The environmental destruction of Malta

November 19, 2019

Tuesday, 19th November 2019

The environmental destruction of Malta

Alfred E. Baldacchino

How to destroy a valley with EU funds.

The recent destruction at Wied Qirda by Infrastructure Malta is no surprise at all. Environment destruction has become synonymous with the agency in the ministry of Ian Borg.

This long wave of destruction is endless. Thousands of public trees (even the ministry has lost count of numbers) and the destruction of national biodiversity seem to be part of their interpretation of their mission statement, “to ensure [public   infrastructure] can sustainably and dynamically support the country’s current and future economic, environmental and social development”.

Concreting a valley bottom at Wied l-Isqof by Infrastructure Malta

Destruction of trees by Infrastructure Malta at Wied l-Isqof.

The covering with concrete/tarmac of valley paths at Wied l-Isqof, Rabat, Wied Ħesri, il-Lunzjata limits of Rabat, Imselliet, Wied is-Sewda, Wied Qirda and a number of valleys in Gozo, among others, means all have suffered extensive environmental damage.

Destroying old traditional rubble walls, replacing them with large franka stone blocks cladded with used building stones to give the impression that they are ħitan tax-xulliel is another contribution, while covering such new walls with concrete further renders them useless as an ecological habitat.

These can be seen at Buqana l/o Rabat, San Ġwann, Bir id-Deheb, Żejtun, everywhere where one can see a bulldozer paid for by the ministry with EU funds.

Such environmental destruction does not help any minister, especially one who is aspiring to climb the hierarchy in his political party.

Destruction of biodiversity at il-Lunzjata by Infrastructure Malta “in the name of farmers”.

Large franka blocks, cladded with used building stone, with a concrete top layer. Infrastructure Malta refer to these as ‘new rubble walls’.

Standard replies from Infrastructure Malta are nothing but puerile, devoid of any biodiversity protection and sustainability concepts. Who can believe IM today except those who are politically convinced that a circle is square? Even the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) is not always consulted.

One cannot help but think that this is the dictatorial fashion in which IM are spending EU funds, ignoring any suggestions, criticism and appeals by stakeholders.

The Central Link Project is another case where stakeholders are going to court regarding the way decisions have been taken without adequate consultation.

It is only natural that one asks the European Union if it can stop such destruction of priceless biodiversity in our small island, which is being financed by their funds.

It would also be helpful if European Union representatives come to see the works being done and not only meet officials behind closed doors but also meet the stakeholders, who are  ignored and not consulted.

Those who feel responsible for the country and its natural environment cannot stand by and stare at such destruction

Butchered trees at Santa Lucia where a journalist was threatened – 04.08.2019. 

The usual lame excuse by the ministry, that such destruction in valleys and country paths is to accommodate farmers, is indeed hilarious. To the extent that such valley roads are being tarmacked in lieu of potholed secondary streets in towns and villages, unless of course IM believes that there are no such roads to address.

The desperate position of Infrastructure Malta reached culmination point when it stated Wied Qirda was being tarmacked in an area which has for the last two years been earmarked for expropriation.

Works by Infrastructure Malta at Wied l-Isqof concreting valley paths and dislodging rubble walls “in the interest of farmers”.

Are we expected to applaud such ‘good governance’: tarmacking a private valley path which has as yet to be expropriated?

The news that the ministry of Ian Borg will also take over Ta’ Qali to transform it into a national park makes many hold their breath.

The mentality, lack of vision on biodiversity and approach of destroying the natural environment by this ministry’s agency cannot but lead to another environmental disaster, funded by the EU.

About 8 indigenous Holm Oak trees eradicated from Balzan valley, near Lija Cemetery, to widen the road. Works done by Infrastructure Malta.

The importation of trees grown in different habitats overseas, even if they are indigenous, to be planted as new trees or to replace mature ones would only please the chosen ‘landscaper’ or his representative.

For the record, “The Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure had appealed a tribunal’s (The Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal) decision and filed a court case (45/2017) against the Commissioner for Information and Data Protection, before the first hall of the Civil Court” for ordering the ministry to make available the public contract between government and ELC. Another official stand by this ministry against freedom of information on environmental matters.

One would be justified to ask what minister Borg is trying to achieve?

With his Infrastructure Malta at the helm of such destructive projects, he stands to lose not only his environmental credibility, if there is anything left to lose, but also his approach at handling, implementing and ensuring “sustainably and dynamically support the ongoing optimisation of the road network”.

Work is being executed by unprofessional personnel, who cannot see any light towards the need of the professional use, management and protection of biodiversity in a sustainable way, but blindfoldedly bulldoze over all stakeholders.

Those who feel responsible for the country and its natural environment, which has been loaned to us by future generations, cannot stand by and stare at such destruction.

Not everybody has a square-circled mentality in this country, and there are many conscientious people too in the party to which Minister Borg belongs.

Who would have thought that an old friend of mine with whom environmental matters were discussed would today be opposing such noble environmental principles?

It is important that future generations will know who was at the helm of such environmental destruction with the help of EU funds. Funds which could have been better used in a sustainable way for the benefit of society and the environment.

The legacy of environmental devastation, left by Infrastructure Malta, is there for one and all to see. Wied Qirda is another such legacy in their long list.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related articles:

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/the-architect-the-judge-the-house-and-the-illegal-driveway.686056

https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/workers-at-wied-qirda-ignore-regulators-orders-to-stop.750328

Fake rubble walls ‘are illegal’

Environment Landscaping Conundrum

Environment hit by EU funds

“For our trees”

More biodiversity destruction with EU funds – confirmed

EU funds destroy Maltese biodiversity

‘Destroying trees to make way for cars is a big mistake’

 


Trees hit headlines

May 4, 2018

Trees hit headlines

Friday May 4, 2018

Alfred E  Baldacchino

The last couple of months saw trees in the news.

Following the collapse, on February 10, of a mismanaged, unprofessionally pruned alien tree on the Mrieħel road, which led to the death of a foreigner, a spokesman for an entity paid out of public funds, was interviewed on a local TV station. He did not deny that the management of the trees in that particular road was their responsibility.

Photo: (Times of Malta) Jonathan Borg

April 9 saw another fatal accident in Żurrieq where a double-decker tourist bus “hit low-lying tree branches resulting in two dead tourists, 50 injured and some ending in intensive care, one needing a  major operation” (Times of Malta, April 10).

“Transport watchdog has long recognised trees as road hazards” read a heading in this newspaper (April 15). It referred to an “EU directive regarding road safety audits, impact assessments, inspections and high-frequency collision investigations”. The guidelines drawn in the light of this EU directive, outlined the fact that trees and landscaping are a “potential roadside hazard” and “need to be taken into account”.

In all honesty, the transport watchdog does not have the necessary acumen, adequate paraphernalia or professional personnel to plan, monitor, and professionally manage roadside trees. They rely on contractors.

Trees do not grow on their own in urban areas. They are planted, monitored and managed by contractors paid from public funds. So it is not the trees that are road hazards. It is the contractors who are responsible for their upkeep, ensuring that trees are managed aesthetically, professionally, and not posing a road hazard.

Trees do not move from the place where they are planted. If a tree has a 15- year-old branch protruding onto the road, it is not the fault of the tree, but that of unprofessional management. Even schoolchildren are today conscious and aware of proper tree management.

Following the ever-increasing negative impacts of such mismanagement and lack of awareness of international biodiversity obligations, a copy of the agreement for landscaping was requested on June 23, 2015. An agreement which the government and a private-public partner signed on October 31, 2012.

This request was vehemently refused by the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure (under Joe Mizzi) on  July 23, 2015, as was the subsequent appeal, on August 13, 2015.

On August 19, 2015, the matter was referred to the Information and Data Protection Commissioner. The commissioner’s decision of January 19, 2016 “considers that the public interest is better served by providing the applicant with a copy of the requested document” and “the commissioner has resolved that there are no impediments to release a copy of the agreement.

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

One would have thought that such a matter would have been solved within weeks. But it seems, not in Malta

Subsequently a letter from the commissioner informed me that an appeal by the ministry (still under Mizzi) had been lodged to the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal.

Almost two years from the initial request, the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal decided, refusing the appeal made by the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure, confirming the decision reached by the Commissioner of Information and Data Protection, ordering that a copy of such agreement signed between the government and ELC on October 31, 2001 should be given to applicant.

The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure in 2017 said that legal proceedings were instituted by the ELC (Environment Landscaping Consortium) 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”. Judgement had to be reached in December 2017, but the sitting has already been postponed twice.

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 it seems, not in Malta.

What is the reason for such objections? The National Audit Office (NAO) published a ‘Performance Audit: Landscaping maintenance through a Public-Private Partnership’, dated September 2017. This throws a lot of light on possible reasons.

Topics covered in such report deal with: the non-availability of management accounts; no details regarding questions asked; contractor’s evident non-compliance on a number of issues; the government’s limited enforcement actions; arising questions regarding the financial and economic considerations revolving around the agreement; the non-submission of management accounts constituting a contractual breach; government’s lack of knowledge of the contractor’s financial input not conducive to a balanced partnership;

Contract rates higher than other landscaping agreements signed by governmental entities; operational and financial information gaps not appropriately safeguarding the government’s position as a partner within this agreement; contractual deficiencies that incorporated two subsequent addenda, as well as a number of elements of contractual non-compliance, generally, having their roots within the 2002 contract, beside others.

One of the conclusion the NAO report came to is that: “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 government’s direct and broader interests.

One of the invasive species, Penisetum or Fountain grass, planted and paid by public funds, which is today spreading uncontrolled along roadsides, valleys, and other natural habitats. The social, ecological and financial negative impacts have to be paid by the man in the street.

“Contractual non-compliance prevailed in the face of government’s limited enforcement action. In such circumstances, 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” (page 55).

To these financial observations, the immediate and long-term negative impacts on the Maltese ecosystem must also be taken in consideration.

What is the next immediate step? The Minister for Finance has to decide: either the dissolution of the agreement in the national interest, or the dishing out of an additional €8 million for the continuation of the implied tacit consent of such non-compliance.

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

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

further readings:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/our-landscaping-needs-professional-updating/

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

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

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

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

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