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

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Once there were green leaves

July 31, 2012

maltastar

Tuesday, 31st July 2012

Once there were green leaves

Alfred E. Baldacchino

It is indeed of great satisfaction to see such a strong public awareness towards the appreciation of nature, also expressed towards the need for more protection and appreciation of trees. Such tree-appreciation includes the trees’ aesthetic, social, ecological, educational and intrinsic values. Unfortunately and regrettably, the greatest hurdle towards the achievement of such noble aims is the present policy being implemented by government.

With regret one sees and reads of hundreds of established trees being heavily pruned and deprived of any form of a tree and its majesty. The pruning and uprooting of trees, irrespective of the appropriate season, is being undertaken for a number of childish, amateurish reasons, such as that they are harmful to buildings, they attract birds which poo on the benches beneath, they are obscuring the view from people’s houses, they are dropping their leaves in front of people’s doors, and they are a pest. In most cases these are replaced with new exotic imported trees.  One must however, admit that there are instances where some trees need to be transplanted because of justifiable reasons, though not including any of the above.

Nobody responsible for landscaping in the islands, whether political or private, seems to officially appreciate the fact that trees contribute to control carbon dioxide and add oxygen to the air. They are also barriers to noise, and to the many obnoxious fumes and emissions with which our life is daily and increasingly exposed to. But a Lilliputian mentality unfortunately prevails, dominated by commercial gains. And what is more alarming and worrying, is that the destructive mentality is officially endorsed and publicly financed, sometimes even by European funds.

One of the projects which today tops the list of this poor, destructive mentality is the works going on at the Mdina ditch. It only tops the list because a similar project, about six years ago which was initiated at Buskett, a Natura 2000 site, was stopped in time by MEPA and Buskett was saved by the skin of its teeth, though some wounds still show.

Those who hail from Rabat and Mdina, and those who frequent this historical area have over the years benefited from the past professional landscapers with real love and understanding of the natural environment. Howard Gardens is a perfect example of a garden with short winding paths among the surrounding greenery, and also open spaces. The ditch was later planted with around 400 citrus trees, about a dozen Cyprus trees, adding to a dozen of old olive trees, and a majestic old Holm Oak. The latter guarded the left hand side entrance to Mdina, while and old Olive Tree stood on the right

Following such a government approved project paid by public and European funds, more than half the citrus trees, were uprooted when in bloom, and carted away. Only two Cyprus trees and two olive trees are now left. Even the old majestic Olive tree guarding Mdina Gate, was first fiercely pruned, and then uprooted and also carted away.  Such pruning and uprooting needed the endorsement of MEPA considering the age of the Olive tree. I very much doubt if MEPA has given its green light to uproot this protected tree. Yet the Lilliputian mentality backed by official authority had the last say.

(left) the remains of the once majestic, protected, old Olive Tree, waiting to be uprooted and carted away. (right) the moribund citrus tree, uprooted from a few meters away, which replaced the majestic protected old Olive Tree.

Initially it was said that the place was going to be transformed into a garden. The general public asked how one can plan to make a garden and in the process uproot scores of trees. Now it is being said that the place is going to be transformed into an open space for the family, as an advertisement board at the entrance of HowardGardens depicts. Most of the ditch area has already been covered in concrete, more concrete than tree-cover. And more and more areas, some previously covered with trees, will be used. Some of the citrus trees, all in bloom, were uprooted to be planted again a couple of metres away, in a regimental line-up.  It was also officially said that most of the area would be planted with turf, and there would also be water fountains! Considering the local climate, the eventual rise in temperature because of climate change, the heavy demand expected for water both by the general public and also by agriculture, one indeed shudders to think how government failed to foresee this and how such maintenance would negatively impact the island, both from a social, economical and ecological point of view.

One of the destructive actions which hurt me beyond any healing was the scraping and removing of Ivy (Liedna – an indigenous, Maltese wild species). This covered a substantial part of the boundary concrete wall along Howard Gardens, and the garden wall opposite the bastions. It was such a site to see, aesthetically pleasing, an adequate habitat for local rare fauna, especially some rare indigenous moths. Hailing from Rabat, I have seen this beautiful, majestic free nature’s gift, grow over the last 15 years or so. And yet, in about 15 hours or so it was gone, completely gone. The regulator (Government) and the operator (ELC) in their wisdom, which is neither accepted nor understood at all by nature lovers and biodiversity conservationists, decided to eliminate it completely. It would without any doubt have been an added asset to any project in the ditch, both if the area beneath is going to be turned into a garden, or if the area is going to become an open space for the family. What a pity, what a shame, what lack of ecological appreciation and awareness. It reminds me of 1970 when the ivy at Buskett was similarly and systematically removed and eliminated. The same mind is behind both destructions. No wonder that people have started to believe that government hates trees.

The indigenous Ivy adorning the boundary wall overlooking the Mdina ditch

Howard Gardens boundary wall cleared from Ivy

The accompanying photos shows nature’s gifts with all their beauty, which the private landscapers, paid by government were authorised to destroy. It also shows the greedy hands and the lack of biodiversity

The Mdina Ditch covered in rich greenery offering a natural habitat to both flora and fauna

Ivy and the natural habitat completely destroyed

appreciation.  The questions being asked are: When is the natural ecological beauty of these islands going to be positively appreciated? When shall environmental projects also take into consideration the economic, social and ecological aspect, and not be assessed just from the commercial point of view? When shall the people be heard and be able to contribute to the positive national development of our country?  When is government going to show real appreciation of trees. When shall we grow up? Unfortunately the destructive public-financed works at Mdina Ditch, besides others, show that despite EU membership, EU obligations and EU financial help, we still have a long, long way to go.

see also 

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com

Alfred E. Baldacchino has a M.Sc. in Environmental Planning and Management


Siġar, Biodiversità u l-Unjoni Ewropea

May 9, 2012

07 Mejju, 2012

Saviour Balzan jintervista lil Alfred E. Baldacchino
fuq il-Programm Reporter

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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!


Bżonn ta’ aktar immanniġġar tas-Siġar Maltin

March 5, 2012

It-Tnejn, 5 ta’ Marzu, 2012

miktub minn Gaetano Micallef

Il-ġlieda ta’ raġel biex isalva s-siġar lokali

 Il-“massakru” tas-siġar lokali u l-importazzjoni ta’ ċertu speċi ta’ siġar u pjanti li magħhom qed iġibu ċertu nsetti qed jinkwetaw lill-ambjentalist ALFRED E. BALDACCHINO kif wieħed jista’ jara mill-blog tiegħu. GAETANO MICALLEF iltaqa’ miegħu biex jara għaliex mhux jara futur għas-siġar indiġeni u cioè dawk tal-lokal. Fil-blog tiegħek għidt li s-siġar lokali qed jiġu “immassakrati”. X’ridt tgħid biha? X’qed iwassal għal dak li qed tiddeskrivi bħala trattament inaċċettabbli tas-siġar? Skont il-prinċipji tal-UE hemm bżonn ta’ regolatur u operatur biex l-affarijiet jitmexxew sewwa. Jekk nieħdu l-qasam tal-enerġija għandek il-korporazzjoni Enemalta li hija l-operatur waqt li fil-qasam tal-ilma nsibu l-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizz tal-Ilma li wkoll hija operatur. Imma t-tnejn li huma regolati mill-Awtorità Maltija għar-Riżorsi (MRA). Issa fil-qasam tal-‘landscaping’ insibu l-operatur, li huwa l-partner privat tal-Gvern, imma uffiċjalment m’hemmx indikazzjoni li hemm xi regolatur. Din tista’ twassal biex id-deċiżjonijiet u l-politika ta’ dan ix-xogħol titfassal mill-operatur innifsu. Ngħidu aħna, xi speċi ta’ siġar u arbuxelli jitħawwlu, minn fejn jinġiebu, jekk għandhomx jiġu impurtati, fejn jitħawlu, minn fejn jinqalgħu, jekk humiex skont il-liġi u jekk jonorawx l-obbligi internazzjonali li għandu l-pajjiż. Imma jidher li m’hemmx regolatur biex jgħid “ara, din l-ispeċi m’għandiex tintuża għax din għandha impatt negattiv fuq is-soċjetà, l-ekonomija u l-ekoloġija”. L-operatur m’għandux direzzjoni u mhux regolat. Ara f’Għawdex ħaġa bħal din ma tiġrix. M’ilux kont hemm u staqsejt uffiċjal fil-ministeru għaliex kuntrarju għal Malta ma rajtx il-pjanti li jgħidulhom is-Swaba tal-Madonna u l-Pjuma meta f’Malta dawn tarahom kważi kullimkien. Ir-risposta kienet li f’Għawdex huma jiddeċiedu liema pjanti jitħawlu u mhux il-kuntrattur. U billi jafu li kemm is-Swaba tal-Madonna u l-Pjuma huma pjanti invażivi ma jridux li dawn jidħlu Għawdex u jinfirxu kullimkien bi ħsara ekonomika, ekoloġika u soċjali. Tgħidli x’għandhom ħażin dawn il-pjanti? Dawn huma fost l-agħar pjanti invażivi fl-Ewropa. Pjanta invażiva hija dik li meta tiddaħħal minn barra taħrab u tinfirex mal-pajjiż fejn qatt ma kienet tikber qabel. Is-Swaba tal-Madonna hija pjanta Sud-Afrikana. Li pjanta minn barra tiddaħħal fil-pajjiż ma fiha xejn ħażin fiha nnifisha sakemm ma tkunx waħda li faċli taħrab bi ħsara kbira ekoloġika, soċjali u anke ekonomika għall-pajjiż. U meta din taħrab, tinfirex u tistabilixxi ruħha ma jkunx possibbli li tiġi kontrollata u meqruda. Ħares lejn il-Ħaxixa Ingliża jew il-Qarsu kif jafuh xi wħud. Din inġiebet xi 100 sena ilu mill-Afrika t’Isfel u tpoġġiet fil-Ġnien Botaniku fil-Floriana. Minn hemm infirxet u mliet Malta, Għawdex u Kemmuna. Saret invażiva għax illum qed tikber bla kontroll, ma tistax tiġi kontrollata u impossibbli li tiġi eliminata. Fil-fatt minn hawn Malta waslet anke Tuneż u Sqallija.

Imma mhux kull pjanta tista’ titqaċċat jew titneħħa?

Impossibbli. Kif tista’ telimina l-Ingliża minn hawn Malta li tikber kullimkien u tiksi kullimkien? Anke mas-swar u mal-irdumijiet. Jew is-Siġra tar-Riġnu jew is-Siġra tax-Xumakk? Meta tidħol speċi u ssir invażiva jkun impossibbli teliminaha. Fl-UE l-pjanta tas-Swaba tal-Madonna hija meqjusa fost l-iktar mija invażivi. U aħna nħawluha fit-toroq! Min qed jagħmel il-politika? Ir-regolatur? Anke jekk m’hawnx regolatur xorta waħda tibqa’ ir-responsabilità tal-Gvern li jara li l-obbligi internazzjonali li l-pajjiż għandu jiġu onorati. U għaliex dan l-interess u din l-għebusija tar-ras biex din il-pjanta u oħrajn invażivi bħala jibqgħu jiġu mħawla u mħallsa bi flus pubbliċi? Din jista’ jweġibha biss min qed jagħmel il-politika f’dan il-qasam. Sadanittant, is-soċjetà, l-ekonomija u l-ekoloġija jħallsu għal din il-politika żbaljata. Id-deċiżjoni li jkun hemm sieħeb privat mal-Gvern, f’dan il-każ l-ELC, mhux idea ħażina. Imma ma jistax ikun hemm operatur bla regolatur iktar u iktar meta l-operatur għandu €7 miljun kull sena għal ħames snin, jingħata l-mixtliet tal-Gvern biex jopera minnhom, jingħata l-makkinarju bħall-bowsers tal-Gvern biex jaħdem bihom u anke ħaddiema li kienu jaħdmu mad-Dipartiment tal-Agrikoltura f’dan il-qasam. F’din is-sħubija hemm riżorsi tajbin, kemm finanzjarji u umani, imma la hemm il-viżjoni u lanqas id-direzzjoni biex l-għan jintlaħaq. Il-Gvern huwa marbut mal-liġijiet lokali u anke b’dawk tal-UE u b’konvenzjonijiet internazzjonali rigward il-ħarsien u l-immaniġġjar tal-biodiversità imma kemm qed ikunu riflessi fix-xogħol li qed isir f’dan il-qasam ta’ tisbiħ tal-pajjiż? Dan narawh iktar ċar meta wieħed jara, fost orajn l-pubblikazzjonijiet uffiċjali tal-MEPA fejn jgħidu liema huma l-ispeċi invażivi li huma ta’ ħsara għall-ekoloġija lokali … fosthom is-Swaba tal-Madonna u l-Pjuma. Imma minkejja dan kollu ara kemm flus pubbliċi għadhom jintefqu fl-importazzjoni ta’ siġar eżotiċi, uħud minnhom invażivi, jew li jġibu magħhom speċi invażi. Ma tara l-ebda sinjal ta’ tkabbir ta’ siġar indiġeni lokali. Mela għala noqgħodu nippubblikaw pjanijiet, strateġiji u miżuri oħra favur l-ambjent meta dawn qed jiġu kompletament injorati? Jekk wieħed iħares lejn l-irdumijiet viċin tal-Blue Grotto jara li magħhom tikber is-Swaba tal-Madonna b’kompetizzjoni għall-pjanti indiġeni, uħud endemiċi, li jikbru hemm. Veru li dawn is-Swaba tal-Madonna kienu qed jikbru hemm qabel ma bdew jitħawlu fit-toroq. Allura nkomplu nżidu l-opportunità għal din il-pjanta biex tkompli tinfirex u tikber f’ambjent naturali mhedded.

Is-Swaba tal-Madonna – pjanta li l-UE tqis li hija fostl-aktar 100 pjanta invaziva. Hawn Malta, flus pubblici jintuzaw biex din tkompli tithawwel fit-toroqf pubblici

Anke l-Pjuma qed tinfirex sewwa u rajtha f’għelieqi, tikber taħt il-bankini fit-toroq, fil-widien u anke fix-xagħri. Min sejjer iħallas biex din tiġi ikkontrollata skont l-obbligi legali tal-pajjiż? Min sejjer jirrispondi għall-ksur tal-liġijiet u l-obbligi internazzjonali li l-pajjiż għandu biex ma jħallix pjanti invażivi jkomplu jinfirxu fl-ambjent naturali?

Il-Pjuma – pjanta invażiva li qed tinferex sewwa b'impatt negattiv soċjali u ambjentali

Kull speċi invażiva hija ħażina għall-ambjent lokali?  Mhux kull pjanta importata hija ta’ theddida għall-ambjent. Erħilha li meta dawn jiġu impurtati, magħhom jdaħħlu wkoll speċi oħra anke jekk magħhom ikollhom iċ-ċertifikat tas-saħħa tal-pjanti. Hekk kellhom is-siġar tal-Palm li magħhom daħal il-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palm. Għalhekk għandu jkun hemm regolatur professjonali biex lill-operatur jgħidlu xi speċi għandu juża fit-tisbiħ tal-pajjiż. Li kieku kien hemm regolatur xjentifiku u professjonali ma kienux jitħallew jiġu impurtati siġar tal-Palm mill-Ewropa u mill-Eġittu meta dawn kienu diġà mifnijin bil-Bumunqar l-Aħmar tal-Palm. Kieku ma kienux jitħallew jiġu mħawla ma’ Malta kollha s-Swaba tal-Madonna u l-Pjumi. Imma jekk wieħed iħares biss lejn il-parti kummerċjali mingħajr ma jagħti każ tal-impatt negattiv soċjali u dak ekoloġiku li dawn jista’ jkollhom allura dak li jiġri. Fl-aħħar mill-aħħar ir-responsabilita hija tal-Gvern imma bħalissa qisu l-Gvern qed jagħti ċekk iffirmat imma vojt u l-ammont jintela minn min jirċievi ċ-ċekk.

Imma fl-ELC ma hemm ħadd li jifhem fil-pjanti u s-siġar?Ma nistax nimmaġina li ma hemmx. Li kieku le, kif ġiet fdata b’din ir-responsabilità f’idejha? Naħseb li hemm min għandu ħafna esperjenza f’dan il-qasam u għalhekk niskanta kif isiru dawn l-affarijiet u jinġiebu pjanti invażi li mhumiex ta’ ġid għas-soċjetà u għall-ambjent ekoloġiku. U għalhekk ukoll ma nistax nifhem kif fil-mixtliet tal-Gvern ma jitkabbrux iktar siġar indiġeni bħal-Luq, il-Ballut, l-Għargħar, id-Deru, is-Safsafa l-Kbira, l-Għanżalor, il-Fraxxnu, il-Ħarrub, iż-Żagħrun, ir-Rummien, il-Lewż u ż-Żnuber. Minbarra li dawn inaqqsu t-theddida ta’ speċi oħra li jġibu magħhom dawk importati – bħal bebbux, pjanti, insetti u rettili – immaniġġjar bħal dan jiffranka ħafna flus milli jmorru barra minn Malta u minflok jintefqu hawn u jservu ta’ ġid għall-ambjent. Imma għidli kemm-il siġra indiġena minn dawn li semmejt tara biex jissebbaħ l-ambjent urban? Fil-passat il-mixtliet tal-Gvern, anke jekk mingħajr r-riżorsi finanzjarji li għandhom illum, kienu jagħmlu kollox u minkejja li kienu wkoll jiżirgħu u jħawlu siġar mhux adattati għal pajjiżna, bħall-Akaċja u l-Ewkalyptus, ma kinux jimpurtaw siġar bħal ma qed isir illum u għalhekk ma kienx ikun hemm periklu li jidħlu speċi barranin. Bil-politika li qed tiġi mħaddma llum, f’dawn l-aħħar snin daħlu ħafna speċi invażivi. Huwa ferm diffiċli li meta tiddaħħal pjanta stabbilita ma ddaħħalx magħha xi speċi oħra anke fil-ħamrija li jkollha. Meta ddaħħlu s-siġar tal-Palm uħud minnhom kienu twal xi żewġ sulari u kważi impossibbli li ma jkunx hemm speċi magħhom. Il-Bumunqar l-Aħmar jgħix l-Asja. Hemm l-ambjent tiegħu. Daħal fl-Eġittu mas-siġar tal-Palm u mill-Eġittu sab ruħu fl-Ewropa mas-siġar tal-Palm li ġew esportati hemm. Fl-Afrika ta’ Fuq dan il-Bumunqar huwa ‘pest’ għax qed jeqred ħafna siġar tat-tamal u kellu impatt negattiv fuq din l-industrija.

Ir-riżultat ta' deċiżjonijiet mhux professjonali – waħda mill 400 siġra tal-palm, maqtula mill-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palm li ddaħħal mas-siġar importati.

Issa xi ħadd f’Malta kellu l-idea “inteliġenti” li jixtri s-siġar mill-Eġittu u anke minn Spanja u Sqallija li kienu impurtawhom mill-Eġittu u sal-lum inqerdu mal-400 palma li wħud minnhom kienu ta’ valur storiku. Sa issa dan il-Bumunqar għadu għaddej joqtol kull siġra tal-Palm li jiltaqa’ magħha u qed jintefqu ammont ta’ flus biex dan jipprova jitwaqqaf. F’Malta daħlet ukoll il-Ħanfusa s-Sewda tat-Tut. Is-siġar tat-Tut u ċ-Ċawsli li kien hemm fil-Fiddien kollha sofrew ħafna minn din il-ħanfusa. Kif ġralhom ħafna f’ġonna privati. Issa siġar tat-Tut m’hawnx ħafna f’pajjiżna u daret fuq is-siġar tat-Tin. Min qed iħallas għal dan? L-impatt qed inħallsuh jien u int. Daħal ukoll il-Farfett tas-Sardinell. Kulħadd jilmenta fuqu. Għandi erba’ qsari tas-Sardinell fit-terazzin biex nistudja dan il-farfett … kull sena joqtolhom. Biex wieħed ikompli jara n-nuqqas ta’ miżuri professjonali qed ikomplu jitħawlu s-Sardinell matul it-toroq biex dan il-farfett ikollu iktar pjanti fuqhiex ibid, jiekol, joktor u jinfirex! Diġà qed jinstab jittajjar fil-widien tagħna fejn għandna pjanta mill-istess familja tas-Sardinell li s’issa għadu ma misshomx. Nispera li issa ma narawx impjegati jbixxu kull Sardinella li jaraw bil-kimika biex joqtlu dan il-farfett! Daħlet ukoll is-susa tat-tadam. Qerdet ħbula wara ħbula ta’ tadam. Daħlet għax l-attivitajiet kummerċjali jieħdu preferenza fuq il-ħarsien soċjali u ekoloġiku. Imma hawn xi ħadd li jimpurtah u jieħu ħsieb li dawn l-affarijiet ma jiġrux?  Għandek ukoll numru kbir ta’ speċi ta’ bebbux tal-art li ddaħħal mal-pjanti impurtati. Sa issa għadu ma jinħasx imma meta jibda jinħass imbagħad naħseb li nibdew naraw kif se jintefqu l-flus biex jiġu ikkontrollati. Illum jitħawlu fjuri bħall-Pensieri, Qronfol Tork, Petunji u Sardinell li wara ftit ġimgħat jispiċċa żmienhom u jinħartu biex jerġgħu jitħawlu oħrajn. Ma nistax ngħid li mhumiex sbieħ imma meta fil-gżejjer tagħna għandna ’l fuq minn 1,000 pjanta selvaġġa kollha adattati għall-klima tagħna, li m’għandhomx bżonn ħafna ilma, allura għaliex ma nużawx dawn u nkunu qed inħarsu aħjar l-ambjent ekoloġiku u fl-istess ħin inħarsu l-ekonomija tal-pajjiż. Din bħall-kwistjoni tal-ilma. L-UE tobbliga li l-ilma tad-drenaġġ ma jistax jintefa l-baħar mhux imsaffi. X’ġara? Investejna f’impjanti biex jittrattaw dan l-ilma imma wara li jiġi msaffi jerġa’ jintrema l-baħar u mbagħad nerġgħu ntella ilma baħar iktar ikkonċentrat biex jerġa’ jissaffa mir-reverse osmosis ħalli jittieħed għax-xorb. L-istess qed jiġri fit-tisbiħ tal-pajjiż bil-pjanti. Jekk dan  immaniġġjar professjonali nixtieq lil xi ħadd jgħidli xi jfisser dilettantiżmu!

Jiġifieri bħala prinċipju taqbel li m’għandhom jidħlu ebda speċi barranin? Le, mhux qed ngħid hekk.  Hemm ftehim internazzjonali, li wkoll jagħmel parti mir-regolamenti tal-UE u li l-prinċipji tiegħu huma nklużi fil-liġijiet lokali, magħruf bħala l-“prinċipju ta’ prekawzjoni” li permess tiegħu jekk se tittieħed xi deċiżjoni u ma jkunx magħruf x’impatt din se tħalli fuq l-ambjent u s-soċjetà allura din m’għandix tittieħed. Nifhem li jekk se ssir triq u hemm siġra jew siġar fin-nofs ma tistax tħallihom hemm. Imma ma jfissirx li mingħajr ma jkun hemm konsultazzjoni, ix-xogħol isir mingħajr l-ebda pjan ta’ immaniġġjar. Jekk hemm proġett ta’ żvilupp suppost li jkun hemm il-permess tal-MEPA. U meta jkun hemm siġar bħal dawn ikun hemm kundizzjonijiet ta’ kif sejrin jinqalgħu, minn sejjer jaqlahom u fejn sejrin jerġgħu jitħawlu. Nuqqas ta’ tagħrif lill-pubbliku joħloq ukoll ċertu suspetti. Is-siġar taż-Żebbuġ li nqalgħu minn ħdejn il-Monument tal-Gwerra fil-Floriana ġew impurtati u mħawla ftit tas-snin ilu. U s-siġar fejn sar it-terminus tal-Arriva fil-Belt ukoll inqalgħu biex minflokhom tħawlu siġar oħra kbar impurtati bi prezz mhux irħis. L-aħħar darba li mort hemm kelli ċans naraw li tnejn minnhom diġà nixfu. Meta nara dawn ir-riżorsi qed jinħlew u kif bihom jista’ jsir ferm iktar ġid ma nistax ma ninkwetax għal din il-‘laisse faire’. Meta wieħed iħares lejn ir-regolamenti tal-2001 dwar il-ħarsien tas-siġar, li kienu jagħtu ħarsien anke lis-siġar li jikbru fl-urban u li kienu ġew ippubblikat bi sħab bejn il-Ministru tal-Ambjent u dak tal-Agrikoltura, u meta wieħed jikkumpara kif dawn ġew emendati fl-2010, fejn ġew ippubblikat mill-Ministeru tal-Ambjent biss u ma fihom l-ebda referenza għall-ħarsien tas-siġar li jikbru fl-urban, allura ma jistax ikun li dan il-‘laisse faire’ ma jinħasx iktar. Mhux talli s-siġar indiġeni ma jintużawx fit-tisbiħ tal-pajjiż imma minħabba n-nuqqas ta’ regolatur uffiċjali numru ta’ siġar rari u mħarsa wkoll qed isofru minn din il-mentalità. Il-Professur John Borg, li darba kien Supretendent tad-Dipartiment tal-Agrikoltura, kien jara li siġar Maltin rari fil-pajjiż kienu jitħawlu jew jinżergħu fil-Ġonna ta’ San Anton. Fosthom kien hemm is-siġra rarissima magħrufa bħala s-Siġra tal-Kuruna, li aktarx hija l-unika waħda li għad baqa’, tikber f’San Anton, li l-aħħar li rajtha ftit ġimgħat ilu ġabuha qisha kurċifiss!

Ix-Xewk tal-Kuruna – l-aħħar siġra Maltija ta' din l-ispeċi rari u mħarsa strettament, li qed tikber fil-Ġonna ta' San Anton. Imbiċċra.

Barra minn hekk numru ta’ Siġar tad-Deru li kien hemm jikbru fuq ġewwa mal-ħajt ta’ dan il-ġnien tqaċċtu mill-qiegħ nett. Żabra li min jagħmel il-politika u huwa responsabbli fl-immaniġġjar tas-siġar imissu jistħi jidher quddiem in-nies. Dan biex ma nsemmiex dak li ġara l-Buskett li huwa sit tan-Natura 2000.

Id-Deru - kien jikber matul il-ħajt tal-ġnien f'San Anton. Imqaċċat mill-qiegħ.

Imma forsi għalhekk ma jeżistix regolatur… biex ħadd ma jkun f’pożizzjoni li jistħi. Huwa faċli li wieħed iwaħħal fil-ħaddiema biex taparsi jkun jidher li ħa passi. Imma l-ħaddiema jagħmlu dak li jgħidulhom. U bla regolatur x’tistenna? L-iktar ħaġa li tweġġgħani li dawn qed isiru bi flus pubbliċi u ħadd ma jidher li huwa responsabbli.

Forsi l-akbar ċertifikat ta' inkompetenza f'dan il-qasam huwa il-mod kif siġar f'Natura 200 tal-EU, il-Buskett, ġie mżeblaħ, anki dan bi flus il-poplu. Darba din kiet siġra rari u mħarsa strettament - is-sigra tal-Fraxxnu.

Sakemm ikollna dan ir-regolatur jiddispjaċini ngħid li s-siġar indiġeni f’pajjiżna m’għandhomx futur sabiħ. Jekk għandhom futur. Jekk ix-xogħol jitmexxa b’għan kummerċjali biss, u mingħajr ma jittieħdu kunsiderazzjonijiet tal-għan soċjali u ekoloġiku, wieħed ma jistax jistenna li s-siġar indiġeni ma jibqgħux sejrin lura u li ma jidħlux iktar speċi invażivi. U waqt li l-profitt kummerċjali jeħduh l-individwi, il-prezz iħallsu l-poplu u l-ambjent ekoloġiku.

Ara x'żabra dik? Certifikat għal dak il-politiku li huwa responsabbli biex dan ma jħallihx isir.

Żabra bla ebda professjonalita, bla kuxjenza u bla mistħija.

Għall-ġid tal-poplu u tal-ambjent! Dan qed ngħidu fuq dak li qalu, li qrajt u li smajt, fuq dak li rajt, u fuq ir-riżultati ta' dan kollu, dejjem bi flus pubbliċi.

NOTA: Ir-ritratti ma jidhrux fl-artiklu oriġinali li deher fl-Orizzont, imma dawn żidthom jien fuq il-blogg u kollha huma ritratti li ħadt jien.


GOVERNMENT POLICY ON TREES!

February 27, 2012

GOVERNMENT POLICY ON TREES!

February 27, 2012

Alfred E. Baldacchino

By now those who love nature and  trees should be aware what the Government Policy. on trees in the Maltese Islands. is. All the established trees are in danger of being hacked to a  pitiful state, whether in urban areas,  in public gardens and protected areas.  I will list some areas and leave readers to add to them: Valletta (Bus terminus), Zebbug (Vjal il-Helsien – certianly not for the trees), It-Tokk Gozo, and the Road leading from Xewkija to Rabat in Gozo; Balzan, Mellieha, Fgura and Luqa. Trees at San Anton Gardens do not escape the massacre either, as those which have been planted by the late internationally renowned  Prof John Borg, who used to plant indigenous trees in this garden,  such as the Sandarac Gum Tree (Sigra tal-Gharghar), the Mastic Tree (Deru) and the rare and only specimen of Christ Thorn (Sigra tal-Kuruna).  The latter two have been butchered and some completely cut down to the ground.

The remains of the indigenous Mastic Tree (Deru) at San Anton Gardens

The strictly protected rare Christ Thorn (Xewk tal- Kuruna) Tree at San Anton Gardens – butchered

Natura 2000 sites, which have been declared for their ecological importance and accepted by the EU, did not escape the massacre either, as the remains of this Ash tree shows.

It had to be a ‘Gakbin’ to stop this Government massace at Buskett – an EU Natura 2000 site.

Now this Government Policy –  towards which 7 million Euros were voted each year for five years, to help with landscaping – plants new established trees from overseas. Amongst others, these  include Palm trees (some had Red Palm Weevil too, remember, although one must admit that they too were  accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate which was supposed to confirm that they were free of disease and other organisms) and other exotic trees – naturally at a price and at a profit, paid from public funds. Such policy also involved the importing and planting of some trees, which after some years  were uprooted (like those near the War memorial in Floriana). Is there somebody who is finding money growing on trees?

Initiative by Moviment Graffiti placing tomb-stones against butchred trees. Any other ideas?

If one follows the history of tree protection inMalta, urban trees were protected and needed a permit from the Department of Agriculture for their uprooting or pruning (LN 12 of 2001).  Not that what is now left of the once glorious Department of Agriculture has ever objected to uprooting or butchering of any tree. And now the trees growing in urban areas are up for grabs: anybody can saw them off, mutilate them , uproot them, kill them, you name it, it can be done without any permit, without any condition, without any guilty feelings. And though the Agriculture Department is responsible for the protection of trees and also for landscaping, it seems that there is no accountability anywhere. Government replaces these trees with imported exotics. Somebody mentioned the 34U campaign! I cannot understand for whom the ‘U’ stands! The majority of the trees being planted, are all imported. But Government has a clean conscience,  like Pontius Pilate, because it says that it is not importing any trees but buys them  from the local market. Intelligent eh! First somebody imports them and then Government buys them and pays for them from public funds! Somebody must be spending a lot of time with primary school children.

Not only are urban trees decimated, but also those in Natura 2000 sites do not escape such policy.  Remember Buskett.  Go and have a look at the pitiful state of this Natura 2000 site. It has to be a ‘Gakbin’ to stop the rape of such a Natura 2000 site and avoid repercussions of such a dilettante’s activities which could have lead to EU repercussions.

But one has also to remember that this Government’s Tree Policy, is in line with the Government environmental pillar (now dead and buried) and also with the political dictum that Government should not be judged by what it says but by what it does.  A look at the massacre of trees shows  a clear picture emerging showing  what Government is doing towards the protection and care of the environment.  Something that Government should have done long ago is to appoint a minister for landscaping, someone who has a vision and understanding, who hears AND listens, someone who is capable to accept the fact that he does not know anything about the subject and accepts advice.  Government should appoint a Minister, who besides the economic aspects of such ‘landscaping’, should also be able to understand the social and ecological negative impacts such activities are having. Government may be hearing but it never listens, as the massacre of trees show.

There have been NGOs and private individuals voicing their concern on such insensitive treatment of trees. It seems that the economic aspect of such massacre is too strong to take in consideration any social and ecological negative impacts. Now it seems that an unofficial Government spokesman has also enlightened the general public that trees move from place to place according to the needs of the day.  I can now understand why there are so many accidents of vehicles colliding with trees: the driver may not be aware that there are  moving rtrees crossing the road! Perhaps the Minister responsible for transport can issue new traffic signs to inform drivers of crossing trees. Pathetic! Trees move from place to pace only when there is no planning, if planning means anything to anybody these days.

I am attaching some photos of the result of such commercial activity undertaken by Government and paid out of public funds. The people and future generations will definitely remember who was responsible for such a waste of resources, such a waste of their money, and such an onslaught and insensitive treatment of the social and ecological environment.  No wonder that the Government is now  saying that it needs to be closer to the people to hear their complaints after the mess some of his ministers have landed him into.

As an addendum with regards to the three photos attached below, wouldn’t it be a good idea to choose one of these,  make a miniature trophy of it, and  present it to  Government, whether present or future, so that it can be ceremoniously given to the Minister whose decisions, ideas, stubbornness and policies have been the most damaging to the environment?  This used to be organised in the past by some NGO, but unfortunately not any more these days!

And if you had to have your choice, which one of the photos would you chose? And to which Minister would you recommend that it should be given?

Take your pick from one of these:

1.    Social and ecological damage through insensitive importation of trees – the work of the Red Palm Weevil

2.   A work of art by the hands of man

3.   A work of art by the Creator, adulterated by crass ignorance of man


The time for the green itch

November 5, 2011

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The time for the green itch

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Every five years or so there is an itch in the air – a political itch – that intensifies at the eleventh hour. The environment is not immune to this five-year itch. In fact, the last environmental itch centred around an environmental pillar. What a noble idea, I thought! But when the itch subsided, the mass media was inundated with criticism regarding official decisions and actions not exactly having the environmental-pillar base.

These included: the discharge of treated sewage water in the sea, declared as having “no economic value”; mismanagement of Natura 2000 sites, declaring part of Dwejra “to be just bare rocks”, building adjacent to a freshwater stream of EU importance; Buskett saved by the skin of its teeth from being turned into a public garden; planting and covering substantial areas with declared invasive imported species, despite international obligations and recommendations by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority; channelling scarce resource of rainwater along roads to the sea; compliance certificates issued to buildings that do not conform to the legal requirements that each should have a cistern of a capacity of at least three cubic metres for every five square metres of the floor surface of each room; over-extraction of the already precarious groundwater; disbanding the National Sustainable Development Commission; opposing an EU proposal for the listing of the bluefin tuna on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species; permitting buildings that make it impossible for neighbours to tap solar energy; negative impact of black dust politically regarded as an alien phenomenon; “cleaning” valleys by bulldozing their ecosystems… Space does not permit me to go on.

The virtual environmental-pillar was knocked out flat by the commercially-driven economic-pillar. It was not strong enough to withstand the official onslaught by those who have a collective responsibility to defend it. The environmental pillar is now dead and buried under commercially-driven decisions, perhaps at Wied il-Qasab Nadur cemetery.

Now it is time for a new itch: the green itch time. A draft National Environment Policy has been published for public consultation. What a noble idea, I think! The draft in hand encompasses legal international environmental concepts and principles, the great majority of which are already transposed in national legislation. These are juxtaposed in a colourful mosaic but, unfortunately, like all mosaics, hairline cracks abound, which, with some political acumen, can easily develop into loopholes. Some are already evident.

Such an essential document does not even have definitions of important concepts like “sustainable development”, “environment” or “precautionary principle”. International environmental legal obligations all have such definitions but do the political players have the same definitions in mind?

Some important concepts have also been mishandled. Can an environment policy disregard biodiversity as a resource? I cannot image that such omission is meant to cover the government’s stand against the listing of the bluefin tuna, an endangered international natural resource! The draft NEP lists a number of measures, all of which can definitely contribute to the sustainable use of the environment, though one comment betrays an inferiority complex.

Besides, a number of measures cannot be implemented within this legislature. Considering that some could be sitting on different seats, not necessarily of a different colour, following a musical chairs festival, one cannot exclude the possibility that such a policy will not necessarily be handled with care. The more so when some colleagues in the corridors of power do ignore national environment legislation, published over the signature of the Prime Minister himself. And the competent authority responsible for environment legislation habitually stands and stares, licking its wounds and cursing its impotency to take action.

I do, however, admire the tenacity and drive of Environment Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco but I cannot help feel that he is a lonely voice in a political wilderness, abandoned even by his environmental watchdog. A few days ago, another colourful environment document metamorphosed. This spelled guidelines for controlling alien species. A much-needed effort, though it retrospectively tackles negative economic, social and ecological impacts of introduced alien species and does not address the cause. They seem more like guidelines on how to control horses that have bolted after housing them in stables without doors.

This is why I have become very allergic to nicely-coloured printed documents that undoubtedly are attractive to the illiterate. Could be because I have not yet recovered from the decision to disband the National Sustainable Development Commission, flavoured by the now popular political dictum that one should not be judged by what one says but by what one does. These do not help at all to dispel any of my fears.

The eleventh hour is nigh. When the clock strikes one, will the environment policy slowly, silently, diplomatically, slide down in repose on the shelves of history, like the National Sustainable Development Commission did after all? National environmental legislation has been brushed aside; an environmental-pillar has been laid to rest; why not a policy? I am wishing, hoping and praying that I am wrong but I fear that Greenwich time will prove me right.