Is the gov­ern­ment mak­ing good for its en­vi­ron­men­tal er­rors?

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

From the Zon­qor Point con­tro­versy to its sup­port for spring hunt­ing and au­tumn trap­ping, and from the use of Out­side Devel­op­ment Zone land to the de­merger of the for­mer Malta En­vi­ron­ment and Plan­ning Au­thor­ity, this gov­ern­ment’s en­vi­ron­men­tal cre­den­tials have taken a sound beat­ing so far in this leg­is­la­ture.

But over the last two weeks the gov­ern­ment has taken two big and de­ci­sive steps in the right di­rec­tion as far as en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion is con­cerned, af­ter three years in which it has been un­der con­stant bom­bard­ment over its per­ceived lack of en­vi­ron­men­tal cre­den­tials.

Could this be a case of the gov­ern­ment fi­nally at­tempt­ing to make good for its pre­vi­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal er­rors?

The two cases in point are the hand­ing over of the Salini salt pans to BirdLife Malta, which will be­come re­spon­si­ble for the man­age­ment of what will be known as the Salina Re­serve – the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s largest land man­age­ment pro­ject – and the pub­li­ca­tion on Fri­day of a le­gal no­tice re­serv­ing a mas­sive stretch of land near Zon­qor and be­yond as a na­tional park.

At the height of the Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Malta ODZ land give­away de­ba­cle, the gov­ern­ment had de­clared its in­ten­tion to cre­ate a na­tional park in Zon­qor along­side the cam­pus. At the time very few peo­ple be­lieved that the gov­ern­ment would ever make good on the pledge, un­til Fri­day’s pub­li­ca­tion of a le­gal no­tice cre­at­ing nearly a one mil­lion square me­tre na­tional park.

The gov­ern­ment also went a step fur­ther and ex­tended the planned na­tional park’s foot­print by 44,000 square me­tres – 30,000 square me­tres of which were in the devel­op­ment zone and which have now ef­fec­tively been turned into Out­side Devel­op­ment Zone land.

In it­self, this ex­ten­sion of the pro­tected area is more than wel­come news, es­pe­cially af­ter the con­tro­versy that raged af­ter the gov­ern­ment’s first at­tempt to grant ODZ land to the ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion. Orig­i­nally, the pro­ject was to award Sadeen Group, the devel­op­ers be­hind the pro­ject, a mas­sive 90,000 square me­tres of ODZ land, a size that was later trimmed down to 18,000 square me­tres, and to off­set that it granted the in­sti­tu­tion a sec­ond cam­pus at Cot­ton­era’s Dock 1.

At the time, the gov­ern­ment had de­scribed the trade-off as a ‘com­pro­mise’, which was met with no small de­gree of scep­ti­cism, but with the 955,000 square me­tre new na­tional park – run­ning from Zon­qor point to Ta’ Barkat – that ‘com­pro­mise’ may be­come a lit­tle more palat­able.

Ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment, the pro­ject is in line with the “gov­ern­ment pol­icy of pri­ori­tis­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards and mak­ing Malta a pleas­ant place to live in”.

This could very well be the case, but it could also be a case of the gov­ern­ment seek­ing to mit­i­gate the bad rap it has had over the last three-odd years for its per­ceived lack of con­cern for the en­vi­ron­ment.

Has the gov­ern­ment fi­nally wo­ken up to the fact that the en­vi­ron­men­tal lobby has grown by leaps and bounds in re­cent years, and the fact that the en­vi­ron­ment can­not be left by the way­side in favour of other projects?

The gov­ern­ment and all po­lit­i­cal par­ties for that mat­ter would do well to take note of what the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist have been scream­ing about for years on end. There was a time when their num­bers were neg­li­gi­ble when it came to the grand elec­toral stakes, but those times are now be­hind us.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal lobby as a whole has grown sig­nif­i­cantly in re­cent years and it is only a mat­ter of time be­fore their clout grows enough for them to well and truly be­gin to set the po­lit­i­cal agenda in Malta, as has been the case in so many other coun­tries. If their mes­sages are not heeded, one fine Elec­tion Day, one or both of the big par­ties could very well be in for an un­pleas­ant sur­prise.

The world over, and Malta is by no stretch of the imag­i­na­tion any dif­fer­ent, the po­lit­i­cal class is quite con­tent to pre­serve the sta­tus quo. It is, af­ter all, in the es­tab­lish­ment’s in­ter­est to re­tain a sys­tem that is ben­e­fi­cial to it, and keep­ing the masses as silent as pos­si­ble about the real ills af­fect­ing their coun­try. But it is only when the pub­lic makes its voice heard loud and clear and en masse that politi­cians will be com­pelled to re­spond.

The gov­ern­ment, with its fin­ger firmly on the pulse of pub­lic sen­ti­ment, has given the en­vi­ron­men­tal lobby a fig­u­ra­tive pound of flesh, or, to be more pre­cise, 955,000 square me­tres of the na­tion’s flesh.

What­ever the case, whether the tal-In­wadar Na­tional Park has been es­tab­lished for po­lit­i­cal gain or out of true en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sid­er­a­tions, we will not look this par­tic­u­lar gift horse in the mouth.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malta

© PressReader. All rights reserved.