Next Monday: National Protest to save Ramla -
david vella
18 June 2007

Seven environmental organisations are calling on Maltese and Gozitans to join them in Valletta next Monday, 25 June, at 1830hrs, for a national protest against Mepa’s decision to allow the construction of villas at Ramla l-Hamra.

“All those who care for the environment, all those who want to stop the destruction of what we are enjoying now and save it for our kids, should join us in this protest” said Carmen Bajada, a local councillor from Xaghra, Gozo, in a heartfelt appeal on Monday afternoon. “United we stand strong. It is not too late. The project can be stopped. But if we remain silent, if we are afraid to voice our objections, then this will not be the first and last destruction of our environment”.

The protest is announced in the light of the recent Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa) permit to allow the building of 23 villas on the slopes overlooking the unspoiled Ramla l-Hamra beach, on a parcel of land metres away from two protected sites earmarked for their important ecological and historical value. In an unprecedented move, following numerous public criticism, Andrew Calleja the Mepa chairman who heads the board that granted the controversial permit, declared a boycott on the environmental NGO Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA). Mepa is insisting that there was nothing irregular in the issuing of a permit for the development of villas at Ramla l-Hamra.

"Government is ultimately responsible"

The protest is being organised by Birdlife Malta, Din l-Art Helwa, FAA, Friends of the Earth (Malta), Gaia Foundation, NatureTrust and the Ramblers’ Association Malta.
“We are here protesting against Mepa, but according to our constitution, it is the government who is ultimately responsible of our heritage” said Lino Bugeja, the President of the Ramblers’ Association. He reminded that the failure of Mepa to issue an environmental impact assessment on this exceptionally sensitive zone is unexplainable. “Mepa was instituted to rectify past mistakes, and not to perpetrate them”.

Bugeja urged government to stop this rape of Ramla l-Hamra. “Grant them the wisdom to understand that the quality of life does not consist only of economic development but also the safeguarding of our countryside… with apologies to Charles Dickens – what was our spring of hope with the announcement of the Xaghra l-Hamra national park, has now become our summer of despair”.
5,500 plus sign the petition

The ‘Save Hondoq’ Committee, set up to represent residents’ objections to the proposed mega construction project in another Gozitan bay, Hondoq ir-Rummien, will also be joining the ‘Save Ramla’ committee for the protest. Moviment Graffitti announced it will be participating as well, urged all Maltese and Gozitans to join the green NGOs on Monday. “Participation in the upcoming environmental demonstration will help to show one's disapproval of present practices as well as urge the Maltese government to endorse sustainable measures through which Malta's environment can be safeguarded” Graffitti said.

The Xaghra councillor insisted that participation in the protest is not a question of partisan politics. “All five councillors at Xaghra got together, and have a common stand against this project despite coming from different political parties. And in just one week, over 5,500 individuals signed the petition against the development”. (Click here to view the petition website) Bajada explained that the petition includes individuals from more than 54 different countries.

“Mepa is insisting that the area where the villas will be built is disturbed land. Even the site of the historic roman villa, further down the bay, can be called disturbed land. So can we build over that too? And does this mean that whoever wants to build in an ODZ should just get a bulldozer and ruin the land in order to make it developable?”

"An insult to all Maltese"

Astrid Vella, a spokesperson for FAA reminded that as EU members, Maltese citizens are protected by regulations that grant them the right to information and to environmental justice. Thus, the boycott on the NGO is “an insult to all Maltese citizens, and not just to us”. Vella explained that since the current Mepa chairman was appointed, a number of new regulations that favour developers at the expense of the environment were issued.

She challenged Mepa to publish the auditor’s report on the Ramla l-Hamra applications. “If you say that there are no irregularities, show the report”. By insisting on keeping it under wraps, the authority is indicating that the report sheds light on irregularities or injustices.

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18 Jun 2007 by