Qerda tal-biodiversità fil-foss tal-Imdina… biex isir ġnien ta’ kwalità!

September 28, 2012

Dan l-aħħar qrajna u smajna stqarrijiet minn Ministru tal-Gvern dwar ġonna ta’ kwalità u spazji miftuħa għall-familji.

Meta wieħed jaqra u jisma’ l-kummenti ta’ dan il-Ministru tal-Gvern li huwa responsabbli minn dawn il-proġetti, wieħed mill-ewwel jifhem għaliex illum il-qerda tal-ambjent naturali hija daqstant kbira. U wieħed ma jistax ma jistaqsiex numru ta’ misoqsijiet, bħal ngħidu aħna:

  1. Bliema immaġinazzjoni jista’ xi ħadd jgħid li sejjer jagħmel ġnien ta’ kwalità u fl-istess ħin jaqla’ u jeqred ammont kbir ta’ sigar b’impatt kbir fuq il-biodiversità tal post?  (ara ritratti aktar l-isfel).
  2. Kif jista’ wieħed jgħid li sejjer jagħmel ġnien ta’ kwalità u fl-istess ħin jiksi l-post b’medda wiesgħa ta’ konkos; konkos aktar milli hemm u aktar milli kien hemm siġar qabel ma beda x-xogħol? (ara ritratti aktar l-isfel)
  3. Liema raġuni xjentifika tiġġustifika li biex isir ġnien ta’ kwalità titqaxxar u tinqered il-liedna kollha li kien hemm fil-post u li kienet tħaddar u tiksi metri kwadri kbar tal-ħajt tal-ġnien Howard Gardens (mhux mal-ħajt tas-sur) u li kienet toffri ambjent naturali għall-numru ta’ fawna indiġena? Din kienet ukoll issebbaħ u tgħati l-ħajja lill-kull ġnien anki jekk mhux ta’ kwalità. U dan minkejja li l-Gvern ta’ Malta huwa obbligat u marbut mill-Unjoni Ewropea biex jara li jieħu miżuri biex ma tkomplix tinqered il-biodiversità tal-Unjoni Ewropea li aħna parti minnha. Il-Ministri tal-Ambjent (anki dawk li jgħidu li xi darba kienu Ministri tal-Ambjent) din kollha jafuha, kemm mid-dokumenti tal-UE li jirċevu, kif ukoll mill-laqgħat tal-Kunsill tal-Ministri li jattendu.

Fid-diskors tiegħu fil-video li deher fil-ġurnal The Times

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120918/local/mdina-ditch-being-transformed-into-quality-garden.437446

dan il-Ministru qal li ma nqerdux siġar.  Jekk wieħed iħares lejn ir-ritratti hawn mehmuża, waħdu jasal f’konklużjoni waħda.

  1. Kif jista’ xi ħadd jgħid li dan ix-xogħol qed jerġa jieħu dan il-post għall-ġranet passati tal-glorja tiegħu?  Sa fejn naf jien fi żmien l-Għarab u l-Kavallieri ma kienux jużaw konkos (sakemm xi perit ma jikkoreġinix!) li llum huwa l-aktar ħaġa li tispikka f’dan il-ġnien (u ġonna oħra simili) ta’ kwalità. Lanqas kienu jiżirgħu turf  għax l-ilma għalihom kien jiswa mitqlu deheb, u lanqas kienu jagħmlu ilma ħiereġ jiżfen mill-art!  U lanqas ma kienu jużaw lift biex jinżlu mis-swar għall-foss. Jidher li l-Għarab u l-Kavallieri li ħakmu pajjiżna tant għexieren ta’ snin ilu, kellhom viżjoni ferm u ferm aktar professjonali, ekonomika, soċjali, ambjentali u sostenibbli milli għandhom il-mexxejja politiċi Maltin tal-lum, minkejja li dak iż-żmien ma kienx hemm obbligi ambjentali internazzjonali bħal ma għandna llum u lanqas kellhom Ministri tal- Ambjent.
  2. Ir-Rabtin u l-ġirien tagħhom  ma għandhomx bżonn xi politku li ma għandu l-ebda idea ta’ xi tfisser biodiversità biex jgħamillhom ġnien ta’ kwalità! U lanqas għandhom bżonn spazji miftuħa għall-familji għax għandhom biżżejjed spazji miftuha. Żgur li ma għandhomx bżonn ta’ spazju miftuħ ġo foss. U jekk kien hemm il-ħsieb li dan il-foss jinfetaħ għal kulħadd, kull ma kien hemm bżonn kien  li jitneħħew il-katnazzi li kienu jsakkru l-bibien li jgħalqu l-aċċess għal kulħadd. Li kieku dan id-diskors jintqal lill-kostitwenti ta’ min qalhom, li llum huma ferm u ferm konxji mill-ambjent naturali u l-qerda li l-konkos qed jagħmel lil dan l-ambjent, żgur li kienu jibgħatuh jistgħad biex forsi jaqbad xi mazzun!
  3. Imma veru li biex tagħmel ġnien ta’ kwalità illum l-ingredjenti huma: a) konkos; b) turf; c) ilma jiżfen; d)  issa anki lift; u e) l-qerda tal-biodiversità tal-post kollha, kif sar fil-foss tal-Imdina u f’kull hekk imsejjaħ ġnien ieħor li qed isir mill-istess ministeru?
  4. Ħarsa lejn il-kummenti li kien hemm fil-gazzetti f’dawn il-links

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120918/local/mdina-ditch-being-transformed-into-quality-garden.437446

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120919/local/Mdina-ditch-returned-to-glory.437501

u fir-ritratti li ħadt jien stess u li wħud minnhom jidhru hawn taħt, kollha jitkellmu u juru  d-disastru li sar bi flus pubbliċi u b’dawk tal-Unjoni Ewropea.

  1. Forsi hawnhekk ta’ minn jistaqsi minn qed jamministra l-fondi tal-UE, f’dan il-kas il-European Regional Development Fund?  Min qiegħed jawditjahom? Fejn jista’ l-pubbliku jara rendikont tal-infiq?
  2. Barra minhekk, minn qiegħed jara li jkun hemm diskussjoni pubblika fuq il-proġetti biex b’hekk ikun involut iċ-ċittadin fid-deċiżjoni, qabel jintefqu dawn il-flus? Dan ukoll huwa fost l-obbligi li titlob l-UE.
  3. Jiddispjaċini ngħid li l-ħsara li qed issir lill-biodiversità Maltija bi proġetti bħal dawn, bi skuża ta’ ġonna ta’ kwalità u spazji miftuħa għall-familji, trid aktar minn ġenerazzjoni biex titranġa.
  4. Dan il-ġnien sejjer ikollu kwalità waħda …. dik ta’  mafkar ta’ kif l-ambjent naturali qed jiġi sfruttat u mżeblaħ f’dawn l-aħħar snin, mingħajr ebda mistħija u ebda mgħodrija.
  5. Fl-aħħarnett min huma l-konsulenti tal-Ministru li huwa responsabbli biex jaraw li dan ix-xogħol ikun wieħed sostenibbli, jiġifieri li ma ssirx ħsara ekonomika, ħsara soċjali u ħsara ekoloġika kif qed issir?
  6. Nismagħhom jgħidu li hawn Malta kollox possibli, imma ma naħsebx li hawn xi ħadd li sab kif jgħatti x-xemx bl-għarbiel, għalkemm hawm min qed jipprova u qed jagħmel ħiltu kollha.

ARA WKOLL

http://www.orizzont.com.mt/Issues/19092012/social/article95864.html

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120918/local/mdina-ditch-being-transformed-into-quality-garden.437446

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120919/local/Mdina-ditch-returned-to-glory.437501

http://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/environmentali…ent-over-trees

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/once-there-were-green-leaves/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/massacre-of-md…eally-involved/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/government-policy-on-trees/

iL-BIODIVERSITA’   SINJURA TA’ QABEL BEDA X-XOGĦOL FIL-FOSS TAL-IMDINA U L-KWALITA’ TA’ QERDA LI SARET MINN META BEDA X-XOGĦOL FUQ IL-ĠNIEN TA’ KWALITA’

QABEL – Ringiela ta’ siġar taċ-Cipress li kienu jiffurmaw parti mill-biodiversità

WARA – L-unika siġra taċ-Cipress li baqa’ – MEJTA. L-oħrajn kollha nqalgħu u nqerdu. Ikun interessanti kieku l-esperti tal-Ministru jgħidulna kif mietet din is-siġra, jew aħjar jekk inqatletx b’xi kumbinazzjoni!  Ma naħsebx li issa sejjer ikun hemm xi ħadd li tniggżu l-kuxjenza biex jaqla’ siġra mejta, meta nqalgħu tant u tant siġar ħajjin minn dan il-post .

QABEL – ambjent naturali sinjur

WARA – parti mill- ġnien ta’ kwalità – anqas biodiversità, aktar konkos!

WARA – liedna  meqruda fil-ġnien ta’ kwalità

WARA – siġar taċ-Ċipress maqlugħa, meqruda  u mitfuha fl-art biex jagħmlu wisa għall-ġnien ta’ kwalità.

WARA – fdalijiet tas-siġar mejta taċ-Ċipress taħt it-tabella tal-Ministeru li qed jagħmel ġnien ta’ kwalità

QABEL U WARA – id-dehra tal-foss ftit wara li beda x-xogħol fuq il-ġnien ta’ kwalità.  Is-siġar immarkata b’salib isfar kollha ġew meqruda, jew maqlugħa.

WARA – post għeri mill-biodiversità fi ġnien ta’ kwalità fejn jispikka l-konkos u l-għibien tas-sigar li qabel kienu jżejnu dan il-post.

It-tabella imwarrba u mitluqa fl-art li madankollu turi l-għajuna finanzjarja li qed tgħati l-EU mill-European Regional Development Fund, għar-restawr tal-post, li qed isir fost oħrajn bit-tneħħija tal-biodiversità u kisi bil-konkos.

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MASSACRE OF MDINA DITCH TREES – IS THE EU REALLY INVOLVED?

April 30, 2012

29th April, 2012

MASSACRE OF MDINA TREES –

IS THE EU REALLY INVOVLED?

Alfred E. Baldacchino 

A very interesting debate has developed on the site Save the Trees which can be accessed on: http://www.facebook.com/groups/227850170644983/267876579975675/?notif_t=group_activity

An outstanding feature on the above blog is that 99% of the bloggers who love trees and biodiversity are criticising the official persecution and  massacre of trees in the Maltese Islands.  But those who express such concern are taken to task by one particular blogger who clams that he works at ELC.

2012.04.26 - Up till a few days ago, these orange trees where in full bloom

Sometimes I can hardly believe what I read on this blog in defence of the mutilation of trees and biodiversity by ELC. It is to the tune of the official Government  policy on projects relating to biodiversity, despite the electoral promise of an environmental column. Such a blogger says they he is  writing in his own personal capacity, a right which he has and which he can exercise to create such a discussion. Yet details are given which the public is not aware of. This makes one think that ELC is finding it very convenient to let their alleged workers speak for them, and these cannot do otherwise but  laud all ELC’s works of wonder.  They would certainly be shown the back door if they were to write something which the ELC, or their Ministry, does not approve of. They would be charged with conflict of interest  if   they  criticise, even constructively,  the works of their Ministry. And they will surely get the axe if they make a faux pas, even if what they say  might have been suggested to them.

In criticising Ministerial projects, although the EU obliges public consultations on public projects, blogers are called names, accused of not knowing anything about trees and their ‘pruning’ and also accused of belittiling the ELC workers. This still happens, despite the fact that time and time again, all blogers have made it clear  that workers have to do what they are ordered to do and cannot be held accountable for executing the decisions taken by their employers or their Minister.  But this calling of names is something which is now very synonymous  with such quarters.

2012.04.26 - orange trees in full bloom awaiting the chainsaw and the bulldozer!

The ELC is responsible to the Minister of Resource, whom it shields.  The mania about creating gardens in such fashion, is something well known within this Ministry. A few years ago there was an attempt to transform Buskett into a garden!!

A wild Laurel tree at Buskett - an EU Natura 2000 site - mutilated by ELC with Ministerial approval, in the attempt to transform Buskett into a garden, before MEPA intervened and stopped the works.

Everyone knows of the massacre executed at Buskett by ELC with the blessing of their Minister. Now we have the transformation of the Mdina Ditch into a garden, with TURF and fountains as the Save the Tree site  have been informed by  an ELC alleged spokesman.

Uprooting trees to create  a garden….. very hard to believe. Substituting them with  TURF which takes gallons and gallons of water, such a rare resource in the Maltese Islands, especially in the hot summer months.  The paving of straight-line paths furthermore contributed  to the uprooting of  even more trees. This Ministry seems to have a mania with expanses of turf and dancing-water and fountains, like the dancing-water at St. George’s Square in Valletta. And believe it or not, all this  has been approved by a Ministry responsible for the local scarce resource of WATER, and also for Climate change!!  Unbelievable! I am sure that a  spokesman for this Ministry will come up with some crude explanation and possibly with  more calling of names. But one has to accept that some Ministries  are very good at this type of dialogue! It is their forte.

2012.04.06 - The beauty of the Mdina Ditch - a biodiversity haven. Is this going to be cleared away to make room for a garden? And is this going to be undertaken by EU funds as an insider from ELC has indicated?

The reference to EU funds by the ELC alleged-worker in the Save the Trees blog is interesting because it is coming from this semi-official  bloger in favour of this project leading the public to understand that this project is funded by the EU, saying that 85% of the total cost of the €6.2m project is being funded by the EU! This creates and incongruency with the press release issued by the Minister which  said that it was being done by the Minster’s (public) funds “The works are being carried out by the Restoration Directorate of the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs.” No mention of EU funds; and “The project, costing  €1,200,000, is due to be completed by the end of this year.”  See the attached link for the official press release: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120406/local/works-start-on-recreation-area-in-mdina-ditch.414277

When I visited the site, I failed to notice any reference to any EU involvement on the site. Now if there are any funds from the EU, one of the obligations is that the EU logo has to appear on all the publicity for the project. There are now two version with reference to the financial input to this project: the Ministerial publicity which refrains from mentioning any EU involvement; and EU funding according to a bloger with ELC connections.  Which is the correct version?  I am sure that the EU would be very interested in knowing  how its funds, if it has funded this project, are being ‘used’ and ‘managed’, what the public opinion vis-a-vis this project is, and how such project is impacting on biodiversity!

According to EU obligations, whether it has financed the project or not, the  public is entitled to a breakdown of the money which is going into this project, such as  how much the turf will cost, the quantity of water it will consume per annun and at what cost; how much will be the upkeep, how much did the planners and designers charge, and how much will the launching of the  project cost.

The lack of any biodiversity and social concept are evidently lacking to any informed visitor. This view is sustained by the comments supporting this project on the Save the Trees  blog: Orange trees are being uprooted because they interfere with the vision of the bastions, but fountains do not! And insects and birds aren’t going to commit suicide, if they do not find a tree, they go on another one, the  Rabat environs are full of trees. ( L-insetti u l-ghasafar mhux ser jaghmlu suwwicidju, jekk ma jsibux sigra, imorru fuq ohra, inhawi tar-Rabat huma mimlija sigar min daqsekk). Not surprising at all since this is the recurring approach used by the Ministry under whose responsibility this project falls!  No wonder that when the same Ministry was responsible for the EU measure to tackle biodiversity loss, it made a complete mess and failure out of it.

The official Ministerial publicity material attached to the bastins, (shown above) states that this project is a Rehabillitation of the ditch. In contrast, the bloger with ELC inside informations states that “The ditch outside Mdina’s bastions from Greek’s gate to Xara Palace including the area below the main gate, is being turned into a recreational space which will be open to the public”. There is a great difference between ‘rehabilitation of the ditch’ and changing its use to a recreational area, especially when the tennis court, the basketball pitch, and the football pitch, which formed part of the ditch to be rehabilitated have been removed.

Somebody is surely trying to take the people for a ride despite the fact that the Prime Minister has promised that he will come closer to the people to listen to what they  have to say…………    I understand that heeding it is another matter!


On pruning trees in Malta

April 12, 2012

12 April, 2012

On pruning trees in Malta

Alfred E Baldacchino

The appreciation of trees in the Maltese Islands is gaining great momentum among the general public, though unfortunatley the official side has still a lot of ground to cover to be in line with modern thinking, despite national and international  legal obligations and much publicised colourful plans and projects.

This has led to the creation of a blog on saving our trees which are so much under official pressure and being decimated by the dozen without any proper management and without any official regulator, making the political responsibility so much greater. Congratulations to all those who have given birth to such a blog and to all those, without exception, who are contributing to it. It is a healthy dialogue which one hopes one day will lead to a proper professional management of trees in Malta.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/227850170644983/

A reference was made in the blog to a  tree at Balzan which was damaged by the strong wind (Photo 2).   It grew  on a small traffic island at the end of a one way street reached from Balzan square. Because of the way it was pruned, it was so top-heavy, with a heavy crown on thin main branches,  that with a relatively  strong wind it cracked. This photo (2) was taken on 10th February 2008.

Today I passed from the site to see how the trees there were faring. They did recieve quite an extensive ‘haircut’ as photo 3 shows. To my asthonisment, the tree in photo 2 was not there. Wonder of wonders: it had either gone to heaven, or gone up in smoke. The traffic island though is still there but covered in concrete.

Scandalous management of street trees in Malta.
(photo taken by AEB on 10.02.08)

I walked further up the line of “hair-cut” trees to see how the tree in photo 1, the phallus shaped tree, had fared. It looks more like a lolipop than a tree, or  like an upside down phallus, hiding its head in shame  while exposing its pubic hair.

On this save the tree blog above mentioned, there is a very interesting, educational video regarding the pruning of ficus trees, and one should thank the person responsible for putting it there. But unfortuntely  many of the various suggestions and advice given in this video were not taken in consideration in pruning these trees? I sometimes believe that street trees in Malta have never seen any secutors (imqass taż-żabra) in their lives. Chainsaws are more quick in the job, and thus they do not drain any of the proifts, irrispective of the negative aesthetic value they leave behind (photo 3).

Trees crying in agony after chainsaw treatment, and possibly the one who gave such an order was having an orgasm. (photo taken by AEB,on 10th February 2008)

I remember, as I am sure many of the readers do, when the Department of Agriculture was still responsible for landscaping,  before the present Governemnt Contractor took over. Such trees used to be pruned with more dedication and with more feeling.  I remember the ficus trees at Saqajja Rabat, which, in those days, were professionally pruned in a  seemingly sculptured way, with a crown that extended from one end of the line to the other, and with small branches seemingly like a trellis, which were so adequate against the historic builidngs behind. At that time the Department of Agriculture did not have any of the resources that today’s  ‘landscapers’ have, but in the past they used to do miracles, with as little public expenses as possible.

If one looks at the way that street trees are being pruned today, one immediately asks how  professional this  is. True that one has to keep in mind that we live in Malta, where everything is possible, and where amateurism is called professinalism and professinalism is called fundamentalism!

While following the line of the trees pruned in 2008, still showing their wounds, I came across the cherry on the cake in present Maltese landscaping approved by the political masters. When I went  past the Lija Cemetery on the road to Mosta, an employee with a tank on his back, probably paid out of public funds, was spraying herbicide around all the trees lining the pavement! Now those who know something about ecology and nature conservation know that at this time of the year the undergrowth is full of life with the various stages of a number of fauna and flora, such as butterflies and moths which are becoming scarcer by the hour.  Those in official positions know that the Governemnt on behalf of Malta is obliged to take measures to control biodiversity loss, an obligation arising out of our EU Membership. Those who chose not to know anything about the subject, endorse invoices for the payment of such activities paid out of public funds.  The poltiical responsiblity is greater than one thinks. It is a permanent dent on the ecological set up of these islands, as much as tampering with Hagar Qim or Imnajdra is a permanent dent on the archaeological heritage of the islands. No wonder a person I met told me that the Maltese people hate trees!

Never in the history of ecological conservation in Malta,  (or its exploitation) have so few benefited at the expense of so many.


Illegal brick wall on the Rabat road

September 13, 2011

Following my contribution to The Times on the 26th August 2011,  MEPA has officially replied on 6th September 2011, confirming all the illegalities mentioned in my contribution.  My initial reply is also attached. May be interesting to readers.  I am attaching both the link to the MEPA’s letter, which is self explanatory,  and also a copy of the letter itself and the subsequent comments by readers.

I am attaching some photos  as a reminder of the illegalities which had to be corrected by the 7th September 2011, according to MEPA’s  enforcement notice (ECF 434/11) to Transport Malta.  Besides, according to MEPA, this would also show that my assertion that MEPA “like pale melancholy, sits retired, staring and ruminating its impotency to control the mauling of environmental and public assets” is wrong.

Blatant infringement of the Trees and Woodland Protection Regulations published on 24 ta’ May, 2011, over the signature of the Prime Minister, the Minster responsible for the Environment.

The brutal pruning of the protected Aleppo Pine, which could only have been carried out by approval from the Minister of Rural Affairs and the Minster for the Environmnet.

How the rubble wall protection regulations was brought to disrepute for one and all to see

When protected national heritage meets financial considerations and political decisions - despite the 'high level' of responsibility given to 'sustainable development'

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20110906/letters/Illegal-brick-wall-on-the-Rabat-road.383498

Tuesday, September 6, 2011 

Peter Gingell, communications manager,

Malta Environment and Planning Authority, Floriana

Illegal brick wall on the Rabat road

I refer to the article Trees, Rubble Walls And BSS (Alfred E. Baldacchino, August 26). Mr Baldacchino highlights the incident whereby works carried out during the construction of a new bus interchange facility, along the Rabat road near Ta’ Qali, resulted in a rural rubble wall being demolished and replaced by a brick wall, while concrete was shoddily laid around a number of Aleppo trees. Mr Baldacchino uses this incident to assert that the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, “like pale melancholy, sits retired, staring and ruminating its impotency to control the mauling of environmental and public assets”.

Contrary to the negative impression Mr Baldacchino tries to create for readers, the authority can confirm that on August 23, a few days before Mr Baldacchino’s article was published, Mepa had already issued an enforcement notice (ECF 434/11) against Transport Malta for having illegally demolished a protected rural rubble wall and replaced it with a brick wall. The authority also requested Transport Malta to remove the concrete from around the circumference of the affected tree trunks and under supervision, construct a “konka” to allow for better water percolation.

The authority has given Transport Malta up to 15 days to remove the illegality, following which Mepa may then take direct action. The Enforcement Directorate and the Environment Protection Directorate are monitoring closely the situation and inspected the site again last week. If, for Mr Baldacchino, the authority has been caught sitting “retired” and “staring”, then he is mistaken.

While the authority continues to do its utmost to ensure the implementation and enforcement of planning and environment regulations, it reminds the public and all government entities that we all bear shared responsibility in safeguarding our natural and built heritage.

5 Comments

Mr Tony Camilleri

Today, 12:13

Would anyone blame the people who think rightly or wrongly that corruption is rampant in MEPA?

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Today, 10:35

Indeed I am greatly obliged to MEPA for proving me right all along. MEPA has finally found its voice, 11 days after my article (26th August) saying it acted on the 23rd August, but found it only convenient to inform the public today.  15 days from August 23rd is September 7th: in two days time. MEPA will be hearing from me again, no doubt about it.

MEPA also felt offended when I said that it “like pale melancholy, sits retired, staring and ruminating its impotency to control the mauling of environmental and public assets”.  Such works should not have taken place in the first place, and not accomplished before MEPA acted and gave 15 days to the Transport Authority to correct illegalities, after which MEPA MAY consider taking action.

Thanks also to MEP for stressing that “all governemnt entities ..bear shared responsibility in safeguarding our natural and built heritage” This has been my contention all along.  Now MEPA is under the portfolio of the Prime Minister who was the chairman of the National Commission for Sustainable Development.” If MEPA does ‘not sit retired’ it could easily have whispered in the PM’s ears about the utiliy of such commission, before it was idle since 2006, and disbanded in 2008.

Let us wait for 7th Sepotember, 15 days given in the enforcement notice (ECF 434/11). to see if MEPA is “like pale melancholy, sits retired, staring and ruminating its impotency to control the mauling of environmental and public assets”.

PS – with reference to the ‘konka’ in MEPA’s letter, in Englsih this is referred to as a watering trench or watering well. A good Maltese dictionary can tell you this.

Bernard Storace

Today, 09:34

“The authority has given TransportMaltaup to 15 days to remove the illegality, following which Mepa may then take direct action”. MEPA ‘may’ take direct action, How? by turning the clock back. It’s never been done before and I believe will not be done now too.

What, no guts to stick up to the minister in charge. Action should be taken BEFORE and not after the crime against nature has taken place. Will the rubble wall be rebuilt? I doubt it very much and as usual the illegal stone wall will be sanctioned and more trees will die too. Another joke or what?

Alfred E. Zahra

Today, 16:08

If you or I want to get rid of a rubble wall or a tree, how can MEPA stop us? Not unless we are stupid enough to inform it of our plans beforehand. Mepa unfortunately is not like Joseph Muscat. It does not have Godly powers.

Mr Peter Murray

Today, 09:12

What hope do we have when governmental entity fail to obey the law or take the appropriate action when found out and ordered to take remedial action.Yet again we have Mr.Gingell only responding to complaints/concerns expressed via newspaper publications, yet seldom, if ever, to complaints lodged individually with his


E is for Environment

August 8, 2011

Maltatoday, Sunday 7th August, 2011

E is for Environment ___________________________________________________________________________________ Despite occasional improvements, Malta’s environmental standards remain below expectations raised by EU accession. ALFRED E. BALDACCHINO, the man who was involved in the transposition of the acquis communautaire into Maltese law, offers an insight into why. ___________________________________________________________________________________

As environmentalists go, few can lay claim to the epithet ‘tree-hugger’ quite as convincingly as Alfred E. Baldacchino. An author of numerous books on Malta’s indigenous wildlife (and biodiversity in general), his very name is now practically synonymous with all matters arboreal. More significantly still, he is often heard on the radio, where he discusses the regular ‘massacre’ of roadside trees in the name of ‘pruning’ and ‘landscaping’… as well as what appears to be our national predilection for choosing the species most unsuited to our islands’ particular ecosystem.

I meet Baldacchino at his Attard home, and I am soon introduced to his private collection of indigenous Maltese saplings – all taken from seeds and cuttings, and grown in pots on a small and crowded verandah. As he talks me through the different species, it quickly becomes apparent that behind his regular complaints about our national treatment of trees and plants, there lies a deeper and altogether more pressing concern with the lack of comprehensive planning and co-ordination: a state of affairs affecting our country’s entire attitude towards all aspects of the environment, with results that can be seen all around us.

Back on the terrace, he points to a specimen of Fraxinus angustifolia (Fraxxnu in Maltese) on his terrace. “If I can grow this from a seed here in my own home – and believe me, I am no expert in cultivation – why can’t we do the same elsewhere? Why do we have to import harmful and invasive species, sometimes spreading diseases and unwanted alien pests like the red palm weevil, when we can invest the same energy into preserving our own natural biodiversity?”

He promptly answers his own question: because commercial interests have meanwhile overtaken all other considerations… including our country’s legal and moral obligations to manage and protect the environment. As an example he turns to his hobbyhorse: environmental landscaping.

“Just this morning I talked about this on the radio, and I was surprised by the reaction: some 12 phone-calls throughout the programme… of which only one was critical, accusing me of being ‘too negative’.” Baldacchino’s point on that programme (of which I had caught snatches while driving) was that pruning of trees – which used to be carried out under the auspices of the Agriculture Department, but has now been farmed out to the private sector – is now being done at the wrong time of the year, and in a slapdash way that reduces many of the trees concerned to mere stumps.

“Just a few moths ago, the trees outside my own home were being ‘pruned’ (or rather, ‘hewn’) and when I popped my head out of the balcony and asked the landscapers why they were doing this now – and more to the point why they were chopping them down to the trunk – they replied ‘because cars pass from here’. What sort of answer is that? Did cars suddenly start passing this way only now…?”

Baldacchino suspects the reason is another: that the job of environmental landscaping has since been taken over by a ‘public private partnership’, or ‘PPP’. “If you ask me, it more like ‘Pee Pee Pee’,” he says… spelling out the ‘double-E’ each time. “The problem is that private concerns like these are driven by commercial interests, and commercial interests that simply do not mix with environmental protection.” For instance, Baldacchino argues that landscapers have taken to using herbicides on roundabouts and pathways. “Not a good idea,” he intones. “These herbicides will be washed away by the rain, only to find their way into valleys and possible reach the watertable. Why is this being allowed to happen? Why isn’t MEPA coming down like a tonne of bricks?”

Even the choice of plants and flowers for these roundabout displays is at best questionable. “Recently, the Prime Minister was on TV talking about government investment in embellishment projects. He was saying things like: ‘when did we ever see so many flowers blooming in August, when it is normally dry as dust?’ Personally I don’t blame the PM himself for saying things like that, but somebody should really tell him that this sort of landscaping goes against his own environmental credentials. These take substantial amount of precious water, especially those laid out with turf. Their temporary aesthetic impact carries hidden costs carried by society.…” Baldacchino explains that ‘alien’ flowers like (for instance) petunias tend to guzzle enormous amounts of water – itself a precious resource that the country can ill-afford to waste – and some species also have the potential to ‘escape’ and take root elsewhere in the wild. “Some of the plants used have microscopic seeds that get easily blown about by the currents as cars drive past, or carried by the wind, washed away by the rain, and so on. It is easy for them to end up germinating in a valley somewhere. What happens if they start to spread? They will become an invasive species, competing with other indigenous plants and ultimately become a threat toMalta’s natural biodiversity.” Some established invasives include the south and Central American Nasturtium, and the south African Hottentot Fig, the latter also used in landscaping.

Baldacchino points towards the profit margins of the private companies involved in the partnership as the main reason for both the use of herbicides, and the inauspicious choice of flowers. The reasoning is one we have all heard before, perhaps in relation to other issues and scenarios: ‘someone’ will be importing a certain type of herbicide, or a certain type of plant… “None of this is necessary,” Baldacchino asserts. “This is the result of having lost our way when it comes to environmental issues.”

But we have raced ahead of ourselves. Part of the reason I came here was to talk about these issues, true; but I also wanted to ask for a historical perspective on what exactly went awry. Baldacchino has after all been involved in the country’s environmental sector…  having kick-started the government’s environmental department in the early 1980s. At that time, the environment fell loosely under the portfolio of Health Minister Vincent Moran… though Baldacchino doesn’t count Moran as one of Malta’s environment ministers, for the simple reason that the word ‘environment’ had yet to achieve practical relevance back then. It was only later – and very gradually – that the concept began to take root in Malta’s subconscious, slowly rising to become a major concern. “Since the 1980s I have worked under six ministers and one parliamentary secretary,” Baldacchino recalls: adding the curious detail that three of them (apart from Moran) were doctors –Daniel Micallef, Stanley Zammit and George Vella. “Doctors make good environment ministers,” he asserts. “I think it’s partly to do with their scientific academic background, and also their charisma with people as doctors. In fact it was with Daniel Micallef that environmental awareness began to take off; and things reached a peak with Stanley Zammit, who had by far the longest time to deliver.”

Baldacchino also acknowledges the input of lawyers who took over the portfolio – namely Ugo Mifsud Bonnici and Francis Zammit Dimech – considering that by their time Malta had to face the voluminous legal international obligations including those of the EU. He was less enthusiastic about role of architect ministers who came in their wake. “Doctors immediately grasped the scientific concept of environmental conservation, while the legal aspect was also quickly picked up by lawyers… But something that took maybe five minutes to explain to the doctors, would take up to five hours with the lawyers…” As for the architects, Baldacchino makes an exception for Michael Falzon, who had the benefit of being helped by Stanley Zammit as his parliamentary secretary. I point out that this leaves us with only one architect who was also environment minister – George Pullicino, with whom Baldacchino had a very public and very acrimonious fall-out. However, he had no intention of being drawn into a discussion about that difference – which erupted after his retirement from the Environment Protection Directorate.

Instead we talked about what he defines as the two ‘fatal errors’ that have undermined previous efforts to create a functional environmental protection regime. “Initially, all the people involved in the department were chosen on the strength of their scientific background. Despite the paucity of human resources, we had the best available people. We needed them, too. Back then we were screening Maltese legislation with a view to transposing the EU’s acquis communautaire: a massive job and we had problems – big problems – at the beginning. But we also had a wealth of highly scientifically qualified and motivated people, enabling the department to be professionally run at the time.”

And then, out of the blue… the catastrophe. Baldacchino explains how the government suddenly decided to strip the environment of its own ministry, and instead transfer it lock, stock and barrel to the Planning Authority. “I think I was as surprised as Minister Zammit Dimech at the time,” Baldacchino recalls, referring to the decision as an environmental disaster from which the country has never fully recovered. “We were like a round peg in a square hole. Suddenly, decisions started being taken without any consideration or even idea of the country’s legal international obligations. Scientific and technical expertise was put aside in favour of other, more commercial considerations. From that point on, we started heading downhill.”

Baldacchino observes that – with the exception of occasional improvements – the trajectory has remained downhill ever since, in part thanks to a second and equally damning mishap. “The second major mistake was to allow the National Sustainable Development Commission (NSDC) to fizzle out. Whether intentionally, or through ignorance, or out of our national tendency to simply ‘postpone’ problems for future generations, the commission was never set in motion …” Originally set up in 2002 – significantly, before the decision to rob the environment of a ministry of its own – the NSDC initially aimed to provide an umbrella organization to integrate and amalgamate all economic, social and environmental considerations. “It has been years since the Commission last met,” Baldacchino says in regretful tones. “Today, decisions which have huge impact on the environment are taken in the absence of any framework organization. Development planning has hijacked all other considerations.”

Baldacchino argues that we are literally paying a high price due to the lack of any clear planning strategy… as an example, he singles out Malta’s policy regarding water. “The Knights of St John handed everything to us on a silver platter. They left us an entire aqueduct and water storing system, and more importantly they had drawn up laws whereby all houses had to have their own wells.” He points out that technically, these laws are still in the statue books. “But are they being implemented? No. Today, MEPA merely issues compliance certificates in cases where houses are illegally built without wells. And just look at the homes we are building: any space for reservoirs is today taken up by garages instead.” Ironically, then, it seems that Maltawas more conscious of water conservation 500 years ago … despite the fact that population pressures, coupled with the demands of a thirsty tourism industry, have resulted in skyrocketing water demands.

From this perspective, environmentalists like Baldacchino were ‘scandalised’ to hear Infrastructure Minister Austin Gatt cavalierly announcing that excess water produced by sewage treatment would be pumped into the sea because it “had no economic value”. “No economic value? That’s blasphemy. What economic value is there is throwing away 50% pure water, when only a few metres away we have Reverse Osmosis plants pumping up 100% concentrated water from the sea? Considering how much we are paying for water produced in this way, can we afford to throw away water that would actually cost us less? So much for economic value…”

Baldacchino argues that the whole system was geared up from the outset with a view to pumping the water into the sea. No thought was given to the possibility of re-utilising that precious resource, “How else do you explain that all the country’s sewage treatment plants were sited near the sea to begin with?”

All this is symptomatic of a system which has fallen apart at the seams – almost an inevitability, Baldacchino suggests, when one considers how the environment itself was divorced from its original ministry, and instead spread among different entities, all of which work independently of one another without any cohesive framework policy. Again, water provides a good example; being a resource which falls under no fewer than three separate ministries. “MEPA is responsible for Malta’s surface water policy, and this falls under the office of the Prime Minister. But the Water Services Corporation – which handles distribution of water – falls under the Finance Ministry, whereas groundwater extraction, among others, falls under the MRRA.” So who takes ultimate responsibility for water-related problems when they arise? Baldacchino suggests the answer, as things stand, is ‘nobody’… coming back to his earlier point that the current set-up encourages government to put off existing problems, leaving future generations to cope with them as best they can.

“It’s a little like what happened with Bisazza Street, but on a national scale,” he remarks. “In the case of Bisazza Street, we had one ministry planning for pedestrianisation, and another ministry planning for traffic, and they only realized there was a problem when the two came together. Why? How is this possible? But at least,” he adds with a twinkle in his eye, “in the case of Bisazza street, a few ‘heads’ did actually roll…”


Il-kapriċċ tal-proprjetà vojta (2) Ħadd mhu jerfa’ l-ħtija tan-nuqqas ta’ ppjanar

July 26, 2011

Il-kapriċċ tal-proprjetà vojta (2) 
Ħadd mhu jerfa’ l-ħtija tan-nuqqas ta’ ppjanar
 

minn aleander balzan
 

KIF irraportat minn din il-gazzetta nhar il-Ħadd li għadda, fi ftit snin żdiedu bl-eluf in-numru ta’ proprjetajiet vojta f’pajjiżna. Skont iċ-chairman tal-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar (MEPA), Austin Walker, huwa stmat li llum għandna 76,000 proprjetà vojta. Minkejja dan ħadd mhu qiegħed jerfa’ l-ħtija ta’ dan in-nuqqas ta’ ppjanar. Fi kliem l-ambjentalisti Alfred E. Baldacchino u Astrid Vella dan in-nuqqas ta’ ppjanar qiegħed iwassal għal ħela ta’ riżorsi enormi.

Alfred E. Baldacchino, li huwa speċjalizzat fl-ippjanar u l-immaniġjar tal-ambjent argumenta mat-TORĊA li dawn il-proprjetajiet vojta “huma ħela ta’ riżorsi finanzjarji kif ukoll riżorsi naturali li ftit li xejn għandna minn fejn naħlu. Dan huwa wkoll nuqqas ta’ ippjanar serju għaliex wieħed qed iħares biss lejn ir-riżultat fiż-żmien il-qasir.”

“L-impatt fuq l-ambjent hu tant negattiv li qiegħed ikun hemm ħela ta’ riżorsi naturali, bħat-teħid tal-art, anki ta’ valur kbir ekoloġiku, storiku, u rikreattiv, tifrik ta’ sistemi fl-ippjanar tal-ambjent bħal sistemi tal-ġbir tal-ilma tax-xita, sfreġju u qerda ta’ sistemi ekoloġiċi bħall-ispeċi ta’ fawna u flora, u produzzjoni ta’ skart li jirriżulta mill-bini,” jargumenta Baldacchino li jgħid li dawn ir-riżorsi jistgħu jintużaw f’oqsma oħra.

“L-użu tar-riżorsi kemm naturali kif ukoll finanzjarji jistgħu faċilment jintużaw f’attivitajiet oħra minflok bini u bini li ma hawnx bżonnu. Permessi għar-restawr xorta waħda jkun hemm bżonnhom, imma hemm bżonn ukoll diversifikazzjoni. Il-’valur’ ta’ dawn il-ħela ta’ riżorsi mill-aspett ekonomiku qiegħed isir għas-spejjeż tal-valur soċjali u dak ambjentali,” żied Baldacchino.

Responsabbiltà tal-banek 
Fil-ħarġa ta’ nhar il-Ħadd li għadda l-ekonomista Joe Vella Bonnici argumenta li s-settur bankarju qiegħed ikun iktar kawt. “Ta’ min jgħid li llum is-settur bankarju rari jsellef għal bini ġdid. Dan wara ħafna twissijiet mill-International Monetary Fund li l-banek tagħna kellhom exposure qawwi fuq il-proprjetà,” qal Vella Bonnici.

Alfred E. Baldacchino u Astrid Vella wkoll jitkellmu dwar il-banek u fuqhom jitfgħu anke responsabbiltà.

“Naħseb li hawn tidħol ir-responsabbiltà kemm tal-banek lokali kif ukoll tal-MEPA. Sfortunatament, il-banek m’ għandhomx ħjiel tal-Corporate Social Responsibility u jaħsbu li għax iqassmu xi ċekk stampat kbir kbir qegħdin jilħqu dan il-għan. Għalihom imbasta jisilfu l-flus u jdaħħlu l-interessi. Jekk proġetti jibqgħu vojta u fil-proċess jinħlew ir-riżorsi jgħidlulek li mhix responsabbiltà tagħhom,” qal Baldacchino.

Astrid Vella żżid mal-argument u min-naħa tagħha telabora dwar l-impatt li dawn id-deċiżjonijiet qegħdin iħallu fuq is-soċjetà Maltija.

“It-twemmin popolari li s-suq għandu jirregola lilu nnifsu huwa żbaljat għax wieħed ikun qiegħed jassumi li huma biss l-iżviluppaturi li jġorru r-riskju li qegħdin jieħdu. Kuntrarju għal dan it-twemmin, rapport dwar l-istabbilità finanzjarja tal-Bank Ċentrali, għas-sena 2010, jgħid li d-dgħufija preżenti fis-settur tal-proprjetà tpoġġi riskju fuq is-saħħa tas-settur finanzjarju Malti dan għax il-proprjetà tirrappreżenta ħafna mis-self tal-banek. Din toħloq riskju fi żmien li s-sitwazzjoni tal-proprjetà qiegħda twassal għal ‘defaulting loans’,” tispjega Vella.

L-irwol tal-MEPA 
Iż-żewġ ambjentalisti jaqblu dwar il-falliment tal-MEPA fi rwol tagħha ta’ regolatur.

“Mill-banda l-oħra, il-MEPA, li suppost għandha r-responsabbiltà dwar l-ippjanar ma nistax nifhem kif 76,000 post vojt wieħed jista’ jgħidli li huwa ppjanar tajjeb, bl-impatti negattivi kollha li dawn iġibu magħhom, kemm direttament kif ukoll indirettament,” jargumenta Baldacchino.

Astrid Vella żżid ma’ dan l-argument: “Il-falliment tal-MEPA li tassumi r-responsabbiltajiet tagħha bħala regolatur – li ħolqot mentalità ta’ ġirja biex nibnu – mhux biss irrovinat l-irħula tagħna u l-qalba tal-villaġġi iżda ironikament wasslet għal tnaqqis fil-bejgħ tal-proprjetà.”

“Il-MEPA falliet fid-dmir tagħha li tirrikonċilja d-drittijiet li wieħed jiżviluppa l-proprjetà privata ma’ dak ta’ saħħa tajba. Li neħħejna d-djar biex għamilna l-appartamenti għandu effett doppju għax iwassal għal iktar karozzi f’żoni residenzjali,” qalet Vella li elaborat dwar l-effetti ta’ dan il-bini żejjed, b’mod partikolari fuq saħħet in-nies.

Alfred E. Baldacchino jċanfar ukoll lill-awtoritajiet għax għażlu triq li wasslet għal iktar bini ġdid flok irranġar u restawr ta’ dak li għandna.

“Hawn ħafna bini mitluq, qadim, storiku, u mibni b’konsiderazzjoni ambjentali siewja, imma n-nuqqas ta’ ippjanar li jeżisti jwassal biex minflok dan jitranġa u jkun restawrat, dan jitwaqqa’ u jittella’ bini ġdid, fil-forma ta’ kerrejjiet moderni, biex ngħidu hekk. Dan minkejja li hawn kemm domanda għal dawn il-postijiet (bini qadim restawrat), kif ukoll hawn kuxjenza qawwija nazzjonali biex dawn ikunu restawrati kif ukoll salvati. Imma mid-dehra dan mhux parti tar-responsabbiltà ta’ min huwa inkarigat biex jara li l-ippjanar ta’ dawn il-gżejjer isir minn kull aspett, kemm soċjali, kemm ambjentali kif ukoll ekonomiku. L-importanza li tingħata hija biss mill-aspett ekonomiku u l-oħrajn jiġu kompletament injorati. Ħadd ma jgħid li huwa responsabbli għal dan. Anzi kulħadd jgħid li mhux huwa responsabbli,” jgħid Baldacchino.

Ħtija tal-politiċi 
“Il-politiċi tagħna jiddefendu iktar żvilupp billi jgħidu li l-ġenituri qegħdin jipprovdu l-appartamenti għal uliedhom. Din il-ġustifikazzjoni ntużat fl-2006 meta kien hemm l-iskema ta’ razzjonalizazzjoni u medded ta’ art fil-kampanja ttieħdu biex jinbnew mijiet ta’ appartamenti minn żviluppatur wieħed.
“Din twassal għal mistoqsija oħra: jekk il-ġenituri qegħdin jipprovdu l-appartamenti lil uliedhom, l-eluf ta’ appartamenti tal-ispekulaturi lil min se jinbiegħu? Żgur mhux lill-barranin, għax mill-2009 kien hemm biss 300 bejgħ fejn kienu involuti l-barranin. Il-MEPA kkalkulat li l-ħtieġa annwali għad-djar ġodda hija madwar 2,000, iżda mill-2005 sal-2009 kienu approvati bejn 8,000 u 12,000 unit fis-sena,” tgħid Astrid Vella li tappella għal studju serju u tisħaq li din il-problema għandha tkun indirizzata.

“In-numru ta’ postijiet vojta huwa destinat li jikber iktar, hekk kif hemm permessi approvati mill-MEPA li għad irid isir il-bini tagħhom u hemm ukoll iktar proġetti kbar ippjanati. Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar temmen li l-kwistjoni ta’ żvilupp iktar milli meħtieġ għandha tkun indirizzata. Jekk iktar appartamenti se jkunu approvati, fuq liema bażi se niġġustifikaw it-telfien ta’ iktar kampanja?” ittemm tgħid Vella.

Baldacchino wkoll jitkellem dwar l-irwol tal-politiċi u ma jdurx mal-lewża.

“Ir-riżultat ta’ dan kollu huwa li din hija politika żbaljata tal-entitajiet governattivi u pubbliċi li kulħadd jara l-parti tiegħu biss u ma jimpurtahx minn entitajiet ohra. Anki f ‘deċiżjonijet żgħar jittieħdu deċiżjonijiet li jmorru kontra tfassil u deċiżjonijiet ta’ entitajet oħra.

“Dan jidher u jinħass bħal ngħidu aħna fil-ħarsien u mmaniġġjar tal-ilma, f’dak tat-trasport, f’dak tal-biodiversità, u ħafna u ħafna oħrajn. F’dan il-qasam huwa ġenerazzjoni ta’ xogħol artifiċjali, għas-spejjeż tar-riżorsi nazzjonali, biex taparsi jinħoloq ix-xogħol, xogħol li għandu ħafna prezzijiet u piżijiet moħbija, li qed tħallas għalihom is-soċjetà u l-ambjent b’mod ġenerali,” qal Baldacchino, li fakkar ukoll kif il-Kummissjoni Nazzjonali għall-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli għadha ma bdietx tiltaqa’.
“Opportunità li kien hemm u li għad hemm biex dawn il-fares jinqatgħu kienet li tibda taħdem il-Kummissjoni Nazzjonali għall-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli. Imma din tpoġġiet fuq l-ixkaffa tistenna l-mument meta jkun tard wisq u l-pajjiż jibqa’ jħallas minn imnieħru. Imbagħad forsi tirxoxta jew inkella titfassal oħra bħalha,” temm Baldacchino.

• Ara wkoll: http://www.it-torca.com/news.asp?newsitemid=11958