplika l-prinċipji ta’ governanza tajba huwa normali li jkunu identifikati każi ta’ kunflitt ta’ interess li dwarhom jittieħdu passi. Imma fejn ma jitieħdux passi jinħolqu bosta problemi. Fil-qasam ambjentali meta ma jittieħdux passi, dan jimmina l-isforzi li jkunu saru favur il-ħarsien ambjentali.  

Għax fil-qasam ambjentali, is-saltna tad-dritt (rule of law) hi importanti ukoll!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 25 t’Ottubru 2020

Good governance and environment protection

We cannot adequately protect the environment in the absence of good governance. Good governance is an essential prerequisite for environment protection.

This is why, earlier this week, I submitted detailed objections to the incinerator EIA process in the ERA-driven public consultation process. Adequate regulation of the conflict of interests which inevitably present themselves in any regulatory process is an essential element of good governance.

Based on both common sense as well as the relative EU Directive, Malta’s EIA Regulations seek to ensure that those involved in the EIA process should be free from conflict of interests.  A conflict of interest being a situation in which a person is involved in multiple interests and serving one interest could involve working against another.

As emphasised in my article a fortnight ago (Incinerating fairness, trust and common sense: 11 October) those carrying out an EIA must be “professional, independent and impartial”. It is not acceptable for those carrying out an EIA to be part of the regulatory process and simultaneously advise those regulated. Those who wish to embark on a career carrying out EIA technical reports are free to do so but they should not be permitted to contaminate the EIA process.

In an article entitled ‘C’ is for Cacopardo, not for collegiality…………. In last week’s edition, Professor Alan Deidun took me to task for my views. I have no difficulty with that, on the contrary it gives me the opportunity to explain further.  

Professor Deidun drew our attention that if he did not involve himself in the “occasional” consultancy there was a risk that we would end up with non-Maltese consultants taking over parts of the EIA process. In Professor Deidun’s lexicon this justifies acting in this manner.

I am aware that we had quite a handful of other consultants, some of them professors from our University, who in the recent past acted in the same manner as Professor Deidun: sitting on regulatory boards and then advising those regulated, subsequently abstaining from the board’s sitting when their report turns up for consideration.

That was bad enough.  In Professor Deidun’s case it is even worse. He is appointed to sit on the ERA Board in representation of environmental NGOs. If he abstains from giving his input in any instance on the ERA Board, the voice of the eNGOs, as a result, cannot be heard. In addition to having a conflict of interest between his role as a regulator and being the advisor of the regulated, Professor Deidun is thus ignoring completely the purpose of his appointment to the ERA Board. Professor Deidun’s conflict of interest will be silencing eNGOs at a crucial point: when it is essential that their voice is heard.

In addition to Professor Deidun the incinerator EIA presents us with another character: the EIA coordinator, Engineer Mario Schembri.

Mr Schembri has been active in waste management in Malta for a very long time. Among his positive contributions he was instrumental in setting up GreenPak which operates as a cooperative, bringing together the business interests which place various products on the Maltese market. GreenPak seeks to recover packaging waste on behalf of the members of the cooperative. It has been a positive contribution in encouraging recycling in Malta, continuously encouraging Local Councils and the public to do their bit.

Mr Schembri has been CEO of GreenPak since 2005. He is definitely knowledgeable and experienced in waste management. He is however a waste management operator and cannot as a result of this fact be an impartial or independent contributor to the EIA process. He too, thus, has a conflict of interest and thus contaminates the EIA process too.

I fail to understand how ERA has allowed the incinerator EIA process to proceed this far without acting to address these cases of conflict of interest as the above are well known facts to all.

In a democratic society seeking to apply good governance rules it is normal to identify and act on a conflict of interest. Failure to act, however, is problematic. In environmental matters such failure undermines the whole effort of environment protection.

The rule of law matters, in environmental issues too! 

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 25 October 2020

Tweġiba lill-Professur Alan Deidun

Alan Deidun għoġbu jwieġeb l-artikli tiegħi tal-Ħadd li għadda fuq l-Independent on Sunday u fuq l-Illum. Wieħed minnhom , dak fuq l-Independent on Sunday huwa riprodott fuq dan il-blog. L-artiklu tiegħu hu intitolat ‘C’ is for Cacopardo, not for collegiality ………

Fl-artikli tiegħi jiena ġbidt l-attenzjoni li l-Professur Alan Deidun għandu konflitt ta’ interess meta filwaqt li huwa membru tal-Bord tal-ERA, r-regolatur ambjentali, fl-istess ħin kien involut fit-tfassil ta’ wieħed mir-rapporti tekniċi li jiffurmaw l-EIA dwar il-propost inċineratur fil-Magħtab.

It-tweġiba tiegħu dehret illum fl-Independent on Sunday u ser inwieġbu fl-qosor illum.  Imma għandu jisma’ iktar dettalji dwar l-EIA tal-inċineratur matul il-ġimgħa u dan billi nhar l-Erbgħa li ġej 21 t’Ottubru jagħlaq il-perjodu ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar l-EIA fuq il-proposta ta’ żvilupp ta’ inċineratur. Sadakinnhar ser nippreżenta bil-miktub lill-ERA, bħala parti minn dan il-proċess ta’ konsultazzjoni pubblika numru ta’ osservazzjonijiet dwar l-istess EIA, inkluż dwar l-istess Professur Alan Deidun.

Ser nillimita ruħi għall-argumenti u għalissa ser ninjora l-insulti u l-paroli vojt tal-Professur.

Deidun mhux l-uniku wieħed li waqt li jifforma parti minn awtorità regolatorja jissottometti studji għall-konsiderazzjoni tal-awtorità li jifforma parti minnha. Qablu kellna oħrajn. Din hi prattika li mhix aċċettabbli u għandha bżonn tieqaf. Ilha tiġi ikkritikata u hemm bżonn tieqaf malajr kemm jista’ jkun.

Immaterjalment minn kemm jagħmel rapporti: jekk hux wieħed jew mija ma tagħmilx differenza. Deidun u oħrajn għandhom bżonn li jifhmu illi meta taċċetta ħatra fuq awtorità regolatorja din l-aċċettazzjoni inevitabilment teffettwa l-ħidma professjonali tiegħek. L-impatt, in parti jiddependi mill-integrità tiegħek.

Tajjeb li nżommu quddiem għajnejna li fil-każ ta’ Manoel Island riċentement, f’Ġunju 2020, ġie annullat permess ta’ żvilupp minħabba li wieħed minn dawk involuti fit-tfassil tal-EIA kellu konflitt ta’ interess.

Fit-tweġiba tiegħu Deidun ħass li kellu jagħmel referenza għal xogħol professjonali tiegħi ma diversi Kunsilli Lokali. Konvenjentement Deidun nesa’ li jiena ma niffurma parti minn l-ebda korp regolatorju u għaldaqstant il-ħidma professjonali tiegħi mhiex limitata bħal tiegħu.

Fl-aħħarnett Deidun jgħid li ma jmissnix ikkritikajtu għax hu ambjentalist bħali. Jibqa’ l-fatt li Deidun mexa fuq il-passi ta’ dawk li mxew ħażin. Mingħajr ma nnaqqaslu l-mertu dwar fejn ħadem tajjeb, daqstant ieħor jixraqlu l-kritika iebsa, limitata fuq dan il-kaz.

Sfortunatament l-attitudni tal-Professur Deidun, u ta’ oħrajn li aġixxew bħalu, tagħmel ħsara kbira lill-istituzzjonijiet regolatorji. Jekk iwarrab jew jitwarrab minn fuq il-Bord tal-ERA, aħjar għal kulħadd.

Incinerating trust, fairness and common sense

A public consultation is currently under way until the 21 October relative to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which examines Wasteserve’s proposal:  the development of a Waste to Energy Facility, to operate in conjunction with other management operations within the so-called Magħtab Environmental Complex.

It is a duty of Wasteserve defined in terms of the EU environmental acquis applicable within Maltese territory to examine the environmental impacts of its proposal within the framework of agreed terms of reference approved by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA). The detailed reports together with the supporting technical information are then subject to public consultation.

The EIA in respect of the Magħtab incinerator is commissioned by Wasteserve, however it serves to inform the whole decision-taking process. Contrary to the disclaimer by the EIA’s coordinator in the first few pages, the reports forming the EIA are not “for the exclusive use of Wasteserve Malta Limited”. I fail to understand how ERA has accepted to include this disclaimer when it is clear, even from a cursory look at the Environment Impact Assessment Regulations that the EIA is an important document which informs the environmental and land use planning decision-taking process. It is in particular used to inform the public and on its basis a public hearing is organised to take feedback from all interested parties.

The EIA is certainly a public document in respect of which its coordinator has to shoulder responsibility as to its accuracy and reasonableness. Having a disclaimer as that indicated above is certainly not acceptable. ERA should pull up its socks and ensure the deletion of the said disclaimer forthwith.

A cursory look at the Magħtab incinerator EIA, including the technical studies attached reveals the names of a number of experts who have given their input in the formulation of the studies required which studies are then distilled in an appropriate assessment report.

One of these experts is a certain professor Alan Deidun who concurrently with participating in this specific EIA is also a member of the ERA Board, the environmental regulator. He sits on the ERA Board after being nominated by the environmental NGOs as established by legislation.

Professor Alan Deidun is conveniently with one foot on each side of the fence: forming part of the regulatory structure and simultaneously advising the developer, in this case Wasteserve Malta Limited, a government entity. In my book this is the type of conflict of interest which instils a deep sense of distrust of the regulatory authorities. Alan Deidun is running with the hares and hunting with the hounds.

Can we ever trust “regulators” who, whenever they feel like it, offer their services to those they “regulate”?

Interestingly, one of the documents available for public scrutiny contains a declaration by twenty-one expert contributors to the EIA, each of whom declares that s/he has no conflict of interest: the conflict however being narrowly defined in terms of an interest in the development itself.  The EIA Regulations do not limit “conflict of interest” to an interest in the development but speak of “no conflict of interests”. No wonder even Professor Alan  Deidun signed this declaration!

Regulation 17 of the EIA Regulations of 2017 lays down that those carrying out the EIA must be “professional, independent and impartial”. How can the regulator be “professional, independent and impartial” when he starts advising those s/he regulates?

It is about time that the environmental NGOs recall Professor Alan Deidun from his role as a member of the ERA Board representing them, as such behaviour is unacceptable in this day and age.

It may be pertinent to point out that very recently, a development permit, in respect of the development of Manoel Island, was withdrawn by the Environment and Planning Tribunal due to the fact that one of the contributors to the EIA had a conflict of interest.

It is about time that regulators understand that their acceptance to sit on decision-taking structures puts limits on their permissible professional activities. Until such time that this basic point is acted upon our authorities cannot be fully trusted. Their behaviour is incinerating trust, fairness and common sense.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 October 2020

The debate on the National Environment Strategy

The human person forms an integral part of the eco-system.  We do not form part of “the economy”. The economy is the manner in which we organise ourselves, but the eco-system is our DNA.

This is what the ERA National Strategy for the Environment for 2050, currently in consultation phase, should be about.

The strategy is entitled “Wellbeing First”.  A strategy drafted only in the English language, once more ignoring Maltese. While our quality of life is of the utmost importance, an environmental strategy which is anthropocentric does not make sense. An anthropocentric environmental policy is short term in nature and does not lead to enhancing well-being. Environmental policy should be eco-centric: its subject matter should be the achievement of a healthy ecology, as free as possible from human toxicity. Ensuring a healthy ecology will definitely also enhance our quality of life too.

Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) Chairperson Victor Axiaq, in the forward to the consultation document, emphasises that we have yet to learn to live within our ecological limits. Obviously, as a result of his participation in the Planning Authority Board over the past seven years, he has first-hand experience of the manner in which these limits have been continuously stretched beyond any elastic limit. There is a need to reverse this trend the soonest.

The pursuit of economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base and the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for our survival. While economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity, it has instead delivered unbridled climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to depleted water resources and an ever-increasing global inequality. These are all issues the tackling of which cannot be postponed to the next generation.

Progress is measured through the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) yet the GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.

The GDP is just concerned with material wealth ignoring in the process our health, education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society, the state of our families, the devastation caused by all forms of hatred…………… GDP includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of “progress” as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are practical limits to growth, which should lead our economic planners to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

The consultation document seeks to guide the national debate towards identifying the long-term objectives of the National Environmental Strategy. Once this is done ERA should be in a position to develop action plans for the achievement of such objectives.

It should be undoubtedly clear to all that a sustainable future will only be achieved when we start respecting the eco-system without any exception. Our eco-system determines our permissible limits which we only ignore at our peril. This is our challenge which must be addressed by the National Environment Strategy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 August 2020