Fake rubble walls ‘are illegal’

September 16, 2019

Monday, 16th September 2019

Ivan Camilleri

 

When is a rubble wall not a rubble wall? Structures put up along the Tal-Balal road. Photos: Chris Sant Fournierħ

The “fake” rubble walls being built along arterial roads, sometimes in place of traditional ones, are illegal, according to a former director of the planning authority.

“A look at the ‘rubble walls’ which Infrastructure Malta is building, some replacing protected old ones, reveals that they are just dummy, fake walls,” said Alfred Baldacchino.

He was asked for his opinion following an inspection of the walls by Times of Malta.

The faux rubble walls are made up of an aesthetic façade of local stone cladding set against large ‘franka’ blocks. This does not conform to regulations on how rubble walls – which are protected by law – should be constructed, he said, calling for an investigation.

Kilometres of ‘fake’ rubble walls are being built along newly constructed major roads – proof, said Mr Baldacchino, that “the government does not give a hoot about protecting the island’s heritage”.

A case in point is some 2.5 kilometres of what, according to Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg, were new “rubble” walls built along the perimeter of the road connecting San Ġwann to Naxxar, better known as Tal-Balal.

Plans submitted by Infrastructure Malta for the Tal-Balal road widening project described the new walls as rubble walls and not cladded walls.

However, a quick inspection shows them to be constructed of a superficial cladding made up of old and new stone set on large blocks of limestone.

Not only would this appear to fall foul of laws protecting Malta’s traditional rubble walls but they also present an environmental eyesore. Large tracts of wall are exposed at the back – left without cladding – jarring with the rural setting they are supposed to protect.

“To add insult to injury,” said Mr Baldacchino, “the walls are covered in concrete topping, which is also against the regulations, preventing the free percolation of rainwater through the structure.”

A senior government official who works with the government’s Valley Management section at the Transport Ministry told Times of Malta that the ministry had received warnings about the damage that was being done.

Warnings about damage that was being done

However, the road contractors appear to have been given the green light despite these warnings, said the source, who wanted to remain anonymous.

Times of Malta has been seeking the position of the Planning Authority on the matter for nearly a month, sending precise details of the roads and walls in question.

However, despite being the authority responsible for the protection of rubble walls, it has failed to reply to questions, one being whether the Tal-Balal rubble walls are in line with the relevant legal notice. Neither were replies to questions received from the Environment and Resources Authority, which is responsible for the protection of the environment.

A spokeswoman for the ERA initially said it was looking into the case but later passed the buck to the PA. “It is the Planning Authority which is the competent authority for implementing and enforcing this legislation,” she said.

Cladded walls cost significantly less to build than true rubble walls.

Infrastructure Malta was asked which it was being billed by the road contractors for, but it too failed to reply to questions.

Mr Baldacchino was scathing: “The roads agency and the ministry seem to think that they are exempt from local legislation. The problem is that besides the destruction of the environment, these roads are also financed by EU money.

“This should be investigated,” he said. Infrastructure Malta was already in hot water over the Tal-Balal Tal-Balal project when it started to build sections of the road without applying for a permit.

 

This concrete is against the regulations, preventing water drainage through rubble walls.

What does the law say?

The legal notice entitled ‘Rubble Walls and Rural Structures’, last amended in 2007, declared rubble walls and non-habitable rural structures to be protected.

This was 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 soil and water.

According to these rules, a rubble wall means a dry-stone wall, built in loose unhewn or rough-dressed stones which stands by gravity and friction without the use of mortar.

The Planning Authority is declared in the law as the competent authority responsible for the administration and implementation of these regulations.

The relevent regulation regrding rubble walls can be accessed through this link:

http://www.justiceservices.gov.mt/DownloadDocument.aspx?app=lom&itemid=11490&l=1

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com 

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Environment Landscaping Conundrum

September 10, 2019

The environment landscaping problem

Tuesday, 10 September, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

 

One of the environmental legacies from such ‘landscaping’ “secret contract” – the ubiquitous invasive fountain grass.

According to the National Audit Office (NAO) report of September 2017, “landscaping maintenance through a Public-Private Partnership” was a matter for which an agreement was entered into on October 31, 2002 between the government (Ministry of Finance) and the Environment Landscaping Consortium (ELC) “for managing government resources, which were made at its disposal to deliver the landscaping projects in accordance with the terms and conditions stipulated in the agreement.”

This agreement “was not derived through competitive tendering procedures” but awarded “through direct negotiations with ELC following a call for an expression of interest.”

The government further opted to extend this contract twice, namely in 2007 and 2012 through two direct orders which “also deviate from the spirit of competition promoted by the Public Procurement Regulations where it is stipulated that material contacts are to be subject to a European Union wide call for tenders”.

According to the NAO, “the contractual rates negotiated are not favourable to the government” because of such procedures.

This contract expires at the end of 2019, having to date received from the government approximately €8 million per year (that is, €136 million in total).

The NAO report goes into detail about the contractual deficiencies of this agreement. Amongst these, the report outlined how the parties’ documents did not reconcile on various aspects of service delivery. It noted that the Project Management Committee was non-functioning and that there was non-receipt of a number of reports, particularly the quarterly management accounts, which “constitutes a contractual breach”.

The report noted the use of pesticides at Buskett Gardens’ orchards despite the restrictions within an EU Natura 2000 site, and also how documentation relating to a detailed survey of the sites could not be traced by the Planning Authority and the Environment and Resources Authority.

The NAO also outlined how work was carried out without any authorisation and that work on four projects, which had to be completed by 2017 and which were to be carried out by the contractor at no additional cost to the government, had not yet commenced.

There was mention of how the government had not kept abreast on the status of the contractual clause needing to be fulfilled whereby the government had agreed to finance an in-house training course for students following horticulture studies at MCAST. There was also mention of the government’s lack of knowledge of the contractor’s financial input, which was not conducive to a balanced partnership.

The report noted how the contract rates higher than other landscaping agreements signed by governmental entities and that the operational and financial information gaps were not appropriately safeguarding the government’s position as a partner within this agreement. It went on to note: “The contractor’s non-compliance remains evident on a number of issues.

In some cases, deviations from contractual clauses that date back to 2002 impact negatively on the government’s direct and broader interests.”

Bad planning, wrong use and waste of scarce water resources.                    Photo A E Baldacchino 2011.07.01.

The NAO report refers only to the financial and commercial aspects of this PPP contract. The national and EU obligations with regards to biodiversity are not entered into.

A copy of this public agreement was requested on June 23, 2015. This request was vehemently refused by the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure, as was the subsequent appeal dated August 13, 2015.A request was filed with the Information and Data Protection Commissioner on August 19, 2015. The Commissioner’s decision of January 19, 2016 considered “that the public interest is better served by providing the applicant with a copy of the requested document” and “that there are no impediments to release a copy of the agreement.”

 

I cannot help but wonder whether there is any hidden political hand in this environment landscaping conundrum

 

The Commissioner’s decision went on to say that, hence, “in the spirit of transparency and accountability as contemplated by the Act, the MTI [Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure] is instructed to accede to Mr Baldacchino’s request by not later than twenty-five (25) working days from the receipt of this decision”.

Following this ruling, an appeal was lodged by the said Ministry to the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal.

The Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal (14.09.2107) waived the appeal made by the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure, confirming the Commissioner of Information and Data Protection ruling (19.01.2016), and ordered that a copy of the agreement signed between the government and ELC on October 31, 2002 should be given to the applicant.

The Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal in its ruling (27/2016) concluded, amongst other things, that “in the said agreement, there is no information of a commercial nature that cannot be made public and that in terms of article 35(2) of the said Act, it is in the public interest that such an agreement be made public.”

The Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure was unhappy with this ruling. An email from the Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government in October 2017 subsequently explained: “The Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure had appealed the Tribunal’s decision and filed a court case (45/2017) against the Commissioner for Information and Data Protection, before the first hall of the Civil Court”, arguing that the decision of the Commissioner for the Protection of Data should be declared “null and void”.

maintenance of public gardens –  pruning agony.

Judgement had to be reached by December 2017, but the sitting has been postponed and postponed again. The decision is still pending.

Considering the Freedom of Information Act (Chap. 496 of the Laws of Malta) and considering that, as a member of the European Union and also a signatory to the Aarhus Convention (Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters), one would have thought that such a matter would have been solved within weeks. But after four years from the initial request for a copy of this agreement, such a contract is still not publicly available.

One would have thought that the ELC – the government’s private partner – would be proud to inform everyone how they utilised the €136 million from public funds in relation to their contractual obligations.

The NAO’s report (page 55) concludes: “Contractual non-compliance prevailed in the face of government’s limited enforcement action. In such circumstances, the government’s position shifted from one where action could be initiated to dissolve this PPP Agreement, to one where prolonged weak enforcement implied tacit consent”.

 

The Fountain grass will long be remembered after the demise of the ELC.  It will be up top the social, financial and ecological expenses to control and manage such an EU listed invasive species used in local ‘landscaping’.

The Ministry for Finance has opted for the second position and continued to vote €8 million per annum. What will be the stand taken by the Ministry of Finance vis-à-vis the coming budget with regards to this ‘secret agreement’? Hopefully the Ministry for the Environment, who is now responsible for this ‘secret contract’, will put its foot down.

I cannot help but wonder whether there is any hidden political hand in this environment landscaping conundrum.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

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“For our trees”

July 30, 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Sunday, 28th July 2019, saw a strong determined crowd (2000 +/-) show their disappointment, disagreement and anger towards the recently approved Attard Central Link Project, a projects funded by EU funds.

Individuals from all levels of primary, secondary and tertiary education, young and old, from all walks of life, attended for this symbolic protest, expressing their concerns about the destruction of trees and other biodiversity, and other negative impacts this project will be having on the social, environmental and ecological fabric of the area, with far reaching consequences.

Some tied themselves to the trees adorning the Rabat Road, trees which are not necessarily earmarked for destruction, but nonetheless representing the 500+ trees officially granted a permit by ERA to be removed, transplanted or destroyed.

Congratulations for the 19-year-old Sasha Vella and friends, who organised such activity, despite “pitiful attempts by partisan forces” to undermine their work. It was indeed encouraging to see so many youths and others so concerned about our environment. No wonder Sasha Vella was over-whelmed by the response.

Congratulations also to all those who turned up to encourage and support such a voice for the environment.

The following are some of the posters and messages which were used for this activity for our trees. It definitely show that there is a voice, getting stronger, which is being professionally, sincerely, without any political influence, used to show the stand being taken for our environment in the national interest.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

related article:

Environment hit by EU funds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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 


Where have all the butterflies gone?

July 21, 2019

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Landscaping works contributing to further biodiversity loss

Jessica Arena

 

A few decades ago, butterflies of every shape and colour would take off in swarms as you walked under carob trees. Nowadays, the decline of butterflies is occurring at such a high rate that when naturalists spot a particularly uncommon species, they do not disclose its location; to protect the insects from harm.

While migratory butterflies can still be spotted with some frequency, local butterflies have all but disappeared from view. Landscaping works being carried out without consideration for local fauna and flora are having a devastating effect of the state of Maltese biodiversity, according to experts.

Jake Farrugia, an earth systems student and amateur lepidopterist, recounts how just earlier this month, while collecting fennel for his own larvae, he spotted a large number of swallowtail butterfly larvae nestled in the fennel bushes. Returning to the site a few days later, Mr Farrugia says that during landscaping works in Triq il-Buskett, Rabat, the native fennel bushes on the side of the road were all removed, taking the butterfly larvae with them.

“Plants growing under country walls and other walls are essential in providing micro habitats for all sorts of flora and fauna,” Mr Farrugia says.

“A butterfly looking to deposit eggs, such as the swallowtail, would have gladly chosen this spot since it is sheltered from the sun and wind as well as potential predators.”

The removal of fennel bushes and other local flora constitutes as habitat loss… We are shooting ourselves in the foot,” Mr Farrugia says, adding that the desire to ’embellish’ public spaces is not allowing nature to adapt .

Alfred Baldacchino, an environmentalist and former assistant director at the Mepa Environmental Directorate, describes the conservation of biodiversity as pitiful.                   ,

“Despite the fact that the Environment and Resources Authority is responsible for biodiversity protection and conservation through the enforcement of EU legislation, they  are incompetent, ignorant of the situation and failing to take any proactive measures,” Mr Baldacchino says.

Biodiversity loss can be attributed to an intersecting number of external situations, the most pressing of which, according to Mr Baldacchino, is climate change. Rapid changes in temperature, the use of fossil fuels and pesticides are compounded upon flora and fauna, giving the environment very little time to adjust.

“ERA is incompetent and ignorant of the situation”

“This year alone we have seen temperatures in France soar to 45’C, several fires in Europe, the destruction of Miżieb,” says Mr Baldacchino.

“There is a complete lack of interest, lack of tangible effort, lack of any help at all from the Ministry responsible for climate change and the environment.”

According to Mr Baldacchino, the ERA and Ambjent Malta are not doing enough to mitigate  the   effects  of   climate change and prevent further biodiversity loss through adequate conservation plans.

“Mizieb is a case in point,” he says,”first there’s a disaster and afterwards we run a study about how it could have been prevented.”

When it comes to landscaping, Mr Baldacchino says the authorities and entities concerned demonstrate a pattern of disinterest and wilful ignorance with respect the havoc being wreaked on native flora.

“The Environmental Landscapes Consortium is the worst enemy of biodiversity,” Mr Baldacchino says. “Their only interest is.monetary profit. Despite the fact that they have been paid €8 million a year for the past 15 years from public funds, all they have to show for it is the destruction of biodiversity, use of chemicals and water-thirsty turfs which compete with local flora.”

There is a public perception of biodiversity that regards the majority of wayside flora as ‘ħaxix ħażin’ (weeds) and that its removal causes only superficial damage. This position is something Mr Baldacchino calls “professional ignorance” as even school children are taught that flora is an integral part of the ecosystem.

Wayside flora are unique ecological niches and  often serve as breeding grounds for insects and other fauna, as well as being highly attractive to pollinators, such as bees and even butterflies.

The careless removal of these niches could spell doom not just for our butterflies but for the long term health of the environment itself, Mr Baldacchino stresses.

“When ELC act like they derive pleasure from removing every blade of grass that grows, we only have a recipe for disaster.”

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 


Dwejra: Tribunal dazzled by delight

July 8, 2019

 

Monday, 8th July 2019

Alfred Baldacchino

A recent decision by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has overturned a Planning Authority decision, ordering it to approve a permit for the extension of a restaurant, the installation of light and increasing the number of tables and chairs in an EU Natura 2000 site in Dwejra.

Without any doubt, this throws a lot of light on the official political disrespect, disinterest, exploitation and disregard for the environment as well as national and international legislation.

Dwejra is a Special Protection Area and a Special Area of Conservation with regard to biodiversity, in line with the Birds and Habitat Directives. It is part of the EU Natura 2000 network because of its importance to the EU.

The Malta Environment and Resources Authority is the responsible competent authority recognised by the EU. Competent national authorities are those entitled to give authorisation or consent to a plan or project in Natura 2000 sites.

 

Dwejra is the best remaining site on the islands for astronomical observations. Photo provided by the Physics Department and the Institute for Astronomy and Space Sciences

Dwejra is also designated as a ‘dark sky heritage area’ in the Gozo and Comino Local Plan.

Article 6 of the EU Habitat Directive can be regarded as a key framework for giving effect to the principle of integration with regard to the management of the protected areas in a sustainable way and sets the limits of activities that can impact negatively on protected areas.

In an international context, Article 6 also helps to achieve the aims of relevant international nature conservation conventions such as the Berne Convention and the Biodiversity Convention (Malta is a party to both), while at the same time creating a more detailed framework for site conservation and protection than these conventions themselves do.

Where assessment is required by Article 6 (3) it takes the form of an assessment under Directive 85/337/EEC (on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment), where public consultation is necessary.

In this context, it is worth mentioning the possible longer-term implications of the Aarhus Convention, which emphasises the importance of public consultation in relation to environmental decision-making.

According to Habitat Directive’s article 6 (2) “any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives”.

The Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has completely undermined Malta’s obligations at EU level

“In the light of the conclusions of the assessment of the implications for the site and subject to the provisions of the Habitat Directive (para 4), the competent national authorities shall agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and, if appropriate, after having obtained the opinion of the general public.”

An EU Commission publication dated 2000, Managing Natura 2000 Sites – The provisions of Article 6 of the Habitats Directive 92/43/CEE, explains that “member states shall take appropriate steps to avoid, in the special areas of conservation, (like Dwejra) the deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of species as well as disturbances of the species for which the areas have been designated, in so far as such disturbance could be significant in relation to the objectives of this directive”.

The article also states that “member states shall take appropriate steps to avoid, in the special areas of conservation, the deterioration… as well as disturbances…” of species and habitats for which the sites have been designated and should also be implemented if necessary outside the sites. (Article 6 (2)).

Disturbances include, among others, noise and source of light.

The intensity, duration and frequency of repetition of disturbance are, therefore, important parameters and can be regarded as a significant disturbance.

Even a plan or project that includes conservation management among its objectives may still require assessment.

Although the management plan for Dwejra has long been drawn up with the help of EU funds, and approved by the EU, it is still gathering dust on the ministry’s bookshelf.

There is still no administrative set-up for its implementation, enforcement, management, administration, education and no stakeholders are involved, as obliged by the management plan.

The Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has completely undermined Malta’s obligations at EU level. Can the ERA contest such a decision in court, especially when the Minister for the Environment has publicly stated that he does not agree with this permit? If not, does this decision mean the ERA is impotent as a competent authority responsible for EU obligations when confronted by such a tribunal?

Do the citizens have to refer the matter to the EU to achieve what the ERA should be on the front line defending on their behalf?

This is definitely another decision reached by hand-picked political academics,whose short-sighted decision embarrassed Malta with regard to its international obligations.

If such a tribunal is independent, then the responsibility has to be carried by those people involved in such a decision and who have completely ignored and defied the decision made by two national competent authorities and also the public with great political and environmental consequences.

It is high time the EU DG Environment investigates how Natura 2000 sites in Malta are being brought to disrepute.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com

Alfred Baldacchino is a former assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

related articles:

Dwejra: Gone with the wind

A window pain for sure

Sifting solidified sand at Dwejra

 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com


Overshoot-and-collapse

October 16, 2018

Tuesday, 16 October, 2018

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Local mass media daily carry news of an alarming increase in traffic accidents, some with loss of life; injuries and deaths in the neck-breaking rush of the construction industry; the alarming increase in criminal activities, some leading to manslaughter and even murder; already seven in less than nine months.

Not necessarily hitting the headlines are the number of physical and psychological impacts on both the old and young population, especially children.

“A new government will put the environmental health as a focal point in the decisions taken,” said one of the government’s last two electoral manifestos. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Unless the socio-ecological fabric of our country walks hand in hand with the economic factor, the former will have to pay externalities – the hidden costs – of short-sighted commercial decisions. The latter are putting the carrying capacity of our country under heavy pressure.

The overshooting of the carrying capacity was emphatically stressed by a pro-rector at the University, jokingly or not, saying that the government should consider buying Pantalleria.

Any sociologist qualified in population dynamics and population ecology can easily expound on the naturally occurring negative impacts of an over-populated affluent society, now rumoured to double.

The carrying capacity of a country is the number of people, animals or crops, which a region can support without environmental (social and ecological) degradation. When population exceeds the long-term carrying capacity of its environment, it leads to an ‘overshoot’. The environment usually has mechanisms in place to prevent such overshoot – often referred to as ‘overshoot-and-collapse’.

A country’s biocapacity deficit increases as either its population or its per capita consumption grows: faster if both grow. Decline is then faster than growth leading to social and ecological dysfunction.

The biocapacity or biological capacity of an ecosystem is an estimate of its production of certain biological materials, such as natural resources, and its absorption and filtering of other materials such as carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When the ecological footprint of a population exceeds the biocapacity of the environment it lives in, this can be called an ‘ecological overshoot’.

I tend to believe that this is not the government’s intention, though I am afraid I cannot see any official measures in place to prevent this – not even from the handpicked Planning Authority or the Environment and Resources Authority. It would be a great injustice to our younger and future generations if they find themselves in this cul de sac.

The accelerating mismanagement of the socio-ecological fabric is contributing to such overshoot-and-collapse. This can be gathered from the decimation, with official consent, of biodiversity: land, ecosystem, air and water resources. The lack of enforcement of the national and international obligations, including those of the EU, make it seem as if these, as well as official authorities referred to, exist only on paper.

Past promised commitments as outlined in the government’s last two electoral manifestos led one to hope for a better future through good governance in the light of such principles; but it gives me great heartaches when I remember such signed commitments. Allow me to quote some:

“Social justice also means environmental justice. It means clean air. It means that everybody has a right to live without fear in our country and feel safe. Social justice means the creation of a society which thinks about everybody. These are the foundation of what we believe in” (forward to Labour Electoral Manifesto 2017).

“Environmental protection will be given priority and weight in all major Government decisions” (page 117).

“Protection of outside development zones will be strengthened. A new government led by Joseph Muscat will be committed that no major public project will be constructed in ODZ” (page 117).

“We believe that Malta should be in the front line in environmental standards. Not because of the obligations of European directives, but because this is what our children deserve” (2013, page 93).

“A new government will take more seriously and with greater commitment environmental matters. We are going to work with determination so that the lost time will be regained, aware that there are difficult decisions to be taken, among which is the reform of Mepa, from its roots. We are going to take this measure in the environmental interest of our country so that we will be in a better position to address the challenges” (2013, page 93).

“A better environment leads to better health. A new government will put the environmental health as a focal point in the decisions taken. Our aim is that we will make our country one of the best in air quality; water conservation; waste management; drainage treatment; and other related fields. Therefore, a new government commits itself to better considerably these fields, to ensure a better environmental heritage to our children” (2013, page 96).

“We will focus with more professionality on the protection of biodiversity and natural species in our country, while we will ensure honouring all the obligations of our country for the protection of biodiversity” (2013, page 100).

“A new government acknowledges and recognises the professional work and the professionals in the environmental field. Therefore, we will create a structure which recognises and better leads the professions in this field, while encouraging more professional specialisation (2013, page 101).

“Environment will be given the priority it deserves and this will be incorporated with that of the present Resource Authority and so establish the Environment and Resource Authority, which will be more proactive and strategic and which will focus more specifically on the conservation, protection of the environment and resources, while also assuming the important role of an environmental regulator which presently our country does not have” (2013, page 94).

Past promised commitments as outlined in the government’s last two electoral manifestos led one to hope for a better future

These are all commendable, noble commitments, with which I fully agree. I have been working for the best part of my life towards such aims, because I love my country, its people and its environment. So, I feel it is my obligation and my responsibility to say that the way official decisions are presently being taken and implemented are diametrically opposite to such commitments – commitments which our country not only deserves, but also demands. The government is responsible to implement such commitments. Unfortunately, I cannot see any, not even in their embryonic stage.

I also remember a circular e-mail (February 20, 2013) titled “Your priorities are our priorities” from Joseph Muscat, now Prime Minister, confirming that: “I will be personally accountable for delivery.”

Regrettably, with hindsight, I would not be surprised if I am laughed off, or told that these are now past the best-before date.

The people of Malta, irrespective of their political beliefs, deserve to feel confident of a better, safer, peaceful, healthier, common future, living in a healthy environment, as after all has been officially promised.

Science never lies. So would I be expecting too much if I say that I am eagerly looking forward to immediate action, in the interest of the young and future generation, who have lent this country to us? I am sure that anybody with a genuine socialist background not only would agree with these principles and commitments, but would also take immediate measures to implement them. Not so if one is blinded by the capitalist system. Unless of course, I am corrected again.

“The choices we make about the lives we live determine the kinds of legacies we leave,”  said Tavis Smiley, the American talk-show host, author, political commentator, entrepreneur, advocate and philanthropist.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com