Unkept green pledges

January 17, 2015

times of malta

Saturday, 17th January, 2015

Unkept green pledges

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

Public awareness on environmental matters has never been so strong. Yet, the environment is still being decimated and abused with the blessing of government entities.

MEPA, the competent authority for environment, is under the responsibility of a parliamentary secretary, and falls within the Prime Minister’s portfolio. Projecting colourful fireworks’ toxic smoke, killing of species, and ODZ ‘tweeting’ are higher on the agenda than any tangible national policies for the good of society and the environment at large.

Once there was a party in government who in 1980 initiated regulations for the protection of biodiversity, and had a vision to green Malta and push afforestation. Surprisingly, that same party is in government today, albeit with different faces, different visions, and different principles. It seems that the complete exploitation of the environment, despite its social, ecological, economical, educational, scientific, psychological, and quality of life contributions, is a new principle. As are the dismantling of environmental regulations. Times change not only names, faces and logos, but also basic principles it would appear.

photo - unkept green promise

It seems that the complete exploitation of the environment is a new policy. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

An authority that is funded by the public turns a blind eye on social and ecological negative impacts. No finger is turned to stop the decimation and butchering of biodiversity. Spraying of chemicals to kill every living species growing for free goes uncontrolled. Millions of euros are spent to dump free natural sources in the sea. A directorate which once was responsible to see that these do not happen is in deep freeze. The mentality of pecuniary and materialistic greed at the expense of society and the environment rules the day.

EU funds are still used and spent without any ecological consideration. Commercial banks still sponsor without ensuring that some of the funds do not go toward the loss or destruction of biodiversity. Politicians are not concerned about loss of biodiversity with the funds provided.

The Environment Directorate is abused, gagged, and hijacked till hopefully it gives up its ghost. Mepa has become more of an environmental hazard than environmental protector. Can anyone be blamed for believing that government does not have any vision or interest in collective social and environmental gain?

The government’s manifesto, if electoral manifestos are anything to go by, clearly explains that a well-protected environment leads to a better quality of life. The new government had to seriously administer and be greatly committed to the environmental sector. It had to work with determination to make up for lost time, aware that there are a number of difficult decisions to be made, amongst them the upheaval of MEPA. It had to take this measure in the interest of our national environment so that it will be in a better position to address the challenge (electoral manifesto p. 93).

“Times change not only names, faces and logos

but also basic principles, it seems”

The separation of the environment and planning directorates within Mepa, was intended “to strengthen the environment’s autonomy” and “to give more importance to the strategic aspect and long term vision”, “to reach a better balance between conservation and the protection of the environment and responsible development.” (electoral manifesto p. 94).

Yet after 21 months in government, Mepa remains responsible for environment protection, playing havoc in this sector, not wanting to have anything to do with environmental protection. Mepa’s environmental management is far from the elected commitments made by the party in government. The procrastination in bringing about the promised demerger does not help to convince anyone that government is keen on immediately honouring its electoral manifesto even on such a delicate matter which will affect the future of the islands. Such a vacuum and delay is undoubtedly being capitalised, to the detriment of society and the environment. It is very clear that the official pro-business vision is sucking Malta’s resources dry. The Minister, who on paper is responsible for the environment, will eventually be handed a dead skeleton of environmental structures, impossible to resuscitate, if at all.

The ‘not-my-fault’ syndrome has unfortunately undermined any sense of good governance. Sometimes I ask myself whether the environmental remit has been politically omitted from the Environment’s Minister portfolio and divided and fragmented among other Cabinet ministries so that it would be easy to say that no one is responsible when environmental protection is everyone’s responsibility?

In the run up to the election, the Prime Minister said that if any voters were not happy with the way ministers were handling their responsibilities according to the manifesto, they should refer the matter to him directly. The letter signed by present and former presidents of Din l-Art Ħelwa regarding the pitiful state the environment was a first step. It was followed by a group of other environmental NGOs.

I would also like to bring to the Prime Minister’s attention, the manner the environment is being mismanaged and exploited. There is no doubt that the legacy this government will be leaving to future generations is indeed shameful and does not do any honour to any politician, if honour is valued any more these days. Ironically, the environment falls within the portfolio of the author of the electoral manifesto. He is definitely being advised by the wrong people, some say conveniently, though I do not agree with this.

The latest comments by the Prime Minister can possibly shows that he is not happy with this sad state of affairs. And rightly so, because there will definitely not be much hope for the environment in the future with the big irreparable negative impacts this will have on society, which will eventually have to pay the price for such political mismanagement.

Mepa playing havoc with environmental matters is definitely not in line with the electoral manifesto’s commitments. Not only will lost time not be recovered (electoral manifesto p 93) but such lost time is being extended and extended until there will be nothing left to recover.

Having hijacked the planning authority, the pro-business mentality driving force is holding society and the environment to ransom.

Environmentalists who have the real national interest at heart, consider 2014 as a very bad omen for the future of Maltese environment. Will this new year offer new hopes, new visions, new sustainable life for the benefit of society and the environment? The momentum of environmental degradation through the vision of exploitation at all costs raises serious doubts amongst those having the well-being of the country at heart.

I only hope 2015 will prove me wrong, not through political blah-blah but by genuine social and environmental tangible measures.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

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Plight of livestock breeders

June 16, 2014

 times of malta

Monday, June 16, 2014

Plight of livestock breeders

Alfred E Baldacchino

 

The media recently reported on cases of spraying slurry on agriculture land. Some questions remain unanswered. Earlier this month, I attended  a conference on the infonitrates project funded by the EU Life+ to see for myself what is being and what is not being said on the matter.

brochure

The parliamentary secretary for agriculture, fisheries and animal rights welcomed participants, emphasising the importance of nitrate in agriculture,
the need to control such use and abuse and the need for the correct management, which can have an impact on water resources and
biodiversity.
Information was given on the work done with regard to communication, education and awareness among farmers and livestock breeders. Very
important, much needed and beneficial efforts.

The Water Services Corporation representative, before leaving, dwelt on the importance of ground water, the fact that Malta has the lowest water supply accessibility, which makes the country face chronic water scarcity and suffering drought. The worst impact on groundwater are nitrates resulting from sewage, manure from animal husbandry, salinity and sea water seepage in sewers in coastal areas.

cow-1

The obligations imposed by EU directives, control, legal measures and the establishment of a nitrate committee were also outlined. And this is how it should be, though it is not fair that conditions are only imposed on the ones who register.

An expert from the German Chamber of Agriculture and another from the Israeli Agriculture Research Organisation showed the professional way forward, something the local technocrats can digest within a couple of days but, unfortunately, this can take a generation to be politically accepted and implemented.

The best part of the conference was when the participants took the floor. If only the accountable political entities were all present. No politician from either side of the House was there. Admittedly, this was not the place for such comments but breeders saw this as an opportunity to make their point, expressing the desperate state they are in. Their frustrations were loud and clear: lack of adequate water for their fields and livestock while complaining that good water was taken for free and sold to swimming pools and hotels; pains regarding the lack of additional infrastructure to manage manure; worries about the bursting storage of solid and liquid manure because of lack of adequate disposal.

One of the breeders said they are not allowed to use slurry on their fields even during the dry season.

A comment from the head table that there are plans to install bio-digesters had a quick reaction from the floor, asking whether breeders were expected to stop feeding their livestock so that they will not excrete until the bio-digesters are in place. In short, it was all about bulls, woes and moos.

pigs

It has to be a pig to nonchalantly display the place from where processed undigested waste food is excreted out of the body. But this is only natural and it applies to all animals who have to eat. If not properly managed (and livestock cannot do it on their own) it can have a great negative impact on biodiversity.

Livestock manure is a resource that can generate enough energy to make the farm completely independent of fossil fuel. It can also contribute to the production of compost, thus decreasing overhead costs. Yet…

hen-1

 

 

 

Other official stakeholders were conspicuous by their absence. Mepa, one of the regulators for the water framework and the nitrates directives was not present. No surprise, though. Neither was the ministry responsible for the conservation of water and now also for health.

The WSC was present only momentarily for the brief presentation on the precarious water situation and the negative impact of nitrates. Neither was there anybody from the health directorate to listen to problems raised.

Considering the lack of coordination and mismanagement of the subject since accession to the EU, it felt more like shooting the bull.

If only the accountable political entities

were all present

A breeder told me that they had been given a concession to empty liquid waste in the sewer despite problems caused to the treatment of sewage water and notwithstanding the fact that, in their area, the sewers were old, lacking any pipes but hewn in the bedrock. Problem solved, well, at least, no one can see it.

rabbit

I pitied the agriculture official on the head table who not only was forsaken but was literally deserted. He could somehow manage technical questions but in no way could he give political answers or explain the duties of other government entities.

The lack of coordination hit one in the face. The absence of technocrats from other entities to help livestock breeders with their difficulties was an indication that these did not have any political backing or vision to do so.

Admittedly, this is not an easy task. The management of animal waste cannot be solved by one isolated government entity. Past mismanagement and lack of proper planning do not help either.

This community of legal livestock breeders does not seem to qualify as a minority deserving political backing despite the stiff competition from
overseas, the adverse economies of scale, its 24/7 commitment to the livestock, the adverse climatic conditions and the risks taken to make ends meet.

On the other hand, the fact that this community does not have any representative who can handle not only the technical aspects of their labour but also legal, social and ecological matters is not beneficial to breeders either.

manure-2

Having heard cries of pain from those who aired their voice, I left the conference not convinced at all that there is a clear vision of how to take the bull by the horns.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 


The future

June 10, 2013

The future: our future; What future?

What are we doing to our planet earth?
Are you proud of it?
Is this what you are contributing to?
Are you planning such a future for mother earth?
NO?
What are you doing about it?
This short film should be seen by the entire world…

Breeding birds of the Maltese Islands – a scientific and historical review

October 12, 2012

A new publication
Breeding Birds of the Maltese Islands - a scientific and historicl review


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.


Green dream and black nightmare

August 10, 2012

Friday,  August 10, 2012

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Green dream and black nightmare

During his short term responsible for the environment, both as junior minister and later, as minister, Mario de Marco has published a number of laws and policies.

Some he moved through Parliament, such as the National Environment Policy (NEP) and the Sustainable Development Act. Other guidelines and policies were published by his environmental watchdog, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

These included the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan and the new guidelines for the management of invasive plants. These supplemented the guidelines on trees, shrubs and plants for planting and landscaping and the tree protection regulations.

The above are some of the Government’s publications: all official administrative and legislative tools which can definitely make any green dream a reality. But why are they ignored by Government itself? I cannot image that these have been published just for the attention of  the EU and its Member States. Or that these publications are meant to take the public for a ride? Then why are these ignored and not enforced?

Unfortunately, the enforcement and implementation of these laws and regulations leave much to be desired.

The three pillars for conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services as defined in the NEP are all addressed in the above. These provide direction to all players in this field, ensure policy integration and enable stakeholders to work in a coordinated manner to achieve the national objectives and key priorities.

All aim at improving the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity as well as easing pressures on biodiversity and promoting sustainable use.

Furthermore, these guidelines and regulations highlight the collaboration and commitment of all relevant stakeholders to achieve the strategic goals of the NEP and to empower people to actively participate in environmental management and take action on environmental issues.

An important policy in the NEP is that the government, in promoting environmentally-friendly actions, should lead by example.

Definitely not according to the guidelines and regulations referred to above!

Notwithstanding the above, the wave of criticism on the mismanagement of trees and the misuse of public funds in “landscaping” is gaining momentum.

Facebook groups have been set up, initiatives promoting the protection of trees have been taken and articles and letters in the press express the disappointment of such mismanagement. Yet, the government, through one, or at best, two of its ministers, still bulldozes on, irrespective of the people’s comments, criticism and suggestions. If, before the last election, the Prime Minster did not declare that the environment was one of the government’s three main pillars and if he did not lately say that he was ready to listen to the people in the national interest (even in the kitchen, if necessary, as I am told) one could comfortably say that the government does not have any special interest in the environment.

But, the way environment is being mismanaged makes one conclude that there is no such real interest and no such will. The social and ecological values are completely gobbled up by commercial interests with political blessing.

The Times (September 6, 2011) titled a report on the launching of the national environment policy thus: PM Launches Green Dream. There are many, many in this country who have such a green dream. Great things were conceived as little dreams. If Martin Luther King did not have a dream and persisted with determination there would not be a Barack Obama today. But to achieve a dream, one has to persist with determination in one’s vision and not ignore, or endorse, activities that are diametrically opposite to it.

The latest “landscaping projects” financed by the government are those of Mdina ditch, where about 400 trees were uprooted, surprisingly to make way for a garden. Trees at the Mellieħa old bus-terminus were all uprooted for others to be planted instead. Lately, the destruction of trees in part of Triq Diċembru 13, Marsa, hit the headlines. Some of the trees were removed on grounds that they are invasive!

Surprisingly, at the same time, another minister is endorsing plans and funds for the planting of Fountain Grass, Brazilian pepper tree, the Australian Pine tree (Casuarina) and the Hottentot fig – all aliens and invasive species.

Once again, the BSS (Bisazza Street Syndrome, which was conceived in Bisazza Street, Sliema) is again raising its ugly head with the same political players, leaving the Minster for the Environment speechless.

BSS did strike again with regard to the Rabat Road rubble walls (which now have been replaced by iron railings against all policies and regulations – Mepa please note). Now, BSS has infected the government’s so-called landscaping projects, defying, ignoring and ridiculing the above national regulations and policies, suppressing and pushing aside all active participation of the people.

What is very worrying is the fact that such “landscaping” is being done with public funds, some even with EU funds. And some are also completely against mitigation strategies regarding the government’s stand on climate change and water policy, which, incidentally, fall within the same ministerial portfolio.

The Prime Minister may have an admirable green dream. The majority of the people yearn for the fulfilment of such a conceived green dream. But, the government’s plans and projects are rendering the Prime Minister’s green dream a bizarre black nightmare, a nightmare that will haunt the political players all their lives and beyond. Not that anybody of them cares, I presume! But can the Prime Minister please intervene to achieve his and our collective green dream?

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

PS  – Photos were added to this post and do not appear in the original article in The Times

See also:

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

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/environmentalists-vs-government-over-trees/


Money doesn’t only grow on trees here, it talks too!

May 23, 2012

Wednesday, 23 May, 2012

Alfred E. Baldacchino
Money doesn’t only grow on trees here, it talks too!

The appreciation of trees in the Maltese Islands is gaining momentum in leaps and bounds. This is mainly due to newly-established environmental NGOs, individual interventions, more private education and public awareness and, no doubt, Malta’s accession to the European Union.
Regrettably, the official side is still dragging its feet, finding it very difficult to understand and keep pace with this public awareness. This despite national and international legal obligations and good-intentioned environmental actions plans.
When Legal Notice 12 of 2001 was revoked by LN 200 of 2011, the Department of Agriculture was exempted from any legal responsibility with regard to urban tree-protection. Public trees in urban areas can now be pruned, uprooted, cut up in logs, butchered and destroyed without any official prior approval, according to one’s whims and fancies. Rather strange!
Many readers might remember, that when the Department of Agriculture was still responsible for landscaping, street trees used to be pruned with dedication, care and feeling. I remember the ficus trees at Saqqajja, in Rabat, among others, so professionally pruned in a seemingly sculptured way with a crown extending from one end of the line to the other and with small branches forming a beautiful trellis. It gave the area a green soothing sight in contrast with the heavy congested traffic-zone.
At that time, the Department of Agriculture did not have as many resources as today’s “landscapers” have but they used to make miracles with as little public expenses as possible and with professional management.
Today, “landscaping” projects are farmed out; it seems to anyone who can handle a chainsaw. There is nothing wrong in farming out to professional entities that are au courant with national and international legislation. But these operators must be subjected to a regulator that decides what should be done and not be done, monitor expenses, prevent ecological negative impacts, incorporate such operations in formal and non-formal education and ensure that the operators are observing guidelines and decisions.
After all, this is a basic issue of governance: the regulator and the operator should not be one and the same entity. Notwithstanding, the absence of such regulator, the politician still has a responsibility to shoulder, more so when such works are paid from public funds.
The lack of regulatory measures has led to a farcical scenario where the public is completely in the dark about what farming out agreements providing for and how funds are being managed. Taking the Prime Minister on a tour to demonstrate the colourful flowers or to nurseries to view lace makers at work only fools the actors but not the people.
What the people want to hear is how public funds are being spent: how much is being spent overseas on the importation of trees, what is the cost of such trees, why are these not being grown in Malta, thus creating more jobs, more local expertise and benefiting from the multiplier effect besides preventing the introduction of invasive species.

This invasive species used in landscaping financed by Government and under the auspices of the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs, has already established itself in valleys, garigue and other wild habitats. This despite the fact the national and international obligation, including those of the EU, to prevent the introduction and to control invasive species. It also goes against the National Environment Policy published earlier this year, and the fact that it is listed as invasive by MEPA the Competent Authority on the Environment. The Ministry responsible for landscaping seems to be living in a republic of its own.
The photo was taken along one of the busiest roads in the Maltese Islands.

The standard reply given to these sorts of questions is that such data cannot be divulged because those involved in landscaping are private companies. And I was always under the impression that these were public private partnerships. US orator and politician, Patrick Henry (1736-1799) once wrote that the liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them. Seems that we still have a long way to go to reach the 18th century, despite being an EU member state.
It has now become customary that those who ask or comment in the national interest on the lack of governance, on professional tree management and on the lack of transparency on the use of public funds are looked upon as if they are enemies of the state. They are called names and are subjected to character assassination. It is so reminiscent of the 1980s.
Is there a real genuine desire for public consultations, suggestions and comments? The idea, of course, is not to point fingers at anybody.
In the history of landscaping in Malta, never have so few had a free hand and benefited at the expense of so many. It also seems that, in Malta, money does not only grow on trees but it talks too!
aebaldacchino@gmail.com

NOTE: The photo and its caption were not part of the original article in  The Times, but were added by the author on this post. Thelink to the original article is:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120523/opinion/Money-doesn-t-only-grow-on-trees-here-it-talks-too-.420947