Blinded by a pro-business vision | Part 2 (continued)

June 22, 2015

Blinded by a pro-business vision | Part 2

malta-today

Sunday, 21 June 2015

interviewed by Raphael Vassallo

continued from Part Ihttp://wp.me/pL6Mk-SO

One indication was the simple fact that MEPA went ahead and chose Zonqor Point without any basic studies or impact assessment exercises.

“The impact on society there, which has not been taken into consideration, is enormous. This area is the only open space, the lung, of this part of the island. Yet according to the electoral manifesto, ‘open spaces would be increased for the benefit of the people, from an environment and well-being point of view’.

“Great. Agreed. Now, if such an area already exists… why go against this direction, and propose development which will negatively impact society? The loss of that area will have social repercussions from a recreational and educational perspective, as well as from the point of view of science and ecology. Even commercially… because we also have to consider that the environment also has its commercial value. Development is not the only commercial activity…”

Another area where the government has departed from its pre-electoral pledges directly concerns the environment.

“We were told that ‘the environment would be given its full importance, and separated from MEPA so that it can function better in the interests of the people’. Agreed. In fact, I said I agreed with this before. But how is it being implemented? The environmental director is currently in limbo… no longer under the responsibility of the minister for the environment: he has no say whatsoever. He falls under the responsibility of the Prime Minister. And not only is the directorate rudderless, its officials not knowing whom they’re answerable to – they don’t have a director – but the latest blow to the environment is that when MEPA presented an official report to the government, it was a report without any input from the EPD…”

The EPD’s role would normally be to assess projects from both an ecological and also an infrastructural point of view. Baldacchino stresses that a serious decision on a project like this could not have been taken without this information.

“The construction of a university campus for 4,000 students will have a serious impact on the infrastructure, both in the vicinity and beyond. The traffic problem, for instance. How will this development impact the well-being of the people in the area, and also the rest of the island? These have not been taken into consideration at all.

“Not only that, but the CEO of MEPA, when talking at the committee meeting, made it very clear that the environment directorate has been completely ignored. How can such a report be considered professional and holistic, how can it contribute to the well-being of the country from a social, environmental and even political perspective, when the only unit to have any expertise in this matter is completely by-passed… when its data is completely excluded from the report? Instead, the report was entrusted to somebody ‘anonymous’… because MEPA refused to name the officials who drafted it. Then we all pretend that this is a serious, professional document for the government to decide upon in the interests of the country…”

This naturally raises the suspicion that the decision to propose Zonqor Point was taken first, then all the necessary adjustments were made to the government’s environment planning policies to make it happen…

Baldacchino shrugs with a wry smile. “This report is… I’ll say it in Maltese… ‘igib il-bocca hdejn il-likk’. I don’t know the equivalent in English…”

Neither do I. But it’s a pleasing analogy for (roughly) ‘setting oneself up favourably for the next throw’ in bowls…

“And this, too, runs counter to the spirit of the Labour Party manifesto before the election,” he continues. “That manifesto explained that the ‘government would be dedicated to the protection of the environment: not because of the obligations arising from our membership in the EU; but because it is in the interest of the people… of this generation, and future generations’. How do we achieve this? By preventing the competent directorate from contributing its data – not its opinions; its data – to the final decision? I cannot understand this. I just can’t… unless, of course, the electoral manifesto has not been accepted and taken on board by the movement in government…”

Meanwhile there are other indications that official policy documents may be facilitating certain individual projects. It has been noted, for instance, that the newly revised ‘Strategic Plan for Environment and Development’ has been imbued with ministerial discretion to allow certain deviations from planning regulations “for projects of national importance”. Moreover, the document was launched at a time when the Planning Act of 2006 is no longer in force… and the replacement document doesn’t go into the same level of detail regarding implementation and enforcement… does Baldacchino share these concerns about SPED?

“In brief, I would describe ‘SPED’ as a policy document to ‘speed up’ development at the expense of society and the environment. I’m a little blunt, but that’s how I see it…”

He adds that it had already sped up the level of environmental degradation. “Although, during the previous administration, the environment wasn’t something nice and rosy, today it is far worse. Because all the legislative instruments that were there are being dismantled. The directorate exists only on paper: perhaps to honour some obligation that we have to have a directorate in the EU.

“If there were genuine interest, MEPA would have remained under the ministry for the environment, and when all the amendments had been done for the demerger to take place, the planning directorate would have moved away from the ministry. But no, it was done the other way round, to accommodate development, and stifle environmental matters.”

It is this general policy direction, Baldacchino adds, that has led to this [yesterday’s] demonstration. “This will be attended by genuine socialists, genuine Labourites, genuine Nationalists, genuine AD supporters… the genuine man in the street who puts the interest of the country before the interest of any political entity.”

At the time of our interview, the protest is still some days ahead. But already there are indications that the issue itself has (somewhat predictably) taken on a decidedly partisan hue. It remains to be seen whether the turnout will match Baldacchino’s expectations… but there is also something of a counter-protest going on, with at least one petition being circulated in favour of the project in the South of Malta.

Isn’t there a danger, then, that this issue will slip out of the grasp of all those ‘genuine campaigners’, and become just another pull on the ropes in a political tug-of-war?

“One has to keep one’s feet on the ground, and accept the fact that a percentage of the electorate on each side of the political giants – I would say around 35-40% – are the type who would be shown a circle, and told it is a square… and they applaud the speaker for telling them that. It’s a ‘square circle’ mentality. And the fact that there is a petition going around applies to this mentality. The same thing happened in the Spring hunting referendum. For me, this is just a declaration of political failure by a government that says it listens, but then doesn’t hear. If there is a genuine interest in good governance, the electorate has to be part of the decision. Otherwise, one can only conclude the decision has been forced onto the electorate…”

And yet his own example sounds ominous. The Spring hunting referendum went on to be won by the hunters, in no small part thanks to the involvement of party politics…

“Yes, but the political intelligentsia of this island, whatever colour flag they wave, will get the message from that referendum. If they really are intelligent, that is. It was a very strong message. Despite the political intervention to achieve a ‘yes’ result, the intelligent electorate did not heed both parties’ stand on the issue. 49% voted against party lines. So for the politicians, the result is worse than it would have been had people been left to vote without political influence. I would assume the politicians will realise that the floating voters – the ones who realise that a circle is round – can think and act for themselves.”

At the same time, those defending the project (politically-motivated or not) also argue that the ‘South’ of the country has traditionally been neglected and abused over the years; and that projects such as this represent a turn-around in the area’s economic fortunes. The project itself is being touted as an example of ‘sustainable development’. Does he agree with the ‘sustainable’ part… and, short of this type of large-scale investment project: what would an environmentalist propose for the economic regeneration of the South?

“Thank you for bringing up the word ‘sustainable development’. That’s a buzz-word today. Before ‘the environment’ was a buzz-word. Now it’s ‘sustainability’… which is used by some politicians in a way that doesn’t make any sense, and only shows that they don’t understand the meaning of the word. ‘Sustainable’ means that the activity undertaken ‘will not be detrimental to future generations, in their use of the same resources in the same way as they are being used today’. But no politician would intend to define what he means by ‘sustainable’…”

All the same, by opposing individual projects such as the proposed Zonqor development, the environmentalist movement in general often opens itself to the charge that it doesn’t see sustainability in any form of development whatsoever. Is there such a thing as development which is ‘sustainable’, according to Baldacchino’s definition?

“I am not against commercial activity in any area, even in the area under discussion. But one has to take into consideration whether the commercial returns in the short-term will outweigh the negative social and environmental impacts in the long run. The hidden costs, the externalities of the whole project… these will have to be borne by future generations. For example, I was quite surprised to hear the MEPA representative at last Monday’s meeting declare that this project will generate jobs for the people of that area… as, for example, cleaners.”

He gasps in mock surprise. “When you think that in the past, the Labour Party had tried to eliminate dependency on foreigners, because we had become a country of ‘cleaners’ for foreign interests… are we going to revert back to offering jobs as cleaners to foreign projects? It was quite surprising to me. This project was supposed to kick-start economic activity in the south. How? By providing cleaning jobs to people in the area?”

At the same time, however, we must also concede that cleaners do exist: and some of them might actually appreciate the chance of extra work…

“OK, fine. But how are we going to raise the living standard? Again, this is part of the commercial argument, and why you can’t exclude the social aspect from it. What is the government doing to raise the cultural standard and improve quality of life in the area? It’s offering menial jobs that, today, most people don’t want to do… And who said there’s no other type of commercial activity that can take place in an area which has so much historical and ecological value? You could have genuinely sustainable, eco-friendly activity, generating jobs without ruining the area… educational activities, for example. One natural asset we have, and which is being completely ignored, is the geographical position of the island which can attract tourists on the basis of the historical attractions we have. But this is not accepted, because it doesn’t give as immediate, high returns as development…”

He argues that this, too, forms part of the reason for yesterday’s protest.  “People are disappointed with the way their environment is being ignored, for a blinded pro-business vision. It’s good to have a pro-business vision, don’t get me wrong. But not a blinded one. Not at the expense of society and the environment…”

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

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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

Il­-Qala, Għawdex… u s-­siġar

March 24, 2014

NewsBook

It-Tnejn, 24 ta’ Marzu, 2014

Il­-Qala, Għawdex… u s­-siġar

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

Ir-­Rabat, Ħaż-­Żebbuġ, il-­Mellieħa, Bormla, l-­Isla, Ħal ­Luqa, Santa Luċija, Ħaż-­Żabbar, il­-Foss tal-­Imdina, il­-Fgura, Ħ’Attard, Blata l-Bajda, tas-Sliema, il-­Mellieħa, il-­Ħamrun, il­-Belt, it-­Tokk  u n-­Nadur Għawdex, insomma jekk nibqa’ sejjer, insemmi l-­irħula u l­-ibliet ta’ Malta u ta’ Għawdex kollha. Imma forsi xi ħadd jistaqsi x’hemm komuni jew speċjali f’dawn il-­postijiet. Matul is­-snin li għaddew, numru ta’ siġar ġew maqlugħa jew imbiċċra f’dawn il­-postijiet. Saħansitra f’xi wħud minnhom inqalgħu toroq sħaħ ta’ siġar, bħal ngħidu aħna Ħaż-Żebbuġ, il­-Mellieħa, u anki l­-Fgura. F’inħawi oħra is­-siġar inżabru, kif jingħad, b’mod li aktar jixbħu arbli tad­-dawl jew sinjali tat-traffiku, milli siġra ħajja fil­-kobor, fis­-sbuħija, u fil-­hena kollha li din toffri.

U għal liema raġuni dawn is-­siġar sfaw hekk imżebilħa? Ir­-raġunijiet li jissemmew, xi kultant huma anki milqugħa minn mexxejja soċjali, anki poliltiċi u dawk ta’ Awtoritajiet pubbliċi, bħal ngħidu aħna l­-MEPA l-Awtorità li hija responsabbli għall-­ħarsien tagħhom. U wieħed hawn irid jirringrazzja lill-­MEPA tal­-permessi li tat biex dan seta’ jsir.

Fost dawn ir-­raġunijiet, nisimgħu li dawn jgħattu l­-veduta ta’ uħud, jew jiġbdu lejhom għasafar li mbagħad iħammġu taħthom, jew li jwaqqgħu l­-weraq u jħammġu t­-triq, jew li jagħmlu l­-ħsara lill-bankina, jew li jġibu n­-nemus, anki intqal li dawn jgħattu l-­veduta ta’ xi ħadd u dan ma jkunx jista’ jara l­-murtali tal-­kulur tal­-festa, jew xi preżentazzjoni bid-­dawl fuq is-­swar ta’ Sant’ Anġlu. Insomma, raġunijiet li juri n-­nuqqas ta’ apprezzament, nuqqas ta’ edukazzjoni, u egoiżmu bla qiegħ.

Kull waħda minn dawn is­-siġar darba kienet imħarsa mir­-regolamenti tal­-2001 sakemm il­-Mepa, li hija responsabbli mill-­ħarsein tal-­ambjent, dehrilha li dawn kellhom ħarsien żejjed u biddlet il­-liġijiet fl-­2011. Tgħid riedet togħġob lil xi ħadd, jew kienet imġiegħla minn xi ħadd biex jogħġob lil xi wħud?  Min jaf għaliex l-­Awtorità li qegħda hemm biex tħares l­-ambejnt f’isem il­-poplu li jħallasha, dgħajfet ir-­regolamenti għall­-ħarsien tas­-siġar biex dawn ikunu jistgħu jinqalgħu b’anqas inkwiet. U qed naraw ir­-riżultat ta’ din id­-deċiżjoni bil-­kbir.

Minkejja d-­diskors sabiħ li għandha l­-Mepa fil­-viżjoni tagħha dwar l-ambjent, il­-qerda tas­-siġar f’pajjizna għadha għaddejja b’ritmu mgħaġġel, kemm direttament kif ukoll indiretament, sa minn meta biddlet ir-regolamenti għall­-ħarsien tagħhom. Anki bl-­importazzjoni ta’ speċi barranin, bla kontrol ta’ xejn, uħud minnhom anki invażivi. U bejnietna (ma jmurx jismagħna l­-Ministru tal-­Finanzi) dan kollu qed isir u mħallas bi flus pubbliċi: jew mill­-Gvern ċentrali, jew mill­-Gvern lokali, kif kien isir qabel. U dan minkejja li l-­MEPA llum qiegħda taħt ir-­responsabbiltà tal-Prim Ministru.

Ftit huma dawk, u dawn minn fost il-­pubbliku, li jsemmu l­-għajnuna li jgħatu s­-siġar. L-­akbar għajnuna hija li dawn jgħatu l-­ossiġenu u jneħħu d-diossidu tal-­karbonju mill-­arja. U nafu kemm l­-arja hija mniġġsa l­-aktar bit-­tfigħ tad-­diossidu tal­-karbonju fl-­arja minn kull tip ta’ karozza u magna oħra li taħdem billi taħraq iż-­żejt. Dan ħafna ma japprezzawhx. Lanqas ma japprezzaw li dawn jilqgħu s-­sħana, jgħatu d-­dell, kemm lil min joqgħod taħthom, kif ukoll lil dawk id-­djar fil-­qrib tagħhom. U barra minhekk, jilqgħu l­-irjiħat u ­xita għad-djar ta’ warajhom u b’hekk tintuża anqas enerġija biex tkessah jew issaħħan id­-dar skont l-­istaġun.  Lanqas napprezzaw li dawn iżommu l-ħamrija f’postha u ma jħalluhiex titkaxkar max­-xita u tittajjar mir-­riħ. U anki jgħinu biex jinħażen l­-ilma tax-­xita u ma jħalluhx iżid fis-saħħa u jagħmel il­-ħsara fi triqtu għall­-baħar. U xi ngħidu għall­-fatt li l­-kulur ħadrani tagħhom, iż­-żifna tal-­weraq u l-­effett estetiku li jagħtu huma ta’ għajnuna wkoll biex iserraħ l­-imħuħ ta’ minn jarahom u japprezzahom. Sfortunatament issib li bil-barka ta’ minn suppost iħarishom, dawn is­-siġar mill-­urban, sena wara sena, jitbiċċru u jinqalgħu biex jissodisfaw il­-mentlità miskina ta’ xi wħud. Il­-prezz tal-­għibien tagħhom jħallsuh is-­soċjetà u l­-ambjent. U l­-awtoritajiet, x’jimportahom.

U mal-­lista’ ta’ postijiet ta’ bliet u rħula Maltin u Għawdxin fuq imsemmija, issa milli jidher sejjer jiżdied il­-Qala, f’Għawdex. Rajt il-­kummenti li hemm għaddejjin bħalissa fuq il-­Facebook dwar is­-siġar fil-pjazza tal-Qala, għall-raġunijiet bħal dawk imsemmija aktar ’l fuq biex dawn jinqalgħu, għalkemm kien hemm uħud li ma jaqblux ma’ dan. Skont is-Sindku tal-Qala, il-M­epa diġà ħarġet il-permess biex jinqalgħu s-siġar tal-palm.  Mingħand il­-Mepa ma nistenniex aħjar u llum wieħed isibha fuq quddiem nett biex tapprova jew tirregola xi attività li twassal għall-qerda tal-ambjent, kif wieħed jista’ jara u jisma’ kważi kuljum. Imma sa issa ma hemmx permess biex is­-siġar l-oħra tal-pjazza fil-Qala, jinqalgħu. Qed jintqal li xi ħadd, naħseb li dan ma jkunx interessat li juri ismu, beda jiġbor il-firem tal-Qalin biex dawn is­-siġar ikunu jistgħu jinqalgħu. U hekk il-Mepa tkun tista’ taħsel idejha u tgħid li la l­-gvern lokali u r-­residenti jridu hekk, allura hija ma tistax tagħmel mod ieħor! X’pajjiż miskin hux.

Image

Is-siġar li jgħatu l-ħajja lill-pjazza tal-knisja fil-Qala Għawdex. Dawn hemm minn irid jeqridhom.

Wara dan il-manuvrar kollu biex is-siġar tal­-pjazza tal-Qala jinqalgħu, fuq sit ġdid Save Qala Trees fuq il­-Facebook intqal li Dun Sultana mill­-parroċċa tal-­Qala, qal li s-siġar huma propjetà tal-Knisja u din mhux sejra tgħati permess biex is­-siġar jinqalgħu.

Minn sena ’l hawn deherli li lmaħt xi dawl innemnem fit­-tarf ta’ mina twila mudlama li llum twassal għall-qerda tas-siġar minn pajjiżna. Il-fomm ta’ dan id­-dawl huwa l­-programm elettorali tal-partit fil-gvern illum. F’paġna 101, taqsima 56, jgħid hekk: Inħarsu kontinwament is­-siġar eżistenti fl-ibliet u l-irħula Maltin u ninċentivaw it-tħawwil ta’ aktar siġar, partikolarment dawk indiġeni.  Veru li kif jgħidu, bejn il-kliem u l-fatti hemm baħar jikkumbatti. Imma naħseb li l-Kunsill Lokali tal-Qala Għawdex jaf b’din il-wegħda aktar u aktar meta, kif nista’ nifhem jien, fil­-biċċa ’l kbira tiegħu huma jirrapreżentaw il­-partit fil-gvern.

Ikun interessanti wieħed jara kif is­-siġar tal-pjazza tal-Qala Għawdex sejrin jispiċċaw. Wieħed ikun jista’ jara jekk il­-kelb tal-għassa tal­-ambjent tiegħek u tiegħi, fadallux aktar snin; fejn sejjer ixaqleb il­-miżien tal-Kunsill Lokali tal-Qala, jekk il­-keffa tal-voti personali tkunx itqal minn dik tal-ħarsien tas­-siġar tagħna lkoll; u kemm hija b’saħħitha l-wegħda miktuba tal­-partit fil-gvern. Nistennew u naraw il­-viżjoni soċjali sa fejn twassal f’dan il-pajjiż miskin.

 aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Environmental disorientation

January 31, 2014

times of malta

January 31, 2014

Environmental disorientation

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Political environmental awareness reached its climax in 2004 before accession to the EU. Membership achieved, environment started a political nose­dive. ‘Merged’ with the Planning Authority, it was hijacked, destabilised and emarginated. Look at how environmental matters are being handled today by MEPA, politically referred to only just for convenience sake with no conviction at all. This led nine environment NGOs to show their disapproval of the lack of professional management of the environment.

2013 can be regarded as the year when environment disorientation reached its peak, and environment conservation hit rock bottom. To the extent that MEPA ­ the competent authority for the EU Environment Acquis is not within the control and not in the portfolio of the Minister for the Environment, but managed and run by the Office of the Prime Minister, through a Parliamentary Secretary.  MEPA, who never really showed any zeal or understanding of environmental responsibilities, except for producing nicely coloured publications and policies, which nobody takes any notice of, not even Mepa itself, had a field day. Stable doors were flung wide open allowing horses not only to gallop out but to stampede over all environmental and social considerations. Reason for this sad and sorry state of affairs is that the environment and planning directorates are going to be separated. All environmental matters are in deep freeze, till the day, when the surgical operation of dismembering Mepa will see the light of day. In the meantime development permits are being dished out with little, if any, environmental or social concern. When the environment is given the kiss of life, then it won’t be MEPA problem any more to see how the vacated stables door can be closed to keep the freed horse inside.

Why was MEPA not included in the environment portfolio until the operation takes place, and then the planning directorate passed to the appropriate Minister? Because environment is not a priority. It never was.

WFD1

One of the expensive muddles regarding EU obligations is the Water Framework Directive: not an easy Directive by all means, the more so since Malta is an island. This Directive covers both surface, and underground water: a matter of life and death for all life in the country. 2013 saw this resource in such a pitiful state as it has never been since the advent of man on these islands. Projects inherited from previous water-drop1years, included an educational programme piloted by one Minister and sponsored by a local bank to catch every drop of water, while another Minister happily boasting and spending 57 million euros or more, mostly coming from the EU, excavating underground tunnels so that every drop of rain­water caught is swept into the sea, after bulldozing biodiversity in valleys. Yet another Minister responsible for EU funds to see to the purification of drainage water, not to harvest such resource, but to dispose of it into the sea with a certain pride and satisfaction of

dumped-water

Rain water which comes for free is chanelled to the sea. Then sea water is pumped up to be desalinated by energy consuming desalinators!

being unique in the EU! Still another Minister trying to find his way through an inherited tangled cobweb, trying to plug the holes through which water tankers plying the local streets, selling water extracted for free from the aquifers. Another Minister is financing the desalination of sea water (containing dumped purified drainage water) by energy consuming desalination plants. I cannot not mention water park, the dancing fountains and the expanses of turf being laid, taking gallons and gallons of water sprinkled everyday with the approval of the Ministry for landscaping. And a postponed and postponed national water policy, in the face of a possible EU infraction.  Great Political management of the environment! Shall we soon be singing ring a ring o’roses? God forbid.

“Environment destruction is turning our lives upside-down”

The monument for environmental and social destruction during 2013, without doubt was the Nadur cemetery in Gozo; built on a priceless ecological water catchment area, destroying works of the Knights to harvest rain water, and putting the ecosystem and the life of a farming community in danger, by depriving them of water and by flooding other farmers’ fields because of the hydrological changes in the area. A 600­ grave cemetery to be run on a time share basis blessed by that Competent Authority for the Environment, MEPA; blessed by the local politicians; helped by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal who like Pontius Pilate washed its hands from such a catastrophic social and environmental crime; and developed, built and blessed by the Gozo Church Diocese. A cemetery whose first intakes were Mepa’s and

epitaph_name_Tomb1

the Gozo Diocese’s environmental and social conscience. Only God can forgive such an environmental and social crime, approved in 2013. To add insult to injury, this happened in Eco ­Gozo, cementing the lip service for ecological protection and the lack of understanding of biodiversity.

eco-1

The good thing about environment in 2013 is that I have run out of space, and cannot delve deeper on the proposed changes to the Outside Development Zones, and Structure Plan; the Xemxija scandalous planning decision, biodiversity loss and the invasion of alien species, and other policies in the pipeline in favour of further myopic development, such as land reclamation, Hondoq ir-Rummien, the Malta-­Gozo tunnel both in Eco Gozo, all burdening the environment and society with more hidden costs and destruction.

What of 2014 one might ask? Following the liaise-faire in environmental and social awareness by politicians and other social entities since accession to the EU, one can only say that environmentalists, socialists and nationalists (nothing to do with politicians) atheists and believers alike, would better fasten their seat belts. Past decisions can only reflect further destruction of the environmental and social fabric, rendering our country a difficult and unhealthy place to live in. The momentum of these negative impacts on society and the environment can already be seen and felt. Development and money matters are holding the political decision makers of this country at gun point, at a cost to the environment and society.

times 1

Photo and caption in the Times: Changes burdening the environment and society with more hidden costs and destruction were also proposed for Eco-Gozo. Photo: viewingmalta.com

Every time I get to think about this, with every thought of where all this will lead us to, makes me feel that I can’t tell the bottom from the top. Am I standing on my head or on my heels? Is it cloudy is it bright? Is it day or is it night? Am I wrong or am I right? And is it real?

Environment destruction is turning our living upside-down. But why cannot this country ever grow up?

I have as yet refrained from answering my question as to whether all this is sheer inexperience in good governance, or a shrewd diabolical political psychology.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

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MEPA’s reform and the environment

January 9, 2010

 Saturday, 1st August 2009

 Mepa’s reform and the environment

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The Blueprint For Mepa’s Reform identifies four pillars to achieve such an aim. This was awaited by many who yearn for the real, honest and professional protection of the Maltese environment. How far does this blueprint succeed in ensuring such a vision?

A number of functions were regarded as not being core to Mepa’s mandate and, as such, they were assigned to the responsibilities of other government entities. Yet, the most important functions that should have been assigned outside Mepa is environment protection. Perusal of the reform document leads to the conclusion that Mepa is regarded as just dealing with development and the issuing of development permits. The environment, on the other hand, is just an appendix to give its views, when asked, or when convenient.

As emphasised in my letter (The Times, June 30), because of its international responsibilities and obligations, the environment has no place in an uthority whose first and only importance is development. This does not mean that the environment has to be a new authority; it can be merged with the Malta Resource Authority. There are a number of reasons which justify this, even in the Blueprint For Mepa’s Reform itself:

1. The second sentence on the first page states that Mepa, as it is known today, resulted from the former Planning Authority being given the role of competent authority for environmental protection under the Environment Protection Act (EPA) in 2001. This is a totally incorrect statement because Mepa is formed by the former Planning Authority and the former Environment Protection Department. These are two different directorates. Whether this statement is a lapsus or whether the cat has been accidentally let out of the bag only the drafters of the report can say. But it vindicates those who say that the PA and the EPD never merged but the latter was taken over by the former. And when such a report is drawn on this assumption, than the whole reform is derailed.

2. In outlining the duties of the EPD, the report adds: This directorate formulates strategies, regulations and guidelines, monitors their adherence and regulates activities that may negatively impact the environment through a licensing and permitting system. This is also not completely correct. These are but a mild fraction of the duties of the EPD. The international duties such as those arising from international conventions and those of the European Union are but a few others. Far from just an input to development planning.

3. The Prime Minister said he definitely does not agree that the environment becomes a separate authority because: If the environment and the planning authorities do not agree, who would be the Solomon to decide. Shall we bring in a third authority? And this is the very reason why the environment and the planning authority should be different and separate. Every time the environment and the planning directorates do not agree it is always the development function that has the upper hand. This is even highlighted in the Mepa auditor’s Baħrija report dated July 20, 2009, which clearly states that the DCC did not even consult the EPD, despite the fact that the two Directorates are within one authority, again vindicating my reasoning in my contribution to The Times of April 22, 2008. No Solomon was needed to solve this issue: the EPD was just bypassed. And I am sure this is not what the Prime Ministers means and wants, yet, it is what is often being done.

4. The Prime Minister also stated that there is no point in Mepa having a minerals section when this is a resource and this is now being transferred to the MRA. I am also sure that the Prime Minister fully agrees that biodiversity (species and their natural habitat) are a very important national resource. With the same reasoning, shouldn’t this also be under the responsibility of the MRA?

5. The Planning Authority never had any international experience or responsibilities especially in environmental matters. After eight years of being exposed to such international responsibilities through the Environment Protection Directorate, the Planning Directorate is still very sceptical and still has not grasped the onus of such responsibilities. The authors of the Mepa reform report seem to be more familiar with planning and development matters than with environmental responsibilities. The proposed amalgamation of the Environment Protection Act with the Development Planning Act would mean laying environmental matters, with all the international and EU responsibilities, at the feet of development planning. Such a concern has already been expressed by the EU in one of its reports regarding the unhappy situation of the Environment Protection Directorate within Mepa. This proposal would be very costly, from a human resource, financial and political viewpoint.

6. The aura that surrounds the Mepa reform is mainly based on the economic aspect, leaving the social and ecological aspects aside and it is easy to see that the reform is only directed towards the old Planning Authority – development. The Cinderella at Mepa is fading into history books. Such a scenario would completely eliminate any basis for sustainability. I am sure and I honestly believe that the Prime Minister will take these points into consideration.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com