Money doesn’t only grow on trees here, it talks too!

May 23, 2012

Wednesday, 23 May, 2012

Alfred E. Baldacchino
Money doesn’t only grow on trees here, it talks too!

The appreciation of trees in the Maltese Islands is gaining momentum in leaps and bounds. This is mainly due to newly-established environmental NGOs, individual interventions, more private education and public awareness and, no doubt, Malta’s accession to the European Union.
Regrettably, the official side is still dragging its feet, finding it very difficult to understand and keep pace with this public awareness. This despite national and international legal obligations and good-intentioned environmental actions plans.
When Legal Notice 12 of 2001 was revoked by LN 200 of 2011, the Department of Agriculture was exempted from any legal responsibility with regard to urban tree-protection. Public trees in urban areas can now be pruned, uprooted, cut up in logs, butchered and destroyed without any official prior approval, according to one’s whims and fancies. Rather strange!
Many readers might remember, that when the Department of Agriculture was still responsible for landscaping, street trees used to be pruned with dedication, care and feeling. I remember the ficus trees at Saqqajja, in Rabat, among others, so professionally pruned in a seemingly sculptured way with a crown extending from one end of the line to the other and with small branches forming a beautiful trellis. It gave the area a green soothing sight in contrast with the heavy congested traffic-zone.
At that time, the Department of Agriculture did not have as many resources as today’s “landscapers” have but they used to make miracles with as little public expenses as possible and with professional management.
Today, “landscaping” projects are farmed out; it seems to anyone who can handle a chainsaw. There is nothing wrong in farming out to professional entities that are au courant with national and international legislation. But these operators must be subjected to a regulator that decides what should be done and not be done, monitor expenses, prevent ecological negative impacts, incorporate such operations in formal and non-formal education and ensure that the operators are observing guidelines and decisions.
After all, this is a basic issue of governance: the regulator and the operator should not be one and the same entity. Notwithstanding, the absence of such regulator, the politician still has a responsibility to shoulder, more so when such works are paid from public funds.
The lack of regulatory measures has led to a farcical scenario where the public is completely in the dark about what farming out agreements providing for and how funds are being managed. Taking the Prime Minister on a tour to demonstrate the colourful flowers or to nurseries to view lace makers at work only fools the actors but not the people.
What the people want to hear is how public funds are being spent: how much is being spent overseas on the importation of trees, what is the cost of such trees, why are these not being grown in Malta, thus creating more jobs, more local expertise and benefiting from the multiplier effect besides preventing the introduction of invasive species.

This invasive species used in landscaping financed by Government and under the auspices of the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs, has already established itself in valleys, garigue and other wild habitats. This despite the fact the national and international obligation, including those of the EU, to prevent the introduction and to control invasive species. It also goes against the National Environment Policy published earlier this year, and the fact that it is listed as invasive by MEPA the Competent Authority on the Environment. The Ministry responsible for landscaping seems to be living in a republic of its own.
The photo was taken along one of the busiest roads in the Maltese Islands.

The standard reply given to these sorts of questions is that such data cannot be divulged because those involved in landscaping are private companies. And I was always under the impression that these were public private partnerships. US orator and politician, Patrick Henry (1736-1799) once wrote that the liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them. Seems that we still have a long way to go to reach the 18th century, despite being an EU member state.
It has now become customary that those who ask or comment in the national interest on the lack of governance, on professional tree management and on the lack of transparency on the use of public funds are looked upon as if they are enemies of the state. They are called names and are subjected to character assassination. It is so reminiscent of the 1980s.
Is there a real genuine desire for public consultations, suggestions and comments? The idea, of course, is not to point fingers at anybody.
In the history of landscaping in Malta, never have so few had a free hand and benefited at the expense of so many. It also seems that, in Malta, money does not only grow on trees but it talks too!
aebaldacchino@gmail.com

NOTE: The photo and its caption were not part of the original article in  The Times, but were added by the author on this post. Thelink to the original article is:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120523/opinion/Money-doesn-t-only-grow-on-trees-here-it-talks-too-.420947

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An official water policy!

July 4, 2011

An official water policy!

Alfred E Baldacchino

On Friday, 1 st July, while driving from Rabat toward Valletta at 11.30am, I noticed that the turf at the  roundabout along the Rabat Road (intersecting with Zebbug/Mtarfa bypass) was being watered with sprinklers. Some of the

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sprinklers were simply watering the adjacent road, to the extent that any driver who was so thirsty could simply put his head out of the car’s window and have a sip. Those who wanted to clean one side of the car could also go round twice or thrice and have their car’s right-hand side cleaned.  Naturally the  water spread on the road, cars splashing in it , eventually finding  its way along the Zebbug bypass. The couple of photos I took can give an idea of such a waste of resources, more acute if one adds the energy used to activate this.

Now this is not the first time I have seen this, and not only at this particular roundabout.   Many others have also commented in the media. In a  week in March, on a rainy day, yes in March, and I had the car wipers busy cleaning the rain water from my windscreen, the sprinklers at the Santa Lucia roundabout were busy watering the turf at that roundabout.  As usual a couple of these were sprinkling the road and not the turf, perhaps an ingenious computerised way of diverting water from the turf this  having been saturated with the sprinklers’ water and the rain water.  And this leads me to ask a  number of questions that I find great difficulty in answering:

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  1. Hasn’t water been declared a rare resource in the Maltese Islands and great efforts are being made to properly manage, monitor and prevent waste?
  2. Hasn’t it been made ample clear that in our country with such high temperatures and such a lack of water supply, turf is not the best plant to use for landscaping, as has been pointed time and time again in the various Environment Impact Assessments where the use of turf was  suggested?
  3. Isn’t such “embellishment” (sic) projects – heavily paid by public funds to the tune of  a minimum 7 milliom Euros  (LM3 million of our old money) a year – not sustainable and a great misuse of resources ?
  4. Who is paying for such a waste of resources? Please do not tell me that the people are paying for such waste.  we all know it.
  5. Has the Ministry abdicated all responsibility and is giving  blank cheques as long as business is carried out, irrespective of  negative impacts on society and on the environment?
  6. Isn’t the Ministry responsible for monitoring, enforcing and planning such ‘landscaping’ the same Ministry who is responsible for National Resources, including water?  If it was two different Ministries, say one planning to make Bisazza Street a pedestrian zone, and the other planning new bus routes through it, then perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, each  could point a finger to each other.  But this is the same Ministry!!
  7. Does the Ministry have any qualified personnel in a responsible executive position to check such misuses and mismanagement of resources in such planning initiatives? Or does it have a rubber stamp to endorse all polices and expenses presented to it, as long as it is related to ‘business’?
  8. Is it the Government’s  policy  ” that where the economy stutters, the environment is the first to suffer”, a statement that we have also heard in connection with the Dwejra filming  amateurish handling?
  9. Doesn’t this country, one of the 27 EU member states, deserve much better than all this bullshit in the name of the national interest?

The Adam and Eve guilty feeling

Even the stone statue in the middle of the said roundabout were so denuded of reasons to justify what they were seeing, that they had a look of a guilty feeling.  They looked so ashamed and embarrassed at such greed  that they could not even look each other in the eye.  Reminded me of the guilty feeling Adam and Eve might have had after the biblical apple-affair!  So they preferred to look at the people as if to support them and pity them for the misuse and mismanagement  of their resources!  But I suppose those who are gifted with more wisdom that I  (politically that is)  will tell me that politicians are made of much more precious stuff than stone – they cannot possibly have such guilty feelings!

The closest answer I could possibly  find  to all  my questions is incorporated in an article by Martin Scicluna  in the Malta Independent on Sunday of the 3rd July 2011, as per attached link:

http://www.independent.com.mt/news.asp?newsitemid=128140

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