Why online consultation has its merits

On the American University issue, the key question posed by some who were sceptical about the whole idea was whether it makes sense to have an online consultation on site selection at all

Still from the OPM website calling for proposals from the public for alternative sites for the American University
Still from the OPM website calling for proposals from the public for alternative sites for the American University

There is no doubt that the optimal solution would always be to come up with the best and the brightest idea about any proposal as from day one, but way beyond the Zonqor issue what needs to be addressed is whether online consultation has its merits or not.

When the government launched its waste management plan the idea of an online consultation process was not only welcomed. But it worked since it had provided the opportunity for a bottom up approach. Some of the submissions might have been amateurish but others were very professional. And in some instances certain qualified and gifted proponents even went into as much length and depth as the key stakeholders did in their submissions.

The same can be said for the draft legislation on climate action. The number of respondents is of secondary importance.

What matters is that as a result of it, we knew how the pulse of stakeholders ticked, and it would be sheer stubbornness to decide to ignore all that was being proposed or suggested. Which will surely not be the case.

On the American University issue the key question posed by some who were sceptical about the whole idea was whether it makes sense to have an online consultation on site selection at all. Is one against the whole idea itself or is it merely born out of fear that individuals, stakeholders and eNGOs do not have the means or professional tools to come up with viable alternatives?

I totally disagree. As the government has already commented, some of the best alternative sites have been put forward by eNGOs, some of them still in their infancy.

One thing is certain. Viable or outlandish, the majority of these proposals seem to make far more sense than one could expect or actually got from the PN itself.

But then one should not expect better from the party that was behind the monstrous rationalisation scheme that will no doubt come back to haunt the Nationalist Party. As it did on the day of the poorly attended PN Zonqor protest when the sight of the chief proponents of the said scheme of the not too distant past gave an eerie and bizarre touch to the whole proceedings.

The fact that none of the eNGOs, or AD itself, who had every right to be among the most vocal critics of the preliminary site location for the project, felt that they should not turn up or accept the invitation of a party for a political ‘non political’ event said it all.

Which brings us back to the whole idea of submissions of suggested alternative sites for the University site. 

Only a few days ago a recently established independent think tank came forward with at least four alternative sites to the one identified in the preliminary site selected on behalf of the government.

Rather than lamenting that they did not have the means to carry out a professional study, they actually did what others had already suggested: primarily that one should not discard completely the mere notion that adapting a historic site to a new use, although posing a range of complex challenges, is not a reason to shy away from it as a possibility. 

The fact that I called publicly for stakeholder involvement in the site selection process was in itself proof enough that I was not satisfied with the preliminary site selected in the first place. 

At the same time that the controversy on the siting of the University raged on locally, the EU Commission chose to go for a parallel consultation process. This time on the circular economy.

Although even in the case of the Commission their views were not cast in stone they had more than an indicative roadmap as to what it had in mind for its upcoming revised circular economy strategy. 

Whether one agrees or not with what the EU actually has in mind not only did they set the tone by seeking to replace the original proposal with a broader and more ambitious approach but they also set out a list of items as to what their action could therefore include by way of proposals.

Nobody seems to have questioned the mere notion of an appropriate stakeholder consultation be it online or not. 

Notwithstanding the fact that most likely the new package will move away in a substantial manner from the previous one’s almost exclusive focus on waste management.

The MCESD might be perceived by many rightly or wrongly as a talking shop, but as many can testify it should frequently be used as a forum where sustainable development should be often discussed.

Rather than limiting itself to specific projects which it can still discuss, it would be more appropriate were it to start looking at the big picture.

This is why I made the point that although the environment has a pivotal role to play in sustainability one should not overlook the UN definition of sustainable development that meshes together key economic, social, environmental and cultural considerations.

This will also be the spirit within which we intend to conduct our review of the current sustainable development legislation that kicked off this week.

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