Providing a sustainable infrastructure

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 May, 2023 at 11:25 am by Andre Camilleri

Last Friday, the MHRA convened a national event to bring stakeholders together through the Malta Hospitality Forum, and to also mark the 65th anniversary of the associations’ establishment. The theme of the Malta Hospitality Forum consisted of the way forward, primarily touching upon sustainability.

The event opened with a speech by the Minister for Tourism Mr. Clayton Bartolo, who outlined that the future of tourism must incorporate sustainability. Furthermore, President Emeritus Marie Louise Coleiro Preca delivered a speech on sustainability, and the upskilling and functionality of workers touching upon the social side of sustainability, what we now call the S of ESG. Afterwards, three panel discussions, ensued.

Certainly, I appreciated the invitation by the President of the MHRA and the Council to sit on one of the panel discussions. The vibe in the conference room was positive. The panellists all came with different options and critical analysis on how to enhance sustainability and improve the end product. The mood was one that promotes the idea of coming together to solve our country’s bottleneck that are causing pressures on the system, which do not necessarily translate into problems if we think outside the box and seize the opportunity to change. However, we must incorporate the circular economy seriously if we are to achieve sustainability.

In my intervention I explained that we can carry on talking about sustainability until kingdom comes. However, if we are not able to provide a sustainable infrastructure to our permanent residents, as well as to those who visit us, we cannot expect them to comply. What I mean by a sustainable infrastructure is not just the collection of plastic, cans, and glass bottles. We need to create the necessary infrastructure beyond the recycling of beverage containers. Clearly, it is a massive step in the right direction. Hadn’t we started collecting beverage containers, most of the plastic, and other polluting materials would have end up in our landfills, as well as the sea, and eventually effect the marine life. And certainly, we do not afford to pay the EU additional Own Resources, simply because we do not recycle plastic, as the opportunity cost is far greater than the investments needed to build the necessary infrastructure.

Additionally, I appealed to explore the idea of using our port system as new means of transportation, which is crucial, if we are to change our culture and behaviour. The space within the port areas, including Corradino, and all the way down to the old power station in Marsa are massive relative to what can be invested to create a better infrastructure. As I mentioned last week, Palumbo must be driven out of the market through hefty environmental taxes. We must internalise the cost of pollution. Surely, they would be justifiable taxes when one considers the large tract of land that Palumbo is sitting on, and the pollution that they generate. We need that area for sustainability practices.

We shall start exploring the optimisation of land resources in this country and use resources efficiently if we are to keep on increasing our population to accommodate growth. Indeed, one of the panellists outlined that the Maltese economic model is old and needs a revision, as we are still professing an economic model of the twentieth century. Certainly, I concur with the statement. However, I reiterated that we cannot keep talking about not going for additional economic growth, when the EU rules, especially under the six pack and two pack, to sustain the governance of the euro, revolves around a ratio that requires higher economic growths. This is not a Maltese problem but a European problem. Just have a look at the latest Spring forecast. All ratios are relative to GDP.

During the break, I had a brief chat with the panellist who outlined the needed revision of our economic model.  He briefed me about the concept of the doughnut economic model. Indeed, it is an interesting concept. And as much as the University of Oxford came up with Spatial Finance, which I wrote about in my preceding columns, in theory, the doughnut economic model makes sense if we are to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. However, I personally think that in practice it can only be applied for regional economic modelling rather than national, unless universally applied. And the reason is simply the one explained above that the EU rules all revolve around economic growth. Indeed, deficit is calculated as a ratio of GDP. The same applies when it comes to public finances, and debt which is also calculated as a ratio of GDP. Unless, the EU changes the rules, then we cannot aim at going for that kind of model.

Simply put, doughnut economics provides a visual structure that combines sustainable development and the limits of the boundaries of available resources. When it comes to biodiversity and the preservation of our cultural heritage, the doughnut economic model can give us a clear snapshot of the boundaries of resources that we can push for in the future. Clearly, the importation of additional labour in Malta is exerting pressure on our health and education systems, as well as the island’s infrastructure. Certainly, we need a better health and educational infrastructure that caters for the number of people living permanently in Malta, and for those who come to work and leave, as well as those visiting us during the year. Let’s leave the emergency and the orthopaedic departments for now.

Certainly, I am mentioning the health and education system because we cannot expect that with the current resources we cater for more visitors and also permanent residents that are coming to earn a living in Malta. And that is also creating additional costs on the public health bill. Furthermore, education is important because we are training our future workforce. The new term is now upskilling, and training additional workers is crucial if we are to achieve a better standard of living. Hitherto, I can’t understand why we are importing labour who are not able to speak basic English, which is also one of our official languages. It is also lowering the quality of the service that we are giving to customers in the retail sector. Obviously, I am not expecting foreigners to speak Maltese, on the day they land in Malta for work, but at least they need to be able to communicate in English. Basic Maltese can then be taught as time goes by through their employers, in conjunction with the public sector.

Unless we sit down, take a stock of the current situation and redesign resources to utilise them efficiently, we won’t solve the problems. Finally, a representative from Forbes Travel Guide delivered a presentation on responsible tourism. It transpired, that Forbes Travel Guide are coming up with a tagging for responsible tourism, which would eventually be integrating all the elements of ESG. Whereas before it catered for health and safety, now Forbes Travel Guide are stepping it up. Indeed, it is a step in the right direction because it is going to facilitate the burden of screening clients on the accommodation sector, also form a Banking perspective. And this is also a case on how to use resources efficiently.

To conclude, in the past we were less people on this island, and we manged to brush many problems under the rug. Obviously, it was a temporary solution. Now, the problems that we brushed under the carpet in the past are finally coming back to haunt us.

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