Sociologist from Malta

Friday, February 05, 2010

Reform the Delimara way

Michael Briguglio

The Times, Friday, 5th February 2010

Did anyone expect Mepa to refuse the outline development proposal for the extension of Delimara power station when Mepa is consistently acting like a rubber stamp for the government?

The Delimara extension will be powered by heavy fuel oil. The government's and Enemalta's decision to use such energy is in defiance of the chorus of opposition from civil society.

There are many reasons why this whole process, involving the government, Enemalta and Mepa, should have taken a different direction.

I will not discuss the alleged cases of misconduct. Others have done that and I leave it to Malta's legal apparatus to enter into the merits of this.

I will only dwell on the environmental, social and political implications of the case.

To begin with, the least that could have been done by the respective authorities before choosing the type of energy used and before deciding on the application was to conduct studies on the choice of technology and the expected impact of the different available options. This should have been complemented by public consultation with the aim of taking an informed and fair decision as to which kind of fuel should be chosen.

Important considerations such as technology, CO2 targets, waste management and impact of pollution on the residents and the ecology would have been given proper weighting in terms of environmental, social and economic sustainability.

Unfortunately, the whole process was distorted by the fact that the government, through Enemalta, awarded a public tender before Mepa's decision. Its adjudication process was very much biased towards short-term financial aspects, giving too little weight to the environmental and social implications. This surely vitiated Mepa's decision.

In addition, a rejection by Mepa would have had devastating political repercussions for the Prime Minister, who is ultimately responsible for Mepa. It is very likely that Mepa had no real choice in the matter.

Mepa's poor performance in this issue is also evident by the fact that it did not even address the major effects identified in the Environment Impact Statement (EIS), which showed that the use of heavy fuel oil would generate 30 tonnes of toxic waste a day, which will have to be exported at Enemalta's cost.

It is pertinent to ask what motivated Enemalta to choose this polluting technology.

I wonder what management and enforcement procedures will be carried out with regard to such waste when Mepa has not yet even managed to solve the "black dust" mystery. And, talking of waste, let us not forget that in an unrelated issue, Midi were given a €3.3 million discount for dumping construction waste at sea. The tacit blessing of both the Nationalist and Labour parties in this case again confirms that, beyond slogans, there is not much to choose from between the two parties.

The extension of a power station will always entail difficult decisions. But we are living in a situation where the state apparatuses are actually intensifying risk rather than attempting to minimise them. Once again, it is obvious that the government's talk of sustainability and climate change targets is just, well, talk.

All in all, it is evident that the government totally ignored civil society. The rubber-stamping approaches of Mepa and Enemalta are leading to a loss of credibility in government intentions and making a parody of the so-called Mepa reform.

Not that the Mepa reform gives room for much optimism. The opinion of us Greens is that the main problems at Mepa - namely the exaggerated influence of the construction industry and the undue political pressure - will not be solved through this reform.

Indeed, with the so-called reform, the government will still retain absolute control over the nomination of members of the Mepa board and the DCCs. We believe that such nominations should be shared with Parliament through proper meritocratic procedures.

In addition, civil society organisations, notably environmental NGOs, should be given the right to nominate representative/s on the Mepa board.

The reforms should also have provided for legal means to prohibit Mepa from infringing its own policies.

Instead, these reforms merely produced a list of principles that have no legal weighting.

Having a reform saying there will be zero-tolerance to ODZ proposals is fine but isn't this what Mepa is already supposed to do? Are we to expect that, suddenly, everything is going to change through a reform that does little to empower civil society?

All this reminds me of the pre-electoral promises of Lawrence Gonzi to take Mepa in his hands and, thus, ensure a smooth transition. Many were impressed by this propaganda stunt when even fierce critics were suddenly converted through pre-electoral meetings and other gimmicks. Instead, we get more of the same and, possibly, even worse as the recent decisions relating to the Delimara power station and the Freeport amply show.

The latest example of the government's lack of environmental direction is its direct role in restraining the EU's climate change commitments in defiance of the pleas of small islands that will be negatively affected by climate change. Greenwash galore.

The author is chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika - the Green party.

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