The elephant in the room

elephant-in-the-room

 

When Malta’s EU accession negotiations approached the final stages, a merger of the then Planning Authority and the Department for the Environment was announced.

While the merger was the right thing to do, it was done in a hurry and as a result, an organised Planning Directorate overshadowed an understaffed Environment Directorate.  A number of  civil servants employed in the former Environment Department had refused to go along to MEPA, thus further diluting the newly established Environment Directorate. This was further exacerbated by long spells during which the post of Environment Director was vacant. This did not involve weeks, but years. Currently, in fact, there is no Environment Director in place- the post having been vacated around two years ago.

The Environment Department was then one of the youngest departments in the civil service which, overnight, as a result of EU accession had to shoulder responsibility for a substantial portion of the EU acquis for which it was largely not equipped. The situation has slightly improved over the years. The previous administration declared many times that it would bridge the gap in human resources, but, unfortunately, it never lived up to its declarations. As a result, the Environment Directorate was, and still is, overshadowed. In addition, to make matters worse, the consolidated authority was (and still is) led by a Board in which environmental knowledge  was (very) scarce. This was the perfect recipe for a good initiative not to yield any results by design.

Malta requires more consolidation of environmental governance, not its fragmentation. Further consolidation will increase the chances of being more effective in coordinating related areas of policy: land-use planning and environment protection are two such areas. Fragmentation, on the other hand, increases ineffectiveness. However, mergers require commitment and resources – both of which have been manifestly lacking.

The potential fruits of the merger would only have been reaped if the consolidated MEPA had been led by an Environment Directorate. Unfortunately, it was designed differently: a combination of bad design and an absence of good faith.

The solution to this problem is not to reverse the merger but rather to reverse the roles of land-use planning and environment protection in a consolidated MEPA, meaning that land-use planning should be subjected to rigorous environmental control. Unfortunately, this was never on the cards, nor is it contemplated in the de-merger bills. The agenda of the parliamentary political parties has always been very clear: to ensure that land-use planning is subject to the least possible environmental controls in the interests of the development lobby.

This is the elephant in the room. The PN in government implemented this objective by a merger of a highly organised Planning Directorate with a weak but dedicated Environment Department. Labour has opted to achieve the same objective through fragmentation.

At the end of the day, the government’s misguided de-merger will not  cause additional damage: it will be more of the same, as we have been accustomed to throughout the years. The attainment of the full potential of the newly-created authorities will be postponed until such time as they are inevitably reunited under the leadership of a revamped Environment Directorate.

In the meantime, other important issues in the projected legislation can be focused upon. The manner of appointment of boards and top officers of the newly created authorities is one such issue.

Having the Minister’s trust is not a sufficient requirement justifying appointments to boards and authorities – and this not just with reference to appointments of an environmental nature. It would be appropriate if the competence of those selected for office is scrutinised in public. Other democracies, the United States of America for example, regularly use public hearings as an instrument for carrying out such  public scrutiny for a number of appointments of national importance.

In its 2013 election manifesto, Alternattiva Demokratika  specifically proposed the adoption of this method in order to examine the government’s nominees to public bodies. In particular, AD proposed  that government nominees to land-use planning, environment and resource-management boards (including directors and CEOs) should not take up their post until Parliament’s Environment and Land Use Planning Committee had examined such nominations in public and signified its consent thereto. Such a public hearing  should be carried out to establish whether the nominees are suitable for the posts to which they have been nominated.

Were nominees  required to subject themselves to such a public hearing, Malta would  definitely have a much better crop of administrators than that which it has been accustomed over the years. This would also reinforce the notion that administrators of public authorities are, at the end of the day, accountable to the whole country and not just to the government Minister who nominates them for the post.

The merger of land-use planning and environment protection at MEPA should be strengthened by ensuring that the Environment Directorate calls the shots. It is, however, equally important to ensure that those nominated to lead the authority (irrespective of whether we have one or more) are suitable for running the show.  Parliament should thus reclaim back its powers and vet the government’s nominees in public. When this has been done, we will be able to state that we have commenced down the path to improving environmental governance. Otherwise, it will be more of the same for many years to come.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 12 July 2015

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The politics of e-waste

WEEE Electrical and Electronic Waste

 

Last Monday’s budget has placed waste on the national agenda once more.  This time the focus is on waste generated by electric and electronic equipment. Put simply the issue is that there exists conflicting legislation on the Maltese statute book. On the one hand it is the applicability of the Eco-Contribution Act. On the other hand its the WEEE Directive of the EU which has been transposed into Maltese legislation as of 2007 (Legal Notice 63 of 2007 since replaced by Legal Notice 204 of 2014). WEEE meaning Waste from Electric and Electronic Equipment.

The Eco-Contribution Act of 2004 established the quantum of an eco-contribution to be paid on electric and electronic equipment. This eco-tax was added on to the price of the various electric and electronic equipment sold in local shops: fridges, ovens, telephones, computers, electronic games, calculators, vending machines ………………….  The  amount of tax payable ranging from 25 euro cents to €69.88.

Eco-contribution collected peaked in 2008 at slightly over €15.6 million. It is estimated that around €7.8 million will be collected in 2014 and another €6 million in 2015.

As of 2007 producers (and their representatives), in addition to being responsible for the payment of the eco-contribution, have also been responsible for implementing the WEEE Directive in Malta. This Directive forms part of a number of a set of EU Directives which address different waste streams with the objective of ensuring that waste is considered as a precious resource. Hence the need to recover this resource in order to reintegrate it into the economy.  This means the transformation of all waste into useable resources.

The Directive applied the principle of extended producer responsibility throughout the life of the equipment.  This signifies that producers of electric and electronic equipment, directly as well as through their representatives (the importers) and those dealing with such equipment at points of sale retain responsibility throughout the life cycle of the products. This life cycle thinking has its first impact on the drawing board as producers seek to minimise the use of resources not only cost-wise but also due to the fact that if they do so they will have less to recover. This encourages eco-design. Thereby designing and subsequently producing products whilst keeping in mind their impact throughout their life. It is much more that a cradle to grave view. In fact it is considered as a cradle to cradle approach as at the end of its useful life a product will through recovery of the materials of which it is made up give rise to new products.

What does it signify for us?

Producers and their representatives have the direct responsibility of recovering  electric and electronic waste. In terms of the Directive they will either recondition the equipment or else strip it into its component parts and recycle the resulting materials. This will be done at a cost.  Depending on the efficiency of the process the producers and their representatives will recover a proportion of their costs when they sell the recovered resources.  The unrecovered costs may, in terms of the Directive, be added on to the price of the products. Producers’ representatives in Malta maintain that it is possible for the quantum of the unrecovered costs to be much lower than  what is currently being paid as an eco-contribution. Hence the net impact could be not only environmentally beneficial but also of direct benefit to the consumer.

The budget has announced a transition period lasting up to the end of August 2015 when it is planned that the eco-contribution on electric and electronic equipment is removed and producers (through their local representatives) assume their full extended responsibilities.

Electric and Electronic waste is currently collected by local councils through their bulky refuse service. It is also collected at bring-in sites operated by Wasteserve.  Producers will seek to coordinate these existing collection services with their already operational recovery schemes.

Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party as well as GRTU and other producers representatives have been insisting for ages that this is the way forward. In order to achieve results everyone must however play his part.

The net result will be beneficial for both the environment as well as the economy.

 

published in The Independent on Sunday – 23 November 2014

Joseph iħobb jiċċajta ………… ħafna

Joseph Muscat ihobb jiccajta

Iktar milli jiċċajta, forsi nkun iktar korrett jekk ngħid li jħobb jipprova jgħaddi n-nies biż-żmien.

F’waħda mill-okkazjonijiet li fihom indirizza lill-istampa riċentement qal li l-budget għall-2015 hu wieħed li jħares l-ambjent!

Ħadd ma jistax jiċħad li l-budget fih numru ta’ miżuri ambjentali. Imma b’daqshekk ma jfissirx li dan hu budget ambjentali. Kulma jagħmel il-budget hu li jiġbor flimkien id-diversi miżuri li qed jippjana li  jieħu l-Gvern matul is-sena 2015. Jonqsu viżjoni koerenti ambjentali li la għandu u l-anqas jidher li jista’ jkollu fil-futur immedjat.

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent m’huwiex biss dwar il-kostruzzjoni, imma ukoll dwar il-bijodiversita, is-sostenibilita’, l-kwalita tal-arja, il-politika dwar ir-riżorsi, il-viżjoni marittima, l-ilma, il-politika dwar il-klima, l-enerġija alternattiva, t-trasport, l-ekonomija l-ħadra, l-ekonomija l-blu, l-ekonomija ċirkulari, it-tassazzjoni ambjentali u tant affarijiet oħra.

Diskors tal-budget li ħa kważi 4 siegħat biex inqara ma sabx imqar ftit sekondi biex jispjegalna kif il-Gvern ta’ Joseph Muscat ser jimplimenta politika ta’ żvilupp sostenibbli. Mhux biss. Imma fl-estimi għall-Ministeru bl-isem twil u bombastiku okkupat minn Leo Brincat (Ministeru għall-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli, Ambjent u Tibdil fil-Klima) kullma hemm ivvutat għall-politika tal-iżvilupp sostenibbli hu għaxart elef ewro. Dikjarazzjoni onesta li tfisser biss li matul l-2015 il-Gvern ta’ Joseph Muscat m’għandu l-ħsieb li jagħmel xejn f’dan il-qasam. It-terminu Żvilupp Sostenibbli fid-diskors tal-budget jissemma darbtejn. Jissemma biss fiż-żewġ tabelli fejn hemm imniżżel l-isem tal-Ministeru ta’ Leo Brincat.

Il-politika tal-Gvern ta’ Joseph Muscat dwar l-Iżvilupp sostenibbli (jekk  teżisti) tqieset mill-Ministru Edward Scicluna bħala li m’għandiex relevanza għall-budget tal-2015

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli tinseġ flimkien il-politika ambjentali, dik ekonomika u soċjali. Meta tkun żviluppata kif imiss, il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli tassigura l-interessi tal-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri billi tmexxi l-quddiem l-ekonomija b’rispett sħiħ lejn l-ambjent u lejn il-bniedem. Għalhekk ngħidu li l-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli hi mibnija fuq erba’ pilastri: l-iżvilupp ekonomiku, l-ħarsien tal-ambjent, il-ħarsien soċjali u l-politika kulturali.

Fil-ġranet li ġejjin ikolli l-opportunita’ nispjega iżjed fid-dettall kemm il-budget ippreżentat għall-2015 bl-ebda mod ma jista’ jitqies budget li jħares l-ambjent.  Minkejja li hemm miżuri individwali li huma pożittivi ma teżistix viżjoni ambjentali ċara u koerenti.

Għalhekk Joseph qed jiċċajta meta jgħid li dan hu budget ambjentali.

sd strategy budget 2015

Green talk but no more

four_pillar-sustainable  development

 

When push comes to shove it is always the rights of future generations which are ignored and thrown overboard. This is done repeatedly as governments tend to give greater value to the rights of present generations, in the process discounting the rights of the future.

It is a recurring theme in all areas of environmental concern. Whether land use planning, water management, resource management, waste management, climate change, biodiversity or air quality,  procrastination is the name of the game. With 101 excuses governments postpone to tomorrow decisions which should have been implemented yesterday.

Future generations have a right to take their own decisions. It is pretty obvious that they will not be able to take adequate decisions as their options will be severely curtailed as a result of the implementation of present and past decisions.

The politics of sustainable development aims to address this deficiency.

On a global level it all started in Stockholm in 1972 as a result of the sensitivities of the Nordic countries which set in motion the UN Human Environment Conference. After the publication of the Brundtland Report in 1987, the Rio Summits (1992 and 2012), as well as the Johannesburg Summit (2002), we can speak of charters, international conventions, declarations and strategies all of which plot out in detail as to what is to be done. However as pointed out by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon at the UN Rio+20 Summit (2012) in his report entitled “Objectives and Themes of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development” institution building has lagged behind. This signifies that the integration of policymaking and its implementation is nowhere on target, Malta not being an exception.

The Sustainable Development Annual Report 2013 presented in Parliament by Minister Leo Brincat on the 27 May 2014 indicates that not much progress has been made to date on the matter, notwithstanding the number of meetings as well as the appointment of coordinating officers and focal points in each of the Ministries.

Way back in 2008 Malta had a National Sustainable Development Commission which through the inputs of civil society, in coordination with government involvement, had produced a National Sustainable Development Strategy. This was approved by Cabinet at that time but never implemented. So much that to try and justify its inertia the then government tried to divert attention in 2012 by proposing a Sustainable Development Act. This essentially transferred (with changes) some of the proposed structures and institutions identified in the National Sustainable Development Strategy to the legislation and used the process as a justification for not doing anything except talk and talk. The changes piloted through Parliament by then Environment Minister Mario de Marco included the effective dissolution of the National Commission for Sustainable Development (which had been dormant for 5 years). The justification which  the responsible Permanent Secretary uttered as an excuse was that the Commission was too large and hence of no practical use.

It has to be borne in mind that sustainable development is also an exercise in practical democracy whereby policy is formed through capillarity, rising from the roots of society, and not through filtration by dripping from the top downwards. For sustainable development to take root the strategy leading to sustainability must be owned by civil society which must be in the driving seat of the process.

Readers may remember that the President’s address to Parliament  way back on 10 May 2008 had emphasised that : “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.”

This was not manifested in the government’s actions throughout its 5 year term. Not just in its approach to sustainable development but also in its dealing with the individual issues of environmental concern: be it land use planning, water management, resource management, waste management, climate change, biodiversity or air quality.The politics of sustainable development is an uphill struggle. It signifies a long term view in decision making, that is, considering carefully the impacts of today’s decisions on tomorrow. It requires much more than chatter.

As the report tabled by Minister Leo Brincat states in its conclusion, we are in for more chatter as the emphasis in the coming year seems to be the revision of a strategy which has never been implemented. The strategy is worded in such general terms that it is difficult to understand what this means, except that there is no practical interest in getting things done. It would have been much better if some effort was invested in the Action Plans which the different Ministries have to draw up in order to implement the strategy in the various departments/authorities under their political responsibility.

This, it seems, is unfortunately the Maltese long term view.

Published in The Times of Malta, Monday June 30, 2014