Friday, 27 November 2009

He does not walk alone

From the Times of Malta, Friday, 27th November 2009

By Lino Bugeja

Mepa was undoubtedly conceived with the best of intentions at a period in history notable for its insensitivity to the natural environment. But has this gigantic institution with a professional staff running into hundreds as well as having the benefits of private consultants lived up to its raison d'ĂȘtre by giving the Maltese citizens a better quality of life?

With such resources at its disposal, Mepa can easily rule the roost riding roughshod over the minnows in the environmental spheres whose limited human resources have been stretched to the limit, exhausted and demoralised as one false dawn follows another. Far from witnessing an improvement in our countryside and coastal zones, we are suddenly facing a marked accelerated deterioration in the state of our natural environment.

Our only hope to get us out of this misery is the Mepa audit officer, Joseph Falzon, who has all along consistently striven to give meaning and substance to the much vaunted political catch-calls: "An ODZ is an ODZ" and "Zero tolerance to the Environment". Regrettably, instead of earning the plaudits of the state, for, after all, it is the state that is the guardian of the Constitution, this honest humble man has been subjected to attempts at publicly vilifying and shaming him. But I assure Mr Falzon that he does not walk alone and we join the chorus of voices who have shouted loud and clear in his support.

The Ramblers' Association of Malta expresses its solidarity with Mr Falzon in the face of a spate of accusations against him as a result of his disagreeing with a magistrate's ruling over a legal provision, which, it should be obvious to all by now, is of doubtful interpretation. After all, it appears that Mr Falzon had received legal advice that did not tally with that of Mepa's. Should we now conclude that in future all magistrates' rulings are to be considered infallible and indisputable?

If Mr Falzon has erred, and in our opinion he hasn't, it was definitely on the side of integrity and transparency. This unassuming gentleman fully deserves our appreciation and complete trust. Surely, he should be treated with more respect by all, particularly by those in authority. Mr Falzon is a beacon of light in the dark corridors of Mepa, groping his way to plug the legal loopholes that can present an easy way out to developers. In my view, Mr Falzon strives, against all odds, to ensure a level playing field, one that is not heavily tilted against amateur sides.

Echoes of the Mistra case still reverberate among those involved in the Mepa reform. In fact, a proposed clause stipulates that "Negotiations between the applicant and the DCC will be forbidden; the applicant's role is to be limited to presenting the proposed development or to provide clarification if so required by the DCC".

It seems to us that this will not make the problem go away. It speaks specifically of the DCC, so someone will persist in interpreting this as referring to the whole DCC board. Nothing to forbid "individual members" of the board to carry out "negotiations" with applicants and architects during "meetings" called by the liaison/complaints officer to "iron out difficulties". This is a practice with which we do not agree because it gives rise to doubts and suspicions as well as an unfair advantage by the very fact they are not minuted.

What should by now be clear to everybody is that the law is crying out loud for a change. Different interpretations have been given by different legal minds. This change has to be accompanied by another clause stipulating very clearly the procedure to be followed in the "meetings" called by the liaison officer/complaints officer to settle differences between the applicants and their architects and the directorates as well as those who should be invited to participate in these meetings. In our view, members of the DCC should be excluded.
We strongly believe that these changes should be made because the practice of meeting with DCC members as has been happening in these last years should not be allowed because they are wrong. This, we believe, is the spirit of the law.

The Ramblers' Association wants to declare its appreciation of Mr Falzon's steadfastness in these hard and difficult times and augurs that the public continues to enjoy his valued protection for several years to come.

Mr Bugeja is president of the Ramblers' Association.

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