The Malta Independent 9 December 2019, Monday

A small measure of peace

Timothy Alden Sunday, 21 July 2019, 09:38 Last update: about 6 months ago

What struck me most from the hearing and subsequent approval of the Central Link project was the pleas of the farmers set to lose their land. At the same time, I also tried to study the chain of events that led to this situation. I have no doubt that, ultimately, arriving at this situation has given nobody any pleasure. The government does not benefit from people being upset.

It would therefore be a mistake to dismiss the motivations of government in forcing through this project. Developments such as that of db Group in St George's Bay are unambiguously villainous to me, and are clearly motivated by everything except the public good. An infrastructure project is a little more difficult to unravel, because it seems to me that the government is genuine in its opinion that this project is unavoidable. Assuming that the motivation is not money-driven, there is more hope for a solution in the interests of the public.
Therefore, there are two things which need to happen to resolve the destructive pattern of conflict in our country between environmentalists and the authorities. The first thing that needs to be done is for the authorities to stick to their promise to listen to the people. While its experts did allow for a public consultation process, it has clearly failed since it has led us to this point.

How can the government learn to truly listen? The entire process of drawing up infrastructure plans should become more transparent and engaging. There should be no sensitive information or vested interests in an infrastructure project which prevent full transparency. The government is claiming that there is no alternative to its plans. Government must allow NGOs, environmentalists and other stakeholders to participate in the drawing up of the plans and addressing the needs of the country.

This leads us to the second point. NGOs, environmentalists and other stakeholders need to pool their resources to come up with feasible alternatives in collaboration with government. I know that an elevated highway was proposed by activists to avoid the uptake of agricultural land. The government flinched due to the cost, but activists insisted it should not be an issue. Therefore, the question becomes, at what point did communication break down? If activists still believe there are alternatives to the Central Link project, why not allow them to work more closely with government on such solutions?

Successive administrations have always failed to make the most of the expertise of NGOs and their connections, resources and goodwill. Policy is rarely drawn up via a genuinely comprehensive public consultation. There is no point in having complicated plans receiving initial submissions, but then when problems are encountered, a limited pool of paid expertise is used to address them behind closed doors. Consultation should be ongoing, and then nobody can claim that all options were not exhausted.

Finally, we come to the root of a deeper problem. How can we measure success? This weekend, Partit Demokratiku proposed that instead of measuring success by GDP, that we turn to "a more holistic and modern measure of human well-being". Budget planning and policy decisions would be taken after considering the impact on human well-being, instead of solely relying on GDP. This has hidden benefits, as overdevelopment has a negative impact on physical and mental health, which ultimately adds to the burden on the public purse in any case. It is time for the general public to have more of a voice in determining policy.

It is time for a small measure of peace.

 

Timothy Alden is the interim Deputy Leader of Partit Demokratiku

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