L-annimali, il-moħqrija u l-ikel fuq il-platt

Issa għaddew iktar minn seba’ snin minn meta issejjaħ ir-referendum dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. Referendum li kien inizjattiva ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika flimkien ma’ koalizzjoni ta’ 13-il għaqda ambjentali u tal-ħarsien tal-annimali u li kien intilef b’numru żgħir ħafna ta’ voti. Kultant dan il-proċess demokratiku jerġa’ jissemma’ fl-aħbarijiet u dan billi l-għaqdiet tal-kaċċaturi jridu  jnaqqsu l-aċċess għal dan id-dritt. S’issa, fortunatement, ħadd ma jidher li ta każ tagħhom. Imma ħadd ma jaf jekk l-affarijiet jinbidlux fil-futur!

Flok ma nirrestrinġu l-użu demokratiku tal-għodda tar-referendum għandna nikkunsidraw li nestendu l-użu tiegħu. Sal-lum għandna d-dritt li niġbru l-firem biex jissejjaħ referendum li jipproponi li titħassar liġi jew parti minnha. Għalhekk jissejjaħ referendum “abrogattiv” għax huwa referendum li jħassar ligi jew parti tagħha. Dan id-dritt demokratiku  għandu jkun estiż biex ikun possibli li jittieħdu inizjattivi dwar liġijiet li l-Parlament jevita b’mod kontinwu.  ADPD-The Green Party repetutament ippropona li dan isir bi proposti speċifiċi fil-manifest elettorali. L-aħħar darba li dan sar kien fl- elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2022.

Ir-referendum tal-2015 dwar il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa kien biex jitħassru regolamenti li kienu jippermettu l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. B’dan il-pass kienet tkun qed tiġi imħarsa l-bijodiversità u dan għax fil-perjodu li l-għasafar ibejtu l-ebda kaċċa ma kienet tkun permessa.   Dan imma ma kienx jindirizza l-ħarsien tal-għasafar b’mod iktar wiesa’. Biex dan ikun jista’ jseħħ teħtieġ li tkun abolita l-kaċċa f’kull żmien. Din fil-fatt kienet, u nifhem li għada, l-posizzjoni ġustifikata tal-għaqdiet li jaħdmu favur l-annimali.

Id-dibattitu lokali dwar il-ħarsien tal-annimali hu sfortunatament limitat għall-annimali li nżommu fid-djar (pets), dawk li jintużaw fir-riċerka, kif ukoll riċentment għaż-żmiemel li jintużaw mal-karozzini. Ittieħdu diversi inizjattivi dwar iż-żwiemel u dan wara ħidma bla waqfien mill-għaqidet li jaħdmu favur il-ħarsien tal-annimali.

Il-mod kif l-industrja tal-agrikultura timxi mal-annimali fl-irziezet hi materja ta’ importanza. Qed jingħata importanza dejjem ikbar fl-Unjoni Ewropeja.

Riċentement, Alison Bezzina, il-Kummissarju għall-Ħarsien tal-Annimali ippruvat testendi d-diskussjoni dwar dan kollu billi ikkummentat dwar il-konsum tal-ħalib. Il-kummenti tagħha saru fil-Jum Dinji tal-Ħalib (3 ta’ Ġunju). Hi ibbażat il-kummenti tagħha fuq dak li jgħaddu minnu l-baqar li jipproduċu l-ħalib b’mod naturali għall-għoġġiela tagħhom u jispiċċaw jeħdulhom kemm il-ħalib kif ukoll lill-għoġġiela biex jinbiegħ kummerċjalment!  

L-argument dwar il-mod kif nimxu mal-annimali jkompli. Intqal illi kieku l-biċċerija għandha ħitan tal-ħġieg, ħadd iktar ma jiekol laħam. Il-punt hu li l-mod kif jiġi prodott il-laħam jassoġġetta lill-annimali għall-moħrija esaġerata li, kieku tkun magħrufa, tant taħsad nies li kważi ħadd iktar ma jmiss il-laħam b’mod permanenti.

It-trasparenza fil-biċċerija u l-fabbriki tal-annimali hi essenzjali biex ikun assigurat li r-regoli bażiċi li jħarsu lill-annimali mill-moħqrija bla sens qed jiġu osservati.

It-triq mir-razzett sal-mejda tal-ikel hi mimlija bi problemi konnessi mat-trattament ħażin tal-annimali. Li kellna nkunu nafu iktar dak li jseħħ wara l-bibien magħluqin tal-irżieżet jew tal-fabbriki tal-annimali bla dubju jkollna  nibdew naħsbu sewwa dwar l-għażliet tagħna ta’ dak li nieklu. Dawn huma għażliet li ħafna drabi nagħmluhom b’għajnejna magħluqa, bla ħafna ħsieb. Huma għażliet awtomatiċi li ħafna drabi ftit tajna każ ta’ xi jfissru: għax dejjem hekk għamilna.

L-etika dwar dak li nieklu hi estensjoni naturali tad-dibattitu ambjentali. Fil-fatt il-ġustizzja ambjentali u l-ħarsien tal-annimali huma tewmin.

In-numru ta’ dawk li ma jieklux laħam qiegħed jiżdied kif qiegħed jiżdied in-numru ta’ dawk li ma jridux imissu prodotti ġejjin mill-ħalib. Din iż-żieda hi waħda fuq livell globali. Dawn l-għażliet qed isiru fuq konsiderazzjonijiet ambjentali, konsiderazzjonijiet dwar ħarsien tal-annimali kif ukoll konsiderazzjonijiet etiċi.

Il-Gvern jippenalizza lil dawk li jagħmlu għazliet etiċi dwar l-ikel. Dan ġie emfasizzat riċentement waqt intervista ta’ Darryl Grima, ambjentalist, veġan u attivist kontra l-qtil tal-annimali għall-ikel. Hu meħtieġ li l-Gvern ma jibqax jippenalizza lil min jagħmel dawn l-għażliet. Darryl Grima jsemmi eżempju wieħed. Il-ħalib hu meqjus bħala prodott tal-ikel u għaldaqstant fuqu ma titħallasx taxxa fuq il-valur miżjud (VAT). Imma l-prodotti li jintużaw bħala alternattivi għall-ħalib ma jitqiesux bħala ikel u allura huma soġġetti għall-VAT. Dan mhux sewwa u għandu jinbidel.

Mahatma Gandhi kien jemfasizza li “l-kobor ta’ nazzjon u l-progress morali tiegħu jitkejjel minn kif huwa jittratta lill-annimali.”  Dan jgħodd għal kulħadd, f’kull żmien.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 10 ta’ Lulju 2022

On birds and other animals

It has been seven years since the spring hunting referendum, a Green Party initiative in Malta supported by a coalition of 13 environmental and animal welfare NGOs, was lost by the smallest of margins.  Occasionally we still have public references to that democratic process as the hunting lobby wants to restrict its availability. So far, fortunately, they have not been heeded. One does not however know whether this will remain so.

Rather than restricting the use of a referendum by popular demand one should consider extending it. The right to call an abrogative referendum should be extended to also include a referendum which proposes legislative initiatives. So far, we have the right to take the initiative to delete legislation or part of it, hence the term “abrogative” meaning “to delete”. This democratic right should be extended to make it possible to include the taking of legislative initiatives by the electorate, in particular those initiatives which are continuously avoided by Parliament. ADPD-The Green Party has time and again proposed the matter in its electoral manifesto, including in the manifesto for the 2022 general elections.

The 2015 spring hunting referendum sought to delete from the statute book legislation permitting spring hunting. This would have addressed issues of biodiversity by abolishing hunting during the bird breeding season. The 2015 referendum initiative did not however address issues of animal welfare as in such a case one would have to consider the complete abolition of hunting. This was and in fact still is the valid view of a number of animal welfare NGOs.

The local debate on animal welfare is unfortunately limited to treatment of pets, to animals used in research and relatively recently to the welfare of horses used by the local cabs (karozzini). Various initiatives in this respect have been embarked on in the past years as a result of the persistent lobbying by animal welfare NGOs.

The treatment of farm animals is a basic issue which is not given due weight by the agricultural industry. It is given an ever-increasing importance within the EU.

Recently, Alison Bezzina, the Animal Welfare Commissioner sought to extend the animal welfare debate by challenging the need for milk consumption. She did this in her comments on World Milk Day (3 June) basing her arguments on what cows are made to endure in order to produce milk for human consumption. It was pointed out that access of the new born calves to that same milk which nature provides for their subsistence is diverted to human use!

Extending the argument further, it has been stated by many others that if the abattoir had glass walls none of us would ever eat meat again. The point made being is, to put it mildly, that the process to produce meat for our consumption causes a lot of unnecessary suffering to animals, which, if we are aware of, would put most of us off meat consumption permanently.

Transparency at the abattoir and farm factories is essential in order to ascertain as to whether the basics of animal welfare standards are being adhered to!

From the farm to the fork there are many issues of animal welfare which are continuously ignored by one and all. Being aware as to what goes on behind the closed doors of farms and farm factories would undoubtedly force us to think carefully about our choices of food. Choices which, so far, we take for granted, as they are choices which we consider to be automatic ones and which we rarely think about.

The ethics of what we eat is a natural extension of the environmental debate. In fact, environmental justice and animal welfare are twins.

The number of those who do not eat meat as well as those who do not consume dairy products is on the increase on a global level. Their choices are based on environmental, animal welfare and ethical considerations.

Government penalises those who make ethical choices when it comes to food! This was emphasised recently in an interview by Darryl Grima, an environmentalist, vegan and End the Slaughter campaigner. It is about time that government does not penalise those making such choices. Darryl Grima refers to one example. Dairy milk is considered as food and is therefore not subject to value added tax (VAT). Its substitutes, however, plant-based milks, are still subject to VAT. This is unacceptable and should change.

Mahatma Gandhi used to emphasise that “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated”.  This is food for thought: pun intended.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 10 July 2022

Planning application PA00777/22 : another mega-development at Marsaskala

(photo is the official Parliamentary voting record of those voting in favour of the rationalisation exercise: that is those voting in favour of extending the building development boundary into what was then ODZ-Outside the Development Zone)

It would be pertinent to remember that on the 26 July 2006 Malta’s Parliament approved a resolution which we normally refer to as the “rationalisation” exercise, as a result of which extensive stretches of land until then outside the development zone (ODZ) were declared as land suitable for development.

The PN parliamentary group, supported the Lawrence Gonzi led government and voted in favour of developing ODZ land whilst ironically the Labour Opposition had then voted against the proposal. This is not just history. It is still affecting our daily lives. Today, 16 years later some are realising for the first time how land use planning was screwed by the then Environment Minister George Pullicino!

Three of the Members of Parliament who had then voted in favour of developing ODZ land are still MPs today.

Their names come to mind when considering the latest mega-development proposal, this time at iż-Żonqor on the outskirts of Marsaskala, through development application PA00777/22.  The development application this time concerns a 5,000 square metre area of rural land over which it is proposed to construct 135 residential units and 180 basement garages. These will be spread over 10 different levels, four of them below ground floor level after excavating a substantial amount of rock.

The basic decision permitting today’s proposed development was taken on the 26 July 2006 when the rationalisation exercise was approved by Parliament on the proposal of a PN-led government. No studies were then carried out as to the environmental impacts of the development resulting from the rationalisation exercise. Specifically, the cumulative impact of the development proposed was ignored contrary to the then emerging environmental acquis of the EU relative to the assessment of plans and programmes, known as the SEA Directive (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive) which Directive entered into force on the days immediately following the approval by the Maltese Parliament of the rationalisation exercise.

The basic question to ask is whether we really need such large-scale developments. Why are we determined as a country to develop every square centimetre of our land? Isn’t it about time that a moratorium on such large-scale development enters in force?

The rationalisation exercise should be scrapped at the earliest and all rationalised land returned to its former ODZ status the soonest. This is what we should expect of any government which (unashamedly) proclaims that the environment and our quality of life is now its priority.

It has taken our residents 16 years to become sensitised to the large-scale havoc which land use planning has degenerated to.  Throughout these 16 years all genuine environmentalists have been pointing this out. Unfortunately, some only react when large scale development is very close to their backyard, otherwise they do not care. The writing has been on the wall for a number of years, yet it was ignored for quite some time.

One mega-project after the other has been eroding our quality of life, the latest one being proposal PA00777/22 which goes by this description: To excavate and construct 180 garages at basement level, 2 Class 4B shops, and 135 overlying units. The site is at iż-Zonqor, Marsaskala, but it should be everyone’s concern.

It is about time that we stop all this in the same way that the proposed Marina at Marsaskala had to be shelfed, hopefully for good!

published on Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 June 2022

From Dubai to Singapore

Last week, the President of the Republic, laying out the programme for the new government in what is known as the speech from the throne, emphasised that the environment is a core value for this government. Reading through the speech prepared by government, his Excellency was clear by dwelling on a number of different topics of considerable environmental importance.

However, Dr Vella was unfortunately not advised as to how and when the government intends to address its continuous contradictions in its drive to shift its focus from the infrastructure to the environment.

The elastic environmental politics presented by this government ranges from more flyovers to achieving carbon neutrality, simultaneously being dependent on two interconnectors tapping the Sicilian energy market.

Previous governments led by the Labour party had sought to transform Malta into another Dubai, that is a land of high rises and extensive land reclamation . The attempt at Dubai-ification embarked on by the Muscat led government will apparently now be transformed into a Singaporization as emphasised by infrastructure Minister Aaron Farrugia. This is the implementation of the policy of continuity which his Excellency was apparently not sufficiently advised about.

The current crop will do their best to outshine their predecessors. Since there is not much more land to ruin, they have therefore turned their gaze towards the sea which they will be ruined in due course.

Preliminary studies carried out in the past had identified the areas in Maltese waters where land reclamation could be considered, subject to more in-depth studies. The coastal areas identified and studied are those along the  Magħtab/Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq coastline and the Xgħajra/Marsaskala coastline. These are the coastal zones which have to be watched and protected.

The basic question to ask before embarking on planning any land reclamation projects is: what do we need land reclamation for? In the past land was reclaimed to construct the Freeport or to protect the coast at Msida, Gżira and elsewhere.

If any new pressing need is identified one should carefully consider them.

The Netherlands used land reclamation successfully to adequately manage its low-lying land. Hong Kong made use of land reclamation to create high value land required for its airport on the Chek Lak Kok island. Through land reclamation Singapore expanded its container port, an essential cornerstone in its economy.

The way to go about tackling land reclamation is through serious public consultation. Labour in government has, so far, only consulted developers on land reclamation. It has, in the recent past, only consulted those who were seeking new ways to make a quick buck! These are the fourth-floor guys who are only interested in making hay while the sun shines.

If government is serious about land reclamation it should immediately publish a list of its proposed projects. This should be accompanied by a draft national land-reclamation strategy for public consultation. At this point consultation should not be with the speculation lobby: it has already been extensively consulted. Consultation at this stage should primarily be with environmental NGOs and the coastal communities, in particular those directly impacted.

Having said the above I do not think that land reclamation is or should be a priority. Rather, the priority should be the restructuring of the construction industry: specifically cutting it down to size and putting it to good use.

The country would be economically, environmentally and socially much better off if the construction industry is assisted in its much-needed restructuring. It would undoubtedly need to shed labour which can be absorbed by other sectors of the economy. Retraining would be required to ease the entry of the shed labour force into other economic areas.

After years of haphazard and abusive land-use planning, land reclamation is the last thing we need!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 May 2022

Il-kontabilità tan-negozji u l-korporazzjonijiet pubbliċi

Illum indirizzajt il-konferenza biennali tal-Malta Institute of Accountants bit-tema: A New Mindset: Reduce. Reuse. Report.

Fl-Unjoni Ewropeja bħalissa għaddejja diskussjoni dwar Direttiva biex kumpaniji diversi jkollhom l-obbligu li jissottomettu rapporti regolari dwarl-impatti tagħhom fuq is-soċjetà. Dawn ir-rapporti jikkonċernaw dak li jissejjaħ “non-financial reporting” u allura jittrattaw dwar impatti ambjentali, impatti soċjali kif ukoll l-attitudnijiet etiċi fil-kumpanija.

Id-diskussjonijiet għadhom għaddejjin. Hu tajjeb li anke aħna niddiskutu dan kollu u kif ser jeffettwa lilna u lill-kumpaniji li joperaw fil-pajjiż.

Emfasizzajt li hu importanti lil-pajjiż ma jfittix xi eżenzjoni minn din id-direttiva. Huwa importanti ukoll li l-korporazzjonijiet tal-Gvern ukoll ikunu kostretti li jippreżentaw dawn ir-rapporti.

Bħal dejjem hemm problema bl-SMEs (Small and Medium Sized Enterprises) li waħda waħda jqisu lil-impatt tagħhom hu żgħir imma li meta tgħoddhom flimkien jammonta għal impatt sostanzjali! Dawn ukoll jeħtieġ lijinstab mod kif jirrappurtaw dwarl-impatti tagħhom. Biex jagħmlu dan ikollhom bżonn l-għajnuna tal-Gvern, kemm għajnuna diretta lilhom kif ukoll lill-assoċjazzjonijiet li jgħinuhom.

Ir-rappurtaġġ li ser teżiġi l-Unjoni Ewropeja hu applikazzjoni tal-prinċipju ta’ trasparenza fuq in-negozju ul-industrija. It-trasparenza hi l-bażi li mingħajrha ma jistax ikollna kontabilità vera.

Għandna kull dritt li nkunu nafu x’inhu jiġri anke fil-kumpaniji u fil-korporazzjonijiet pubbliċi. Mhux il-politiċi biss għandhom jagħtu kont ta’ egħmilhom: anke l-kumpaniji u l-korporazzjonijiet pubbliċi!

Id-diskors kollu taqrah hawn.

PLPN : parrini tar-rgħiba

Il-pjani lokali huma 7. Il-Pjan Lokali dwar il-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk kien approvat fl-1995, madwar sentejn wara li twaqqfet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Kellhom jgħaddu 7 snin oħra biex ġie approvat pjan lokali ieħor, din id-darba dak għall-Port il-Kbir.  Il-bqija kienu approvati f’daqqa bl-għaġġla fis-sajf tal-2006. Fl-2006 ukoll kien ippubblikat u approvat mill-Parlament dokument ieħor dwar ċaqlieq tal-linja tal-iżvilupp, intitolat “Rationalisation of Development Zone Boundaries”.

Kull wieħed minn dawn it-tmien dokumenti huwa wild il-PN fil-Gvern. Il-konsiderazzjonijiet ambjentali fihom huma nieqsa bil-kbira.

B’mod partikulari, d-dokument li ċaqlaq il-linja tal-żvilupp  ġie approvat mill-Parlament b’għaġġla kbira u bħala riżultat ta’ hekk żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art li kienu barra  miż-żona ta’ żvilupp (ODZ) f’daqqa waħda saru tajbin għall-iżvilupp.

Mill-Opposiżżjoni l-Partit Laburista fil-Parlament ivvota kontra dan iċ-ċaqlieq tal-linja tal-iżvilupp, imma, wara, meta tela’ fil-Gvern ġie jaqa’ u jqum minn dan kollu. Dan minħabba li l-opposizzjoni għall-proposti kienet waħda partiġjana mhux minħabba xi viżjoni alternattiva.

Il-pjani lokali jeħtieġu reviżjoni immedjata. Id-dokument li jistabilixxi kif kellha tiċċaqlaq il-linja tal-iżvilupp għandu jitħassar u safejn hu possibli dik l-art kollha (ż-żewġ miljun metru kwadru) terġa’ issir art ODZ – barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp.  

Fost it-tibdil meħtieġ hemm tnaqqis ġenerali fl-għoli permissibli tal-bini, liema għoli, f’ħafna każi qed itellef lill-komunità residenzjali mid-dritt ta’ aċċess għax-xemx. Dan qed inaqqas u jostakola l-potenzjal tagħna bħala pajjiż fil-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli. Dan kollu kien injorat mill-pjani lokali.

Hemm bosta materji oħra fl-erba’ rkejjen tal-pajjiż li jeħtieġu li jkunu eżaminati mill-ġdid. Kif spjegajt f’artiklu preċedenti l-pjani lokali ma jagħtux każ tal-impatti kumulattivi tal-iżvilupp li huma stess jipproponu. Din hi materja bażika li teħtieġ attenzjoni kbira għax għandha impatt sostanzjali fuq il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna. Sfortunatament il-pjani lokali ftit li xejn jagħtu każ tal-kwalità tal-ħajja. Jiffokaw fuq is-sodisfazzjon tar-rgħiba.

Għandu jkun hemm kumpens jekk art li illum tista’ tkun żviluppata terġa’ lura fl-ODZ bħala art mhiex tajba għall-iżvilupp?

Xi ġimgħat ilu l-Ministru  Aaron Farrugia responsabbli għall-Ippjanar u l-Ambjent kien qal li kellu l-parir favur id-dritt ta’ kumpens. Konvenjentement l-Onorevoli Ministru injora l-fatt li l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali f’Malta kif ukoll il-Qorti Ewropeja dwar id-Drittijiet tal-Bniedem diġa kellhom kaz bħal dan fejn kien hemm talba għal kumpens. Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali irrifjutat it-talba u l-Qorti fi Strasbourg ma ikkunsidratx t-talba f’deċiżjoni fis- 27 September 2011 li fiha iddiskutiet il-parametri legali applikabbli.

Il-kaz huwa dwar il-kumpanija Maltija Trimeg Limited u jikkonċerna 10,891 metru kwadru ta’ art li kienu fil-limiti tal-iżvilupp fl-1989 kif stabilit mill-iskemi temporanji tal-iżvilupp ta’ dakinnhar. Imma fl-1996 din l-art ġiet skedata għal skop ta’ konservazzjoni f’kuntest tal-protezzjoni tal-widien. Fil-Qrati Maltin il-kumpanija Maltija kienet qalet illi li kieku ħarġu l-permessi ta’ żvilupp l-art kien ikollha valur ta’  €11-il miljun. B’daqqa ta’ pinna imma, dan naqas għal  €230,000. Trimeg Limited kienet xtrat din l-art  €140,000.Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali f’Malta ma aċċettatx dawn l-argumenti. Il-Qorti fi Strasbourg ma bidlet xejn minn dak li qalet il-Qorti Maltija.

Dan hu kaz wieħed biss. Il-ħsieb ġenerali iżda hu li apprezzament tal-ħarsien ambjentali qed jaqbad art fost in-nies illum li huma iktar sensittivi minn qatt qabel dwar dan.  Ħadd m’għandu jistenna kumpens għat-tibdil li jkun meħtieġ.

Din hi ġlieda kontinwa mar-rgħiba u l-ispekulazzjoni. Nafu li fil-passat, u għal żmien twil, ir-rgħiba kienet minn fuq. Ir-rgħiba fl-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art kellha żewġ parrini: il-PN u l-PL. Fl-Opposizzjoni jopponu u fil-Gvern jirrumblaw minn fuq kulħadd.  

Kemm il-PN kif ukoll il-PL ma jistgħux jindirizzaw din il-mandra fl-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art għax huma parti mill-problema: il-PLPN ħolquha, kabbruha u iddefendewha. Il-PN beda l-froġa u il-Labour sostniha.

Hu meħtieġ li nibdew paġna ġdida.  Il-linja tal-iżvilupp trid titraġġa lura u l-pjani lokali jeħtieġu tibdil mill-qiegħ. Aħna l-Ħodor biss nistgħu nagħmluh dan, għax aħna m’aħna fil-but ta’ ħadd. L-oħrajn, bil-provi wrew tul is-snin li bejn ir-rgħiba u l-kwalità tal-ħajja dejjem isostnu r-rgħiba!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 5 ta’ Settembru 2021

PLPN have continuously sponsored greed

The local plans are 7 in number.  The Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan was approved in 1995, just two years after the setting up of the Planning Authority. It took another 7 years to approve the next one, the Grand Harbour Local Plan. The rest were approved in one go, in a hurry in the summer of 2006. In 2006 a document entitled “Rationalisation of Development Zone Boundaries” was also published and approved by Parliament.

All eight documents above-mentioned have the PN fingerprints on them. They are certainly not green fingerprints.

The Rationalisation document in particular which was rushed through Parliamentary approval during July 2006 transformed 2 million square metres of land outside the development zone into land which could be considered for development. It shifted the development zone boundaries.

Labour, in Opposition when the rationalisation document was submitted for Parliament’s consideration, voted against its adoption only to embrace it as if it were its own once it was elected into government. Labour’s opposition was not on principle due to some alternative vision. It was pure partisan politics.

The local plans should be revisited the earliest. The rationalisation document should be scrapped and the land it refers to returned to ODZ status wherever this is possible.

Among the revisions considered essential to the local plans is a general reduction in permissible building heights which are interfering with the solar rights of our residential community. This is hampering our potential as a country to generate more renewable energy. This was ignored by the local plans!

There are various other issues spread all over the islands which require revisiting and careful analysis. As explained in a previous article the local plans fail to take into consideration the cumulative impacts of the development which they propose. This is one of the basic matters which should be considered in depth as it has a substantial impact on our quality of life.

Unfortunately, quality of life was considered irrelevant on the local plan drawing board. Only servicing greed was deemed essential.

Would any compensation be due if land currently suitable for development is relegated to ODZ status? Some weeks ago, Planning and Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia emphasised that the advice he received was in favour of compensation. Conveniently the Hon Minister failed to point out that the Constitutional Court in Malta and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has already dealt with a Maltese similar case requesting compensation. The Constitutional Court shot down the case and the Strasbourg Court considered it as being inadmissible on 27 September 2011 in a decision which discusses at some length the applicable legal parameters.

The case involved the Maltese Company Trimeg Limited and concerned 10,891 square metres of land which was within the limits of development as defined by the Temporary Provisions Schemes of 1989 but was then, in 1996, scheduled for conservation purposes as part of a valley protection zone.  The Maltese Company had previously claimed in the Maltese Courts that the land would have a value of €11 million if development permits were issued but was reduced in value to €230,000 at the stroke of a pen. The land was originally purchased by Trimeg Limited for €140,000.

The Constitutional Court in Malta had not accepted the arguments brought forward and the Strasbourg Court did not change anything from that judgement.

This is obviously just one case. The general train of thought however is that it is not a legitimate expectation to expect that the law does not change in the future. Environmental protection is hopefully on the increase as today’s men and women are nowadays more sensitive on the matter.

It is obviously a continuous tug-of-war with greed and speculation. The dreadful news of the past is that greed has for quite a stretch of time had the upper hand. Greed in land use planning has been alternatively sponsored by the PN and the PL. They oppose it when in opposition but adopt it once in government.

Neither the PN nor the PL can offer solutions to the current land use planning mess as both of them are part of the problem: PLPN created it, encouraged it and defended it. PN created the mess, PL sustained it.

It is time to start a new page. Scrap the rationalisation exercise and radically reform the local plans. Only we, the Greens, can do it, as we are in nobody’s pocket. The others have proven, time and again that they support greed at the expense of our quality of life.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 September 2021

Holding banks to account for environmental damage

When discussing the current environmental onslaught developing around us, we rightly focus on incompetent regulators and greedy developers. It is about time that we also address the role of the banks: they make environmental degradation possible as they generally finance the development works which cause the said degradation. As a result, it is about time that banks too shoulder their responsibility for the ever-increasing environmental degradation.

Going through the annual reports of the major local banks it is more than clear that banks are only interested in profits. They engage in continuous greenwashing in order to try and minimise their reputational damage.

The banks portrait themselves as being there to help. They regularly sprinkle some cash to sponsor worthy causes. Notwithstanding this artificial sensitivity towards various sectors of the community, profits always take a priority over people in the banks’ operations.  Financing of development projects are a case in point. Banks rarely indicate in their public statements and reports whether and to what extent they factor in environmental and social considerations when deciding whether to make finance available for any particular development project.

HSBC, for example, refers to the applicability of the Equator Principles in its latest annual report. The Equator Principles are a risk management framework adopted by a number of financial institutions “for determining, assessing and managing environmental and social risk in projects.” They are intended to provide a minimum standard for due diligence and monitoring to support responsible risk decision-making.  Among other matters the Equator Principles deal with stakeholder engagement and require effective action dealing with environmental and social risks by developers who seek financial facilities from banks.

HSBC has not to date publicly reported on the matter as to the practical manner in which it applies these principles in Malta. We have yet to see how the bank establishes that environmental and social risks have been assessed and specifically the extent to which the bank ensures that proper stakeholder engagement has been carried out by its developer clients!

The Bank of Valletta annual report on the other hand gives us its take on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, describes at some length the worthy causes which it supports and explains the action taken to ensure that its branches are energy efficient and environmentally friendly. It also describes its services which facilitate client access to finance environmentally friendly initiatives. The Bank of Valletta Annual Report does not make any reference to the Equator Principles.

Lombard Bank in its latest annual report emphasises that it takes great care in minimising the environmental impacts of its operations. It also stresses its extensive contributions and initiatives to a number of worthy causes. Lombard Bank does not refer to the Equator Principles or any other benchmark or standard which it applies when dealing with its developer clients.

On an EU level the European Central Bank has very recently approved a “Guide on Climate-Related and Environmental Risks” applicable to the banking sector throughout the European Union as from this year.  As its title indicates it is primarily concerned with climate-related risks.

Banks have a responsibility to ensure that when financing development projects, the finance made available is not utilised to cause or accelerate environmental and/or social damage. Whenever such environmental and/or social damage arises it is not just the developers and the regulators which should shoulder responsibility for the said damage. Even banks should be held to account. They make it possible! Banks should pay the price whenever they are collaborators in the ever-increasing environmental degradation. They make it happen!

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 August 2021

Marsaskala: the yacht marina strings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 22 August 2021

Tonio Fenech u l-froġa tal-2006

Tonio Fenech, ex-Ministru tal-Finanzi, reġa’ tfaċċa, f’attività politika li saret fil-Palazz Verdala biex  jgħidilna kif jaħsibha. Qalilna li bl-ambjent ma tirbaħx elezzjonijiet. Imma huwa bil-permessi (tal-bini), żied jgħid, tirbaħ il-voti!   Bil-qdusija artifiċjali tas-soltu jimplika li l-ħsara ambjentali kienet essenzjali biex jintrebħu l-elezzjonijiet! Għax għal Tonio Fenech kull sagrifiċċju jgħodd sakemm iwassal biex tirbaħ l-elezzjonijiet.

Dan mhu xejn ġdid. Il-problema hi li l-kejl sfortunatament hu biss mil-lum għal għada. S’issa ma konniex kapaċi nħarsu fit-tul, biex inqiesu sewwa l-impatt li d-deċiżjonijiet tal-lum għandhom fuq għada u l-ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ warajna. Sfortunatament il-politika f’pajjiż tirraġuna: għada min raħ?

Wara li (flimkien ma oħrajn) Tonio Fenech kien responsabbli mhux biss għall-pjani lokali, imma ukoll għall-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni li bih żdiedet sew l-art għall-iżvilupp, issa qed jipprova jimpressjona li qed jindem!   Il-proposta tiegħu li jorbot il-pjani lokali fil-Kostituzzjoni toħloq iktar problemi milli diġa inħolqu!

Il-pjani lokali u strumenti oħra li bihom nippjanaw l-użu tal-art neċessarjament ikunu ta’ wieħed minn żewġ tipi. Jistgħu jkunu ċari u preċiżi, bil-konsegwenza li għax rigidi jkun jeħtieġilhom tibdil regolari biex jirriflettu realtajiet u żviluppi ġodda.  Inkella jkunu ġeneriċi u jkun jiddependi mill-interpretazzjoni tagħhom u l-integrità ta’ min iħaddem il-proċess kollu.

Kull possibilità hi dipendenti fuq l-integrità u l-viżjoni ta’ dawk involuti fil-fażijiet differenti li jwasslu sad-deċiżjonijiet.  Ma hemmx spjegazzjoni oħra: qegħdin f’nofs din il-froġa minħabba li Tonio Fenech u sħabu kienu bla viżjoni.  Inżid ngħid li b’mod konxju inkarigaw bil-proċess deċiżjonali numru ta’ persuni li ma kellhomx idea tal-impatt fit-tul ta’ dak li kienu qed jagħmlu. Kien jinteresshom biss mill-impatti immedjati: il-voti u l-elezzjonijiet kienu l-miri ewlenin tagħhom. Ġew jaqgħu u jqumu mill-ġid komuni.

F’dan kollu nifhem li l-integrità tfisser li tkun onest, b’subgħajk dritt, ta’ prinċipju. Kwalitajiet li huma nieqsa mill-pjani lokali.

L-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art huwa aspett importanti minn dak meħtieġ għall-ħarsien ambjentali: dan mhux konċernat biss mir-realtajiet tal-lum.  Jagħti sura lill-futur u jfassal il-qafas li fih jiżviluppaw il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. F’dan il-kuntest Il-korruzzjoni tal-ambjent biex jintrebħu l-elezzjonijiet billi jitqassmu l-permessi tal-iżvilupp bħall-pastizzi hi l-agħar azzjoni possibli, nieqsa minn kwalunkwe ħjiel ta’ integrità.  Dan hu l-kontribut sinifikanti tat-tim tal-2006 fil-politika Maltija lill-kwalità tal-ħajja tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti u futuri.  Għaddew ħmistax-il sena minn meta Tonio Fenech u ta’ madwaru fl-2006 ħolqu din il-froġa ambjentali. L-impatti illum tad-deċiżjonijiet ta’ ħmistax-il sena ilu huma enormi. Sfortunatament ma hemm ħadd fil-Parlament illum li għandu l-kuraġġ li jibda it-tiswija u t-tindifa bis-serjetà tal-ħsara li ilha takkumula għal 15-il sena.

U issa? Sakemm jibqgħu jiġu eletti l-istess tip ta’ nies fil-Parlament ma hu ser jiġri xejn. Għad għandna bosta  li jiġu jaqgħu u jqumu mill-ħsara ambjentali, sakemm din tasal wara l-bieb tagħhom.  Huwa biss meta lkoll nirrealizzaw li l-vantaġġi immedjati għall-ftit ifissru tbatija fit-tul għal kulħadd li nkunu nistgħu nagħmlu l-ewwel passi fit-triq tal-fejqan.

Irridu nkunu kapaċi nifhmu kif dak li nagħmlu illum għandu effett fuq is-7 ġenerazzjonijiet li jiġu warajna. Dan nistgħu nagħmluh billi nqisu sewwa d-deċiżjonijiet u l-imġieba kollha tagħna. Ma jista’ jkun hemm l-ebda eċċezzjoni.  

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 13 ta’ Ġunju 2021