Maltatoday, 20 April 2008, by Charlot Zahra –

The independent Today Public Policy think-tank has recommended a sweeping reform of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA)’s composition and modus operandi.
One of the key recommendations made by the Today Public Policy Institute – set up on the initiative of the publishers of this newspaper, Media Today –in its report on the reform of MEPA is the reduction of the present MEPA Board from the current 15 members to nine.
Moreover, the report proposes that the current chairman and chief executive are replaced by a single executive chairman to remove the present dual responsibility.
To remove conflicts of interest and to ensure that civil society is more broadly represented, the Today Public Policy Institute suggests that the Prime Minister should select the executive chairman and commission chairmen only after consultation with the leader of the Opposition.
Specific civil society bodies would nominate remaining members of the boards and commissions, and then the Prime Minister would vet them and may reject them.
He will then submit his selection of names the already existing parliamentary standing committee on development planning for approval. The Today Public Policy Institute also recommends that there should be regular Parliamentary scrutiny of MEPA’s operational effectiveness and efficiency, including the auditor’s reports.
The 36-page-report was presented by Martin Scicluna, chief executive of the Today Public Policy Institute (TPPI) to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, who is politically responsible for MEPA, at the Auberge de Castille on Thursday morning.
Presenting the report to the press at the end of his meeting with Gonzi, Scicluna, who is also the lead author of the report, said that “in the past few years, the direct influence of ministers in the planning process was too close. Government should stand back and let MEPA’s boards and commissions do their jobs.”
Asked about his impression of the meeting with the Prime Minister, Scicluna said: “There was a little doubt in the Prime Minister’s mind on implementing the selection process we suggested. Gonzi expressed doubt that it would be too stringent a process for people to accept to be nominated for posts on the MEPA boards and commissions. However the public demands more transparency with regards to the appointments of key people on MEPA. He sees it from the eyes of a politician, while our view is that of the public,” the chief executive of the TPPI said.
As to MEPA’s systems and procedures, the report makes 70 recommendations for improvement in order to tighten up matters of regulation and the way business is conducted in some areas and to close loopholes.
These proposals range from the way in which the board and commission hearings are conducted, to tightening up the way EIAs are done, to proposals to close loopholes in the abuse of ODZ rules, which have been the subject of such controversy recently, to the need to for a powerful Aesthetics Committee to be formed, among others.
On the MEPA auditor, the report says that the auditor’s new position with the Ombudsman’s office may be “a workable compromise”; however the situation should be kept under review “to ensure that the auditor is able to fulfil his role effectively and efficiently”.
The report also deals with the use and conservation of Malta’s primary natural resources: water and stone.
It calls for the immediate establishment of a national policy on water, together with the implementation of a “judicious policy of reducing demand for water and encourage its conservation”.
“The price of water, which is currently subsidised by the Government, should be increased gradually – taking due account of the social impact – to manage water demand more effectively,” the independent think-tank recommended in its report.
In this respect, the report also calls for the registration of all bore-holes in Malta and Gozo and “more realistic charges” should be imposed on consumers of water from bowsers.
With regards to quarrying, the report recommends that the annual extraction of limestone from quarries “should be capped to conserve what we already have and control the rate of construction”.
Moreover, the price structure of limestone should take into account of “the true economic cost and the real value of stone,” the Today Public Policy Institute recommended in its report.