PN will not be part of ‘sham’ environment debate – De Marco

Government's haste in rushing through landmark environmental laws is an insult to civil society and Parliament, the PN deputy leader says

PN deputy leader Mario de Marco lashed out at government's haste in pushing through laws before consulting civil society
PN deputy leader Mario de Marco lashed out at government's haste in pushing through laws before consulting civil society

PN deputy leader Mario de Marco today said the debate on the Environment Protection Bill as “an insult to civil society and Parliament because government does not want to listen to what the people have to say on the law.”

“The opposition will not be an accomplice in this travesty and in this sham of a debate,” de Marco said adding that the PN will not be participating in the debate unless government decides to postpone the debate.

Civil society was given just 24 hours to prepare for a consultation meeting and following harsh criticism, government made some concessions and the third reading of the three laws will be held after the summer recess while NGOs and individual citizens have until the end of this month to file written submissions on the proposed laws.

“What gall does government have to claim that it is a government that listens when it is ignoring civil society and the people?” de Marco asked.

In reference to government’s ostensible attempt to rush three landmark laws to effectively separate the ‘environment’ and ‘planning’ aspects of MEPA through parliament before the summer recess, de Marco said “this Parliamentary debate on the environmental law has more in common with the theatre of the absurd than with a theatre of democracy.”

“How can we hold a debate without first hearing what civil society has to say? We’re not here to speak on behalf of and represent ourselves but we were elected to represent the people. As such we must listen to what the people have to say on such an important law,” he said in a forceful speech.

The opposition deputy leader added that consultation process was only opened this week, which he said indicated government’s haste to close the debate as soon as possible.

Pointing out that only two government MPs were in the House as he was speaking, de Marco asked “what kind of debate does government want? What kind of consultation does government want to hold if the debate in Parliament will be over before civil society and the people can have their say?”

While saying that the creation of an environmental authority is not inherently wrong, de Marco argued that Malta’s peculiar characteristics meant that all development have an environmental impact and the construction lobby’s strong ties to government means that “every square inch is eyed for development.” 

“The environmental voice should be strengthened and not weakened within MEPA,” the PN deputy leader said.  

Noting that environmental NGOs were only informed in the eleventh hour about a Parliamentary committee meeting on the proposed laws, de Marco quoted the Aurhaus Convention which safeguards the right of civil society to participate in environmental decision-making process.

The convention stipulates that arrangements are to be made by public authorities to enable the public and environmental non-governmental organisations to comment on, for example, proposals for projects affecting the environment, or plans and programmes relating to the environment.

Demerger will put environment on a par with development

Environment minister Leo Brincat speaking in Parliament
Environment minister Leo Brincat speaking in Parliament

Earlier, environment minister Leo Brincat insisted that he was “proud and honoured” to kick off the parliamentary debate on one of the key proposals in Labour’s “winning” electoral programme.

Underlining the importance of striking a balance between the environment and development, Brincat said the new Environment and Resources Authority will bridge the separation between the environment and development and play an important regulatory role.

Denying accusations that government was riding roughshod over civil society, he said that if the Bill tips the balance in favour of development it would have not waited thirty months to implement it. In reply to criticism over the ill-timed consultation process, the minister said that MPs will be discussing the laws at committee stage after the consultation process is over.

Insisting that the MEPA demerger will not relegate the environment to the second division, Brincat said that he was open to listen to civil society but warned that the “decisive government” would only listen to concrete proposals.

While acknowledging that the environment had never been so high up on the country’s agenda, Brincat said “this is not the end but it is the starting point of a process which will fulfill the aspirations of the country and all citizens.”

Insisting that the demerger would put the environment on a par with planning and development, Brincat said “for the first time Malta will have an autonomous environment authority.”