Environment hit by EU funds

July 27, 2019

Saturday, 27th July, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

On July 18, the Planning Authority approved the Attard Central Link Project for which the EU is going to contribute €55 million.

There were a lot of questions and doubts on this project which everybody hoped a meeting would iron out. Not only were these not answered but even more doubts were cast.

The meeting was opened by the Infrastructure Malta CEO, Engineer Fredrick Azzopardi, representing the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure. He tried to convince those present that this Central Link project has many benefits. Stakeholders subsequently expressed more doubts and asked more questions, confirming the lack of public consultations.

Here is a résumé of the questions:

Those present for the meeting asked how such a project would be beneficial for full-time or part-time farmers, and those involved in animal husbandry.

There were also questions about the loss of 22,000 square metres of agricultural land and the subsequent loss of jobs due to this land being destroyed.

There were concerns about the fruit and crops in the area since these would be covered with additional emissions that would disperse across the adjacent fields.

The biodiversity of the area was also a point of concern seeing as this was facing the destruction of more than 550 trees, many of which are protected, and the loss of their contribution to climate change and the ecological niches of which they form part.

Questions were asked about the hydrological system feeding Wied is-Sewda, along with the farmers’ cisterns and the disruption of natural water flow destroyed by the project (which was unbelievably referred to as “flood water”).

Not to mention the concerns about the psychological and physical health of residents in the vicinity and beyond Attard, including those residing in Siġġiewi and Qormi, given the increase in noise pollution and toxic chemicals that the project is sure to cause.

There was also the question about the cultural heritage of the area and the number of historical constructions that would be threatened, some dating back to the times of the Knights of Malta.

Will the towers being built close to the Malta Financial Services Authority, nonchalantly approved by the lack-of-vision, commercially minded PA – definitely be­yond the carrying capacity of the area – be the main beneficiaries of the public land being taken up and the EU funds being spent?

None of the social and environmental elements mentioned above is going to bene­fit from this EU-funded project.

None of the questions were answered by the CEO of Infrastructure Malta. None of the concerns put forward were even addressed. The Environment Im­pact Assessment presented gave a very superficial indication of the project’s negative impacts.

The chairman of the Environment and Resources Authority, as silent as a grave, in a later interview in the press (July 19) was quoted as saying that “he had nothing to add” because none of the comments raised by stakeholders during the meeting changed anything from the ERA’s report.

He called most interventions against the project “emotional”! He also justified the project “on the basis of national interest”.

In yet another section of the press (July 19), Environment Minister José Herrera said that “the authority (ERA) would be vigilant and in a consistent way, [fulfil] its duties to offer the greatest elements of protection to our natural capital, and this with the means and parameters established by law”.

This trophy was first awarded to MEPA in 2015. Despite the fact that the year 2019 is not yet out, this has been awarded to the Planning Authority and the Infrastructure Malta for the environmental devastation that they are involved in.

 

So long as there are EU funds, then they have to be spent irrespective of the foreseen environmental destruction

The Infrastructure Malta CEO said that this project, according to his economist’s report, will “give back” €16 savings for every €1 spent without even saying how. His economist did not refer to any externalities or the hidden costs that would be borne by the public and the environment. No wonder all the above questions asked were ignored by the CEO.

With regard to the uprooting of trees, he told the press, with hand on heart, “they are using the ERA compensation system of planting trees for those uprooted”, and that the “trees to be planted as compensation will have to be at least three metres tall”. This implies they will all be imported irrespective of the possible dangers of diseases and other invasive species they may bring with them, contrary to EU recommendations as administered by ERA.

Farmers were up in arms when they heard the Infrastructure Malta CEO say that they had been consulted, and could not keep from emphasising that this was a blatant lie.

This is how decisions are taken in Malta – a final late meeting on decision day without the stakeholders being properly consulted, despite this being a requirement whenever EU funds are involved.

All stakeholders and the public have to be involved and consulted so that they are part of the decision rather than just being informed of the decision after it has been taken. Consultation does not mean planting political individuals amidst the public and stakeholders and having them clap every time their minister’s wishes are supported.

The bottleneck at the roundabout beneath Saqqajja Hill will not only remain as it is but will become worse because of the heavier and faster volume of traffic that will be introduced, as advertised by the Ministry’s billboard in Attard.

How on earth can one imagine that the bulk of this traffic has to make its way up Saqqajja Hill where there are only two carriageways? No explanation whatsoever was given by the Infrastructure engineer.

Unbelievably, the EU is dishing out €55 million to the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure for this particular project, while stakeholders and the public have to depend on voluntary contributions to protect the country from environmental and social destruction.

If there were no EU funds, there would not be such useless environmental destruction taking place. The impression one gets is that, so long as there are EU funds, then they have to be spent irrespective of the foreseen environmental destruction.

ERA, the competent authority recognised by the EU for the protection of the environment, gave its endorsement of this environmental destruction because most of the questions asked, according to the ERA chairman, were “emotional”.

On its website, the ERA says that it is committed “to safeguard the environment for a sustainable quality of life”. There was no confirmation of this whatsoever from the ERA chairman during the meeting, which took place on a very black Thursday for the Maltese environment, with the blessing of ERA.

Can anybody with a real national, social and environmental conscience, and without any political influence, be blamed for losing all confidence in ERA?

aebaldacchino@gmail.com 


Yet another toothless dog

August 26, 2016

times of malta

Yet another toothless dog

Friday. August 26, 2016

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The way in which the new Planning Authority handled the applications for high rise buildings is a harbinger of things to come with regard to the complete destruction of these islands socially, environmentally and economically. Without any policy on the matter, without any public consultations, without any respect for anything or anyone but with urgency to please the selected few while the sun shines, the PA decided to approve the applications with absolutely no sign of professionality at all.

The fact that the new Environment and Resources Authority was absent from such an important decision is also very worrying.

A new era seems to be dawning on the environment, which, we have been told, ” … will be given the priority it deserves…”

The ERA chairman was indisposed and sent an explanatory letter. If I were the ERA chairman and I were sick, I would have crawled to the meeting, if only to make my presence felt. It would have been important to vote and make ERA’s position known. If medical reasons did not allow me to crawl, I would have sent a letter to the PA chairman stressing the need for it to be read before the vote was taken and highlighting ERA’s vote.

I would also have entrusted one of the ERA board members with the task to substantiate ERA’s official position. I would certainly not have sent the letter to a PA board member to use as he deems fit.

Such unprofessional behaviour simply shows that the government’s intentions to split Mepa into two authorities was just a sham. It wanted to make things easier for the selected few, weakening national and EU environmental obligations and responsibilities, giving a blank cheque to development applications having a hidden political blessing.

This was evident when the environment protection directorate was kept in limbo by Mepa when they were supposed to be in the same bed. Unconcerned, Mepa presented the Parliamentary standing committee on the environment with an impact assessment on Żonqor Point, confirming that the directorate was not consulted and drafters of the assessment had to remain anonymous.

The Environment and
Resources Authority, still so
young, has signed its own
death warrant

 

The new ERA, the promised champion of the environment, failed at its first hurdle. ERA, still so young, has signed its own death warrant through its impotency. The subsequent news that the ERA chairman described the EIA of the Sliema skyscraper as a “sham” confirms that ERA is another toothless authority.

I am indeed sorry for the ERA chairman. I had high hopes and honestly believed he would go far towards the protection of our environment – the basis of life as professionally he fully well knows.

The Sliema parish priests and the Church Environment Commission were constrained to voice their concerns. One cannot run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. The leadership of the Church is emerging to be a solid promoter of the social and environmental responsibilities in the country, in line with Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’. Yet, it is already being hounded by the square-circled political mentality.

Considering the local conditions, the high rises approved and others being proposed are anti-social, anti-environmental and anti-economical. Unfortunately, the powers that be, despite claiming they hail from the socialist camp, are dead set to accommodate the selected few at the expense of the exploited many, who sooner rather than later will have to pay through their noses, financially, socially and environmentally.

Such an official blinded vision is an extreme capitalist mentality rather than a moderate socialist commitment. But this is of no concern to those involved in these decisions. Greed, materialism and the exploitation of everything, at everyone’s expense, seem to be the order of the day.

As a past chairman of the Church Environment Commission once wrote: ” … Mepa, which should be our national watchdog on environmental protection and good management, has been turned into an old toothless dog often receiving merciless battering from all directions, including from the authorities, the public at large, NGOs and also from environmental speculators. And, let us all be aware, this state of affairs mostly satisfies the hidden agenda of the latter!”

He had also said: “What we need is a national watchdog called MEA: the Malta Environment Autlority. This should be able to act as a strong regulatory body in environmental matters, with all the required resources, including a well-trained and motivated staff. And, as a national watchdog, it should be able to act independently of all other govemment entities and authorities. Our MEA should play second fiddle to none” (Times of Malta, January 1, 2010).

Bold and noble words indeed when said with conviction.

cartoonThe old toothless dog is still running the show. And it is not only the old toothless dog that is still receiving such criticism. It has now been joined by a seemingly toothlless ERA.

One has to be aware that scientific decisions are arrived at in a very, very different way from political decisions. “And let us all be aware, this state of affairs mostly satisfies the hidden agenda of the latter”.

Who has let down whom?

Alfled Baldacchino served as assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com