Come back on board with us, minister

Minister Aaron Farrugia’s recent statement, that he wishes to improve the public image of the construction industry, was naturally met with wide disbelief. As the target audience of this article is not the echo chamber that already knows why this is wrong, let us first search for some common ground. What we are asking for is actually for the government to be consistent, and to stand by what it has promised us. Ultimately, if we squander what little we have left, everybody will lose in the end.

As a point of departure, let us select the National Strategy for the Environment 2050. In this document, ERA outlines how via a process of reaching out to different sectors of society, it was established that the most popular approach towards economic development is one where wellbeing is placed first. Wellbeing is increasingly being used as a measure of a country’s success across the world, instead of just using GDP as an indication.

The Church recently released a vision document by the title of “Beyond GDP”; asking the question, “is GDP the best way to test for quality of life?” It lists environmental quality as one of the indicators of wellbeing. Around the world, this way of looking at things is becoming the norm. The publication of the government’s “Wellbeing First” vision for the National Strategy for the Environment 2050 raised hopes that perhaps the country’s elites had seen the light. What use is having a lot of money, if one’s surroundings make one depressed, stressed and unhappy? Money cannot buy tranquillity and peace of mind if there is no corner of the country which is free from extreme individualism, where ploughing one’s neighbour for a profit margin is the custom and the norm.

Recent news that Infrastructure Malta wanted to destroy the agricultural land outside of Qormi was shocking, because when the Central Link project went ahead, there was a feeling in the air as if this great sacrifice might have been enough to satisfy the powers that be. Surely it would be enough? With every major project approved, a part of oneself always wonders, have we finally built and plundered enough? Are they finally satisfied? However, it never seems to be enough.

On one hand, the government talks about instituting a roadmap until 2050 where wellbeing and quality of life come first, and on the other, it still seems to be the case that a select few individuals and lobbies maintain all the power and control over the country. This is deeply unfair not only to the vast majority of people, but even to those people inside the government working very hard to improve things, only to find their own work undermined by an executive decision taken for political reasons somewhere else.

What we are seeing is a fragmented government agenda. Recently, a businessman applied to create a solar park over 7 football pitches of agricultural land in Mġarr. There could be no greater irony which so painfully reflects the attitude of the day. Do we have the audacity to ruin the environment while pretending to be sustainable? This solar park at Tar-Ragħad, in Triq il-Banjijiet Rumani, would generate tremendous carbon emissions from the obliteration of nature. 

Malta has not yet grasped the concept of embodied carbon – which is the carbon stored in the materials and the land. All the carbon stored in the land and the soils is released when an environmentally destructive project is carried out. One can argue about saving carbon emissions from reducing traffic by building roads in Qormi, but the amount of embodied carbon released by cutting through that natural area would be tremendous. We pretend we are trying to meet our emission targets, and yet we are planning to develop 60,000sq.m of agricultural land in one part of Swatar alone. This week it was announced that 71 flats are going to encroach on historic Nadur, Gozo, totally out of context. We are past the point of people building homes to live in; it is now all about speculation and making the largest amount of easy money possible. We are kidding ourselves by only measuring what we want to measure when it comes to our environmental footprint, and contradicting our own plans and roadmaps.

Therefore, as the government’s National Strategy for the Environment 2050 shows, we the people want to develop towards an improved quality of life, where the economy serves citizens instead of a handful of businessmen. We ask the Environment Minister and the government to live up to their own promises, laid out in their own strategy documents. No amount of marketing or public relations can restore our environment. At best, we may brainwash ourselves into thinking everything is fine. Yet, at the end of the day, we can see some wisdom in the tourists who come to visit us and say that this is no longer the country they recognise and used to love. At the end of the day, if we say that everything is fine, then we are only fooling ourselves.

Mark Zerafa
ADPD Deputy Leader
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 10 January 2020