The Malta Independent 23 April 2024, Tuesday
View E-Paper

Environment, planning authorities ‘a disaster at every level’ – Callus

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 11 June 2023, 07:30 Last update: about 12 months ago

Reforms are needed within the environment and planning authorities, Moviment Graffitti activist Andre Callus told The Malta Independent on Sunday, stressing that the system favours developers.

On 27 May, a national protest was held in Valletta, with protestors calling for reform within the authorities responsible for the environment, planning and lands. Callus highlighted the need for change in four entities in particular – the Planning Authority, the Environment and Resources Authority, the Lands Authority and the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal. "They are a disaster, at every level,” he said.

"It is literally like banging your head against a wall as you won't get anywhere with them," he said. 

Referring to the meetings held by planning boards and others, “sometimes their mask falls so much that it appears as though they start acting like advocates for developers”, he said. 

“We have an authority that is systematically taking the side of developers. That is the result of political direction. The government’s political direction favours developers at the expense of other people,” he said. 

Sometimes these authorities also show a lack of competence, he said.

The Planning Authority “should have a different role; a truly independent one that looks out for the common good", Callus said.

The first move to achieve such a goal, he said, would be to make it, and the other authorities he mentioned, independent. He said that the PA board, Executive Council, Planning Commissions, the ERA board, the EPRT “are all made up of people directly appointed by the government. This needs to change. They need to become independent authorities”.

The members on these boards, councils and commissions should not be appointed by the Prime Minister or a minister, Callus said.

He referred to a document Moviment Graffitti had published in 2020, which included proposals which dealt with appointments to such positions. For instance, Graffitti had proposed that the Planning Board be comprised of a total of 13 members: one qualified representative nominated by the government, one qualified representative nominated by the Opposition; two members from the ERA; one representative from the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage; two qualified representatives nominated, following an election, by NGOs; one representative for each local council affected by the application in question; five members appointed following a rigorous process which includes following a set of criteria for the eligibility of these members, a consultation process whereby nominations of persons to sit on the Board are received, scrutiny via a parliamentary committee and a 2/3rds majority vote in Parliament.

“This doesn’t solve everything, but it would at least grant a higher level of independence.”

“Today the boards are made up of people who you don't know, and who just go and vote, not even participating in the discussion, simply raising their hands at the end when a vote is called, according to the direction they would have been given."

"It’s a farce,” he said.


The national protest

Asked whether the 27 May protest could have an effect, he said that it "undoubtedly will”.

He described it as one of the largest protests tied to the environment and quality of life that has ever taken place in Malta. "There were thousands of people who came out,” he said. "Obviously a protest isn’t something that could bring about change on its own. It is part of the fight that started long ago, a fight that will continue."

What the protest showed, he said, is that there is a large movement that wants change. 

"When it comes to protests, it is easier to organise when people want to protest about a specific issue such as the development of a particular piece of land. People would know that place, have a certain attachment to it.”

“The protest was different as it was more about changing policies, authorities and the economic model. These are not issues that make it easy to convince people to take to the streets, as they are more technical as points. But many people turned up and that shows there are many who are fed up and want change. I believe that the message was clearly received by those who it was intended for. But we cannot stop here" 

Asked how the NGOs intend to build upon the protest, he said that they have a meeting with the Prime Minister planned in the coming weeks.

"We won't be able to solve things with this meeting alone, but we are going to continue discussing and asking for the needed changes."

"The protest wasn't the start of something, but rather it showed that what began years ago is bearing fruit – that there is a willingness to fight against what is going on, that the activism within communities is growing deep roots. From complaining about the situation in Malta, we are moving to a situation where people are organising themselves, protesting, taking court action.”

The protest showed that many communities were not only ready just to fight against development on a piece of land that affects them directly, he said, but for the wider picture. He adds that communities united and people from all over the country had joined, from all backgrounds.

"This movement being built has political strength," Callus adds. "There are people who are so angry that they are ready to sideline party loyalty and say that they are truly fed up."

Asked what it meant to have two Labour Party mayors – Gzira’s Conrad Borg Manche and Qala’s Paul Buttigieg – speak at the protest, he highlighted that there was a third present, Qormi mayor Josef Masini Vento. 

"There were many people at the protest who support the Labour Party and are active within it. This goes to show that this is about a situation that is affecting many people in different communities. The fight isn’t about PN vs PL, it’s about communities of every political colour, as well as those with no affiliation, suffering because there is a small group of people – developers and big businesses – that are dictating environmental and planning policies."

Many people, he said, are realising that it is not a question of one party or the other, but "that there is a small group of people who hijacked the state, hijacked the state's policies and how the authorities work and this situation is affecting everyone. We cannot continue like this".


There’s still a chance

Labour MEP and former Prime Minister Alfred Sant recently said that the fear of development ruining the island of Gozo forever is real, and spreading.

Asked whether it’s too late for Gozo, Callus believes it is never too late.
It is not the first time Sant has spoken up about such issues, Callus pointed out. "He is right, we are seeing the results of that development as even Gozo is being quickly ruined.”

The issue, he said, revolves around what was demanded in the protest. “We want structures and planning policies to change."

"We are in an emergency. Things are getting worse and are speedily going in the wrong direction, but I don’t think it’s too late. There is still a lot to save,” he said.

“We only have one Malta and one Gozo, and we need to save what's left. There’s still a lot left, but if we continue heading in the direction we are heading in, just imagine what the islands will look like in 20 or 30 years’ time. If we continue going at this rate, what will remain? Nothing probably. But right now we still have a chance.”


Overdevelopment and economic growth

Asked about the link between overdevelopment and overpopulation, Callus said that this ties in to the need to change the country’s economic model, which was another point raised during the May protest.

"To blame foreigners is ridiculous. It's true that Malta importing tens of thousands of workers over the past few years is a major problem for the environment, but they did not come here for no reason. They came because of the country’s economic model."

He said that the economy is growing at an exaggerated rate, highlighting that infrastructure and buildings are needed to meet that growth, not just for workers but also for tourists. “The source of all of this is the country’s economic model, a model that pushes for growth without measure.”

“We don't even have pavements to walk on any more as they are being taken up by this unrestrained commerce,” he said, in clear reference to tables and chairs, belonging to catering establishments, taking up such space.

Graffitti wants a stronger economy than what the country currently has, he said. “The economy we have is so fragile that, in order to sustain it you need constant immeasurable growth.” A strong economy isn’t just about economic growth “but it’s about resource management”, he said. 

“We want a different economic model, one that aims at having a fair and just sharing of resources, not unrestrained growth.” Malta, he said, has managed its resources badly and unequally. "So we ended up depending on unrestrained economic growth. If we don't solve that problem, then the impact on the environment will continue to be disastrous."


A second part of the interview will be carried on Monday


  • don't miss