MPs to debate reform bill to make Environment and Resources Authority accountable

Discussion on private bill making ERA meetings public and strengthening the voice of NGOs will start tonight

Site of protest: one of the first demonstrations by the Kamp Emergenza Ambjent coalition at the ERA offices
Site of protest: one of the first demonstrations by the Kamp Emergenza Ambjent coalition at the ERA offices

Five years after its inception following the Planning Authority’s demerger, the Environment and Resources Authority could be set for a major overhaul in the way its decisions are taken and communicated to the public, if a private member’s bill is approved.

Tonight parliament will be discussing Nationalist MP Robert Cutajar’s bill to increase transparency in the ERA, a major test for the government’s commitment to transparency.

Although the bill falls short on giving ERA veto powers on development permits, it would make ERA more accountable to the public.

The ERA’s powers are primarily limited to the issue of environmental permits in matters ranging from the uprooting of trees to the operations of major establishments. ERA also has a vote in the Planning Authority board, the highest decision-making organ.

If approved, the law would make ERA board meetings open to the public, the minutes of its meetings made public and the agenda communicated publicly before every meeting.

In addition, the PN bill proposes that NGOs and members of the public be able to register as third parties in any applications, and file representations and objections.

Presently ERA’s discussions are not even minuted and even internal votes are not public. Those proposals mirror earlier calls made by environmental NGOs asking for a reform of ERA and the resignation of its chairman Victor Axiak.

The bill presented by Cutajar was endorsed by the Ramblers’ Association, Friends of the Earth, Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Moviment Graffitti, Nature Trust and the Archaeological Society.

Speaking to MaltaToday, Robert Cutajar described the proposed bill as “a strong message on the importance given to the environment by the Nationalist Party,” adding that this is the first of a series of initiatives and proposals which the party will be presenting in the next weeks.

Cutajar has recently filed nine requests to the office of the Ombudsman to investigate works undertaken by government entities, including road works carried out without a permit in Comino. Cutajar previously said that because of the way the ERA board works today, NGOs are not being seriously listened to and that the PN presented this bill after holding consultation sessions with eNGOs on the subject matter.