Mepa boycotts environmentalists -
While defending the villa project at Ramla l-Hamra...
Mepa boycotts environmentalists
"This is an admission of Mepa's failure" - Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar

Kurt Farrugia & david vella - 11 June 2007

In an unprecedented move, Mepa has turned its guns on the major Maltese green NGO ‘Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar’ (FAA), and in a scathing verbal attack, declared a boycott against this organisation.

Numerous organisations have harshly criticised the decision to turn the slopes leading to the pristine Ramla l-Hamra Bay into a 23-villa complex. In retaliation, on Monday, Andrew Calleja, the Mepa chairman, defended the decision taken by the board he heads, and declared that Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar (Maltese for ‘Together for a better Environment’) is “under boycott with requests for meetings until such time it decides to substantiate or withdraw the serious accusations levied at the MEPA Board members”.

The boycott comes on the same day that more envorinmental NGOs condemned the approval of the Ramla l-Hamra building project. In a separate statement, Labour declared its support to all the environmental NGOs, and to the Xaghra Local Council, “who feel that they were totally ignored by the authorities”.

A policy of gagging criticism

Astrid Vella, a spokesperson for FAA, declared that this boycott is not only “illegal and undemocratic”, but also “an admission of failure of Mepa’s so called public consultation process. This boycott shows Mepa’s inability to cope with justified criticism”.

The environmentalist explained that Mepa’s boycott is in line with its practice of silencing critics. She listed several occasions where this happened, including the decision to bar members of the Floriana, Mdina, and Cottonera Rehabilitation Committees from accessing Mepa files. Mepa has also effectively silenced its auditor by removing the staff from his office, leaving him no resources to work with. “All these moves, which happen to take place under the same Mepa chairman, are extremely undemocratic attempts against the interest of civil society to gag any voice that dares challenge MEPA”.

“The chairman himself admitted that there is heavy criticism against the project. He may wish to consider that this may be a reflection that this time round, the public, and not Mepa, is right”.

Not the first time

Monday’s outburst against a green NGO comes a year after Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and Environment Minister George Pullicino expressed outrage at environmentalists when they publicly protested against a government decision to open up new virgin lands for construction development.

At one point, the Prime Minister was even compared to a renowned Maltese building contractor in a poster that read “Vote Gonzi, get Caqnu”. On one occasion, Minister Pullicino even said that those opposing his decision “have mental problems”.

Mepa defends project

On Monday, through an elaborate power point presentation, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa) did its utmost to defend the villa complex it has permitted just metres away from two protected sites, one of which forms part of EU’s Natura 2000 project. The permit was issued last week, when during a Mepa board meeting, all of the authority’s board members except for Dr Joe Brincat, the Labour Party representative, voted in favour of the mega construction project in a green area.

Mepa took the trouble to show journalists artistic impressions of how the 23 villas will not be an eyesore through elaborate landscaping, in a clear move to defend not only its interests, but also those of the project.

Calleja specifically singled out FAA, and “deplored its attitude”. It was here that he declared that the authority is boycotting this green non-governmental organisation (NGO).

FAA insists on its position

But Astrid Vella insisted that the organisation will not be intimidated by this boycott. “We have stated our case publicly, and will stick to it. We would be happy to meet Mepa’s challenge and substantiate our claims, but to do this we need to be given access to the Mepa file on the proposed Ramla l-Hamra development”. She made it clear that even EU regulations give them the right to view such environmental data. If Mepa publishes the footprint of the original outline permit granted to the developer in 2002, it would be clear that the area of land to be taken by the developer’s project is much greater than that of the existing Ulysses Lodge. These maps would contradict Mepa’s claims that the 23 villas will be built in the same area currently occupied by the derelict building.

Last weekend, FAA called for the immediate resignation of the Mepa board members who voted for this project, including the chairman himself. “In view of the irregularities raised at the hearing, further aggravated by the archaeologists’ revelations that their study was only a cultural heritage report and was never intended to be used as an environment assessment tool, FAA invokes the application of Article 39a by which a permit is annulled in the case of misleading information being given by the developer, fraudulently or otherwise. Furthermore FAA calls on the Minister of the Environment and the Prime Minister to call an immediate inquiry into this case as well as for the resignation of the Mepa Chairman and Board members,” the organisation said on Saturday.

Numerous NGOs had also criticised Mepa’s decision not to request an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) from the applicant, as EU regulations specify. When it gave its thumbs up to the project, the Mepa board insisted that it was satisfied with a number of studies presented by the developer, including an archaeological study. Yet, the company who had made the archaeological study in 2002 said in a statement that a “general preliminary report about cultural heritage”, cannot be used to consider the impacts of any proposed development on cultural heritage.

Labour supports NGOs

In the meantime, on Monday, Labour’s environmental spokespersons noted that the permit for the villas at Ramla l-Hamra is another clear indication of what the Nationalist Party and the authorities it currently governs are really made of. “This is nothing but another example of government’s inconsistency in implementing its environmental policy in favour of sustainable development. The authorities should have been much more careful when dealing with such a case, especially when considering that the site involved is a very sensitive one, with unique scenery and with protected archaeological and ecological areas very close by”.

They also noted that even if this project lies in an Outside Development Zone (ODZ) area, the authorities did not request an EIA. From the start, it was clear that the Nationalist Government was approving this development. “Away from the Nationalist Party’s boasting and promises to environmentalists, the Ramla l-Hamra decision continues to uncover government’s deceitful mask” said Labour MPs Dr Joe Brincat and Roderick Galdes.
:: back to news
11 Jun 2007 by