Bejn prezz u valur

Kien Oscar Wilde li madwar mitt sena ilu kiteb li hawn uħud li jafu l-prezz ta’ kollox imma m’għandhomx l-iċken idea tal-valur ta’ dak li hemm madwarhom. Illum l-affarijiet huma ferm iktar soffistikati minn hekk. Għandna studji kkumplikati li janalizzaw il-benefiċċju miksub ikkomparat mal-infieq li jsir u studji dwar impatti ta’ kull xorta li bihom tista’ tipprova tiġġustifika dak li trid, dejjem sakemm tkun ippreparat biex tħallas minn imnieħrek għal dan il-privileġġ.

Illum il-ġurnata prattikament kollox hu ridott għal valur monetarju. Meta nitkellmu dwar spiża, prattikament kulħadd jifhem nefqa f’termini ta’ flus. Li titkellem dwar spiża ambjentali jew spiża soċjali donnu li hi xi ħaġa stramba, qisu diffiċli biex tinftiehem.

L-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi Maltin dejjem trid iktar. B’pariri minn xi professjonisti, inkluż eks uffiċjali anzjani tal-ippjanar, issa l-iżviluppaturi qed jippreżentaw it-talbiet tagħhom billi jilgħabuha tal-vittmi tar-regolamentazzjoni. Imma fis-sustanza t-talbiet tagħhom huma dejjem l-istess: biex jimmassimizzaw il-frott tar-rebgħa.

Kważi fl-istess ħin sirna nafu li l-Assoċjazzjoni Maltija tal-Ilma żarmat. Okkazjoni bħal din hi dejjem waħda ta’ dieqa. Imma r-realtà tibqa’ li f’Malta hawn ftit wisq attivisti ambjentali f’numru ta’ għaqdiet ambjentali li mhux wieħed żgħir. Forsi l-għaqdiet ambjentali jirrealizzaw illi l-multiplikazzjoni tagħhom ma tagħmilx ġid lill-kawża li jmexxu l-quddiem. Lanqas ma jagħmel ġid li dawn l-għaqdiet iħarsu lejn il-konsulenti tal-iżviluppaturi l-kbar huma u jfittxu tmexxija ġdida. Il-kredibilità tagħhom, naħseb, li tista’ tieħu daqqa ta’ ħarta.

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent hu għadma iebsa. Bosta ma jirrealizzawx li l-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna jiddependi minn din il-ħidma. Ir-riżultati tal-ħidma favur il-ħarsien tal-ambjent, jew in-nuqqas tagħha, jidhru ġeneralment fuq tul ta’ żmien, ma jidhrux malajr. Dan inevitabilment iwassal biex ma tidhirx b’mod ċar ir-rabta bejn il-kawża u l-effett u bħala  konsegwenza ma jkunx hemm biżżejjed interess f’dak li qed jiġri, sakemm ikun tard wisq.

Illum bosta qed jirrealizzaw x’inhuma l-impatti konsiderevoli tal-ezerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni tal-art li nieda l-Gvern immexxi minn Lawrence Gonzi fl-2006 li bħala riżultat tiegħu madwar żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art madwar dawn il-gżejjer saru tajbin għall-iżvilupp mil-lum għal għada. Ftit jiftakru li l-Partit Laburista, dakinnhar, kien ħa posizzjoni kontra l-proposta ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni u kien anke ivvota kontra tagħha fil-Parlament. Illum il-ġurnata, imma, l-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern ħalla kollox kif kien, għax, wara kollox, hu komdu li meta kkritikat tkun tista’ twaħħal f’ ta’ qablek u b’wiċċ ta’ qdusija artifiċjali tiddikjara li ma tista’ tagħmel xejn, għax sadanittant hemm min laħaq rabba’ l-ġust!

Din l-aħħar manuvra tal-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi li jilgħabuha tal-vittmi mhiex xi ħaġa ġdida. Kif spjega dak li kien Direttur tal-Ippjanar, u li illum mid-dehra hu konsulent tal-Assoċjazzjoni, l-Perit Stephen Farrugia, l-proposta tinvolvi tpartit ta’ arja f’żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana ma drittijiet ta’ żvilupp iktar vantaġġjuż xi mkien ieħor. Bażikament it-talba tal-Assoċjazzjoni hi biex il-membri tagħha jkunu kkumpensati għar-restrizzjonijiet fiż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana kif ukoll fil-konfront ta’ bini protett. Kif intqal f’artiklu ippubblikat iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa mill-President tal-Assoċjazzjoni Sandro Chetcuti t-talba hi biex dak li mhux jitħallew jiżviluppaw jibqa’ għandhom bi dritt li jkun trasferit fuq art oħra fejn ma hemmx l-istess restrizzjonijiet. S’issa ma ippubblikawx dettalji imma hu ovvju li l-proposta qed tfittex li jinħolqu ammont sostanzjali ta’ drittijiet ta’ żvilupp li jkompli jżid mal-madra li diġa hawn.

L-Assoċjazzjoni bil-proposta tagħha qed tmur kontra dak li hu bażiku fl-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art għax qed tassumi b’mod żbaljat li kull sid ta’ propjetà għandu dritt ugwali biex jiżviluppa rrispettivament mil-livell ta’ protezzjoni applikabbli. Hi proposta li tfisser biss taħwid, iktar milli diġa hawn.

X’baqa’ jiġri?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 24 ta’ Marzu 2019

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Knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing

It was Oscar Wilde who over 100 years ago coined the expression on “knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing”. Today matters are more sophisticated, with “cost benefit analysis” and impact studies of all sorts which seek to justify practically anything, as long as you can pay for the privilege.

Reducing everything to a monetary value seems to be the order of the day. When we speak of costs, we are only understood as having spoken about financial outlays. Environmental costs or social costs seem to be something out of this world: apparently, they are so difficult to comprehend.

The Malta Developers Association wants more. With advice from professionals, including former senior land use planning regulators, they are now sugar-coating their demands. Essentially, however they are still making the same point: they are seeking to maximise the fruits of greed.

Almost simultaneously, we get to know that the Malta Water Association has closed shop. It is always a sad day when an eNGO disbands, but the reality is that we have too few environmental activists and too many environmental organisations on this little rock. It is about time that all environmental NGOs come together, as the proliferation of eNGOs is not doing the environment lobby any good. Nor is it helpful to the environment cause to co-opt former advisors of mega-developers to lead eNGOs. Credibility may, in my view, be at stake.

Protecting the environment is a tough job because not many realise that our quality of life is dependent on it. The results of environment protection – or the lack of it – are generally only evident in the long term as they are not easily identifiable immediately. This inevitably leads to a lack of connection between cause and effect and consequently to a lack of interest in the issues which matter, until it is too late.

Today, many people are realising the considerable impacts of the rationalisation exercise on land use embarked upon by the Lawrence Gonzi administration in 2006, as a result of which around two million square metres of land spread around the Maltese islands became suitable for development overnight. Few remember that, at the time, the Labour Party had then taken a stand against the proposal, even voting against it in Parliament. Today, however, Labour leaves the rationalisation proposals in place because, when faced with rampant over-development, it is most convenient to be able to continuously shift the blame on your predecessors, sanctimoniously declaring that you cannot do anything about it, as, in the meantime, vested rights have taken root!

The latest MDA land use planning gimmick is a well-known strategy of playing the role of the victims. As explained by the former Director of Planning – now apparently a consultant to the Association, architect Stephen Farrugia – this MDA proposal will involve trading in airspaces in urban conservation areas in order to acquire more advantageous planning rights elsewhere instead. Basically, it is a request by the MDA for its members to be compensated for planning restrictions in Urban Conservation Areas as well as in respect of limitations on the potential development of protected buildings. The MDA seeks the possibility, as stated earlier in an article published this week by its President Sandro Chetcuti, to transfer the potential unused gross floor area from buildings whose development is restricted to areas where it is not. The details are not yet out but it is obvious that this proposal seeks to create a substantial amount of development rights which will further increase the unbridled development to which we have become so accustomed to.

The MRA proposal negates the very basics of land use planning as it assumes that every property owner has an equal right to develop, irrespective of the level of protection afforded to specific properties. In practise the MDA proposal will signify deregulation and the sooner it is shot down, the better.

What next?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 24 October 2019

Those unrealistic water bills

Water Bill.Malta

Our water bills will have to change as water in Malta is not realistically priced. The Government is aware of this yet it is not informing the public. The Labour Party on the other hand is ignoring the pointers and foolishly insisting on the unsustainable electoral promise of reducing water bills.

A realistic water pricing policy is needed to ensure proper management of water resources. This can be done by ensuring that proper subsidies are in place for the basic use of water while simultaneously penalising waste.

In terms of article 9 of the Water Framework Directive of the European Union, Malta, like all other EU member states, must have a realistic water pricing system in place. The pricing system shall take account “of the principle of recovery of the costs of water services, including environmental and resource costs…”

In a report dated November 14, 2012 in reply to Malta’s submissions on the implementation of the Water Framework Directive, the European Commission takes Malta to task on the pricing of water. The report, addressed to the European Parliament and the European Council, states that “it seems that environmental and resource costs have not been included in the cost recovery calculation”.

The price for water which the Water Services Corporation charges is limited to recovering its operational costs.

When the corporation extracts groundwater it does not pay for the water extracted. The cost of the water extracted (referred to as the resource cost) is ignored. This is obviously an incorrect practice as groundwater does have a cost which is dependent on a variety of factors. Once identified, on the basis of proper studies, this is a cost which must be added to the current charges. This is a matter which the Malta Resources Authority as the regulator should have been analysing for the past years.

In addition to the operational costs and the resource costs there are also the environmental costs which must be identified and quantified. The EU, in order to assist in the implementation of the Water Framework Directive, facilitates a Common Implementation Strategy through which Guidance documents and technical reports are produced assisting member states in coming to grips with what is expected from them to protect water resources within their territories. Guidance document No. 1, in fact, entitled Economics And The Environment, is a 274-page long technical document which explains in detail what is to be taken into consideration.

I am informed that the Malta Resources Authority, after EU accession, carried out such an exercise of identifying and costing in detail the resource and environmental costs of water. Producing these studies is part of its role as the competent authority to report to the Commission on the economics of water use as required under Article 5 of the Directive –

that the management of water resources in the Maltese Islands is on a sound footing. The authority, I am informed, also made detailed professional proposals as to the Programme of Measures required by article 11 of the Water Framework Directive. This leads me to conclude that the Government has been in receipt of sound professional advice as to what needs to be done to manage in a professional manner Malta’s water resources. Unfortunately this advice has been ignored. This is a political responsibility yet to be shouldered.

The Auditor General’s Performance Audit entitled Safeguarding Malta’s Groundwater, published in February 2012, is an eye-opener as to the measures which have not yet been implemented (fully or partially). One of the most worrying is the metering of boreholes. The MRA has not been given adequate means which would go a long way to fast-track this control on the rate of extraction of groundwater. The end result is that notwithstanding that metering of boreholes was accepted by the Government as a suitable measure very late in the day, its implementation is already two years behind schedule.

The metering of boreholes should be the first step of a process leading to a long-term objective ensuring that all boreholes are no longer operational. It should be clear to all that ground water is public property.

Even agriculture should be slowly weaned away from the use of ground water. Adequately polished treated sewage effluent would be a suitable alternative.

Water is a precious resource essential for our well-being. It is essential for the well-being of our families, for our agriculture, for our manufacturing industry as well as for tourism. Notwithstanding its being a basic requirement for practically all our activities, it has been mismanaged for a very long time. Successive governments have ignored its mishandling.

Water has been considered as a freebie for far too long. It is now time to pay for past mistakes. If we take longer to realise this fact the environmental bills will be insurmountable. Hence it is irresponsible for the Labour Party to promise a reduction of water bills.

originally published in The Times, December 22, 2012