Cash cow in the ditch

April 2, 2014

times of malta

Wednesday, 2nd April 2014

Cash cow in the ditch

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

On the anniversary of the official opening of the ‘quality garden’ at Mdina Ditch,  6th March 2013.  I thought of revisiting this jewel in the crown of bad planning and management.

A bird’s eye view of the ditch from Howard Gardens prepared me for the worst. A water tanker was busily engaged close to a newly excavated cistern adjacent to Greek gate, connected with its umbilical chord: filling the cistern to quench the thirsty turf?

Statistic regarding the planning and management of the site were indeed shocking. The original 300 plus citrus trees had been numbered before uprooting. Some still sport their number, one labelled 270.  Only 151

Tree number 270 managed to remain on site.citrus remain. 30 laurel bushes, seemingly imported, replaced the citrus trees which had given up the ghost. The total number of trees in the ditch is 198.

Past the place where the 80 year old protected olive tree was uprooted and carted away, without any approval from that toothless environmental watchdog, I could not but ask why Maltese authorities, especially those entrusted with tree protection, hate trees so much?

Part of the ditch was always under lock and key contributing to a rich biodiversity. When the doors were flung wide open, local entrepreneurs swooped on the EU funds and with political blessings and direction, destroyed and eliminated such natural habitat to create a ‘quality garden’.

The deepest end of the ditch offered new surprises. A historic low arch leads to a platform of deck timber, approximately 20 m by 15 m, raised on strong iron beams. Why such waste of resources? It was surrounded by membrane which was covered with white spalls, like those which recently were spread around part of Howard Gardens. The area previously embraced a rich meadow full of local wild flowers, similar to an adjacent area. Was such platform meant to obliterate any sign of wild flowers with determination and vengeance? Was it meant to spend every cent of EU funds, no mater how?

the ghost platform

  The ghost platform

Adjacent to the platform is a new low rubble wall built with the use of concrete. According to the Rubble Walls and Rural Structures (Conservation and Maintenance) Rubble Regulations, 1997, a rubble wall is a dry stone wall, built in loose, unhewn stones which stand by gravity and friction without the use of mortar.

Around such barren, jarring monster of architectural acumen, without any consideration for biodiversity, are a numbers of lamp holders. In this ‘quality garden’, lamp lights total 161: tall, short, ground and flood lightings. Good business, considering that for every 1.2 tree there is one lamp light. And one has to include the electric elevator in this ‘quality garden’.

Some of the different lighting on site

Some of the different lighting on site

Light pollution is impacting nocturnal life, as it does in any garden and its surroundings. The amount of energy and carbon emission used daily to light the whole area further expose unprofessional landscaping, the more so since the same ministry was also responsible for biodiversity, and for the reduction of carbon emissions thus cutting down on use of electricity, both according to EU obligations?

the triumphant caper

Capers raising their heads in victory

I was always under the impression that the bastions, badly needing restoration, were accomplished in a professional way. But my optimism was short lived. After barely twelve months of restoration, a line of capers dotting the cordon and facade of the bastions are triumphantly showing their heads in victory. The invasive cape sorrel is waving its bright yellow flowers in spite; while wall snapdragon sports white bed slippers for the planners and advisers.

The invasive cape sorrel waving in spite

The invasive cape sorrel waving in spite

These wild flowers have already reclaimed and won back their previous foothold on the bastions. In a couple of year’s time, say five or six years, the restored bastions would once again have surrender to this vegetation, notwithstanding the 6 million euro injected from EU funds.

white snapdragon

A good opportunity has been missed. Was it bad workmanship? Was it unprofessional advice? Was it lack of experience in such delicate works, or was it the urgency to officially open this ‘quality garden’ before the election which contributed to such a waste of resources?

In such a ‘quality garden’ the lack of professional planning and environment management is supreme. Yet those responsible had the audacity to etch their names in stone on the monstrous black plaque. It is a shame that MEPA’s contribution is not also acknowledged. Neither is the EU who footed the bill.

During my two hour visit, the ‘quality garden’ felt more like a cemetery. I must admit though I saw one cabbage white and one red admiral butterfly, about a score of sparrows, and half a dozen people!

Staring aimlessly, I could see a blue fat cow

Staring aimlessly, I could see a blue fat cow dotted with yellow stars

I looked at this ‘quality garden’ from the heavily frequented professionally planned, though miserably managed, Howard Gardens above. I stared aimlessly, and could see a blue fat cow dotted with yellow stars, in a grab, suck dry and go project. I can never come to terms with professionals claiming integrity who are on the wrong side of a decision. When wrong becomes right, nothing can be wrong anymore, and once this gathers momentum, nothing can stop it. Regrettably this mentality is gathering momentum at a very fast rate.

“The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second”. (John Steinbeck, novelist, Nobel laureate (1902-1968).

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

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IR-RABJA TAR­-RABTIN… u bir-­raġun

March 10, 2014

 NewsBook

It-Tnejn, 10 ta’ Marzu, 23014

IR­-RABTIN IRRABJATI… u bir-­raġun

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Howard-Gardens

Ritratt: Joseph Sultana

Wieħed mill­-karatteristiċi tar-­Rabat huwa l­-ġnien Howard li hemm qabel ma tidħol l-Imdina. Dan il­-ġnien, kontra kif jaħsbu xi wħud, huwa msemmi għal Malti John Howard, li twieled il-­Belt fl­-1862. Kien Prim Ministru ta’ Malta bejn 1921 u 1923.

Joseph-howard-prime-minister

Joseph Howard
(1862 – 1925)

Il-­ġnien huwa maqsum fi tnejn: dak il­-kbir u dak iż­-żgħir jew kif jafuh xi wħud, il­-ġnien tas-­salib. Dawk li huma tal­-età tiegħi u huma mir­-Rabat, jiftakru ż-żgħożija tagħhom f’dan il-­ġnien mal­-ġenituri tagħhom jilgħabu b’xi ballun, jew bir­-rota jduru man­-numru ta’ ħammiela li madwarhom il-­ġnien huwa mfassal. Dawk akbar fl-età kont tarahom jippassiġġaw matul il­-mgħodija ewlenija li tħares għal fuq il-foss tal-Imdina. Ħafna b’għajnejhom mixgħulin iħarsu lejn xi ġuvni jew xi tfajla biex jisirqu xi tbissima jew jiġbdu xi ħarsa. Kienu ġranet sbieħ, b’dawk fuq l-għoxrin li jkun irnexxilhom jagħmlu ħbieb, fuq xi bank taħt xi siġra jitkellmu fil-widnejn, kif dawk żgħar kienu jaħsbu. Żmien ta’ innoċenza u żmien sabiħ li llum tar mar-­riħ.

Għalkemm issa ili nieqes mir-­Rabat aktar minn ħamsin sena, xorta nagħmel żjara lil dan il-­ġnien kull meta nista’ biex niftakar f’dawk il­­-ġranet sbieħ ta’ żgħożiti. Imma kull darba li nmur hemm nitlaq lura bi qsim il-­qalb. Spiċċaw dawk il­-ħammiliet kollha fjuri msoqqija u mnaqqija bi mħabba u b’għira. Spiċċaw dawk il-ħwat mimlijin ilma bil-­­ħut fihom. Saħansitra anki għebu dawk is-­siġar tal-palm xjuħ li nqerdu mill­-Bumunqar Aħmar tal­-Palm, wara deċiżjonijiet politiċi żbaljati li wittew it-­triq biex dan fl-­2007 daħal fil­-gżejjer Maltin.

Il-fdalijiet-ta'-siġra-tal-palm (A E Baldacchino)


Waħda mill-ħafna fdalijiet ta’ siġar tal-palm li llum wieħed jista’ jara fil-ġnien Howard (A E Baldacchino)

Bħallikieku dan mhux biżżejjed dan l-­aħħar dan il­-ġnien waqa’ vittma ta’ deċiżjonijiet, ma nistax ma nsejħilhomx stupidi, mingħajr ebda viżjoni ta’ tfassil u mmanniġar professjonali. Fit-­2 ta’ Marzu, ħarget  l-aħbar fuq il-blog Rabti https://www.facebook.com/groups/rabatmalta/   fejn r-Rabti Joseph Sultana,  poġġa ritratt ta’ kif dan il-­ġnien ġie mżeblaħ u abbużat. U r­Rabtin qamu f’daqqa u għajtu b’għajta f’rabja Rabtija, li ma ridux minn ikasbarhom u ma ridux min jgħaddi ż­-żmien bihom.

Żrar-fil-ġnien


Żrar li ntefa’ fuq il-ħamrija minflok l-imlieqa biex il-Kunsill tal-Imdina jsebbaħ l-art (Ritratt: Joseph Sultana)

Ħaġa li la jiena u lanqas numru ta’ Rabtin oħra ma jistgħu jifhmu hija kif dan il­-ġnien huwa taħt ir­-responsabbiltà tal-­Kunsill Lokali tal-Imdina, meta dan huwa barra mis­-swar. U ħaga oħra li tweġġa ħafna lil Rabtin hija kif dan il­-Kunsill tal-Imdina, minn wara s­-swar jidher li huwa maqtugħ mill­-ħajja f’dawn l­-inħawi tar­-Rabat, qabad u ddeċieda, wara li ftiehem kif qal is­-segretarju eżekuttiv tal­-Kunsill, ma’ studenti minn Istitut tal-­agrikoltura Franċiż. Dawn iddeċiedew li jaqalgħu parti mill-imlieqa (jiġifieri l-­hedges) li jdawru l­-ġnien u li l­-Kunsill qal li huma ħajt, jgħattu l­-ħamrija bil­-plastik, jiksu dan il-­plastik biż­-żrar, u jħawwlu kaktus u sukkulenti oħra, li skont il­-kelliemi tal­-Kunsill Lokali tal­-Imdina, huma pjanti indiġeni, jiġifieri pjanti Maltin. Minn fejn ġab dan it-­tagħrif xjentifiku żbaljat il-kelliem għall­-Kunsill Lokali tal­-Imdina ma nafx. U ma naħsebx li ġabu minn Franza lanqas, għaliex kieku dawn kienu jifhmu fil­-biodiversità u mhux ċwieċ kif-intqal, kienu

kaktus-indiġenu-kif-intqal

Skont il-pariri li ngħata l-Kunsill Lokali tal-Imdina, dawn il-kaktus huma kollha speci indiġeni Maltin
(Ritratti: Joseph Sultana)

jgħidulu li dawn mhumiex pjanti Maltin. U kif il-­kelliem għall­-Kunsill Lokali tal­-­Imdina qal ukoll, hemm il­-ħsieb li dan jitkompla s-­sena d-dieħla biex il­­ġnien iż­-żgħir jiddawwar b’dan iż-­żrar, bil­-għajununa tal­-konsulenza barranija, bi flus Maltin, u bi pjanti barranin, u mingħajr bdil ta’ fehmiet mar-Rabtin.

Lili weġġgħani l­-kliem tar-­rapreżentant tal-­Kunsill tal-­Imdina fejn ġie allegat li qal li min ma jifhimx aħjar ma jitkellimx, għax dan ix­-xogħol mhux isir minn xi ċuċ. Imma min qal li l-­kaktus imħawwel huwa indiġenu, dan jifhem ħafna u ara wieħed ma jaħsebx li huwa xi ċuċ.

Li jweġġa’ lir­-Rabtin f’din l-­affari kollha huwa li l-­Kunsill tal-­Imdina ma kellux il-ħeġġa u l-għaqal biex jitkellem ma’ dawk li għandhom interess f’dan il­-ġnien skedat u jara x’jaħsbu, kemm b’mod ġenerali l-Maltin, kif ukoll aktar u aktar ir-­Rabtin li jqisu li dan il-­ġnien huwa tagħhom. Imma saru diskuzzjonijiet, ftehim u finanzjar ta’ dan il-progett ma’ studenti barranin, mingħajr ma ġew diskussi ma’ ħadd.

Aktar u aktar is-­skiet tal­-Kunsill tar-­Rabat, li meta ra u sema’ bir­-rabja tar-­Rabtin, li wara kollox kienu huma li poġġewhom hemm, huma ta’ liema partit huma, biex iħarsu l-­interessi tar-­Rabat, baqgħu friski bħal ħassa. Ma fethux ħalqhom, sallum għall-­anqas. U mid­-dehra l­-Kunsill tal-­Imdina u l-­Kunsill tar­-Rabat jimxu id f’id għaliex dak tal­-Imdina baqa’ sieket, wisq probabli b’idejn waħda fuq għajnejh u fuq widnejh u bl-­oħra fuq ħalqu, u ma tniffsux fuq l­-istragi li saret fil-­foss tal-­Imdina, minkejja l­-protesti tar­-Rabtin. U anki dak tar­-Rabat baqa’ sieket mhux biss fil­-proġett tal-­foss tal-Imdina, imma anki meta s­-siġar ta’ fuq is-Saqqajja ġabhuhom aktar jixbhu arbli tad-­dawl milli siġar. Issa wkoll qisu ma qed jiġri xejn minkejja r­-rabja Rabtija. Kunsilli Lokali bħal dawn ma naħsebx li jistgħu jkunu kburin bil­kisbiet tagħhom, aktar u aktar meta dawn ma jinżlux tajjeb ma’ minn poġġiehom hemm.  Il-Kunsilli, kif jixhdu oħrajn ħabrieka madwar Malta u Għawdex, mhux qegħdin hemm biex jingħalqu bejn erba’ ħitan, ġo kamra wara s-swar, jew biex jirritaw ir-­residenti tal­-lokal jew tal-­lokalitajiet ġirien.  Hemm bżonn li kunsilli bħal dawn joħorġu minn wara s-­swar, kemm dawk fiżiċi, kif ukoll dawk psikoloġiċi, u jimxu id f’id mar­-residienti u l­-ġirien jekk iridu għarfien tax-xogħol tagħhom.

Imma kull azzjoni għanda reazjzoni kif jgħidu, u din narawha anki fil-qasam soċiologiku. Dan ġara meta l­-mexxejja, f’dan il-­każ dawk tal-lokal, agħżlu li jinqatgħu minn nies. Naraw li minn qalb in­-nies nibtu dawk li ma kienux jistgħu jifiħu aktar għal din l-­apatija u xogħolijiet li ma jaqblux magħhom. U hekk ġara wkoll hawn. Tliet Rabtin, Joseph Sultana, Karistu Abela, u Chris Farrugia, haduha fuqhom biex ma jħallux din il-­ħsara ambjentali tkompli ssir, qisu ma kien qed jiġri xejn fir­-Rabat, u r-Rabtin irrabjati mingħajr għajnuna minn ħadd. Għamlu kumitat ta’ azzjoni u marru jippreżentaw ittra f’Kastilja nhar il­-Ħamis 7 ta’ Marzu.

Ma nistax ma nistaqsiex ukoll. Xi tgħid il­-MEPA li hija il­-kelb tal­-għassa dwar affarijiet ambjentali? Veru li kważi sa tagħlaq sena lid-Direttorat tal-­Ambjent għadu mhux taħt ir-­responsabbiltà tal-Minsteru responsabbli għall­-Ambjent u jidher li qishom qed iħossuhom  li r­responsabbiltà ambjentali mhux tagħhom. Imma r­-responabbiltà ambjentali għada tal­-MEPA kollha kemm hi. Xi kultant, b’dispjaċir kbir u kontra qalbi ngħid u nħoss li qisha ­kelb tal-­għassa bħal dawk li hemm biswit fil-kura tal-SPCA. Dawn ma jitniffsu xejn sakemm xi ħadd iħabbat fuq il-­bieb. Nispera li l-MEPA tieħu azzjoni wara dan it-­taħbit kollu fuq biebha dwar ir­-responsabbiltà tagħha għall-ħarsien tal-ambjent, li sa xħin qed nikteb għadha ma qalet xejn lanqas.

Jiena konvint li wara ż­-żjara tar­-Rabtin f’Kastillja, nisimgħu minn għand il-­MEPA. B’din it­-taħbita ma jistgħux ma jqumux mill­-apatija li għandhom lejn il-­ħarsien tal­-ambjent ta’ pajjiżna, li mingħajr dubju huwa tagħna lkoll.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 


The Caper at Couvre Porte

November 7, 2013

times

Thursday November 7th, 2013. 

The Caper at Couvre Porte

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

2013.10.22---Birgu-flag

Citta Vittoriosa flag

The Birgu Local Council deserves warm congratulations for the way they organised the Birgu Fest especially the candle­lit night which showed the splendour of the city: the overpowering majestic bastions, the Maltese workmanship, the architecture, the intricate sculptures, the winding streets, the renovated old buildings, and the growing public awareness of such a historical heritage.  Unfortunately this cannot be said for the way the Birgu environs are being landscaped.

2013.10.22---couvre-port-gate

Couvre Porte Gate

I entered through Couvre Porte, the  magnificent covered  gateway, admiring  the surroundings. I crossed the bridge  over the ditch, still in total darkness as to its future, at least from a public point of view. I wonder why no public consultations were ever held on such projects. Perhaps the present Minister would consider this before the works are done and public money spent and not follow in the footsteps of his predecessor.

Once through the main entrance of Couvre Porte, I climbed the 10 cm or so high steps leading to the top of the bastions. I could almost re­live the moments of such a historical architectural heritage left to us by the Knights of St. John.

There, on the highest part of the bastions something caught my eye: it was a caper (kappara) growing on one of the cordons, so soon on the freshly restored bastions, with defiance and a sense of victory. In the dim light, I could see the silhouettes of other indigenous plants which had also set foot on the fortifications: indigenous species which colonised these islands before man set foot on them.

2013.10.22---kappar-mas-swar

The caper on the bastions

The indigenous plants on the bastions echoed Rużar Briffa’s Jum ir­-Rebħ “Jien Maltija! Miskin min ikasbarni, miskin min jidħak bija” (I am Maltese! Pity the one who disgraces me, pity the one who mocks me”).

As I looked towards the Vittoriosa water front, the historic bastion rose as a background to a number of recently imported alien, toxic and some invasive trees. The never conquered Citta Vittoriosa, lied at the mercy of these introduced foreign species, some also invasive, politically approved and publicly funded. How could one accept the fact that there at the foot of the bastions exotic species had taken over the beds of the indigenous Maltese species, through the political apathy still accepting foreign colours to the indigenous splendour.

I slowly descended the steps, seemingly so much higher now, and mingled with the crowds till I found my way in front of the St. Lawrence Parish Church. Towering in front of the Church on my left was the Għolja tal­Ħelsien monument, a reminder of the last foreign power which had a foot in Malta. But even in the semi­darkness I could see the monument invaded with more than half a dozen exotic species, two or three invasive. Two palm trees on the monument seemed to have succumbed to the Red Palm Weevil, an introduced alien invasive species.  On my right along the waterfront leading to dock 1, I could see other exotic species, some invasive, introduced from around the world, including the now ubiquitous fountain grass. Could it be possible that the exit of the foreign powers opened the doors to the exotic alien flora and fauna to set foot on the Islands even growing on the very monument itself?

2013.10.22---għolja-tal-ħelsien

Three exotic alien species surround the fanfare of the departure of the last foreign soldier.

Landscapers equipped with a can of chemicals will no doubt be sent by their political master, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, to spray the indigenous caper and allies to oblivion, something in which I must admit, they are very good at. But these are wild species and do not fatten anybody’s pockets. I am sure that the indigenous species will rise again, and again, and again in protest with the same determination, as one or two have already done at the newly renovated Mdina bastions, made more to resemble Windsor Castle rising out of an expanse of turf, so artificial and unnatural to a Mediterranean fortification rising out of garigue vegetation. As long as the people and the EU pay, who cares? Who would be that Minister who,  during whose tenure, approved the introduction of the most exotic alien species, not excluding invasives, in the Maltese Islands at the expense of local indigenous species, in the name of landscaping? The wisdom of some politicians knows no bounds despite national and international obligations, and should I add electoral promises!

2013.10.22---inula-chritmoides

The Golden Samphire on the restored Vittoriosa bastions. It can easily replace the introduced exotic invasive species of Fountain Grass occupying the flower beds on the waterfront.

I walked heavily to where my car was parked close to St. Helena Bastions ­ another jewel of the Knights of St. John. Another gem of a historical heritage so conspicuous by its neglected and abandoned state.  If only the funds coming from the European Union and public funds lavishly spent on the importation, advice, planting and profits made on the exotic trees, went to the restoration of such other gem at Bormla (Cospicua) they would have been much better spent.

2013,10,22---fountain-grass

The now ubiquitous introduced alien invasvie Fountain Grass, in the shadow of alien trees, competing and taking over from indigenous flora.

It was a relief to drive back home. But not before driving through a breach in the Cottonera bastion lines leading from San Ġwann t’Għuxa to Għajn Dwieli. The mismanagement, lack of planning and financial driving force in landscaping with its negative social, historical and ecological impact had ruined the enjoyable candle­lit evening at the historical city of Birgu. The good thing about it was that the candle­lit environment had hidden the look of disappointment on my face: the lack of considerations for local biodiversity makes me feel ashamed that I am Maltese, when this is appreciated more by the foreigners than by the local politicians. When money grows on trees and it talks, there is nobody ready to listen.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com