MP calls government’s political will in environmental matters ‘weak’, ‘non-existent’

MP Mario Galea takes issue with lack of animal welfare

Shadow environment minister Marthese Portelli has said that the government’s political will towards environmental matters is “weak, or non- existent.”

Speaking during a debate in parliament, Portelli made reference to the government’s position on Out of Development Zones.

“The Zonqor project revealed that the government considers ODZ land as inferior,” she said, encouraging the government to increase the commercial value of such stretches of land and in so doing, to discourage others from choosing them for their investments.

Portelli also pointed out that although, the proposed plans to build the American University of Malta in the area, had changed and the campus had been split into two different locations, she would continue to oppose the project in the virgin land, however small.

Referring to the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED), Portelli said that although the document had been presented for discussions and amendments, the government had chose not to take the opposition’s recommendations on board.

“Political will is all it takes, it’s useless to have SPED and MEPA demergers unless there is the proper political will,” she stressed.

Portelli added that the use of clauses claiming that construction should not occur in ODZ land unless they were ‘unfeasible’ within urban areas, had secured room for abuse and misinterpretations.

“The notion of feasibility is alien to the planning processes. It will lead to the myriad of excesses and abuses,” she said.

Portelli further criticised the government’s document on green economy, saying that the plans and ideas in the document, were in no way ‘game-changing’, and that it lacked long-term vision.

She continued by encouraging the government to secure a broader representation of environmental NGOs in the discussion of environment related laws and issues.

Portelli also discussed the effects of traffic on the environment and health questioned whether the government was really enforcing its emissions test policies.

“In 2013 only 21 out of the 12,500 reported cars had failed emissions test, and in the first five months of 2015, only two cars failed the test out of almost 5,000 reports,” Portelli said, questioning whether the government was actively looking into the discrepancy.

Opposition MP Ryan Callus also spoke about the need of looking at traffic issues from the health perspective.

“We are not just wasting time, but we are extending times when we are exposed to harmful fumes,” he said adding that more efforts needed to be made to encourage people to make use of electric cars among others.

Callus also reiterated the government’s suggestion to make school transport for church and private school students free of charge.

He also questioned why there was still currently still no MEPA environmental director;

“How can the environment ever have a voice?” he said encouraging the minister to choose a suitable person for the job, someone who would not become “the government’s puppet or mouthpiece”.

Callus further pointed out that more efforts in waste treatment needed to be made and he questioned whether the government was considering exporting waste, and turning waste into energy.

Portelli further discussed concerns about health and safety issues expressed by Wasteserv employees, and encouraged the government to take action on the matter.

MP Mario Galea
MP Mario Galea

MP takes issue with lack of animal welfare

In his intervention, opposition MP Mario Galea took issue with the government’s stand, or the lack of it, on animal welfare.

“Are you a parliamentary secretary for animal welfare or animal warfare?’ Galea questioned addressing parliamentary secretary for animal welfare Roderick Galdes.

Galea pointed out that in 2013, a mere 240 cases of animal welfare breaches had been taken to court, compared to the 2,273 reports made, and he questioned whether there was enough enforcement in the matter.

He further stressed that the government was taking a very soft stand towards the establishment of illegal zoos and exotic animals in the country.

“The country is not equipped to deal with these animals, and the government should be boycotting places that illegally import these animals,” he said making particular reference to the zoo at Montekristo Estates, and encouraging the government to prohibit state events on the premises.

Galea also made reference to the new operator of the Centru San Frangisk animal welfare centre in Ta Qali, claiming that it was “suspicious” that there had only been one tender for the position.

“The requests made in the government’s tender were unreasonable,” he said, referring to requirements like specialized doctors, who were hard to come by even abroad.

He added that this begged the question whether the operator had been chosen for ulterior motives.

In his intervention, opposition MP Charlo Bonnici spoke about spring hunting and said that whatever the result of the referendum last April, it had revealed more public awareness on such matters.

“The government should be more transparent to ensure more faith in the bodies that regulate the sector,” he said, making particular reference to the Wild Birds Regulation Unit being given additional power.

He added that the opposition agreed with higher penalties to act as a deterrents to potential breaches in the sector.

Bonnici explained however that he disagreed with the idea of collective punishment, but that there were currently no alternatives, and that the opposition was currently discussing possible alternatives.

He further encouraged bird proficiency courses so that hunters didn’t mistake one bird for the other, as well as stricter licenses.

Bonnici also discussed the safety measures in place for those who witness breaches and might be afraid to make reports.

“Perhaps we could extend the Whistleblower act to avoid situations where people are afraid to speak,” he said, adding that more awareness was even necessary by extending hours of bird sanctuaries and even having more.

In his intervention opposition MP Anthony Bezzina said that the budget had not presented anything new for farmers and fishermen and accused the government of dragging its feet in the changes to make the pitkalija or farmer’s market more effective.