Times of Malta, 8 April 2008, by Mark Micallef – A report laying down a blueprint for environmental reform is calling for a clear “firewall” to be built between the government of the day and Mepa in a bid to restore the credibility of this all-important environmental regulator.

The document, presented yesterday to the Prime Minister by the Today Public Policy Institute – an independent think-tank set up last year, represents a veritable nationwide environmental action plan. Nonetheless, as expected, the lion’s share is taken up by proposals to reform Mepa.

It comes in the wake of Lawrence Gonzi’s declaration that he would be shortly opening a broad public consultation on the reform of the authority, a central promise in his party’s electoral manifesto.

With regard to the main theme of increasing transparency and confidence in the authority’s proceedings, the report is suggesting a radical reform in the way people are appointed to the authority’s boards. Rather than the large number of political appointees there is presently, the board members should be largely chosen from a list of people suggested directly by the representative bodies of civil societies – from unions to employers’ bodies, academics and NGOs, the report proposes.

“This does not mean that the civil society representatives have to be ‘experts’… What is needed are men or women of diverse backgrounds who are capable of weighing up the merits of a case – advised and guided on the technicalities by professionals – and can reach a considered judgement…,” the report says.

The Prime Minister will obviously be able to vet or even reject any of the nominees but, once chosen, all the appointments would be scrutinised by Parliament’s standing committee on development planning.

One public officer to represent the government will be appointed to a tied post on the board.

Although the system would not apply to the chairmen of the boards, even here the report suggests that these should be appointed by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition rather than have direct political appointees. When there is no agreement on the people proposed, the reasons for the objections should be made public and the President then invited to resolve the issue.

The authority’s chairman would assume an executive role, taking on the functions of both the present director-general (who is responsible for the technical and professional day-to-day running of the authority) and of the present chairman who operates on a part-time basis, chairing the main board’s sittings, making major decisions and being responsible for overseeing all aspects of planning and sustainable development.