Bad days for the environment… yet again
But how will the PN act in practice on this issue, now and in future?”
One would have hoped that with the recent legislation on Mepa in place there would have been a different approach to environmental issues and matters.
Although admittedly some time will be needed until the Bill itself becomes fully operational, this has more to do with the prevalent spirit rather than the actual wording of the law.
As I had argued many times, there was hardly anything to fault in the original Mepa mission statement. It was almost impeccable.
But then one can also say the same about the constitution of the former Soviet Union.
In the latter case problems arose when the dictators that ran the show from Moscow came to put it into practice.
The recent statement by the Church Environment Commission on Hondoq ir-Rummien which some local newspapers even tried to gag or relegate to small print, exposes the mockery sustainable development is being subjected to right now.
It also goes to prove that preferential renewable energy rates or not for Gozitan citizens, this government does not care a fig about eco Gozo. The way the charade-like public hearing was conducted on Hondoq a few weeks ago with a former Nationalist MEP candidate behaving like a precocious child who wants it all, while lobbying for the project to be seen through, cannot be erased from memory that easily.
The message was as deafening as Giovanna Debono’s reluctance to pronounce herself on the issue – two strategic moves that showed that when push comes to shove, the Nationalists have no qualms about failing their litmus test for eco Gozo dismally.
It might sound reassuring for Mario de Marco to declare that our environment is too small to afford to suffer any more mistakes than we have already committed in the past.
I could not but agree more.
But how will the PN act in practice on this issue, now and in future.
We as a Labour Party have our statutory obligations to bind us as far as the environment and sustainable development are concerned while the PN does not. Giving it the opportunity to speak different languages to different audiences, regardless of principles and basic beliefs, so long as their opportunism and political deviousness are allowed to prevail.
The Hondoq saga should also serve as an eye opener for any future Labour Party administration; the same way that the Wied il-Qliegha saga in Mosta should and must.
The very valid reason why in the case of the Mosta scandal the environmental NGOs went one further beyond demanding resignations by also calling for court action over atrocious countryside building permits is that in this particular instance where a meadow was divided into four plots against Mepa policy while two owners gained permits to build reservoirs but built two bungalows instead, is simple for all to see and calls for remedial action rather than for further probing before one takes a clear cut position.
Not only has the auditor objected to this project, but so did the Environment Protection Directorate and Mepa’s own Heritage Advisory Committee.
How the DCC could grant the relevant permit when all Mepa’s departments urged refusal is mind boggling to say the least.
In future the PL must show strong resolve to avoid ever tilting this way by even considering yielding to certain pressures which no doubt will be brought to bear on any political party in government. If it fails to do so, then there will be little if at all to distinguish the PL and the Nationalist Party from one another, regardless of all that we may believe and uphold about the environment and sustainable development.
On such issues we need to be one in calling for people to personally shoulder responsibility for the destruction of our countryside.
On government’s part it will be pointless for the authorities to blame Mepa because as the NGOs pointed out, the highest authorities are au courant about this dismal saga and they have been so for years on end.
As your readers may have noticed I have never opted for the easy way out of embracing a tree hugging approach by rubbishing all forms of development.
I say so not only because the construction industry cannot be simply written off the map but also because I am aware that so long as a development is mapped out in a sustainable manner, there is still room for it, although the island has long become crowded out.
But to refuse to take a stand on such issues is tantamount to turning a blind eye or else looking the other way in the face of a flagrant act of environmental rape.
Whatever the future may hold, I will not look on silently while our heritage is destroyed by the very same people who are elected and employed to protect it.
It all boils down to legality. Period.
Sadder still is the fact that the dismal state of affairs at present goes far beyond Hondoq and the Mosta sagas.
It also applies to the air quality issue and how government tried to reassure one and all that it has its house in order simply because it claims to have convinced the EU that half or almost half of the occasions when it exceeded EU limits of particulate matter in our air were due to natural causes like dust from the Sahara Desert and sea spray.
In behaving in this manner and resorting to such an apologetic approach of self justification, government is trying miserably to brainwash us into believing that it is not true that we are constantly living surrounded by and facing the consequences of our emissions laden air.
All the PM’s talk about his government’s commitment to implement the air quality plan flies in the face of the constantly polluting buses, heavy vehicles and construction machinery that one comes across daily together with numerous diesel-fuelled vehicles, particularly in the heavily congested areas like Msida, Kappara Road, St Julian’s and Sliema – the ultimate permanent building site.
If these diesel-fuelled vehicles that continue to emit thick, dark fumes with no steps being taken to correct the situation can be excused under the pretext that their emissions all hail from the Sahara Desert then boy, indeed, aren’t we all living in a Third World country or even an environmentally failed state!
I hate to sound alarmist but one does not need to be a doctor of medicine – which I am not – to realise that such pollution was responsible for increased cancer rates, premature deaths from lung and heart disease, as well as for increased rates of asthma attacks.
One also has reason to feel concerned about the disparity between the evident pollution in the streets and Mepa’s allegedly favourable air quality monitoring results, mainly due to the fact that the air monitoring stations are reported to have often been placed incorrectly and were not providing data on the real situation. Even were one to exclude instances where they were not even functioning properly.
In an excellent article entitled ‘Monitoring not detecting pollution’, environmentalist Dr George Debono made it clear that irrespective of what our air monitoring stations indicate, there is no question that a large proportion of Malta’s population is regularly exposed to a serious degree of pollution, adding that such pollution is both illegal and preventable, yet nothing happens.
As Dr Debono concluded – as long as nothing is done, it can only be concluded, that, regardless of the serious health impact of the visible pollution in our streets, the government is satisfied with the situation so long as the air monitoring stations continue to provide results that paint a rosy picture and please the EU. That people’s health gets undermined is of no consequence.
In the same breadth we recently came to learn that while most other EU member states have been switching to cleaner technology for their energy generation, we have been the only country that switched over to the polluting heavy fuel oil, while claims by the Birzebbuga Environmental Action Group that despite Mepa conditions, Freeport dredging during the bathing season continues unabated have remained totally ignored.
But I am missing something.
The Parliamentary Secretary has promised a new environmental policy within the next 18 months!
Meanwhile we can all afford the luxury of dreaming on in this heavily polluted island without even risking to speculate as to how such a policy once agreed upon will be enforced and implemented.