The professor who messed things up

Victor Axiaq

 

Professor Victor Axiaq, Chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority, is not at fault for being absent at a Planning Authority public meeting on the 4 August which discussed the Mrieħel and Sliema high-rise applications. By now everyone is aware that he had just been discharged from hospital and was instructed to rest for 15 days.

There were various officers of the Environment and Resources Authority present for the 4 August public meeting, yet instead of entrusting one of them with presenting the environment’s case on the Sliema high-rise, Professor Axiaq preferred to entrust Dr Timothy Gambin with a memorandum which Gambin opted to keep to himself.

There were various environmentalists, Sliema Local Councillors and civil society activists present for the public hearing. Those of us who were present for the public hearing presented the environment case and managed to convince six out of 13 Planning Authority members to vote against the proposed high-rise at TownSquare Sliema. Support for the environment case from a representative of the Environment and Resources Authority during the public hearing would have been most welcome. It could also have had a determining impact.  Yet it was not forthcoming notwithstanding the presence of a number of the Environment and Resources Authority employees at the public hearing.

The split of MEPA into two separate and distinct authorities, we were irresponsibly told by Government representatives some months ago, would ensure that the environmental issues would be more easily defended when considering land use planning applications. Yet prior to the split, an official of The Environment Protection Directorate would have addressed the public hearing. On the 4 August none were invited. The only person who was briefed to speak (Dr Timothy Gambin) opted instead to ignore his brief and instead openly supported the development proposal for a high-rise at TownSquare.

Professor Victor Axiaq, as Chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority, missed the opportunity to contribute to convince the majority of members of the Planning Authority due to his two basic mistakes. He entrusted his memorandum to another Planning Authority member (Dr Timothy Gambin) who had opposing views and hence had no interest in communicating Professor Axiaq’s memorandum on TownSquare to the Planning Authority. Professor Axiaq also failed to engage with his own staff at the Environment and Resources Authority as none of those present for the public hearing uttered a single word in support of the case against the high-rise proposal. The person sitting on the chair next to me, for example, preferred to communicate continuously with his laptop correcting with track changes some report he was working on. I have no idea why he even bothered to be present for the public hearing.

Unfortunately, Professor Axiaq, as chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority, messed up the first opportunity at which the input of the authority he leads could have made a substantial difference in the actual decision taken. It would have been much better if a proper decision was taken on the 4 August instead of subsequently considering whether to present an appeal, as this will be an uphill struggle as anyone with experience in these matters can confirm.  This could only have happened if Professor Axiaq had acted appropriately, which he unfortunately did not.

Next Wednesday, the Sliema Local Council will be convened for an extraordinary session in order to discuss the planning appeal relative to the TownSquare high-rise development permit. Environmental NGOs will also be meeting presently to plot the way forward and consider whether they too will appeal the decision.

Even the Environment and Resources Authority will be shortly considering whether to appeal. In view of the way in which Professor Axiaq handled the whole issue, the Sliema Local Council and the environmental NGOs would do well if they do not place any trust in the Authority led by Professor Victor Axiaq. They will avoid ending up in another mess.

After creating this mess, there is only one option left for Professor Victor Axiaq in my opinion. He should immediately resign from his post as chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority. The sooner he resigns the better.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 14 August 2016

Advertisements

Sandro u l-politika tas-supermarkets

 

Sandro.big shops

 

Sandro Chetcuti jqis liż-żewġ partiti (l-kbar) bħala żewġt iħwienet (kbar) li fihom in-nies tal-business (u b’mod partikolari l-iżviluppaturi tal-MDA) jinqdew meta jkollhom bżonn. Ġieli jixtru mingħand wieħed u ġieli mingħand l-ieħor.  Skond x’ (policies) ikollhom għall-bejgħ. Min jixtri u min ibiegħ.

Forsi bla ma jrid, u mingħajr ma qagħad jomgħod il-kliem, Sandro poġġa sebgħu fuq il-ferita l-kbira fil-politika Maltija: il-politika tal-partiti l-kbar m’hiex ibbażata fuq dak li (suppost) jemmnu iżda fuq dak li jaħsbu li jista’ jġibilhom il-voti.

Allura għandna partit soċjalista li jitkellem u jaħdem kontra t-taxxa tad-dħul f’kompetizzjoni mal-konservattivi.

Il-konservattivi qatt ma kellhom ħeġġa biex jirrevedu l-paga minima. Imma li l-partit soċjalista (li jistħi jgħid li hu hekk) qiegħed attent idur u jdur biex jevita li jmiss mal-ħtieġa li jkun revedut il-basket li fuqu hi ibbażata l-paga minima, l-anqas titwemmen. Tinġieb elf skuża u tingħata elf spjegazzjoni għal dan.

Il-politika tas-supermarket li jħaddnu kemm il-Partit Nazzjonalista u l-Partit Laburista twassalhom biex fil-għodu jisfnu mal-ambjentalisti u waranofsinnhar jisfnu ma Sandro u sħabu. Hija politika tal-kuntrasti li jbikkuk.

Niftakar, snin ilu, lil min jirrakkonta storja dwar Membru Parlamentari Malti li tillustra din is-sitwazzjoni.

Dan il-Membru Parlamentari kienu kellmuh il-kumitat tal-każin tal-banda ta’ lokalità ewlenija fid-distrett elettorali tiegħu. Kienu inkwetati għax kellhom diffikultà dwar il-kamra tan-nar li dwarha kienu qed isibu opposizzjoni mill-bdiewa fl-inħawi.  Il-Membru Parlamentari irranġalhom appuntament mal-Ministru u għodwa waħda mar magħhom sal-Ministeru. Lil Ministru spjegalu kemm kien meħtieġ li jgħin lill-kostitwenti tiegħu li qed jagħtu kontribut kbir għall-ħajja soċjali  u kulturali fil-lokalità. Il-Ministru ħa nota u kemmex xuftejh.

Ftit ġranet wara, l-istess Membru Parlamentari kellu appuntament ieħor mal-istess Ministru. Din id-darba kien qed jakkumpanja delegazzjoni tal-bdiewa, irrabjati minħabba l-kamra tan-nar ippjanata għal ġo nofs ir-raba’ li jaħdmu.

(Ġrajja li tnissillek tbissima u li għalkemm kienu semmewli l-ismijiet tal-persuni involuti, mhux konvint li fil-fatt ġrat.)

Din hi l-politika tal-partiti l-kbar li jsemmi Sandro. Politika mhux ibbażata fuq dak li jemmnu, iżda fuq kif jingħoġbu. Il-politika ta’ kollox għal kulħadd ……….. bħall-ixkafef tas-supermarket.

Malta tagħna lkoll

Malta taghna lkoll

 

Tal-Labour Party ħelwin.

Jgħidulna li Malta tagħna lkoll.

Iżda ma qalulniex għaliex lesti li jħallu lil min jisraq biċċa minn Malta li hi tagħna ilkoll iżomma għalih. Fil-fatt is-serq tal-art biex fuqu inbnew il-boathouses tal-Armier tal-Labour Party iberkuh. Għal-Labour Party l-Armier fejn insterqet l-art m’hiex tagħna ilkoll, iżda tagħhom biss!

Ma qalilniex kif tista’ tkun Malta tagħna ilkoll imbagħad il-Labour Party jivvota favur li Bertie Mizzi jieħu f’idejħ (b’tender s’intendi) Manoel Island.

Mal-ambjentalisti ħafna kliem ħelu dwar kemm taħraqhom qalbhom għall-ambjent. Imma meta jkunu ma’ dawk li jiżviluppaw l-art, jitkellmu b’mod differenti. Iktar jitkellmu dwar kemm il-MEPA qed iżżomm l-iżvilupp lura. Ħalluna naħdmu, qalilhom Sandro Chetcuti!

Malta tagħna lkoll. Bil-kliem iva. Iżda bil-fatti ħaġa oħra.

Magħna taf fejn int!

Living on Ecological Credit

published

Saturday July23, 2011

An informal meeting of EU ministers of the environment held in Poland earlier this month reminded us that we are living on ecological credit. Our balance sheet with nature is in the red. It is healthy that EU politicians have recognised this fact.

Environmentalists have been campaigning for ages that the world is living beyond its means. International NGO WWF, for example, publishes information relative to ecological footprint analysis. From the information available, Malta’s ecological footprint is 3.9 hectares per person. This can be compared to an EU average of 4.9 hectares per person (ranging from a minimum of 3.6 for Poland and Slovakia to a maximum of 7.0 for Sweden and Finland) and a world average of 2.2 hectares per person.

This adds up to a total impact for Malta of about 50 times the area of the Maltese islands. A clear indication of the extent of Malta’s reliance on ecological credit.

Malta’s environmental impacts are accentuated due to the islands’ high population density.

Malta’s small size is in some respects an advantage but this advantage has been generally ignored throughout the years. The reform of public transport, currently in hand, could someday put the issue of size to good use by developing an efficient system of communication. This reform, however, has to be properly managed. Preliminary indications point to a completely different direction. I do not exclude the possibility of the achievement of positive results even if, so far, I am disappointed.

The results the Greens hope to be achieved from the public transport reform would be the increased use of public transport and, consequently, a reduction in the number of cars on the road. This will come about if bus routes are more commuter-friendly. A reduction of cars on the road will lead to less emissions and a reduction of transport-generated noise. It would also cut a household’s expenditure through the reduction of fuel costs.

Water management in Malta also contributes considerably to the island’s ecological deficit.

The commissioning of the Ta’ Barkat sewage purification plant means that Malta is now in line with the provisions of the EU Urban Wastewater Directive. But the actual design of the sewage purification infrastructure means that by discharging the purified water into the sea an opportunity of reducing the pressure on ground water and the production of reverse osmosis-produced water has been lost. The purified water could easily be used as second-class water or it could be polished for other uses. When the Mellieħa sewage purification plant was inaugurated it was announced that studies into the possible uses of the purified water were to be carried out. These studies should have been undertaken before the sewage purification infrastructure was designed as they could have led to a differently designed infrastructure. The system as designed means that any eventual use of the purified water will require its transport from the purification plants to the point of use. A properly designed system could have reduced these expenses substantially by producing the purified water along the route of the public sewers and close to the point of use.

Public (and EU) funds have been wrongly used. Water planners have not carried out their duty towards the community they serve through lack of foresight and by not having an inkling of sustainability issues.

It also means that those who advised the head of state to inform the current Parliament’s inaugural session in May 2008 that “the government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development” were not aware what that statement signifies. Repeatedly, the government, led by Lawrence Gonzi, falls short of addressing adequately environmental impacts, as a result pushing these islands further down the road of dependence on ecological credit.

The government could have opted for a fresh start in May 2008 by implementing the National Sustainable Development Strategy, approved by Cabinet some months prior to the 2008 election. Instead, I am reliably informed that the National Commission for Sustainable Development has not met a single time during the past 42 months. As a consequence, the strategy has been practically shelved and discarded.

I cannot and will not say that there have not been any environmental initiatives. While various initiatives have been undertaken, some only address impacts partially. Others have been embarked upon half-heartedly. It is also clear to all that government environmental action does not form part of a holistic vision. It rather resembles the linking up of loose pieces of unrelated jigsaw puzzle bits.

This contrasts sharply with the public’s awareness and expectations. The public is one step ahead awaiting its representatives to act in a responsible manner in accordance with their much-publicised statements.

Excessive ecological credit will inevitably lead to ecological bankruptcy. No EU or IMF will bail us out. It’s better to take our environmental responsibilities seriously before it is too late.