Il-mużika ta’ matul il-lejl

Ir-ritratti mis-satellita juru kemm hu kbir it-tniġġiż mid-dawl f’Malta. Fil-fatt, dan hu komparabbli mat-tniġġiż miż-żoni urbani fil-kontinent Ewropew! It-tniġġiż mid-dawl ma jħallix li nisimgħu l-mużika ta’ matul il-lejl. Joħnoqha u jżommna milli napprezzaw is-sbuħija tal-lejl li bil-mod jurina dak li jostor. Hekk jemfasizza l-Ħares tal-Opra (Phantom of the Opera) fix-xogħol tejatrali kapulavur ta’ Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Xi snin ilu waqt dibattitu dwar il-baġit ġie varat proġett biex id-dwal tat-toroq ikun ikkontrollat b’mod elettroniku. Proġett li meta jkun implimentat għandu jkun ta’ kontribut sostanzjali biex fil-gżejjer Maltin jonqos it-tniġġiż mid-dawl. Imma sfortunatament ftit li xejn smajna dwar xi progress seta’ kien hemm dwar din il-materja mill- 2013 lil hawn, meta tħabbar il-proġett.

Id-dawl eċċessiv użat matul il-lejl mhux biss hu użu ħażin u ineffiċjenti tal-enerġija imma jagħti kontribut konsegwenzjali għal emissjonijiet tal-karbonju li jistgħu jkunu evitati. B’dan il-ħajja fin-natura tul il-lejl qed tiġi ddisturbata u potenzjalment ukoll hi kawża għal ħsara lis-saħħa umana.

Fl-2007, il-Birdlife f’Malta ippubblikat studju dwar l-impatt tad-dwal bil-lejl fuq l-għasafar li jgħixu fl-irdumijiet u qrib il-baħar kif ukoll speċi oħra li jpassu bil-lejl. L-istudju hu intitolat Light Pollution and its effects on Yelkouan Shearwaters in Malta; causes and solutions. Il-kuntest tal-istudju kien proġett fl-iskema EU Life fl-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa fl-inħawi magħruf bħala l-Irdum tal-Madonna, sit li hu kolonja tal-garni, għasfur li jgħix mal-baħar.

L-osservazzjonijiet fir-rapport u s-soluzzjonijiet proposti jistgħu faċilment iservu ta’ bażi għal pjan ta’ azzjoni biex fil-gżejjer Maltin nibdew nindirizzaw bis-serjetà t-tniġġiż mid-dawl billi dan f’Malta mhux biss hu ta’ theddida għall-garnija (Yelkouan Shearwater)imma ukoll kawża ta’ emissjonijiet ta’ karbonju bla bżonn u theddida għall-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.

Bħala riżultat tad-densità qawwija ta’ popolazzjoni, t-tniġġiż mid-dawl matul il-lejl għandu impatt konsiderevoli kemm fuq iż-żoni urbani kif ukoll fuq dawk rurali tal-gżejjer Maltin. Ekologikament għandu impatt fuq l-għasafar, friefet u insetti kif ukoll friefet il-lejl imma ukoll fuq l-imġieba tal-annimali b’mod ġenerali. Lil hinn mill-ħajja naturali, it-tniġġiż mid-dawl joħloq leħħ qawwi li jweġġa’ l-għajn u li għandu impatt fuq is-sigurtà fis-sewqan. Jeffettwa lil min isuq, lil min jimxi, kif ukoll lil min juża’ r-rota u jagħti kontribut mhux żgħir fl-inċidenti tat-traffiku li jseħħu matul il-lejl.

Il-każ dwar it-tniġġiż mid-dawl fid-Dwejra deċiż mit-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar nhar is-27 ta’ Ġunju hu każ rari fejn deċiżjoni tajba tal-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll tal-Iżvilupp tinbidel mit-Tribunal fl-appell: ġeneralment bil-maqlub jiġri. Meta jinbidlu, s-soltu jkunu d-deċiżjonijiet il-ħżiena li jinbidlu, mhux dawk tajbin! Fil-fatt il-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll ta’ l-Iżvilupp kienet irrifjutat l-applikazzjoni oriġinali minħabba li l-inħawi tad-Dwejra huma żona ta’ importanza ekologika. Sfortunatament it-Tribunal ittratta it-tniġġiż mid-dawl b’mod leġġer u kien insensittiv għall-impatti ekoloġiċi.

Li l-15-il għaqda ambjentali ngħaqdu biex jiġbru l-fondi ħalli tkompli l-ġlieda b’appell fil-Qrati hu pass tajjeb ‘il-quddiem. Il-ħarsien tas-siti tan-Natura 2000 hi għadma iebsa, imma jeħtieġ li jibqa’ għaddej. Imma li jsir appell minn din id-deċiżjoni skandaluża tat-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni tal-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar għandu jkun biss l-ewwel pass.

Għandna nirrejalizzaw li l-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi għandha l-poter u l-awtorità taħt id-Direttiva Ewropea dwar l-abitati li mhiex tagħmel użu tagħhom sewwa. L-ERA għandha tasserixxi ruħha u tenforza r-regoli, u jekk hemm bżonn tibqa’ għaddejja minn fuq l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kif tista’ u għandha tagħmel kull meta dan ikun neċessarju.

Ikun ferm aħjar kieku l-Ministru għall-Ambjent jinsisti mal-ERA biex din tieħu ħsieb iż-żoni ekoloġiċi sewwa. Ovvjament għandu jassigura li jkunu ipprovduti riżorsi adegwati.

Il-kaz tad-Dwejra hu każ speċifiku li fih l-ERA tista’ tieħu l-mazz f’idejha. X’ser tagħmel?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 7 ta’ Lulju 2019

 

 

 

Advertisements

The music of the night

Satellite photos clearly indicate the extent of light pollution in Malta: it is comparable to that in most urban areas in the European continent. As a result, the music of the night is made inaudible. The night is being “impeded from unfurling its splendour”, as the Phantom of the Opera repeatedly emphasises in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece.

Some years back, during the budget debate, a project related to intelligent street lighting was launched. When implemented, such a project would be an effective contribution to the reduction of light pollution all over the Maltese islands. Unfortunately, we have not heard of any substantial progress on the matter since late 2013, when the project was first announced.

Excessive artificial lighting used during the night is not only an inefficient use of energy, and the consequential contribution to additional carbon emissions which can be avoided, it is also a disturbance of nocturnal animal life and potentially injurious to human health.

Way back in 2007, Birdlife in Malta had published a study on the impact of night lighting on seabirds and nocturnal migrant species. The study is entitled Light Pollution and its effects on Yelkouan Shearwaters in Malta; causes and solutions. The context of the study is the EU Life project site at l-Aħrax in Mellieħa, in the area known as l-Irdum tal-Madonna, the site of a seabird colony.

The observations made and the solutions proposed in the study could easily form the basis for an action plan applicable to all of the Maltese islands to address light pollution because, in Malta, this is a serious problem not just for shearwaters but also in terms of carbon emissions and our quality of life.

As a result of Malta’s high population density, nocturnal light pollution has a considerable impact on both urban and rural areas all over the Maltese Islands. Ecologically, it has an impact on birds, moths and bats but it also has a considerable impact on animal behaviour in general. Beyond wildlife, light pollution creates glare which is a road safety issue and has an impact on drivers, pedestrians and cyclists and is known to play a considerable part in nocturnal traffic accidents.

The Dwejra light pollution case decided by the Environment and Planning Revision Tribunal on the 27 June is a rare case when a sensible decision was taken by the Planning Control Commission only for it to be reversed on appeal: normally it is the other way round! In fact, the Planning Control Commission had refused the original application on the basis that the Dwejra area is an area of ecological importance. Unfortunately, the Tribunal treated the issue of light pollution very lightly and was insensitive to its ecological impacts.

The coming together of fifteen environmental NGOs to crowd-fund the fight on appeal in Court is a good step forward. Protecting Natura 2000 sites is a tough fight but it needs to go on. Appealing against the scandalous decision of the Environment and Planning Revision Tribunal should, however, only be a first step. It should be realised that the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has powers and authority under the provisions of the EU Habitats Directive that it does not make sufficient use of. The ERA should assert itself and enforce the rules, bulldozing through the Planning Authority whenever this is necessary.

It would be much better if the Hon. Minister for the Environment insists that the ERA manages areas of ecological importance appropriately. Obviously, he must ensure that adequate resources are provided.

This Dwejra case is a specific example of where the ERA can have the final word. Will it?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 7 July 2019

Post-electoral reflections

When voters repeatedly elect a candidate accused of usury and money-laundering into public office, it is inevitable that I ask the question as to whether, really, the voters are always right.

In view of this reality it is inevitable that now, more frequently than ever, I ask myself why I am in politics. Following the electoral counting process presents the stark reality of the substantial number of spoilt ballot papers – with a variety of comments written in very colourful language.

Answering my daily question, now more than ever, I choose to stay on as I am driven by a sense of duty towards the ordinary man and woman who request continuous help in facing their daily problems caused by an insensitive state buttressed by a variety of colourful hangers-on.

It is unfortunate that immediate gain, as opposed to long-term benefits, is the obvious choice of a majority of voters, irrespective of the locality. Tomorrow is too far away to feature in today’s choices and, as a result, voters are continuously misguided instead of being assisted in making their choices.

I am obviously disappointed that no green local councillors were elected in the latest election. Moreover, the only green councillor currently in office, Ralph Cassar in Attard, was not re-elected. The result was affected by a low turnout, coupled with a reduced number of cross-party voters in the locality. Ralph has given sterling service to Attard for a considerable number of years, almost uninterruptedly since the 1990s.

The voters’ decision not to re-elect Ralph Cassar but then for voters in another locality to  repeatedly elect a person charged with usury and money-laundering is mind-boggling.
“Crooks are everywhere” could be too simplistic an explanation. They are certainly present but their presence is definitely not ubiquitous. It would be unfair to tar all those who stand for public office with the same brush, because most of them are drawn into public life through a sense of public service.

Why am I in politics? “To be of service to the community” is the answer which I have repeatedly and convincingly given since my youth. It is a service against an ever-intruding state. It is a service in favour of the betterment of our quality of life through ensuring the optimisation of policy-making and implementation, focusing on addressing the common good.

Throughout the past months and years, together with fellow greens, I have striven hard to ensure that more people are conscious of the need to prioritise ecological issues. Tackling environmental issues is a political matter because it involves continuous political decision-taking on a large variety of issues – ranging from food and pesticides to land-use planning in all its complexities or water management.

Those who continuously plead against linking environmental issues with politics are unfortunately not conscious that each and every decision impacting the environment is a political decision. Politics is also a service to the environment, ideally seeking to ensure that long-term views prevail over short-term egoistic decisions.

During the past weeks. Alternattiva Demokratika focused on several environmental issues regarding the need to improve our urban environment. The agenda is topped by a need to improve transport planning and reclaiming back our roads and ensuring adequate accessibility for all. Reducing the number of cars from our roads is an urgent requirement but there is no interest in achieving it as an objective. This will keep up the pressure on our public spaces which are either being taken up by more parking spaces or else by tables and chairs servicing catering establishments.

It is indeed unfortunate that the voters who share these objectives did not sufficiently support those who continuously strive to address them.

It is difficult to answer the question as to why I am in politics striving to attain environmental protection in order to better our quality of life, when everything seems to be pointing in a different direction. However, there is no alternative. Putting egoistic short-termism aside is an absolute priority.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 June 2019

Kunsill ta’ San Ġiljan u l-ħarsien tad-drittijiet fundamentali

Il-bieraħ f’San Ġiljan fejn ser nikkontesta l-elezzjoni tal-Kunsill Lokali indirizzajt konferenza stampa dwar il-ħidma fil-lokalità. Il-prijorità ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika hi dejjem il-ħarsien tan-nies u tal-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħhom.

Il-ħidma għal toroq u bankini aħjar trid tissokta mhux biss bi programm ta’ tiswija regolari imma billi jkun assigurat illi l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ San Ġiljan jaħdem id f’id ma’ Infrastructure Malta ħalli l-investiment ta’ €700 miljun li ser jagħmel il-Gvern fit-toroq tal-pajjiż ikollu effett posittiv fuq San Ġiljan ukoll.

Għandu jkun hemm investiment adegwat ukoll fil-bankini. Ħafna minnhom saru biex jaġevolaw il-karozzi fil-garaxxijiet bil-konsegwenza li diversi bankini spiċċaw tlajja u nżul kontinwi b’detriment għal min huwa vulnerabbli. Bl-istess mod, il-Kunsill Lokali għandu jara li l-bankini ikunu ħielsa minn ostakli li ħafna drabi iġiegħlu lir-residenti, partikolarment dawk l-iktar vulnerabbli jimxu fin-nofs tat-triq. Din hija kwistjoni prijoritarja ta′ aċċessibilità għar-residenti kollha, inkluż ghat-turisti.

F’Paceville, fil-lokalità ta’ San Ġiljan, il-Gvern qed jippjana li jwettaq il-proġett Safe Cities li permezz tiegħu tintuża t-teknoloġija tal-informatika biex tassisti lill-pulizija fiż-żamma tal-ordni pubbliku. Alternattiva Demokratika fil-Kunsill Lokali ta’San Ġiljan taħdem biex tassigura li f’kull ħin tkun assigurata l-ikbar livell ta’ ħarsien ta’ privatezza fit-twettieq ta’ dan il-proġett. Għal dan l-iskop il-Kunsill Lokali ta’ San Ġiljan għandu jinvolvi ruħu attivament fil-konsultazzjoni pubblika neċessarja għal dan l-iskop fl-interess tar-residenti.

Infakkar li teknoloġija simili qed tiġi ppruvata f’diversi pajjiżi madwar id-dinja. Fir-Renju Unit t-teknoloġija simili hi użata mill-Pulizija. L-NGO li tħares id-drittijiet ċivili, Big Brother Watch, f’rapport ippublikat madwar sena ilu tirrapporta li f’9 minn 10 każi (iva 90%) is-sistemi użati qed jagħtu riżultati żbaljati. Jispiċċaw arrestati persuni li m’għandhomx x’jaqsmu! F’rapport intitolat Face Off. The lawless growth of facial recognition in UK policing dan hu spjegat fid-dettall. Identifikaw uċuħ ta’persuni innoċenti. Dan apparti li r-ritratti biometriċi ta’ persuni innoċenti inżammu u nħażnu mill-Pulizija b’mod sfaċċat kontra kull regola bażika tal-ħarsien tad-data.

Dan kollu jfisser li l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ San Ġiljan li ser ikun elett fil-25 ta’ Mejju li ġej għandu impenn ieħor quddiemu: iż-żamma tal-ordni pubbliku għandu jsir f’ħarsien sħiħ tad-drittijiet bażiċi tal-bniedem. M’hux aċċettabbli teknoloġija li twassal għal żball f’90% tal-każi. Irridu naraw ukoll li r-ritratti u l-filmati meħuda ma jinħażnux iktar milli hemm bżonn.

L-isfidi tal-Kunsilli Lokali illum imorru lil hinn mill-bankina u t-triq.

F’isem Alternattiva Demokratika jiena ser inkun hemm biex flimkien naraw li ħadd ma jkun imkasbar. Il-Kunsill Lokali għandu jkun fuq quddiem nett biex jara li d-drittijiet ta’ kulħadd ikunu mħarsa.

Għax waqt li l-Gvern Malti qiegħed jesperimenta bid-drittijiet tagħna flimkien mal-Huawei, ħaddiehor qed jipprojibixxi dan kollu kif għamlu din il-ġimgħa f’San Francisco!

St. Julian’s Local Council and the surveillance state

At St.Julian’s, this morning, I addressed a press conference with reference to my candidacy for the Local Council elections. The quality of life of residents is central to Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party.

Ensuring that our roads and pavements are in good shape is an ongoing commitment. To this we must add the need for the St.Julian’s Local Council to work hand-in-hand with  Infrastructure Malta in order to ensure that the €700 million investment in roads has a beneficial impact on St.Julian’s. Most pavements need replacement too, having been mutilated to facilitate access to garages to the detriment of the vulnerable who due to this and other obstacles, many a time end up walking in the middle of the road. This is a priority for all. Each one of us requires our roads to be reasonably accessible at all times. Both residents and tourists.

At Paceville, within the St.Julian’s locality, government is planning the implementation of a Safe Cities project through which technology will be used to assist the police in law and order.  Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party elected onto the St Julian’s Local Council will strive to ensure that the technology used respects privacy at all times. In order for this to be achieved the St Julian’s Local Council should be actively involved in the public consultation on this matter.

It would be appropriate to remember that this type of technology is being tested in various countries around the globe. In the United Kingdom similar technology is in use by the Police. The civil rights NGO by the name of Big Brother Watch, in a report published around one year ago emphasised that the technology in use is identifying people incorrectly in 9 cases out of 10 (that’s 90%). Innocent people end up being arrested. In a report entitled Face Off. The lawless growth of facial recognition in UK policing this is explained in detail. The wrong faces were identified. This in addition to biometric data of innocent persons being retained by the police contrary to all basic rules of data protection.

This signifies that the St Julian’s Local Council to be elected on 25 May will have one additional responsibility: ensuring that upholding public order is done in full respect of basic human rights. It is not acceptable to use technology which is wrong 90% of the time. It also needs to be ensured that all electronic records are not retained more that is reasonably necessary.

The challenges which our Local Councils must face go beyond the maintenance of roads and public spaces.

On behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party I will be there to ensure that no one is ill-treated. The Local Council will lead the way to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected.

Bejn prezz u valur

Kien Oscar Wilde li madwar mitt sena ilu kiteb li hawn uħud li jafu l-prezz ta’ kollox imma m’għandhomx l-iċken idea tal-valur ta’ dak li hemm madwarhom. Illum l-affarijiet huma ferm iktar soffistikati minn hekk. Għandna studji kkumplikati li janalizzaw il-benefiċċju miksub ikkomparat mal-infieq li jsir u studji dwar impatti ta’ kull xorta li bihom tista’ tipprova tiġġustifika dak li trid, dejjem sakemm tkun ippreparat biex tħallas minn imnieħrek għal dan il-privileġġ.

Illum il-ġurnata prattikament kollox hu ridott għal valur monetarju. Meta nitkellmu dwar spiża, prattikament kulħadd jifhem nefqa f’termini ta’ flus. Li titkellem dwar spiża ambjentali jew spiża soċjali donnu li hi xi ħaġa stramba, qisu diffiċli biex tinftiehem.

L-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi Maltin dejjem trid iktar. B’pariri minn xi professjonisti, inkluż eks uffiċjali anzjani tal-ippjanar, issa l-iżviluppaturi qed jippreżentaw it-talbiet tagħhom billi jilgħabuha tal-vittmi tar-regolamentazzjoni. Imma fis-sustanza t-talbiet tagħhom huma dejjem l-istess: biex jimmassimizzaw il-frott tar-rebgħa.

Kważi fl-istess ħin sirna nafu li l-Assoċjazzjoni Maltija tal-Ilma żarmat. Okkazjoni bħal din hi dejjem waħda ta’ dieqa. Imma r-realtà tibqa’ li f’Malta hawn ftit wisq attivisti ambjentali f’numru ta’ għaqdiet ambjentali li mhux wieħed żgħir. Forsi l-għaqdiet ambjentali jirrealizzaw illi l-multiplikazzjoni tagħhom ma tagħmilx ġid lill-kawża li jmexxu l-quddiem. Lanqas ma jagħmel ġid li dawn l-għaqdiet iħarsu lejn il-konsulenti tal-iżviluppaturi l-kbar huma u jfittxu tmexxija ġdida. Il-kredibilità tagħhom, naħseb, li tista’ tieħu daqqa ta’ ħarta.

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent hu għadma iebsa. Bosta ma jirrealizzawx li l-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna jiddependi minn din il-ħidma. Ir-riżultati tal-ħidma favur il-ħarsien tal-ambjent, jew in-nuqqas tagħha, jidhru ġeneralment fuq tul ta’ żmien, ma jidhrux malajr. Dan inevitabilment iwassal biex ma tidhirx b’mod ċar ir-rabta bejn il-kawża u l-effett u bħala  konsegwenza ma jkunx hemm biżżejjed interess f’dak li qed jiġri, sakemm ikun tard wisq.

Illum bosta qed jirrealizzaw x’inhuma l-impatti konsiderevoli tal-ezerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni tal-art li nieda l-Gvern immexxi minn Lawrence Gonzi fl-2006 li bħala riżultat tiegħu madwar żewġ miljun metru kwadru ta’ art madwar dawn il-gżejjer saru tajbin għall-iżvilupp mil-lum għal għada. Ftit jiftakru li l-Partit Laburista, dakinnhar, kien ħa posizzjoni kontra l-proposta ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni u kien anke ivvota kontra tagħha fil-Parlament. Illum il-ġurnata, imma, l-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern ħalla kollox kif kien, għax, wara kollox, hu komdu li meta kkritikat tkun tista’ twaħħal f’ ta’ qablek u b’wiċċ ta’ qdusija artifiċjali tiddikjara li ma tista’ tagħmel xejn, għax sadanittant hemm min laħaq rabba’ l-ġust!

Din l-aħħar manuvra tal-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Iżviluppaturi li jilgħabuha tal-vittmi mhiex xi ħaġa ġdida. Kif spjega dak li kien Direttur tal-Ippjanar, u li illum mid-dehra hu konsulent tal-Assoċjazzjoni, l-Perit Stephen Farrugia, l-proposta tinvolvi tpartit ta’ arja f’żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana ma drittijiet ta’ żvilupp iktar vantaġġjuż xi mkien ieħor. Bażikament it-talba tal-Assoċjazzjoni hi biex il-membri tagħha jkunu kkumpensati għar-restrizzjonijiet fiż-żoni ta’ konservazzjoni urbana kif ukoll fil-konfront ta’ bini protett. Kif intqal f’artiklu ippubblikat iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa mill-President tal-Assoċjazzjoni Sandro Chetcuti t-talba hi biex dak li mhux jitħallew jiżviluppaw jibqa’ għandhom bi dritt li jkun trasferit fuq art oħra fejn ma hemmx l-istess restrizzjonijiet. S’issa ma ippubblikawx dettalji imma hu ovvju li l-proposta qed tfittex li jinħolqu ammont sostanzjali ta’ drittijiet ta’ żvilupp li jkompli jżid mal-madra li diġa hawn.

L-Assoċjazzjoni bil-proposta tagħha qed tmur kontra dak li hu bażiku fl-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art għax qed tassumi b’mod żbaljat li kull sid ta’ propjetà għandu dritt ugwali biex jiżviluppa rrispettivament mil-livell ta’ protezzjoni applikabbli. Hi proposta li tfisser biss taħwid, iktar milli diġa hawn.

X’baqa’ jiġri?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 24 ta’ Marzu 2019

Knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing

It was Oscar Wilde who over 100 years ago coined the expression on “knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing”. Today matters are more sophisticated, with “cost benefit analysis” and impact studies of all sorts which seek to justify practically anything, as long as you can pay for the privilege.

Reducing everything to a monetary value seems to be the order of the day. When we speak of costs, we are only understood as having spoken about financial outlays. Environmental costs or social costs seem to be something out of this world: apparently, they are so difficult to comprehend.

The Malta Developers Association wants more. With advice from professionals, including former senior land use planning regulators, they are now sugar-coating their demands. Essentially, however they are still making the same point: they are seeking to maximise the fruits of greed.

Almost simultaneously, we get to know that the Malta Water Association has closed shop. It is always a sad day when an eNGO disbands, but the reality is that we have too few environmental activists and too many environmental organisations on this little rock. It is about time that all environmental NGOs come together, as the proliferation of eNGOs is not doing the environment lobby any good. Nor is it helpful to the environment cause to co-opt former advisors of mega-developers to lead eNGOs. Credibility may, in my view, be at stake.

Protecting the environment is a tough job because not many realise that our quality of life is dependent on it. The results of environment protection – or the lack of it – are generally only evident in the long term as they are not easily identifiable immediately. This inevitably leads to a lack of connection between cause and effect and consequently to a lack of interest in the issues which matter, until it is too late.

Today, many people are realising the considerable impacts of the rationalisation exercise on land use embarked upon by the Lawrence Gonzi administration in 2006, as a result of which around two million square metres of land spread around the Maltese islands became suitable for development overnight. Few remember that, at the time, the Labour Party had then taken a stand against the proposal, even voting against it in Parliament. Today, however, Labour leaves the rationalisation proposals in place because, when faced with rampant over-development, it is most convenient to be able to continuously shift the blame on your predecessors, sanctimoniously declaring that you cannot do anything about it, as, in the meantime, vested rights have taken root!

The latest MDA land use planning gimmick is a well-known strategy of playing the role of the victims. As explained by the former Director of Planning – now apparently a consultant to the Association, architect Stephen Farrugia – this MDA proposal will involve trading in airspaces in urban conservation areas in order to acquire more advantageous planning rights elsewhere instead. Basically, it is a request by the MDA for its members to be compensated for planning restrictions in Urban Conservation Areas as well as in respect of limitations on the potential development of protected buildings. The MDA seeks the possibility, as stated earlier in an article published this week by its President Sandro Chetcuti, to transfer the potential unused gross floor area from buildings whose development is restricted to areas where it is not. The details are not yet out but it is obvious that this proposal seeks to create a substantial amount of development rights which will further increase the unbridled development to which we have become so accustomed to.

The MRA proposal negates the very basics of land use planning as it assumes that every property owner has an equal right to develop, irrespective of the level of protection afforded to specific properties. In practise the MDA proposal will signify deregulation and the sooner it is shot down, the better.

What next?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 24 October 2019

The budget: beyond the €s

Liza Minelli’s song “Money makes the world go round” is the underlying theme of the Budget speech delivered by Finance Minister in Parliament last Monday. The message driven home was that money and the accompanying affluence clearly indicate that we have never had it so good and that handouts to all are not a problem, both to those who need them, and, more importantly to those who don’t.

Today, taxation is a dirty word in our political lexicon: hence, it was suggested that the message that no increases in existent taxes or new taxes have been proposed is a positive one by the Honourable Minister. Handouts are for all, almost. First for those in need, secondly for most of the rest. The dictum “from each according to his means, to each according to his needs” no longer has any significance when trying to understand the political philosophy underlying the budget of this “labour” government.

Taxation collected in Malta apparently only has some significance when taxing foreign companies operating outside Maltese territory but having some small office, or just a letterbox, on this rock. This is done so that they can avail themselves of reduced taxation rates, substantially lower that those payable in the countries where they operate.

Similarly, companies operating in the financial services sector benefit from a tax package which offers them substantial savings on their tax bills in order to entice them to set up shop.

The government thinks it is smart, but all it is doing is encouraging tax avoidance. Malta’s message is clear: those who want to avoid tax in their country are welcome as long as they are prepared to pay a small part of the taxes avoided to the Maltese exchequer.

In this respect, the case study entitled “Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance” published by the Green Group in the European Parliament around two years ago is indicative. In that study, it was concluded that BASF, the German chemical giant with its headquarters in Ludwigshafen, used mismatches in national tax systems in order to avoid paying its taxes. It is estimated that, over a five-year period spanning 2010 to 2014, BASF avoided the payment of close to one billion euros in taxes, paying instead a small amount of the taxes avoided, in gratitude for this wonderful opportunity made possible by the Maltese governments, blue and red.

In this context the Finance Minister’s declaration against tax evasion, tax avoidance and money laundering is deemed mere rhetoric. It has to be viewed in the context of the Panama Papers saga, as well as the established fact that a Cabinet Minister and the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister set up companies in Panama, a tax haven, and no punitive action was taken against them. With this background, the Minister’s sanctimonious declaration is in no way credible.

The Budget proposals strengthen the social safety net as it assists the vulnerable financially. However, the quality of life is not measured solely by financial metrics. The Budget has various green gaps that affect our quality of life.

The welfare of cars assumes an importance over human quality of life, as government considers it is important to widen and improve roads in order to facilitate the passage of cars, thereby aiming at reducing congestion. An inverted sense of logic: reduction of the number of cars on our roads should have been the target as that is the real and actual problem. Widening roads and improving road infrastructure with flyovers and underpasses only serves to grow the number of cars on our roads, thereby increasing the problem. Providing and facilitating alternative transport is the only solution. Paying lip service to alternative means of transport but simultaneously financing an exponential
increase of the problem signifies that we still have to learn the ABC of transport policy.

The government’s own transport master-plan places considerable emphasis on the need to reduce cars from our roads but it seems that the government is not interested.

Therefore, we have a government which is more interested in the welfare of cars than in our quality of life.

This is just one example. There are countless of others.

The Budget loses an opportunity to make a lasting difference in a number of areas important for our quality of life that goes beyond finances.

published (online) at Malta Independent

Il-baġit : lil hinn mill-€s

Id-diska ta’ Liza Minelli “Money makes the world go round” donnha li hi t-tema li madwarha hu minsuġ id-diskors tal-Baġit li nqara mill-Ministru tal-Finanzi nhar it-Tnejn fil-Parlament. Il-messaġġ ċar li wasal fi djarna kien li l-flus u l-“ġid” li hawn jagħmlu possibli li tirċievi ċekk id-dar, kemm jekk għandek bżonnu kif ukoll jekk m’għandekx.

F’dawn iż-żmienijiet il-kelma taxxa donna saret kelma moqżieża fid-dizzjunarju politiku: għalhekk ġie suġġerit li n-nuqqas ta’ taxxi ġodda, inkella ta’ żieda fit-taxxi eżistenti kien element pożittiv fid-diskors tal-Onorevoli Ministru. Ċekkijiet għal kważi kulħadd. L-ewwel għal dawk li għandhom il-ħtieġa u mbagħad għall-parti l-kbira tal-bqija. Dak li kien jingħad li “jittieħed mingħand kull wieħed skont ma jiflaħ, u jingħata lil kulħadd skont il-ħtiġijiet tiegħu” donnu li ma għandu l-ebda piz illum meta nippruvaw nifhmu l-filosofija politika li fuqha hu mfassal dan il-baġit ta’ Gvern “Laburista”.

It-taxxa li tinġabar f’Malta donnha li hi utli biss meta tinġabar mingħand kumpaniji barranin li fil-waqt li joperaw barra mit-teritorju Malti jkollhom uffiċċju żgħir jew sempliċi letterbox f’Malta. Dan biex ikunu jistgħu jibbenefikaw minn rati ta’ taxxa sostanzjalment iktar baxxi minn dawk li jkunu soġġetti għalihom fil-pajjiżi fejn joperaw.

Diversi kumpaniji fis-settur tas-servizzi finanzjarji ukoll jibbenefikaw minn rati ta’ taxxa li bihom jiffrankaw sostanzjalment minn dak li jħallsu band’oħra.

Il-Gvern mingħalih li għamel opra. Fir-realtá qed jibgħat messaġġ li Malta tilqa’ li min irid jevadi t-taxxa f’pajjiżu, kemm-il darba jkun lest li jħalli xi ħaġa minn dak li jiffranka fil-kaxxa ta’ Malta!

F’dan il-kuntest l-istudju intitolat Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance. ippubblikat mill-Grupp tal-Ħodor fil-Parlament Ewropew madwar sentejn ilu jispjega b’mod ċar x’inhu jiġri. F’dan l-istudju ġie konkluż li l-BASF, ġgant Ġermaniz fil-qasam tal-industrija kimika ibbazat f’Ludwigshafen, jagħmel użu minn differenzi fis-sitemi nazzjonali tat-taxxa biex jevita milli jħallas it-taxxi dovuti. Huwa stmat li, tul il-ħames snin bejn l-2010 u l-2014, BASF evitaw madwar biljun euro fi ħlas ta’ taxxi. Minflok ħallsu ammonti ferm inqas, b’ħajr lill-gvernijiet Maltin (blu u ħomor) talli għinhom jevitaw dawn it-taxxi kollha.

F’dan il-kuntest id-dikjarazzjoni tal-Ministru tal-Finanzi kontra l-evażjoni tat-taxxa u l-ħasil tal-flus jidhru dak li fil-fatt huma: eżerċizzju ta’ retorika. Inżommu f’moħħna ukoll il-kaz tal-Panama Papers, li kien stabilixxa l-fatt li membru tal-Kabinett u ċ-Chief of Staff fl-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru kellhom kumpaniji fil-Panama, pajjiż rinomat għall-evażjoni tat-taxxa, u dwar dan ma kienu ittieħdu l-ebda passi kontra tagħhom. Fid-dawl ta’ dan, id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ “qdusija” da parti tal-Onorevoli Ministru hi nieqsa minn kull kredibilitá.

Il-proposti tal-Baġit isaħħu ix-xibka soċjali u dan billi jgħinu finanzjarjament lill-vulnerabbli. Imma l-kwalitá tal-ħajja ma titkejjilx biss f’termini ta’ flus. Fil-Baġit hemm bosta miżuri ambjentali nofs leħja.

Il-ħarsien tal-karozzi huwa iktar importanti mill-kwalitá tal-ħajja għalina. Il-Gvern jikkunsidra li hu iktar importanti li jwessa’ t-toroq biex jiffaċilita ċ-ċaqlieq tal-karozzi u b’hekk jipprova jnaqqas il-konġestjoni. Loġika rasha l-isfel. Il-mira kellha tkun it-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna għax dik hi l-problema. It-twessiegħ tat-toroq u t-titjib tal-infrastruttura bil-kostruzzjoni ta’ flyovers lil hawn u lil hemm iwassal biss għaż-żieda ta’ karozzi fit-toroq tagħna u b’hekk tikber il-problema tal-konġestjoni. L-unika soluzzjoni hi li jkun inkoraġġit bis-serjetá t-trasport alternattiv. Il-Gvern qiegħed fl-istess nifs jinkoraġixxi kemm lit-trasport alternattiv kif ukoll iż-żieda fenomenali ta’ karozzi: dan ifisser li għadu ma tgħallem xejn. Wara kollox huwa l-pjan nazzjonali tat-trasport imfassal minn dan il-Gvern stess li jpoġġi quddiemna l-mira tat-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Imma jidher li l-Gvern qed iwarrab il-pjani tiegħu stess.

L-Gvern hu iktar interessat mill-ħarsien tal-karozzi milli mill-ħarsien tal-kwalitá tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.

Dan hu biss eżempu wieħed. Hemm bosta oħrajn.

Il-Baġit qed jitlef l-oportunitá li jagħmel differenza f’numru ta’ oqsma fejn li troxx il-flus mhux biżżejjed.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 28 t’Ottubru 2018

Green gaps in the Budget

The green gaps in the Budget speech cannot be patched up with the millions of euros spread in the pockets of both those in need as well as those who are well off.

Edward Scicluna’s Budget speech last Monday was far too long. Yet in its over 100 pages it missed addressing a number of environmental issues on which different government spokespersons pontificate throughout the rest of the year: confirming that they just pay lip-service to the issues.

The lack of good environmental governance has considerable economic and social impact as is evident to one and all.

While the Budget proposals strengthen the social safety net, it is to be underlined that quality of life is not measured solely in terms of financial metrics. Throwing euros at problems does not lead to any solutions.

The budget speech correctly emphasises the necessity of waste recycling. Unfortunately, the Minister for Finance did not explain how this effort should be integrated into a circular economy, even though the Environment Minister repeatedly boasts of how supposedly the move towards a circular economy is a priority for government. In the entire speech, the circular economy is not mentioned once. Nor does the Economic Survey dwell on the matter or even faintly refer to the matter.

This raises the suspicion that government has lost the plot and does not have any policy ideas on such an important aspect of the economy with its social, economic and environmental effects.

The Budget speech emphasises the energy generation potential from waste incineration which requires large volumes of waste in order to be viable. But the budget speech is silent on how this fits in with the stated commitment to actually reduce the volume of waste.

The government is trying to square the circle; on the one hand it wants to reduce waste but on the other hand it needs more and more waste to make its huge incinerator viable.
The Budget speech also gives the impression that it addresses important aspects which impact the quality of life when in fact offers only half-baked and token solutions.

Among them is the point on water policy. The speech mentions incentives to encourage repairs of existing wells but then it avoids altogether a real and focused effort to address the acute issue of dwellings built without water cisterns, with the consequence that water ends up in the public sewers or flooding our streets.

Developers are let of the hook even when roads are flooded and sewers are overflowing, not to mention the sheer waste of perfectly good water.

The same can be said of the supposed solutions to traffic congestion. The Budget speech refers to the financial incentives available to encourage the use of alternative modes of transport, but here again it ignores the roots of the problem. The government spending of millions of euros for the development of the road infrastructure will only increase traffic congestion, thereby squeezing users of alternative means of transport off the roads.

It is useless to incentivize the purchase of bicycles and pedelecs when there is no investment in adequate infrastructure to ensure that people can commute safely using these important alternative means of transport, which actually help to decrease congestion in our roads.

Over one year ago the Prime Minister had taken a leaf from Alternattiva Demokratika’s electoral manifesto and declared that the government will determine a cut-off date by which new cars will need to be electrically driven or possibly of a hybrid nature.

This declaration had heralded the issue of electrification of transport on our roads addressing two major issues: the quality of air and the contribution of transport emissions to climate change. This, once implemented, would be a substantial contribution to the decarbonisation of the Maltese economy. We are none the wiser on government plans after listening to or reading the budget speech.

Clearly financial parameters are not the only indicators of our quality of life. The green gaps in the budget speech need plugging at the soonest.

published in The Sunday Times of Malta : Sunday 28 October 2018