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MALTATODAY 22 January 2023

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maltatoday | SUNDAY • 22 JANUARY 2023 OPINION 11 PQs – no mere waste of time! Reason I ask is that: regard- less whether the project 'fails', or 'succeeds'… the environmental damage will still have been done. It matters little, at the end of the day, that it was caused to build 'an airport, which was later trans- formed into a hotel (or apart- ments, or supermarkets, or petrol stations etc.)'… or the other way round. The result would still be: 'another part of rural Gozo, lost forever'. So… why even bring up the 'commercial viability' aspect, at all? But that only brings me the sec- ond puzzling part: 2) If we're going to base our ob- jections to such projects (even in part) on issues such as 'economic feasibility'… why limit ourselves only to the Gozo Airport? Why not extend that concern to ALL ongoing construction and devel- opment projects: some of which are also considered (by industry experts, no less) as being 'likely to fail'; and pretty much all of which also 'gobble up and destroy' large portions of the environment? Take supermarkets, for instance (including one recent application, to build an airport-sized speci- men 'partly on ODZ land'). Sorry to have to ask, but… does anyone at the PA ever assess the 'com- mercial viability' of such projects – in an island the size of a peanut, which already boats the highest 'supermarket-per-customer' ra- tio, anywhere in the known Uni- verse – before actually deciding to approve them? And how many supermarkets have to go bankrupt in Malta, an- yway, before we finally realise that the local market can only possibly sustain so many of these things, to begin with… with the result that – inevitably - a fair percentage of them will be, a priori, 'destined to fail'? The situation is even more in- auspicious for hotels. Earlier this year, the MHRA itself predicted that – just for local hotels to re- tain their 2019 occupancy-rate of 80% - Malta will have to attract almost double the number of tourists, than we do today (to be precise: around 4.7 million, com- pared to the 2019 figure of 2.75 million). Effectively, this means that – when you count the number of existing hotels, and add all those new ones that are either at ap- plication-stage, or already in de- velopment – there is now more hotel-bed space actually available on the island, than can ever re- alistically be filled by real, living tourists. And that forces us to also classify a fair percentage of Malta's hotels (old and new) as being – by the unforgiving laws of free-market economics – 'destined to fail'. Yet that didn't exactly stop the Plan- ning Authority from approving so many new hotels, in such an over- saturated market…. and even less, will it stop the approval of all the new apartment blocks (or whatev- er) into which they will one day – inevitably – be 'converted'. So while I can only applaud Al- fred Sant's umpteenth attempt to 'stop this madness, once and for all'… let's face it: the 'madness' clearly persists, regardless. Some people might think parliamen- tary questions are a waste of time. They couldn't be more wrong. Question-time can actually be quite precious, giving us on the governing side and the Opposi- tion an opportunity to go into details which otherwise would have been lost in the hustle and bustle of daily political life. A case in point was my reply this week to a sensible, post-Christmas parlia- mentary question on the protection of consumers, with particular reference to online shoppers. People deserve to have the facts to analyse and judge our work as we seek to honour our electoral pledges. Since assum- ing responsi- bility for the issuing of blue badges on March 1 last year, Aġenzija Sapport has is- sued a total of 2,735 badges from 3,853 ap- plications and there were 988 renewals. A more rigourous mode of assess- ment has been established to ensure that blue badges are issued to those who re- ally need them. In 2023 there were already 111 blue badge a p p l i c a t i o n s , 63 of which were new applications and 48 were re- newal requests. Furthermore, so far, this year, 19 badges have been issued, whilst 106 other applications awaiting for the respective assessment by the relative board. As regards the protection of consum- ers, there have been no less than 18,000 inspections on all kinds of shops, result- ing in an increase of 70% in the case of retail outlets, 20% on open markets and 10% on green grocers and kiosks. There were 190 shops found to be non- conforming to established rules, but it is fair to state that in such cases most per- petrators soon regularise their position after a verbal warning. So much so, that there are currently only four pending cases risking legal action. Online checks amounted to 3,223, mostly on product security, verification that mandatory withdrawals from the European market have been followed through and made also unavailable to Maltese consumers, and, on the part of Maltese operators, adherence to rules and regulations. The same applies to overseas opera- tors who serve the Maltese market. 3% of all products inspected last year were found to be potentially subject to with- drawal. Not one of these operators was based in Malta, hence our referral to the countries con- cerned. The Malta C o m p e t i t i o n and Consumer Affairs Author- ity (MCCAA) has had its sterling work recognised by the European C o m m i s s i o n , acknowledging the MCCAA as the authority with the most concrete ac- tion taken over product secu- rity within the EU. Its Surveil- lance Directo- rate has taken part in a coor- dinated opera- tion – with 38 other author- ities from 19 different mem- ber states – on product security, in this case, toys available online or from tradi- tional outlets. As one can see, PQs do offer precious time to us as administrators, the Oppo- sition as participants and observers, and the public as recipient. With parliamen- tary sessions available on both radio and TV, it makes it worthwhile to listen to or watch as there will be details and more useful fodder which the media may often have to sidestep due to lack of space, air- time and streaming options. Consumers need to be regularly updated on our con- stant quest for a fairer playing-field for everyone in the disability and consumer sectors. Julia Farrugia-Portelli is minister for inclusion, social wellbeing and voluntary organisations Julia Farrugia Portelli Question-time can actually be quite precious, giving us on the governing side and the Opposition an opportunity to go into details which otherwise would have been lost in the hustle and bustle of daily political life

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