The Malta Independent 13 November 2018, Tuesday

Environment Commission calls for public participation cost-benefit analysis processes

Friday, 9 November 2018, 08:26 Last update: about 3 days ago

The Interdiocesan Environment Commission in Malta (KA), on yesterday’s occasion of World Town Planning Day 2018, has proposed to the European Commission and European Parliament that the public be involved in the preparation of the Cost-Benefit- Analyses (CBA).

The KA said it is talking the initiative in the knowledge that the European Union is made up of communities living in urban and rural settings across all Member States. The KA said it believes that its proposal is relevant not only to Malta, but also to all EU Member States whatever their size.

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In a letter addressed to Malta’s European parliamentarians, the Commission and the Parliament, the chairperson of Malta’s Interdiocesan Environment Commission Mario Camenzuli noted, “As you are well aware, the ‘CBA is an analytical tool to be used to appraise an investment decision in order to assess the welfare change attributable to it and, in so doing, the contribution to EU cohesion policy objectives. The purpose of the CBA is to facilitate a more efficient allocation of resources, demonstrating the convenience for society of a particular intervention rather than possible alternatives’.

Camenzuli underscores the fact that CBAs are required as part of an application for the tapping of European Union funds for the realisation of projects of a certain size. The CBA requires that options are studied and then, depending on the outcome of the studies of such options, the preferred option is chosen.

Camenzuli said the KA’s concern is that, so far, “the CBA guide or the funding requirements for projects that require a CBA do not ask for a mandatory public consultation on the options to be studied at the earliest stage of the CBA. Such options are chosen by the project proponents, in many cases national or local governments. Moreover, there is no requirement that the CBA, in its entirety, is to be made available to the public.”

As such, the KA invited the European Commission and the European Parliament to make the necessary changes to the appropriate legal instruments that regulate funding which require a CBA so that:

1. There is public consultation in the choice of options to be studied in the CBA;

2. In the CBA report that is submitted to the Commission as part of the application for funding a project, an addendum listing the options that were submitted by the public as part of the public consultation mentioned in point 1 above is to be attached;

3. Apart from the detailed studies of the options that are chosen for consideration and from which the preferred option is chosen, the report has to provide less-detailed financial, economic, social and environmental reasons justifying the rejection (if this would be the case) of the other options submitted by the public;

4. The CBA report in its entirety is to be made available to the public and no so-called ‘commercial reasons’ can be invoked by project proponents to justify the non-publication of the CBA report.

The reasons for the KA’s proposal are the following:

1. Projects that are funded by the EU and which require a CBA are projects that have an impact on communities. Good sense requires that communities have a say at the very initial stage of the consideration of such projects. Communities are normally involved too late in the day when there is the actual planning application submitted to the relevant planning and/or environmental authorities, and public consultation is required in accordance with local planning legislation and the EIA Directive. In some cases, projects may also be based on development plans that would have become obsolete given that they would not have been reviewed for many years since their original adoption, and therefore would not reflect the communities’ current and future needs. Thus, timely public participation becomes more important.

2. The timely public consultation as suggested by the KA has the potential to minimise the risk that a more cost-effective, environmentally-sustainable and innovative option would miss being considered for funding while other less sustainable options would be approved.

3. Many argue that such a proposal is yet another bureaucratic hurdle for economic development. On the contrary, bureaucracy which is at the service of communities is commendable and should not be dismissed. The avoidance of bureaucracy may be an argument put forward by those who favour players in certain economic sectors and not in others, and who do not put transparency and a level playing field as priorities in their policy-making.

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