Saturday, 1st August 2009
Mepa’s reform and the environment
Alfred E. Baldacchino
The Blueprint For Mepa’s Reform identifies four pillars to achieve such an aim. This was awaited by many who yearn for the real, honest and professional protection of the Maltese environment. How far does this blueprint succeed in ensuring such a vision?
A number of functions were regarded as not being core to Mepa’s mandate and, as such, they were assigned to the responsibilities of other government entities. Yet, the most important functions that should have been assigned outside Mepa is environment protection. Perusal of the reform document leads to the conclusion that Mepa is regarded as just dealing with development and the issuing of development permits. The environment, on the other hand, is just an appendix to give its views, when asked, or when convenient.
As emphasised in my letter (The Times, June 30), because of its international responsibilities and obligations, the environment has no place in an uthority whose first and only importance is development. This does not mean that the environment has to be a new authority; it can be merged with the Malta Resource Authority. There are a number of reasons which justify this, even in the Blueprint For Mepa’s Reform itself:
1. The second sentence on the first page states that Mepa, as it is known today, resulted from the former Planning Authority being given the role of competent authority for environmental protection under the Environment Protection Act (EPA) in 2001. This is a totally incorrect statement because Mepa is formed by the former Planning Authority and the former Environment Protection Department. These are two different directorates. Whether this statement is a lapsus or whether the cat has been accidentally let out of the bag only the drafters of the report can say. But it vindicates those who say that the PA and the EPD never merged but the latter was taken over by the former. And when such a report is drawn on this assumption, than the whole reform is derailed.
2. In outlining the duties of the EPD, the report adds: This directorate formulates strategies, regulations and guidelines, monitors their adherence and regulates activities that may negatively impact the environment through a licensing and permitting system. This is also not completely correct. These are but a mild fraction of the duties of the EPD. The international duties such as those arising from international conventions and those of the European Union are but a few others. Far from just an input to development planning.
3. The Prime Minister said he definitely does not agree that the environment becomes a separate authority because: If the environment and the planning authorities do not agree, who would be the Solomon to decide. Shall we bring in a third authority? And this is the very reason why the environment and the planning authority should be different and separate. Every time the environment and the planning directorates do not agree it is always the development function that has the upper hand. This is even highlighted in the Mepa auditor’s Baħrija report dated July 20, 2009, which clearly states that the DCC did not even consult the EPD, despite the fact that the two Directorates are within one authority, again vindicating my reasoning in my contribution to The Times of April 22, 2008. No Solomon was needed to solve this issue: the EPD was just bypassed. And I am sure this is not what the Prime Ministers means and wants, yet, it is what is often being done.
4. The Prime Minister also stated that there is no point in Mepa having a minerals section when this is a resource and this is now being transferred to the MRA. I am also sure that the Prime Minister fully agrees that biodiversity (species and their natural habitat) are a very important national resource. With the same reasoning, shouldn’t this also be under the responsibility of the MRA?
5. The Planning Authority never had any international experience or responsibilities especially in environmental matters. After eight years of being exposed to such international responsibilities through the Environment Protection Directorate, the Planning Directorate is still very sceptical and still has not grasped the onus of such responsibilities. The authors of the Mepa reform report seem to be more familiar with planning and development matters than with environmental responsibilities. The proposed amalgamation of the Environment Protection Act with the Development Planning Act would mean laying environmental matters, with all the international and EU responsibilities, at the feet of development planning. Such a concern has already been expressed by the EU in one of its reports regarding the unhappy situation of the Environment Protection Directorate within Mepa. This proposal would be very costly, from a human resource, financial and political viewpoint.
6. The aura that surrounds the Mepa reform is mainly based on the economic aspect, leaving the social and ecological aspects aside and it is easy to see that the reform is only directed towards the old Planning Authority – development. The Cinderella at Mepa is fading into history books. Such a scenario would completely eliminate any basis for sustainability. I am sure and I honestly believe that the Prime Minister will take these points into consideration.