The Malta Independent, 12 August 2008 –

The other day I wrote a letter to another daily newspaper on the inherent environmental contradictions on the local scene.

One of the questions I raised was how can one take the government’s commitment in favour of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority reform seriously when the government appointed board members, at one stage included a member of the PM’s private secretariat, who had in the past voted in favour of projects of irreparable environmental damage.

Since then I came to learn that to add insult to injury the same senior staffer at OPM has been accompanying Lawrence Gonzi at a number of Mepa ‘reform’ consultation meetings with the constituted bodies.

My article generated a number of blogs and comments which I fully respect even where I beg to differ, but one particularly blog stood out.

It ran something like this – While agreeing wholeheartedly with Petra Bianchi of Din l-Art Helwa that Mepa is suffering from a deeply ingrained cancer and parts of the organisation are rotten to the core, how much more tragic is the whole idea of Mepa itself drawing up a proposal for its own reform? The blogger added: Since when does a terminally ill patient conduct a diagnosis on himself and prescribe his own medicine? Even worse…is he now going to operate on himself too?

When writing this article I had just read an interview with the new Mepa chairman who ironically was until recent the chairman of the toothless MRA – Malta Resources Authority.

His interview was level headed in parts, and questionable in others when he denied that certain architects gain preferential treatment and that it does not appear to be the case that large developers benefit in a different way when compared to small ones. But what worried me most was that the man spoke of carrying out a complete review of the way the three Development Control Commission boards at Mepa operate apart from a general revamp of the authority’s operations.

I am saying so not because such revamping is not necessary but what worries me indeed is how on earth can the newly appointed Mepa Chairman speak of such reforms when the government-led consultation process is still underway.

It is true that the man said that the reform will not be done by himself alone but that it will definitely be a team effort which involves all sectors but the government appointed chairman should have kept mum before the entire consultation process was completed.

I was equally disturbed by the manner in which he tried to shrug off the bad image Mepa has.

He was reported to have said that he strongly believes that Mepa has a bad public image as it is a good target for all sectors to spread negative publicity, adding that today we are in an era where everything said against Mepa makes good copy – even though he tried to qualify that by acknowledging that certain wrong decisions taken in the past by Mepa have also contributed to the authority’s image.

The most important point that both the chairman and the government are missing is that Mepa’s wounds are primarily self-inflicted.

They all boil down to lack of good governance, lack of transparency, the impression of hidden hands pulling the strings, and Lawrence Gonzi’s pig headedness in allowing Mepa to be used as a pivotal instrument of the power of the incumbency during the election period days after he had committed himself publicly to reform this ‘monster’ if re-elected, by ensuring that it would fall under his direct responsibility. The rot continued to spread further when certain environmental misdemeanors continued to take place in full public view with Gonzi as the minister responsible for the organisation in the post-2008 election period.

A couple of weeks ago when interviewed by a Sunday newspaper I was asked what I think about Mepa.

I replied something on these lines: I agree with Mepa. God forbid if it did not exist. The biggest pity is that it was not established much earlier. I did so to distance myself completely from the get rich quick crooks – now in sheep’s clothing – that pulled the strings during the PAPB days when the minister’s final signature was all that mattered. But my biggest concern is that although things seem to have got better under Mepa in actual fact, Mepa has proved to be a far more sophisticated version but near identical one of the PAPB of the 80s when stripped of its gloss and slick patina.

All this begs the question – will the Mepa reform be cosmetic or will it be a root and branch overhaul of its entire structures?

Does the government have the political will to enforce and push through the necessary radical changes to ensure that the environmental deficit created by the very same Nationalist administration that has been in power over these past years will be not only addressed but also remedied?

There have been many comments, reports and statements on Mepa reform.

The Prime Minister deserves some praise for acknowledging that there is a problem that needs to be addressed even if it is mainly self-created.

What we shall be watchful for in the coming months will be to ensure whether he will commit himself to finding the right solutions. Whether he will in actual fact identify them publicly. And more important than anything else…whether he will implement them!