Disrespecting the public

There needs to be a change in culture across the country whereby business and the public respect the environment

Does an enterprise whose business model is based solely on the quality of the sea really need to be told to respect the environment it operates in?
Does an enterprise whose business model is based solely on the quality of the sea really need to be told to respect the environment it operates in?

Malta joined the European Union in 2004 and 12 years later we’ve become a fully integrated member. Our laws and our regulations are in line with the European model and EU directives in many areas of life and business in Malta are actually the same as those found in Germany or Finland.

However we still have something missing. We may have the laws written down but the European spirit in certain ways of doing things is lacking. I think the most clear example is the environment and the respect, or lack of, it enjoys from the public. Trash is thrown everywhere, littering is a common practice and a 6am walk in Paceville, Sliema, Bugibba or St Julian’s is usually about discarded garbage and foul smells. If the cleaning services do not call there, early in the morning, to clean up the mess, we’d find ourselves in a dump every single day. From discarded pizza boxes to empty bottles of beer, the people around the area are, rightly so, angry about this lack of respect.

The same goes with discarded white goods, where a perfectly nice field close-by seems to be the only place where this type of trash belongs, despite the fact that there are plenty of legal and simple alternatives to dispose of them. It’s just laziness and lack of respect and I think this is not acceptable.

The latest part of the environment to face the cruel pitchfork of people is the sea. We’ve all seen the pictures of the unacceptable situation in fish farms. In my view, this is a case of disrespect towards the public and the environment, even before the issue of law comes in.

Does an enterprise whose business model is based solely on the quality of the sea really need to be told to respect the environment it operates in? I think this is beyond the law and should be something businesses operate by default, in the same principle that a person shouldn’t just throw litter from a car window because it’s illegal, but because it’s the logical and right thing to do.

The sea is one of those elements that gives us identity. I was very vociferous when public land close to the popular sea spots was privatised in previous administrations, as I believe the sea and its surroundings should be something to be enjoyed by all. In a place like Malta, with such density and intensity, our coast should be somewhere that helps people find balance and the least they can expect is a clean environment. In the past months we’ve seen countless video clips on social media (thank God for that) of people dumping all sorts of things into the sea. This abuse is eroding beautiful coasts across Malta and Gozo.

As government, we have taken immediate steps to address the issue of bringing the fish farms in line. I think it is important that the operation is monitored, regularised and brought to a standard which allows sustainability. Unfortunately, enforcement has to be the only way to bring everyone in line as a number of issues clearly need to be dealt with.

But my qualm with enforcement is that you cannot be everywhere all the time. I think there needs to be a change in culture across the country whereby business and the public respect the environment, whether or not there is a camera or an enforcement body overlooking them. The same goes for different industries – construction and manufacturing are chief among them.

The government will address this issue through better regulation and laws but ultimately it should be up to each one of us to do our bit. The environment is naturally paired with the health and well-being of our communities, so we must do better not because of some law or enforcement mechanism, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Evarist Bartolo is minister for education and employment

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