Friends of the Earth Malta together with The Ramblers’ Association and Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar endorse the declarations of Mr David Pace, the Commissioner of the Environment, Mr Stephen Farrugia and Mr Christopher Falzon, both former MEPA Chairmen, that “the proposed amendments to environment and planning law are a major step backward” in development planning, heritage and environment protection in Malta.
The NGOs believe that measures announced under the guise of reducing bureaucracy reveal a calculated resolve to do away with all internal checks and balances. What with the ‘reform’ of sanitary laws, the proposed removal of both panels of the Heritage Advisory committee, the extension of the DNO application system, and the tightening of political control over appointments? The recent development decisions taken by the Authority, like the ODZ land in Zonqor and the shameless 3-storey commercial building replacing the “agricultural” winery in Burmarrad, betray the style of autocratic rule favoured by this administration.
This is also a parallel resolve to neutralise public scrutiny. Recent public participation has been purely cosmetic as public consultation took place only after decisions were taken, secret contracts signed and laws enacted. The disdain for public consultation was proven on the recent ODZ Policy, when none of the NGOs’ suggestions were accepted.
The NGOs agree that what is being proposed is “a structure which concentrates power to a few people and widened ministerial power.” It appears to the NGOs that the sole purpose of all these manoeuvres is to reinforce the unhindered freedom of the Minister and of the MEPA CEO to favour particular interests! The Gaffarena sanctioning at Qormi is a case in point! Who can blame the public for suspecting foul play?
The NGOs go one step further on the other proposals of the Environment Commissioner: that (i) for both the Environment Authority and the Planning Authority proposed in the demerger, members of the executive Boards and the CEO should be appointed by the Prime Minister only after their credentials have been scrutinised and approved by the Parliamentary Committee for the Environment and Sustainable Development; (ii) the Environment Authority should play the leading role, considering the irreversible damage already inflicted on the environment by unrestrained development, and (iii) that the State of the Environment report be drawn up by the Ombudsman office for it to be credible and trustworthy.
As stated by Arch. Chris Falzon, former MEPA Chairman: "It should be clear to all that the Bills being proposed are not even fit for the most retrograde of banana republics on this planet, and should be scrapped as soon as practicable."
The gateway to genuine progress and sustainable development hinges on a safeguarded and secure environment, and not on taking up more ODZ for building development, as politicians would have us believe.
New solutions have to be found before the damaging Bills are enacted. The NGOs are therefore calling for a round-table conference, including all stakeholders, in order to identify the best way forward.