Malta’s past ‘Project Greed’

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 January, 2023 at 12:45 pm by Andre Camilleri

Last Monday, the Maltese government launched a new agency branded as Project Green. My understanding is that the new agency will not replace Infrastructure Malta, and the upgrade of the Maltese roads, falling under a separate ministry, will nevertheless continue as planned. The terms of references of the two agencies are different, and the reason to divorce and segregate resources is not for me to explore in this opinion piece.

The raison d’etre of the new agency is to create open spaces and start a process of greening the concrete urbanised areas around the Maltese islands. Personally, I believe that it would have been more efficient to merge both agencies and reap all the economies of scale. Certainly, it would have reduced the long run marginal costs by optimising human capital and other resources. However, those deciding on this segregation might have a different reason or a differing microeconomic model. Also, given that Malta is currently experiencing a shortage of labour, it would have been wiser to optimise public resources. Importantly, we must also capitalise on the expertise gained by the management and personnel, who were in charge to oversee the largest past capital infrastructure projects in Malta over a span of five years.

Today, we officially have two agencies working in parallel or perhaps in coordination. Ironically, we have an agency that might be pouring additional concrete, while another one with added terms of references to primarily start greening the concrete. Alas, we just realised that we must detoxify the islands from the same concrete that we have poured indiscriminately on our roads and villages for the past half a century without allowing proper green areas for our communities. Sincerely, I am not against development. However, I advocate for proper planning and sustainable development.

Indeed, the idea of greening Malta’s highly urbanised zones is a compelling notion in the EU and clearly aligned with the European Commission’s push to decarbonise the continent by 2050. Genuinely, I believe that the decentralisation of the two agencies might create a little bit of delay to coordinate such mega capital projects. Similarly, the duplication of resources, and the administrative burden, as well as the bureaucracy within the Maltese public sector, including the strict due diligence of tenders and procurement, might stifle the entire process. However, I have faith in the CEO appointed to head the agency.

Indeed, the minister’s vision is to execute the Labour Party’s ambitious pledge of greening Malta’s highly urbanised areas. One of the major proposals in the Labour Party’s election manifesto, relates to the excavation of underground tunnels, thereby creating a stretch of open green spaces overground by connecting the pedestrian zones inter alia the towns of Floriana and Ħamrun. The Labour Party’s election manifesto is clear, and the plan, back then,  was to allocate around seven hundred million euro for such projects over the period of seven years.

The Maltese islands, bar Comino, and to a certain extent Gozo, are densely populated and the idea of creating additional green open spaces is commendable. Truly, there are few green spaces in Malta that are reachable within walking distance, so the mobility to move from one green space to another is limited and at times also dangerous due to the dense of traffic flows on our roads.

Undoubtedly, people are feeling the frustration of a highly urbanised and densely populated country. The limited territory of the Maltese islands, and the rapid increase in the population is exerting untoward pressures on society and the entire country’s ecosystem. In addition, a steep increase in the population and the erosion of private finances due to inflation is contributing to a sense of dissatisfaction. Equally, this sense of apathy is not just in Malta but also around the globe. However, in Malta, a sense of lethargy trickles down swiftly, given that we are quite connected to each other.

In fact, the idea of greening Malta is essential if we really want to lessen pressure on society and promote a peaceful and calmer culture; what in Japan is called zen. However, it is important to mention that the gradual chomping of public virgin land, taken away to upgrade our road infrastructure, in tandem, created additional pressures on society and subsequently less territory available for open green spaces. For this reason, we must safeguard what we already managed to green under our colonisers and protect separate green enclaves that serve as primary lungs for some of our highly urbanised towns in Malta. The road to decarbonisation is less permits for fuel stations and doubling the renovations of existing uninhibited dwellings, as part of the Green Deal!

Actually, two zones that come to mind are Gżira and Sliema. Indeed, when I visit our UNESCO protected capital city Valletta, and look opposite from St. Michael’s bastions, the architecture of the fortifications of Manoel island and its dilapidated adjacent coast, ironically, look pleasantly spectacular relative to the pile of concrete favela a few metres in the distance. Hence, I genuinely believe that we must seriously transit from project planning greed to project green, and coordinate between the relevant agencies to create proper sustainable development.

Certainly, the bad planning is the mistake of both major political parties. Since our independence we were not politically able, or not mature enough to sit down and agree on bipartisan policies such as the planning of our environment. Surely, the Maltese islands would have been much better off in term of urban planning. Furthermore, the Maltese people are still transiting from the social effects of the pandemic and the reality on the ground is completely different. When I started meeting with people in their own dwellings, I saw a different world and at times a sad reality. Surely, the pandemic restrictions and its corresponding consequences left deep marks on our society. Hence, providing additional green spaces might contribute to the mental well-being of our society.

To make matters worse, the increase in the cost of living is exerting additional economic hardships on our families. Families that are within an income bracket cannot just decide to go abroad to enjoy nature. Equally, the government is forking gargantuan sums of money out of the public coffers to subsidise energy and fuel prices, as well as providing supplementary benefits to cover for the rapid cost of living. The Maltese government is indeed assisting families. However, the situation is so complex that economic operators on the ground are also feeling the economic effects of the inflation.

Finally, I truly hope that the green engulfs the past greed, and we achieve a better Malta for all.

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