The art of messing up

The processing plant for Tuna By-Products at Ħal-Far had the potential to be a significant project contributing to the development of the circular economy in Malta. Like many other things it has been messed up.

On paper it was a first-class project. In practice, so far, it is developing into another disaster. Titbits of information which have come my way indicate that eventually it will most probably result that cost-cutting relative to commissioning of the equipment installed in the processing plant is the primary cause of the developing mess.

The end result of this mess-up is that of transforming a potential positive into an absolute negative. The effects of this will be felt for quite some time as it has reinforced the existing mistrust of the authorities who have proven once more that they are incapable of guiding a beneficial project to fruition!

Birżebbuġa is once more shouldering all the resulting inconvenience as it has been doing for many years relative to other industrial operations in the area.  The assault on Birżebbuġa over the years has negatively impacted the quality of life of its residents. The Freeport Terminal tops the list with its round-the-clock inconvenience. It is only relatively recently that this inconvenience has started being addressed.

To add insult to injury the Ħal-Far Industrial Estate will shortly also host a racetrack, the funds for which have already been allocated through the monies collected from the sale of golden passports!  

The latest affront on Birżebbuġa has been the operations of Aquaculture Resources Ltd which commenced earlier this year, and specifically the result of fishy effluent ending up in residential areas in Birżebbuġa.  The management of Aquaculture Resources Ltd has refused to take responsibility for the unbearable fish odours and sewage leaks that have affected the area, stating that the  company has taken measures to contain smells within the tuna by-product processing  plant. 

The building envelope of the tuna byproduct processing plant was approved through a fast-track procedure made possible some years back through amendments to the Development Notification Order. This, in practice, eliminated public consultation for construction works in industrial estates.  As a result, no-one was aware that on 16 March 2021 the Planning Authority issued a development permit bearing reference DN 01359/20 for the Construction of a Tuna Rending Factory on Plot 36B of Ħal-Far Industrial Estate. The permit was issued to Dr Charlon Gouder, the CEO of Aquaculture Resources Limited.

The public consultation only commenced in June 2022, after the general elections, through the publication of the documentation for the environmental permitting process known as the IPPC application. IPPC referring to the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control as regulated by the EU Directive bearing that name and forming part of Maltese law since EU accession in 2004.

The IPPC Directive seeks to ensure that there is one integrated process addressing the environmental impacts resulting from a number of industrial processes. The tuna byproduct processing plant is subject to this regulatory process.

The IPPC regulatory process requires the presentation of detailed technical documentation relative to the proposed industrial process, the resulting environmental impacts and the manner in which it is proposed to address these same impacts.

This documentation was compiled and after being examined by ERA an operating permit for the Tuna byproduct processing plant was issued.

The problems started with the commencement of operations which were initiated in order to carry out the commissioning of the supplied equipment. I am informed that the suppliers of the equipment were not entrusted to carry out the commissioning. Apparently, those entrusted with the commissioning did not have sufficient experience: the results achieved so far are indicative enough of this fact.

Someday maybe ERA will commission an investigation into what went wrong and who was responsible for the resulting mess.  This is essential in order to ensure that lessons are learnt by all those involved. This is a mess created by the private sector subject to supervision by ERA! They have managed to mess up a good project.

Carmel Cacopardo
ADPD Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 18 December 2022