It should come to no surprise that politics manages to infiltrate itself into every corner of society. While the outcomes of such a relation are somewhat debatable, generally depending on which party you support, I am confident that the environment in Malta has historically suffered as a result of political intrusion.
As part of my MSc programme at UCL, I set out to uncover the use of stakeholder participation and environmental governance in Malta. Central to this study was the selection of an appropriate site, so I decided to use Dwejra in Gozo as it is a site of ecological, archaeological, cultural and economic importance to the Maltese population. This research project set out to uncover the current management regimes of this prominent site, by analysing them in reference to the concepts of environmental governance and stakeholder participation.
Dwejra was chosen as a study site as a result of recent events that raised questions on how such sites are being managed by the authorities. This research focused on issues of onsite development and filming, in light of the ‘Interpretation Centre’ saga and Game of Thrones incident.
‘Governance’ is a concept used to describe a mutual understanding between public and private actors in the face of communal problems. It has been widely applied in environmental politics, where it advocates for a holistic approach in environmental decision-making. Such a concept is generally limited as a result of environmental and commercial conflicts which arise within conservation sites such as Dwejra. Environmental governance can be achieved by adopting a multilateral decision-making process that extends some governing power to stakeholders such as charities, NGOs and SMEs, and the public. As such, environmental governance is intertwined with the process of stakeholder participation, the latter also including elements of public engagement in environmental decision-making processes.
Stakeholders interviewed felt they were underrepresented in decisions pertaining to the management of Dwejra Heritage Park (DHP), supporting the argument that stakeholder participation had not been achieved. While it was argued that the government had tried to assimilate stakeholder participation in its management scheme, this was not successful. As such, this study exposes a situation where the influential players involved in environmental conservation in Malta are mainly higher governmental bodies.
Such a result also reflected the sentiments felt by members of the public, who felt disregarded in certain environmental decisions. However, it appears that the public has a general attitude of indifference towards such topics which could be symptomatic of two issues. The Maltese public could either be suffering from a case of NIMBYism (Not in My Back Yard), where individuals are only concerned about issues that may directly impact their lives or lifestyles, or they may be feeling ‘defeated’ by a government that has so far failed to meet conservation duties.
This study exposed a situation where stakeholders felt an apparent lack of political will to achieve environmental targets. This could be a reason why the concept of environmental governance in Malta has not yet been successfully implemented. It appears that there is no political will in Malta to prioritize environmental concerns before the government’s political agenda, so no amount of institutional reforms can ever achieve the desired environmental targets.
It was concluded that this poor structure of governance was a contributing factor to development problems such as the Interpretation Centre, and the Game of Thrones filming incident.
It is acknowledged that various pressures co-exist in DHP, arising mainly from Dwejra’s importance as a tourist attraction. It is recommended that MEPA explores the possibility of monitoring visitor numbers. This would contribute to better tourism management plans, and could provide a dialogue with relevant stakeholders (including service providers such as divers, boat trippers, and transport providers). I am confident in the government’s commitments towards the environment, but entities such as MEPA need to be given more support on how to implement stakeholder participation, seeing as the cases of development and filming in Dwejra have shown these efforts to be unsuccessful.
Click here for a press release version of this blog post at The Malta Independent