Malta’s sad WEEE saga: Proof of political impotence

Electronic and electrical waste is one particular area where we have been off target ever since we joined the European Union

One does not need to be a rocket scientist to realise that one of the main reasons why Malta failed over the years since its EU accession in meeting its WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive) targets on electronic goods was simply due to the eco tax itself that many rightly perceived as a double whammy.

This message had been long conveyed to me when I was shadowing the environment between 2008 and 2013 as well as in my first days in office in my first meetings with the top officials of the Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry as well as the GRTU.

No wonder that all European statistics published to date show that we are laggards in this particular sector.

Electronic and electrical waste is one particular area where we have been off target ever since we joined the European Union, with policy papers piling up, draft cabinet memos gathering dust and no action being taken at the highest levels of the previous administration.

EU waste management policies were always intended to reduce the environmental and health impacts of waste while improving the EU’s resource efficiency.

Through our past inaction on WEEE and the stubborn reluctance to address a tax – the eco contribution – that benefitted no one in Maltese society – previous governments only managed to make a bad situation worse.

It is common knowledge that households are the main source of WEEE in all countries. Large household appliances make up the bulk of EEE waste in all countries.

On the other hand IT and telecommunication equipment is the second most important product category in most countries, followed by consumer equipment and small household appliances.

The EU had long been signalling us over our shortcomings in this area – even when it came to the transposition of WEEE directives regarding which letters of formal notice had also been sent to Malta.

The pity is that had our past governments acted with more resolve, quicker and faster, such an embarrassing situation could have easily been avoided.

Various constituted bodies have not only held various meetings to show their members how the eco tax has always been a stumbling block in the implementation of the WEEE Directive but there have been instances when some of these bodies actually informed their members not to register their WEEE with MEPA.

This was an anomalous situation since the regulator was and will always remain there to ensure that one cannot stubbornly refuse to register their WEEE as they are obliged to do at law.

Through the new budgetary measures which I consider the be among the most radical and innovative, even though belated after years of suspended animation, this environmental deficit will NOW be progressively addressed.

In the coming days I plan to reveal how the implementation of the obligations of the WEEE directive were significantly delayed by the previous government since there were no plans on how this directive and local regulations were to be implemented.

If proof were ever needed of the inaction and lack of political direction of the previous government, suffice it to say that the following timelines or lack of adherence to them will confirm all this.

The previous waste management plan had made reference to WEEE but a more detailed plan for WEEE had been required.

MEPA had been tasked to draft the WEEE plan by the then Ministry for the Environment.

The draft plan had been concluded by MEPA towards the end of 2010 and issued for public consultation in 2011.

Following comments received by the public, the plan had been updated and following discussions had been approved by the Ministry for Tourism, Culture and the Environment but as mentioned earlier up to a few months before the last election, it had not even yet been presented to Cabinet.

With elections looming on the horizon, the Nationalist administration had resorted to its by now traditional way of doing things.

It committed itself to a date well past its own sell by date in the foreknowledge that by the time that the WEEE plan would come into force it would have long found itself already on the opposition benches, leaving other future administrations to carry the can.

This is exactly what the PN Government did.

Under the pretext of the financial implications involved, they went through the motions, carried out the necessary consultations but then tried to merely commit themselves to see the plan come into force in 2014 under the pretext of allowing adequate public finances adjustments to take place for its effective and efficient implementation!

We shall disclose much more information about this saga in the coming days.