Monday, December 28, 2015
Monday, December 21, 2015
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
33 Labour Members of Parliament have approved the sale of ODZ land of ecological value in the public domain to Jordanian construction company Sadeen.
The parliamentary session to approve the sale was surreal and raised even more doubts about the development, which is characterised by terrible governance.
Government did its utmost to have a rushed process. Government has put the cart before the horse by selling land to Sadeen before his project has been approved both in terms of planning and in terms of educational accreditation. To make matters worse, it now transpired that Sadeen has not even applied for University status and that his development will also include seaview guestrooms, entertainment facilities, clinic, restaurants, project-related outlets and berthing rights.
Government has ignored the environment parliamentary committee, which was discussing alternatives to Zonqor as proposed by MEPA. Government ignored its own SPED policy which refers to ODZ as last resort. Government has ignored civil society through its bulldozing style.
Front Harsien ODZ cannot consider the 33 MPs who voted for this shameful approval as credible in terms of environmental protection.
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Today the Parliament of Malta (streamed live here from 6pm onwards) will be discussing the sale of ODZ public land at Zonqor, Marsascala, to Jordanian business group Sadeen,
Despite being opposed by Front Harsien ODZ, environmental NGOs, Alternattiva Demokratika The Green Party, the Nationalist Party, internal opposition within Labour, and most of Maltese civil society, and despite being characterised by the biggest ever environmental protest in Malta, the Labour Government will proceed with its plans in a bulldozer-like fashion. The only concession given by Government is to reduce the footprint of development on legally-protected ODZ land. Still, the Government is giving away Malta's public domain to big business interests.
In a process lacking transparency and proper consultation, Government has failed to publish the heads of agreement with Sadeen group, has sabotaged the environment parliamentary committee which is discussing alternatives to development at Zonqor, and has ignored advice from the Environment and Planning Authority which has suggested sustainable alternatives to Zonqor.
Today, history is being written: The Malta Government's exclusive Christmas present to Sadeen.
FRONT HARSIEN ODZ
PRESS RELEASE: 15/12/15
Zonqor: Government bulldozes ahead
Front Harsien ODZ expressed its opposition to Government's manoeuvres for sale of public land to Jordanian Sadeen Group.
"The Labour Government is selling Malta's public domain through a very rushed process with no transparency. Government has failed to publish its heads of agreement with Sadeen group, has bypassed the parliamentary environment committee and is ignoring advice from MEPA on sustainable alternatives to Zonqor"
"Government is ignoring Front Harsien ODZ, all opposition parties, internal opposition within Labour, all environmental NGOs, civil society and Malta's biggest ever environmental protest. The only concession given by Government, to reduce the footprint of ODZ development, is not enough, as a huge area of ODZ public land will still be given to the Jordanian big business group. Government also violated its own SPED policy as it did not consider all alternatives before deciding to sell Zonqor".
"The Zonqor issue is a clear example of bad governance. Front Harsien ODZ will remain vigilant and active in opposing the proposed development, which still has to pass through planning process".
"Members of Parliament who vote in favour of the sale of Zonqor will not be considered as credible when, before the next elections, they will attempt to show their environmental credentials"
Monday, December 07, 2015
Now that the Paris climate summit is in full swing, the million-dollar question is whether a global agreement will be reached. Will all United Nations member states commit themselves to a binding agreement which can help safeguard present and future generations from the projected negative impacts of climate change?
The COP21 summit is in itself a complex web of ideologies, interests, organisational set-ups and civil society interaction. When a similar summit was held in Copenhagen six years ago, it transpired that lack of political will and poor organisation ultimately resulted in non-binding rhetoric, to the disappointment of many who had high hopes.
As was the case in Copenhagen, different ideologies are characterising COP21. They are not dogmatic monoliths, but rather entangled in a plurality of discourses within the climate policy sphere. In this context, some believe that technology can provide the most practical solutions, while others believe in markets.
Others emphasise that sustainability should reconcile economic, social and environmental factors through win-win policies. Some believe in stronger state regulation, others prioritise political ecology.
COP21 is also characterised by a plurality of interests. Some big business interests, particularly of fossil fuel producers, do their utmost to minimise the climate change problem. Others, like climate scientists, do the opposite, based on their research and projections.
National interests play a key role, too. For example, it is unclear what role Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela will ultimately play during COP21, in view of the fossil-fuel energy they produce and their current geo-political interests.
The US and China, the two largest polluters, which, paradoxically, are committing themselves to tackle climate change for example through increased usage of renewable energy, are probably giving concessions and commitments to each other to maintain some form of global truce.
Various countries also combine their national interests with their affiliations.
For example, Malta is bound by EU policy – which in itself is a condensation of different interests and ideologies at different levels – yet it is also a small island and a member of the Commonwealth.
During Malta’s CHOGM meeting, the 53 members reached their own common stance on climate change policy. A vital factor which is often overlooked in policy analysis is the organisational aspect. It is said that France invested much in organisation, hopefully to avoid a second Copenhagen. Bringing together delegates from almost 200 countries is a massive task, especially when each country has its own ideologies, interests and affiliations.
Delegations meet formally, informally, bilaterally, multilaterally, in a network of meetings. Some meetings are transparent and open to the press. Others are held behind closed doors, discussing sensitive issues such as climate financing, security and emissions targets through give-and-take negotiations. As one can imagine, negotiators are not on a level playing field, yet coalitions can play an important role.
The organisational aspect of COP21 will undoubtedly also be influenced by social interaction aspects which include charisma, emotion and goodwill. For example, the bland Obama of the Copenhagen summit seems to be replaced by a resolved and determined Obama in Paris. I only shudder to think what will happen if a Republican climate denier is elected US president next time around.
The charisma of Pope Francis and other religious and political leaders also plays an important role in the dramatisation of climate politics. Some countries like Sweden (through its red-green government) are presenting themselves as inspiring world leaders in the shift to clean energy.
Global civil society and the media play a vital sensitising role in COP21. The former was not discouraged by France’s security measures regarding public demonstrations. Social movements instead opted for a wave of protest in all corners of the world. Various media outlets, from mainstream press to alternative social media groups are giving voice to civil society whilst telling politicians that all the world is watching them.
Will the complexity of COP21 enhance dialogue for a global agreement? The opportunity is there, and a binding agreement will hopefully rise like a rainbow amid global risk.
Tuesday, December 01, 2015
Monday, November 23, 2015
The Times, 23 November 2015
If Albert Camus’s claim that he learned about morality and obligation through football is anything to go by, then last Tuesday the world witnessed a splendid example along these lines.
The football match between England and France was characterised by a strong sense of solidarity, symbolised by the singing of the French national anthem and the French flag all over the place.
The 90,000-strong attendance at Wembley stadium gave a shining example of the power of sport to unite people.
Such solidarity was also shown at other international football matches played in the past days, though there were also two bomb scares and some other unfortunate incidents.
The important thing, however, was that Europe stood up to be counted against the terrorist attacks in Paris. Europe showed that despite the psychology of terror propagated by ISIS, life must go on. In short, hope was given precedence over terror.
This sense of hope should ensure that international events such as the Climate Summit and the European Football Championship, and also daily events such as the celebration of everyday life in town squares, should take place.
Indeed, Europe should show resilience, just as it did in other terrible instances throughout its history, when war, intolerance, oppression and totalitarianism blemished the continent.
Europe should not give itself up to the politics of fear and negativism, but should make sure that its values of tolerance, equality, freedom, respect of rule of law are defended and celebrated.
Europe should also support all those who are resisting terrorism outside of Europe’s borders. Beirut and Ankara are only two recent examples of terrorist attacks on common people or on those whose civil society activism supports peace and democracy.
The extremity of ISIS’s methods should remind us of the dangers of all-or-nothing ideologies, as they are essentially anti-democratic and tyrannical.
To the contrary, the democratic structure of the European Union – with all its defects and shortcomings – respects different opinions and cultures, and assumes that no one has a monopoly over knowledge and ideas.
In such a context, European politics are based on adversaries within a democratic game and not enemies in a war. Adversaries play by the rules and respect difference. Conversely, enemies disregard the democratic rules of the game and instead resort to methods such as violence and intolerance.
Statements made by certain Far Right and xenophobic groups within Europe play in the hands of those who want to destroy the basic characteristics of European democracy
ISIS and other terrorist groups are enemies of Europe as they threaten the basic foundations of European democracy. At the same time, the EU and its member states should not embrace internal politics which point towards anti-democratic methods.
It is terrorism that should be treated with an iron fist, but not at the expense of democratic freedoms and inclusive policies.
In this regard, certain statements made by certain Far Right and xenophobic groups within Europe play in the hands of those who want to destroy the basic characteristics of European democracy.
Why should Europe pick upon refugees and cultural minorities, many of whom are actually fleeing from the terror of ISIS and others?
I think the government did the right thing in stating that it will respond to calls for assistance from France, in line with the Constitution. If Malta expects solidarity from other countries should Malta be a victim of terrorist attacks, then it is only fair that Malta plays its part in line with Europe’s mutual-defence clause.
In a society characterised by risks and unknowns, it would be naïve to expect that terrorism will disappear at one go, or through a couple of airstrikes. The potential terrorist is everywhere.
Some are terrorists out of ideological conviction; others are radicalised due to their social networks or social experiences. Hence, a plurality of tactics is required in anti-terrorist strategy, ranging from soft to hard methods, from immediate responses to longer-term processes.
But I think that it will be even more naïve and dangerous not to recognise that you cannot negotiate with terrorism. In such a context one should appreciate the difficult yet vital decisions taken by political leaders to enhance security while defending the values and freedoms of democracy: a democracy based on pluralism, diversity, different opinions and mutual respect.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Maltese members of parliament were recently discussing whether the burqa should be banned from use in public.
This is not a straightforward issue. It transgresses left and right, liberal and conservative, secular and religious opinions. Many feminists want to ban the burqa and but others don’t. Such divisions exist even internally within political parties and civil society organisations.
There are various arguments characterising the burqa debate, which, in turn, are not necessarily exclusive of each other. In this article I wish to focus on three.
The first argument concerns equality. Here, it is argued that equality should be given precedence over diversity, as sometimes multiculturalism can have its limits, for example when a cultural practice forces women to wear the burqa and to be considered as second-class citizens.
The argument goes that if multiculturalism leads to a moral relativism, then this can lead to a dangerous context of ‘anything goes’, at the expense of equality. ‘Right’ or ‘wrong’ would simply be personal opinions, and no one would have the right to condemn or stop a practice which belongs to a particular culture.
A shortcoming of this approach is that even if one agrees that the burqa is a sign of gender inequality, why not attack this rather than its symbols?
Another argument deals with security. Here, one can refer to France’s 2010 ban of the public display of religious symbols, including the burqa, and to the European Court of Human Rights’ support of the country’s banning of people covering their face in public.
France had argued that when one’s face is covered in society, this violates a “minimum requirement of life in society”, and the court’s judgement added that “a veil concealing the face” goes against other people’s rights to “live in a space of socialisation”.
The problem with this argument is that it is very arbitrary. Does revealing your face necessarily make you more sociable? If terrorism is seen as a main concern in terms of security, does wearing a veil make you a terrorist? As far as I know, terrorist Timothy McVeigh, the American Oklahoma bomber, did not wear a burqa.
Finally, another argument gives priority to choice. Here, it is stated that in a pluralistic society, people are reflexive and have a right to choose their identity, as long as it does not infringe on the identities of other persons.
Henceforth, the argument adds, women who choose to abide by their religious beliefs by wearing the burqa should be free to do so, just as other women and men get along their daily lives by wearing what they deem fit to wear. Proponents of the choice argument usually add that burqa opponents are concealing their own fear of living with difference, which is a key characteristic of liberal democracy.
Besides, by giving power to the burqa bashers, society can drift towards unnecessary impositions by the state on people’s individuality.
Yet, even this argument has its problems. What if the liberal democracy championed by the supporters of the burqa does not extend to the circumstances of everyday life? Is the burqa really a personal choice or is it an imposition by an ultra-conservative patriarchy within one’s family?
Maybe a pragmatic way forward for the burqa debate would be to see what wearers have to say about this but this option has similar challenges to the ‘choice’ argument.
Given the complexities involved, maybe the burqa issue requires a practical working agreement rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. Perhaps it would be wiser to give more importance to civil society deliberation than having a short-termist parliamentary debate that aims to resolve the issue after a few sessions. People and groups from different sides can and should discuss the issue in a spirit of respect. Internally, each group may have its own different voices, yet this diversity can actually encourage broader communication.
In this sense, the burqa debate can lead to a genuine multiculturalism of respect, where cultures learn from each other, rather than a multiculturalism of intolerant identities that do not interact.
My deepest condolences to the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut. In such dark moments, hope should still guide us. #NousSommesUnis
Monday, November 09, 2015
The Times of Malta, 9 November 2015
During last Monday’s Parliamentary Environment Committee meeting, the development proposal for the American University of Malta was once again on the agenda.
I had the opportunity to be present for the meeting, though I chose not to participate in the debate. Its outcome could be given both positive and negative interpretations, depending on one’s position on the issue, and on one’s sense of optimism or lack of it.
One very positive aspect of the meeting was Marlene Farrugia’s chairmanship. She gave ample speaking opportunity to all those who wished to participate, irrespective of whether they were members of Parliament or civil society representatives.
Farrugia made sure that the meeting was held in a spirit of dialogue and respect, and she emphasised some statements to help drive certain points home.
A main protagonist of the meeting was Mepa’s chief executive officer Johann Buttigieg. Buttigieg is a civil servant whose loyalties to his political masters are clear. At the same time he is diplomatic and does not rubbish those who question him.
He dutifully reported that so far, his office has only carried out a desktop study for the site selection exercise, adding that according to the Agriculture Department, Żonqor is characterised by abandoned fields and dumping, and not by agriculture.
The latter statement was immediately shot down by civil society representatives who know the area well or who possess expertise in agriculture. Besides, it was pointed out that Żonqor farmers are being ignored by the government.
Buttigieg also revealed that a full environment impact assessment will be carried out on the university proposal, and that this will consider all possible sites, and not just Żonqor.
Should this important statement give rise to optimism among those active in the defence of Żonqor from development?
Persons in the EIA business know that the norm in EIA studies is to highlight one site at the expense of the rest. Buton the other hand, everything is possible in politics.
In this regard, the site selection exercise carried out by Buttigieg’s office highlights some alternatives to Żonqor, one of which, in Tarxien, was given prominence in the parliamentary meeting.
The land in question does not have environmental or infrastructural challenges which characterise other possible sites (including Żonqor), and it has Mepa’s seal of approval in terms of adequacy.
Indeed, during the meeting, the Mepa CEO said that it is up to government to select Tarxien for the American University of Malta, given that it is suitable.
Given the above, the obvious question is, what is Prime Mister Joseph Muscat waiting for to liberate Żonqor from development?
The ball is clearly in the Prime Minister’s court. This is even more so when both Mepa’s CEO as well as Mario Cutajar, the principal permanent secretary, said that they do not know what the government’s heads of agreement with Sadeen contains.
Cutajar, whose comments during the meeting were curt and carefully worded, also said that the Office of the Prime Minister is considering all feedback regarding the university proposal.
Environment Minister Leo Brincat added spice to the drift of the discussion, stating that he will oppose ODZ development if it is not the last resort.
In the meantime, civil society, opposition political parties and the independent press are all pressing the Prime Minister to publish the heads of agreement with Sadeen, so as to confirm if the government has a commitment to develop at Żonqor.
If government fails to publish the agreement, it would be very difficult to convince critics otherwise.
But what if something else is in the offing? What if the agreement does refer to Żonqor but Muscat is now changing his mind?
Maybe he did not predict that this issue would have mobilised Malta’s largest environmental protest ever, and is now considering the political implications of acting like a bulldozer.
Indeed, it is voters, and not Sadeen,or other developers, who elect political parties. So Muscat can pull a Muscat on the AUM issue, by changing his position due to popular pressure. It would be a win-win situation and Żonqor would be spared from development.