Mepa and EU obligations
Alfred E. Baldacchino
It seems that Mepa now acknowledges my expertise in the field of nature protection (July 21). It was also gratuitous of them to refer to me as the former Mepa assistant director for nature protection. Prior to that I was involved with the Environment Protection Department since its inception and worked under various ministers, especially in connection with EU screening and transposition of the EU biodiversity acquis. Progress during such a period was smooth and fast, with constant ministerial help, understanding and direction, despite some difficulties and lack of resources.
It was a very rewarding and satisfactory time, which I still cherish. But when Mepa was conceived and took over the responsibility of the environment (not just biodiversity), the planning mentality contributed to the dismantlement and, to some extent, the throwing overboard of established procedures and structures. Time and space do not allow me to go into detail here but should the need arise…
More surprising was the fact that Mepa, despite not wanting to fall for childish tit-for-tat, took two newspaper columns, beating about the bush and going on a wild goose chase, only to endorse all the EU Habitats Directive’s obligations outlined in my contribution (July 13). The outstanding points of Mepa’s letter are not the eulogy of what it achieved but the glaring absence of what has not been taken in hand or not done in the spirit of the obligations. To list but a few:
Article 6 of the Habitats Directive outlines what should or should not be done in Special Areas of Conservation (SAC). These, in brief, include conservation measures, management plans, steps to avoid deterioration of natural habitats and species. To use Mepa’s own words: “Obviously, projects and activities that are incompatible with the conservation of objectives of the site are prohibited.” Mepa could have explained how this was applied with regard to the permits issued for development in Baħrija, Mistra and Ramla l-Ħamra, all SACs. And it seems there are more to come!
Article 22 of the EU Habitats Directive deals with invasive alien species. To the credit of the past, now extinct, Nature Protection Unit, the hottentot fig (Carpobrutus edulis) was declared an invasive alien species, as also declared by the European Union. This species has already invaded some coastal cliffs, all SACs. Yet, public funds are being spent to plant this invasive alien species all over Malta and Gozo. And Mepa, the Competent Authority responsible for this directive, turns a blind eye to such activities.
Buskett, another SAC and also a Special Protection Area (SPA), has become full of invasive alien species. The ongoing disturbance, deterioration and loss of habitat, decrease and disappearance of indigenous species of flora and fauna, the chopping down of protected trees and bushes is so opposed to the obligations of the Habitats Directive. Mepa, in its eulogy of achievements, completely fails to mention any actions taken or being taken in this regard.
A high Mepa official publicly stated on the national TV station that if no solution is found to eliminate the introduced alien frog in Gozo, then the water will be poisoned to eliminate it. This pool also contains, besides others, the painted frog, which is a species of EU interest in need of strict protection listed in annex IV of the Habitats Directive. Such destructive action is completely against the obligations of the directive.
Monitoring and enforcement are other obligations of the Habitats Directive which need reporting on in the six-yearly report. But no mention of these was made in the Mepa achievement list. It is no secret that Mepa is allergic to enforcement measures. When the Environment Protection Department was taken over by the Planning Authority, the former had a fully fledged environment enforcement section. Today, this section has disappeared into oblivion.
A development-driven authority can never, by any stretch of the imagination, take responsibility and be accountable for the protection, management, monitoring and enforcement of environmental matters. The more so since the deciding bodies within Mepa do not have any inkling of environment management, conservation and EU obligations.
As publicly discussed controversial permits show, technical reports are also often ignored. The ever-increasing public discontent on how the environment in general, particularly the natural environment, is deteriorating, blatantly abused, exploited, mismanaged and disappearing, is a very strong verdict of Mepa’s failure. A number of environmental NGOs have also publicly asked for resignations within Mepa, considering that it is the Competent Authority responsible to safeguard the environment in the name of the public, who is the main stakeholder. Sometimes, I wonder if the greatest hurdle in the way of the protection of the environment is the Competent Authority itself.
If all this is regarded by Mepa as “Malta living up to the EU Habitats Directive” then divine intervention is the only solution! I am indeed utterly worried for Mario de Marco who has now been handed environmental responsibility.
Link to MEPA’s letter dated 21st July 2010.
The author is a retired assistant director, Environment Protection Directorate at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority