The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

‘Malta’s obsession on the economy is jeopardising the environment’ – Andre Callus

Semira Abbas Shalan Sunday, 16 January 2022, 08:30 Last update: about 5 months ago

The topic of the environment has become a touchy subject in Malta, with many saying that we are living in a time of the uglification of the country. The government has recently been promoting good governance and complete transparency with regard to the environment on the island, also claiming that the environment is at the forefront of the government’s agenda and classifying it as a priority. Semira Abbas Shalan met with the NGO Moviment Graffitti activist Andre Callus, who feels that the state of the environment in the country is disastrous. He says the country’s economic model is to blame.

The country’s economic model, which focuses primarily on economic growth, is centred on using a precious and scarce resource – land, Moviment Graffitti activist Andre Callus told The Malta Independent on Sunday, emphasising that a country such as Malta, where land capacity is limited, should not have an economic model which uses up the maximum amount of land and space.

The economy is growing at an exaggerated rate, yet in an undistributed way, as while the economy demands that more work is produced, foreign workers are being brought into the country, given low pay, and leaving disastrous environmental impacts for the sake of sustaining economic activity, Callus said.

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“The economic model is ensuring construction as a way to increase the economy, and while buildings and constructions are important, they should not become an end in itself,” he said. Callus added that this excessive construction is not there to attend to the needs of society, but rather for certain people to profit from it. “There are practical and better ways for construction, which does not have a negative impact on the environment and our quality of life, through policies and the appropriate authorities,” he said.

Asked if the protection of the environment in Malta is too far gone, Callus replied that it will never be too late as there is always something to try and save. However, there is undoubtedly a lot of damage done, and that the country has entered a state of emergency which politicians do not seem to address or take immediate action, he said.

 

‘It is all greenwashing unless policies are changed’

With the general election approaching, ‘greenwashing’ is a common stance to adopt, meaning the promotion and promises for a better environment just to appeal for the people’s votes.

Callus said greenwashing is being done constantly, especially when there is an inauguration of a ‘green’ project. “The advantage of greenwashing is that it is easily recognisable – it’s almost ridiculous,” he said, explaining that the public needs concrete commitments and promises, where the government, instead of preaching about a better approach towards the environment, halts the progress on the plans for the Marsascala yacht marina, which will take up a lot of open space.

“This will have great environmental impacts, as well as have an effect on residents of the area, visitors and fishermen, all so that the rich can enjoy their yachts,” Callus said, adding that the government must own up to his mistake and completely dismiss the yacht marina project.

It is all greenwashing unless policies are changed and projects are halted, he said.

According to a recent EY survey, 90% of youths in Malta feel that the country's environment has gotten worse over the years. Expat Insider Survey of 2021 also showed that Malta ranked in the 56th place out of 59 countries for the quality of the environment. Commenting on this, Callus said that these surveys are a reflection of reality, saying that all the individuals and organisations they have spoken with on this regard have expressed being fed up with the present situation.

“The youth especially are seriously fed up, this is their future to consider,” he said, adding that many are finding it difficult to breathe due to the poor air quality. Serious considerations on whether people should leave the country because of this problem are being done, Callus said, adding that politicians do not seem to give the idea that these surveys are being addressed.

A Bill aimed at reforming the Environmental Protection Act is being discussed in Parliament. It includes an initiative where the public, and NGOs can voice out their thoughts and make decisions within the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) and the Planning Authority.

Callus said that this is a positive thing, if people are listened to. Moviment Graffitti itself had made the appeal to include the public and NGOs in the decision process on permissions and applications to be extended to the ERA rather than the Planning Authority only, he said. This proves futile, however, if the objections from the public are totally ignored, which happens in most cases, Callus said, adding that this reform will then, not have made a huge difference in the care for the environment.

 

‘Both parties have negative environmental track record’

Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia claimed that the public and several environmental NGOs said that the Labour party has had “environmental victories” during its time in government, whilst saying that the PN is only keeping up a false narrative that the PL does not have the environment at heart.

When asked about his thoughts, Callus said that both parties have a negative track record when it comes to the environment, which over the years, has gotten even worse.

“Political discourse is all rhetoric. When it comes to policies and authorities involved, there are not a lot of examples where things went for the better,” Callus remarked.

As for the Nationalist Party, the local plans made in 2006 were deliberately catered for contractors and developers, Callus said, mentioning former Minister for Resources and Rural Affairs George Pullicino as committing “great sins” against the environment. On the other hand, when the Labour party rose to government in 2013, things were not changed, but rather worsened, he said.

“There are endless disastrous planning policies which have opened the doors for the most careless development with the worst consequences the country has ever seen, such as policies on high-rise buildings, buildings in ODZ, policies on how many floors a building should have,” Callus said, emphasizing the accumulating state of gravity the environment in Malta has resulted to.

Most of these policies have not been changed, let alone improved, he said.

There are instances where a policy was reviewed, after much pressure from the organisation, such as the 2015 policy which allowed 3,000m² fuel stations and commercial facilities on ODZ land, which was then reduced to 1,000m², among other changes. “The improvement was not perfect, but it made more sense, and it was welcomed,” Callus said.

 

The waste problem

Questioned about consultations on the new incinerator, which is to be built in the Magħtab area, Callus replied that NGOs were indeed given the chance to provide feedback, however, the waste problem in Malta needs to be affronted more seriously.

“We now need an incinerator because the waste problem in the country was not addressed for a long period of time, and it is not being addressed still,” Callus said.

Waste being produced by hotels and major industries is not being separated. “Is it fair to tell people to separate their waste and these industries do not?”

The waste situation has been completely forgotten, until it’s become too late, he said.

“The incinerator is not an ideal option, but it is a lesser evil as due to carelessness, there were no policies or plans for the situation to be addressed more seriously,” said Callus, adding that the important thing to address now is to be given a clear explanation on how the incinerator will operate and what kind of environmental impact it will have.

Asked what he would like to see implemented for a better environment, Callus replied that there needs to be an economic model which does not rely on excessive development, and ultimately, policies which work.

“The ERA and the PA are authorities without independence and with no transparency, yet with the greatest impact on the environment,” he stated. “The people who participate are more often than not ignored as these authorities are an extension of politics and cater to the interests of other private entities – the decisions made are done because someone is pulling the string behind the scenes,” Callus remarked.

“Illegalities are done under the authorities’ noses and enforcement is a joke,” he said, adding that there are several instances where the PA has allowed for certain work to be done without permission, mentioning cases where Gozitan developer Joseph Portelli repeatedly carried on with illegal ODZ works, yet the PA did not do much to stop it.

Callus stated that the country needs new authorities who are independent and transparent.

“It is not a question of incompetency, the structure was done deliberately to accommodate certain developers and other economic interests, which if we do not address it, we will remain in this situation,” he said.

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