Min jitwieled tond, ma jmutx kwadru

Uħud ma kienux qed jistennew li Malta tiżdied fuq il-lista l-griża tal-Financial Action Task Force (FATF).  Il-kitba, iżda, ilha fuq il-ħajt għal bosta żmien. Sfortunatament il-linġwaġġ tal-governanza tajba ma jinftiehemx minn kulħadd. B’mod partikolari, min l-unika valur li jifhem fih hu dak tal-flus, ftit li xejn ser jifhem u jagħti kaz.  

Uħud donnhom jgħixu kontinwament fid-dellijiet. Donnhom jippreferu li jinsatru fid-dell tal-kważi anonimità. It-taħwid f’dan it-tip ta’ ambjent hu ferm iktar faċli.

Skond rapporti fil-media, l-awditur intern tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet,  Charlene Muscat, qed tingħata l-ġemb u ġiet miżmuma milli taqdi r-responsibbiltajiet tagħha. Qed jingħad li dan ilu jseħħ numru ta’ xhur.  Wara li ħejjiet rapport kritiku dwar ħidmet l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet issa ser tispiċċa trasferita x’imkien ieħor fis-servizz pubbliku.  

Charlene Muscat, li kienet ġurnalista mal-One kif ukoll hi ex-Sindku Laburista tal-Imqabba kienet impjegata biex tiffaċilita l-governanza tajba fl-Awtorità tal-Artijiet u dan billi tagħmel il-verifiki interni ta’ ħidmet l-awtorità.  Ġiet miżmuma milli tagħmel xogħolha billi, fost oħrajn ma tħallietx tattendi laqgħat tal-Bord u nżammilha aċċess għall-files meħtieġa biex tagħmel xogħolha. Fi ftit kliem xi ħadd iddeċieda li xogħol l-awditur intern ma kienx iktar meħtieġ. Nifhem dan xi jfisser għax dan għaddejt minnu jiena ukoll f’ċirkustanzi oħra xi żmien ilu.

Dan hu eżempju ieħor ta’ Gvern li jgħid ħaġa u jagħmel oħra: jikkuntrasta ma dak kollu li ntqal dwar il-posizzjoni ta’ Malta fuq il-lista l-griża tal-FATF. Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela ilu jxerred id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli dwar kemm Malta ġiet ittrattata ħażin meta tqegħdet fuq din il-lista l-griża, għax ma ħaqqiex hekk. Imbagħad, fl-istess ħin il-Gvern tiegħu stess jirresisti proċessi ta’ verifika trasparenti, tant essenzjali biex tkun assigurata governanza tajba.  Mingħajr  governanza tajba, trasparenza u kontabilità, ftit hemm ċans li neħilsu minn posizzjoni fuq il-lista l-griża!

L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet twaqqfet ftit wara li tfaċċa l-iskandlu Gaffarena, bħala rimedju għat-taħwid li kien tfaċċa dakinnhar. Għad hemm lok għal bosta spjegazzjonijiet anke dwar dan, għax il-ħolqien tal-Awtorità jidher li ma solviet xejn, għax min jitwieled tond, ma jmutx kwadru.

Dak li kien CEO tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, James Piscopo, kien warrab mill-kariga tiegħu ftit inqas minn sena ilu. Il-kuntratt tiegħu ma kienx ġie mġedded, u dan meta bdew jissemmew numru ta’ allegazzjonijiet serji fil-konfront tiegħu.  Kien intqal li t-taqsima tar-reati ekonomiċi fil-korp tal-Pulizija kienet qed tinvestiga numru ta’ transazzjonijiet offshore. Investigazzjoni kumplessa li jekk u meta tkun konkluża setgħet possibilment titfa’ dawl fuq  bosta ħwejjeġ. Dak li kien skrivan mal-Air Malta għad hemm bosta ħwejjeġ x’jispjega!

Iil-qarrejja bla dubju jiftakru x’għadda bejn is-sidien tal-Lukanda Fortina u l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet. Kif art pubblika li oriġinalment ngħatat b’kundizzjonijiet favorevoli għat-turiżmu spiċċat tiġi sviluppata b’mod spekulattiv għal ufiċċini u appartamenti. Żvilupp li qed iwassal għal qliegħ ta’ miljuni, a spejjes tal-kaxxa ta’ Malta. S’issa għad mhux ċar kif dan seħħ u min kien responsabbli biex ippermettieħ. L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet għad trid tispjega x’ġara eżattament.

Fid-dell, kważi mistura, hemm numru ta’ interessi kummerċjali marbutin flimkien. Interessi li nifhem li bdew ifeġġu fuq l-iskrijn tal-komputer ta’ dik li kienet l-awditur intern tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet. L-ispjegazzjonijiet iżda qatt ma ngħataw.

Meta nħolqot l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, flok dak li kien id-Dipartiment tal-Artijiet, kien intqal b’ħafna pompa li ser tiddaħħal iktar serjetà fl-amministrazzjoni tal-art pubblika. Ma kienx ser ikollna iktar “King tal-Lands”, għax kollox kien ser jgħaddi f’idejn ir-Repubblika!  Fir-rapporti annwali tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet hu emfasizzat li din hi mibnija fuq prinċipji sodi: fuq sens ta’ ġustizzja, kontabilità u trasparenza. Probabbilment li dik li kienet awditur intern ma taqbel xejn ma dan!  

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 4 ta’ Lulju 2021

Old habits die hard

Malta’s grey-listing by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) may have caught some on the wrong foot.  The writing, however, has been on the wall for some time. The language of good governance does not have any meaning or significance to those who appreciate values only within the context of the skills required to handle a bank account.

Unfortunately, lurking in shadowy grey areas has been a favourite past-time for some, where they consider themselves as being quite at home.

According to reports in the media, the Internal Auditor at the Lands Authority, Charlene Muscat, has been side-lined, prevented from carrying out her duties and responsibilities for a number of months. She is now being redeployed elsewhere in the civil service. This follows her critical report on the Lands Authority.

Charlene Muscat, a former One TV reporter and former Labour Mayor of Mqabba was employed in order to ensure that proper internal checks and balances are in place thereby facilitating good governance at the Lands Authority. She has been obstructed from doing her work properly by being prevented from attending board meetings, and from having access to files. In a few words, someone, somewhere made sure that the Internal Auditor is rendered useless and ineffective. I have a personal understanding of what this means and feels, having been through it myself elsewhere.

This is another example of the double-talk of government and comes hot on the heels of the FATF grey listing. The Prime Minister Robert Abela whines and whinges about Malta’s grey-listing by the FATF, shedding many crocodile tears in the process. However, at the same time, his own government actively resists the implementation of transparent internal auditing processes, a basic prerequisite for good governance. Without good governance, transparency and accountability we will never get rid of grey-listing.

Set up in the wake of the Gaffarena scandal, the Lands Authority has quite a lot of pending explanations, as apparently, old habits die hard!

Former Lands Authority Chief Executive James Piscopo stepped down from his role less than a year ago after his contract was not renewed in the wake of a number of serious allegations in his regard.  The economic crimes unit is apparently still investigating a number of offshore transactions of the former Air Malta purchasing clerk: a complex investigation which, once concluded, could possibly join a lot of dots, as a result placing more grey areas under the spotlight.

Readers may remember the dealings of the Fortina Hotel owners with the Lands Authority as a result of which public land made available to the Fortina developers in the past for tourism purposes is currently being redeveloped partly as offices and apartments. It is not so far clear as to who and how made it possible for subsidised public land to be available for speculation. A very grey area which the Lands Authority has a duty to be very transparent about.

In the grey shadows there are a number of interlocking commercial interests which I presume time and again appear on the computer screens of the Lands Authority internal auditor. Explanations have not been forthcoming yet.

When the Lands Authority was created, rising from the ashes of the former Lands Department, it was depicted as the long-awaited solution to the opaque internal secretive dealings involving land in public ownership. The Lands Authority would no longer have a king. Now it ought to be part of the republic! Its annual reports emphasise that it has a corporate philosophy grounded in the values of fairness, accountability and transparency. Really? The (former) internal auditor is definitely not convinced about that!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 July 2021

Business friendly: il-flus qabel in-nies!

Art pubblika qed tittieħed minn stabilimenti tal-ikel u x-xorb biex tkun estiża l-attività kummerċjali tagħhom fit-triq u dan bil-konsegwenza ta’ diversi problemi għar-residenti u l-komunitajiet tagħna madwar Malta.

L-aħħar każ fl-aħbarijiet hu dak ta’ Triq il-Kbira San Ġiljan li seħħ wara li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ħarġet permess biex f’żona li sal-lum kienet riżervata għall-parkeġġ jibdew jitqegħdu l-imwejjed u s-siġġijiet. Sid l-istabbiliment aġixxa hekk kif irċieva l-permess tal-ippjanar mingħajr ma qagħad jistenna għal deċiżjoni mingħand l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet dwar jekk jistax ikun aċċettabbli li art pubblika tintuża bil-mod propost.

Il-qarrejja probabbilment jiftakru li xi żmien ilu l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet kienet irrifjutat applikazzjoni simili fix-Xatt il-Gżira. F’dak il-każ partikolari appell ta’ lukanda minn deċiżjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet biex flok spazji għall-parkeġġ tal-karozzi fi triq ewlenija jitqiegħed platform u fuqu imwejjed u siġġiet kien irrifjutat. It-talba biex jitqegħdu l-imwejjed u s-siġġijiet kienet irrifjutata minħabba li kienu ser jonqsu żewġ spazji għal parkeġġ kif ukoll minħabba tħassib dwar sigurtà tan-nies.

Minkejja din id-deċiżjoni li ttieħdet iżjed minn sena ilu mit-Tribunal Amministrattiv jidher li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar għadha marbuta mal-interessi tan-negożji.

Ikun floku li niftakru li d-dokument bil-politika tal-ippjanar dwar it-tqegħid ta’ imwejjed u siġġijiet fi spazji pubbliċi kien imfassal minn kumitat inter-MinisterjalI li speċifikament kien eskluda l-parteċipazzjoni ta’ rappreżentanti tal-lokalitajiet tagħna. L-interessi tal-lokalitajiet, kemm dawk tar-residenti kif ukoll dawk tal-Kunsilli Lokali kienu kompletament injorati. Iktar minn hekk, meta l-materja kienet ikkunsidrata mill-Kabinett, mid-dehra l-Ministru tal-Kunsilli Lokali Owen Bonnici kien rieqed għax kieku bla ebda dubju kien jiġbed l-attenzjoni ta’ sħabu li l-Liġi dwar il-Kunsilli Lokali, fl-artiklu 33 tistabilixxi li hi funzjoni ta’ kull Kunsilli Lokali li “ jagħti pariri lil u, li jkun ikkonsultat minn kull awtorità li tieħu xi deċiżjonijiet li direttament jew indirettament jolqtu l-Kunsilli u lir-residenti li jkunu responsabbli għalihom.”

F’kull parti tal-pajjiż, il-Kunsilli Lokali huma rrabjati dwar kif dawn ir-regoli speċifiċi tal-ippjanar ġew imfassla, approvati u implimentati b’mod li jpoġġu n-negożju u l-flus qabel in-nies.

F’dan il-każ speċifiku ta’ San Ġiljan l-ispażju pubbliku li hu propost li jittieħed hu presentment utilizzat għall-parkeġġ.

Ipprova imxi fuq il-bankina fix-xatt bejn il-Gżira u tas-Sliema u ibqa’ għaddej max-Xatt ta’ Tigne. Tkun mixja diffiċli minħabba li n-negozji għamlu l-bankina tagħhom (bil-barka tal-awtoritajiet) u dak li hu tal-pubbliku ikkapparrawh: mhux biss il-bankina imma ukoll kważi kull spazju għall-parkeġġ.

Li tipprova timxi fuq il-ftit spazju li ħallew hi diffiċli ħafna għal kulħadd imma l-iktar għar-residenti li joqgħodu fl-appartamenti fis-sulari ta’ fuq dawn in-negozji. Jiffaċċjaw kull xorta ta’ diffikulta mill-ħruġ tal-iskart, li bilkemm ħallewlhom fejn dan jitpoġġa kif ukoll anke diffikulta biex idaħħlu fi djarhom għamara ta’ kull xorta. Dan hu r-riżultat tal-politika tal-Gvern tal-lum li tpoġġi l-interessi tan-negożju qabel l-interessi tan-nies: politika business-friendly. Infrastruttura sigura u aċċessibli għan-nies hi kontinwament mogħtija l-ġenb kemm mill-Gvern kif ukoll mill-awtoritajiet pubbliċi.

Jiena dejjem kont tal-fehma li l-Ippjanar għall-użu tal-art hu għan-nies. Sfortunatment dan ġie ttrasformat f’magna li tiffaċilita l-qliegħ tal-flus.

Għamel sew Albert Buttigieg, is-Sindku ta’ San Ġiljan, li sabbat saqajh u rreżista l-aħħar attentat tan-negozju biex bl-għajnuna tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jibqa’ jħarbat il-ħajja tan-nies. Kien ukoll f’waqtu l-intervent tal-President tal-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Kunsilli Lokali Mario Fava waqt il-konferenza stampa li fiha dan l-abbuż inġieb għall-attenzjoni tal-istampa fejn saret enfasi ukoll li dawn ir-regoli li jippermettu dawn l-abbużi jitwarrbu illum qabel għada.

Ilna ngħidu li wasal iż-żmien li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar teħtieġ li tiġi f’sensiha.

Kull żvilupp konness mal-ispazji pubbliċi fil-lokalitajiet tagħna għandu jsir biss kemm-il darba jkun hemm il-kunsens tal-Kunsilli Lokali tagħna. L-art pubblika għandha isservi l-ħtiġijiet tan-nies qabel dawk tan-negozji.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 22 ta’ Diċembru 2019

Public Land: private profits

The taking up of public land by catering establishments to extend their commercial activity beyond the limits of their property has been creating problems for residential communities all over the island.

The latest case, in Main Street St Julian’s, has developed after the Planning Authority issued a planning permit for the placing of chairs and tables in an area so far reserved for parking. The owner of the catering outlet acted on the approved planning permit without waiting for a decision from the Lands Authority as to whether it is permissible to use public land in the manner proposed.

Readers may remember that, some time back, the Lands Authority refused a similar application on The Strand in Gzira. In that specific case, a hotel had – on appeal from a Lands Authority decision – been refused permission to place chairs and tables on a platform to be constructed in lieu of parking spaces along a main road. The request for placing tables and chairs had been rejected as it was then proposed to take up two parking spaces and, in addition, due to safety concerns.

Notwithstanding this decision, taken more than 12 months ago by the Administrative Tribunal, it seems that the Planning Authority is still chained to business interests.

It is pertinent to point out that the planning policy document on outside catering areas in public spaces was drafted by an inter-Ministerial committee which specifically excluded representatives from out local communities. The interests of our local communities – residents as well as local councils – were completely ignored. Moreover, it is most probable that, when the matter was being considered by Cabinet, the Minister for Local Councils, Owen Bonnici, was fast asleep as otherwise he would undoubtedly have drawn to the attention of his colleagues that article 33 of the Local Councils Act deems it a function of local councils “to advise and, where applicable, be consulted by, any authority empowered to take any decisions directly or indirectly affecting the Council and the residents it is responsible for”.

All over the country, Local Councils are up in arms against the manner in which this specific planning policy was drafted, approved and is being implemented because instead of being people-friendly it is simply business-friendly.

It this specific case at St Julian’s the issue is with parking spaces. Try walking along the pavement in The Strand from Gżira to Sliema and then onto Tignè seafront. It would be a very difficult walk because business has taken over and transformed a public asset into a private asset. Navigating through the small amount of unoccupied space left available is a nightmare for pedestrians and it is even worse for residents living in residential units above ground floors that are occupied by catering establishments.

This is the result of a policy that puts business interests before the interests of residents: accessible and safe infrastructure for people do not feature in the policies of either the Government or the public authorities.

I have always been of the opinion that Planning is for People. Unfortunately it has been transformed into an easy money-making machine.

Albert Buttigieg, the Mayor of St Julian’s, was quite right in putting his foot down. It was likewise appropriate for Mario Fava, the President of the Local Councils Association, to participate in the press conference which drew attention of the press to this abusive action and to the need to scrap the offending policy forthwith.

It is about time that the Planning Authority is brought to its senses. Public open spaces in our localities should not be touched without the consent of local authorities: public land is for public use not for private profits.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 22 December 2019

Il-ħarsien tal-kosta: ma hemmx rieda politika

Il-kosta Maltija hi taħt assedju. Ilha żmien hekk. Il-kummerċjalizzazzjoni tal-kosta mhiex fenomenu riċenti. Ilha għaddejja s-snin.

L-abbozz ta’ Masterplan għal Paceville, li issa ġie skartat, ma kellu l-ebda skop li jħares il-kosta. Kemm min fassal dan il-pjan kif ukoll it-tmexxija tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, li mexxietu ‘l quddiem, fittxew li jiffaċilitaw il-kummerċjalizzazzjoni tal-kosta. L-abbozz ta’ pjan għal Paceville injora kompletament il-liġi dwar id-dimanju pubbliku, eżatt bħal ma qiegħed iseħħ fir-regolamentazzjoni dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art b’mod ġenerali.

It-titjib li sar fl-2016 fil-leġislazzjoni lokali dwar id-dimanju pubbliku kien eżerċizzju biex jagħti stampa li mhiex minnha. Beda bil-pubblikazzjoni fl-2012 tal-White Paper bit-titlu bombastiku ta’ The Public Domain. Classifying Public Property – Achieving a Qualitative Leap in Protection and Governance.” Iktar tard, il-Parlament approva l-liġi bħala riżultat ta’ mozzjoni mressqa mill-Opposizzjoni. Bla dubju, jeżistu problemi fil-proċess tal-implimentazzjoni, problemi li ser idumu biex tinstabilhom soluzzjoni, sal-mument li ftit li xejn ikun baqa’ x’tipproteġi!

Minkejja l-liġi li ssaħħaħ u taġġorna l-qafas regolatorju għall-governanza tad-dimanju pubbliku, wara tlett snin, is-sitwazzjoni qed tmur mill-ħażin għall-agħar. Talbiet li saru mill-għaqdiet ambjentali biex immedjatament jibda l-proċess ta’ implimentazzjoni tqiegħed fil-ġemb għax ma hemm l-ebda rieda politika li l-affarijiet jiċċaqalqu. L-għaqdiet ambjentali ilhom sa minn Ġunju 2016 li issottomettew id-dokumentazzjoni meħtieġa dwar 23 sit mal-kosta biex dawn ikunu protetti. L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ilha minn dakinnhar tkaxkar saqajha, attenta li ma tmurx tippreġudika l-interessi tal-iżviluppaturi li hi sservi bi skruplu kbir.

Il-ħarsien tal-kosta tfisser ferm iktar minn tindifa u ġbir ta’ skart mormi. Ifisser li għandna nibdlu l-attitudnijiet tagħna kif ukoll li nduru dawra l-politika żbaljata li l-pajjiż għandu llum. Għandna bżonn urġenti ta’ amministrazzjoni pubblika li tkun kapaċi tifhem li hi teżisti biex isservi u biex tħares il-ġid komuni. Sfortunatament, f‘Malta, l-awtoritajiet jagħtu messaġġ ċar li l-viżjoni tagħhom hi li jiffaċilitaw li jkun hawn min ibill subgħajh f’dak li jamministra l-istat Malti.

Il-ħarsien tal-kosta u lil hinn minnha hi meħtieġa biex ikollna governanza tajba, li aħna nieqsa minnha. L-oriġinI ta’ dan fil-liġi Maltija taf il-bidu tagħha għal influwenza mil-liġi Rumana li kienet tqis il-kosta u lil hinn minnha bħala propjetà pubblika biex titgawda minn kulħadd: jiġifieri l-kosta hi tagħna lkoll. Il-Kodiċi Ċivili Malti jinkludi artikli li jikkunsidraw iċ-ċirkustanzi li bħala riżultat tagħhom il-parti l-ġewwa mill-kosta protetta tista’ tasal sa fejn twassal l-ikbar mewġa, u dan jista’ jkun sa ħmistax-il metru ‘l-ġewwa mill-kosta. F’din iz-zona ta’ 15-il metru hemm numru ta’ propjetajiet privati.

Huwa ta’ sfortuna li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tinjora dan kollu meta tkun qed tikkunsidra applikazzjonijiet ta’ żvilupp li għandhom faċċata fuq il-kosta ta’ San Ġiljan. Tliet applikazzjonijiet dwar l-istess sit mal-kosta diġa ġew approvati, bir-raba’ applikazzjoni qed toqrob għal deċiżjoni. Il-propjetà oriġinali kienet ilha żmien mibnija. Tidher fis-survey sheets il-qodma tal-1906. B’żieda ma dan, fis-sit tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hemm survey fotografiku tal-bini minn ġewwa li juri li l-bini mal-kosta faċċata tal-kunvent tal-Karmelitani fil-Balluta, San Ġiljan hu ta’ kostruzzjoni qadima.

L-iżvilupp inkwistjoni ngħata permess fuq art mal-kosta. B’żieda ma dan kif jidher fil-pjanta approvata li qed nippubblika ma dan l-artiklu, jidher ċar li l-binja tibqa’ ħierġa fuq il-baħar. Jidher li l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet l-anqas biss tniffset dwar dan.

Xi ħtieġa għandna ta’ konferma li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar mhiex interessata fil-ħarsien tal-kosta? L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar issa għandha kompliċi ġdid, l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, li suppost hi l-gwardjan u l-amministratur tal-propjetà pubblika. Jidher li għad baqa’ biex isseħħ il-qabża fil-kwalità imwegħda fil-ħarsien u l-amministrazzjoni tal-propjetà pubblika.

Minflok, qegħdin kontinwament niffaċċjaw inizjattivi ġodda li bihom assi pubbliċi jsiru privati. Il-ħarsien tal-kosta teħtieġ amministrazzjoni serja li jkollha r-rieda politika li taġixxi. Sfortunatament la għandna l-waħda u l-anqas l-oħra.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 14 t’April 2019

 

Protecting our Coast: no political will in sight

Our coast is under siege. It has been for a number of years and its commercialisation is not a recent phenomenon: this has also been going on for years.

The draft Paceville Masterplan, now dumped, did not envisage the protection of our coast. Its drafters and promoters of it – part of the Planning Authority’s top management -sought to facilitate the coast’s commercialisation, with the result that it ignored the Public Domain legislation, following the lead of planning policy in general.

The 2016 upgrading of local public domain legislation was just an exercise in white-washing that started with the publication of the 2012 White Paper bombastically entitled The Public Domain. Classifying Public Property – Achieving a Qualitative Leap in Protection and Governance. It was subsequently enacted by Parliament as a result of an Opposition private members’ motion.

There are clearly some teething troubles in the implementation process, troubles that will undoubtedly take quite some time to solve, until, that is, there is nothing left to protect.

Notwithstanding the enactment of legislation which reinforced and updated the public domain regulation and governance framework, after almost three years the situation gets worse every day. Requests by environmental NGOs, to proceed rapidly with its implementation have been placed on the back-burner as there is no political will to act. As far back as June 2016, environmental NGOs submitted documented requests relating to 23 coastal sites in order that these be protected in terms of the updated legislation. The Planning Authority has been procrastinating ever since, being as cautious as ever not to prejudice the interests of the development lobby which it scrupulously serves.

Protecting the coastline means much more than physical clean-ups. Basically, what we require is an extensive clean-up of our attitudes and the weeding out of ineffective policies. We urgently require a public administrative set-up that is aware that it exists specifically in order to facilitate the protection of the common good. Unfortunately, most of the time, the authorities in Malta send a clear message that their vison is focused on facilitating the plundering of everything that is administered by the Maltese state.

Protecting the coast and the foreshore is a measure of good governance that has been absent for a very long time. Its origin in Maltese law is influenced by Roman law which considered the coast, as well as the foreshore, to be public property and for the enjoyment of all. Malta’s Civil Code includes legal provisions which consider circumstances as a result of which the foreshore may extend as far inland as the reach of the largest waves, and that could extend as much as 15 metres inland from the coastline. A number of so-called “private” properties lie within this zone.

It is indeed unfortunate that the Planning Authority ignores all this when considering planning applications for the redevelopment of properties abutting onto the coast at St Julian’s. Three applications relating to the same site with an elevation on the coastline have already been approved, while a fourth one is in the pipeline. The old property has been in existence for quite some time. It features in old survey sheets dating to the beginning of the 20th century. In addition, an internal photographic survey available for examination on the Planning Authority’s website clearly indicates clearly that the property along the coast, just in front of the Carmelite Priory in St Julian’s is of old construction.

The development in question has been permitted on a footprint starting along the coastline itself. In addition, as evidenced by the accompanying approved section drawing, planning permission issued by the Planning Authority includes part of the approved structure protruding over the sea. Not even a whimper has been heard from the Lands Authority on the matter.

Do we need any more confirmation that the Planning Authority is not interested in the protection of the coast? The Planning Authority is now joined by a new accomplice, the Lands Authority, the guardian and administrator of public property.

The qualitative leap promised in the protection and governance of public property is nowhere in sight. Instead we are continuously faced with new initiatives transforming public assets into private assets. Protecting our coast requires a serious administration that has the political will to act. Unfortunately we lack both.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 14 April 2019

L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet raqdet?

Id-dokument tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar intitolat Policy, Guidance and Standards for Outdoor Catering Areas on Public Open Space kien approvat f’Ġunju 2016. Permezz ta’ dan id-dokument hu regolat it-tqegħid ta’ siġġijiet u mwejjed fi spazji pubbliċi minn stabbilimenti li jservu l-ikel. Fid-daħla għal dan id-dokument jintqal li l-possibilità li spazju pubbliku jintuża b’dan il-mod jgħin fit-tisħiħ tal-valur ta’ dawn l-istabilimenti li jservu l-ikel.

It-triq li wasslet biex ikun konkluż u approvat dan id-dokument kienet waħda meqjusa bħala proċess ta’ simplifikazzjoni tal-proċess burokratiku, biex is-sidien tan-negozju jinqdew malajr u ma joqgħodux jaħlu ħafna ħin jiġru minn uffiċċju għall-ieħor biex jinkiseb permess! Kien hemm diversi entitajiet involuti. Però, l-iktar importanti minnhom, l-Kunsilli Lokali, ma kienux hemm. Dan hu rifless fid-dokument innifsu għax dan iħares l-interessi tan-negozju iżda ftit li xejn jagħti kaz tal-interessi tar-residenti.

Id-dokument jipprovdi illi meta jkunu ikkunsidrati applikazzjonijiet għal permessi biex stabilimenti li jservu l-ikel jokkupaw spazju pubbliku b’imwejjed u siggijiet għandu jkun assigurat li jitħallew passaggi mhux okkupati biex minnhom ikun jista’ jgħaddi l-pubbliku mingħajr diffikulta. Għandu anke jkun assigurat li l-aċċess għal propjetà ta’ terzi kif ukoll għal servizzi pubbliċi jitħalla liberu. Id-dokument jinsisti ukoll li fuq bankini f’toroq li minnhom jgħaddi traffiku b’veloċità kbira m’għandhomx jinħarġu permessi għall-imwejjed u siġġijiet.

Minkejja dan kollu, ipprova imxi fuq il-bankina fix-Xatt tal-Gżira fid-direzzjoni lejn Tas-Sliema u mbagħad ipprova kompla għaddej lejn ix-Xatt ta’ Tignè. Ikollok diffikultà konsiderevoli biex tgħaddi għax il-ħwienet, bil-barka tal-awtoritajiet, irnexxielhom jittrasforma propjetà pubblika f’parti integrali min-negozju tagħhom. Jirnexxielek tgħaddi b’diffikultà kbira. Għar-residenti li joqgħodu fil-flats fuq dawn in-negozji id-diffikultà hi ferm ikbar.

Dan hu r-riżultat ta’ politika li tpoġġi l-interess tan-negożji qabel l-interess tar-residenti. Infrastruttura aċċessibli u sikura m’hiex prijorità fil-politika tal-Gvern u l-awtoritajiet pubbliċi.

Riċentement, fl-aħħar, l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet ħadet id-deċiżjoni tajba li tirrifjuta applikazzjoni mis-sidien ta’ lukanda fix-Xatt tal-Gżira biex zona riżervata għall-parking tkun tista’ tintuża ħalli fuqha jitpoġġew siġġijiet u mwejjed li minnhom isservi l-ikel.

Meta is-sidien tal-lukanda ikkontestaw id-deċiżjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet huma ngħataw deċiżjoni mit-Tribunal Amministrattiv li bħalha ma tantx ikollna. F’din id-deċiżjoni ġie emfasizzat li l-politika dwar it-tqegħid tal-imwejjed u s-siġġijiet fi spazji pubbliċi biex minnhom jisserva l-ikel tipprojibixxi li dawn jitqegħdu fil-viċinanzi ta’ toroq arterjali inkella minnfejn jgħaddi traffiku b’veloċità sostanzjali. In-nies, qalet id-deċiżjoni, għandhom ikunu mħarsa mit-traffiku, mill-istorbju kif ukoll minn arja mniġġsa.

L-inċidenti fil-fatt iseħħu. Madwar disa’ xhur ilu, f’Lulju 2018, Olandiż ta’ 25 sena li kien miexi għall-affari tiegħu tul ix-Xatt ta’ San Ġiljan ġie mtajjar minn karozza li kienet għaddejja b’veloċità esaġerata u li kienet misjuqa minn żgħażugħ ta’ 20 sena li skond ma kien rappurtat kien qabeż il-limitu permissibli ta’ alkoħol li seta jixrob. L-Olandiż miet. Oħrajn weġġgħu. Saret ukoll ħsara konsiderevoli.

Minkejja dan kollu għadna nistennew lill-Awtorità tal-Artijiet biex tieħu passi f’diversi lokalitajiet biex fejn fil-passat inħarġu permessi għal imwejjed u siġġijiet fuq bankini u spazji pubbliċi oħra li huma viċin wisq ta’ toroq li minnhom jgħaddi traffiku b’veloċita kbira, dawn il-permessi jkun ikkunsidrati mill-ġdid u jiġu rtirati. Jekk l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet ser iddum wisq ma tiċċaqlaq ser ikollha terfa’ r-responsabbiltà għall-ewwel karozza li tispiċċa tkaxkar filliera mwejjed bin-nies madwarhom.

Qatt mhu tard biex tikkoreġi l-iżbalji. Żbalji li setgħu faċilment ġew evitati kieku ġew ikkonsultati l-Kunsilli Lokali.

Meta ser tiċċaqlaq l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 7 t’April 2019

 

When will the Lands’ Authority act?

The Planning Authority’s Policy, Guidance and Standards for Outdoor Catering Areas on Public Open Space was approved in June 2016. This policy document regulates the placing of tables and chairs on the part of catering outlets in public open spaces. The foreword to the policy document considered that the provision of such areas was a “value-adding asset for catering establishments”.

The process leading to the adoption of this document was considered as one of simplification of the administrative process, providing a one-stop-shop and various public entities were involved in its formulation. However, the only entities of any relevance to the matter, Local Councils, were absent. This absence is very evident in the document produced as this is certainly business-friendly, but nowhere does it consider the interests of residents.

There is a proviso in the policy document that, when considering whether to permit outdoor catering areas in a public open space, passageways should not be obstructed. Nor must access to third party properties or public services be in any way obstructed when approving these outdoor catering areas.

Reading through the document, one notes that “Outdoor Catering Areas shall not normally be permitted on pedestrian public footpaths, which are either adjacent to arterial roads or located in close proximity to fast-moving traffic.”

Notwithstanding all this, try walking along the pavement in The Strand from Gżira to Sliema and then onto Tigne Seafront. It would be a very difficult walk because business has taken over and transformed a public asset into a private asset. Navigating through the small amount of unoccupied space left available is a nightmare for pedestrians and it is even worse for residents living in the residential units above the ground floor occupied by catering establishments.

This is the result of a policy that puts business interests before the interests of residents: accessible and safe infrastructure for people do not feature in the policies of either the Government or the public authorities.

Recently, and at last, the Lands Authority has taken the right step in refusing an application submitted by the owners of a Hotel on The Strand, Gżira, to encroach on a number of parking spaces in order to provide an al-fresco extension to the Hotel. When the hotel’s owners contested the Lands Authority’s decision, they were, at last, faced with some common-sense in the decision delivered by the Appeals Tribunal which  emphasised that the policy regarding outdoor catering areas prohibited any platforms adjacent to arterial roads or in close proximity to fast-moving traffic. Patrons had to be safeguarded from traffic, noise and air pollution.

Accidents do actually happen. Around nine months ago, in July 2018, a 25-year old Dutchman, who was walking along the St Julian’s promenade, was hit by an over-speeding car driven by a 20-year-old who was reported as being well over the drink-drive limit. The Dutchman died in hospital and others were injured. Street furniture was damaged.

Notwithstanding the above, we still await action on the part of the Lands Authority to clear pavements and parking spaces in various areas of outdoor catering facilities that have, in the past, been permitted close to fast-moving traffic. If the Lands Authority takes much longer to act it will have to shoulder responsibility for the consequences of an over-speeding car ploughing through a row of al fresco diners.

It is never too late to learn from past mistakes and all this could have been avoided if Local Councils been consulted.

When will the Lands Authority act?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 7 April 2019

Kafè Al Fresco ……… is-sogru huwa tiegħek

Ħwienet tal-kafè jew restoranti al fresco f’numru ta’ lokalitajiet ħadulna l-bankina. F’xi każi anke l-ispazju għall-parkeġġ tal-karozzi ħadu, għax dawn jimpurthom biss minn ħaġa waħda: li jdawru lira. Ovvjament dawn jippretendu li aħna nimxu f’nofs it-triq għax fuq il-bankina ftit iħallulna spazju minn fejn ngħaddu. Iħalluhom, qiesu ma ġara xejn. Lanqas tista’ titkellem, għax il-bankina għamluha tagħhom.

L-awtoritajiet jiġu jaqgħu u jqumu għax dawn jinteresshom biss li jkunu jidhru “business friendly”: ċjoe viċin in-nies tal-flus, ħa jdawru lira. Il-bqija, min jafhom?

Is-sindki tal-Gżira u Tas-Sliema, Conrad Borg Manchè u Dominic Chircop, matul dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat għamlu sewwa li emfasizzaw li l-mod kif tal-kafè u r-restoranti al fresco qed joperaw fil-lokalitajiet tagħhom mhux aċċettabbli, għax ma jagħtux kas tan-nies.

L-inċidenti, kif tafu, jiġru. Biżżejjed incident wieħed ta’ karozza misjuqa ħażin li tista’ tispiċċa toqtol jew tweġġa’ serjament numru ta’ persuni f’xi wieħed minn dawn il-ħwienet tal-kafè jew ir-restoranti. Imbagħad forsi jkun hemm min jagħti kas.

Ftit ġimgħat ilu, f’Lulju, żgħażugħ Olandiz ta’ 25 sena li kien qiegħed jippassiġa San Giljan max-xatt intlaqat minn Subaru Impreza li kienet misjuqa b’veloċitá esaġerata minn żgħażugħ ta’ 20 sena li kien rappurtat li qabeż kull limitu raġjonevoli ta’ alkoħol. L-Olandiż miet l-isptar. Oħrajn weġġgħu. U dan apparti bosta ħsara oħra.

Kien pass tajjeb tal-Awtoritá tal-Artijiet li rrifjutat applikazzjoni tas-sidien tal-Lukanda Waterfront max-Xatt tal-Gżira biex dawn ikunu jistgħu jieħdu numru ta’ spazji għal parkeġġ biex ikollhom ħanut tal-kafè jew restorant fuq il-bankina quddiem il-lukanda. Meta sidien il-lukanda ikkontestaw id-deċiżjoni tal-Awtoritá tal-Artijiet, fl-aħħar sabu lil min jagħti kas. Il-Maġistrat Charmaine Galea li ppresjediet l-appell emfasizzat li r-regoli dwar l-imwejjed u s-siġġijiet fl-apert jipprojibixxu li dawn jitqegħdu biswit toroq arterjali, viċin traffiku li jkun għaddej b’veloċitá. Il-Maġistrat Galea emfasizzat li n-nies għandha dritt li tkun imħarsa mit-traffiku, mill-istorbju kif ukoll mid-dħaħen iġġenerati mill-karozzi.

Il-Maġistrat Charmaine Galea għandha raġun. Hemm ħtieġa urgenti li l-loġika tagħha tinfetta l-proċess deċiżjonali tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għax hu ċar li prattikament il-ħwienet tal-kafè u r-restoranti kollha fuq il-bankina fix-Xatt tal-Gżira u tas-Sliema mhumiex skont ir-regoli. Dan jgħodd ukoll għal inħawi oħra.

Id-deċiżjoni tal-Maġistrat Galea tagħti piz lill-argumenti tas-sindki tal-Gżira u tas-Sliema li ilhom żmien jinsistu li l-ħwienet tal-kafè u r-restoranti al fresco biswit ir-rotot ewlenin tat-traffiku jeħtieġu iktar ħsieb qabel ma jingħataw il-permess biex joperaw. Jeħtieġ titjib fl-infrastruttura biex it-traffiku jkollu jnaqqas il-veloċitá kif ukoll biex in-nies ikunu protetti minn inċidenti kkawżati minn karozzi misjuqa bl-addoċċ, mill-istorbju kif ukoll mid-dħaħen tal-petrol u d-dijsil. L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar ma wriet l-ebda sens ta’ responsabbilta meta injorat lin-nies u qieset biss il-qies li dawk li jridu jdawru lira, irrispettivament mill-konsegwenzi.

Fuq il-bankini ftit qed jitħalla spazju biex jgħaddu n-nies u ma hemm l-ebda protezzjoni la mit-traffiku perikoluż u l-anqas mid-dħaħen. Għall-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, sfortunatament, dan kollu ma jfisser xejn.

It-tħassib tal-Kunsilli Lokali dwar il-ħwienet tal-kafè u r-restoranti al fresco hu għal kollox injorat mill-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għax ma jidhriliex li huma affarijiet li għandha tikkunsidra qabel ma tieħu d-deċiżjonijiet tagħha.

Qabel ma tippjana passiġġata max-xatt ftakar li hemmhekk hu riżervat għal min irid idawwar lira! Mill-bqija, is-sogru hu kollu tiegħek.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 1 ta’ Settembru 2018

 

 

Al fresco dining ……… at your risk

Al fresco dining has taken over pavements in a number of localities and parking spaces too have not been spared either, as the catering business does not care about anything except its bottom line. Apparently, we are expected to walk in the middle of the road.

The authorities do not give a fig, as their brief is apparently to be business-friendly. People friendly? Their dictionary has no reference to the term: never heard of that!

In the last few weeks, the mayors of Gżira and Sliema – Conrad Borg Manchè and Dominic Chircop – have rightfully emphasised that the manner in which al-fresco coffee shops and restaurants in their localities are operating is largely unacceptable. It just takes one car accident to kill a number of diners: then maybe the authorities will take note.

Accidents do happen: a few weeks ago, in July, a 25-year old Dutchman, who was walking along the St Julian’s promenade was hit by an over-speeding Subaru Impreza, driven by a 20-year-old who was reported as being well over the drink-drive limit. The Dutchman died in hospital. Others were injured; street furniture was damaged.

The Lands Authority has taken the right step in refusing an application submitted by the owners of the Waterfront Hotel on The Strand Gżira, to encroach on a number of parking spaces in order to provide an al-fresco extension to the Hotel on the pavement. When the hotel’s owners contested the Lands Authority’s decision,  they were, at last, faced with some common-sense.

Magistrate Charmaine Galea, chairing the Appeals Tribunal, emphasised that the outdoor catering policy prohibited any platforms adjacent to arterial roads or in close proximity to fast-moving traffic. She rightly emphasised the fact that restaurant patrons had to be safeguarded from traffic, noise and air pollution.

She is obviously right and we desperately need her logic to “infect” the Planning Authority decision-making structures because it is clear that practically none of the al-fresco dining areas on the pavement along The Strand in Gżira and Sliema (and many other areas) are in accordance with the policy.

Magistrate Galea’s decision gives considerable weight to the points raised by the mayors of Gżira and Sliema who have been insisting all along that al-fresco dining alongside main traffic routes needs to be given considerably more thought before being given the go-ahead. The infrastructure needs upgrading in order that traffic calming measures are introduced and restaurant patrons are adequately protected – not only from traffic accidents but from noise and exhaust fumes as well. The Planning Authority has not acted responsibly when it has issued a considerable number of permits which ignore patrons but then takes great care of the bottom-line of the catering establishments.

The permits issued as a result of the so-called “one stop shop” planning policy may be business friendly, but it is certainly not people-friendly. Serious concerns related to pedestrian access through the labyrinthine footpaths left on the pavements, adequate protection from over-speeding traffic and the impact on health impacts from eating metres away from exhaust fumes are continuously ignored by the Planning Authority.

The inputs from local councils on the subject of al-fresco dining is repeatedly ignored, as the Planning Authority is not bothered. It obviously considers the above issues as being trivial in nature.

Walking along The Strand?

Forget it: the promenade is reserved for business!

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 1 September 2018