The public landscaping mistakes experts say need fixing

October 18, 2019

Monday, 14th October, 2019

As an old contract comes to an end, we asked experts what we’ve done wrong

Jessica Arena

   photo: Times of Malta

Public landscaping practices in Malta have been plagued by poor practices which should not be repeated once a contract with the old consortium comes to an end, experts have said.

The public-private partnership deal between Environmental Landscapes Consortium and the government expires at the end of the year and a process for a new call for tenders is in the works.

In 2017, the National Audit Office published a report that found that the partnership with ELC should have long been dissolved due to a series of contract breaches on the part of the consortium.

The government has spent over €100 million since the start of the agreement in 2002, where neither the original partnership agreement nor the two subsequent contract extensions were awarded through a competitive tendering process.

The report, however, does not address the environmental critiques leveled at ELC, particularly when it comes to taking a more biodiversity-conscious approach to landscaping works.

Planting invasive species

“The consortium’s most insidious environmental impact has been the indiscriminate use of non-indigenous species during a number of landscaping projects,” marine biologist and environmentalist Alan Deidun told Times of Malta.

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In its early days, the consortium was responsible for the widespread planting of the hottentot fig (Carpobrotus edulis), a highly invasive species of South African succulent, he said.

Using water-guzzling turf

Additionally, ELC was often criticised for its use of water-guzzling turfs and the planting of non-local stocks of native species.

Millions of euros were literally wasted, including the scarce resource of water used

Landscaper and garden expert Fernando Mifsud said: “Although aesthetically beautiful, lawns need a lot of water to keep them looking green and also need a lot of fertilisers and chemicals to keep them looking healthy.”

Such pesticides leach into the ground, killing the biodiversity in the soil. They are also washed in the water course through water runoff when it rains, therefore negatively affecting water creatures like frog populations, he said.

Removing local ‘weeds’

Additionally, the overuse of pesticides and the culling of local flora considered to be ‘weeds’ were also critiques leveled at the landscaping consortium.

Local flora is often culled from landscaping projects to maintain “neatness” – however, these species are closely linked to local fauna such as native butterfly or bird species, and their elimination contributes to the scarce propagation of local fauna.

Environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino maintains that had the funds invested in the consortium in the past 15 years been utilised professionally, Malta would be covered with indigenous trees grown from local stock.

“From a biodiversity point of view, taking into consideration national and international obligation, millions of euros were literally wasted, including the scarce resource of water used,” Mr Baldacchino said.

What should a new contract stipulate?

Mr Baldacchino, who has been petitioning the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure for a copy of the public agreement since 2015, believes a new agreement should regard contractors solely as operators and a regulatory role should fall within the Environment Ministry.

“Contractors should not be allowed any monopoly on landscaping. Emphasis should be entrenched in the contract that all trees and shrubs used for landscaping purposes should be propagated from local stock, so that a new local industry can be established for centres providing indigenous plants,” Mr Baldacchino said.

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This will also ensure the local gene pool of the indigenous species is not polluted, thus contributing towards better protection of indigenous species also from diseases and invasive alien species, having more educational input for the benefit of the public, and contributing to a multiplier effect from the funds allocated for landscaping.

Prof. Deidun stressed that future operators should ensure that only native or indigenous species fully adapted to the semi-arid conditions of the Mediterranean Basin are planted in landscaping projects.

“Additionally, plants which represent year-round important food resources for pollinators (e.g. bees) should be favoured, despite their status as ‘weeds’ by the public,” he added.

Mr Mifsud also says there should be an obligation to focus on the planting of indigenous species that propagate better in the region.

“These trees and plants need less care and are resistant to drought and pests. Over the years, they have evolved and adapted to our climate. This would also reduce the maintenance cost on the long run,” Mr Mifsud said.

When contacted, ELC declined to comment.

other related articles on this blog

Trees hit headlines

Our ‘landscaping’ needs professional updating

Maltese trees – conserving and landscaping

updating/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/07/09/trees-and-invasive-species

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/05/11/national-hobby-of-butchering-trees

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/use-and-overuse-of-pesticides-2

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/alien-invasive-species-animation-film

/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/eu-stand-on-invasive-species/

 

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Credit where credit is due

April 18, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Following concerns expressed by members of the public, eNGOs, and individuals, on the destruction of biodiversity in country paths which were being widened and covered with concrete, Environment Resources Authority (ERA) ordered Infrastructure Malta to halt the works, and issued a stop and compliance order. Furthermore, according to press reporting, ERA ordered Infrastructure Malta to reinstate the country paths to their original state.

One hopes that all country paths mismanaged by Infrastructure Malta will be reinstated to their original state. One also hopes that this is the end of an era where biodiversity is regarded as ‘ħaxix ħażin’ (good-for-nothing-vegetation) and that such mentality will be put to rest.

One cannot but applaud the stand ERA has taken and look out to more similar decisions in the near future to protect biodiversity.

The following is one of the article which appeared in the media.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Rabat country roads being reinstated after controversial widening

Recent concrete works encroached adjacent land

Keith Micallef

 

Country roads at Wied l-Isqof in Rabat are being reinstated to their original state. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Country roads at Wied l-Isqof in Rabat are being reinstated to their original state. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Some of the concrete controversially laid on country roads in a Rabat valley is being pulled up again by Infrastructure Malta on orders from the environment watchdog, which wants the roads to be reinstated to their original footprint.

The controversy erupted last month when it transpired that a number of narrow country roads used primarily by farmers at Wied l-Isqof were being widened, as part of a government project to “reconstruct” rural roads.

Faced by this outrage, the Environment Resources Authority ordered Infrastructure Malta to halt the works, through what it called a stop and compliance order. The measure was taken because the project was resulting in “biodiversity destruction”, ERA had said.

Infrastructure Malta argued that the roads in question were not being widened beyond their original footprint – even though evidence on the ground suggested otherwise.

However, an ERA spokeswoman confirmed that Infrastructure Malta had, in fact, encroached on adjacent land. She said that concreting beyond the original footprint was being removed by the roads agency’s contractors through the use of appropriate heavy machinery.

Several truckloads of material have been removed and dispatched for appropriate disposal to enable the area’s habitat to regenerate even in the area previously concreted, she said.

An onsite visit confirmed that the roads had been narrowed, with a stretch of soil replacing the concrete along the perimeter.

In its reply, ERA said it had intervened because the roadworks were degrading the ecosystem of the area beyond the asphalted area.

Among other things, the interventions had altered the physical profile of the valley and the natural course of the freshwater stream to the detriment of the biodiversity and the natural characteristics of the site, the spokeswoman said.

Environmentalists had denounced the works, saying vegetation was being obliterated as concrete was being poured beyond the existing footprint, damaging flora and fauna on both sides of the road.

Biodiversity expert and former assistant director of the environment protection directorate at the now defunct Malta environment and planning authority, Alfred Baldacchino, had warned that turning these roads into “highways” could have a detrimental effect on farmers due to the increase in traffic.

He also criticised the project, saying the concrete was blocking the percolation of rainwater to the water table.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com 

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More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity

 

 

 


More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

March 10, 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Sunday, 10th March, 2019

Following my latest blog of 4th March 2019, regarding the destruction of Maltese biodiversity by the Ministry for Transport, with the use of EU funds,  Infrastructure Malta, in the portfolio of Dr Ian Borg, the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, have issued a statement saying that the works being carried out are being done “within existing road footprint” and ” “in line with applicable road works permits”.

On the other hand, the Environment and Resource Authority in its press statement  dated Tuesday 5th March, 2019, confirmed that the government road agency’s work had been carried out without the necessary permits, resulting in “environmental destruction”.

ERA’s press release confirmed that: Because of these works, it resulted that there is the destruction of the natural habitat suffered from the laying of construction material on the land which before was colonised by natural vegetation; leading to a physical change of the valley and the water course’s profile.

Besides, these works are all taking place without the necessary permits from the Authority (ERA).

For ease of reference to those who want to see for themselves, this is the link of the ERA press release.

I am sure that the Ministry for Transport officials have brought this ERA statement to their Minster.

Minister Ian Borg knows the site very well because it is in his constituency. A visit to the site, would at once reveal that the Ministry for Transport agency Infrastructure Malta’s press-release is totally incorrect, not only scientifically, factually, but also politically.

The gutter on the right shows to what extent the rich valley bed has been reduced to. And according to Ministry for Transport, this is a footprint of the once farmer’s country path. 

By all means let the farmers be given a helping hand, but not by widening a country path to two or three lanes. And certainly not by obliterating a valley bed, so rich in indigenous Maltese biodiversity, and disrupting the hydrology of the area, impeding the contribution to the water table and the farmers’ wells, if this is of any importance to the Minster’s experts in road widening.

Neither is it in the farmers’ interest in having their rubble walls destabilised, which eventually will be so detrimental to them.

Which professional architect, (unless of course over-ruled), would plan, and approve such damaging works which will lead to the eventual destruction of the rubble wall, and say it is in the interest of the farmers.

Renowned botanists friends of mine have confirmed that a rare indigenous protected tree was destroyed and annihilated, in the parts where the works were carried out by the Ministry for Transport.

A number of environmental NGOs and individuals have also all expressed their concern, dismay and anger against such damaging works by this Ministry.

I am sure Minister’s Borg ‘experts’ have drawn his attention to a number of EU Directives all of which have obligations, even with regards to the works in valleys. Just in case they did not, I would like to draw the Minster’s attention to the following:

  • Valleys are all subject to the EU Water Framework Directive. The local Competent Authority recognised by the EU for surface water in the Maltese Islands is The Energy and Water Agency, in the portfolio of the Ministry for Energy and Water Management, Joe Mizzi. Has the Ministry for Transport discussed the hydrological impacts of their works with this Ministry?
  • Biodiversity management, protection and enforcement is under the responsibility of the Environment and Resources Authority – ERA, in the portfolio of the Minister for Environment, Dr José Herrera, mainly through the EU Habitat Directive, and other International Conventions. Has the Ministry for Transport discussed the impact of their works with this Ministry. Definitely not, according to ERA itself.
  • Wied l-isqof is adjacent to the Natura 2000 site of Buskett and Girgenti. This means, according to the EU Habitats Directive, that any works even outside the boundary of the Natura 2000 site which can have an impact on the Natura 2000 site has to be discussed with the Competent Authority recognised by the EU, that is, ERA. Has Transport Malta discussed the negative biodiversity impacts of their works with this Ministry? Definitely not.
  • The newly appointed AmbjentMalta, is also responsible for valley management. It is also in the portfolio of the Minister for the Environment. Has Transport Malta discussed the impact of their works with this Ministry. Again definitely not as also confirmed by The Ministry for the Environment itself.
  • I would not like to mention the Planning Authority because as far as I am concerned, this authority, coincidentally in the portfolio of Dr Ian Borg Ministry, is more of a rubber stamp than anything else, with only paper professionalism not reflected in decisions taken.
  • The question is: from whom did the Ministry for Transport obtain the necessary permits as stated in their press statement?

I cannot image that the Energy and Water Agency responsible in Malta for honouring the obligations of the EU Water Framework Directive, agreed to render the valley at Wied l-Isqof to a gutter. Perhaps the Ministry for Transport can explain.

I have known Dr Ian Borg since he was a Mayor at Dingli Local Council. We had long discussions regarding the environment. I was convinced that he would be in the front line to protect our natural and international heritage for the good of our country Malta. I still do believe this, unless of course I am corrected by Dr Borg himself.

That is why I ask myself, how is it possible that such biodiversity damaging works are being carried out under his political responsibility, which are far from being environmental friendly in any way.

This make me think that the Minster is not being kept up to date and made aware of the damages being done by his Ministry’s, funded  by the EU.

I am sure that his biodiversity ‘experts’ cannot distinguish between a Sonchus and a Sambucus, and are completely unaware of environmental obligations Malta has, both nationally and internationally.

The damages being done is not just environmentally. It also reflects lack of good governance. It highlights the degradation of the biodiversity of Malta, who as a member of the EU, is obliged to safeguard biodiversity by 2020, according to the EU biodiversity Strategy 2020, This is not done by using EU funds to destroy biodiversity in the name of ‘help to farmers’.

Such works are also embarrassing those Ministries responsible for EU Directives above mentioned, who were not even consulted, not to include the whole country vis-a-vis the EU, if this is of any concern to the Ministry for Transport.

Infrastructure Malta has issued tenders for resurfacing works of various rural roads (IM001/2019). Can the Minister, who has the ultimate responsibility, ensure the Maltese people that such works will not continue to destroy more biodiversity with EU funds, but will be undertaken in line with Malta’s national and international obligations? Can he also take action to restore the damages done in country paths by his Ministry?

Photos have already appeared on the social media with regards to biological diversity massacre at il-Lunzjata.

More biodiversity destruction in il-Lunzjata Malta (subject to correction this is also in the Minister for Transport constituency). One can see the old footprint, and the additional widening resulting in the destruction of biodiversity, presumably with EU funds also. One can also see the butchering of trees undertaken. Can ERA please note and take necessary action. (photos Courtesy of V Abela Facebook/09.03.2019)

https://www.etenders.gov.mt/epps/cft/viewContractNotices.do?resourceId=5258763&fbclid=IwAR2YqL7wX72IATtkm_AVXFwVR0ik-heisQtCZ45fbTzjdAQ6WIYZdFboVgA

If the Minister can bring this electoral poster to the attention of his officials, perhaps they can remember this electoral promise.

One thing is very very obvious. Infrastructure Malta are carrying out works in the name of the Minister, without any professional expertise in biodiversity, or hydrology, no awareness of national and international obligations, and no consultations whatsoever, either with official entities, like ERA, and the Energy and Water Agency, or with individuals and NGOs. The fact that they are undertaking road works with EU funds, does not justify the bulldozing of biodiversity as is being done.

I will still be following the development of such works, not only in the farmers’ interest, but also in the interest of the protection of our national natural heritage, in line with national and international obligations, for the benefit of this and future generations who have lent it to us. And knowing Dr Ian Borg, I do expect his help in achieving this.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related article:

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity


From nature study to biodiversity

July 9, 2013

times

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

From nature study to biodiversity

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

When we were young, we used to be taught nature study: by collecting tadpoles in jam jars and pinning butterflies on pieces of cork. Eventually, this changed to a wider vision of environmental studies. Following accession to international conventions and the European Union, a more sophisticated word is used: biodiversity.

Biodiversity is the amalgamation of the words biology and diversity. It means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part.

All living organisms (biotic) need adequate physical environment (abiotic) such as land, air, light and water to live and procreate. Biotic and abiotic form a delicate dynamic balance sustaining all life: the complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit. Such diversity within and between species and ecosystems essentially is a synonym of ‘life on earth’.

biodiversity

Graphic image of biodiversity

Another principle related to biodiversity is its sustainable use: the use of components of biological diversity in a way and at a rate that does not lead to the long-term decline of biological diversity, thereby maintaining its potential to meet the needs and the aspirations of present and future generations. It has ecological, economic and social dimensions.

The reconciliation of environmental, social equity and economic demands are referred to as the ‘three pillars’ – if ‘pillars’ are anything to go by locally.

Human_Sustainability_Confluence_Diagram

The three pillars of sustainability

Such a concept of life on earth is not always accepted by some sections of the self-proclaimed most intelligent species on earth, – homo sapiens, maintaining that such an intelligent species cannot be subject to such a natural system. Such ‘sceptics’ are mostly found among commercial, political and even religious entities.

Senior citizens remember days when we used to drink out of any streamlet or cistern without any fear or health worries. There was no acute asthma or coughing problems that have become so common and are normal background sounds to any public gathering.

Summer was warm months; winter was cold months and there was never any thought of sudden climate change and its impact on living organisms.

Occasionally, I try to image the modern way of life in the biblical Garden of Eden. Not only would the self-declared most intelligent species swoop on the forbidden fruit, some with the sole intent of genetically modifying it to make it better and feed the people, but the slightest vision of a Eurodollar-clad serpent would create a stampede to approach and eventually take possession of the fruit, uproot the tree and replace it by an investment yielding  maximum financial profits.

The early 1970s saw a crescendo of local waves of publicwide communication, education and public awareness on specific species, initially birds and later trees. Such was the impact that it led some politicians, past and present, to conclude that there were those who thought the environment was just development, birds or trees. I have heard this more than once from different coloured quarters.

A couple of days ago,a group of ecoskola students were convened in Parliament, where they also addressed members of the House of Representatives. Their message relating to ‘caring for our future’ focused mainly on fostering further awareness on the importance of environmentally sustainable policy.

Some politicians, the world over, have managed to coin their own ‘political’ definition of technical words, not necessary in the context or in line with scientific jargon. The latest political definition of sustainability is sometimes development has the upper hand, while sometimes the environment does. If this definition was applied to a football league, it would perhaps be close to acceptance. But applying this to sustainable use of biodiversity qualifies it for the best political joke of the year. It simply means sustainable use of biodiversity is far from being understood and biodiversity is on the development chopping board.

Malta is party to the Convention on Biological Diversity and also forms part of the European Union. Ignoring and failing to understand and implement such concepts of biodiversity can never place any country high up in EU rankings: it can only place it on top of the infraction list.

During the past decade, biodiversity has been the Cinderella of government, misunderstood and mismanaged even by the competent authority established for its very protection: Mepa.

A brief, backward look at Buskett, Dwejra and RamlaBay in ecoGozo, and Għajn Tuffieħa, all EU Natura 2000 sites, shows the disinterest and laissez-faire towards biodiversity.

Such lack of interest, the newly coined political definitions, the splash of fireworks to make us different, extinguish any hopeful light at the end of the tunnel for the better management, protection, enforcement and appreciation of Maltese biodiversity.

The national and international obligations for the protection of biodiversity go much further than just protecting birds or trees from development.

But if schoolchildren can understand and embrace the real meaning of biodiversity, why can’t politicians? After all politicians are intelligent and honourable men, unless they themselves disagree with such public perception.


Taking the big ‘E’ out of MEPA

February 4, 2013

Alfred E. Baldacchino

One of the issues presently being discussed by political parties in the run up to the general election is the environment. The discussion centers round whether the environment should still form part of MEPA or be given more importance and autonomy than it has now (if it really has any).

The Nationalist Party, which in 2002 masterminded the merger (some still refer to it as a ‘hijack’) of the Environment with the Planning Authority, had also promised that the environment would be one of its main three pillars. In its latest electoral manifesto it is now promising a new Nature Agency to be responsible for the protection of biodiversity and the managing and conservation of protected areas, parks and natural reserves.

The Labour Party is promising that it will separate again the Environment Directorate from the Planning Directorate and include it with the Malta Resource Authority.

Alternative Democratic too is not happy with the present MEPA setup and is also suggesting that the Environment Directorate and the Planning Directorate should both be accountable to the Malta Resource Authority, with the Environment Directorate having a more leading role than the other one.

All three parties basically are in agreement that as far as the environment is concerned MEPA has not delivered following the merger of  Environment and Planning.

Having, in the past, worked both with the former Environment Department since its inception, under the responsibility of five different Ministers and one Parliamentary Secretary (indeed those were the days), and later when Environment was ‘merged’ with the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, I am more than convinced that such a ‘merger’ is more like a square peg in a round hole.

Given the Government’s ‘environmental pillar’ promise  and the justifications given for such a merger, one would have expected that the environment would be second to none and it would be an example on how to manage and administer the environment. But Environmental issues are today fragmented: biodiversity, water resources, climate change, air pollution, etc. Each political incumbent guards his little patch without any coordination, irrespective of national economical, social or ecological repercussions. On a  positive side a number of nicely coloured reports and guidelines have been published. On paper everything is nice and rosy. BUT some of these are simply being ignored by government itself. Tangible actions taken include: the endangering of Natura 2000 sites, such as Buskett, Dwejra, and Mistra; and Nadur Cemetery, to mention just a few. Refusal by the Environment arm of MEPA was recommended for such developments but all boasted or still boast a MEPA permit! Trees forming ecological niches have been, and still are,  uprooted to create “gardens”! The scarce resource of water, instead of being harvested as legally and conscientiously obliged, is being channeled to the sea,  while important  legal regulations for harvesting water have recently been revoked. There is not one single qualified environmentalist with voting powers on the MEPA 15-­member Board. The cherry on the cake was the disbanding of the National Commission for Sustainable Development. This is the vision and the attention the environment is being given today.

Most of what had been established and built over the years by the previous  Environment Department was literally dismantled when the environment became a directorate within MEPA.  I did point all this to the Prime Minister at one of the public discussions at Castile, but I was bluntly told that the merger of the Environment and Planning was a Cabinet decision.

Those environment entities and individuals who have or are involved in the communication, conservation and public awareness of the environment cannot be blamed for being disillusioned, angry, exploited, and emarginated, while being called names for their constructive  criticism and comments in the national interest. I cannot help feel that MEPA, despite national and interntional obligations,  is more a Maltese Exploiter of Public Assets: that is  the important national resources, whether biological (fauna and flora) or physical (land, water, air). It is high time that MEPA is professionally pruned down to size, though not as brutally as government prunes urban trees;  some of the middle management embraces some of the best qualified personnel on the island.  One of the necessary measures for the environment to flourish in the national interest is to graft the environment within the Malta Resource Authority.

Following the last election, MEPA has undergone the promised reform. In 2008  I did question whether such reform will  result in just a change in colour of the sheep’s clothing! No, it did not change the colour of the sheep’s clothing, but it did change the sheep into a lamb, and tethered it in the lion’s den.

Sadly, today the environment is like a ship without a rudder, and without a captain, exposed to brutal elements and high seas, wandering where the wind blows…  and the wind is always blowing from the direction of the development- orientated Planning Directorate. Undoubtedly there is no place for the  in MEPA. It has made a mess of it.

All such thoughts were expressed in one of my articles in the Times dated 22 April 2008, which is attached below.

times

Tuesday, 22nd April 2008

Mepa: The missing link
Alfred E. Baldacchino

Without any doubt, Malta needs an authority, better still authorities, responsible for environment and planning so that the interests of the Maltese community are safeguarded from exploitation and Malta’s international responsibilities are honoured.

A professional authority will also help Malta to mature and to find its rightful place with other nations in the international sphere. However, such an entity has to have a vision, a direction and an understanding of its obligations. It has to have a will to achieve these aims. From the ever-increasing public criticism and the irregularities that are continuously being uncovered, it seems that Mepa is not exactly in line with such a vision, such understanding and such accountability to the Maltese community. It lacks such fervour.

Ironically enough, such a blot on Mepa’s image started with the “merger” of the minuscule Department of the Environment and the mammoth Planning Authority in 2002. Such a “merger”, which carried with it heavy international environmental responsibilities, mainly as a member state of the European Union, was an onus which the top brass at the Planning Authority were never au courant with. They were not equipped with the technical and scientific background to handle it. And I am afraid to say that the majority of Mepa boards still aren’t. Nonetheless, Mepa is the competent authority for the EU
environmental acquis.

The cracks became chasms as time passed by, especially when the new Environment Protection Directorate was left without a director for about four years, leaving the headless directorate to wander in a rather hostile environment. Words, which still reverberate in my ears (for example: Forget the environment, it is development which dictates the environment here; we do not need scientists, we need geographers; why worry if an endemic lizard becomes extinct, it is just a lizard), uttered in the corridors of Mepa do not do any credit to a supposedly competent authority on the environment. To this day I still cherish with increasing satisfaction the names that were bestowed on the Environment Protection Directorate: “environmentalists”, “fundamentalists” and “officials who lose precious time playing with marine turtles, dolphins and wild flowers”. These are all responsibilities and obligations arising out of Malta’s accession to the European Union, and other international legal treaties, for which this blessed Mepa is the competent authority, and the non-adherence to which amounts to EU and other
international infringements.

This “us and them” complex within Mepa is resulting in a rift that contributes to discontent and loss of motivation in the dedicated staff who do not feel that they belong to such an important but divided organisation. Some have left because of this syndrome. This has rendered the authority much weaker in the face of the ever-increasing and more specialised international obligations, not least those of the EU. Stephen Farrugia, a former director of planning at Mepa, wrote (The Times, April 10): “It is pertinent to point out that the previous Environment Protection Department and the Planning Authority
empires have always been to a greater or lesser extent in continual turf wars with each other. This situation, that still persists within Mepa, is to me one of the great demotivators in sustaining healthy working relationships between the two directorates”.

The “merging” of the Environment Protection Department with the Planning Authority was a mistake: the two are not compatible and those who argue in favour of such “merger” do so because it is easier to manipulate the scientific reports of those who are considered as an appendix. When the mentality of such a competent authority stoops so low in its environmental “lack of knowledge” (and the above are just a few simple examples) then it is no wonder that the Environmental Protection Directorate has been reduced to the Cinderella of Mepa, dictated by Planning Authority officials who have no scientific or environmental management and planning qualifications, with the exception of the odd one or two. If it weren’t for, or what is left of, the hard work of the dedicated professional and scientific staff previously forming the backbone of the Environment Protection Department, the list of eventual infractions of the EU environmental acquis would be much, much longer.

This unfortunate situation was recently validated in a concrete way (pardon the pun). The lack of awareness of Mepa’s obligations, both national and international, led to the approval by Mepa of development applications in Special Areas of Conservation for which Mepa itself is the competent authority on an international level. These permits infringe the EU Habitats Directive, which lays down clear obligations with regard to developments in Special Areas of Conservation, such as those in Dwejra, Gozo and Mistra Bay.
Mepa may have the best qualified middle management personnel in the country. But the lack of an equivalent qualified professional and scientific top brass sitting in the top echelons of Mepa boards and committees reinforces Bjorn Bonello’s (another ex-Mepa employee) comments on Mepa (The Times, March 27) and “displays blatant mockery of the planning system and the people’s intelligence” besides frustrating the technical and scientific staff. Furthermore, if Mepa still regards itself as the competent authority of the EU environmental acquis, its top echelons have to be closely familiar with Malta’s
international obligations and responsibilities, the more so when their decisions carry with them financial and political implications at EU level. Hijacking the Environment Protection Directorate makes the crisis more acute and can only benefit one or two individuals before the community is asked to dig deep into its pocket.

I feel morally obliged to write this, not only to distance myself from such obscenities, which are having an irreversible negative impact on the environment and on dedicated technical and scientific officials within Mepa, but also to give weight to the Prime Minister’s declaration on the need to reform Mepa, which declaration is also one of the Nationalist Party’s electoral
pledges. The Mepa reform has to take in consideration the engagement of scientific professionals among its top brass. The Environment Planning Directorate’s voice has got to be heard and be equally as strong as that of the Planning Directorate and not be stifled, silenced or ignored. It will then be possible for the professionals and scientists sitting on Mepa’s boards
and committees to be able to conscientiously evaluate and pass judgement, instead of branding the scientific input as “the work of fundamentalists”.
Everybody who has the good of the country at heart eagerly awaits such an urgent reform in the hope that, when all the comments have been taken on board, it will not result in just a change in colour of the sheep’s clothing.

Mr Baldacchino has been involved in the protection of biodiversity since 1970, both with local and foreign NGOs and also as a civil servant for more than 30 years, mainly occupying managerial positions within the Department of Environment. For the last five years before retirement he was assistant director at the Environment Protection Directorate, Mepa.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Comments

B Agius (9 hours,  39 minutes ago)
It is not enough to have professional people as top brass in any Government institution if they can also perform functions outside the public service as consultants and/or in their own private practice.To the extent this is allowed to happen in Malta it will always contribute to a Public Service open to corruption or at least conflict of interest. Any Government job should be paid
highly enough for the Government to expect, by law, that those on its books don’t do anything else! This should also apply to all elected politicians.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20080422/opinion/mepa-the-missing-link.205125