Times of Malta, 12th November 2008

Ever since I can remember, there have been illegal huts and rooms clustered along our coasts and dotted throughout the Maltese countryside, squatting on public land. And ever since I can remember, the general feeling of the public has always been one of helplessness, in the knowledge that the government of the day was not willing to do anything about it.

One result of this is the widespread attitude that the law is not equal for all. Over far too many years, people have written and complained, and environmentalists have campaigned against this state of affairs, but nothing was ever done. The problem was allowed to grow and grow until it reached huge proportions and became increasingly difficult to solve.

Now, over the last few months, some illegal structures on public land have been knocked down and removed, and some squatters have been evicted. After decades of closing both eyes to this abuse, the government has unexpectedly rolled up its sleeves and is taking swift action.

Parliamentary Secretary Jason Azzopardi must know that, on this particular issue, he has the public standing solidly behind him – that is, all those who have not built an illegal structure and are not squatting on public land. I have certainly not yet come across anyone who does not support the government’s actions on this front.

However, I also haven’t met anyone who has not immediately added, “but what about the rest?” – we all know that there are many, many more, and all over the place.

Now that action has commenced, it must be taken to its right conclusion. The feeling that the law is not equal for all must not be allowed to take on a new shape. This initiative must continue and press on, until all illegal structures on public land have been removed, particularly those scarring our countryside and coastline. It is also important that a use is found for sites which need to be maintained to survive, such as the Għajn Tuffieħa barracks, and that other sites are not only cleared but also rehabilitated, such as the vacated area at Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq.

We must not allow sites to collapse into major eyesores such as the White Rocks site, which was an attractive residential complex in its day but has been destroyed through neglect and vandalism. Another abandoned area left to ruin is Fort Campbell in Selmun.

There are countless issues which still need to be addressed. We have heard for some time that an amendment to the law is to be enacted that will forbid the sanctioning of new illegal buildings, but the step has not yet been taken. I hope that this next move to safeguard our environment will now also be made without further delay.