Sociologist, Local Councillor, Politician from Malta
MEP Candidate - Partit Nazzjonalista (EPP).

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Maltese Blitzkrieg


The blitzkrieg of a million new development projects in Malta, one worse than the other, may be a divide-and-rule tactic to tire and parcel out the environmental movement, to spin us within a wheel of hype. The problem is that we see through this. Hence, as immediate priority we will defeat the Zonqor ODZ proposal. But we are going to speak up on others too, from shooting ranges to cementification of marine protected areas.

We refuse to surrender our quality of life to the propagators of the era of cement.


See also:

An appeal for non-sectarian social movement activism
http://mikes-beat.blogspot.com/2015/05/zonqor-odz-appeal-for-non-sectarian.html


Front Harsien ODZ is launched
http://mikes-beat.blogspot.com/2015/05/front-harsien-odz.html

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

[UPDATED] Zonqor ODZ - Academics call for transparency and show concern for choice of site


195 academics (named below) including over 150 academic staff at the University of Malta, including over 40 professors, along with other academic staff from the Junior College, MCAST AND GCHSS Higher Secondary have so far informally come together to issue the following joint statement.

Academics who wish to add their name are to send an email with their name and institution to stqarrija.universita@gmail.com

_______________
Stqarrija għall-istampa
Dwar il-proposta għal bini tal-“American University of Malta” fl-inħawi ta’ Żonqor f’Marsaskala, nuru t-tħassib tagħna dwar in-nuqqas ta’ proċess trasparenti u ta’ studji meqjusa fl-għażla kemm tal-proġett innifsu kif ukoll tas-sit propost. Inħeġġu lill-Gvern sabiex juri l-prudenza meħtieġa biex jisseddaq l-akbar ġid komuni dejjiemi, inklużpermezz ta' tisħiħ ta' edukazzjoni ta’ kwalita', u tal-ħarsien tal-art barra ż-żoni tal-iżvilupp.

Press Statement
On the proposal to build the “American University of Malta” in the vicinity of Żonqor Point in Marsaskala, we express our concern on the lack of transparency in the process and careful assessment in the selection of the project itself as well as of the proposed site. We urge the Government to exercise due prudence with a view to enhance the common good including through the strengthening of quality education and through the protection of land which lies outside development boundaries.

*University of Malta academics in support of the statement:

Rev. Prof. Emmanuel Agius, Prof. Marie Alexander, Dr Stavros Assimakopoulos, Prof. Maria Attard, Rev. Dr Stefano Attard, Rev. Dr. John Avellino, Dr. Michael Axiak, Dr. Jacqueline Azzopardi , Rev. Dr. Joseph Bajada, Dr. Ruth Baldacchino, Dr. Mario Balzan, Dr. Albert Bell, Dr Alexandra Betts, Dr. Ing John Betts, Carmel Bezzina, Dr. Anne-Marie Bezzina, Dr. Elise Billiard, Prof. Anthony Bonanno, Dr. Charles Bonello, Dr. Anna Borg, Maryann Borg Cunen, Prof. Albert Borg, Rev. Dr. Joe Borg, Dr. Vince Briffa, Prof Charles Briffa, Dr. Marie Briguglio, Dr. Michael Briguglio, Prof. Lino Briguglio, Prof Joseph Brincat, David Calleja, Dr. Anne-Marie Callus, Prof. Ivan Callus, Joseph Camilleri, Mario Camilleri, Prof. Frank Camilleri, Dr. Michelle Camilleri, Dr. Marcello Carammia, Dr. Andrew Borg Cardona, Dr Mireille M. Caruana, Dr. George Cassar, Dr. Joanne Cassar, Dr. Maria Cassar, Prof. Arnold Cassola, Prof. Deborah Chetcuti, Prof. Paul Clough, Dr. Maureen Cole, Dr. James Corby, Prof. Vicki Ann Cremona, Dr. Dr. Jean Paul De Lucca, Dr. Manwel Debono, Dr. Nadia Delicata, Joanna Depares, Andreana Dibben, Dr. Pauline Dimech, Prof. Alexiei Dingli, Rev. Dr. Joseph Ellul, Prof Ray Fabri, Prof. Mark Anthony Falzon, Dr. Ruth Falzon, Dr. Ruth Farrugia, Dr. Fabrizio Foni, Dr. Mario Frendo, Prof. Anthony J. Frendo, Prof. Joe Friggieri, Dr. Grace Galea, Dr. Marco Galea, Rev. Prof. Paul Galea, Dr. Albert Gatt, Maria Victoria Gauci, Dr. Paul Gauci, Louise Ghirlando, Prof. Robert Ghirlando, Rev. Dr. Marcello Ghirlando, Dr. Shaun Grech, Dr. Adrian Grima, Dr. Reuben Grima, Dr. Anna Khakee, Edwin Lanfranco, Prof. Josef Lauri, Prof. Mary Anne Lauri, Prof. Adrian Mamo Gellel, Prof. Claude Mangion, Dr. Marie-Louise Mangion, Dr. Gillian Martin, Prof. Peter Mayo, Prof. Joseph Micallef, Dr. Dione Mifsud, Dr. Immanuel Mifsud, Prof Manwel Mifsud, Dr. Josephine Milton, Dr. Dennis Mizzi, Prof. Luciano Mule Stagno, Prof. Joseph Muscat, Dr. Marceline Naudi, Maria Navarro, Prof Joseph Pace Asciak, Prof. Roderick Pace, Prof. Joseph Pirotta, Dr. Maria Pisani, Dr. Claudia Psaila, Dr. Roberta Sammut, Dr. Ivan Sammut, Rev. Prof. Hector Scerri, Prof. Patrick Schembri, Dr. Sandra Scicluna, Rev. Dr. Mark Sultana, Prof. Conrad Thake, Prof. Alex Torpiano, Dr. Josef Trapani, Dr. Lonneke van der Plas, Prof. Carmel Vassallo, Prof. Mario Vassallo, Dr. Nicholas Vella, Dr. Patricia Vella Briffa, Dr. Sue Vella, Olvin Vella, Dr. Alexandra Vella, Prof. Edward Warrington, Amy Camilleri Zahra, Dr. David Zammit, Prof. Martin R. Zammit, Prof. Michael Zammit, Maria Zammit, Daniella Zerafa. Dr. Joseph Axiaq, Dr. Jean Paul Baldacchino, Dr. Leonard Bezzina, Dr. Joseph P. Bonello, Dr. James Borg, Dr. Maria Brown, Dr Jean Buttigieg, Mireille Caruana, James Corby, Prof. Gordon Calleja, Rev. Dr. Charlò Camilleri, Dr. Petra Caruana Dingli, Mark Casha, Valentina Cassar, Katrin Dautel, Joanna Depares, John Ebejer, Dr. Giuliana Fenech, Davinia Galea, Perit Joseph Galea, Sarah Grech, Dr. Bernard Micallef, Prof. Joseph Micallef, Dr. Dennis Mizzi, Prof. Matthew Montebello, Dr. Martin Musumeci, Rev. Dr. Paul Pace, Rachel Radmilli, Dr. Sharon Rolé, Dr. Ivan Sammut, Dr. Vasilis Valdramidis, Antoine Vella, Prof. Georgios N. Yannakakis, Dr. Clive Zammit (University of Malta); Kevin Asciak, Clare Azzopardi, Dr. Stephen Bonanno, Natasha Cordina, Angele Deguara, Michael Grech, Liliana Maric, Vincent Mercieca, Russell Mizzi, Jacqueline Rotin, Mauro Scerri, Dr. Clare Udras, Dr. Mary Grace Vella, Anna Zammit, Christina Zarb, Noel Agius, Robert Atkins, Renato Camilleri, David Farrugia (Junior College); Dr. Michael Asciak, Juan José Bonello, Dr. Eman Calleja, Ralph Cassar, Stephen Farrugia, Francesca Spagnol Gravino, Reuben Zammit (MCAST) and Tiziana Bugeja, Leann Gauci Abela, Elton Grech, George Mangion, Karin Rotin, Roberta Scerri, Dr. Colette Sciberras, Martin Vella, Maria Lourdes Attard, Sonia Camilleri, Aaron Grech, Charles Grima, Angele Pulis, Maria Lourdes Attard (GCHSS).

Academics who wish to add their name are to send an email with their name and institution to stqarrija.universita@gmail.com

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Unsung heroes of aid


The Times of Malta, 25th May 2015
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150525/opinion/Unsung-heroes-of-aid.569603

Ramona Sunderwith, an American volunteer doctor and trainer says: “I’m a physician, who long ago decided to work in resource-constrained settings with disenfranchised populations.”

Serata Silla, a nurse born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and who lives in Britain, says that information is a key factor to combat Ebola. “I felt compelled to stay and help,” says Idris Fornah, a psychosocial coordinator.

These are some testimonies from some first responders to the Ebola outbreak which mainly hit Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea in the past months. They form part of International Medical Corps (IMC), a global humanitarian non-profit organisation which assists persons in urgent need of health-care related emergency services around the world.

IMC was established in 1984 by volunteers in the medical field and it has provided $1.8 billion worth of assistance to millions of people in 70 countries. These include victims of earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis and war, from Afghanistan to Haiti, from Vanuatu to Syria.

Its non-sectarian approach means that it does not allow political considerations to prevent its humanitarian goals.

IMC and other similar organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement are active participants in an ever-expanding transnational civil society in the field of humanitarian assistance. Where governments fail to intervene because of reasons such as lack of resources, political stalemates or too much bureaucracy, civil society is at times more prompt to provide urgent assistance in a myriad of situations.

This is not to say that state institutions, business and global institutions should diminish their role and responsibility in assisting humanitarian causes. But it shows that in many instances, bottom-up approaches are more efficient, equitable and just in their assistance to those in need. To give one example, IMC was on the ground with assistance just 24 hours after the Indonesia tsunami some years ago.

Going back to the Ebola issue, it was only a few days ago that the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Liberia to be free from Ebola. In the words of WHO, the country was reporting between 300 and 400 new cases of Ebola per week during August and September 2014. Monrovia, the capital city, witnessed horrific scenes: Patients dying on hospital grounds, corpses that remained uncollected for days, and overflowing treatment centres.

When such tragedies take place, one can really see the selfless dimension of humanitarian assistance. Organisations such as IMC collaborated with international and government health officials and local volunteers to take care of those in need. Medical staff and volunteers are still present so as to help efforts in recovery and reconstruction.

These persons are the unsung heroes of tragedies which take place in our planet. They risk their lives to assist others. They might get infected by a deadly disease, they might get injured in a dangerous site, or they might be shot be warring factions. Yet, to them, solidarity comes before other considerations.

Most of us onlookers and commentators do not have the verve to carry out such heroic deeds, but we can show solidarity in different ways.

Indeed, anyone can assist organisations such as IMC through the click of a mouse by means of an online donation.

Some puritans, cynics and armchair critics would argue that, by making such donations, one is simply paying to keep one’s conscience at ease and that this process is heavily influenced by a simulacra of photos and film of the victims assisted by the ‘do-gooders’.

Arguably, one may indeed provide interesting critical analysis and insights of the PR methods of humanitarian campaigns. But when one is speaking of accountable organisations which help achieve tangible results, I do not buy into the arguments of those who thrive on cynicism.

Indeed, one may argue that were it not for transnational civil society, there would be much less consciousness and assistance on humanitarian issues. In a digital age of information technology, we can all be first respondents through our assistance, small as it may be.

The selfless heroics of those engaged in today’s humanitarian activism would have fitted perfectly in existential literature such as that of Albert Camus.

In one of his classics, The Plague, one reads of mass death, lack of trust, panic, confusion and repression in an Algerian Mediterranean city, Oran, which is transformed into a prison camp in the State’s attempts to combat the ‘invading’ plague.

Amidst this turmoil and desperation, one reads of Rieux, who helps victims in line with his work ethic. As the novel’s hero puts it, such acts provide answers to people’s hope. And it is thanks to people such as Ramona Sunderwith, Serata Silla and Idris Fornah that hope still remains a key aspect of human existence.

https://internationalmedicalcorps.org/
http://www.internationalmedicalcorps.org.uk/

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Front Harsien ODZ is launched


In light of the proposed development at Żonqor Point a meeting open to the public has been held, and we now wish to announce the founding of 'Front Ħarsien ODZ' (Front for the Protection of ODZ). The aim of this Front is to safeguard ODZ sites such as the one located at Żonqor Point. The goals of this Front are purely environmental in nature. The Front is a citizens' movement and welcomes support from all sectors of society. For more information the public is invited to send us an email on frontharsienodz@gmail.com and to like and follow our Facebook Page, Front Ħarsien ODZ.
https://www.facebook.com/FrontHarsienODZ

Press Coverage regarding Launch of Front Harsien ODZ, 23 May 2015

The Malta Independent
http://www.independent.com.mt/articles/2015-05-23/local-news/Front-Harsien-ODZ-launched-not-just-against-Zonqor-university-but-all-other-ODZ-developments-6736136030#.VWA9tArh3nQ.twitter

Times of Malta
http://www.timesofmalta.com/mobile/view/20150523/local/government-whip-among-protestors-rallying-against-odz-development.569361

Malta Today
http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/national/53279/government_whip_labour_mp_join_ngo_calling_for_protection_of_ODZ_sites#.VWIYPTPvrIV

Newsbook
http://www.newsbook.com.mt/artikli/2015/5/23/awdjo:-front-gdid-biex-l-ambjent-ikun-ta%27-kulhadd.31568/

TVM
http://www.tvm.com.mt/mt/news/jitwaqqaf-front-ghall-harsien-tal-odz/

MaltaRightNow
http://maltarightnow.com/news/2015/05/23/jitwaqqaf-il-front-harsien-odz-bil-partecipazzjoni-ta-marlene-farrugia-u-godfrey-farrugia-fost-ohrajn/

iNews
http://inewsmalta.com/dart/20150523-ornat-twaqqaf-il-front-arsien-odz-fost-il-membri-marlene-godfrey-farrugia

The growing opposition to ODZ Zonqor development, Marsascala, Malta
http://mikes-beat.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-growing-opposition-to-construction.html

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Effective Green Mobilisation


The Times of Malta 18th May 2015
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150518/opinion/Effective-green-mobilisation.568622


In my article last week, I argued that the Żonqor development controversy had the unintended consequence of giving further momentum to the Maltese environmental movement within a post-hunting referendum context.

It is pertinent to analyse factors related to mobilisation against overdevelopment.

If one looks at economic factors, Malta is characterised by mutual dependency of the State and land developers. Developers make profit through construction and generate employment, multiplier effects and revenue to the State while the State provides the conditions to enable this process.

At times, this happens in a relatively sustainable way, however, at other times, such development is speculative and has too many negative impacts.

When available land becomes ever scarcer, the latter might be more common. And tiny Malta is no exception, even though, paradoxically, this island has many vacant properties. One wonders if and when this economic bubble will burst.

The Labour government’s performance in this area has been tragic. Rather than acting like a responsible guardian of sustainability, it is in fact behaving like a merchant through the commodification of land, using a logic that is similar to that adopted in the cash-for-citizenship scheme.

Development amnesties, development in ODZ areas, changes in local plans and similar policies and decisions all show a lack of sensitivity to environmental concerns. When one thinks that things cannot get any worse, the public gets to know that the worse is yet to come.

Unfortunately, Environment Minister Leo Brincat, who, otherwise, is able to make fair, researched and sensible statements on other matters relating to sustainability, is disappointing when it comes to land development.

Malta is progressively losing more open spaces and this is having a negative snowball effect on the quality of life, air quality, infrastructure, traffic and citizens’ rights to enjoy the public domain.

With regard to the latter, I believe the Nationalist Party’s proposed Public Domain Bill deserves support from all those who have the environment at heart. So do sensible proposals by different organisations for more sustainable planning and development, giving due consideration to social and environmental factors apart from the economic.

I believe the Labour government’s approach to the development of land is a potential recipe for political implosion. Cracks are already appearing and the local council election results, particularly in localities in the south of Malta, provide insightful indications.

Economic arguments that are being put forward to allow certain types of development are not as popular as they were, say, a decade ago. It is not only the usual environmental warriors who are expressing discontent towards overdevelopment but also an increasing number of sensitised common citizens and politicians. And, as the 2013 general election has clearly demonstrated, an increasing number of voters are ready to switch to another party, albeit for different reasons.

Joseph Muscat might be underestimating the widespread disenchantment towards his environmental policies. This ranges from clear environmental factors, such as increase in pollution, lack of open spaces for children to enjoy and widespread construction, to the feeling that some interests are decisively more equal than others. The government’s talk of balance, meritocracy and transparency has suffered a great blow in this regard.

The interesting question, however, is whether disenchantment can lead to effective mobilisation with respect to specific development proposals.

By effective mobilisation I am not only referring to those who militate in environmental NGOs and the Green party, important as they are, but also to the wider civil society, which also includes the major political parties and the Church, among others. This consideration is of great importance as past experience has shown that the more successful environmental campaigns reached out not only to environmental activists but also to other sectors of Maltese society.

Examples of successful campaigns in this regard included the Front Against the Rabat Golf Course, the opposition to a car park and shopping centre in Qui-si-Sana garden, the campaign against a cement plant in Siġġiewi and others.

In all cases, one could find a myriad of residents, local communities, environmental NGOs, Greens, some members of Parliament and others such as local councils and other civil society representatives.

Environmental activists – moderate and radical - were catalysts, yet, the support of others provided solid legitimacy to each successful cause.

Hence, campaigning against overdevelopment in Malta should embrace support by ‘institutional sponsors’ from major political parties and from organisations that are not strictly environmentalist.

Sectarian, partisan, puritan and patronising attitudes do not help the environmental cause when it comes to campaigning to safeguard a specific site against overdevelopment. Nor do ideological antipathy or discourse which treats the adversary as some caveman. To the contrary, discourse on the specific development proposal, without overloaded statements that can detract support, can only widen the reach of each campaign.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Zonqor ODZ - An appeal for non-sectarian social movement activism



The Zonqor ODZ Development proposal has galvanised a wave of opposition within Maltese society.

Some supporters of the ODZ development are asking opponents where they were years ago, in what seems to be a case of selective amnesia.

On the other hand some opponenents of the ODZ development seem to be more keen on patronising others who are also opposing the ODZ development proposal. This non-strategic, sectarian approach sounds like a conspiracy theory which assumes that non-sectarian activists are mindless vulnerable idiots who can easily be co-opted by others.

The issue can be seen inversely, through a social movement bottom-up approach.

A grassroots civil society alliance can grow to such an extent - like a snowball - that it would be senseless for political parties (or elements within them) not to support it or to ignore it. This was the case with succesful campaigns in the past years. And I believe that this is where this issue is heading towards. Indeed, the claim to protect Zonqor from ODZ development is already being supported and legitimised by others. This has nothing to do with being co-opted. If 2 out of 3 political parties are opposing Zonqor ODZ, and if important elements within the other party are opposing it too, this should be celebrated.

Indeed, I know of no succesful environmental alliance which was co-opted by any of the political parties. Actually the opposite is taking place. The social movement demand is becoming so politically seductive that it becomes almost impossible to ignore it.

Converserly, sectarian approaches which are more busy offending others (who have the same position) than fighting the adversary, are very likely to have the same fate as kamikazees. Gone are the days of sermons from mountains by self-appointed messiahs.

As an activist, I am personally willing to work with all those opposed to the Zonqor ODZ development proposal.

Divide and rule won't succeed with a non-sectarian front with 1 demand: No development on ODZ

More links:

The Growing Opposition to Zonqor ODZ Development
http://mikes-beat.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-growing-opposition-to-construction.html

Effective green mobilization
http://mikes-beat.blogspot.com/2015/05/effective-green-mobilisation.html

Friday, May 15, 2015

[CONSTANTLY UPDATED] The growing opposition to ODZ Zonqor development, Marsascala, Malta


Those opposing the 'American' private University development project on ODZ land at Zonqor Point, Marsascala, Malta, include the following so far. The list is expected to increase.

Front Harsien ODZ, Marlene Farrugia (Labour MP), Godfrey Farrugia (Labour Parliamentary Whip),Nationalist Party,Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party, Archibishop Charles Scicluna, Kunsill Studenti Universitarji, Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry, Din l-Art Helwa, Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Malta Organic Agriculture Movement, Friends of the Earth Malta, TerraFirma Collective, Moviment Graffitti, Zminijietna Voice of the Left, Ramblers Association, Marsascala Deputy Mayor Desiree Attard (Labour), Malta Developers Association, St Hubert Hunters Association, Zonqor Point Farmers, ADZ – Malta Green Youth, Malta Employers Association, Noise Abatement Society, Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FKNK), Birdlife Malta, Times of Malta, The Malta Independent, Malta Today, Youth for the Environment, Nature Trust, Church Environment Commission, Jesuits (Malta), Forum Professjonisti Partit Nazzjonalista, Partit Komunista Malti, Integra Foundation, The Critical Institute, Why Not?, Kopin, Greenhouse, Gender Liberation, Moviment Kattoliku Studenti Universitarji, Theatre Anon, Koperattiva Kummerc Gust, Friends of Marsascala, Organisation Friendship in Diversity, Students' Philosophical Society, Aditus, Youth for the Environment, PHROM, Drachma, Earth Systems Association, NIFS (National Independent Forum for Sustainability), Academics from University of Malta, MCAST, Junior College, Higher Secondary (list of signatories here: http://mikes-beat.blogspot.com/2015/05/zonqor-odz-academics-call-for.html ), Maltese Artists against ODZ development (list of signatories here: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150529/local/artists-take-common-stand-against-odz-development.570159 )

More information:

NATIONAL PROTEST, SATURDAY 20 JUNE
http://mikes-beat.blogspot.com/2015/06/savezonqor-national-protest-saturday-20.html

Front Harsien ODZ
http://mikes-beat.blogspot.com/2015/05/front-harsien-odz.html

https://www.facebook.com/FrontHarsienODZ


The Growing Opposition to Zonqor ODZ Development
http://mikes-beat.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-growing-opposition-to-construction.html

Effective green mobilization
http://mikes-beat.blogspot.com/2015/05/effective-green-mobilisation.html


Hunters and Conservationists unite against development of ODZ in Marsascala
http://www.independent.com.mt/articles/2015-05-16/local-news/Hunters-and-environmentalists-unite-against-development-of-ODZ-in-Marsascala-6736135635

Marlene Farrugia hits out at Labour 'obligations' - says debris recently dumped on Marsascala site to add to deception
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150516/local/marlene-farrugia-hits-out-at-labour-obligations-says-debris-recently.568385


Use of virgin land for construction of university 'unacceptable' - NGOs
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150509/local/updated-use-of-virgin-land-for-construction-of-university-unacceptable.567414

MEPA chief executive's office chose Zonqor site for American University
http://www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/national/52687/mepa_ceos_office_chose_izzonqor_site#.VVW-jJPZ48k

‘Do not take away our land, use the Jerma Hotel instead’ – Zonqor Point farmers
http://www.independent.com.mt/articles/2015-05-14/local-news/Watch-Do-not-take-away-our-land-use-the-Jerma-Hotel-instead-Zonqor-Point-farmers-6736135549

Zonqor's prominence
http://mikes-beat.blogspot.com/2015/05/zonqors-prominence-american-university.html

American University: Maltese natural heritage should not be sacrificed
http://www.alternattiva.org/american-university-maltese-natural-heritage-should-not-be-sacrificed-for-short-term-gain/

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Zonqor's prominence (..the 'American' University of Malta controversy)

Times of Malta, 11th May 2015
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150511/opinion/-onqor-s-prominence.567671


The agreement by the government of Malta and Jordanian investor Hani Saleh for the setting up of the American University of Malta has resulted in a myriad of statements, counterstatements, proposals and concern on a variety of matters.

As soon as Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced the proposal, environmentalists raised concern on the selected site, at Żonqor in Marsacala. The inclusion of nature park as part of the project was deemed as being unsatisfactory by greens, given that the proposed university site is in an ODZ area. Hence, an immediate unintended effect of Muscat’s statements was to give further momentum to the environmental movement in a post-hunting referendum context.

I hope that environmentalists, opposition parties and Environment Minister Leo Brincat make sufficient pressure to persuade the government to look into alternative sites to host this university.

On the other hand, such lobbying should not rush into naming quick-fix alternative sites. I think it was a rash mistake to name alternatives such as Ricasoli when environmentalists are usually the first to ask for proper studies and impact assessments on development proposals. The main goal, at this stage, should be to sensitise Muscat’s Cabinet to give serious consideration to another venue.

If this possibility is considered, necessary studies to identify proper alternatives should be conducted. This cannot take place in a few days or through rushed press conferences. Studies should look into a variety of aspects, including the environmental, social, economic and operational. Consideration should also be given to the alternative with respect to activities being carried out in earmarked possible sites.

Should such a process take place, a proper parliamentary debate and full consultation with civil society is of utmost importance.

Should such a process not take place, suspicions may arise on the actual intentions behind the project or whether everything was a ‘done deal’ from day one, thus discrediting the government’s talk of public consultation.

I hope there are no speculative intentions behind the construction process, in case it turns out to be a white elephant. One needn’t go far to see the mess of the horrible Smart City, which is still vacant, and which, incidentally, will host the new university until the new premises are built. It almost seems like a scene from the British TV comedy series Yes Minister when a new hospital building that was being kept empty was eventually used for other purposes.

In reaction to the proposed development, the University of Malta announced it will not object to the presence of a new university as long as a level playing field is allowed and an analysis of its impact on existing operations is carried out. This is a fair assessment, which points towards a number of possible ramifications. For example, from a financial aspect, the University of Malta, though being very much dependent on State funding, generates a substantial revenue from tuition fees, including from non-EU nationals. The University of Malta also spends a lot of money on stipends for students as a social obligation given that it is a State entity.

Will a new private university result in financial competition in this regard, given that it aims to attract many foreign students? Will this have an impact on the University of Malta’s’ revenue stream? Or will Malta move towards becoming an educational hub, attracting an ever-increasing number of students in different educational facilities?

One may also look into having universities complementing each other where possible. Competition and complementary educational facilities do not necessarily exclude each other. Foreign universities already have a small presence in Malta. There are also a number of facilities that ‘compete’ in attracting students for their courses. At the same time, student participation keeps increasing.

The Prime Minister’s insistence that the new university should be situated in the south of Malta raised various arguments. Some said this will be a developer’s dream in terms of possible sites for construction. Others said that, given the small size of Malta, this ‘north-south’ binary is utter nonsense.

However, one can also argue that universities can regenerate the areas in which they are situated through economic multiplier effects and increased social interaction. Britain has some good examples of industrial cities, such as Sunderland and Coventry, which were regenerated also through university investment, something which my friend and academic colleague John Baldacchino – who is based in Britain – argued some days ago on the social media.

Hence, I believe that if the government will identify industrial, vacant or run-down sites that can be regenerated through the university proposal, this would be a win-win situation. And the south of Malta has an abundance of such sites.

Another aspect of the new university debate deals with the academic value of universities. These should not only be seen in utilitarian terms, such as economic investment and catering for industry’s current needs. The provision of quality academic education is a core aspect univeristy identity.

Scholarly knowledge helps empower students with skills, reflexivity and a sense of critique to encounter the risks and opportunities of our times. Different areas of knowledge, from the humanities to the sciences, contribute to this in a different way. Science makes discoveries, proves and disproves, the humanities provide open-mindedness, pluralistic dialogue and the need to avoid monolithic fundamentalisms.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Beautiful Parliament



The Times of Malta, 4 May 2015
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150504/opinion/The-beautiful-parliament.566673

The opening of Malta’s new parliament represents a historic milestone which should make us proud. This is because Malta’s capital city finally has an entrance which befits its history and status, and also because the project itself can be seen as a beacon for everyday democracy.

Aesthetics are always subject to antagonistic view points and perspectives, and Renzo Piano’s project is not an exception.

In my view Piano managed to create a unique project which adds to the beautification of Valletta. City Gate is exceptional in its simplicity, and gives a sense of openness which was denied through the previous gate, which, if anything, blocked the view.

The accompanying stairs are reclamations of space that give a sense of breath. The open theatre is a postmodern reconstruction of the old theatre ruins, celebrating the possibilities they create rather than copying a previous structure. And the Parliament building, while being splendid in itself, gives a new lease of life to the pedestrian area without usurping open space. Hopefully the Monti relocation will not spoil this spectacle.

Ideally, the relocation of Parliament can symbolise a breath of fresh air in politics, where public participation is further enhanced, and where civil society engagement increasingly forms part of a renewed political culture.

Here, one can note that while civic engagement in certain fields has flourished, the same cannot be said for others, also due to a lack of proper consultation processes. Yet, recent civil society initiatives, from creation of an LGBTI constituency to the hunting referendum have shown that civil society is increasingly engaging in the democratic process.

In my opinion the Renzo Piano project and the accompanying beautification of Valletta were among the best achievements of the previous Nationalist Government. One needn’t go back many years to remember how Valletta was choked by cars, and how open spaces were used as ugly car parks.

The progressive pedestrianisation of an increased number of streets and squares in Valletta gave something back to the public after so many open spaces were lost elsewhere. Indeed, the capital city can serve as a development model to follow in other parts of Malta which are characterised by a lack of holistic planning, uglification and primacy of cars over pedestrians.

Valletta’s designation as European Cultural Capital designation for 2018 augurs well for further improvements in the city.

The proliferation of restaurants, places to hang out and similar investments are adding life to existing sites representing different cultural spheres. Government’s talk of boutique hotels and the bringing back to life of the market building are positive steps compared to other not-so-positive initiatives by the same government with respect to development in other parts of Malta.

Indeed, the organic type of investment in Valletta helps to revitalise the social fabric rather than imposing itself as is the case with Smart City.

The latter is the saddest, ugliest development project I have seen in the past 25 years or so. It is a lifeless development project which seems to have been dumped on the area with no concern of the surroundings. Furthermore, social interaction is near inexistent and the dancing fountains seem to celebrate nothingness.

Smart City resembles a failed theme park of a theme park, a desert of the real. It is a far cry from the pomp and bombastic way it was presented by the previous administration some years back. Will the present government keep supporting such speculative development?

Going back to Valletta, I hope that the ditch under City Gate will not be usurped by cars, and I also hope that the open theatre is made more accessible for smaller cultural, artistic and musical projects.

Valletta has also been in the news for the Cafè Premier issue. Political and administrative controversies aside, this property can serve as an opportunity for the government to give a social scope to the usage of public land and facilities.

The Valletta local council has proposed that the property serves as new council premises. I think that this would be a good idea, especially since local councils have a vital role of investing in social capital in localities, thus increasing trust, social interaction and public participation. Local council facilities should be at the centre of localities and should be accessible to all.

It would also be great if government considers relocating Malta’s national library to Valletta. This would raise the profile of reading and would also further strengthen the concept of a people’s capital city. Modern libraries are hubs of learning and social interaction, and have different interactive facilities and educational services and items, including books, music and reviews.

In a country characterised by haphazard development and choked by cars, Valletta represents another story. The new and the old interact in a vibrant way, and sites for public participation are being created in the process. The opening of the new Parliament building represents much, much more than formalities, plaques and speeches.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

An alternative site for the new proposed University



What better inspiration for environmental mobilization than the Labour Government's plan to build a University at Zonqor point? Even though the proposal to attract foreign investment in this initiative is welcome, the environmental aspect of this project delves into politics of unintended consequences.

I hope that an alternative site is found to Zonqor and that the environmental movement - from ENGOs to AD - keep up their pressure in this regard.

But I think that rather than rushing to name alternative sites, one should first consider this possibility and then carry out necessary studies to identify proper alternatives. This cannot take place in a few hours! Studies should look into a variety of aspects, including the environmental, social, economic and operational.

A proper parliamentary debate and full consultation with civil society is of utmost importance in this regard.