What it takes to Green Cinderella


published on Saturday March 20, 2010


Malta’s environmental policy has to date been EU driven for the simple reason that the political establishment in Malta has resisted its development. Dumping environmental responsibilities with land use planning has, in my view, been an integral part of this strategy.

Notwithstanding its past performance, the government’s declaration that it will now embark on consultations leading to the formulation of an environmental policy, which is locally driven, is welcome news. Only time will tell whether this is another exercise in green-washing.

The government’s commitment to safeguard the environment is not to be gauged through its declarations but through its actions or lack of them. Its lack of environmental credentials has been manifested many times. The latest being by Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco who, when introducing the Environment and Development Planning Bill in Parliament, stated that the environment will “no longer be the Cinderella of development”.

This has not come about accidentally. It was a deliberate exercise as a result of which the expertise, which the former Department for the Environment was slowly accumulating, was wiped out. Those who plotted the merger needed to ensure that environmental decisions were subject to development considerations at all times.

Cabinet responsibility for the environment made its first appearance immediately after the 1972 Stockholm Human Environment Conference. In 1976, Malta had a Minister for Health and the Environment. His environmental remit focused on landfills. During his watch, the Luqa and Wied Fulija landfills were closed and a new landfill at Magħtab was opened!

The first real minister for the environment in Malta was Daniel Micallef. He was appointed in 1986 during Labour’s last months in government by then Prime Minster Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, who was seeking to counterbalance the widespread corruption in the Lorry Sant-led Ministry of Works. This corruption was subsequently documented.

Between 1986 and 2002 much was achieved. It would suffice to state that when, in 2002, the Department for the Environment was disbanded it had more credibility and was much more effective than Mepa’s Environment Directorate is today.

A local company that bottles water and soft drinks was recently awarded the 2009 Environment Award for Industry by the Cleaner Technology Centre. The company had relocated to a new site, upgrading its facilities to function eco-efficiently. But it still makes use of substantial amounts of water extracted from the water table through boreholes and sells this as bottled water and soft drinks. Extraction is to the tune of 51 million litres annually. The director of the Cleaner Technology Centre, when prodded in other sections of the press, admitted that the award adjudicating board was not aware that the company extracts ground water through boreholes. Seen within the context of Malta’s depleted water table this award is environmentally blasphemous.

Some persons entrusted with environmental matters have a proven capability of justifying the unjustifiable. This partly explains why Malta’s environmental administration is in shambles.

Within this context I believe there are more pressing issues than the drafting of an environmental policy. Applying all the EU environmental acquis would be a good first step.

A point I have harped on in these pages (1) (2) is the non-implementation of the waste from electric and electronic equipment directive. This directive applies “the producer responsibility principle” as a result of which producers and their representatives have to take back electrical and electronic waste from consumers. Most importers are aware that they are in breach of the directive’s provisions. They feel, however, that they cannot honour their obligations unless the government reviews the eco-contribution regime as, otherwise, they will end up paying twice for the same responsibilities: a payment through eco-contribution and another one through financing the take-back.

There is also a need for legislation regulating noise pollution. EU legislation on the matter (the environmental noise directive) deals only with traffic/transport-generated noise and substantial parts of it are not applicable to Malta. As the EU does not deal sufficiently with the matter, Malta has to date considered it safe to conveniently ignore the need for noise pollution legislation completely. In a densely populated community this issue is of the utmost importance, yet, successive governments have not been bothered.

These examples (water, waste, noise) just scratch the surface of the deficiencies of the environmental set-up, an area which has been continuously muzzled, sidelined, ignored and deprived of resources. It is this attitude which has to change.

The environmental policy this country needs is one which enables its government to be clear and consistent. Declarations on their own are not sufficient as commitment has been continuously absent. If the government really wants to translate its declarations into action it will take much more than an environmental policy to Green Cinderella.

When Pigs are able to Vote



by Carmel Cacopardo

published November 7, 2009


Within the last three months, the law courts have expressed themselves twice on the impact of fireworks in Malta. The first being in late July on whether to stop the display of fireworks from the environs of the Marsa Sports Club. The second was last week on the constitutional application of the Zammit Maempel family relative to the impacts of fireworks on their residence in the area between Birkirkara and San Ġwann.

In the Marsa Sports Club case, the court explained that it had to conclude that the legislative arm of the government had not approved any legislation regulating noise levels to date.

In the Zammit Maempel case, on the other hand, the court underlined that plaintiffs knew all along and prior to taking up residence that the residential property they purchased was situated in an area used for fireworks display for years on end.

It also argued that the state had to seek a balance between the rights of those involved: those organising firework displays on the one hand and those at the receiving end on the other hand.

Earlier this year, in an article entitled The Value Of Silence (February 7) I had pointed out that the provisions of the EU Environmental Noise Directive (END) have not, to date, been implemented in Malta. When these provisions are eventually implemented, a vacuum on noise regulation in Malta would still exist as the directive deals primarily with transport-generated noise.

This vacuum would still require legislative action by the Maltese Parliament.

Other jurisdictions have acted to regulate noise pollution and have introduced legislation for this reason in most areas of modern life.

Fireworks display is known to be a major source of noise pollution during the summer months. Complaints by the public in this respect have been on the increase. Interestingly enough, however, the political parties represented in Parliament have hardly reacted as they are fearful of irritating the fireworks enthusiasts in the different towns and villages all over the islands. This may translate itself into a loss of votes, which they can ill-afford.

In the Zammit Maempel decision by the Constitutional Court there is reference to the expert testimony of ENT physician Alec Lapira who emphasised that impulsive noise levels have a negative effect on auditory health and may be the cause of “permanent hearing disability”. Now this effect on health cannot in my opinion be balanced out with the rights of fireworks enthusiasts to organise and enjoy the displays. Rather, it establishes a duty that the display of fireworks should be carried out in such a manner that health issues are not in any way compromised. If this means that the display of fireworks should be curtailed, then so be it.

An emphasis has been made on the impact of fireworks on humans and their property. Everyone, however, seems to be ignoring the impact of the excessive noise generated by fireworks on animals. Depending on the proximity and intensity of the noise generated, farm animals, pets and wild fauna are all affected negatively by the noise generated.

Also of utmost importance is the chemical composition of fireworks, which, as a result of detonation, form gases and minute solid deposits that may have a negative environmental impact.

The chemicals involved (mainly metal oxides and chlorides) have to be investigated scientifically in order to have a clear picture of the real impacts, if any, which such chemicals have on the quality of air as well as agricultural land and, possibly, on the water table. Such studies and continuous monitoring would establish whether and to what extent EU standards are being adhered to, in particular, those relative to the quality of air, soil and water resources.

Fireworks legislation in Malta is focused on the protection to be afforded to an inhabited area, this being defined as one having a potential residential capacity exceeding 100 human beings. An examination of this argument forms an important part of the Zammit Maempel case. The rural area and the countryside, however, do not feature at all in determining what merits protection.

By directing firework displays to areas classified as uninhabited (including those areas where fewer than 100 human beings live) it stands to reason that Maltese legislation only considers inhabited areas as worthy of protection. Legislation relative to the areas where fireworks can be displayed limits itself to protecting residential property and its occupants provided that this lies within an inhabited area! Sparsely populated areas, such as rural areas and agricultural land and facilities, are not considered worthy of protection. Nor can non-humans complain: they have no right of access to a court of law!

But, then, it is only humans who vote. Pigs, dogs, cats, birds, cows and the rest of the eco-system do not.

That explains it all.

The Value of Silence


published on February 7, 2009

by Carmel Cacopardo



Sound can be pleasant or annoying depending on personal preferences and moods. It becomes noise, acoustic pollution or maybe even sonic violence when it breaches the individual threshold of tolerance.

Through the Environmental Management Construction Site Regulations of 2007, an attempt has been made to regulate sound emanating from construction sites. While this was a step in the right direction it is to be pointed out that these regulations have not yet been rigorously applied.

The European Union, through Directive 2002/49 known as the Environmental Noise Directive (END), dealing with the “assessment and management of environmental noise”, went one step further: It established common criteria to assess and manage noise throughout the EU. It seeks to establish common criteria relative to the assessment of noise generated by main airports, roads carrying more than six million vehicle passages per year, urban areas having a population exceeding 250,000 and railways. The criteria relative to roads are clearly applicable; those relative to major airports would be applicable when flight movements at Malta International Airport exceed 50,000 per annum (29,972 flight movements in 2008), while the other criteria are obviously inapplicable.

The aim of END is three-fold. Firstly, to define a common approach in noise mapping by EU member states and, thus, to determine exposure to environmental noise through common methods of assessment. Secondly, to ensure that information on environmental noise and its effects is made available to the public. Thirdly, subject to public consultation, to adopt action plans on the basis of the noise-mapping results. These aims had to be attained by specific dates, all of which have now expired.

At AD’s request last week, the Meusac core group was informed by the director of Environment Protection, that Mepa does not have the know-how to implement END and that it intends to issue a tender to farm out the technical expertise required. This decision could easily have been taken more than four years ago such that Malta would now be in the phase of implementation. It seems, however, that this is still far away as the tender is yet to be issued!

When END is finally implemented, various noise sources would still be unregulated. Other jurisdictions have tackled such noise sources as the leisure industry, industrial activity that lies close to residential areas as well as the impacts of noise sources within residential areas themselves.

A court report in The Times some days ago highlighted the impacts which noise, generated by air-conditioning units used by a bank in Sliema, has on overlying residences. This particular case highlighted the friction generated within areas wherein commercial and residential use intermingles. Similar friction exists in residential areas due to the fixing of air-conditioning units servicing ground-floor tenements in such a manner as to be a nuisance to residents of overlying tenements. There is no easy solution to this problem if the point of departure is not the seeking of good neighbourly relations.

In September 2008, the Irish government, faced with similar problems, published a Noise Issues Consultation Paper. This was an initiative taken by John Gormley, Green minister for the Environment in the Irish coalition government. Through specific legislation it was proposed to regulate infrastructural, planning, construction, commercial, industrial, recreational and anti-social noise.

Infrastructural noise would be that related to road traffic as well as low-flying aircraft. Regulating noise from planning/construction does not only concern construction sites but also the noise resulting from the use of a property (say, air conditioners). The regulation of noise emanating from commercial and industrial establishments would address the use of equipment in these establishments, noise resulting from clients of bars, nightclubs and discos both when the premises is in use as well as when exiting.

Noise relative to industrial installations, especially those situated close to residential areas, is another area needing to be tackled! Recreational noise would address for example the sonic impact of jet-skis and festa fireworks while anti-social noise would include continual and persistent sounding of alarms (car and house/shop alarms), noise from neighbourhood parties, animal noise in residential areas, in particular the persistent barking of dogs, as well as noise generated by large groups loitering in residential areas late into the night.

Not all of these issues are regulated in Malta. Enabling powers are spread in various laws, which generally authorise the Commissioner of Police to take the necessary action. The police, however, at times are powerless when they consider that a sonic nuisance brought to their attention could not fall within their competence, the issue of air conditioners being a case in point.

This points to the need to consolidate and update Maltese legislation regulating acoustic pollution such that an immediate administrative remedy is available to ensure that the value of silence, where appropriate, is appreciated by all.

Inqas ħsejjes




Jiena u Arnold Cassola dalgħodu iltqajna mas-Sindku u uħud mill-kunsilliera tal-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Birżebbuġa. Iddiskutejna kif il-komunita ta’ Birżebbuġa hi effettwata mill-Port Ħieles u mill-ajruplani li jinżlu lejn l-ajruport tal-Gudja minn fuq Birżebbuġa.


Alternattiva Demokratika tappoġġa lill-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Birżebbuġa huwa u jfittex soluzzjoni għal dawn l-impatti.


L-ewwel nett ngħid li kemm l-ajruport kif ukoll il-Port Ħieles huma essenzjali għall-ekonomija Maltija. Imma dan ma jfissirx illi għax dawn iż-żewġ entitajiet jiġġeneraw ix-xogħol allura nistgħu bħala pajjiż nagħlqu għajnejna għall-impatti li jiġġeneraw. Irrid ngħid li bi ftit ħsieb l-impatti fuq ir-residenti jistgħu jiġu mitigati.


Ser nillimita ruħi għall-ħsejjes ġenerati (acoustic pollution).


Il-Port Ħieles jiġġenera bosta ħsejjes kemm bin-nhar kif ukoll bil-lejl. L-inżul ta’ l-ajruplani minn fuq Bengħajsa għal fuq iż-żona residenzjali Tal-Papa ukoll jiġġenra ħafna ħsejjes minħabba li l-ajruplan ikun viċin li jmiss l-art. Tant ikun viċin li mill-art ikun possibli li jinqara n-numru ta’ registrazzjoni tiegħu !


Irrid ngħid li matul dan l-aħħar żmien kien hemm żvilupp posittiv mid-Dipartiment tal-Avjazzjoni Ċivili u dan billi fin-Noise Abatement Procedures tiegħu ifittex illi matul is-siegħat ta’ bil-lejl (11pm sas-6am) kull meta jkun possibli ma jawtorizzax li ajruplani jgħaddu minn fuq Birżebbuġa. Jiena infurmat li l-unika eċċezzjonijiet iseħħu meta l-qawwa u/jew d-direzzjoni tar-riħ ma jippermettux l-użu ta’ rota alternattiva.


Huwa neċessarju li l-ħsejjes li niġġeneraw ikunu regolati. Il-Gvern diġa għamel pass żgħir il-quddiem meta permezz ta’ avviż legali ppubblika regolamenti dwar is-siti ta’ kostruzzjoni li fihom fost oħrajn illimita l-ħoss massimu li jista’ jkun ġġenerat sa kilometru l-bogħod minn post residenzjali.


Jeħtieġ li nimxu iktar il-quddiem u nassiguraw li l-ħsejjes li niġġeneraw jonqsu għall-ġid ta’ kulħadd.


Bħala l-ewwel pass hemm id-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea (Direttiva 2002/49 tal-25 ta’ Ġunju 2002) intitolata Directive on the Assessment and Management of Environmental Noise.  Il-Gvern Malti waqa’ tlett snin u nofs lura u fil-fatt jidher li għadu ma bediex jimplimenta din id-Direttiva.


Għalhekk f’isem Alternattiva Demokratika fil-MEUSAC (Malta-EU Steering and Action Committee) jiena tlabt li l-Gvern jispjega kif fi ħsiebu jġib il-ħin li tilef u kif ser jimplimenta din id-Direttiva.


Meta l-Gvern jiċċaqlaq inkunu nistgħu nibdew noqorbu lejn tnaqqis tal-ħsejjes li qed idejqu lil kulħadd.