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MALTATODAY 9 June 2019

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6 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 9 JUNE 2019 NEWS JAMES DEBONO MALTA'S compromise on allowing a four-year 'waiting period' on divorce was cru- cial to winning conservatives votes, the former MP who drafted the watershed law has said. Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando had based his explosive pri- vate members bill on the law introduced in Catholic Ire- land, after a divisive referen- dum in 1995. But a few weeks ago, a ma- jority of Irish voters voted to remove the four-year separa- tion requirement. "I no longer have any say in the matter… but I would still propose the same law if I had to present it today," Pullicino Orlando says, insisting he is of the same opinion as in 2011 when he filed the bill that went on to become the sub- ject of a referendum. "Not only had the wording of the law ensured support among more conservative Maltese, but it was the right thing to do. I did not want to have it on my conscience to have encouraged marital breakdown in cases where the marriage was not irremedi- ably broken. The four-year clause ensures people have time to reflect before taking a definitive decision on their marriage." The passage of the law in 2012 ensured that couples who had already been sepa- rated or living apart for more than four years before the ref- erendum had an immediate chance to remarry. But eight years later, couples who sepa- rate now still have to wait four years before having a chance to remarry. But former Labour MP Deb- orah Schembri, who led the 'yes to divorce' campaign, is more nuanced in her views. "I have always believed that once a couple has been legally separated they should be free to file for divorce immedi- ately. From experience, it is in extremely exceptional cases that people get back together after they separate, however, if and when they do it is more likely to happen in the first two years post-separation than at any other point." Even Schembri says the four-year waiting period was a "compromise" reached in order to put the conserva- tives' minds at rest that this was not going to be a decision taken lightly or on the spur of the moment by people during a difficult period of their lives. "If one had to look at it from the right perspective, it is not the decision to get divorced right after separation that should be of concern, since if a marriage is over, it is useless procrastinating in declaring it so." But of greater concern is the legal capacity to contract another marriage right after getting out of a previous one. "I personally believe that it would be more intelligent to let things settle down before contracting another mar- riage," Schembri, a lawyer who has handled many di- vorce cases, says. But Schembri believes it is patronising to decide for peo- ple how long is long enough for them to be in the right frame of mind to divorce. "People have different cir- cumstances and different re- alities and the state would do well to stay out of that kind of decision." Ireland voted overwhelm- ingly in favour of liberalising divorce laws on the same day of the European elections. The proposal passed with 82.1% of voters backing a change to the law. A referen- dum had to be held because the clause limiting divorce to spouses separated for four of the previous five years, was enshrined in the Constitution. But that clause will now be removed, allowing parliament to decide a new separation pe- riod before divorce is allowed. Divorce was legalised in Ireland in 1995, after a ref- erendum that approved the measure by 50.3% to 49.7%. In Malta divorce was ap- proved in 2011 by 53%. In both countries the watershed referendum inaugurated a se- ries of liberal reforms, which saw both countries introduc- ing gay marriage. Ireland is now led by Leo Varadkar, a centre-right PM who went a step further by liberalising its abortion laws after a constitu- tional ban was overturned in a referendum held last year. Prime Minister Joseph Mus- cat has excluded the intro- duction of abortion. What do Malta's pro-divorce campaigners in 2011 think after Ireland changed the law on which our referendum question and subsequent legislation was based? Leave divorce law as is, former MP says after Irish referendum 2011: the divorce referendum is won after Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, lawyer Deborah Schembri, and Labour MP Evarist Bartolo join forces "Not only had the wording of the law ensured support among more conservative Maltese, but it was the right thing to do" JAMES DEBONO RISING demand for water due to Malta's increased eco- nomic activity and popula- tion growth is being offset by a reduction of water leaks. The Water Services Corpo- ration's annual report has re- vealed a spike in demand for water in the summer of 2018 due to increased tourism- related activities. But in the same period, the WSC still managed to reduce the pro- duction of water due to "ag- gressive leak management". Despite the WSC's commit- ment to continue reducing leaks, demand for water is ex- pected to continue rising due to population growth. To cater for this increase in demand, the WSC is invest- ing in upgrades to its reverse osmosis (RO) plants, with the aim of increasing the share of desalinated water to 70%. Presently RO water accounts for 60% of the water blend, with the remaining 40% be- ing abstracted from Malta's groundwater table. These up- grades are aimed at reducing the energy cost of desalina- tion. Currently energy costs ac- count for €18 million, which is 21% of the WSC's operat- ing costs. In 2018 the WSC's metering section also informed 2,800 customers of possible inter- nal water leaks. Over 3,000 home visits related to reports of high consumption of water were carried out. Thanks to the WSC's in- vestment in polishing plants in sewage treatment facili- ties, the corporation is now able to produce seven billion cubic metres of new water – treated sewage water that can be used for irrigation. To better distribute this water to farmers the corporation plans to install 400 dispensers from which farmers can col- lect this water. The corpora- tion also registered a surplus of €6 million on operations. Aggressive leak controls offset increased demand for water

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