Thursday, 10 July 2008

A White Paper on the environment

Article published in the Times of Malta, Thursday, 10th July 2008

A White Paper on the environment
Lino Bugeja

Arecent report by the European Union on the state of the environment in all EU countries has placed Malta at the very bottom of the environment league.
Such a frightening and damning indictment calls for concerted action by all stakeholders in the field in order to extricate our "fair land" from this unenviable position, which makes a mockery of the much-vaunted "quality of life" promised by our politicians. Furthermore, the repercussions of this report, widely reported in the world press, will surely have a negative effect on various sectors of the economy. However, I take heart from the fact that Malta's decline down the morass of its environmental shambles is being seriously noted by the civilised world.
Our assiduous campaign, initiated 14 years ago (The Sunday Times September 11, 1994) pleading for sanity in our threatened countryside, has to date been joined by a hoarse chorus of voices raising the red-alarm for the whole nation to listen to the voice of reason. To no avail, as the destruction, misappropriation, dispossession and rape of our countryside continues with impunity in an accelerated form sometimes encouraged by those whose duty it is to protect what is ours by birth right.
At the heart of the problem is money and the Oliver Twist syndrome, a chronic malaise that is visibly and permanently eroding our countryside and urban centres of their unique features that have endured the ravages of time and war for thousands of years.
We have been duped into believing in "Great Expectations" as the Prime Minister and a new chairman took full responsibility of Mepa... And, to continue with this Dickensian theme, we are now facing "Hard Times". A recent meeting of the Ramblers' Association with the Minister of Justice specifically to report environmental injustices fizzled out into an exercise in futility as the minister revealed that his responsibilities have been fragmented ending up under three other ministries.
But the real irony is that our persistent drive to protect, preserve and recover that which is lost is threatening that which still survives as an impotent government has cold feet or adopts an appeasing attitude in the face of land grabbers, squatters and "rapists".
Without any shadow of doubt, the disastrous EU environmental report on Malta will be further accentuated when other green issues are exposed, particularly the state of the countryside, the obliteration of urban centres and the misappropriation of coastal zones.
The perception that the law is heavily tilted in favour of developers and speculators is being reinforced by recent developments; high rise buildings in urban centres obliterating historical sites as in Vittoriosa, where a whole bastion on the Kalkara side has been totally screened by a concrete and glass jungle, as well as the uglification of the once elegant Valletta skyline, viewed from Kalkara heights, with high-rise Tigné Point development, to be further spoilt by the towering heights of Fort Cambridge.
How can honest citizens cope with this savage onslaught on our environment when the developer is always the blue-eyed boy of Mepa? Suffice it to say that the developers have the privilege and the right to commission a person of their own choice to draw up the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) with regard to their application.
We are now witnessing massive coastal developments in pristine coastal zones gobbling up whole areas as in Fomm ir-Riħ where various enforcement orders and direct orders have been totally ignored. The rural landscape is gradually disappearing with illegal structures mushrooming all over the Maltese islands from Delimara to Ras il-Wardija in Gozo.
In these circumstances, the Ramblers' Association of Malta is requesting Parliament once again to re-activate our petition for a White Paper on the environment submitted three years ago, symbolically on July 14, Bastille Day. For all the free citizens this day evokes the dignity of the human person in the face of all forms of adversity. It is a sign of national unity and love of country as expressed by the great Scottish poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott , no stranger to Malta, in his patriotic verses:
"Breathes there a man with soul so dead."Who never to himself has said"This is my own, my native land."

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