It's the economy, stupid!

carolinemuscat | November 18, 2010 | 0 Comments

With an Environment Director at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) like Martin Seychell, the country’s economy is in good hands. The problem is, who’s taking care of the environment?

Mr Seychell’s interview in The Times offers a good insight into why environmental degradation in Malta meets very little resistance. He defended the permit issued by MEPA to filmmakers to deposit a sand-like substance made from powdered hard stone that coated over the protected fossil-rich area in a Natura 2000 site by implying the economy stood to gain by the exercise.

In his attempt to defend the indefensible, Mr Seychell contradicts himself every step of the way. That’s because there is no way of justifying the damage inflicted on one of Malta’s national treasures, except for his rationale that, “if the economy does well, the environment usually does better”.

He does not explain how he came to this conclusion, but it reveals the state of mind of the man entrusted with the protection of the country’s environment.

While making repeated statements about MEPA’s commitment to assess any damage and hold the company responsible, he makes the bold assertion that, “the habitats in the area have not been affected”. How does he know that if the assessment has not been made?

His repeated reference to the area as “bare rock” simply adds insult to injury. It forms part of a site that has attracted EU funding totalling €200,000 to upgrade and protect the area because of its natural and historical importance.

Mr Seychell’s defence is that in his “opinion… a Natura 2000 site is not a keep-out zone”. Nobody said it was or should be, Mr Seychell. The objections to what happened at Dwejra are about the damage caused to a protected site thanks to MEPA’s inadequate measures to protect it, and not the fact that it was used.

Any one who has any interest in environmental protection knows that the point of Natura 2000 sites is not to keep people out. It is precisely the opposite: To protect areas having valuable species and habitats so that they are preserved for the enjoyment of all, rather than destroyed for the benefit of some.  Note the word ‘protect’ Mr Seychell?

It’s also worth mentioning that designating areas as Natura 2000 sites is pointless unless there are proper management plans for each area that are followed to the dot, as EU law requires. Without these management plans, it’s kind of useless to use the name. Where there are management plans in place, they’re kind of useless unless they are implemented. This is generally the situation with the 13 per cent of territory that Malta has designated as Natura 2000 sites – fluff without substance.

It would also be useful to point out that it is natural resources that contribute to the economy, and not the other way round. The European Union protected area network, the Natura 2000 network, is important not only for the survival of its flora and fauna, but also for economic and social reasons.  In a country that has a stated aim of tapping into ecotourism, the protection of sites of natural and cultural value is crucial. Properly managed Natura 2000 sites are multi-functional and active: producing rural products, supporting employment, and contributing to an economically diverse local economy. It is estimated that in the EU-15 125,000 jobs are supported in nature protection related activities.

These are the arguments the Environment Director should be putting forward for the proper management of Natura 2000 sites.  Mr Seychell should be bowing his head in shame rather than trying to imply that those objecting to what happened at Dwejra don’t really know what they’re talking about. “You cannot assess these issues from an armchair,” he stated, as though what he said convinced the nation it should place its trust in him.

When it comes to natural resources, the position adopted by those entrusted with protecting them beggars belief. We have MEPA’s Environment Director with a warped idea of environmental protection, a Resources Minister (George Pullicino) protecting those profiting from the capture of a species on the brink of extinction – Bluefin tuna, and a Prime Minister who says it’s a national right to kill migratory birds in spring.

This country stands out for all the wrong reasons.

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Category: Environment

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