Maltatoday, Sunday 15 June 2008 –

In the last election the Nationalist Party was given an electoral mandate to implement 77 green proposals which constituted 22% of all promises included in the PN’s manifesto. In his analysis James Debono tries to find out how sustainable these electoral promises are.

“We will invest in a wind farm project, 20 miles out at sea, generating between 75MW to 100MW of clean energy,” the PN promised in its electoral manifesto despite fully knowing that the technology for deep sea wind turbines is not currently available.
By completely excluding land-based and near-shore wind farms, the government ignored a report it had commissioned to foreign experts Mott Macdonald in 2005.
It is true that research on deep water turbines using oil rig technology is being conducted in Scotland, but whether this technology will be available in the next five years is very doubtful.
According to the latest data on renewable energy in 2007, Malta was placed at the very bottom of the list of European countries to make use of renewable energies.
As regards energy conservation the PN promised the distribution of 10 energy saving lamps per household over two years, enabling each household to save €200 per year on its electricity bill. Not a bad idea in itself. Yet for all its good intentions the government remains toothless when it comes to enforcing existing energy saving regulations.
The government has so far paid lip service to the EU directive on energy efficiency of buildings but no official body is currently monitoring new buildings and enforcing these regulations.
The legal notice issued in 2007 sets strict rules on energy conservation and applies to any development application submitted to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority after January 2007. Yet since then, neither MEPA nor the resources authority is enforcing the law. Architects are expected to exercise self regulation.
We were also told that Gozo should become an ecological island, Eco-Gozo: “a model for high environmental standards, starting with a pilot project in one locality.”
Yet it now emerges that the government had no clear plans before making this promise. Approached by this newspaper, Giovanna Debono could only say that the Government and the Ministry for Gozo will commission a report which would set a strategy.
So far the only notable indicator of the new government’s green credentials was the erection of a monstrous structure in the Dwejra nature park, after MEPA issued a permit for an interpretation centre which hosts a restaurant which was previously twice refused by MEPA.
MEPA has temporarily stopped the development but with the permit already approved, its doubtful whether it can stop it forever.
In its manifesto the Nationalist party also promised that the embellishment of urban spaces, towns and villages will continue. But on the dawn of the election Lija residents awoke to the reality of a MEPA permit for a four storey block which is set to dwarf the Belvedere tower. Attard residents are still questioning a decision in the local plan which opened the floodgates of development in an open space behind Villa Bologna.
The government has also promised to increase efficiency, transparency, enforcement and accountability for MEPA.
Significantly one of the government’s first actions since the Prime Minister took over MEPA was to issue a code of ethic for MEPA employees and appointees. But strangely while sanctions for employees not abiding to this code of ethics are contemplated, no such sanctions are envisioned for the various political appointees on the boards. The new code of ethics still allows the chairman to meet developers in the company of his subordinates, something already censored by MEPA auditor Joe Falzon.
The manifesto also promised to intensify the fight against illegal construction outside development zones. Yet just 19 days before the election and five days after he promised to redress the country’s environmental deficit, Lawrence Gonzi had entered into a secret agreement with the Armier squatters in which he promised them that none of the pre-1992 boathouses will be removed. Significantly the Prime Minister who is now also responsible for MEPA has also committed himself to intervene with MEPA on a pending application presented by the same squatters within six months of being elected.
Rather than refusing blatant ODZ applications by big developers to avoid endless sagas like Ta’ Cenc and the Verdala golf course, MEPA is now considering an application for the construction of 98 bungalows in a pristine area in Mellieha.
One clear step in the right direction was the MEPA board recommendation that ODZ applications should be screened before the developer actually applies. This would save MEPA as well as the developer a lot of time and money wasted on useless studies.
So far the government’s most significant action on the land use front was to stop the demolition of the hideous Television House, Gwardamangia, to make way for real estate.
A significant precedent was also set by MEPA last week when it overruled an outline permit for the development of a 23-storey tower in Qui-Si-Sana; a move which sent shivers down developers’ spine.
Yet just a few hours later the same MEPA approved 860 new apartments set on 11 floors which are set to ruin views from Mistra bay and to increase pressue for a destructive road in the pristine north.
Elsewhere, MEPA’s commitment to enforcement action was turned into a media spectacle against an illegal farmhouse in Mgarr. Yet enforcement notices dating back more than a decade against more serious abuses – like that against a wall blocking public access to the picturesque Fomm ir-Rih remain on its desk. In Gozo enforcement orders against development in the Xlendi valley are still awaiting enforcement 12 years down memory lane.
The government has also promised action against the illegal use of boreholes, which are draining Malta’s water table.
Malta currently places 172nd among the 180 countries ranked by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) on the basis of availability of renewable water sources. Malta barely manages to surpass desert countries like Saudi Arabia and Libya, and is surpassed by Cyprus and all the other European Union countries.
The PN promised to offer farmers another source of water for irrigation. The only available source will be that created by the three brand new water treatment plants in Gozo, Cirkewwa and Xghajra. Yet so far Malta still lacks a policy for the re-use of this resource and as things stand, the river of water created by these plants will be simply drained in the sea.
As regards waste management, the manifesto promised that as from 1 April a system of separation of waste at source will come into effect. Logistical problems forced the government to postpone its own April Fool’s deadline by a couple of weeks.
The door-to-door waste separation scheme was first discussed in 2000. According to the 2000 Solid Waste Strategy, a source-separation and separate collection of recyclable (including biodegradable) materials from municipal solid waste was to start at the end of 2004.
Despite having stringent targets on the packaging waste directive and on the landfill directive, government has procrastinated on a door-to-door waste collection scheme, preferring the bring-in site scheme: which, however, is limited in its effectiveness since only the dedicated few actually make use of it.
In the meantime the government squandered a precious year after a draft legal notice introducing a deposit scheme for plastic bottles was abondoned following protests by the GRTU.
Eight years down the line after the first plans for a door-to-door separation scheme were envisioned, the government still expects residents to collect their recycling bags from local councils or to buy them from supermarkets.
In the meantime the government has still not announced the location of two new recycling plants like that in Sant’ Antnin which will become a necessity by 2013 when Malta will be expected by the European Union to drastically reduce the amount of waste going in the landfill.