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/

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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


Trees, rubble walls and BSS

August 26, 2011

August 26, 2011

Trees, rubble walls and BSS

Alfred E. Baldacchino

A few weeks ago, workmen were laying out a pavement on either side of the Rabat road near the Ta’ Qali intersection. A layby for the new buses, I thought! And so it was.

Little thought, if any, was given either to the Aleppo pine trees and the rubble walls along the stretches of the new pavement. The Aleppo pines, which characterise this stretch of road leading to Rabat, show a number of scars, now including fresh ones, resulting from mismanagement. Some of the trees are completely engulfed in concrete, some with nails hammered in them, further sealing their miserable fate at the hands of unsustainable mismanagement of the living natural heritage.

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.

In the same stretch, part of the rubble walls were also heavily damaged! In an ingeneous, indigenous way, a brick wall was built on the rubble wall. As I slowed in the traffic to clear the roundabout intersecting the Żebbuġ, Mtarfa and Rabat roads – the one where sprinklers usually water much of the road as much as they water the turf – I could not help think and ask myself how the lack of coordination between ministries reigns supreme in this land.

A 'newly restored rubble wall' . What about the regulations for the protection of rubble walls? Well that is the responsibility of the Minster for the Environment and not of the Minister responsible for such works!

A couple of weeks ago, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority declared new tree protection areas. In the same legal notice (200 of 2011), signed by the Prime Minister himself, there are two schedules of protected trees. The Aleppo pine trees along Rabat road are listed in schedule II. They are more than 50 years old and are growing in an outside development zone area.

The brutal fresh 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.

Schedule II trees are protected to the extent that no person shall bury in the ground, dump, or deposit, any soil, manure, waste, rubbish, stones, rubble, scrap metal or any refuse near them; not even attempt to. Mepa is responsible for the administration, implementation and enforcement of these regulations.

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

Legal Notice 160 of 1997 protects rubble walls and non-habitable rural structures in view of their historical and architectural importance, their exceptional beauty, their affording a habitat for flora and fauna and their vital importance in the conservation of the soil and of water. It is unlawful to demolish them or to prevent free percolation of rainwater through rubble walls or to undermine the foundations of a rural construction.
The regulations add that no permit is required for sensitively executed repairs, provided that repairs are carried out using exclusively the same type of drystone rubble walling that composed the existing wall and that they do not significantly modify the overall profile or character of the wall. Again, Mepa is responsible for the administration, implementation and enforcement of these regulations.
Now, somebody in the corridors of power in this EU member state must be responsible for such works, unless, of course, someone convinces me that there is only a virtual government. The minister responsible for the environment cannot be held directly responsible for the works done but is directly responsible to ensure that environmental policies, laws and regulations are adhered to. He has a very expensive watchdog to see to this but it seems this watchdog is all bark and no bite.
The minister has the authority to direct in no uncertain way that the duty to protect the environment is not just his but is a collective political responsibility. As chairman of the National Sustainable Development Commission he has all the tools to do so. Unfortunately, as I finalised this article, I read in The Times that “Just before Parliament rose for the summer recess, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, who is responsible for environment matters, confirmed that the National Sustainable Development Commission was disbanded in 2008 after the government approved the sustainable development strategy”. And this despite national and EU obligations! Yet, we are also told that “the government puts responsibility for sustainable development at the ‘highest level’”.

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

What is the use of drafting regulations and national environment policies when some Cabinet colleagues and their staff are immune to the laws of the land? In the meantime, the watchdog, Mepa, like pale melancholy, sits retired, staring and ruminating its impotency to control the mauling of environmental and public assets.
I would not be surprised if I am taken to task by some colour-blinkered pen pusher on grounds that this is a trivial matter. Admittedly, I am not writing on the building of a new power station but the same concept, the same perception and the same vision (or lack of it) apply to both examples. First, go ahead with the development and, then, consider the regulations and see if there are any necessary permits to acquire. In the meantime, tell the gullible this is highest level of sustainable development at its best.

The long and winding road for protected trees in the Maltese Islands.

The Bisazza Street Syndrome (BSS) is rearing its ugly head – one legislates, another ignores. If BSS is not taken by the horns and immediately put in check, it will soon become the national environmental policy without any need for public consultations and without any need for backup legislation.
I can image that the picture of sustainable development to be submitted at the next UN Rio +20 conference in 2012 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rio earth summit will be all nice and rosy: Malta puts responsibilty for sustianable development at the highest level while disbanding the commission to ensure that sustainable development is achieved.
Other photos taken on 24th Augut 2011, showing the complete desregard for protected trees, and protected rubble walls, despite the fresh declaration that “the government puts responsibility for sustainable development at the ‘highest level’”

According to Maltese politicians and their advisors, this is a tree - a protected tree!

Politically, to the applause of the gullible, it was the tree's fault moving in the bulldozer's path!

The dead branches of a mauled potected Aleppo Pine tree. Only possible with a permit from the Minster for the Environment and the Minster for Resources and Rural Affairs!

NO COMMENT - readers may wish to comment themselves.

One of the ARRIVA bus stops in the stretch of the new works. With the arrival of the new bus service, social, environmental and financial negative impacts have also arrived, though as I understand, some are still waiting for the buses.