Par­lia­ment moves the goal­posts in sup­port of fire­works lobby

On Fri­day, 26 Jan­uary 2018, Malta’s Court of Ap­peal de­liv­ered judge­ment on a fire­works fac­tory law suit which had orig­i­nally been pre­sented way back in 1989.

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

The Court of Ap­peal ac­cepted the re­quests of the plain­tiffs (the ru­ral com­mu­nity) and de­clared the build­ing per­mit for a fire­works fac­tory at iż-Żeb­biegħ null and void. The wheels of jus­tice grind slowly, very slowly, we are told: 30 years in fact. Un­for­tu­nately, the wheels of in­jus­tice are too fast.

Fast-for­ward two months to March 2018: Par­lia­ment de­bates and ap­proves amend­ments to the Ex­plo­sives Or­di­nance, con­se­quently re­mov­ing the le­gal re­quire­ments as a re­sult of which the Court of Ap­peal de­clared the per­mit for the Żeb­biegħ fire­works fac­tory null and void. Malta’s Par­lia­ment is, of course very re­spect­ful of the rule of law, to the ex­tent that if a pow­er­ful lobby falls foul of the law, the law is changed as quickly as pos­si­ble thereby en­sur­ing that it is, af­ter all, pos­si­ble to be in full align­ment with the law.

Par­lia­ment has caved-in to the de­mands of the fire­works lobby and re­stored its priv­i­leged sta­tus of be­ing above the law. As a re­sult, Par­lia­ment has set aside the ex­pec­ta­tions of the Żeb­biegħ ru­ral com­mu­nity which, for 30 years, has been bat­tling against the Mal­tese state to en­sure that the rule of law pre­vails.

As a re­sult of the amend­ments just ap­proved, Par­lia­ment has granted the Com­mis­sioner of Po­lice the dis­cre­tion to con­sider is­su­ing a li­cence for a fire­works fac­tory when this is closer than the min­i­mum dis­tance pre­scribed by law – which is 183 me­tres. Par­lia­ment has de­cided to give the Com­mis­sioner of Po­lice this ad­di­tional au­thor­ity which he can ap­ply “af­ter giv­ing due con­sid­er­a­tion to the ex­i­gen­cies of pub­lic safety”. Among those MPs ac­cept­ing the grant­ing of such ad­di­tional au­thor­ity to the Com­mis­sioner of Po­lice were those who, un­til a few days ago, were in­sist­ing that he should re­sign.

Par­lia­ment rushed leg­is­la­tion through prac­ti­cally all its stages on the 20 March 2018. The Min­utes of the Par­lia­men­tary ses­sion do not in­di­cate a sin­gle Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment stand­ing up to the fire­works lobby and its Min­is­te­rial lack­eys. None of the 67 MPs stood up for the Żeb­biegħ ru­ral com­mu­nity: they pre­ferred to pro­tect the op­er­a­tion of fire­works fac­to­ries in­stead.

It would be more ap­pro­pri­ate if Par­lia­ment were to start de­bat­ing the Vella re­port pre­sented by the Com­mis­sion of In­quiry headed by Pro­fes­sor Al­fred Vella some years ago (Re­port of the Com­mis­sion of In­quiry into Ac­ci­dents in Fire­works Fac­to­ries). This 97-page re­port, pub­lished on 11 Novem­ber 2011, con­tained a list of 24 rec­om­men­da­tions, most of which deal­ing with the re­quired qual­ity of the ma­te­ri­als used in the lo­cal man­u­fac­ture of fire­works. Ap­par­ently a dis­cus­sion on these con­clu­sions is not a pri­or­ity for the time be­ing. Such a dis­cus­sion seems to have been shelved un­til the next deadly fire­works ac­ci­dent.

Then maybe an­other in­quiry and an­other re­port will be pro­duced: an­other smoke­screen.

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