Tomorrow may be too late

today-tomorrow

The Guardian of Future Generations has spoken. The Guardian is under the leadership of Mr Michael Zammit Cutajar, former Climate Change Ambassador, as well as Mr. Michael C. Bonello, former Governor of the Central Bank of Malta, Dr. Roberta Lepre, Director Victim Support Malta and Ms. Simone Mizzi, Executive President, Din L-Art Ħelwa.

In a press statement issued on the 11 December 2013 the Guardian has added its voice to that of civil society. It has emphasised that prior to concluding and implementing piecemeal land use planning and environmental policies it was imperative that first and foremost a comprehensive holistic strategy is put in place. Until such time that a strategic vision is in place, stated the Guardian, it would be reasonable for current policy initiatives to be put on hold.

The Guardian is diplomatic in the language it uses. It certainly makes political statements none of which are however partisan. All environmental issues, including land use planning issues, are definitely political issues in respect of which all stakeholders have a duty to speak up.

The Guardian of Future Generations speaks up on behalf of the voiceless future. In Malta, giving a voice to the future was an initiative taken by Alternattiva Demokratika, the Green Party. It was acknowledged by the then Minister for the Environment Mario de Marco when piloting the Sustainable Development Act in 2012 which adopted the said proposal.

Our actions today can have a considerable impact on the future. It is imperative that the choices we make today ensure that future generations can also freely make their own decisions. We cannot ethically ignore the future. If we keep living for today, ignoring tomorrow, precious resources which must be protected today, will be lost forever. Michael Zammit Cutajar who chairs the Guardian Commission has in fact emphasised that: “un-built space and unspoilt views are among the scarcest resources of our densely populated country”.

We need to be extra careful. Too many mistakes have been made in the past. The legacy of the past is tough enough. We are in time to avoid adding to it.

The Guardian has announced in its press statement that, in accordance to its mandate, it has presented a submission with its views to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and other government officials. This refers to the provisions of article 8 of the Sustainable Development Act of 2012 which establishes that the Guardian shall direct the focus of the Prime Minister (who is the sustainable development competent authority) to safeguard future generations. The Guardian is also empowered to “propose goals and actions to government entities for them to take up in order to contribute towards the goal of sustainable development.”

The next step is undoubtedly the publication by Government of the views submitted by the Guardian. It would be preferable if government takes the initiative as the matter is of specific interest to the public. Obviously if the government fails to take this initiative there is always the possibility to demand its publication through applying the provisions of the Freedom of Access to Information on the Environment Regulations of 2005 (Legal Notice 116 of 2005). Government taking the initiative would always be preferable as this would demonstrate its willingness to engage with stakeholders.

The above is a good start to the Guardian of Future Generations making its presence felt. It is however just the tip of the iceberg.

The Guardian requires its own resources to pursue other areas of policy. Foremost amongst them is the sustainable management of water resources. Whilst acknowledging that Government is currently preparing a water consultation document it is to be emphasised that there are areas of action which cannot await the said consultation process. There is little water left to protect and further procrastination will only make matters worse. Tomorrow will be too late.

In February 2012 the Auditor General had through a performance audit pointed out the deficiencies in the public administration of water resources. In his report entitled “Safeguarding Malta’s Groundwater” the Auditor General whilst noting that we have an abundance of policy documents pointed out  implementation delays as a consequence of the non-adherence to the stipulated target dates.

Not much has been done since February 2012. Obviously the political responsibility has to be shouldered by the former government which talked a lot but did not do much except commission reports. It invariably failed to take the tough action required.

Safeguarding tomorrow is a difficult task. Tomorrow’s generations, the generations of the future, have no vote, hence they have not been considered as an important constituency by those whose time horizon rarely exceeds five years. The Guardian of Future Generations has the unenviable task to sound the wake up call.

Tomorrow, which as singing doctor Gianluca Bezzina tells us, is just one day away, may be too late. All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today.

published in The Times of Malta – Saturday 4 January 2014

On this same blog, on the issue of Future Generations you may read the following posts:

The Future started yesterday.

Exercise in practical democracy.

Gwardjan għal Ġenerazzjonijiet Futuri.

Increasing environmental awareness.

Future Generations must be heard.

Just lip service and cold feet.

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Those unrealistic water bills

Water Bill.Malta

Our water bills will have to change as water in Malta is not realistically priced. The Government is aware of this yet it is not informing the public. The Labour Party on the other hand is ignoring the pointers and foolishly insisting on the unsustainable electoral promise of reducing water bills.

A realistic water pricing policy is needed to ensure proper management of water resources. This can be done by ensuring that proper subsidies are in place for the basic use of water while simultaneously penalising waste.

In terms of article 9 of the Water Framework Directive of the European Union, Malta, like all other EU member states, must have a realistic water pricing system in place. The pricing system shall take account “of the principle of recovery of the costs of water services, including environmental and resource costs…”

In a report dated November 14, 2012 in reply to Malta’s submissions on the implementation of the Water Framework Directive, the European Commission takes Malta to task on the pricing of water. The report, addressed to the European Parliament and the European Council, states that “it seems that environmental and resource costs have not been included in the cost recovery calculation”.

The price for water which the Water Services Corporation charges is limited to recovering its operational costs.

When the corporation extracts groundwater it does not pay for the water extracted. The cost of the water extracted (referred to as the resource cost) is ignored. This is obviously an incorrect practice as groundwater does have a cost which is dependent on a variety of factors. Once identified, on the basis of proper studies, this is a cost which must be added to the current charges. This is a matter which the Malta Resources Authority as the regulator should have been analysing for the past years.

In addition to the operational costs and the resource costs there are also the environmental costs which must be identified and quantified. The EU, in order to assist in the implementation of the Water Framework Directive, facilitates a Common Implementation Strategy through which Guidance documents and technical reports are produced assisting member states in coming to grips with what is expected from them to protect water resources within their territories. Guidance document No. 1, in fact, entitled Economics And The Environment, is a 274-page long technical document which explains in detail what is to be taken into consideration.

I am informed that the Malta Resources Authority, after EU accession, carried out such an exercise of identifying and costing in detail the resource and environmental costs of water. Producing these studies is part of its role as the competent authority to report to the Commission on the economics of water use as required under Article 5 of the Directive –

that the management of water resources in the Maltese Islands is on a sound footing. The authority, I am informed, also made detailed professional proposals as to the Programme of Measures required by article 11 of the Water Framework Directive. This leads me to conclude that the Government has been in receipt of sound professional advice as to what needs to be done to manage in a professional manner Malta’s water resources. Unfortunately this advice has been ignored. This is a political responsibility yet to be shouldered.

The Auditor General’s Performance Audit entitled Safeguarding Malta’s Groundwater, published in February 2012, is an eye-opener as to the measures which have not yet been implemented (fully or partially). One of the most worrying is the metering of boreholes. The MRA has not been given adequate means which would go a long way to fast-track this control on the rate of extraction of groundwater. The end result is that notwithstanding that metering of boreholes was accepted by the Government as a suitable measure very late in the day, its implementation is already two years behind schedule.

The metering of boreholes should be the first step of a process leading to a long-term objective ensuring that all boreholes are no longer operational. It should be clear to all that ground water is public property.

Even agriculture should be slowly weaned away from the use of ground water. Adequately polished treated sewage effluent would be a suitable alternative.

Water is a precious resource essential for our well-being. It is essential for the well-being of our families, for our agriculture, for our manufacturing industry as well as for tourism. Notwithstanding its being a basic requirement for practically all our activities, it has been mismanaged for a very long time. Successive governments have ignored its mishandling.

Water has been considered as a freebie for far too long. It is now time to pay for past mistakes. If we take longer to realise this fact the environmental bills will be insurmountable. Hence it is irresponsible for the Labour Party to promise a reduction of water bills.

originally published in The Times, December 22, 2012