Malta made a very controversial decision in 2002 when in announced the merger between the Planning Authority and Environmental Directorate into the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA). After 12 years of operation, the government has just announced plans to split this into new entities similar to the original ones. In a country dominated by uncontrolled and irresponsible planning, the efficacy of this new environmental entity leaves much to be desired.
Maltese governments have an abysmal track record when it comes to prioritising planning over the environment. Despite our accession to the European Union and the incorporation of vital international legislation into local ones, developers have been left to run amok at the expense of the environment and the general public.
MEPA itself has been quite a source of anguish to Maltese NGOs when it comes to itself nonchalance towards illegal activity. Over the course of its 12 year tenure, protected trees still endure butchering/uprooting; boathouses/restaurants/rooms still crop up in protected land, construction material still gets dumped into the sea; and illegal fishing practices still persist in conservation areas (to name a few).
Personally, the split of MEPA into separate entities cannot cause more harm than is already being done. Two separate entities will have a greater opportunity to spar on an equal footing if they disagree on a new project – so what is the source of my concern?
The following press release already provides a clear indication of what is to be expected from the segregation of MEPA. It is extremely disconcerting that only the Malta Developers’ Association (MDA) has been invited to a preliminary meeting with the government. What about the environment counterparts such as NGOs that have a stake in the new environmental entity as they have to work with it (much as the MDA needs to work with the new planning authority)?
Of more concern is the following comment made by the MDA president Sandro Chetcuti, where he reiterated
“that the renewed enthusiasm in the construction industry was being hindered by bureaucracy and the constant requests for studies for major development applications. These studies were sometimes needless and cost too much”.
It seems apparent that the separation of MEPA will usher a new era of development “unhindered by bureaucracy and constant request for studies”, at the obvious expense of the environment.
In all fairness what should we expect? After all, the new LNG tanker has been granted a permit without the completion of a proper Maritime Impact Assessment.