One message prevails: "Stop Gozo's destruction now!" -
Kurt Farrugia & david vella
Mass protests in Valletta by pro-environment movements
25 June 2007

Hundreds of environmental non-governmental organisations, political parties and independent people from all walks of life took to the streets of Valletta on Monday to vent their anger at government’s decision to destroy parts of the island of Gozo by granting permits for excessive development in various parts of the island.

Besides the appeals to "Save Ramla l-Hamra", and numerous other natural sites currently under threat, the crowd shouted out slogans against Mepa, including the chant "Mepa Mafia". Before a number of environmentalists and Gozitan residents addressed the crowd, the names of the 10 Mepa board members who approved the construction of 23 villas at Ramla l-Hamra were called out one by one, and greeted with loud boos by the protesters.

Ramla l-Hamra (Xaghra), Hondoq ir-Rummien (Qala), Ta’ Cenc (Sannat) and tal-Kus (Xewkija) among others are all under threat by developers who aim to turn these important ecological and historical areas into construction sites that destroy our scarce environment at the expense of the financial gains of a few individuals. What is worse is that all this is done with full endorsement of Malta’s planning authority (Mepa) which gave its nod of approval to the building of villas and pools at the splendid Ramla l-Hamra Bay in Gozo.

Amid numerous placards denouncing the ravishing of Gozo’s environmental beauty, had its own messages against the Ramla l-Hamra development with the main slogans being: “Is destroying Ramla l-Hamra the price of saving Xaghra l-Hamra?” and “Ulysses, come save Calypso for she is being raped.”

Carmen Bajada, a Xaghra local councillor, announced that a petetion calling for the annullment of the permit that will turn Ramla l-Hamra into a construction site, now includes over 8,000 signatures. She also announced that Labour MEP Joseph Muscat had talks with officials from the EU's environment commission in Brussels, and urged them to urgently intervene and investigate the Ramla l-Hamra permit. She appealed to all those who do not want to see this pristine natural site destroyed, not to give up. If our ancestors were to give up and allow their rulers to do their will, today Malta would have been in a much worse situation. "Probably we would not even have been Maltese citizens. It is never too late to save Ramla. We have to keep on working for its protection".

Bajada also mentioned Sylvana Debono, the Mepa public relations officer, and asked: "Who is this person defending? Shouldn't Mepa be protecting the environment?"

Next in line is a monstrous project proposed at Hondoq ir-Rummien, which is still being discussed while Gozo Minister Giovanna Debono and Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi already expressed their opinion in favour of the project.

‘Scrap Mepa’

Lino Bugeja, President of the Ramblers’ Association said that the protection of Malta’s natural and historical heritage is entrenched in the Constitution and since government is the guardian of the Constitution is should ensure that this protection is guaranteed.

He said that Mepa was set up specifically to help government in this regard. “If it [Mepa] is found wanting, it should be scrapped,” said Mr Bugeja.

He also said: “Future generations will not blame faceless Mepa for the destruction of our countryside but the government in power.”

Mr Bugeja also said that the government is alienating the whole country through Mepa to accommodate a few developers and speculators whose aim is to get richer.

Hondoq next?

Paul Buttigieg secretary of the Movement Save Hondoq and a Labour Qala local councillor said that them together with the rest present at the protest are expressing their anger at the destruction of Gozo’s natural habitat and to save the little that is still left, especially Ta’ Cenc, Ramla l-Hamra, Mgarr ix-Xini and Hondoq ir-Rummien.

He appealed to the authorities not to ignore a local referendum at Qala about the Hondoq project which showed that 85 per cent of the residents are four square against the proposed monstrous project.

The fight goes on

John Mizzi, AD local councillor said that until January 2005 government included Ta’ Cenc as a Natura 2000 site, but later the European Commissioner said that this was not true and that Ta’ Cenc is not part of the European project. Mizzi said that in summer 2005, government proposed a golf course at Ta’ Cenc. A proposal which also the Labour Party supports.

He said that late in 2005, the owners of the land at Ta’ Cenc filed an application to build 120 villas, but because there was resistance no bulldozer entered the area. “But the fight goes on,” said John Mizzi.

1000 years of history under threat

Dr Monica Vella, Labour Mayor of the Xewkija Council objected to the proposed development of a Waste Transfer Station at Tal-Kus area which is close to the panoramic valley of Mgarr ix-Xini.

”Mepa issued a permit notwithstanding the fact that that scientific reports which have been forwarded, indicate clearly that Tal-Kus has not only ecological and geomorphologic value but also archeological value of great importance… The remains, which have been found in Tal-Kus, span one thousand years of history from the Phoenician to Roman times,” Dr Vella said.

“National scandal”

Wrapping up, Astrid Vella, coordinator of the environmental NGO Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) said that each one of the issues that were highlighted during Monday’s mass protest would cause an outcry in any civilized EU country.

”The combination of them together would cause a national scandal,” Ms Vella told the crowds that gathered in Valletta.

She said that instead in Malta the people are expected to accept such decisions and not speak up against them.

“FAA’s original stand was to try very hard to resolve the matter of Ramla through consultation, recommending a deferral of Mepa’s board decision in order to avoid the issue going public. In a step which belies Mepa’s supposed stand on public consultation, the NGOs proposals were swept aside,” Ms Vella insisted.

She continued: “This is not just a matter for Gozitans to be upset about, but sadly symptomatic of the way land issues are being handled recently, an ugly blot on our administration of environmental justice that will be going down in history.”

Ms Vella urged the government to investigate this matter in the strongest possible manner in the interests of environmental justice for all Maltese and Gozitan citizens, “as well as the rights of future generations to enjoy a decent quality of life and islands that are not irremediably scarred by the selfishness of some and the weakness of others.
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26 Jun 2007 by