The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

Government has ‘long ignored’ eNGOs, coalition says

Karl Azzopardi Thursday, 21 May 2020, 08:37 Last update: about 8 days ago

The coalition of Environmental NGOs (eNGOs) Spazji Miftuħa feels that the government has long ignored eNGOs, explaining that despite their request, Prime Minister Robert Abela has not yet met them over the controversial Mizieb and Ahrax issue.

It was recently reported that Prime Minister Robert Abela had resurrected a proposal to turn over two areas - Miżieb and Aħrax -  to the hunting lobby under a formal agreement. According to reports, the issue was brought up in Cabinet and there were no objections.

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Earlier this month, Spazji Miftuħa sent a letter to Prime Minister Robert Abela in which they requested a meeting in order to discuss the situation. The coalition presented a petition against the handing over of this land, which was signed by 10,000 individuals. Since then, the number of signatories has risen to over 14,000.

The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) was contacted by this newsroom and a spokesperson for the office said that following over two months of unprecedented challenges, the PM “will surely meet eNGOs, and other stakeholders in the coming weeks.”

 

The OPM spokesperson said that the “Environment is an absolute priority of this government and the Prime Minister is committed towards the implementation of projects which guarantee better air quality, resourceful waste management and more open spaces in favour of our citizens’ quality of life.”  The spokesperson also highlighted that Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia has already been meeting stakeholders on a regular basis “and experience is actually showing that Cabinet is as close as ever to the people.”

 

Speaking to The Malta Independent a spokesperson for the coalition Spazji Miftuħa said that eNGOs have long been ignored, even by previous administrations. However, they believe that the general public is starting to realise that “in between a spree of unbridled construction, inexistent enforcement and a general disregard for our natural environment, most scenarios predicted by eNGOs throughout the last years have become a reality.”

 “In this regard, we feel that all other lobbies have had easy access to Castille except for us,” the coalition representative said. “While Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia has certainly been more open to eNGOs than his predecessors, we are still disappointed that the PM doesn’t consider the environment to be an important issue.”

Asked if there have been cases where eNGOs tried to reach out to the Prime Minister, but he did follow through, the coalition’s spokesperson said that there have been multiple instances.  

“The government has seemingly ignored, or is unwilling to accept that eNGOs are collaborating together and not working for their own interests, which are certainly not financial,” they said.

This is reflected in the number of collaborations that one or more eNGO have had with other local or regional organisations, such as those representing residents, “which were all underpinned by one key interest: that of preserving our own quality of life, be it in the fight against excessive and lawless construction or for the preservation of open spaces.”

“In this regard, let us also be careful about the semantics of the word ‘NGO’. The construction lobby claims it is an NGO, but we have yet to see a former high-ranking politician join an eNGO on a salary, for example. The same goes for the hunting lobby. These two lobbies represent clear interests which have nothing to do with working for the common good of the country, but merely for their own,” the coalition representative added.

Handing over swathes of woodland such as Miżieb and Aħrax to the hunting lobby is not in the national interest, the Spazji Miftuħa representative said, arguing that it would be closing off access to virtually everyone but a few hundred hunters.

Asked what other changes the group of eNGOs wishes to see in the way the government approaches environmental issues, the spokesperson said that there are plenty to be made; the main one being a change in mentality.

“Environmental resources in Malta are limited, and pre-COVID congestion and pollution are a reminder of how badly we need to preserve open spaces,” the coalition’s spokesperson said. “EU statistics portray us at the bottom of every single statistic when it comes to the environment,” the spokesperson added, highlighting that there are golden opportunities to build a new economy which puts less pressure on the environment.

 

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