Jose Herrera acknowledges public shift in prioritisation of the environment
and Environment Minister Jose Herrera acknowledged the public’s concern over the safeguarding of the environment, praised the coming change of energy supply from heavy fuel oil to gas and stressed that this will result in a big reduction of pollution.
He also spoke of the shift in location of local fish farms, which will prevent the infamous sea slime that plagued Maltese coasts in August/September.
“What we have promised, we are delivering,” he said.
Dr Herrera spoke of the extension of protected sea zones that was changed by this current government.
“This is a government with strong environmental credentials. We have big challenges, but also big opportunities. People are becoming more and more conscious of the environment, a natural development from the strong economic growth and low unemployment.”
He spoke of various maintenance works around the south of Malta in green areas that have been left in a dilapidated state.
“An advisory committee will be launched to help with the policy and enforcement on abusive dumping in public spaces. Funds will be allocated from the budget, and they will work hand in hand with the police to help enforce abusive dumping practices.
The previous government did not carry out any long-term plans on managing waste, which is a leading challenge right now and will be addressed in a holistic way, he said.
“We will continue with our national implementation plan to manage waste in a sustainable way. Before the last general election we said we would improve existing public zones and increase them. The relevant department ascertained which zones could serve this purpose best, and spoke of the inclusion of local councils to help speed up the process.”
He then turned to Chadwick Lakes and the ambitious goal to restore it to its natural state and improve the area.
“These plans will serve to improve the quality of life for the public,” he said.
Dr Herrera stressed the need to focus on enforcement in all types of environmental laws, whether they relate to waste, noise pollution, dumping, etc.
On the new power station, he said that he is confident all procedures were carried out transparently and in line with the law, and urged the Opposition to come forward if they have any serious claims of any forms of breaches.
From an international aspect, the environment is in a state of peril, he said. In the last 40 years, 60% of the world’s biodiversity has been destroyed while temperatures are rising.
Dr Herrera praised the signing of the Paris agreement on global emissions, and cautioned that the world our children will inherit will be an environmentally unstable one.
He said that Malta has a role to play in all this, and slowly all of Malta is waking up to this fact.
Dr Herrera invited the Opposition to come sit at the table and discuss the issues of most concern to them. He criticised politicians for not acknowledging what is being done right, and sometimes criticism may be put forward for the sake of it.
Nationalist MP and Spokesperson for the Environment Marthese Portelli warned that the Paceville Masterplan is not a project which is only related to development, but there are a number of issues which affect directly the Ministry for the Environment. She called on the government to involve all the ministries and entities involved, including Transport Malta.
“It seems that the government is failing to include the Environment Ministry in such a big project, and OPM only seems to be interested in the development aspect of the project. The masterplan includes a lot of pollution generation, but for some reason the Ministry for the Environment is being left out.”
Dr Portelli said that she believes the Minister for the Environment has the will to speak out when necessary. She said that eNGOs and developers both agree that development and the environment should go hand in hand. Marthese Portelli also pointed out that on some issues MDA was even more vociferous than the ministry itself, and cited MDA’s position on ODZ and land reclamation.
On Environment and Resources Authority, Dr Portelli criticised the fact that this entity has no teeth. “On paper, it might look as if it has the power to act, but we all know that this authority was forced to keep out, strangled before it could even speak out.”
She said that the orders related to development come from Castille and told the minister she understands that it can be very hard speaking out if the orders come from the Prime Minister’s Office. “I am here to help you and the Opposition is here to lend you a hand.”
On the LNG tanker, she insisted that the safety report should be made public and that the minister should not try and confuse the public saying that the security report was published. “The Minister for the Environment, OHSA and ERA should all make their voices heard on such an important issue.”
Dr Portelli compared the environmental projects carried out in three years under PN government, a list of 39 projects, with the very few done by the Labour administration.
The PN MP has proposed that the revision of the SPED (Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development) is made now before the five-year term is ended. She said, although the Opposition is in favour of these revisions, the SPED is ending up being a single document without the necessary policies.
Independent MP and Partit Demokratiku Leader Marlene Farrugia said that it is our responsibility to ensure that future generations have some form of heritage to look at. “The abuse on the environment went on with the Labour government. Let me make it clear, I am saying went on because it started long ago.”
She said that the Labour government is changing the landscape and the next generations will suffer from environmental poverty unless someone acts now. “Not only we have to stop this destruction, but we have to go back in time and restore what we lost.”
Dr Farrugia said that the government is obliged to give a direction to the country, but the long-term plans should be made clear to the public. “This government has to come clean and admit that its plan is to have the Dubai-ification of Malta. As far as I remember, the Labour movement had promised otherwise.”
Dr Farrugia said that one must not forget that environmental harm leads to more illnesses. “Is there anyone of you listening to this speech today that does not have a family member suffering from cancer?” she said while reminding fellow MPs of the ‘cancer factory’ – a popular catch phrase during the last general election.
“We have to act now so that we don’t look back and say that a Labour government left the country in a worse state than it was.”
Government Whip Godfrey Farrugia said that everyone should agree that the environment cannot be used as a political ball. He said that every economic development which is not sustainable cannot survive for very long. Dr Farrugia said that economic progress which is not sustainable only harms the environment. “The question here is, to keep up with the economic progress while safeguarding the natural environment.”
He said that we are at an important point, where if the authorities do not act now, future generations will suffer. Dr Farrugia said that he forms part of a government that in essence is good, but has, like anything else, its defects.