The public landscaping mistakes experts say need fixing

October 18, 2019

Monday, 14th October, 2019

As an old contract comes to an end, we asked experts what we’ve done wrong

Jessica Arena

   photo: Times of Malta

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.

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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.

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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.

other related articles on this blog

Trees hit headlines

Our ‘landscaping’ needs professional updating

Maltese trees – conserving and landscaping

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/

 


Use and overuse of pesticides

March 4, 2016

Reference is made to the letter on ‘The pesticide levels’, by Marcel Pizzuto, chairman of the Malta Competition and Consumer Affair Authority (Febr 4).

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160204/letters/The-pesticide-levels.601173

We would like to bring the following to his attention and to the attention of everyone concerned.

We asked for a meeting with the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Roderick Galdes, regarding the use and overuse of insecticides, even in roads and roundabouts. These are affecting the population of honey bees and the flora they depend on.dead bee 3

We also wanted to bring up the subject that foreign honey products were being sold and labelled as products of Malta. This is unfair competition and affects local honey bees and honey producers.

We were met by the parliamentary secretary’s chief of staff on July 17, 2014, and told most of the matters did not fall under their remit. We were referred to the Customs Department. He undertook to assist in any way possible, but this did not lead anywhere.

dead bee 6So we met the Director of Customs on August 25, 2014, and explained to him the above. We were also told that some of the subjects were not under his remit and we were referred to the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

dead bee 8On August 28, 2014, we wrote the permanent secretary at the Health Ministry about the matter. Since no reply or acknowledgement was received, we sent a reminder, dated September 28, 2014. All to no avail.

dead bee 11On September 15, 2014, we met the acting director general and his legal adviser at the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority and discussed the matters mentioned above.

Once again, we were told the subject did not concern the regulator but was more related to the Environmental Health Directorate at the Health Ministry.

dead bee 7But, during the meeting, the acting director general undertook to organise an inter-departmental meeting between all the stakeholders who apparently had some say in the matter to determine the way forward. An inter-departmental meeting had to be held with representatives of the Environmental Health Directorate, the Trade Directorate and the Agriculture secretariat.

                    “Nobody can be blamed for                                            thinking the worst under the circumstances”
We wrote again to the acting director general and to his lawyer (Consumer Affairs) on January 12, 2015, and copied the letter to, among others, the MCCAA chairman, the head of secretariat at Agriculture and the parliamentary Ombudsman, asking for a reply.

dead bee 7Two days later, we were informed that a reply was being prepared by MCCAA. A reply dated January 16, 2015, was indeed received. The letter only served to shed light on the fragmentation between government entities, leading to a failure to take concrete action.

dead bee 13Then, on January 20, 2015, we were informed that the matter was referred to the Environmental Health Directorate at the Health Ministry.

killed by public funds

The result of unnecessary spraying of herbicides and pesticides paid out of public funds.

On February 6, 2015, the attention of the negative impacts of weed killers were referred to the chairman of the Environmental Landscapes Consortium. We received a letter from the office of the permanent secretary at the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure, stating that “ELC feels that any complaints regarding the use of herbicides and weed killers should be addressed to the authorities concerned”.

Following our efforts, which we believe public entities should be doing in the first place, can the MCCAA chairman please inform us whether the regulator is really interested and willing to investigate unfair trade?

 

herbicide 2

Spraying of herbicides and pesticides in the countryside, also paid out of public funds.

Are any of the authorities in general (especially those responsible for the environment, health and agriculture) interested in the indiscriminate use of pesticides and the effect of this on the public’s health, which, in turn, affects our economy too (sick people are unproductive, apart from needing treatment)?

We would also like to highlight that, since our initial efforts, herbicides are still being sprayed uncontrolled, biodiversity, including bees, is still being decimated, and unfair competition – from products being sold as ‘local’ when they are anything but – is still ongoing.

dead bee 15We fully agree with the MCCAA chairman that: “Finally, one would have thought that before publishing such an article in the Times of Malta which could alarm consumers unnecessarily, verification would have been carried out to ensure that this was the result of an interview in order to ensure that a factual picture is given to its readers.”

However, this does not justify the blatant lack of concrete action by the government (collectively) to safeguard the environment, to safeguard our health and also to help preserve the business of genuine Maltese artisans. Nobody can be blamed for thinking the worst under the circumstances.

bexx-f'mater-dei

More waste of resources at the expense of the public and biodiversity – also paid out of public funds.

The problems we are highlighting require a concerted effort and concrete collective commitment if they are to be resolved. Maybe the MCCAA chairman is willing to take the initiative in this respect. This was mentioned at the meetings held on July 17, 2014, and September 15, 2014, but to no avail.

dead bee 16

If the documentation we have at our end would help the authorities in any way, we would gladly oblige.

Ivan Mifsud is a lawyer and Alfred Baldacchino is an environmentalist.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

ara wkoll:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-1/