Planning is for people

Land use planning should, and can, be developed into an effective tool to combat the impacts of climate change. This can be done by effectively encouraging development which contributes to reducing climate change impacts.

Apparently, it is too much to expect from our authority responsible for land use planning.

The development of large commercial centres may make economic sense, but do they make environmental and social sense?

This is what sustainable development is all about: that economic development must continuously factor in environment impacts as well as social considerations. The term sustainable development is on everyone’s lips, but it is definitely and continuously ignored when push comes to shove. When decisions are taken, unfortunately it is the euros which take a priority over sustainability.

It is not just about the actual land to be developed, or the buildings to be redeveloped. Much more has to be taken into consideration in each and every decision taken.

Consider for example the Lidl network or another multiple supermarket competitor chain currently planning an alternative network in Malta. Their impacts are multiple. There is definitely an impact on the existing commercial community which can be gauged by a retail impact assessment. There are however also widespread social and environmental impacts which are generally minimised or ignored by all the decision takers.

The social impact definitely needs a meticulous assessment. The changing nature of our residential neighbourhoods through the squeezing out of the small outlets, both commercial and artisanal, and consequently forcing all residents to look far beyond the community and its neighbourhoods for their needs, at times even their basic daily needs, is a major impact. This has and is still transforming our localities and consequently our communities such that at times you need to travel from one locality to another to satisfy your basic needs. This is not a positive development, yet it has been continuously ignored.

A direct impact of all this is that the expense to satisfy our needs is now increased to include the environmental impact of travel with the consequential contribution to climate change. Expenses are not only those which are paid in euro. These specific expenses are a charge debited to our ecological account.

Sustainable land use planning can put an end to all this. Unfortunately, it is not, as climate change impact has not been embedded as an essential element to be addressed by local land use planning!

Current land use planning practice needs to be turned on its head in order to prioritise community needs and impacts on the ecology over the requirements of the economy.

This is what the 15-minute city concept is all about! In reality it is nothing new as it signifies having our basic necessities close by, as in times gone by, when our localities were smaller and alive with vibrant communities. Small is beautiful we were told some years back by Erst Schumacher. The full title of his opus is more revealing: “Small is Beautiful. Economics as if people mattered.” People should be the focus of all our activity. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

I still vividly remember the phrase “planning is for people” in one of the André Zammit’s first urban planning lectures I attended at university. It was a phrase lifted from the UK Skeffington report drawn up in 1969 and examining the participation of the public in land use planning!

Where are the people and their needs in our land use planning? Following the various land use planning cases as they develop, it is clear that as practised locally, land use planning is more a compendium of rights relative to property development than a process regulating the use of land for the ultimate benefit of the whole community. Planning is for people, not for profit!

Land use planning: as if people really mattered!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 8 May 2022

L-istupru t’Għawdex

Il-PLPN kontinwament jipperfezzjonaw l-istrateġija tagħhom dwar l-istupru t’Għawdex. Din l-istrateġija illum il-ġurnata jispjegawha fil-wegħdiet elettorali tagħhom.  Sfortunatament, f’din il-ħidma tagħhom għandhom l-appoġġ ta’ għaqdiet bħall-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija li għadhom kif ħarġu dokument bil-prijoritajiet li huma qed jipproponu għall-leġislatura li jmiss.

Il-mina taħt il-fliegu bejn Malta u Għawdex, għalihom tibqa’ prijorità. Ma’ dan issa żdied mitjar rurali. Jidher li jridu jassiguraw li l-istupru li qed jippjanaw fuq Għawdex ikollu effett massimu.

Il-mina proposta mhiex għan-nies iżda għall-karozzi. Hi mina dipendenti b’mod assolut fuq il-karozzi u l-inġenji kummerċjali oħra li jkunu jistgħu jagħmlu użu minna. Kull waħda minn dawn il-karozzi jew inġenji kummerċjali tħallas biex tgħaddi mill-mina. Il-vijabilità ekonomika tal-mina tiddependi milli jkunu mħajjra jagħmlu użu minna l-ikbar numru possibli ta’ karozzi.

F’wieħed mill-istudji li saru kien ħadem stima li bħala riżultat tal-mina proposta, il-moviment ta’ karozzi bejn Malta u Għawdex jimmultiplika ruħu bi tlieta, minn 3000 moviment kuljum għal 9000 movement kuljum. L-istudju hu intitolat Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options.  Dan l-istudju kien ikkummissjonat mill-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija  u  Transport Malta.

Il-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdija qegħda fuq quddiem nett fl-isforz biex Għawdex ikun stuprat. Flimkien mal-PLPN iridu jerfgħu r-responsabbiltà għall-konsegwenzi.

X’sens jagħmel li żżid bi tlett darbiet il-moviment tal-karozzi Maltin fit-toroq Għawdxin? It-toroq Għawdxin jifilħu għal dan? Għandna nissagrifikaw il-kwalità tal-arja f’Għawdex ukoll?  Jagħmel sens li nesportaw il-problemi tat-traffiku minn Malta għal Għawdex?

It-tweġiba ovvja għal kull waħda minn dawn il-mistoqsijiet hi le. Bosta minnha huma konxji li t-toroq Għawdxin ma baqax fejn tqiegħed labra fihom u dan bħala riżultat tal-karozzi li diġa qed jaqsmu l-fliegu f’dan il-mument.

Anke fit-toroq Għawdxin hemm il-ħtieġa li jonqsu l-karozzi.  Diġa hemm wisq. Ma jagħmilx sens li jiżdiedu. Dan imur kontra dak kollu li jipprovdi l-pjan nazzjonali għat-trasport. Dan il-pjan japplika għal-Għawdex ukoll.

Is-servizz tal-fast-ferry service, jekk organizzat sewwa b’mod li jwassal in-nies f’punti differenti tul il-kosta Maltija, jibqa’ soluzzjoni tajba. B’hekk tkun assigurata mobilità sostenibbli bejn il-gżejjer.  Imma biex dan ikun effettiv, jeħtieġ ukoll transport pubbliku iffukat u faċilitajiet aħjar fil-port tal-iMġarr Għawdex. Dan jassigura mobilità aħjar b’impatt ambjentali sostanzjalment imnaqqas.  

Il-pjan nazzjonali għat-trasport, ippubblikat mill-Gvern Laburista jemfasizza l-ħtieġa li jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Il-proposta għal mina bejn Malta u Għawdex tikkontradixxi dan il-pjan. Għalfejn il-Gvern jieħu parir, iħallas għalih minn fondi pubbliċi u imbagħad jinjorah? Għaliex il-Gvern qiegħed kontinwament jinjora l-pjan tat-trasport tiegħu stess?

Jekk il-proġett tal-mina isseħħ, dan ser ikun il-kawża ta’ ħsara ambjentali sostanzjali kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex.  F’Malta ser jinqered il-villaġġ trogloditiku tal-Għerien fil-limiti tal-Mellieħa. F’Għawdex ser jinqered ammont mhux żgħir ta’ raba’ f’ Ta’ Kenuna, limiti tan-Nadur.

Hemm iktar soluzzjonijiet biex tkun indirizzata l-mobilità bejn Malta u Għawdex. Dan jirrikjedi li niffukaw fuq il-mobilità tan-nies. Jirrikjedi li nindirizzaw id-dipendenza li żviluppajna fuq il-karozza, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex. Sakemm nieħdu d-deċiżjoni li nibdew nindirizzaw din id-dipendenza, kull soluzzjoni li nippruvaw, ftit tista’ tkun effettiva.  

Ilna nopponu l-proposta għall-mina sa mill-ewwel jum minn meta, madwar għaxar snin ilu, din ġiet proposta mill-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdija bl-appoġġ tal-PLPN. Jekk inti ukoll ma taqbilx li issir din il-mina żomm quddiem għajnejk li huma biss membri parlamentari eletti f’isem ADPD li jistgħu jmexxu l-quddiem l-idejat tiegħek.  

Bl-appoġġ tiegħek nhar is-26 ta’ Marzu hu possibli li dan l-istupru li l-PLPN qed jippjanaw nevitawh.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 13 ta’ Marzu 2022

The rape of Gozo

The PLPN have elevated their strategy to accelerate the rape of Gozo to manifesto status. Unfortunately, they are supported in their endeavours by the likes of the Gozo Business Chamber which has just issued its key priority areas for the next legislature.

The tunnel below the Gozo Channel remains a priority on their books. To this they have now added a “rural airfield”. It seems that they want to ensure that their planned rape has maximum effect on Gozo.

The proposed tunnel is a tunnel for cars not for people.

The proposed Gozo tunnel is dependent on cars and other vehicles making use of it. It is these cars which will be subject to the payment of tolls. Maximising such vehicular use is crucial for the proposed tunnel to make any economic sense.

One of the studies carried out, which is in the public domain, had estimated that as a result of the proposed tunnel, the current daily movements of vehicles between Malta and Gozo would be trebled from 3000 daily movements to 9000 daily movements. The study entitled Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options was commissioned some years back by the Gozo Business Chamber together with Transport Malta.

The Gozo Business Chamber is in the front seat in this effort to rape Gozo. Together with the PLPN it has to shoulder responsibility for the consequences.

Does it make sense to treble the daily vehicle movements on Gozitan roads? Do Gozitan roads have that capacity? Should we sacrifice air quality in Gozo too? Does it make sense to export traffic problems from Malta to Gozo? The obvious answer to all these questions is a clear no. Most of us are aware that Gozitan roads are already bursting at the seams as a result of the number vehicles crossing over at this point in time.

Cars should be decreased on Gozitan roads too! There are already too many on the road. Increasing them exponentially is not on. This is the antithesis of the underlying theme of the National Transport Master Plan.

The fast-ferry service, suitably organised and servicing multiple destinations along the Maltese coast, is the potential long-term solution to ensure having a reasonable and sustainable mobility between the islands. In order for this to be effective, however, it has to be buttressed by a more focused public transport service and substantially improved port facilities at Mġarr Gozo. This will ensure better mobility with a much-reduced environmental impact.

The National Transport Master Plan published by this Labour administration advocates the need to reduce the number of cars on our roads. The proposal for the Gozo tunnel contradicts this objective. Why does government seek advice and then ignore it? Why does government repeatedly ignore its own Transport Master Plan?

If the tunnel materialises, it will result in significant environmental damage in both Malta and Gozo. On the Malta side it would include the obliteration of the troglodytic village at l-Għerien in the limits of Mellieħa. In Gozo it would ruin extensive agricultural holdings in the Ta’ Kenuna area, in the limits of Nadur.

There are other solutions which can adequately address the mobility between Malta and Gozo. It does however require thinking outside the box and focusing on the real issue: the sustainable mobility of people. This would require a bold initiative of addressing head-on car-dependency in both Malta and Gozo. Until we take the decision to start shedding our car- dependency, however, no solution can be really effective.

The Green Party has been opposing the proposal for an undersea tunnel continuously since it was first tabled by the Gozo Business Chamber and supported by the PLPN, around ten years ago. If you disagree with this tunnel proposal kindly note that it is only green members of parliament on the ADPD list that can represent your views.

Your support on the 26 March is essential to prevent this from happening.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 13 March 2022

The regeneration of Marsa

The public consultation which commenced earlier this week relative to the regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour along the coastal area of Marsa is most welcome. Marsa has been neglected for far too long.

The Planning Authority has been criticised in the past for its piecemeal reviews of the local plans. It is hoped that this exercise will be a holistic one. It is the whole of Marsa which should be addressed and not one tiny corner! The decay of Marsa as an urban centre needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity. This will not be done through piecemeal local plan reviews but through a comprehensive planning exercise.

The proposed strategic vision, as directed by government, is however not a suitable one. Through the Planning Authority, government is proposing that the area subject of the consultation be transformed into a “prime tourism and leisure harbour destination”.

The primary question to be addressed is whether it is desirable for our economy to further increase its dependence on tourism. The answer to this basic question, in my view, is a clear no. It is thus not on to reserve more prime sites for tourism. Tourism has gobbled up too many prime sites. Too many land use planning policies have been compromised in the exclusive interest of the tourism industry.  

Tourism has also proven itself to be a very weak link in the economic chain. It has been brought down to its knees as a result of Covid19. It is still very weak and will take more time to recover. Understandably a significant part of its labour force has migrated to other sectors and is unwilling to return to work in the tourism sector.

Rather than more tourism we definitely need less of it.

Prior to Covid19 we had reached saturation levels in the tourism sector. The post-Covid19 impact period is a unique opportunity for tourism to be re-dimensioned in order to reduce its impacts on the community. Unfortunately, the Planning Authority is insensitive to all this: it plans to give us more of the same.  

The availability of the former power station site and its surroundings is definitely a unique opportunity which should not be squandered on the tourism industry.

The innermost part of the Grand Harbour has always been dedicated to the maritime sector for which this is a unique opportunity to re-organise, modernise and increase its contribution to the national economy while reducing its environmental impacts. Scaling down the ship-repairing facilities and moving them to outside the area earmarked for regeneration could shift this activity to close proximity of residential areas in localities which are close by. This should therefore be avoided.  Even though I doubt very much whether in practice it is that easy to shift these facilities.

The regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour Area can be achieved without tying down the area to development which is tourism-linked. The consultation strategy itself identifies various other options and activities amongst which new business ventures which improve the overall well-being of the community.

The tourism industry itself, over two years ago, had sounded the alarm that the number of tourists arriving in Malta was too high: beyond that which the country can take sustainably. Research published at the same time had identified the first signs of turismofobia, a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists and tourism. These are the first indications of social discontent with the pressures linked to tourism growth. They need to be addressed but are however being ignored.

There is obviously a need for less tourism, not more of it. Access to public investment has to be made available to other sectors.

The public consultation is in its initial stages, and it is still possible for the discussion to develop along different lines. The discussion required is one which addresses Marsa as a whole and which does not focus on just one tiny corner, even though it may be an important corner.

This is a unique opportunity for all stakeholders who can and should get involved to assist in the identification of a sustainable vision for the regeneration of Marsa as a whole: in the interests of all.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 December 2021

Tourism: from Covid to Climate Change

The tourism lobby, through the MHRA (Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association), is once more breathing down the authorities’ neck. Some of their former employees have not returned, after the pandemic.  They are obviously referring to those employees of theirs who were shed off their payroll, as soon as the pandemic impacts started being felt.

After treating some of their employees like shit they are now asking for tax exemptions as a carrot to attract them back to fill the void created. Tax exemptions?  Difficult to qualify if you are employed on a zero-hour contract, hardly paying any tax at all!

The fact that an increasing number of employees are migrating from the tourism industry, is indicative that the employment conditions and the remuneration paid by the industry, at least, to some of its employees, is not worth it. If it were, former employees would come back on their own without the need to be enticed with tax exemptions.

Specifically, sections of the tourism industry are based on cheap labour: paying miserly hourly rates on zero-hour contracts. In addition to having reasonable rates of pay, it is imperative that zero-hour contracts are scrapped. That is to say a contract of employment must be for an agreed number of hours per week and not left at the absolute discretion of the employer. Greens in Malta have repeatedly advocated this step. A Labour government is apparently not interested.

Isn’t it about time that the tourism industry gets its act together? Government has over the years dedicated many resources to help the industry get on its feet. Various subsidies and favourable administrative decisions including planning policies designed to ride roughshod over the residential community are in place. Yet they want more.

At almost 3 million tourists in 2019, Malta is definitely close to a saturation point in the uptake of tourists it can handle. This has placed too large a strain on the country’s infrastructure.

Covid has clearly identified an Achilles heel. We need to learn a number of lessons. Foremost to reduce our dependence on tourism in order to ensure that the next time movement between countries is an issue, impacts on all are cushioned considerably. The next issue is round the corner. It is climate change.

Last week various initiatives were announced by the EU Commission in order that the target of carbon neutrality by 2050 is achieved. The Commission has identified a number of measures which could facilitate the achievement of an intermediate target of 55 per cent greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2030 and beyond.

One such initiative is the environmental taxing of aviation fuel. Such an initiative is intended to internalise the environmental costs of such flights. This could result in either of two options: the payment of a carbon tax by those who use such flights or the use of alternative modes of transport thus avoiding altogether the payment of the tax.

On mainland Europe, use of trains is in many cases a suitable alternative which has considerably reduced environmental impacts. However, in our case we do not have practical alternatives to aviation. This will inevitably increase the costs of flights and consequently bring about a reduction in the number of tourists opting to visit Malta. Most of our competitors will be similarly impacted, but that is no consolation for the industry! Cheap plane fares could soon be history.

As announced by Minister Miriam Dalli, Malta expects that it is a “special case”. Most probably it will be successful in negotiating a reasonable transition, and/or some exceptions. In the long run, however, opposing outright such a measure goes against Malta’s long-term interests. Malta, like all island states, together with coastal settlements and communities, will have to face some of the worst impacts of climate change, that is sea-level rise. The climate, would not care less about our special case, or our economy. It will impact us just as forcefully. The climate is merciless.

It would be pertinent to remember that most of our tourism infrastructure lies along or within reach of the coast. This signifies that a sea-level rise could easily play havoc with such infrastructure. If substantial, a sea-level rise will also seriously impact our coastal communities, which are spread over quite a large area along the coast.

It is about time that we stop and think carefully. Tourism is at the crossroads. It needs to be subject to an overhaul: taking into consideration the covid lessons, and applying them to the climate change scenario which sooner or later we will have to face. This is the future of tourism, not tax exemptions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 25 July 2021

Tourism planning needs tuning in to reality

A ten-year tourism strategy entitled Recover, Rethink, Revitalise has been published for consultation. It is a strategy which advocates an improvement in quality but does not seek to address the oversupply of bed-stock.

During summer of 2019, Tony Zahra, President of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) had sounded the alarm: he was reported as saying that the number of tourists visiting Malta was too high. He emphasised that it was substantially exceeding the limits of what the country can take sustainably. Tony Zahra was obviously emphasising the interest of the lobby group which he heads: the hotel industry.

The proposed tourism strategy advocates a return to the pre-Covid19 tourism levels, albeit recognising that this will be difficult to achieve as well as accepting that it will take quite some time to be achieved, if at all. Searching through the tourism strategy document for the terms agri-tourism and eco-tourism yields a zero-return indicating that the document is more of a post-Covid hotel industry roadmap than a tourism strategy.

The strategy indicates that the best scenario forecasts until 2030 suggest an increase from the 2019 2.75 million tourists to between 3 and 3.2 million tourists which would generate an average 21 million overnight stays annually. The strategy goes on to state that on the basis of existing and in the pipeline licenced bed-stock this equates to an unprofitable 57.5 per cent occupancy rate. The unlicenced bed stock further dilutes occupancy rates closer to 50 per cent, we are informed by the strategy document.

This does not point towards a potential recovery but more that the tourism industry, is, in this critical period shackled by the land development free-for-all advocated by land use planning policies over the past years. Specifically, this has been done through the continuous tinkering with the height limitation adjustment policy for hotels as well as the haphazard application of flexibility in day-to-day land use planning.

This in no way translates into a quality improvement!

The decadent land use planning process has infected tourism planning too. No wonder that the former Chief Executive of the Planning Authority is now the CEO of the Malta Tourism Authority. It is poetic justice that he should be responsible for cleaning the mess to which he substantially contributed to!

Where do we go from here?

The authors of the tourism strategy are aware that there are other possible solutions but they shoot them down. These last months were an opportunity to re-examine the fundamental role of tourism within the overall socio-economic context of the Maltese islands. The Covid19 pandemic has resulted in a reduced movement of people, a less hectic lifestyle, reduced emissions and the reduction of other negative elements for which tourism is usually singled out as a major contributor. 

Contrary to what the proposed tourism strategy opines, it is not simplistic to seriously consider the need to reset the industry. A lower level of tourism activity would prove beneficial to the destination by making it less busy and less crowded to the benefit of both the local resident population and visitor satisfaction. Obviously, it would reduce the tourism contribution to the national economy, but it would also reduce the substantial costs which planners tend to ignore or else to shift onto other sectors! Costs are not just measured in financial terms but also in terms of environmental and social impacts.  

Some months ago, I had written about turistofobia, a term coined by Catalan anthropologist Manoel Delgado, indicating a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists and tourism. The social discontent associated with the pressures linked to tourism growth cannot be ignored any further.

Among the issues contributing to this developing tourist phobia are social discomfort, environmental degradation (including both generation of waste and excessive construction activity), traffic congestion, noise, the loss of cultural identity and socio-cultural clashes.

The post-Covid19 recovery is a unique opportunity for tourism planners to take note of and tune in to reality.  Unfortunately, the proposed strategy sidesteps the real issues.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 31 January 2021

Wara l-gwerra ċivili fil-PN

Għad m’hemm l-ebda ħjiel tat-tmiem tal-gwerra ċivili fil-PN. Din qed tagħmel ħafna ħsara, mhux biss lill-PN: fl-aħħar minn l-aħħar qed tagħmel il-ħsara lill-pajjiż kollu.

Kull wieħed miż-żewġ darbiet fejn ġie espress vot ta’ sfiduċja fil-Kap tal-PN Adrian Delia iwassal messaġġ politiku ċar li s’issa l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni għad ma fehem xejn minnu. Meta Delia stqarr li l-vot ta’ sfuduċja espress mill-grupp parlamentari Nazzjonalista u iktar tard mill-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal-PN ma kellhom l-ebda sinifikat partikolari, kien qed jesponi l-miżerja ta’ kredenzjali demokratiċi tiegħu kif ukoll kien qed jirrifletti l-immaturità politika tiegħu. Dan fl-aħħar m’għandux biss rifless fuq il-kredibilità ta’ Adrian Delia imma ukoll fuq dik tal-PN innifsu.

Il-gwerra ċivili fil-PN qed tisraq l-attenzjoni li presentement jixraq li tkun fuq materji oħra ta’ importanza kbira.  L-irkupru mill-impatti sostanzjali tal-pandemija  Covid-19 u t-tisħiħ tal-kapaċità ta’ Malta kontra l-korruzzjoni u l-ħasil tal-flus jeħtieġu ferm iktar attenzjoni u enerġija. Mhux biss mill-Gvern, imma anke mill-Opposizzjoni.

Jeħtieġ li niddiskutu fid-dettall pjan ta’ rkupru mill-pandemija Covid-19 li jinfirex fuq l-oqsma kollha effettwati: pjan li għandu jkun wieħed integrat ma’ strateġija li tindirizza t-tibdil fil-klima u dan fil-qafas tal-konklużjonijiet tas-summit ta’ Pariġi.  Alternattiva Demokratika diġà tat il-kontribut tagħha xi ġimgħat ilu permezz tal-pubblikazzjoni tar-rapport: Pjan Aħdar: Ġust u Sostenibbli.

Studju riċenti ta’ Deloitte li kien ikkummissjonat mill-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Lukandi u r-Restoranti (MHRA) jindika li l-industrija tat-turiżmu bdiet ġejja f’sensiha. Qed tirrealizza li l-irkupru mhux biss seħħ bil-mod, iżda bil-mod ħafna: iktar kajman milli qatt antiċipaw.   L-Air Malta irrevediet il-pjan kummerċjali tagħha u issa qed tantiċipa li teħtieġ madwar seba’ snin biex tkun f’posizzjoni li terġa’ tibda iġġorr l-istess numru ta’ passiġġiera li kienet iġġor qabel ma faqqgħet il-pandemija.  Dan kollu jwassal għal osservazzjoni waħda – evitata minn bosta – dwar kemm l-aspettattivi tal-industrija tat-turiżmu dwar l-irkupru tal-industrija mhumiex realistiċi.

Ikun ferm aħjar kieku napprofittaw ruħna mis-sitwazzjoni u nippjanaw aħjar biex l-industrija tat-turiżmu tissaħħaħ billi ma tibqax tiffoka fuq in-numri imma fuq il-kwalità tat-turist. Pjan ta’ din ix-xorta, bla dubju, jkun jista’ jindirizza l-impatti ambjentali negattivi sostanzjali tal-industrija b’mod effettiv. Il-Ministru tat-Turiżmu  Julia Portelli-Farrugia ma tantx tidher li taqbel ma dan, għax il-ħin kollu tredden bin-numri.

Il-Moneyval hu Kumitat tal-Kunsill ta’ l-Ewropa  magħmul minn esperti li jevalwaw miżuri kontra l-ħasil tal-flus u l-finanzjament tat-terroriżmu.  Hu grupp ta’ monitoraġġ permanenti bl-inkarigu li jara li l-istati membri tal-Kunsill ta’ l-Ewropa qed jieħdu l-miżuri meħtieġa u maqbula fuq livell internazzjonali.

Fl-aħħar rapport dwar Malta ippubblikat fl-2019 il-Moneyval, tagħmel 40 rakkomandazzjoni spjegati f’ 233 paġna. Rakkomandazzjonijiet dwar x’inhu meħtieġ li jsir.  Ir-riskji għal Malta huma ċari: għandna ekonomija li hi vulnerabbli ħafna primarjament minħabba d-daqs tagħha kif ukoll minħabba l-fatt li hi esposta ħafna għal dak kollu li jiġri barra minn xtutna.   Ir-rapport tal-Moneyval jemfasizza li r-remote gaming, per eżempju hu vulnerabbli ħafna għall-ħasil tal-flus u dan “due to the high number of customers, mainly non-resident, the high volume of transactions, the non-face-to-face nature of the business and the use of prepaid cards.”

Mhux biżżejjed li għandna liġijiet li huma ġeneralment liġijiet tajbin. Hemm ħtieġa qawwija ta’ riżorsi għax mingħajr r-riżorsi ma tista’ timplimenta xejn. Ix-xhieda riċenti tal-Assistant Kummissarju tal-Pulizija  Ian Abdilla fl-inkjesta pubblika dwar l-assassinju ta’  Daphne Caruana Galizia, ftit jiem wara li tneħħa mit-tmexxija tat-taqsima tar-reati ekonomiċi, jindika n-nuqqas ta’ impenn biex il-ħafna dikjarazzjonijiet li jsiru kontra l-ħasil tal-flus ikunu implimentati. Sfortunatament id-dikjarazzjonijiet u l-assigurazzjonijiet repetuti tal-Gvern mhumiex kredibbli.

Mhux aħjar l-Opposizzjoni tuża’ l-ħin tagħha dwar dan? Iktar ma jikkonkludu l-glied intern malajr, aħjar għal kulħadd. Hemm ħafna x’isir wara li  Adrian Delia jiġi f’sensieh u jaċċetta l-inevitabbli.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 19 ta’ Lulju 2020

After the PN civil war

The civil war within the PN has no end in sight. This does not only inflict considerable damage on the PN: at the end of the day it damages the whole country.

The two instances of a vote of no confidence in PN leader Adrian Delia are clear political statements which unfortunately the Opposition leader has so far been incapable of deciphering. Labelling the no confidence votes expressed separately by the Opposition Parliamentary Group and the PN Executive Committee as being of no significance further dilutes Adrian Delia’s democratic credentials and reflects his political immaturity. This has a bearing not only on Delia’s credibility but also on that of the PN.

The PN civil war is diverting attention from more pressing issues. The recovery from the devastating impacts of Covid-19 and the strengthening of Malta’s capability in the fight against corruption and money laundering surely require more attention and energy. Not just from government but also from the opposition.

We need to discuss in depth a Covid-19 recovery plan which spans all areas and factors in climate change. Maltese Greens have already made their contribution through the report published some weeks ago entitled: Green Plan: Fair and Sustainable.

A recent Deloitte study commissioned by the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) indicates that the tourism industry is coming to its senses and realising that the recovery is slow, maybe even much slower than originally perceived.  Air Malta’s revised business plan is envisaging that it will take around seven years for the national carrier to return to pre-Covid-19 capacity. All this begs the question, so far avoided, as to whether the expectations of the tourism industry of attaining full recovery are realistic.

Would it not be more realistic if we realise that this is the appropriate time to plan for a tourism industry that foregoes quantity and focuses on quality? Such a course of action would address the substantial negative environmental impacts of the tourism industry. Tourism Minister Julia Portelli-Farrugia is not on the same page. She is unfortunately desperately after numbers.

Moneyval is a Council of Europe Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism. It is a permanent monitoring body tasked with assessing compliance of Council of Europe member States with international standards.

In its 2019 report on Malta, Moneyval, in a 233-page report, made 40 recommendations on measures which need to be taken. The risks are clear: our economy is highly vulnerable to money laundering, even as a consequence of its size and international exposure.  The report emphasises that remote gaming, for example, is inherently vulnerable to money laundering “due to the high number of customers, mainly non-resident, the high volume of transactions, the non-face-to-face nature of the business and the use of prepaid cards.”

Having good laws is not sufficient. Resources are desperately needed as otherwise laws cannot be implemented. The recent testimony of Police Assistant Commissioner Ian Abdilla in the ongoing public inquiry on the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a few days after being unceremoniously removed from leading the Economic Crimes Unit, clearly indicates the lack of commitment to implement Malta’s declared objectives in addressing money-laundering. Unfortunately, government’s repeated declarations and assurances are not credible.

Some food for thought for the Parliamentary Opposition: the sooner they conclude their in-fighting the better. There is much to be done after Adrian Delia comes to his senses and accepts the inevitable.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 19 July 2020

It-turiżmu wara l-pandemija

It-turiżmu kien wieħed mis-setturi li l-iktar intlaqat bħala riżultat tal-pandemija Covid-19. Tul is-snin in-numri tat-turisti li ġew iżuruna żdied kull meta tjiebet il-konnettività: min-naħa l-oħra hekk kif il-konnettività naqset u eventwalment waqfet kompletament, ġara bil-maqlub.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa bdew jaslu l-ewwel turisti fil-port u l-ajruport tagħna. Bil-mod qed terġa’ tiġi stabilita l-konnettività li twassal biex it-turiżmu jibda jirpilja bil-mod. Il-Ministru tat-Turiżmu Julia Farrugia-Portelli f’dawn il-ġranet ħabbret il-mira tal-Gvern: 700,000 turist sal-aħħar tas-sena. Iktar kmieni t-tmexxija tal-Ajruport Internazzjonali ta’ Malta kienet emfasizzat li jeħtieġ madwar sentejn biex il-wasla tal-passiġġiera tirkupra u naslu fejn konna qabel ma faqqgħet il-pandemija.

Jista’ t-turiżmu qatt jilħaq il-livelli ta’ qabel il-pandemija?

Jeżistu stimi diversi dwar il-kontribut tat-turiżmu lejn l-ekonomija. Stima minnhom tipponta lejn kontribut dirett ta’ 5 fil-mija tal-ekonomija. Imma, bħala riżultat tal-impatt fuq setturi oħra dan is-sehem jitla għal madwar 12 fil-mija. Barijiet, restoranti, ħwienet li jbiegħu bl-imnut, attivitajiet pubbliċi, l-industrija tad-divertiment u t-trasport (in partikolari l-kiri tal-karozzi) huma dipendenti fuq it-turiżmu. Setturi partikolari bħat-tagħlim tal-Ingliż u ċ-ċentri tal-għaddasa huma meqjusa bħala parti integrali mill-ekonomija turistika.

Intqal ħafna dwar l-impatt tal-pandemija fuq il-lukandi. Imma anke dawk li jipprovdu sodod turistiċi barra mil-lukandi ġarrew fuq spallejhom impatt sostanzjali avolja ftit li xejn issemmew fid-dibattitu konness mal-impatti tal-pandemija. Dan huwa settur li jinvolvi negozjanti żgħar u dawk li nirreferu għalihom bħala micro-businesses li kull wieħed minnhom jimpjega inqas minn għaxar persuni.

UNCTAD, l-Aġenzija tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar il-Kummerċ u l-Iżvilupp, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ħabbret li l-iġġammjar tat-turiżmu minħabba l-pandemija ser jiswa’ lill-industrija globali tat-turiżmu madwar $1.2 triljun . Din l-istima tista’ tirdoppja skond kif tiżviluppa t-tieni mewġa tal-pandemija.

Il-Ġamajka tista’ titlef madwar 11 fil-mija tal-Prodott Gross Domestiku, t-Tajlandja 9 fil-mija, l-Italja 5 fil-mija. Fl-Unjoni Ewropeja l-agħar impatti huma mal-kosta Mediterranja fejn l-ekonomija hi dipendenti ħafna fuq it-turiżmu. Minbarra Malta hemm l-Italja, l-Kroazja, is-Slovenja, Cipru u l-Greċja li kollha ntlaqtu sew. It-Turkija u t-Tunesija, parteċipanti Mediterranji fl-industrija turistika ukoll iġġammjaw, wara li gawdew minn żidiet sostanzjali fin-numri ta’ turisti tul is-snin.

Jagħmel sens li l-Gvern, f’dan il-waqt, permezz tal-Awtorità Maltija tat-Turiżmu, qiegħed jiffoka fuq li jġib lill-industrija tat-turiżmu lura fuq saqajha. Dan imma, mhux biżżejjed. Jeħtieġ li nibdew naħsbu dwar il-futur tal-industrija u dan billi neżaminaw fid-dettall dak li l-industrja teħtieġ li tiffaċċja fit-tul.

Fi tmiem is-sena li għaddiet, l-2019, ilħaqna in-numru ta’ 2.8 miljun turista iżuruna. Il-punt hu jekk dawn in-numri humiex sostenibbli. Dan hu argument ta’ dejjem li ilu għaddej sa minnmeta n-numri kienu ferm iżgħar. Id-dibattitu kien, u għandu jibqa’ jkun dwar jekk għandniex niffukaw iktar fuq il-kwalità milli fuq il-kwantità.

Il-miġja fostna tal-linji tal-ajru low-cost bħala parti essenzjali mill-politika tat-turiżmu illum tpoġġi emfasi ikbar fuq in-numri. Din hi għażla politika li saret u li teħtieġ li tkun eżaminata u analizzata fil-fond. L-impatti ekonomiċi għandhom jitqiesu fl-istess ħin mal-impatti ambjentali. Irridu niftakru kontinwament li t-turiżmu jiġġenera bosta impatti ambjentali.

Wasal iż-żmien li nirrealizzaw li d-dibattitu meħtieġ dwar il-futur tat-turiżmu jeħtieġ li jsir fl-isfond tal-Patt l-Aħdar: The Green Deal.

L-emissjonijiet tal-ajruplani ser ikollhom ikunu indirizzati fil-futur qarib. Hu inevitabbli li jiddaħħlu taxxi dwar dawn l-emissjonijiet (carbon taxes) fi żmien mhux il-bogħod. Jekk mhux ser jittieħdu passi immedjati dwar dawn l-emissjonijiet ser ikun ħafna iktar diffiċli, biex ma ngħidx impossibli, biex ikunu ndirizzati l-konklużjonijiet tas-Summit Klimatiku ta’ Pariġi tal-2015. Summit li Malta ħarġet tiftaħar li kienet wieħed mill-ewwel pajjiżi li rratifikatu. F’dak il-mument (jekk nibqgħu ma nieħdux passi) mhux biss it-turiżmu jaqla’ daqqa kbira oħra imma tkun il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll li tieħu daqqa l-isfel.

Il-gżejjer Maltin, bħall-parti l-kbira tal-gżejjer imxerrda mal-ibħra, ikunu minn tal-ewwel biex jaqilgħu ġo fihom l-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima. Il-kosta tkun effettwat bl-għoli tal-livell tal-baħar. Tajjeb li niftakru li l-infrastruttura tat-turiżmu qegħda kważi kollha mal-kosta! Iktar ma ninjoraw dan il-fatt bażiku ikbar tkun id-daqqa li naqilgħu.

S’issa naħseb li kulħadd irrealizza kemm l-industrija tat-turiżmu hi waħda fraġli. Kull xokk li l-industrija issofri jista’ jwassal għal tnaqqis kbir fl-impiegi f’din l-industrija. It-turiżmu għadu staġjonali wisq u dan minnu innifsu jwassal għal kundizzjonijiet tax-xogħol ta’ natura prekarja.

Jeħtieġ li nippjanaw iżjed billi nħarsu il-bogħod u fuq medda twila ta’ żmien: naħsbu u nippjanaw sewwa dwar l-impatti soċjali, ambjentali u ekonomiċi ta’ kull deċiżjoni. Dan wara kollox hu l-proċess li jwassal għal żvilupp sostenibbli. Hu l-unika mod kif nistgħu nassiguraw li l-impatti negattivi tal-industrija tat-turiżmu nistgħu nindirizzawhom illum qabel għada.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 5 ta’ Lulju 2020

Post-Covid Tourism

Tourism is understandably one of the hardest hit sectors as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the years, tourism numbers increased substantially as a result of an increased connectivity: the reverse happened the moment that connectivity was restricted or became practically inexistent.

Earlier this week saw the first arrivals at our air and seaports. Slowly, connectivity is being restored. It is expected that tourism will now start a slow recovery. Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia-Portelli is on record with a 700,000-tourist target for year end. Malta International Airport CEO had earlier opined that it will take at least two years to recover to pre-pandemic level airport movements.

Will tourism ever recover to the pre-pandemic levels?

There are various estimates of the contribution of tourism to the economy. One such estimate points at a direct contribution of around 5 percent of our economy. However, as a result of its impacts on other sectors the overall contribution rises to around 12 percent. Bars, restaurants, retail trade, events, entertainment and transport (in particular car hire), are heavily dependent on tourism. Specific sectors such as the English language school sector as well as diving are important sectors in the tourism economy.

Much has been stated on the impact of the pandemic on the hotel industry. The providers of non-hotel beds, however, have also been heavily impacted by the pandemic, but they have not featured much in the post-Covid-19 debate. This is a sector which involves a number of small-scale investors and micro-businesses each employing less than ten employees.

UNCTAD, the UN Trade and Development Agency, earlier this week stated that the four-month standstill of the tourism industry due to the pandemic Covid-19 could cost the industry around $1.2 trillion. This estimated cost could more than double, depending on the severity and spread of a second wave of the pandemic.

Jamaica could lose as much as 11 percent of its GDP, Thailand 9 percent, Italy 5 percent. In the EU, the worst impacts are along the Mediterranean coast where the economy is heavily dependent on tourism. In addition to Malta, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Greece are also heavily impacted. Turkey and Tunisia, Mediterranean players in the tourism industry have also been almost at a standstill, after experiencing a substantial expansion of their tourism industry throughout the years.

It is understandable that government through the Malta Tourism Authority is currently focused on getting tourism back on its feet. This is however not enough. We must start discussing a long-term view of the tourism industry.

At the end of 2019 the 2.8 million mark of tourists visiting the Maltese islands had been attained. The point at issue is whether this is sustainable in the long-term. This has been a perennial issue in tourism politics since the days when the numbers were much lower. The debate was and should be whether we should focus more on quality than on quantity.

The advent of low-cost carriers as an essential part of the tourism equation places more emphasis on numbers than on quality. It is a choice which may need to be analysed and revisited. Economic impacts have to be viewed concurrently with environmental impacts. We must remember that tourism has a considerable environmental impact. It is about time that the tourism debate is carried out within the parameters of the Green Deal.

Aeroplane emissions will at some point in time in the near future have to be addressed. Carbon taxes will sooner or later come into play. Unless they are addressed immediately it will be more difficult, if not practically impossible, to address the Paris Climate Change conclusions to which Malta has adhered. At that point it will not be just the tourism industry but our whole lifestyle which will be in for the chop.

The Maltese archipelago, like all islands, will bear the brunt of climate change impacts. The coastline will be severely hit by a sea level rise. It may be pertinent to remember that the coast houses practically all of the tourism infrastructure. The longer we ignore this basic fact, the more severe will the impacts be.

By now all of us are aware that Tourism is a very volatile industry: any shock will result in mass redundancies. Tourism is currently way too seasonal, and consequently it only serves to create precarious working conditions.

It is the time to plan ahead: thinking carefully of the social, environmental and economic impacts of all decisions. This is what sustainable development is, after all, about. It is the only way to ensure that the negative impacts of the tourism industry are addressed by us sooner rather than later.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 July 2020