Not just another protest

We need to inject some environmental quotient in our Cabinet of ministers and we need to ask our Opposition to get serious and make some daring proposals not simply talk in riddles about the environment’

Politicians form both sides of the aisle attended the protest (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Politicians form both sides of the aisle attended the protest (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Way back in 1983 the first environmental protest was organised in the streets of Valletta. It was an eventful gathering of some 200 young people and we called ourselves Żgħażagħ għall-Ambjent. We got all the attention and much more because we were attacked by a group of Lorry Sant thugs at every corner of the route. The bruising hurt but the publicity was great. 

But it was the first time we coined the word ‘ambjentalist’ in the Maltese context.  And the very first time the whole concept of protecting pristine land came up on the political agenda. 

At the time, the campaign for saving Malta’s foot print was a matter of life or death for me.    

That was 40 years ago, many of the protestors today are politicians, ex-politicians and ex-ministers, lawyers and even judges. We are now in our in sixties.   

Forty years later, the excesses of Lorry Sant’s Planning Areas Permits Board (PAPB) run by his cronies such as Piju Camilleri are a pale shadow compared to the today’s planning boards.  Today’s boards may have decent looking men and women in suits but their planning permit frenzy may have caused more environmental mayhem than ever before. 

We have lost our soul, our politicians ignorant of the way our country has gone to the dogs. 

Malta is also far less authentic and an uglier place than it was 40 years ago. My children will never know; they have nothing to compare with. 

Today more than ever before, the first consideration is money, and it seems that it is never enough. 

When yesterday, hundreds came together to express their anger and frustration at the state of affairs in the environment, it was not the fruit of one’s imagination that Malta and Gozo are sinking under the weight of over-development. It was a reasoned reaction to an impossible situation. A situation dominated by greed and the unstoppable thirst for more money. 

We are a small island state with a population that is increasing by the day. Plagued by constant construction and surrounded by hundreds of roads that sustain thousands of cars.  The feeling of claustrophobia is everywhere. 

Historical village centres are caged by high apartments and everywhere there are either new roads, excavations or construction sites. The green that we see is artificially plonked on roundabouts with colourful exotic flowers to take our stare away from the concrete cancer spreading along our roads. 

Quarries continue to expand and tarmac plants and batching plants work around the clock.  Malta and Gozo have built their economy around the construction industry. 

The charm and beauty of Malta is no longer and our small nation is simply obnoxious. 

In the light of all this, the political class has responded sluggishly, unwilling to unsettle the strong lobby of developers and reluctant to change the planning policies that were introduced by Nationalist minister George Pullicino in 2006 and then refined (to make them worse) in 2013 by Joseph Muscat himself. And after Muscat’s untimely resignation the new Abela administration has hung on to the same environmental unfriendly planning policies, conscious of the fact that slowing down the construction industry would cause ripple effects in the economy. Crucially refusing to change the policies that will save this island from the onslaught of greed, the result has been disastrous. 

Plagued by fear that an economic down turn will bring out all the angst from the public on government because of its poor record on good governance and corruption, reform has been very sluggish. So the end result is that the government is unwilling to make changes that would translate into sizeable planning changes, including slicing off large areas open for development and making them non-development zones. 

But yesterday’s protestors are calling out for radical steps to be taken and those radical steps have to go beyond the green belts being created as part of Malta’s greening.  

The policies need to be changed and this requires an overhaul of our planning laws and this idea that the sky is the limit when it comes to development has to stop. 

We need to save our footprint, stop the high rise in the town centres and village cores, leave high rise to designated areas only, bring back the idea of tranquility in urban areas, stop the rampant spread of apartments and showrooms and protect our historic cores. 

We need to protect our garigue, coast and valleys and especially our agricultural areas. We also need a government that thinks out of the box when it comes to transport solutions, with clear strategies on public transport and that includes tram and metro. 

We need to inject some environmental quotient in our Cabinet of ministers and we need to ask our Opposition to get serious and make some daring proposals not simply talk in riddles about the environment. 

We also should welcome a new political force with a fresh green agenda, represented by serious looking folk not the bunch of oddballs that leads the failed brand known as ADPD.    

Having open spaces, breathing clean air, protecting nature, saving our historic cores, keeping Malta and Gozo authentic, you do not need to be a hippie to promote all this.  You just have to be a level headed Maltese or Gozitan with a modicum of self respect and interest in your country... and a realisation that money is not everything. 

We deserve a beautiful country not a horrid island state painted in grey and white.