The country’s economic model, which focuses primarily on economic growth, is centred on using a precious and scarce resource – land, Moviment Graffitti activist Andre Callus told The Malta Independent on Sunday, emphasising that a country such as Malta, where land capacity is limited, should not have an economic model which uses up the maximum amount of land and space.
Callus stated that while the economy is expanding at an exaggerated rate and in an uneven manner, it is also growing in an unrepartited way. He said that while the economy demands more work, foreign workers are being imported into the country. They are paid low wages and have disastrous environmental effects for the sake of sustaining economic activity.
“The economic model is ensuring construction as a way to increase the economy, and while buildings and constructions are important, they should not become an end in itself,” he said. Callus said that excessive construction is not meant to meet the needs of society but to make a profit for certain people. “There are practical and better ways for construction, which does not have a negative impact on the environment and our quality of life, through policies and the appropriate authorities,” he said.
Callus answered that it would never be too late to protect Malta’s natural environment. There is always something you can do to save it. He acknowledged that there has been a lot of damage and that the country is in a state of emergency. However, politicians don’t seem to be able to address it or take immediate action.
‘It is all greenwashing unless policies are changed’
With the general election approaching, ‘greenwashing’ is a common stance to adopt, meaning the promotion and promises for a better environment just to appeal for the people’s votes.
Callus said greenwashing is being done constantly, especially when there is an inauguration of a ‘green’ project. “The advantage of greenwashing is that it is easily recognisable – it’s almost ridiculous,” he said, explaining that the public needs concrete commitments and promises, where the government, instead of preaching about a better approach towards the environment, halts the progress on the plans for the Marsascala yacht marina, which will take up a lot of open space.
“This will have great environmental impacts, as well as have an effect on residents of the area, visitors and fishermen, all so that the rich can enjoy their yachts,” Callus said, adding that the government must own up to his mistake and completely dismiss the yacht marina project.
He stated that it is all just greenwashing unless policies and projects are halted.
According to an EY survey, 90% feel that Malta’s environment has become worse over time. Expat Insider Survey of 2021 also revealed that Malta ranked 56th out of 59 countries in terms of the quality of their environment. Callus commented on this and said that these surveys reflect reality. He stated that all those they spoke to about the environment quality were fed up with the current situation.
“The youth especially are seriously fed up, this is their future to consider,” he said, adding that many are finding it difficult to breathe due to the poor air quality. Callus said that serious considerations are being given to whether people should flee the country because of this problem. However, he added that politicians do not seem willing to acknowledge that these surveys have been addressed.
The Parliament is currently discussing a Bill that would reform the Environmental Protection Act. It also includes an initiative that allows the public and NGOs to voice their opinions and make decisions within the Environment and Resources Authority and the Planning Authority.
Callus stated that this was a positive thing if people are heard. Moviment Graffitti had also made an appeal to include the public as well as NGOs in the decision-making process for permissions and applications. He said that the ERA should be considered instead of the Planning Authority. However, this is futile if the objections of the public are completely ignored, as happens in most cases. Callus stated that this reform will not have made a significant difference in the care of the environment.
‘Both parties have negative environmental track record’
Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia claimed that the public and several environmental NGOs said that the Labour party has had “environmental victories” during its time in government, whilst saying that the PN is only keeping up a false narrative that the PL does not have the environment at heart.
Callus stated that both of them have a bad track record in the environment and that it has gotten worse over time.
“Political discourse is all rhetoric. When it comes to policies and authorities involved, there are not a lot of examples where things went for the better,” Callus remarked.
As for the Nationalist Party, the local plans made in 2006 were deliberately catered for contractors and developers, Callus said, mentioning former Minister for Resources and Rural Affairs George Pullicino as committing “great sins” against the environment. He said that things did not improve when Labour became the government in 2013.
“There are endless disastrous planning policies which have opened the doors for the most careless development with the worst consequences the country has ever seen, such as policies on high-rise buildings, buildings in ODZ, policies on how many floors a building should have,” Callus said, emphasizing the accumulating state of gravity the environment in Malta has resulted to.
He stated that most of these policies were unchanged or worsened.
There are instances where a policy was reviewed, after much pressure from the organisation, such as the 2015 policy which allowed 3,000m² fuel stations and commercial facilities on ODZ land, which was then reduced to 1,000m², among other changes. “The improvement was not perfect, but it made more sense, and it was welcomed,” Callus said.
The waste problem
Questioned about the consultations regarding the new incinerator that will be built in Magħtab area, Callus replied that NGOs were indeed given the chance to provide feedback, however, the waste problem in Malta needs to be affronted more seriously.
“We now need an incinerator because the waste problem in the country was not addressed for a long period of time, and it is not being addressed still,” Callus said.
Hotels and major industries produce waste that is not being separated. “Is it fair to tell people to separate their waste and these industries do not?”
The waste situation has been completely forgotten, until it’s become too late, he said.
“The incinerator is not an ideal option, but it is a lesser evil as due to carelessness, there were no policies or plans for the situation to be addressed more seriously,” said Callus, adding that the important thing to address now is to be given a clear explanation on how the incinerator will operate and what kind of environmental impact it will have.
Callus was asked about what he would like for a better environment to implement. He replied that he wanted an economic model that doesn’t rely on excessive growth and policies that work.
“The ERA and the PA are authorities without independence and with no transparency, yet with the greatest impact on the environment,” he stated. “The people who participate are more often than not ignored as these authorities are an extension of politics and cater to the interests of other private entities – the decisions made are done because someone is pulling the string behind the scenes,” Callus remarked.
“Illegalities are done under the authorities’ noses and enforcement is a joke,” he said, adding that there are several instances where the PA has allowed for certain work to be done without permission, mentioning cases where Gozitan developer Joseph Portelli repeatedly carried on with illegal ODZ works, yet the PA did not do much to stop it.
Callus stated that new authorities are needed in the country to be independent and transparent.
“It is not a question of incompetency, the structure was done deliberately to accommodate certain developers and other economic interests, which if we do not address it, we will remain in this situation,” he said.