The publication of the draft National Environment Policy (NEP) is a useful exercise irrespective of Government’s intentions, which, to put it mildly, are not always clear.
Government’s intense rhetoric coupled with action motivated primarily by the need to overcome threats of EU infringement proceedings is not the best way to move forward in environmental issues. Labour would certainly be no better. Past experience indicates that Labour are on the same wavelength as the PN even though their policies on a number of issues are not yet spelt out, in public at least.
In April 2010 Ernst & Young had concluded a Public Attitudes Survey on environmental issues commissioned by MEPA. The analysis of the results, available on the MEPA website makes interesting reading.
Of central importance are the conclusions relative to the inter-relationship between the environment and the economy: 69% of respondents held that the environment was as important as the economy, 23% held that the environment was more important than the economy whilst only 8% held that the economy is of over-riding importance.
Air quality, waste management and land use top the list of the environmental concerns of the Maltese. In fact these are the most worrying issues, though certainly not the only ones.
The draft NEP collects in one document a detailed list of government’s environmental responsibilities, primarily resulting from the EU environmental acquis. There are also some areas covered by the draft NEP in respect of which the EU has no role. Government has erroneously described these as an indication of its determination to go beyond EU requirements.
A logical and down to earth reaction to the draft NEP is that we have been there before. A National Sustainable Development Strategy approved by Cabinet in late 2007 had approved practically a similar (although less detailed) document. It even had some specific targets all of which have been ignored by the Cabinet Minister who was responsible for their implementation: the Honourable Lawrence Gonzi whose portfolio of political responsibilities included and still includes Sustainable Development .
Is it ethical, I ask, for the Prime Minister to approve a strategy (through Cabinet) with specific targets, ignore them, abolish the Commission which drew up the strategy and then re-present substantially the same strategy and proposals in a different form? Would you believe him if he now says that he is serious about implementation of strategies and proposals originally proposed in 2007 but ignored by the government which he has led uninterruptedly since 2004? Speaking for myself I don’t believe one word of what he says on the subject.
The National Sustainable Development Strategy identified various targets. Most were undated, but some basic ones had a specific timeframe by which they had to be delivered.
Among the specific targets which Dr Gonzi as Prime Minister first approved but subsequently ignored are the following :
- By 2008 draw up a strategy to enhance the use of economic instruments (eco-taxation strategy),
- By 2008 put in place a permanent structure appropriately staffed and funded to monitor and review the implementation of the National Strategy for Sustainable Development,
- Within 18 months of the adoption of the National Strategy for Sustainable Development (that is by mid-2009) Ministries had to prepare their action plans on the implementation of the strategy in their portfolio of responsibilities,
- By 2010 draw up an integrated Spatial Development Plan to take forward the Sustainable Development Strategy, with the participation of major stakeholders.
None of the above targets have been met.
Among the general targets approved in 2007 (4 years ago), before the re-election of Dr Gonzi as Prime Minister he had promised :
- the drawing up and implementation of a policy addressing the issue of light pollution,
- the drawing up and implementation of a dust-control policy,
- a nationwide public footpath policy which delineates paths that the public can use,
- promotion of a culture of Corporate Social Responsibility by major firms,
- enhancing enforcement and monitoring to reduce the destabilising effects on society of construction and quarrying activities.
None of the above targets have been addressed.
All the above nine proposals and many others originally forming part of the National Sustainable Development Strategy have re-surfaced in the draft NEP after being ignored for a number of years. Dr Gonzi’s proposals have a habit of hopping from one policy document to the other.
This is not a serious way of doing politics. Those who like Dr Gonzi proposed strategies and failed to implement them should have the decency of explaining why they failed in their mission. Instead of doing so Dr Gonzi organised a media circus at Xrobb l-Għaġin to explain to the media the “greening of his government”. Unfortunately no record is available of any of the journalists present taking him to task for trying to hide his failures.
Notwithstanding the above some benefit will surely arise out of the debate on the draft NEP: even if we have been there before and discussed it not once, not twice but many times over without any tangible result to date. The public’s sensitivity to environmental issues is on the rise. Its environmental awareness is increasing rapidly. Just 18 months before a general election I do not think that anyone can be deceived anymore on green issues.
Like the PL before it the PN in government has had its chance to deliver and failed.
Published in the Independent n Sunday – Environment Supplement
October 2, 2011