If there is such a thing as the ‘Cinderella’ of public policy in Malta, then that would surely be environmental protection.

Whenever environmental protection requirements clash with powerful business interests (say, those of the construction industry) or with those of a specific section of the electorate (such as the hunters), it is these other interests that prevail.

Members of cabinet are often weary of environmental measures that could initially face resistance from sections of the electorate. “This is a government of incentives, not disincentives” is a phrase that is often used in this context by members of the cabinet. This mindset has been the dominant one for at least the past four decades.

 In the campaign leading to the general election in 2013, the electorate was promised that “the environment will truly become a priority”.

Whatever the PL’s pundits must have meant by “environment becoming a priority” is probably not what everyone else had in mind. It was just another empty commitment.

Once elected to power, Labour showed its true colours and they weren’t any different from those of their Nationalist predecessors. Over the past 10 years, Labour’s pro-development bias has resulted in nothing short of a blitzkrieg on the environment.

 The party in government tries to shirk responsibility by putting the blame on the 2006 development zone rationalisation exercise, which predictably opened the gates to a deluge of overdevelopment.

However, after a decade in power, this excuse is starting to ring hollow. If the rationalisation exercise is a problem (which it is), then Labour had enough time to come up with a solution.

Not only did they find no solution to the problems created by the rationalisation exercise but they implemented policies that, in tandem with this exercise, have spurred the current construction spree – policies that are the equivalent of a developer’s wet dream.

Labour’s tinkering with building heights has transformed tranquil neighbourhoods into construction sites, with the site neighbours having to bear the brunt of the unbearable construction machinery noise, constantly smothered in thick dust clouds and deprived of sunlight by the towering, newly built block of apartments (rendering any investment in solar panels or solar-powered water heaters not that worthwhile). And many live in fear of a house collapsing due to bad practices on the neighbouring construction sites.

The developers’ rampage does not stop at the development zone; the Labour government was so “magnanimous” with its revisions to the ODZ policy that an abomination such as the infamous Bidnija “sheep farm” is granted development consent by the so-called Planning Authority (PA) and this despite the fact that it looks like anything but a sheep farm.

As if littering absolutely every single corner in Malta (and, to a certain extent, in Gozo) with buildings was not enough, developers have turned their sights on Comino. There is absolutely no space in the Maltese islands that couldn’t do with a dash of concrete.

There is absolutely no space in the Maltese islands that couldn’t do with a dash of concrete- Mark Scerri

Albert Einstein said that “two things are infinite: the universe and stupidity”. He must have missed out on greed because he probably never met a Maltese developer.

While the developers, abetted by the government’s policies and with the PA’s blessing, happily “make hay”, Malta is being transformed into an overcrowded, claustrophobic, cementified, traffic-congested, urbanised jungle. But hey, “Malta is moving into a modern era”, we’re told by the former executive chairperson of the PA.

We’re relentlessly “eating into” our green spaces; no worries, the government has a €700 million budget to green urban areas.

This is the epitome of Malta’s environmental crisis: while we carelessly erode the areas that are “naturally green” and make urban areas uninhabitable in order to fill the pockets of a handful of “fat cats”, we use public funds to “artificially” green urban areas. This is the perfect example of privatisation of profits with the costs lumped onto the community

The environmental crisis opens a window on governance (or lack thereof) issues in Malta.

Various members of the development lobby have admitted to donating money to the major political parties that are considered “giant supermarkets”.

The logical consequence of this consideration is that the developers shop for favourable planning policies at these “giant supermarkets” and the PA has to implement developer-friendly policies.

In a nutshell, administrative authorities are not independent (in itself already a serious lacuna), to the extent that they are considered to be an extension of the party in government and have to implement policies that suit the “donors” of the party in government.

As an environmental scientist, I cannot keep silent while Malta’s natural environment becomes collateral damage in the quest of a few speculators to get richer more quickly while they steamroll over residents’ rights.

This is why, on May 27, I will join Moviment Graffitti’s national protest because I too have had enough of the “dictatorship of the tower crane and of the jackhammer”.

I too have had enough of the profit-making vultures building absolutely everywhere.

I too have had enough of the way in which environmental concerns are continuously sidelined.

I too have had enough of senseless planning policies that serve the interests of the few.

Mark Scerri is a lecturer in environmental sciences.

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