Friday, August 10, 2012
Alfred E. Baldacchino
Green dream and black nightmare
During his short term responsible for the environment, both as junior minister and later, as minister, Mario de Marco has published a number of laws and policies.
Some he moved through Parliament, such as the National Environment Policy (NEP) and the Sustainable Development Act. Other guidelines and policies were published by his environmental watchdog, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.
These included the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan and the new guidelines for the management of invasive plants. These supplemented the guidelines on trees, shrubs and plants for planting and landscaping and the tree protection regulations.
Unfortunately, the enforcement and implementation of these laws and regulations leave much to be desired.
The three pillars for conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services as defined in the NEP are all addressed in the above. These provide direction to all players in this field, ensure policy integration and enable stakeholders to work in a coordinated manner to achieve the national objectives and key priorities.
All aim at improving the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity as well as easing pressures on biodiversity and promoting sustainable use.
Furthermore, these guidelines and regulations highlight the collaboration and commitment of all relevant stakeholders to achieve the strategic goals of the NEP and to empower people to actively participate in environmental management and take action on environmental issues.
An important policy in the NEP is that the government, in promoting environmentally-friendly actions, should lead by example.
Notwithstanding the above, the wave of criticism on the mismanagement of trees and the misuse of public funds in “landscaping” is gaining momentum.
Facebook groups have been set up, initiatives promoting the protection of trees have been taken and articles and letters in the press express the disappointment of such mismanagement. Yet, the government, through one, or at best, two of its ministers, still bulldozes on, irrespective of the people’s comments, criticism and suggestions. If, before the last election, the Prime Minster did not declare that the environment was one of the government’s three main pillars and if he did not lately say that he was ready to listen to the people in the national interest (even in the kitchen, if necessary, as I am told) one could comfortably say that the government does not have any special interest in the environment.
But, the way environment is being mismanaged makes one conclude that there is no such real interest and no such will. The social and ecological values are completely gobbled up by commercial interests with political blessing.
The Times (September 6, 2011) titled a report on the launching of the national environment policy thus: PM Launches Green Dream. There are many, many in this country who have such a green dream. Great things were conceived as little dreams. If Martin Luther King did not have a dream and persisted with determination there would not be a Barack Obama today. But to achieve a dream, one has to persist with determination in one’s vision and not ignore, or endorse, activities that are diametrically opposite to it.
The latest “landscaping projects” financed by the government are those of Mdina ditch, where about 400 trees were uprooted, surprisingly to make way for a garden. Trees at the Mellieħa old bus-terminus were all uprooted for others to be planted instead. Lately, the destruction of trees in part of Triq Diċembru 13, Marsa, hit the headlines. Some of the trees were removed on grounds that they are invasive!
Surprisingly, at the same time, another minister is endorsing plans and funds for the planting of Fountain Grass, Brazilian pepper tree, the Australian Pine tree (Casuarina) and the Hottentot fig – all aliens and invasive species.
Once again, the BSS (Bisazza Street Syndrome, which was conceived in Bisazza Street, Sliema) is again raising its ugly head with the same political players, leaving the Minster for the Environment speechless.
BSS did strike again with regard to the Rabat Road rubble walls (which now have been replaced by iron railings against all policies and regulations – Mepa please note). Now, BSS has infected the government’s so-called landscaping projects, defying, ignoring and ridiculing the above national regulations and policies, suppressing and pushing aside all active participation of the people.
What is very worrying is the fact that such “landscaping” is being done with public funds, some even with EU funds. And some are also completely against mitigation strategies regarding the government’s stand on climate change and water policy, which, incidentally, fall within the same ministerial portfolio.
The Prime Minister may have an admirable green dream. The majority of the people yearn for the fulfilment of such a conceived green dream. But, the government’s plans and projects are rendering the Prime Minister’s green dream a bizarre black nightmare, a nightmare that will haunt the political players all their lives and beyond. Not that anybody of them cares, I presume! But can the Prime Minister please intervene to achieve his and our collective green dream?
PS – Photos were added to this post and do not appear in the original article in The Times