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

 

The environmental deficit

The environmental deficit is still rising and  the long-winded Budget speech by Finance Minister Edward Scicluna last Monday did not address it.

Through the MDA, their association, property developers have expressed satisfaction at the Budget as, once more, it has taken up their proposals intended to further extend tax incentive schemes linked to the purchase of property. The budget presents these measures as being of a social nature when, in fact, that are anti-environmental measures because their direct impact is the take-up of more land as well as additional pressure on the intensification of the development of our urban areas.

Cruise liner tourism comes in for substantial praise in the Budget speech. Minister Scicluna was over-enthusiastic in announcing that there has been a 75 per cent  increase in the cruise liner industry in Malta over the last six years. He may not be sufficiently aware that the cruise liner industry is a substantial contributor to the degradation of air quality. Various studies have been carried out on the environmental impacts of cruise liners on the high seas and the subject has also been studied by a local environmental NGO with the support of their German counterparts.

Their studies revealed that air samples taken from the Grand Harbour area indicte the presence of a high level of microscopic particulate matter, which is ending in the respiratory systems of those living, working or passing through this area. Similar issues undoubtedly exist in Birżebbuġa as a result of the operations of the Freeport.

A possible solution to address this problem  is the introduction of a compulsory shore-to-ship electricity supply – in respect of which preliminary studies have already been carried out. The studies, however, are not enough. They require a commitment to act – a commitment is currently non-existent. The studies date back to 2014 in respect of the Grand Harbour and to 2018 in respect of Birżebbuġa.

The government has not yet announced the cut-off date for the importation of cars running on petrol and diesel. We were informed that it may be announced some time in 2020. The government strategy in this respect is taking too long too formulate – given that it was announced by the Prime Minister over two years ago.

There is alack of seriousness about the manner in which this issue is being addressed. It  does not just involve determining when no more vehicles running on petrol or diesel will be imported; it also involves the current acute interest in the development of new fuel service stations in various parts of the island. Why do we need such fuel service stations if electrification of private transport is around the corner? An immediate moratorium on the development of new fuel service stations would have been quite appropriate, given that it is accepted by one and all that there will be no use for them!

In addition, the budget praises the heavy investment in road infrastructure, in particular the construction fly-overs and tunnels, the construction of which are either already in hand or else at an advanced state of planning. The justification for this, as has been made through various statements over the months, is to address the ever-increasing traffic congestion.

Studies carried out all over the world have repeatedly revealed that such developments in the road infrastructure inevitably leads to more traffic. Minster Scicluna ignores this experience from other countries and keeps insisting in channelling millions of euros down the drain. He should consult the Transport Master-Plan, drawn up under the direction of his own government, which clearly lists the reduction of the number of vehicles on our roads as an essential objective. The Finance Minister should query why his government commissions experts for their advice which it then ignores.

The Government has, at last realised that it needs a ‘Green New Deal’ strategy – a strategy which addresses the impacts of climate change sustainably, economically, ecologically and socially. But for such a strategy to make sense, it should first dismantle its existing strategies which are in direct opposition to a ‘Green New Deal’.

It does not make sense, for example, for the Government to declare the need to protect the environment and then hands out all sorts of incentives to encourage the property market. Nor does it make sense to keep to its programme of intensive development of the road infrastructure, or to keep pushing for the development of a tunnel between Malta and Gozo, which will only serve the free movement of more cars between the islands.

Instead of grants for batteries to store electricity generated through solar panels, it would have been much better had the Government embarked on a massive investment to ensure a better distribution network of electricity, as this would – of itself – increase the potential for the generation of more renewable energy by households. The lack of effective measures to generate more energy from renewable sources clearly shows that Government is not really committed to drafting and implementing a real ‘Green New Deal’ strategy.

The Minister of Finance is taking everybody for a ride when, on the one hand he speaks of Gozo as an ecological island and then, on the other, keeps insisting on the ‘need’ for a tunnel between the islands, – which will only serve to accelerate the environmental degradation of Gozo.

The environmental deficit is clearly out of control.

 

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday 20 October 2019

Il-PN jgħatti x-xemx bl-għarbiel ?

Voting Rationalisation YES

(nota : ir-ritratt hu estratt mill-minuti tal-Parlament li juri l-ismijiet tal-Membri Parlamentari li vvutaw favur l-estensjoni tal-limiti tal-iżvilupp, rationalisation, fl-2006 ) 

 

Il-Partit Nazzjonalista ippubblika l-proposti tiegħu dwar l-ambjent fi ktejjeb intitolat  : A Better Quality of Life for You.  Dan hu bla dubju pass ‘il quddiem, kienu x’kienu r-raġunijiet li wassluh għal dan il-pass.

Fid-daħla għad-dokument ippubblikat, il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni jagħmel dikjarazzjoni importanti. Jgħid: “Bnejna l-istituzzjonijiet u b’mod ġenerali fassalna politika tajba – imma bosta drabi ma assigurajniex li din tkun implimentata, inkella qgħadna nduru mal-lewża u ħloqna wisq eċċezzjonijiet.”

Dan, fil-fehma tiegħi ifisser, li, wara kollox,  hu ċar għal kulħadd li mhux biss hu meħtieġ li tfassal il-politika t-tajba, imma li huwa essenzjali ukoll li l-istituzzjonijiet li jkunu fdati bl-implimentazzjoni ta’ din il-politika jkunu f’posizzjoni li jistgħu jwettqu r-responsabbiltajiet tagħhom. Għax kif jistgħu jiffunzjonaw dawn l-istituzzjonijiet jekk f’posizzjonijiet ta’ tmexxija kruċjali jkollhom persuni partiġjani jew persuni ta’ fiduċja tal-Ministru, flok persuni mħarrġa u teknikament kompetenti?

Wara kollox, it-twettieq tal-politika ambjentali jiddependi fuq tmexxija tajba (good governance) li ilha nieqsa mill-istituzzjonijiet għal perjodu mhux żgħir.

X’jiswa’ li jkollok il-politika tajba dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art biex imbagħad il-Gvern immexxi mill-PN iċedi għall-pressjoni tal-spekulaturi tal-art meta mexxa ‘l quddiem proposta imsejħa skema dwar ir-razzjonalizzazzjoni li permezz tagħha l-limiti tal-iżvilupp ġew estiżi b’mod orizzontali?  Biex tkompli tgħaqqadha, fl-istess ħin, il-PN fil-Gvern estenda ukoll il-limiti tal-iżvilupp f’direzzjoni vertikali. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, il-PN fil-Gvern injora l-poltika dikjarat tiegħu kif ukoll l-informazzjoni miġbura fid-diversi ċensimenti li kienu juru ċar li l-bini vojt kien qed jiżdied.

Il-politika ambjentali hi intrinsikament marbuta ma diversi oqsma oħra. L-estensjonijiet bl-addoċċ għal-limiti ta’ żvilupp ħolqu ħafna diffikultajiet lil diversi residenti Maltin li jridu jiġġeneraw l-enerġija alternattiva permezz tal-pannelli foto-voltajċi fuq il-bjut. Waqt li l-Ministru responsabbli mill-politika dwar l-enerġija alternattiva kien qed ifittex li jħajjar lin-nies biex jistallaw il-pannelli foto-voltajċi, min-naħa l-oħra l-Ministru għall-Ippjanar tal-Użu tal-Art kien mehdi jilgħab bl-għoli permissibli tal-bini f’diversi lokalitajiet. Kif nistgħu nippjanaw sewwa għal ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija alternattiva jekk l-aċċess għax-xemx f’diversi lokalitajiet m’huwiex garantit b’għoli permissibli ta’ bini li ma jinbidilx?

Nitkellmu ukoll dwar il-ħtieġa li nassiguraw titjib fil-kwalitá tal-arja, imma fl-istess ħin ma hemm l-ebda ħeġġa biex ikun indirizzat in-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq tagħna li qed jikber b’mod astronomiku. Dawn il-karozzi huma l-kawża ewlenija ta’ kwalitá tal-arja li sejra dejjem għall-agħar, f’uħud mil-lokalitajiet tagħna. Minflok ma nindirizzaw din il-problema reali, gvern wara l-ieħor ipprefera li jagħmilha iktar faċli biex il-karozzi jibqgħu jiddominaw it-toroq tagħna u dan billi jroxxu l-miljuni fi proġetti infrastrutturali għal toroq mhux meħtieġa. Dawn il-proġetti jservu biss biex iżidu l-karozzi fit-toroq, meta l-oġġettiv ta’ gvern serju għandu jkun l-oppost: li dawn jonqsu.

Marbuta ma dan kollu hemm in-nuqqas ta’ attenzjoni lit-trasport pubbliku tul is-snin. Filwaqt li għandna nirrikonoxxu li matul dawn l-aħħar sitta u tletin xahar kien hemm titjib fis-servizz, dan xorta għadu ferm ‘il bogħod minn dak mistenni f’pajjiż żgħir fejn id-distanzi bejn il-lokalitajiet huma minimi. Dan ukoll kien falliment ieħor fit-twettiq ta’ “politika tajba”.

Il-politika ambjentali hi dwar għażliet u deċiżjonijiet. Tul is-snin Alternattiva Demokratika, il-partit ekoloġiku f’Malta, fittex li jqiegħed dawn l-għażliet fuq l-agenda nazzjonali biex il-Maltin ikun f’posizzjoni li jiddeċiedu.

Wara ħafna snin, il-Partit Nazzjonalista stenbaħ għar-realtá ambjentali ta’ madwarna. Waqt li dan, minnu innifsu hu sinjal tajjeb, nistennew li l-PN  jibda l-proċess biex jirrevedi l-bqija tal-politika tiegħu u jġibha konsistenti mal-proposti ambjentali mħabbra. Meta dan iseħħ, forsi nkunu f’posizzjoni li niffurmaw opinjoni dwar jekk il-proposti ambjentali tal-PN humiex frott ta’ konvinzjoni inkella jekk għal darba oħra humiex jippruvaw jgħattu x-xemx bl-għarbiel.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 5 ta’ Frar 2017

Environmental policy is about political decisions

The Nationalist Party has recently published its proposals for the environment in a document entitled A Better Quality of Life for You. This is a step forward, irrespective of the reasons motivating it.

In the foreword to the published document, the Leader of the Opposition makes a very important declaration. He states: “We built the necessary institutions, and generally put in the right policies – but all too often we did not ensure they were fully implemented, or we circumvented them, and made too many exceptions.”

This signifies a recognition of the fact that, at the end of the day, the real issue is not just the identification of the “right policies”,  but of ensuring that the institutions entrusted to implement them are in a position to carry out their responsibilities. How can these institutions function when key posts are filled with partisan cronies, or so-called “persons of trust” instead of competent technical people?

At the end of the day, the successful implementation of environmental policy is dependent upon a favourable climate of good governance which has been conspicuous by its absence for quite a long time.

What purpose does it serve to have the “right policies” on land use planning when, as a result of pressures from the land speculation lobby, the PN in Government adopted a rationalisation scheme extending the limits of development in a horizontal direction? To make matters worse, simultaneously the PN in government also extended the limits of development in a vertical direction. As a result it ignored both its own sanctimonious declarations as well as the clear indications from data collected and analysed by official bodies that the net result of its actions was a continuous increase in the number of vacant properties.

Environmental policy is intrinsically linked to various other policy areas. The haphazard extensions of the limits to development – the horizontal ones as well as the vertical ones – have, and still are, wreaking havoc on the capacity of Maltese households to generate alternative energy through the placing of photo-voltaic panels on the rooftops of their homes. While the Energy Minister advocates the need to generate alternative energy through the installation of photo-voltaic panels, the Minister responsible for land-use planning has been playing around with flexible permissible building heights in various localities. How can we adequately plan the generation of alternative energy if solar rights are not guaranteed through rigid height limitation regulations?

Similarly, we speak of the need to ensure an improvement in air quality but simultaneously there is a reluctance to address the spiralling number of cars on our roads – the major contributor to poor air quality in a number of areas. Instead of addressing the matter head-on, successive governments have sought to make it easier for car owners to dominate our roads by sprinkling millions of euros on the unnecessary development of the road infrastructure. In my view, such developments are unnecessary, as the end result will be a further increase in the number of cars when the real and only solution is an immediate reduction.

Linked to all this is the lack of importance given to public transport. While acknowledging that there has been an improvement in the use of public transport during the past 36 months, this is still considerably way off what it should be in a small country where distances between localities are minimal. This, too, is a failure to implement the “right policies”.

Environment policy is about making choices and taking decisions – some of which may be difficult and contentious. Over the years, it has been the objective of Alternattiva Demokratika, the Green Party in Malta, to place these choices on the national agenda so that our citizens are in a position to consider them and decide.

After many years, the Nationalist Party has woken up to the environmental realities around us. While this is positive, I await the revision of the PN’s other policies, which are inconsistent with their environmental proposals. When that happens, we may be able to form a definite opinion as to whether the publication by the Nationalist Party of its environment proposals is for real, or else another green-washing exercise in which matter the Nationalist Party has accumulated considerable experience.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 February 2017

Konrad Mizzi tfixkel f’ilsienu

Konrad Mizzi

Hemm ħafna x’jeħtieġ li jkun iċċarat fil-kuntratt dwar il-pannelli fotovoltajiċi li ssemma fil-Parlament il-ġimgħa l-oħra mill-Ministru Konrad Mizzi.

Il-kuntratt jikkonċerna t-tqegħid tal-pannelli fotovoltajiċi fuq bini pubbliku. Dan il-kuntratt, li ngħata qabel l-elezzjoni ta’ Marzu 2013, kien jipprovdi biex isir ħlas għall-elettriku ġġenerat  permezz tal-pannelli għal 25 sena bir-rata garantita ta’ 23 ċenteżmu-il unit. Rata li mad-daqqa t’għajn tidher ftit għolja.

Fil-Parlament il-Ministru Konrad Mizzi qal li saret investgazzjoni mill-IAID (Internal Audit and Investgations Department). Il-Pulizija intalbet tinvestiga dak li rriżulta lill-IAID. Din it-talba lill-Pulizija saret  kemm minn Konrad Mizzi kif ukoll minn George Pullicino.

Fid-diskussjoni li issa ilha għaddejja kważi ġimgħa ġew indikati uħud mill-irregolaritajiet. Fosthom dokument “stramb” maħruġ minn Bank Spanjol : document mhux iffirmat. Dan id-dokument kien jiċċertifika li l-kumpanija Spanjola li kienet involuta fit-tender bħala waħda b’saħħitha finanzjarjament. Issa qiegħed jingħad ukoll li l-Bank Spanjol li suppost ħareġ id-dokument kien diġa ġie assorbit minn Bank ieħor meta ħareġ dan id-dokument u li allura, meta suppost ħareġ dan id-dokument ma kienx għadu jeżisti bħala entita’ separata.

Min kellu x’jaqsam mal-produzzjoni ta’ dan id-dokument? Min aċċettaħ bla ma kien iffirmat?

Dawn u ħafna mistoqsijiet oħra forsi jiġu mwieġba mill-Pulizija wara li jkunu investigaw il-każ. Ta’ l-inqas hekk hu ittamat.

Imma hemm ħaġa waħda li ma nistax nifhem. Kif tista’ tinkariga lill-Pulizija biex tinvestiga u bagħad waqt li l-Pulizija tkun għaddejja b’xogħolha tippubblika biċċa mill-istorja waqt dibattitu jaħraq fil-Parlament?

Kien ikun ferm għaqli kieku Konrad għalaq ħalqu sakemm il-Pulizija ikkonkludiet xogħolha.

X’ser jikkonkludu l-Pulizija ħadd m’għandu idea, mhux biss minħabba li l-investigazzjoni għadha fil-bidu imma ukoll għax ir-rapport tal-investigazzjoni oriġinali għadu mhux ippubblikat. Nafu biss biċċiet mill-istorja, l-biċċiet li Konrad ħassu komdu li jisvela. Dan għamlu biex ikun jista’ jattakka lill-avversarji politiċi għax ħassu skomdu ħafna jiddefendi ruħu dwar il-fatt li l-wegħda biex il-Power Station bil-gass tkun lesta sa Marzu 2015 mhux ser tkun imwettqa.

Għalija m’huwiex ċar jekk hux każ ta’ korruzzjoni inkella ta’ amministrazzjoni ħażina. It-tnejn huma ta’ gravita u jeħtieġ li jkunu indirizzati b’severita’. (Dan kollu apparti dak li ġara biex ġie prodott id-dokument mhux iffirmat!) Mill-kummenti li għadda fil-Parlament donnu li Konrad diġa iddeċieda x’ġara u min hu responsabbli!

Is-serjeta’  kienet titlob li l-Ministru jaġixxi b’mod li jħalli lill-Pulizija spazju biex jagħmlu xogħolhom sewwa. Ħaġa li l-Ministru Konrad Mizzi sfortunatament ma kienx kapaċi jagħmel. Konrad tfixkel f’ilsienu.

 

Malta’s Nine Ghost Towns

The 2005 Census had revealed that 53,136 residential units in Malta were vacant. This was an increase of 17,413 units over the 35,723 vacant residential units identified during the 1995 Census. Faced with an increase of over 48 per cent in 10 years, a responsible government would have contained the development boundaries as existing supply can satisfy the demand for residential accommodation for many years to come.

In 2006, just nine months after the 2005 Census, the Nationalist Party-led Government defied common sense and, instead of applying the brakes, it further increased the possibilities for building development through three specific decisions. Through the rationalisation process, the PN-led Government extended the boundaries of development in all localities. Then it facilitated the construction of penthouses by relaxing the applicable conditions. If this were not enough, it increased the height limitations in various localities, intensifying development in existing built-up areas.

As a result of increasing the permissible heights, sunlight was blocked off low-lying residential buildings in the affected areas.

These residences were using sunlight to heat water through solar water heaters or to generate electricity through photovoltaic panels installed on their rooftops.

They can now discard their investments in alternative energy thanks to the PN-led Government’s land use policies!

The result of these myopic land use planning policies further increased the number of vacant properties, which is estimated as being in excess of 70,000 vacant residential units. (Mepa chairman Austin Walker, in an interview in June 2010, had referred to an estimated 76,000 vacant residential properties.)

The estimated total of vacant residential properties is equivalent to nine times the size of the residential area of Birkirkara, the largest locality in Malta, which, in 2005, had 7,613 residential units.

These ghost towns over the years have gobbled up resources to develop or upgrade an infrastructure that is underutilised. Spread all over the Maltese islands, these ghost towns have required new roads, extending the drainage system, extending the utility networks and street lighting as well as various other services provided by local councils.

The funds channelled to service ghost towns could have been better utilised to upgrade the infrastructure in the existing localities over the years.

The above justifies calls for an urgent revision of development boundaries through a reversal of the 2006 rationalisation exercise where land included for development in 2006 is still uncommitted.

Similarly, the relaxation of height limitations and the facilitated possibility to construct penthouses should be reversed forthwith.

All this is clearly in conflict with the efforts being made by the Government itself, assisted with EU funds, to increase the uptake of solar water heaters and photovoltaic panels.

I am aware of specific cases where decisions to install photovoltaic panels have had to be reversed as a result of the development permitted on adjacent property subsequent to the 2006 height relaxation decisions.

In its electoral manifesto for the forthcoming election, AD, the Green party, will be proposing a moratorium on large-scale development in addition to the reversal of the above policies as it is unacceptable that the construction industry keeps gobbling up land and, as a result, adding to the stock of vacant property.

The market has been unable to deal with the situation and, consequently, the matter has to be dealt by a government that is capable of taking tough decisions in the national interest.

Neither the PN nor the Labour Party are capable of taking such decisions as it has been proven time and again that both of them are hostages to the construction industry.

The slowdown of the activities of the construction industry is the appropriate time to consider the parameters of its required restructuring. It is clear that the construction industry has to be aided by the State to retrain its employees in those areas of operation where lack of skills exist.

There are three such areas: traditional building trades, road construction and maintenance as well as marine engineering.

Traditional building skills are required primarily to facilitate rehabilitation works of our village cores and to properly maintain our historical heritage. Our roads require more properly-trained personnel so that standards of road construction and maintenance are improved and works carried out in time. Our ports and coastal defences require a well-planned maintenance programme and various other adaptation works as a result of the anticipated sea-level variations caused by climate change.

The construction industry employs about 11,000 persons. It is imperative that its restructuring is taken in hand immediately.

In addition to halting more environmental damage, a long overdue restructuring will also serve to mitigate the social impacts of the slowdown on the families of its employees through retraining for alternative jobs both in the construction industry itself and elsewhere.

The so-called ‘social policy’ of the PN and the PL have neglected these families for years on end.

 

published in The Times on 29 September 2012

It is time to ride the waves

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Addressing Our Environmental Deficit

published on Sunday 27 July 2008

by Carmel Cacopardo

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 In his address to Parliament last May, the President had stated: “The government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development of the economy, of society and of the environment. When making decisions today, serious consideration will be given to the generations of tomorrow.”

In December 2006, the National Sustainability Commission had drawn up the National Sustainable Development Strategy. Having been approved by Cabinet, it is appropriate that the pre-budget document just published ignites the debate on its implementation. The strategy is a blueprint for action representing a holistic perspective as to how this country should be administered. Its eventual handling will in due course give a clear indication of the government’s real views on sustainable development.

Malta’s energy policy is undoubtedly up for an upheaval. Due to the absence of strategic planning over the years, Malta is one of the few countries without any significant alternative energy generated. Other countries identified their vulnerability because of fuel oil dependency years ago and took action. Denmark has since built up its wind energy industry from scratch since the oil crises in the 1970s and is now a world leader. In 2005 Denmark generated 18.5 per cent of its electrical energy needs through wind.

The pre-budget document identifies near shore wind technology as the next step forward, contributing 95MW of wind energy or seven per cent of Malta’s projected electricity demand in 2010. The shortfall in meeting the EU target of having 10 per cent of electricity demand met by alternative energy is planned to be met with wind turbines at other exposed land sites and industrial estates, including those to be identified within the framework of the eco-Gozo project.

The pre-budget document focuses on macro-generation and does not give sufficient weight to micro-generation of energy, both with small wind turbines as well as with photovoltaic panels. It must be borne in mind that micro-generation if adequately motivated could add up to a substantial amount of energy generated through alternative technology. In addition to residential application (not flats or maisonettes!), schools and public buildings could be ideal sites for the micro-generation of energy. Moreover, one can consider fitting micro-turbines to the structures of the hundreds of disused windmills (water pumps) that pepper the countryside. These windmills were strategically located by our ancestors in wind-prone areas and are now an integral part of the Maltese countryside.

The pre-budget document rightly refers to energy generated through waste. It speaks of the generation of electricity using animal waste through biogas in a facility to be constructed in the north of the island. This is a long overdue initiative. However, I believe that it is badly conceived. The lessons that should have been learnt following the Sant’ Antnin debacle seem to have been forgotten.

The point at issue is whether one facility covering the whole island is sufficient or desirable. Would it be a good idea to transport animal manure across the whole island to a facility in the north?

One point resulting from the public debate relative to the Sant’ Antnin waste recycling plant was the applicability of the proximity principle. The required plant should be sited as close as possible to the source of the waste being processed. This had led to the Sant ‘Antnin projected operation itself being scaled down to deal with one third of the islands’ waste. The rest, it was stated, should be processed on other sites (possibly two) that have not yet been identified! These other sites should be used for the production of biogas too and they should be identified in a location as close as possible to those areas that have the largest number of animal farms in order to minimise the movement of animal waste. Knowing that a number of these farms are sited very close to each other should make matters easier for our waste management planners.

Bad planning brings out another sore point, which was not discussed in the pre-budget document: namely the management of our water resources. Groundwater (a ‘free’ source of freshwater) still accounts for 40 per cent of our potable water supply. Groundwater accounts for the greater part of the water used by agriculture, the construction sector, landscaping activities and various other industrial and commercial concerns, including some hotels which are supplied by bowsers. However, as a result of over-extraction, the quality of the water in the aquifer is becoming saltier by the day and will become useless within our lifetime.

Yet, illegal extraction of ground water continues unabated and the authority responsible for the sustainable use of this precious resource (the Malta Resources Authority) persists in not taking any concrete action. The recent increase in the surcharge on mains water will inevitably result in a rush to drill more boreholes and extract more groundwater, with the consequence that our aquifer will die an earlier death.

Within this context, the construction of wastewater treatment plants treating urban wastewater and discharging it directly into the sea assumes an alarming relevance. A country whose natural water resources are not sufficient for its use ought to manage its water resources in a much better way. It certainly ought not to permit the illegal extraction of water or the discharge of treated water into the sea. The siting of the wastewater treatment plants in Malta and Gozo is such that discharging treated water into the sea is a foregone conclusion. This decision, undoubtedly arrived at based on the original siting of the sewage outfalls, ignores the possibilities to reuse the treated water, either as a second-class source or (with additional treatment) as potable water. Other developed countries, notably Singapore, produce an ever-increasing percentage of their potable water in this manner. This issue is ignored in the pre-budget report.

All this could easily have been prevented with a proper water management planning strategy, which, instead of large-scale plants for wastewater treatment, could have identified a number of smaller sites along the sewer route on the islands for the construction of small packaged wastewater treatment plants. These would have provided ample treated effluent where and when required for agricultural use, landscaping and other uses not requiring water of potable quality – at little or no distribution costs. The widespread availability of this water would have substituted the need to extract groundwater and facilitated the required enforcement action on its illegal extraction.

The total costs would have been substantially less. By costs I do not just mean economic ones but also the ecological cost of losing a strategic resource (the aquifer), which loss will have to be borne by future generations.

As indicated in the public hearings carried out by Minister Tonio Fenech, the pre-budget document deals with the sustainability of localities, rightly linking this issue to the proposed reform of local councils. It refers to the need for localities to draw up a Local Sustainable Development Strategy. In environmental management, we normally consider this within the Local Agenda 21 process currently espoused by thousands of localities around the globe: think global act local.

The sustainable localities proposal is undoubtedly well intentioned, and if adequately planned and applied can lead to positive results. The difficulty that will arise is that of economies of scale. Our localities vary substantially in size: from the largest – Birkirkara, to the smallest – San Lawrenz in Gozo. I believe that the best manner to apply Local Agenda 21 in Malta would be on a regional level. It would entail the setting up an additional level of local government that could be made up of all the local councils in the region. One possibility for the identification of regions would be to follow the boundaries of the seven local plans. These regions could be the channel for drawing up a Local Agenda 21 in conformity with national policy and strategies, which allow ample room for adequate planning. The proposed Conference on Local Sustainable Development would be a good start.

The basic point at issue in all deliberations is to view the economy as a tool at the service of the eco-system rather than as master of all. Adopting sustainable development as a policy instrument is no easy task. It entails taking a holistic view of public administration and its consequences. It signifies that national policy and administrative action need to have a continuous long-term view.

Economic policy generally takes on board social policy. It now needs to ensure that it is subservient to the eco-system because at the end of the day the eco-system is the source of our being. It is only at this point that we will be in a position to settle our country’s accumulated environmental deficit!