In-Nigret: more agricultural land to be bulldozed

The local plans are seven in number. They are supplemented by a land use planning rationalisation exercise. This consists of the identification of land outside the development zone (ODZ), approximately 2 million square metres in area, on the outskirts of existing urban areas and settlements all over the islands. In July 2006, Parliament, decided that this ODZ land was suitable for development.

The PN led government had then proposed and voted in favour of developing this ODZ land with the Labour Opposition voting against the proposal. But come March 2013 nothing changed as a result of the change in government. Notwithstanding that Labour in Opposition had voted against the proposal, the ODZ land remained within the development zone. All two million square metres of it. As aptly underlined by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in his Il Gattopardo: the more things appear to change the more they remain the same. Greed is in fact colour blind.

Today, almost 17 years after the event, our local communities are realising what that Parliamentary vote signifies. Together with my colleagues I have been all around the island on a regular basis discussing with residents the resulting overdevelopment which is eating up agricultural land at a fast rate. Most localities are impacted.

This week it is the turn of agricultural land at In-Nigret, on the outskirts of Żurrieq, where more agricultural land will soon be cleared for development. Residents are up in arms as they have realised that another 14,960 square metres of arable agricultural land will be shortly developed. Two particular applications for planning control have been submitted (PC85/18 and PC49/19). The former application has already been approved last year while the second application will be considered shortly: it has already been recommended for approval by the Planning Directorate at the Planning Authority.

The planning process currently in hand is concerned with zoning and with determining the extent of permissible development, that is the permissible height and the development density. The development has however already been approved in principle 17 years ago. Unfortunately, notwithstanding the efforts of my party as well as those of environmental NGOs, residential communities ignored the warning signs staring them in the face. Now that the threat of destructive development is approaching individual communities, they are realising that they have been taken for a ride for quite some time. They are now awakening from their blissful slumber, suddenly realising that those whom they trusted all along have betrayed them by giving up for development the open spaces surrounding our settlements and urban areas.

Giving up agricultural land for building development does not make any sense. This is not just an objective argument in favour of protecting agricultural land. It is also essential to protect the green lungs around our urban areas and settlements.

What sense does it make to embark on a €700 million spending spree on the greening of our urban environment and then, simultaneously to bulldoze through our fertile fields? Project Green, if it is to have any worth should first and foremost seek to protect our existing green lungs. This applies not only to the Nigret fields facing the bulldozer in the coming months. It also applies all around the islands to each and every one of the two million square metres of ODZ land which Parliament, 17 years ago, earmarked for development.

The question being asked is: what can be done about it? Is it not too late to act after 17 years? There are very few avenues which can be explored at this late hour but there are some possibilities which hopefully can be utilised to defend the little we have been left with. 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 21 May 2023

The coast and coastal areas belong to all of us

The recent publication of the EIA for what is commonly referred to as the Villa Rosa project at St George’s Bay St Julians brings us back to the dB Pembroke project debate as well as the Paceville Masterplan aborted some six years ago as a result of an intensive debate which involved heavily civil society.

Once more the issue is a development proposal which seeks further intensive commercialisation of the coast and the coastal area. In addition, the impacts on the surroundings are substantial,

The proposal involves a massive 47,572 square metres footprint with a proposed development mix of tourism, leisure and business uses in an area which is already saturated and as a result overcrowded at practically all times of the year.

The EIA contains a number of studies relative to a multitude of aspects. One of these studies is an economic analysis by E-Cubed Consultants. As expected, this study gives a glowing economic endorsement of the project. We have become used to such studies which seem to be able to justify anything. In arriving at its conclusions this study, completely ignores the impacts which the Villa Rosa project will have on the public infrastructure and on the fact that this will have to be made good for by the public coffers. The impacts are substantial when the project is viewed on its own but they assume enormous proportions when viewed cumulatively with the impacts generated by other major projects already in hand or in the pipeline for the area.

This is another case of profits being channelled to the private sector with the public purse being expected to foot the bill for the infrastructural development required. E-Cubed are completely silent on the matter.

Is this the tourism model for the future? As clearly indicated by the Deloitte study on the tourism carrying capacity in the Maltese islands, commissioned by MHRA, at the end of the day we would require 4.7 million tourists per annum if existing and projected tourism projects are to have around an 80 per cent occupancy. This is pure madness: it would signify a more than doubling of the current number of  tourist arrivals.

Even the government stated target of 3 million tourists per annum is too high. If the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) was anything close to serious it would have by now have taken urgent action to curtail the unrestrained development spree of these speculative developers. Their greed has no limits. It is driving this country towards a complete ruin.

The commercialisation of the coast and coastal areas has to stop before it engulfs the few open spaces left undeveloped in the vicinity of the coast.

Through amendments to the Civil Code in what is known as the Public Domain Act Parliament has approved legislation to protect the coast and to increase access to the public as a result. This legislative action unfortunately has so far proven to be another gimmick. If it were to be in any way effective this legislation would have nipped in the bud the proposed Villa Rosa development as it goes against both the letter and the spirit of this legislation.

A continuous effort to commercialise the coast is under way. It has been going on for quite some time. Some time back we had the proposal for a Marsaskala yacht marina. Some other glaring examples which come to mind are the case of  Manoel Island, Balluta Bay, the Birgu Waterfront and yacht marina, the Kalkara yacht marina, Valletta Waterfront.

There is also the ongoing commercialisation of the public spaces adjacent to the coast, including pavements and open spaces.

Public land is continuously being transformed into private profits, many times for the chosen few. In practically all cases, the quality of life of residents is not factored in, until the eleventh hour. Whenever possible, it is either avoided completely or else the residents are slowly squeezed out of residential areas.

It has been around four years since parliament approved legislation in order to reinforce the protection of the coastline through the public domain legislation. Environmental NGOs have submitted a list of over twenty sites along the coast which qualify for protection. I am informed that eNGOs have even carried out extensive research on ownership issues related to these sites. It is indeed unfortunate that the Lands Authority and the Planning Authority have ground the whole process to an unacceptable halt as a result rendering legislation ineffective. This applies even in those instances where it is proven beyond any doubt whatsoever that the land in question is public property.

Why approve such laws when there is no intention to implement them?

We need to act to protect what is left of the coast and the coastal areas, before it is too late. Unfortunately, there is no political will to act. Government and its authorities consider the coast and the coastal areas as money spinners. A vision which they pursue relentlessly in bed with the speculators.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 26 March 2023

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

Il-governanza tajba u l-ħarsien tal-ambjent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good governance and environment protection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rule of law matters, in environmental issues too! 

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 25 October 2020

Incinerating trust, fairness and common sense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 October 2020

L-ekoterapja: in-natura tista’ tfejjaq

Il-bniedem hu parti integrali mill-eko-sistema. Li jkun f’kuntatt dirett mad-dinja naturali hi parti intrinsika mill-imġieba normali tiegħu. Hu għaldaqstant meħtieġ li nagħtu iktar attenzjoni lil kuntatti tagħna man-natura u dan, fost affarijiet oħra, biex nieħdu ħsieb saħħitna stess.

In-natura hi bosta drabi nieqsa minn ħajjitna. Richard Louv, awtur u ġurnalista Amerikan, fil-ktieb tiegħu The Last Child in the Woods jitkellem dwar diżordni kkawżat min-nuqqas ta’ kuntatt man-natura (Nature-Deficit Disorder) li fil-fehma tiegħu iwassal għal problema fl-imġieba ta’ tfal li tilfu jew qatt ma żviluppaw il-kuntatt tagħhom man-natura. Sfortunatament, mhux biss it-tfal qegħdin f’din is-sitwazzjoni. Hemm riskju kbir li aħna lkoll xi ftit jew wisq inkunu effettwati.

Riċentement bosta qed jitkellmu dwar l-importanza li niżviluppaw ġonna fuq il-bjut tagħna b’mod li noħolqu spazji żgħar naturali fiż-żoni urbani. Din hi idea tajba u tagħmel il-ġid, imma għandu jkun ċar li mhiex sostitut għal kuntatt dirett u reali man-natura.

Xi kultant din il-ħeġġa għal ġonna fuq il-bjut hi mod kif uħud jaħsbu li jistgħu jissodisfaw it-tniggiż tal-kuxjenza li żviluppat fil-konfront tal-ħerba fl-ambjent naturali u li qed tkompli tiżviluppa madwarna ħtija ta’ l-hekk imsejjaħ żvilupp bla rażan. Hi ukoll reazzjoni ta’ dawk li qed iħossu l-effett ta’ nuqqas ta’ kuntatt dirett mad-dinja naturali fuq tul ta’ żmien.

Il-kuntatt kontinwu tagħna man-natura hi ta’ għajnuna kbira biex inħarsu saħħitna. Dan ifisser ukoll li min hu marid, b’mod partikolari jekk soġġett għal mard mentali, jista’ jkun mgħejjun jikseb saħħtu lura permezz ta’ kuntatt dirett man-natura: f’numru ta’ każi jista’ jikseb fejqan b’mod naturali. Din hi l-ekoterapija.

Birdlife Malta u l-Fondazzjoni Richmond, flimkien, daħlu f’dan il-qasam madwar sentejn ilu. B’għotja ta’ €17,000 mingħand il-Malta Social Impact Awards fasslu programm ta’ ekoterapija li sejħulu Blooming Minds, intenzjonat biex itejjeb il-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ persuni bi problema ta’ saħħa mentali. Żviluppaw programm impenjattiv li kien imsejjes fuq taħriġ fl-apert b’mod li jkun hemm użu tan-natura bħala għodda terrapewtika, kif ukoll bl-apprezzament tal-istess natura u tal-ġonna. Il-professjonisti inkarigati mill-programm identifikaw li dan wassal biex assista lil dawk li ipparteċipaw fi żvilupp ta’ fiduċja ikbar fihom infushom kif ukoll sensazzjoni ta’ kalma meta jkunu fil-kumpanija ta’ natura li ssaħħrek.

Waħda mill-professjonisti nkarigati mill-programm ikkummentat li dawk li ipparteċipaw fis-sessjonijiet ta’ ekoterapija ħadu pjaċir bil-parteċipazzjoni tagħhom. Irrilassaw permezz ta’ dan il-kuntatt tagħhom man-natura. L-ambjent naturali irnexxielu jħalli impatt pożittiv fuqhom.

Imma l-fondi spiċċaw u dan il-programm ta’ ekoterapija waqaf, għalissa.

Qabel din l-inizjattiva ta’ Birdlife u l-Fondazzjoni Richmond kien hemm inizjattivi simili kemm mill-għaqda ambjentali Friends of the Earth Malta f’Villa Chelsea kif ukoll minn oħrajn.

L-ekoterapija hi ta’ benefiċċju għal kulħadd imma l-iktar għal dawk bi problema ta’ mard mentali inkella li qegħdin f’riskju ta’ dan il-mard. L-ekoterapija toffri attenzjoni personalizzata, m’għandhiex impatti negattivi u tgħin lil dawk li jirċievuha jrabbu iktar fiduċja fihom infushom.

Mhux biss it-tfal jeħtieġu li jkunu mħarsa milli jiżviluppaw sintomi kkawżati min-nuqqas ta’ kuntatt man-natura. Ilkoll kemm aħna qed inqattgħu iktar ħin ġewwa! Għandna l-ħtieġa li nistabilixxu mill-ġdid il-kuntatti tagħna mal-egħruq tagħna: egħruq tagħna fin-natura, u mhux fuq il-bejt.

L-ekoterapija hi għodda li tagħtina n-natura biex nieħdu ħsieb is-saħħa mentali tagħna. In-natura tagħtina s-soluzzjonijiet għall-benefiċċju tagħna.

Il-Birdlife u l-Fondazzjoni Richmond ħadu inizjattiva tajba u li tagħmel il-ġid. Imma sfortunatament din l-inizjattiva waqfgħet għax spiċċaw il-fondi. Hu fl-interess ta’ kulħadd li nassiguraw li din l-inizjattiva terġa’ tibda mill-ġdid malajr kemm jista’ jkun u li din ma tibqax temporanja iżda issir inizjattiva permanenti. Dan ikun għall-benefiċċju ta’ kulħadd.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 17 ta’ Mejju 2020

Ecotherapy: nature can cure

Human beings are part of the eco-system. Being in direct contact with the natural world is an integral part of our normal basic behaviour. We need to pay more attention to our natural ties in order to maintain and reinvigorate our health.

Nature is many times absent in our daily lives. Richard Louv, an American journalist and author, in his publication The Last Child in the Woods coined the term Nature-Deficit Disorder through which he points at the consequences of alienating children from the natural world causing a wide range of behavioural problems. Unfortunately, it is not only children that are developing a Nature-Deficit Disorder. There is a serious risk that this can, and most probably is, infecting most of us.

Recently there is much talk going on relative to the importance of roof gardens, transforming our roofs into small gardens as a result creating small natural spots within our urban areas. This is an idea worth pursuing, but it is no substitute for the real thing: an interaction with an unspoilt countryside.

At times the clamouring for roof gardens is more the result of pangs of conscience seeking to somehow make good for the large-scale havoc on the natural environment resulting from unbridled development. It is also a call of those who feel the impact of being deprived of contacts with nature over a long time.

Our continuous contact with nature in its authentic unspoilt form helps us stay healthy. Conversely nature can help those of us who are sick, in particular the mentally sick, to regain their health, in a natural way. This is ecotherapy, a developing area of practice and study.

Birdlife Malta and the Richmond Foundation have together ventured into this area some two years ago. With a grant of €17,000 from the Malta Social Impact Awards they designed an ecotherapy programme called Blooming Minds aimed at improving the lives of persons with mental health problems. They developed an engaging and inclusive programme of outdoor sessions making use of nature as a therapeutic tool through nature art, gardening and a general appreciation of nature. This, as evidenced by the professionals guiding the programme, assisted confidence building, and the enjoyment of the calming effect of being in green spaces in the exclusive company of nature.

One of the programme managers commented thus: “Our clients have thoroughly enjoyed the ecotherapy sessions they have attended so far. They were relaxing and a really efficient way for them to get in touch with nature and wind down at the same time. It is clear that they were impacted by the environment in a positive way.”

The funds dried up and this particular ecotherapy programme was discontinued, for the time being.

Prior to this initiative by Birdlife and Richmond Foundation similar initiatives were taken by Friends of the Earth Malta at Villa Chelsea as well as by other environmental NGOs.

Ecotherapy is beneficial for everyone – but especially for those with a mental health problem or those at risk of developing one, offering focus and care that is person-centred, non-intrusive and empowering.

It is not only children that need to be saved from a nature-deficit disorder. All of us are spending less time outdoors. We need to re-establish contact with our roots, in the countryside not on our roofs!

Ecotherapy is a green tool to improve mental health. Nature offers solutions which we should tap and use for our benefit.

NGOs Birdlife and Richmond Foundation have taken a worthwhile initiative and have shown us the way forward. Due to a lack of funds this initiative is unfortunately not active anymore. It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that this initiative is reactivated the soonest and to lay the foundations to transform it into a permanent activity. Everyone stands to gain.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 May 2020

L-iżbilanċ ambjentali

L-iżbilanċ ambjentali qiegħed dejjem jiżdied. Fid-diskors twil iżżejjed tiegħu meta ħabbar il-Baġit, il-Ministru tal-Finanzi Edward Scicluna dan il-fatt ma jagħtix kas tiegħu.

L-iżviluppaturi tal-propjetà, permezz tal-assoċjazzjoni tagħhom l-MDA esprimaw is-sodisfazzjon tagħhom dwar Baġit li għal darba oħra aċċetta l-proposti tagħhom biex l-iskemi ta’ inċentivi dwar tnaqqis ta’ taxxi marbuta max-xiri tal-propjetà jkunu estiżi. Il-Baġit jippreżenta dawn il-proposti b’libsa ta’ proposti soċjali. Fir-realtà huma miżuri kontra l-ambjent għax għandhom impatt dirett fuq iktar żvilupp ta’ art kif ukoll fuq l-intensifikazzjoni tal-iżvilupp fiż-żoni urbani tagħna.

It-turiżmu tal-Cruise liners huwa mfaħħar fid-diskors tal-Baġit. Il-Ministru Scicluna jentużjażma ruħu ftit iżżejjed meta jħabbar fid-diskors tiegħu li l-industrija tal-cruise liners f’Malta kibret b’75% tul dawn l-aħħar sitt snin. Il-Ministru Scicluna, probabbilment mhux konxju biżżejjed li l-industrija tal-cruise liners hi kontributur mhux żgħir fil-kontaminazzjoni tal-kwalità tal-arja.

Jeżistu diversi studji dwar l-impatti ambjentali tal-cruise liners fl-ibħra internazzjonali. Il-materja kienet mistħarrġa ukoll minn għaqda ambjentali lokali bl-għajnuna ta’ għaqda ambjentali Ġermaniża. Il-kampjuni tal-arja li ħadu mill-inħawi tal-Port il-Kbir jindikaw preżenza mhux żgħira ta’ partikoli mikroskopiċi fl-arja li qed jispiċċaw fil-pulmun ta’ dawk li jgħixu, jaħdmu inkella sempliċiment jgħaddu mil-lokalitajiet madwar il-Port il-Kbir. Bla dubju l-istess ħaġa insibuha f’Birżebbuġa bħala riżultat tal-operazzjonijiet tal-Port Ħieles.

Biex dan ikun indirizzat, soluzzjoni possibli tkun l-introduzzjoni ta’ obbligu li l-vapuri jagħmlu użu minn elettriku ġġenerat fuq l-art meta dawn ikunu mal-moll. Dwar dan diġa saru studji preliminari. L-istudji, iżda, mhumiex biżżejjed. Jirrikjedu ukoll id-disponibilità għall-azzjoni – disponibilità li presentement ma teżistix. L-istudju dwar il-Port il-Kbir sar fl-2014 filwaqt li dak dwar Birżebbuġa sar fl-2018. Dwar dan kollu d-diskors tal-Baġit hu sieket.

Il-Gvern għadu ma ħabbarx id-data li minnha ‘l-quddiem mhux ser ikun possibli li jkunu impurtati f’Malta karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-diżil. Ġejna nfurmati li din id-data tista’ titħabbar fl-2020. It-tfassil tal-istrateġija tal-Gvern f’dan il-qasam qed tieħu fit-tul biex tieħu sura meta kien il-Prim Ministru nnifsu li ħabbarha iktar minn sentejn ilu. Ma hemm l-ebda serjetà fil-mod kif din l-istrateġija qed tkun imfassla. Il-materja mhix biss dwar li ma nimpurtawx iktar karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-diżil.

Tinvolvi ukoll l-interess esaġerat kurrenti fl-iżvilupp ta’ pompi tal-petrol ġodda f’diversi inħawi ta’ Malta. Għax xi ħtieġa hemm għal iktar pompi tal-petrol meta d-deċiżjoni dwar l-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport privat qiegħed wara l-bieb? Moratorju immedjat dwar l-iżvilupp ta’ pompi tal-petrol ġodda kienet tkun deċiżjoni tajba u f’waqtha, meta hu aċċettat minn kulħadd li ma hemmx użu għalihom!

Il-Baġit, ifaħħar u jiftaħar bl-investiment massiċċ fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq. B’mod partikolari dwar mini jew fly-overs li x-xogħol dwarhom għaddej inkella qiegħed fi stadju avvanzat ta’ ippjanar.

Il-ġustifikazzjoni għal dan, minn dikjarazzjonijiet diversi li saru matul ix-xhur li għaddew, hi, biex tkun indirizzata l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku. Studji li saru madwar id-dinja kollha repetutament żvelaw li dawn it-tipi ta’ żviluppi fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq inevitabilment twassal għal-iktar traffiku.

Il-Minstru dan kollu jinjorah u jibqa’ jinsisti li jarmi daqstant miljuni ta’ ewro. Apparti li jgħarbel ftit l-esperjenza f’pajjiżi oħra, l-Onor. Ministru għandu jikkonsulta ruħu wkoll mal-Master-Plan għat-Trasport li tfassal taħt id-direzzjoni tal-Gvern li minnu jifforma parti u li b’mod mill-iktar ċar ifisser kif it-tnaqqis tal-karozzi privati mit-toroq tagħna hu għan essenzjali. Il-Ministru għall-Finanzi għandu jfittex li jkun jaf l-għaliex il-Gvern jitlob il-pariri u mbagħad dawn ikunu injorati.

Fl-aħħar il-Gvern irrealizza li hemm ħtieġa ta’ strateġija għal Green New Deal. Din hija strateġija li tindirizza l-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima b’mod sostenibbli: ekonomikament, ekologikament u soċjalment. Imma biex strateġija ta’ dan ix-xorta tkun tagħmel sens, il-Gvern għandu, l-ewwel u qabel kollox iżarma l-istrateġiji li diġa għandu u li huma dijametrikament opposti għall-Green New Deal.

Ma jagħmilx sens, per eżempju, li filwaqt li l-Gvern repetutament jiddikjara ruħu favur il-ħtieġa tal-ħarsien ambjentali, imma mbagħad kontinwament joħroġ inċentivi biex jinkoraġixxi is-suq tal-propjetà. Lanqas ma jagħmel sens li jibqa’ għaddej bil-programm intensiv tal-iżvilupp tal-infrastruttura tat-toroq jew li jibqa’ għaddej bil-pjani dwar l-iżvilupp tal-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex li inevitabilment ser isservi biex iktar karozzi jaqsmu bejn il-gżejjer b’faċilità.

Flok l-għotjiet għax-xiri tal-batteriji għall-ħażna tal-elettriku ġġenerat mill-pannelli fotovoltajiċi kien ikun ferm aħjar kieku l-Gvern jagħti bidu għal investiment massiv biex ikun assigurat li s-sistema tad-distribuzzjoni tal-elettriku titjib għax hu b’dan li jista’ jkun aċċertat illi fid-djar tagħna jkun possibli li niġġeneraw iktar elettriku mix-xemx. In-nuqqas ta’ miżuri effettivi biex tkun iġġenerata iktar enerġija minn sorsi rinovabbli juru kemm mhu veru xejn li l-Gvern hu kommess favur t-tfassil u l-implimentazzjoni ta’ strateġija dwar il-Green New Deal.

Il-Ministru tal-Finanzi qed jgħaddina biż-żmien meta f’nifs wieħed jinsisti jitkellem dwar Għawdex bħala gżira ekoloġika filwaqt li jibqa’ jinsisti fuq “ħtieġa” għall-mina bejn il-gżejjer. Mina li ser taċċellera l-ħsara ambjentali fil-gżira Għawdxija.

L-iżbilanċ ambjentali qed jikber kontinwament, bla ebda kontroll ta’ xejn.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 20 ta’ Ottubru 2019