New waste in­cin­er­a­tor des­tined for Gozo, the north or the south?

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

With the gov­ern­ment set on em­bark­ing on a wasteto-en­ergy project in­cor­po­rat­ing an in­cin­er­a­tor, the €150 mil­lion ques­tion is where, ex­actly, the project will be lo­cated.

Malta’s size be­ing what it is such in­dus­trial projects are al­ways bound to be placed in some­one’s back­yard. As such there are, broadly speak­ing, only three main ge­o­graph­i­cal choices as far as the coun­try is con­cerned. Those choices are: the north, the south, or Gozo.

And what­ever the choice of lo­ca­tion is at the end of the day, once a short­list of lo­ca­tions is drawn up, the Not In My Back­yard syn­drome will un­doubt­edly come into play.

There are ar­gu­ments to be made for and against all three main geo­graphic re­gions.

The north, it can be said, has been spared, for the most part, the blight of in­dus­trial fa­cil­i­ties with which the south of the is­land has been plagued. But then again, the north­ern parts of the is­land also play host to the ma­jor­ity of tourism zones.

The south, bur­dened with in­dus­trial fa­cil­i­ties such as the Freeport and the power sta­tions, could ar­gue that it has al­ready been lumped with its fair share.

As for Gozo, by far the greener of the Mal­tese Is­lands, an ar­gu­ment could be made in favour of the fa­cil­ity cre­at­ing much-needed jobs for the sis­ter is­land as well as pro­vid­ing an ex­tra life­line for Gozo Chan­nel in terms of con­tracts for trans­port­ing all the waste des­tined for in­cin­er­a­tion.

But what­ever the choice, the fact of the mat­ter is that no one will want any such fa­cil­ity lo­cated in their back­yard for aes­thetic and air qual­ity con­cerns, de­spite the fact that sig­nif­i­cant pol­lu­tion abate­ment equip­ment will un­doubt­edly be em­ployed.

This is per­haps ex­actly why the En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter has been so coy to re­veal the lo­ca­tion, or lo­ca­tions, the gov­ern­ment has in mind. When pressed, he some­what du­bi­ously said that while no de­ci­sion had been made, it would be lo­cated in an area af­fect­ing the least amount of peo­ple pos­si­ble.

It can safely be said that the project will come up for at least a men­tion as a gov­ern­ment pri­or­ity in the Fi­nance Min­is­ter’s Bud­get Speech to­mor­row, given that a com­mit­tee ap­pointed to present a fi­nal waste to en­ergy pro­posal. Also, the project will leave a size­able €100 mil­lion to €150 mil­lion dent in the public cof­fers, mi­nus any pos­si­ble con­tri­bu­tions from the Euro­pean Union, and will take six to seven years to com­plete.

The com­mit­tee, how­ever, has been boy­cotted by the Op­po­si­tion Na­tion­al­ist Party, which has re­fused to nom­i­nate a rep­re­sen­ta­tive to take part in dis­cus­sions. The PN yes­ter­day in­sisted that the is­sue be taken up by a sep­a­rate par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee re- spon­si­ble for the en­vi­ron­ment in­stead, which could deal with the is­sue through a ‘trans­par­ent dis­cus­sion’. The PN also in­sisted that the par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee sum­mons the En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter and the Waste­Serv CEO to re­veal ex­actly what the plans en­tail.

But with­out the Op­po­si­tion’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the com­mit­tee, the gov­ern­ment will be ex­tremely ret­i­cent about re­veal­ing those ex­act plans, and in par­tic­u­lar the plans vis-à-vis its lo­ca­tion.

While there is no doubt that the ini­tia­tive is both nec­es­sary and laud­able, why is it that the Op­po­si­tion is re­fus­ing to par­tic­i­pate?

That is be­cause the gov­ern­ment very clearly wants the Op­po­si­tion on board the com­mit­tee to be able to share the po­lit­i­cal ac­count­abil­ity when crunch time comes along and a site for the fa­cil­ity is an­nounced.

Why else, af­ter all, would the Prime Min­is­ter’s very first chal­lenge to the newly ap­pointed Na­tion­al­ist Party leader – made the very day af­ter he was elected – has been to nom­i­nate an Op­po­si­tion rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the com­mit­tee?

The gov­ern­ment is acutely aware that the lo­ca­tion of the waste to en­ergy in­cin­er­a­tor is a hot potato that it does not want to have to han­dle on its own, but nei­ther does the Op­po­si­tion want to get its hands burnt.

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