Painful truth: Environment does not win elections… permits win votes - former finance minister

A repentant Tonio Fenech proposes radical bipartisan pact enshrined in the Constitution to protect the environment and review local plans

Former finance minister Tonio Fenech says bipartisan pact needed to protect the environment and control construction
Former finance minister Tonio Fenech says bipartisan pact needed to protect the environment and control construction

Former finance minister Tonio Fenech is proposing a bipartisan pact enshrined in the Constitution to overhaul local plans and protect the environment.

Fenech said the 2006 local plans have to be revised to offer greater protection to the environment but laid down the stark reality politicians face if they try to do so.

“Every politician knows that the environment does not win you elections. The truth is that permits win you votes… the 2006 local plans need to be revised but every government fears opening this Pandora’s Box because of the pressures it will face to have new areas included in the development zones,” Fenech told the conference entitled State of the Nation, organised by the Office of the President.

Fenech had been part of the Nationalist government that reviewed the local plans in 2006, which resulted in more land being included in the development zones and for building heights to be increased in certain localities. Over the past few years 

But a repentant Fenech is now proposing a radical shift in policy that would necessitate a bipartisan agreement that binds different administrations to overcome the hesitancy politicians face in dealing with the issue.

Political parties should agree to revise the local plans in favour of the environment and it should be an independent commission of experts appointed by two-thirds majority in parliament to carry out the revisions,” he said.

Fenech said that the Planning Authority should be disbanded and all permitting functions transferred to the Environment Authority. 

He added that the economy should be redirected towards activities that are less harmful to the environment.

“Economic growth may suffer because of a slowdown in construction but within an agreed legal framework and long term plan this activity may be redirected towards public infrastructure projects and the regeneration of village cores, where there could be enough work to make up for losses in other fields,” he said.

Fenech added that to go down this route required a lot of courage. “I hope the politicians in our country do find this courage,” he said.

During the same session, economist Marie Briguglio noted that despite the conference dedicating a discussion panel to the environment and development, a survey that measured people’s views on a number of subjects (this was presented earlier in the conference) failed to ask key questions about the environment.

She said this was symptomatic of how the country treated the subject as non-existent.

Briguglio said to have policies in favour of the environment it had to be measured just like economic growth is measured.

She said a review of laws to close loopholes was necessary and institutions should not fear having critical people on board. She also called for more support to voluntary organisations and urged the media to campaign for change.