Monday, 14th October, 2019
As an old contract comes to an end, we asked experts what we’ve done wrong
Public landscaping practices in Malta have been plagued by poor practices which should not be repeated once a contract with the old consortium comes to an end, experts have said.
The public-private partnership deal between Environmental Landscapes Consortium and the government expires at the end of the year and a process for a new call for tenders is in the works.
In 2017, the National Audit Office published a report that found that the partnership with ELC should have long been dissolved due to a series of contract breaches on the part of the consortium.
The government has spent over €100 million since the start of the agreement in 2002, where neither the original partnership agreement nor the two subsequent contract extensions were awarded through a competitive tendering process.
The report, however, does not address the environmental critiques leveled at ELC, particularly when it comes to taking a more biodiversity-conscious approach to landscaping works.
Planting invasive species
“The consortium’s most insidious environmental impact has been the indiscriminate use of non-indigenous species during a number of landscaping projects,” marine biologist and environmentalist Alan Deidun told Times of Malta.
In its early days, the consortium was responsible for the widespread planting of the hottentot fig (Carpobrotus edulis), a highly invasive species of South African succulent, he said.
Using water-guzzling turf
Additionally, ELC was often criticised for its use of water-guzzling turfs and the planting of non-local stocks of native species.
Millions of euros were literally wasted, including the scarce resource of water used
Landscaper and garden expert Fernando Mifsud said: “Although aesthetically beautiful, lawns need a lot of water to keep them looking green and also need a lot of fertilisers and chemicals to keep them looking healthy.”
Such pesticides leach into the ground, killing the biodiversity in the soil. They are also washed in the water course through water runoff when it rains, therefore negatively affecting water creatures like frog populations, he said.
Removing local ‘weeds’
Additionally, the overuse of pesticides and the culling of local flora considered to be ‘weeds’ were also critiques leveled at the landscaping consortium.
Local flora is often culled from landscaping projects to maintain “neatness” – however, these species are closely linked to local fauna such as native butterfly or bird species, and their elimination contributes to the scarce propagation of local fauna.
Environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino maintains that had the funds invested in the consortium in the past 15 years been utilised professionally, Malta would be covered with indigenous trees grown from local stock.
“From a biodiversity point of view, taking into consideration national and international obligation, millions of euros were literally wasted, including the scarce resource of water used,” Mr Baldacchino said.
What should a new contract stipulate?
Mr Baldacchino, who has been petitioning the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure for a copy of the public agreement since 2015, believes a new agreement should regard contractors solely as operators and a regulatory role should fall within the Environment Ministry.
“Contractors should not be allowed any monopoly on landscaping. Emphasis should be entrenched in the contract that all trees and shrubs used for landscaping purposes should be propagated from local stock, so that a new local industry can be established for centres providing indigenous plants,” Mr Baldacchino said.
This will also ensure the local gene pool of the indigenous species is not polluted, thus contributing towards better protection of indigenous species also from diseases and invasive alien species, having more educational input for the benefit of the public, and contributing to a multiplier effect from the funds allocated for landscaping.
Prof. Deidun stressed that future operators should ensure that only native or indigenous species fully adapted to the semi-arid conditions of the Mediterranean Basin are planted in landscaping projects.
“Additionally, plants which represent year-round important food resources for pollinators (e.g. bees) should be favoured, despite their status as ‘weeds’ by the public,” he added.
Mr Mifsud also says there should be an obligation to focus on the planting of indigenous species that propagate better in the region.
“These trees and plants need less care and are resistant to drought and pests. Over the years, they have evolved and adapted to our climate. This would also reduce the maintenance cost on the long run,” Mr Mifsud said.
When contacted, ELC declined to comment.
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