Demerger de facto complete

The government’s attitude sends out the message that the government is simply not interested in what the public thinks – definitely not a government that listens

Michael Falzon parliamentary secretary for planning. (Photo Ray Attard)
Michael Falzon parliamentary secretary for planning. (Photo Ray Attard)

As Parliament and public opinion debate the separation of MEPA into two authorities, I honestly believe the separation has been de facto accomplished already. This is why.

1. Writing this opinion after last Thursday’s MEPA public sitting, I realise that officials of the Environment Protection Directorate were once again missing all together. Their absence at MEPA board meetings has been felt ever since Labour returned to government. An official of the Planning Authority, who is clearly not in a position to defend the Environment Directorate’s views, goes on explaining what the EPD’s objections are. Planning Directorate officials do not represent the Environment Directorate, and their expertise is more in planning rather than environment – it is thus obvious that the environment is currently under-represented, to say the least. 

2. The Zonqor Preliminary Assessment is another case in point. It transpired that MEPA’s CEO disregarded the Environment Directorate’s views in selecting the Zonqor National Park as the ideal candidate for the construction of Sadeen’s “American” University on 90 tumoli of virgin agricultural land. How such a preliminary assessment may do without the expertise of environmental experts, is beyond me.

3. The seat of the Director of Environment has been empty since Petra Caruana Dingli resigned the position, nearly two years ago. Ever since, MEPA chairman Vincent Cassar has been Acting Director of Environment. Let me remind you that he is a part-time and non-executive chairman. Whilst he is already too busy dealing with planning applications, there is no way on earth anyone can juggle both workloads on a part-time basis. For Labour, the environment is a secondary issue, and thus merits part-time attention. 

4. The draft bill on the setting up of the Planning Authority divests the MEPA board of recruitment selections, and delegates it to the executive council. Indeed, this has taken place already, as witnessed in the CEO’s insistence on keeping the interviewing boards under wraps. 

The fact that the split has been de facto accomplished, explains why the government has been reluctant to postponing the debate in Parliament by a mere four weeks to allow time for public consultation submissions to be made. This attitude sends out the message that the government is simply not interested in what the public thinks – definitely not a government that listens. 

Populism is short-term 

The events of the week have taught a crucial lesson to all Europeans. Syriza, the Greek party currently in government, has finally had to face the expected. The Greek story has provided each and every voter with a lesson – problems may be put to the side, but they will not go away. Syriza has managed to make a resounding victory by being populist, promising the impossible. 

Promising the electorate a brighter future and disregarding underlying difficulties wins you votes in the short-term, but one day, it will come back to haunt you. It came back to haunt Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on the day of the eurozone meeting. 


The betrayal 

In promising the impossible in the circumstances, Tsipras has managed to win the government, but betrayed the Greeks in the process. The only way he could avoid betraying his people, was by refusing the eurozone package, which included austerity measures he himself condemned earlier on during the election campaign. 

Truth is Tsipras had no other choice, and did the right thing in the circumstances – to accept the offer. Refusing it would have almost certainly resulted in a Grexit, a scenario he alone would have had to shoulder. In accepting the offer, he avoided going down in history as the first Prime Minister who led his country out of the eurozone. Well aware of the consequences, it was an avenue he could not afford to take, even at the expense of betraying his own people. 

The Greeks have, for many years, enjoyed benefits they could never afford. They have been paying the price since, and will continue to do so until debts are paid, and benefits brought in-line with a sustainable path. 

Malta, watch out

Populism comes at a price: granting short-term political victories at the expense of long-term consequences. Engaging 5,000 new public officials in just over two years cannot be considered sustainable. Joseph Muscat has brought back the philosophy of increasing the state’s payroll for his short-term political gains – a price his successors, whether Labourite or Nationalists, will have to pay.