Environmentalists and the PN’s green agenda

January 29, 2017
A page from the PN’s environment document ‘A Better Quality of Life’

A page from the PN’s environment document ‘A Better Quality of Life’

A page from the PN’s environment document ‘A Better Quality of Life’

The Nationalist Party’s new environment policy is “thorough and promising”, stakeholders believe, however clear environmental timelines would help the electorate trust it to deliver where successive governments have failed.

PN leader Simon Busuttil last week launched a list of environmental proposals, hedging his bets on a green agenda, along with good governance, to try and upstage the Labour Party at the next election.

2017-01-29-pn-environment-documentThe document, ‘A Better Quality of Life’, puts forward 16 key focus areas and 171 green proposals, mapping out a plan as far forward as 2050. Among the ideas to come out of the document are a new skyline policy, the exclusion of land-reclamation for speculative purposes and an increased emphasis on solar rights.

Perhaps the most talked about suggestion, a promise to enshrine environmental protection in the Constitution, has been hailed by the experts contacted by this newspaper as a sign of “real action”.

If the same people who brought about the 2006 expansion in building zones make up a future PN government, then I most certainly do not trust it

Veteran conservationist Alfred Baldacchino said this commitment could finally see parties take a stand against long-time abuse.

“The commitment to include the protection of the environment in the Constitution contributes to making hot potatoes easier to handle,” he said.

Marlene Farrugia, the former chair of Parliament’s Environment Committee, felt, however, that “quite a few sizzling potatoes were spared a mention!” She did not elaborate.

Environmental lobbyist and The Sunday Times of Malta columnist Claire Bonello also praised the constitutional move. She hopes it could mean that the environment will no longer be wiped off the statute books by MPs at the swipe of a pen.

But can the PN be trusted to deliver when it comes to the environment? Many remember the position taken by previous Nationalist administrations not so long ago.

In 2006, much to the dismay of environmental groups, the PN government revised the development boundaries in all localities. The result? An area roughly the size of Siġġiewi was turned into developable land.

During the same period, the government facilitated the construction of penthouses by relaxing the conditions and increasing height limitations in localities such as Swieqi and Marsascala, intensifying development in already built-up areas.

Sociologist and former Alternattiva Demokratika leader Michael Briguglio said the PN would have to provide clearer pledges in the run-up to the next election.

“The PN document already proposes clear commitments on issues such as major ODZ development [the PN has pledged to renegotiate a controversial deal granting virgin land at Żonqor Point to a private developer]. In other areas, such as water management, the PN can offer clearer commitments,” he said.

Dr Bonello shared Dr Briguglio’s sentiment. The PN, she said, had to find a way to convince the electorate that it would “walk the walk when in power”.

“How can it do so? The one thing that springs to mind is by declaring set dates for the implantation of certain measures and by demoting whoever had a hand in the country’s sad environmental state to the dark, dank cellar under Stamperija [the party headquarters]. We all know who I’m referring to,” she said.

How would you judge the PN’s environment document?

Alfred Baldacchino, conservationist: This document is comprehensive. It provides a proper definition of the word ‘environment’, binding the biological and the physical, making it as comprehensive as possible. The commitments allow stakeholders to be involved in decision making, so decisions in the national interest will not be decisions against the environment.

Michael Briguglio, former Alternattiva Demokratika (Green Party) leader: It is evident the PN embarked on a wide-ranging consultation exercise coordinated by experts in the field. The result is a text which proposes a better policy framework than that put in place by the current Labour government.

Claire Bonello, green lobbyist: The document looks thorough and promising. I especially like the proposal to entrench environmental protection rights in the Constitution. The commitment to revise SPED is commendable. In its current format, it’s a ridiculous non-policy which is as stretchy as knicker elastic.

Marlene Farrugia, former chair of Parliament’s Environment Committee: It is an excellent working document which implies that the PN have learnt from their mistakes and the mistakes of the PL. Simon Busuttil is leading his damaged party into cleaner, favourable territory where the environment is concerned.

Can the PN be trusted to deliver on its green agenda?

AB: I cannot imagine any political party riding roughshod over the environment anymore.

MB: The commitments the PN is making are clearer than those coming from the current administration, but some could still be made clearer. It should provide clearer pledges in the run-up to the election.

CB: It has to convince the electorate it will walk the walk. It should set dates for the implementation of certain measures.

MF: I do not know what a future PN government will be made of, therefore I cannot gauge whether it will keep its promises on the environment or not. If the same people who brought about the 2006 expansion in building zones make up a future PN government, then I most certainly do not trust it, in spite of Simon Busuttil’s honest intentions. If, on the other hand, there is a coalition government made up of a significant number of tried-and-tested environmentalists, then yes, what is left of our environment will be safe.

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Yet another toothless dog

August 26, 2016

times of malta

Yet another toothless dog

Friday. August 26, 2016

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The way in which the new Planning Authority handled the applications for high rise buildings is a harbinger of things to come with regard to the complete destruction of these islands socially, environmentally and economically. Without any policy on the matter, without any public consultations, without any respect for anything or anyone but with urgency to please the selected few while the sun shines, the PA decided to approve the applications with absolutely no sign of professionality at all.

The fact that the new Environment and Resources Authority was absent from such an important decision is also very worrying.

A new era seems to be dawning on the environment, which, we have been told, ” … will be given the priority it deserves…”

The ERA chairman was indisposed and sent an explanatory letter. If I were the ERA chairman and I were sick, I would have crawled to the meeting, if only to make my presence felt. It would have been important to vote and make ERA’s position known. If medical reasons did not allow me to crawl, I would have sent a letter to the PA chairman stressing the need for it to be read before the vote was taken and highlighting ERA’s vote.

I would also have entrusted one of the ERA board members with the task to substantiate ERA’s official position. I would certainly not have sent the letter to a PA board member to use as he deems fit.

Such unprofessional behaviour simply shows that the government’s intentions to split Mepa into two authorities was just a sham. It wanted to make things easier for the selected few, weakening national and EU environmental obligations and responsibilities, giving a blank cheque to development applications having a hidden political blessing.

This was evident when the environment protection directorate was kept in limbo by Mepa when they were supposed to be in the same bed. Unconcerned, Mepa presented the Parliamentary standing committee on the environment with an impact assessment on Żonqor Point, confirming that the directorate was not consulted and drafters of the assessment had to remain anonymous.

The Environment and
Resources Authority, still so
young, has signed its own
death warrant

 

The new ERA, the promised champion of the environment, failed at its first hurdle. ERA, still so young, has signed its own death warrant through its impotency. The subsequent news that the ERA chairman described the EIA of the Sliema skyscraper as a “sham” confirms that ERA is another toothless authority.

I am indeed sorry for the ERA chairman. I had high hopes and honestly believed he would go far towards the protection of our environment – the basis of life as professionally he fully well knows.

The Sliema parish priests and the Church Environment Commission were constrained to voice their concerns. One cannot run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. The leadership of the Church is emerging to be a solid promoter of the social and environmental responsibilities in the country, in line with Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’. Yet, it is already being hounded by the square-circled political mentality.

Considering the local conditions, the high rises approved and others being proposed are anti-social, anti-environmental and anti-economical. Unfortunately, the powers that be, despite claiming they hail from the socialist camp, are dead set to accommodate the selected few at the expense of the exploited many, who sooner rather than later will have to pay through their noses, financially, socially and environmentally.

Such an official blinded vision is an extreme capitalist mentality rather than a moderate socialist commitment. But this is of no concern to those involved in these decisions. Greed, materialism and the exploitation of everything, at everyone’s expense, seem to be the order of the day.

As a past chairman of the Church Environment Commission once wrote: ” … Mepa, which should be our national watchdog on environmental protection and good management, has been turned into an old toothless dog often receiving merciless battering from all directions, including from the authorities, the public at large, NGOs and also from environmental speculators. And, let us all be aware, this state of affairs mostly satisfies the hidden agenda of the latter!”

He had also said: “What we need is a national watchdog called MEA: the Malta Environment Autlority. This should be able to act as a strong regulatory body in environmental matters, with all the required resources, including a well-trained and motivated staff. And, as a national watchdog, it should be able to act independently of all other govemment entities and authorities. Our MEA should play second fiddle to none” (Times of Malta, January 1, 2010).

Bold and noble words indeed when said with conviction.

cartoonThe old toothless dog is still running the show. And it is not only the old toothless dog that is still receiving such criticism. It has now been joined by a seemingly toothlless ERA.

One has to be aware that scientific decisions are arrived at in a very, very different way from political decisions. “And let us all be aware, this state of affairs mostly satisfies the hidden agenda of the latter”.

Who has let down whom?

Alfled Baldacchino served as assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 


A splitting image of Mepa

August 3, 2015

times of malta

Monday, 3rd August, 2015

A splitting image of MEPA 

Alfred E Baldacchino

mepa logo-1

MEPA’s failure in its environmental responsibility started from day one. Barely a week from the ‘merger’ with the Environment Department, in 2001, I was told in a joking vein: “forget about environment; it is development which dictates here.”

And so it was to be. And so it is today. Honouring national and international environmental obligations, which were never understood or wanted to be understood by MEPA, seemed like trying to swim up the Niagara falls. Eventually, environment became MEPA’s Cinderella, leading to its present headless mummified state in limbo.

After two years in government, it has now been thought appropriate to resuscitate such a mummy. Despite being an electoral promise, the move is accompanied by a lot of fanfare and publicity, and this raises more questions than answers. Is it to hide past failures and the procrastination in making such move? Is it to detract from the fact that environment has been kept out of the portfolio of the Minster for the Environment but is in that of the Prime Minster? Is it to make up for the environmental degradation which also saw the Environment Directorate degenerate into a mummified orphaned headless Cinderella? Is it just meant for that part of the electorate who can be convinced that a circle is square?

To consolidate MEPA complete disregard for the environment, on its death bed MEPA, forwarded a report to the Prime Minister, a couple of weeks ago, suggesting that Żonqor was the best site for the university development. The report completely ignored the Environment Directorate, it’s acting Director (no Director since change of government) and the MEPA board too.

MEPA has stooped so low, with such farcical unprofessional behaviour along the years, that it has lost all credibility. It is in need of new image to “secure better planning”!  Is the colourful publicity and change of name merely dressing the old wolf in new sheep’s clothing? Many already see the Executive Council referred to in the new Bills, as already set up and running, as evidenced by the Żonqor report. It seems that the rape will go on, till there is nothing left to rape.

As advertised, MEPA will be no more, and will only be remembered in the books of history especially for its complete environmental failures. Few would shed a tear.

 

trophy

Future generations have a right to know who was responsible for the protection of the Maltese environment, which they have lent us.

I won’t. I have gone through the new environment bill. An exercise undertaken by a parliamentary secretary in the office of the prime minister. The new bill transposes all the environmental provisions from the MEPA Act (except for some ‘overlooked touches’): a cut and paste exercise to ensure that the EU Environment Aquis obligations are all there.

If the new Environment Act is to put the environment high on the agenda, why was it not possible to achieve such aims, with the same legal provisions, when it was under the responsibility of the Prime Minister? Is all this fanfare a confirmation of failure? MEPA has been declared a monster, without any political control, when as everybody knows it functions by political nods, as one concludes from a rationalised  żonqor point.

I honestly believe that the Minster for the Environment, Leo Brincat, can administer the environment on professional lines. Perhaps this is why he has been kept away from environmental responsibility, and MEPA, environment and all, are still not in his portfolio after two years. It is nice to have someone to shield the blows though!

One now hopes the Minster for the environment won’t be given a ‘promotion’ and be replaced by someone whose main qualification will be to convince us that he is ‘balancing’ environment and planning, naturally in the ‘national’ interest. This would only result in handing over of a mummified headless Cinderella from limbo, nicely adorned as a skeleton on a string, controlled by the Executive Council.

 

 

cartoon

What trust can one have in the headless skeleton, resuscitated and dressed as an Environmental Authority? In the absence of such trust, which is not easy to re-establish, it is very difficult to believe everything that is being said.

Those who yearn for a better future, better social wellbeing, a better environmental home, have to fasten their seatbelts. We are all in for a rough ride.

I sincerely wish all the good luck to the Environment Minister who will need all the help he can from genuine individuals and social entities, especially from the political field.

Unfortunately though he will have a lot of bones to pick with.

——————————————

PS – graphics were added to the original article.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Blinded by a pro-business vision – Alfred Baldacchino

June 21, 2015
 malta-todaySunday, 21 June 2015

Environment policy has been sacrificed in the name of short-sighted greed. Alfred E. Baldacchino, a former assistant director at the Environment Protection Directorate, outlines how this was achieved

interviewed by Raphael Vassallo
 

Evidence for this was provided by none other than the CEO of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) at a parliamentary committee meeting last Monday: when he candidly admitted that the report authorising the selection of Zonqor Point for this project did not include any input from the environment Protection Directorate (EPD).

Alfred E. Baldacchino was present for that meeting, as he has been present for practically every environmental challenge to face Malta in recent years. I meet the former EPD assistant director at his Attard residence, and find him still re-living the arguments of Monday’s animated meeting.

Before turning to his complaints about the site-selection process, let’s talk a little about the site itself. Zonqor Point. Protestors were indignant to hear the place referred to by defenders of the project as a ‘wasteland’ and ‘dumpsite’. What is the significance of this area for people like Baldacchino?

alfred_baldacchino

Alfred E. Baldacchino (Photo: Ray Attard)

“My comments on the use – or rather, abuse – of this area are mainly based on the negative social and environmental aspects of this project. Because you cannot focus only on the social or environmental aspects; they go hand in hand. One might also add commercial aspects… but not on their own. Unfortunately, however, during last Monday’s discussion the project was being looked at just from a commercial point of view. And this is an official view of the project, by the competent authority: MEPA, which is still the authority responsible for the environment. And although the commercial returns, on their own, may be good, one cannot just ignore the social and environmental aspects. Because obviously, such a project will have externalities: hidden costs which eventually society and the environment will have to pay. Both socially, and ecologically…

This “greed”, he adds, has completely eliminated all social and environmental considerations from a decision which was taken almost as an obsession to develop this area.

“I like to base my arguments on the electoral manifesto of ‘the movement’. I won’t call it a ‘party’, because in my opinion, presently, it would be an insult to the Labour Party and to the concept of socialism. This is not a socialist party. It is a movement… in fact, the government never refers to itself as socialist. To use an environmentalist analogy: this is a socialist party genetically modified into a far right, capitalist movement. This is shown by the various decisions being taken, and also by the help it gets from official entities which are supposed to be qualified and responsible for the management of social and environmental matters…”

continued in part 2 on: http://wp.me/pL6Mk-T1

or

Read the full interview in MaltaToday

2015.06.21---zonqor-point

Żonqor Point which spurred civil society to make an environmental and social point in the national interest.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

IR-RAPPORT TAL-MEPA DWAR IŻ-ŻONQOR

June 16, 2015

IR-RAPPORT TAL-MEPA DWAR IŻ-ŻONQOR

Alfred E. Baldacchino

It-Tnejn 15 ta’ Ġunju, 2015.

Nhar it-Tnejn, 15 ta’ Ġunju 2015, iltaqa’ l-Kumitat Permanenti tal-Kamra tad-Deputati dwar l-ambjent u l-ippjanar tal-iżvilupp. L-għan tal-laqgħa kien sabiex jiġi diskuss il-Preliminary Site Evaluation Report bid-data ta’ November 2014, dwar l-iżvilupp f’Ta’ Żonqor, li ġie mħejji mill-Uffiċjal Eżekuttiv Prinċipali tal-Awtorità Maltija għall-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar. Dan ir-rapport kien ġie mqiegħed fuq il-mejda tal-Kamra tad-deputati fis-25 ta’ Mejju 2015 mill-Prim Ministru.

Jiena kont mistieden għal din il-laqgħa fejn tkellimt fuq in-nuqqas ta’ tagħrif li ma kienx hemm fir-rapport u li mingħajru ma setgħetx tittieħed l-ebda deċiżjoni fl-interess soċjali u ambjentali. Il-punti ewlenin li tkellimt fuqhom huma dawn:

  1.  Dan ir-rapport fejn il-MEPA qed tagħti ħjiel li ż-Żonqor huwa tajjeb għall-bini tal-Università Amerikana, ma jgħid xejn dwar l-impatt negattiv kif il-wesgħa miftuha tal-inħawi (open spaces) sejra taffettwa b’mod negattiv is-saħħa tal-popolazzjoni, kemm tal-madwar kif ukoll tal-pajjiż. Dan l-iżvilupp mingħajr dubju jkollu kemm impatti mill-aspett fiżiku kif ukoll minn dak psikoloġiku, rekreattiv, xjentiku, edukattiv. Ir-rapport iqis biss l-aspett kummeċjali li fir-rapport ma jgħid xejn kontrih.
  2.  L-impatt tat-traffiku kemm fuq ir-residenti tal-post kif ukoll fuq l-inħawi tal-madwar lanqas mhu ta’ importanza milli jidher; ma jissemma xejn.
  3. Il-parti tar-rapport dwar l-ekosistema insejjaħlu miskin. Possibbli li fiż-żona msemmija fir-rapport ma tezizti l-ebda fawna xejn: molluski, rettili, insetti, u invertebratri oħra, kif ukoll għasafar, mammiferi, xejn. Minkejja li wħud minn dawn huma msemmija fid-direttivi tal-ambjent tal-Ewropa. Għal MEPA dawn ma jidhrux li huma ta’ xi importanza nazzjonali.
  4. Fir-rapport hemm referenza għall-kaċċa u l-nsib, u nqis il-kumment fuq dawn hu magħmul b’mod dispreġġattiv (para. 4.7). Hawn jingħad li minħabba l-kaċċa u l-insib il-post iddegrada aktar. Mingħajr ma nidhol fil-mertu ta’ dan il-kumment, jekk xejn dan juri li l-post huwa importanti għall-avifawna: għasafaar kemm residenti, tal-passa kemm fir-rebbiegħa kif ukoll fil-ħarifa, kif ukoll dawk li jqattgħu x-xitwa fil-post li juri kemm-il post huwa sinjur ekoloġikament.
  5. Imma fir-rapport tal-MEPA dan mhux importanti, ħlief id-degrazzjoni li għamlu l-kaċċaturi u n-nassab li qed tintuża biex tiġġustifika li l-post ma għandux valur ekoloġiku u hekk jista’ jinbena.
  6. In-nuqqas ta’ professjonalità tar-rapport. l-aktar fil-parti tal-biodiviersità, toħrog mill-fatt li l-ħaxixa Ngliża, tant invażiva li tikber anki wara tlett xhur fuq is-swar restawrati, tingħad li tikber biss iż-Żonqor u mkien f’Fort San Leonard. Dan inqisu li ntqal biex jiġġustifika li ż-Żonqor ma jimpurtax jekk jiġi żviluppat.
  7. In-nuqqas tal-għarfien tal-importanza tal-MEPA dwar il-biodiversità tal-post toħroġ minn Tabella 1, Stampa 2, f’paġna 6, fejn din turi l-klassifikazzjoni tal-għatja tal-art. Din ġiet inkluża biex turi l-faqar tal-post. Imma din turi biċ-ċar l-importaza tal-biodiversità tal-post, naturalemnt jekk wieħed ikun jaf jinterpreta. U dan minkejja li fir-rapport jingħad li dan il-post huwa mmirat għall-ħarsien minħabba raġunijiet ekoloġiċi (para 4.9). U ma ssemmew l-ebda speċi li jinstabu f’dan il-post li jagħmluh ta’ importanza ekoloġika. Ma naħsebx li kien jaqbel.
  8. Il-MEPA semmi ukoll xi passaġġi fiż-Żonqor li huma mimlija skart u materjal. Is-soluzzjoni ta’ dan huwa li dan il-post jiġi restawrat u mhux jintuża biex jiġġustifika li dan il-post għandu jiġi żviluppat. Anżi jekk dan jitħalla waħdu jirrestawra ruhu waħdu mingħajr ħtieġa ta’ ebda għajnuna mill-MEPA, jew minn xi żvilupp!
  9.  Jiddispjaċini ngħid li dan ir-rapport huwa miktub tant dilettantesk li jiżvija kemm il-Gvern, kif ukoll lil dawk li għandhom għal qalhom l-interess nazzjonali, dak ekoloġiku, u dak soċjali, kif ukoll dak kummerċjali. Inħoss li aktar qiegħed magħmul biex iġib il-boċċa ħdejn il-likk, kif wara kollox jixhed il-para 1.3.
  10. Fl-aħħarnett nixtieq niġbed l-attenzjoni tal-MEPA, għall-Programm Eelettorali tal-Gvern fuq l-Ambjent, Taqsima 9, paġna 93, fejn fost oħrajn jgħid:

Il-mira tagħna (tal-Gvern) hija cara: irridu nkunu ma’ ta’ quddiem nett għax hekk jixirqilna. Irridu nħallu wirt san lil ta’ warajna biex huma jkunu ahjar minna.

U jkompli f’paġna 100: “Nimplimentaw strategija cara  bbazata fuq best practices Ewropej li tpoggi l-ambjent fil-qalba tad-decizjonijiet, filwaqt li nimmiraw biex it-tkabbir ekonomiku jaghti kunsiderazzjoni xierqa lill-izvilupp sostenibbli u ambjentali.”

Wieħed hawn jistaqsi kif jista’ jintlaħaq dan il-għan mingħajr ma jkun hemm il-kontribut tad-Direttorat tal-Ambjent li, skont l-uffiċjal tal-MEPA, kif qal waqt il-laqgħa, kien hu li ma riedx jikkonsultah, għax ikkonsulta dawk li kienu jgawdu l-fiduċja tiegħu, u li xtaq li ma jsemmihomx!  U forsi għalhekk li d-Direttorat tal-Ħarsien tal-Ambjent għadu fil-limbo, u issa nafu uffiċjalment li dan mhux biss ma jistax jitkellem, imma lanqas biss jiġi kkonsultat.

Dan ir-rapport imur kontra din il-wegħda tal-Gvern.  Tant huwa fqir u dilettantesk li ma jagħmel l-ebda ġieh la lil minn kitbu, u lanqas lil ebda Awtorità li hija fdata biex tħares l-interessi soċjali u ambjentali ta’ dan il-pajjiż. Għalkemm illum mill-MEPA jiddispjaċini ngħid li wieħed jistenna kollox

aebaldacchino@gmail.com