The statement “ODZ is ODZ” has become a cliché. The commitment to stop eating what’s left of our countryside only seems to last until a party gets into office.
Admittedly, both parties have made their share of mistakes and the Nationalist Party assumes full responsibility for its part. But it is time to draw the line and stop the unbridled environmental degradation that we are now witnessing under a Labour government.
I am proposing to do things differently.
Last Wednesday I put forward a proposal to radically change the way in which decisions are taken when they affect land that lies outside the development zone (ODZ).
I proposed to shift the power to decide on major projects affecting ODZ from the government to Parliament, which shall act by a two-thirds majority. All major projects of national importance in ODZ will be subject to this procedure.
The vote will be taken after the Planning Authority has completed the planning process and submitted its recommendations to the scrutiny of the parliamentary Committee for the Environment and Development Planning.
The proposal is radical because it will bring about a change in mentality and a different way of doing things.
And it will serve as an unprecedented brake on ODZ development.
It will usher a new era of consensual politics, away from the confrontational style of this government which never makes the slightest effort to seek consensus (just look at its aggressive reaction to this proposal).
It is a paradigm shift away from a mentality of ‘might is right’ to one where the right decisions mature out of a process of consensus-building
Instead, the government will be forced to cooperate with the Opposition and will be subject to thorough public scrutiny and more political accountability.
We had already made a similar proposal with respect to appointments to the highest offices in the land. In our document on good governance, Restoring Trust in Politics, we said that top appointments – from the President of Malta to the Commissioner of Police and the Governor of the Central Bank – should be made on the basis of a two-thirds majority in Parliament. We feel that this would also restore credibility and autonomy to public institutions.
And of course, this is not to say that the government will no longer be able to take decisions which, after all, it is elected to take. Safeguards will be put in place to prevent the Opposition from blocking decisions unreasonably.
So it is a paradigm shift away from a mentality of ‘might is right’ to one where the right decisions mature out of a process of consensus-building.
And let’s face it, we do need a dose of good sense on land use. More so in a limited territory such as ours.
This is not all.
In order to safeguard ODZ land further, we will review the ineffectual Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED), which was approved by Parliament last summer despite stiff opposition. The SPED is strategic only in name, leaving too much room for ambiguity and flippantly allowing ODZ development where “feasible”.
A proper landscape policy that protects areas of high landscape value will also be adopted, along with improvement of the quality of the urban environment to reduce further pressures on ODZ land. It must be clear, however, that our ODZ policy will continue to encourage farming activities because we believe that farmers can be guardians of our environment.
I am delighted that our proposal was warmly welcomed by a number of civil society organisations.
As the only realistic alternative to a Labour government, the PN has a grave responsibility to offer a better deal on the environment, starting with a firm commitment to save ODZ land.
This is why I am steadfast in my resolve to see our party embrace an updated environmental policy so that we can give voters a real choice for a better quality of life.
Simon Busuttil is leader of the Nationalist Party.
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