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MALTATODAY 13 March 2022

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6 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 13 MARCH 2022 OPINION 2 maltatoday EXECUTIVE EDITOR Matthew Vella Letters to the Editor, MaltaToday, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016 E-mail: Letters must be concise, no pen names accepted, include full name and address maltatoday | SUNDAY • 13 MARCH 2022 The other war, in Gozo Editorial AS many people are now commenting online, the Rus- sian invasion of Ukraine – and the ghastly atrocities being reported each day – have lent a feeling of 'surre- alism' to the pretence of everyday normality. Malta is currently half-way through a General Election campaign: usually, a time of heightened (perhaps even abnormally so) political passions. And yet, it feels dif- ficult to report on the current campaign as usual. Even among the public at large, there is a noticeable sense of detachment, and lack of interest, this time round. It is as though all other issues – even crucial ones, such as elections – have been thrown into sharp relief: almost to point of appearing trivial, compared to events of truly global significance. Nonetheless, those issues do remain crucially impor- tant. And while the media can do little but watch (and report on) the Ukraine war; it remains our responsibility to also cover important issues of a more domestic, local flavour. As such, this newspaper is compelled to turn its at- tention to another 'war' (so to speak) that is happening much closer to home: the war waged by unscrupulous, unbridled material interests, on our country's fragile en- vironment. The latest twist concerns a truly shocking decision by the Planning Authority, to approve yet another gar- gantuan development project, on ODZ land, in one of Gozo's most pristine corners. Not content with having already ruined the last un- spoilt part of Xlendi – a once picturesque fishing village: now disfigured by an unsightly, five-storey concrete block – the PA Board has just voted to approve a block of 125 apartments, just 300 metres from the cliff edge in Sannat, Gozo. The development was proposed by Gozitan construc- tion magnate Joseph Portelli: last seen boasting, in an in- terview, about his enormous influence over both Malta's main political parties. It will be remembered that the area in question – which borders on the Ta' Cenc cliffs – has long been consid- ered a highly sensitive area. It is located next to a Natura 2000 site, which is designated as a Special Area of Con- servation with International Importance. Moreover, the development is in the close vicinity of an internationally recognised Important Bird Area: home to a significant breeding population of Scopoli's Shearwaters; as well as Stormy Petrels, Peregrine falcons, Barn owls, and Mal- ta's national bird, the Blue Rock thrush. But this new invasion in ODZ land will not only come at the expense of a scenic clifftop; it also sets the prece- dent for the future take-up of more green spaces. Just to add to the surrealism, Portelli's mega-project will also eat into precious agricultural land, at a time when we cannot ignore our food security any longer. Meanwhile, the development itself openly violates the established height restrictions; it will increase traffic and congestion, and affect people's enjoyment of sunlight in their homes. All these objections are already more than enough for the PA to have refused this permit application: which was, in any case, recommended for refusal by both the ERA, and the case officer concerned. But there is more. The Planning Authority's decision also flies in the face of repeated reassurances, given by the Labour government, that there would be no further development in ODZ areas. More worryingly still, there are reasons to suspect that the PA acted beyond its legal remit, in approving the permit. During Friday's meeting, it was repeatedly pointed out that the project had been deliberately split into three separate applications – filed by different applicants – in order to by-pass legal obstacles. Incredibly, however, the PA Board chairperson Stepha- nia Baldacchino tried to play down the objections, by ar- guing that it was "not within the board's remit to decide on such matters." This is patently absurd: of course it is within the board's remit to assess the holistic impact of all three applications, on the surrounding environment. This is, indeed, the reason we even have a planning regulator to begin with. Given that Friday's vote was clearly a 'fait accomplit', it comes as no surprise that disillusioned attendees would chant 'Viva il-korruzzjoni' ('Long live corruption!') upon hearing the verdict. For this is truly a corrupt decision: regardless whether any money directly changed hands, or not. It is 'corrupt', in the sense that it illustrates a moral cor- ruption when it comes to protecting our environment. It is corrupt, because it betrays a shocking insensitivity to the ecological sensitive of the site; and because it makes an open mockery of all our country's planning laws, and commitments to preserve areas which the PA itself has recognised as 'of high ecological importance'. Above all, however, it is corrupt because it cements (pun intended) the widespread perception that 'mon- ey talks'; and that construction magnates like Joseph Portelli really do have the nation's planning institutions – not to mention political parties – in their pocket. And all this, in the middle of a campaign in which both parties promise 'better protection for our environment': while turning a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the Planning Authority on an almost weekly basis. 'Long live corruption', indeed… 6 March 2012 €158 million paid to BWSC, not one cent paid up for 1989 Delimara plant DESPITE government's announcement in par- liament this week that almost €158 million has already been paid to BWSC for the controver- sial Delimara power station extension, the re- payment of the loans covering the construction of the first Delimara plant in 1989 have not yet started. Reacting to last week's downgrade by Stand- ard & Poor's, former Nationalist minister Jes- mond Mugliett argued that Enemalta's €600 million in debts "are not reflected in the na- tional debt figures" and insisted that the public deserves to be told the truth. "After all, it's the public who is paying." Mugliett said that over the past five years, consumers have been burdened with utility tariffs which are considered to be amongst the highest within the European Union. "Another worrying factor is that those in charge of Enemalta have been doing very little to address the long-term sustainability of the corporation's finances, and the changes to sus- tainable sources of energy, which would have reduced our dependency on fossil fuels which are so vulnerable to fluctuating high market prices," he said. Mugliett has flagged a series of issues related to Malta's energy sector, which are set to neg- atively affect the country's quest to improve its competitiveness. "Some speak of debts amounting to €600 million, while others believe it is much higher," Mugliett says, adding that a large proportion of these debts go back to the expenses made when the first power station was built in Delimara more than 20 years ago. "What is worrying is that throughout these years, no plan was made to undertake a loan repayment programme, knowing that all plants needs to be replaced - power stations have a limited design life - and further substantial cap- ital expenditure will always have to be made," he said. Mugliett also accused Enemalta's heads of doing very little to address the long-term sus- tainability of the corporation's finances, and the change to sustainable sources of energy which would have reduced dependency on fossil fuels that remain so vulnerable to fluctuating high market prices. Quote of the Week "Union citizenship is a bit like the surprise one finds in the BBC Antiques Roadshow: a seemingly worthless object turns out to be extremely valuable." Dutch MEP Sophie In't Veld presents her legislative proposal to phase out golden passports in Europe MaltaToday 10 years ago

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