I recently reviewed the ‘Sustainable Development’ Annual Report 2022 in parliament. It’s essential to note that, while this report refers to 2022, we are discussing it two years later. This delay means our planned actions and projections may not perfectly align with changed circumstances from a year ago in 2023.

Sustainable development, as defined by dictionaries, involves advancing human society in a way that meets current needs without jeopardising future generations’ ability to meet theirs.

Let’s start with Malta’s traffic situation, overseen by my colleague, Transport and Infrastructure Minister Chris Bonett. Are investments in road construction adequate to ease current traffic jams through future planning without depleting resources or harming future well-being?

The government committed €700 million to improve and construct roads across Malta and Gozo. However, I question its effectiveness, as 65 additional vehicles are hitting the road daily, and simply expanding certain road sections and patching others won’t solve persistent traffic jams.

Let’s consider the justice system. The focus often falls on the current court conditions but a deeper issue is the prolonged duration – often years –required to resolve court cases. This delay essentially amounts to a denial of justice. Increasing the number of judges or lawyers doesn’t equate to sustainable development in the justice system. How well are we serving individuals engaged with the courts for about 20 years, including a case recently resolved after 50 years, yet still awaiting appeal?

Now I refer to tourism. Visitors to Malta are rising; from one million to two, then three million and still going up. Now, beyond COVID, we are reconsidering our objectives to focus efforts and resources on quality over quantity.

Consider Comino’s Blue Lagoon. The sea shimmers no more in the shadow of boats side by side. On the shore, there’s a disarray of deckchairs, umbrellas and ice-cream kiosks while flocks of tourists lack space to lay down a towel and enjoy the sun. Are we investing in sustainable development? Will today’s tourists return next year?

Next is education. A colleague asked the education minister for student numbers at a Mellieħa school but this data was unavailable. Sustainable development involves not only constructing schools but also using tools to gauge exam performance. Investments in education should go beyond exams, targeting other areas as well.

We need to give students the tools and skills for life in five, 10 or 20 years. We must teach them to think, not just study. It’s imperative we provide students the right tools to become ‘thinkers’ and responsible citizens.

Another sector critical for sustainable development is the economy. The prime minister praised our current economic model. Finance Minister Clyde Caruana, during his time at Jobsplus, advocated increasing employment by importing cheap labour to boost the economy. Did this strategy work? As we struggled to create and innovate, we relied on importing cheap labour to expand our economy. Did this benefit us?

The government justifies this approach by citing rising GDP but Maltese workers’ wage growth is the lowest in the EU. This shows that many must work to sustain themselves.

Meanwhile, GDP growth does not depend on added value and does not address the state of the feel-good factor, the decline in the ecosystem services, the stress and solitude of people, the ill health of people because of the deterioration of the health services, which is exerting further strain on the country’s physical infrastructure.

We must teach students to think, not just study- Adrian Delia

How does this model benefit the public when it burdens health, education, social policy, judicial services and infrastructure? The prime minister claimed the model was successful – but not for enhancing our capabilities, only for serving existing conditions.

GDP should reflect a rise in added value, not just more people. The government prefers boosting GDP numbers by increasing the population, not enhancing investment in transport or energy. The total GDP falsely shows economic expansion.

Ideally, the economy should increase when GDP per capita rises and this isn’t the case. The prime minister still promotes this model but is it sustainable? We should strive to divert our attention towards a sustainable economic growth path based on added value and which is not reflected simply by GDP growth.

Malta is highly densely populated – 1,600 people/sq km. The Netherlands is second at 450/sq km and Finland last at 12/sq km. Is this indicator conducive to sustainable development? Can we adopt an economic model based on talent and creativity rather than swelling population numbers and cheap labour, stretching our infrastructure and resources thin?

Let’s not forget the environment. What about sustainable development when this annual report overflows with target dates and figures, yet, nothing is urgent and we’re still addressing issues from five years ago, in 2019, during the national climate emergency?

We need urgent environmental actions as emergencies escalate. In 2019, parliament passed a motion for urgent climate change – but has anything changed regarding roads, transport or sustainable development since then?

The report lists targets for the environment section to 2030, like enhancing water quality, among others. Are afforestation and woodland areas growing over a 30-year span? Are investments in Ta’ Qali leading to more trees or just more concrete, benches and pavements? Valley management from Żebbuġ to Siġġiewi shows hedging shrubs that soon dry up.

Another issue requiring serious consideration is the government handling of public procurement through direct orders. Government officials break down large tenders into smaller amounts within the limits of a direct order. Are resources allocated fairly or just to accommodate acquaintances without giving others a chance?

Regarding air quality this report lists Malta as the bottom country in Europe; at times it is 10 times worse. What can the government do within its means to improve air quality when we’re already struggling to meet targets set five years ago? Are we aware of the urgent need for our children to have clean air?

We tend to ignore noise pollution but it’s now a major concern, especially in summer. As an example, I live in Żebbuġ. When summer approaches, nearby clubs disrupt our peace and tranquillity. The loud music vibrations disturb our peaceful environment, especially at night when rest is most desirable. We have no quiet, green areas to escape to and, at night, we can’t rest comfortably at home. The mental health of our youth is at risk.

I need hardly stress the importance that this report is outdated by two years. Delaying considering this issue in real-time increases the likelihood that, by the time we realise what’s needed for a realistic, achievable, sustainable development programme, it will be too late.

Adrian Delia is the Nationalist Party’s spokesperson on health.

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