Greener Malta for my sons

Coming to think of it, forcing a green encroachment into the concrete and brick zones is possibly the most feasible way to fight back against what most of us regards as irreversible overdevelopment

I took the leap into politics a few months before the European election where I stood as candidate. Since then it was a race for votes, first personal ones, now for the Nationalist Party at a general election for which I do not run for a seat. The energy and the stress you face on the day-to-day struggle to meet and reach people on different topics leaves little room to ask the golden question: Why am I doing this? The answer may be taken for granted by too many.

Last week a few PN proposals prompted the question again, or rather the proposals and the reality they delve upon hinted at one good answer to that question.

The proposals in question relate to how we deal with our environment, in particular open green spaces, trees in urban setting, our farmland and our countryside. A PN press conference led by my colleagues Robert Cutajar, Janice Chetcuti and Gabriel Micallef went through a few ideas which clearly suggest a better future for Malta. Amongst other things, the PN is suggesting a vehicle whereby government can acquire tracts of land and turn them into public gardens and national parks.

Coming to think of it, forcing a green encroachment into the concrete and brick zones is possibly the most feasible way to fight back against what most of us regards as irreversible overdevelopment. So many areas on the outskirts of our towns, from Swatar to Zejtun and Qala in Gozo are turning into very dense urban areas. What was a townhouse a few years back now made room for 12 new apartment units. Private investors are not really to blame in my view. Development policy allows this. Labour politicians who point their finger at the 2006 rationalisation by PN boosted the boom with the 2015 revisions encouraging further development. It is indeed a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Any smart property owner has to exploit these policies and her/his assets to the full. But how about public authority? Should not pubic authority strive to balance out the increasing building density by planning more public green spaces in our sprawling village outskirts?

I remember fondly my weekly childhood visits to Ġnien tal-Kmand in Żejtun. This 17th century garden was planned at the start of British rule as a gift to Żwieten in recognition of the villagers’ participation in the revolt against the French. It still has Auricaria and Jaracanda trees towering above San Girgor chapel. Back then, the authorities planned a few gardens for every town. Now we seem to have lost touch with that important balance. How many new public gardens did we open in Swatar or Żokrija in Mosta for instance? None that I know of. To make matters worse, if a park is planned by Minister Ian Borg it turns out to be a concrete park with little room for greenery.

The PN is proposing to revert this trend. Yes, development will continue, but we can fight back its effect on our urban fabric by making urban greener. To start with, how about trees on the pavement, across the board, as a general rule? Then imagine, you can launch a petition in your neighbourhood for government to buy a piece of land close by and turn that into a public garden. Now stop imagining, go to or get in touch with one of the PN candidates and suggest it. A new PN government can do that.

Another interesting PN proposal relates to investing in our countryside. By investing I don’t mean pouring concrete. I don’t know about you, but I regularly get the feeling that while potential for countrywalks exists in Malta, a lot of the possible trails are blocked through unclear property rights, hard to access paths and ill maintained passageways. What could be an hour long trail in, for instance, Baħrija valley or Dwejra would normally end up in a 15 minute walkabout due to neglected passageways, sometimes turning into swampy roads (or impromptu clean ups) in rainy seasons.

A simple yet effective PN proposal includes a commitment to map out a good number of promising hiking trails and strive to expand and maintain them including through volontary arrangements for passage-way through private land. Moreover, we also need to invest in a few facilities. It will not cost much to provide a few sitting benches and tables for hiking families allowing a brief rest while on a hike. Sounds elementary right? In Malta it is not. Most of our hiking trails are abandoned to the elements. In several locations they are hardly monitored or inspected by any of the Government authorities.

In my home visits and meetings with people at their home or village piazzas, people regularly call for a stronger environmental dimension to our decision-making. The PN is understanding this and being pro-active through its proposals not to mention our effort to reach out to all pro-environment activists to join in and bring the change through Bernard Grech’s outreach vehicle: PN Greens. The proposals mentioned above are just a few of a series including a tree mapping exercise, the protection of historic houses in village cores and the PN’s engagement to protect farmland as a guarantor of biodiversity and food security.

This brings me to the opening question on why I am in politics. I am in politics to strive for a better Malta nurturing us and making us a better people. A better version of ourselves if you like. That has to be a greener Malta for my sons. It is possibly a very egoistic reason. But I know I can be upfront about it because it is in your interest too. Wherever side you sit on in the political spectrum you will recognise that our economy will no longer be able to feed us if we spoil the environment. If it’s all about money, it bears reminding that a beautiful Malta is fundamental for our tourism sector, a true motor for our economy. If on the other hand you realise that a healthier and greener environment is even more important than all the economic arguments, then stop sitting on the fence and join us making that a reality.

The PN can be criticised for a hundred things. We have old faces who keep commanding thousands of votes. We try to keep the peace between devils and angels. We sell a glorious past but need to come to terms with past mistakes. That is all true.

But having now taken a front role as a spokesperson with Bernard Grech I can tell that there is something in PN that harbours great promise for a better Malta. It is the boldness to face the issues with only the public good in mind. I can say that when I follow Bernard Grech.

I can see that if elected Prime Minster, Bernard would lead with the public interest at heart and nothing else.

You can’t say that when you see how Abela’s Labour orchestrates marinas, direct orders and shell companies to attract funds from alleged criminals. A better Malta necessitates PN, so join in and make PN stronger now, for Malta’s sake.