L-esperiment dwar Manoel Island

Nhar il-Ħamis li għadda kont preżenti għal laqgħa pubblika tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar fejn ġie diskuss il-Master-Plan tal-proġett.

Fost dawk li ma jaqblux mal-proġett ta’ żvilupp ta’ Manoel Island hemm żewġ linji ta’ ħsieb.

L-ewwel hemm dawk li ma jaqblux mal-proġett fil-prinċipju. Jiena ngħodd ruħi magħhom. Jidhrilna li d-deċiżjoni unanima tal-1999 tal-Parlament li għaddiet Tignè f’Tas-Sliema u Manoel Island lill-MIDI għall-iżvilupp kienet deċiżjoni żbaljata. Deċiżjoni li ma nistgħux naċċettawha qatt, jgħaddu kemm jgħaddu snin, għax qegħda iċċaħħad lilna lkoll minn l-aħħar spazji miftuħa fiz-zona. Biex tkompli iżżid, il-MIDI tul is-snin abbużat minn dak li jipprovdi l-kuntratt li għandha mal-Gvern billi xekklet l-aċċess f’Manoel Island bla ma kellha dritt tagħmel dan.

Min-naħa l-oħra hemm dawk li fil-waqt li ukoll ma jaqblux mat-trasferiment ta’ Manoel Island lill-MIDI imma jikkunsidraw lilhom infushom “nies prattiċi”. Dawn ippruvaw biex mill-mitluf isalvaw dak li jistgħu. Għal dan l-iskop twaqqfet il-Fondazzjoni dwar Manoel Island biex jiżviluppaw djalogu strutturat mal-MIDI u fl-istess ħin joħolqu mekkaniżmu għall-kontabilità tal-istess MIDI, għax hu ċar li f’dan il-qasam il-Gvernijiet kollha mill-1999 sal-lum fallew.

Dan l-esperiment tat-twaqqif tal-Fondazzjoni hu wieħed rari f’pajjiżna u ħadd m’għandu jagħti tort lil ħadd li hawn ħafna li huma xettiċi dwar kemm jista’ jkun effettiv. Ħadd ma għandu dubju li l-Kunsill Lokali tal-Gżira irid jiddefendi l-kwalità tal-ħajja tan-nies. Imma huwa fl-istess ħin ovvju li fuq in-naħa l-oħra, għall-MIDI, l-profitti huma l-prijorità.

Huwa għal dan l-iskop li naħseb li għandna noqgħodu ftit iktar attenti. Filwaqt li d-dibattitu hu utli u jservi biex jikkuntrasta ideat differenti hemm bżonn li jieqaf il-kliem iebes li bħalissa qed jintuża fuq il-media soċjali fid-dibattitu dwar Manoel Island. Ma jagħmel ġid lil ħadd.

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Manoel Island: one step forward

The controversy on the future of Manoel Island has been going on for ages.

The citizen’s action some 18 months ago led by eNGO Kamp Emergenza Ambjent and publicly supported by the Gżira Mayor Conrad Borg Manchè as well as various eNGOs led to the current breakthrough with MIDI, as a result of which common sense will be given the opportunity to prevail.

The setting up of the Manoel Island Foundation with environmentalist Claire Bonello as chair is a landmark decision. It does not signify agreement with what has been done to date but rather a determination that in the future, if we put our heads together, we can possibly avoid past mistakes. In time, perhaps, we can also seek to reverse some of the mistakes carried out so far.

When, together with countless others, I joined the protest at Manoel Island 18 months ago, I had one objective in mind: that access to the open spaces and the foreshore of Manoel Island belonged to all of us. There was an urgent need that this access be claimed back and subsequently guaranteed. This has now been done.

The Guardianship agreement focus specifically on the public’s right of access which right has always been in existence even though MIDI did its best to obstruct its use over the years. MIDI has (at last) bound itself to respect such a right of access and together with the Gżira Local Council has spelled out the details on how this can be reasonably exercised. The efforts put in by all environmentalists bore fruit such that MIDI clearly understood that it could no longer avoid the negotiating table. It risked further reputational damage which it could ill-afford.

The cynics among us correctly maintain that there is nothing for which to thank MIDI that has after all obstructed the public’s right of access for so many years! They are of course right, but it is time to move on to the next challenges. We move forward incrementally, one small step at a time.

The Guardianship agreement seeks to address two diametrically opposed positions: the Gżira community’s right of access as supported by the environmental lobby on the one hand and the MIDI development rights granted by Parliament in the 1990s on the other hand.

One can argue until eternity that Malta’s Parliament was irresponsible when it unanimously approved the motion granting development rights to MIDI over the Tigne peninsula and Manoel Island. I still hold that same view. No Green could ever support such a Parliamentary motion, not even with the restoration sugar-coating obligations woven into the agreed concession.

Given that Parliament has no political will to reverse the 1990s decision and take Manoel Island back into public ownership, the Gżira Local Council, supported by eNGOs was right to seek and arrive at the Guardianship agreement. The agreement fills a void which Parliament and government could not even understand, and consequently could not address.

A price had to be paid for the Guardianship agreement to be concluded. This was the acceptance, subject to the provisions of the agreement, of the Manoel Island Masterplan and commitment on the part of those around the negotiating table not to oppose or object to its implementation. I think that this is the point of contention brought forward by those who disagree with the Guardianship agreement. This might be considered a high price to pay. However, it must be pointed out that the agreement contains a number of limitations on the Masterplan’s implementation and grants the Manoel Island Foundation a legal basis to halt the commercialisation of the foreshore or the green open spaces.

Alternattiva Demokratika considers the Guardianship agreement to be a positive step forward as it addresses the pressing issue of access based of a realistic appraisal of the situation. Gżira Local Council and the eNGOs involved are to be applauded for their determination in reaching this goal. Moreover, the Guardianship agreement does not exclude the possibility that in future, a responsible Parliament would seriously consider taking all of Manoel Island back into public ownership. It should however be noted that only a green MP can guarantee that the matter makes it to Parliament’s agenda. The others are too “business friendly” to even consider the matter.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 1st April 2018