Resolving our planning disorder

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 May, 2023 at 12:44 pm by Andre Camilleri

A fortnight ago I was invited to a dinner, where the main topic of discussion turned on our abysmal planning practices. It was during the week when there were a few trees uprooted just right across the park of San Klement. Also, some of my acquaintances cracked a few jokes about bonsai trees. However, I won’t expand further.  

Notwithstanding that as a nation we managed to progress economically, nonetheless, we still need to learn a few tips on how to avoid chaotic circumstances. It would have made more sense to brief the public and the media on the ERA reports as well as the change of the landscaping within the perimeter of the newly extended park. Someone hailing from Ħaż-Żabbar told me that a banner outlining the words “greening in progress” was still pinned to the fence right across where the trees were being uprooted. In fact, he told me it looked quite cynical. Obviously, I commented on the social media that we must look into what is causing the erosion and illness of so many trees. Clearly, I got concerned about our ecosystem and stated that it might be a cause of the physical risks of climate change.  

My intuition is that the major problem of our country is that the economy expanded to a point where strict planning and enforcement must be the order of the day. Indeed, we might have a case where different types of pollution are exerting pressure on our ecosystem. The EU Commission just published a public consultation on the establishment of the rest of the other four climate objectives under the EU Taxonomy Regulation, including the sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources, the transition to a circular economy, pollution prevention and control and the protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems. Clearly, under the Taxonomy Regulation, the EU Commission is expecting strict technical screening criteria for the six environmental objectives, including climate mitigation and climate adaptation, to designate an economic activity as sustainable.

Certainly, Malta’s economy progressed and so did our national income in monetary terms. Over a decade the Maltese economy doubled, which means that we have consumed and produced more. Logically, if we produce more, we need more factors of production be they labour or capital. Essentially, it is what we economists refer to as total factors of production. Whether this a metric of a better standard of living it is still debatable. However, the EU rules, especially those revolving around the governance of the euro, clearly promote growth as a matter of economic progress and monetary stability. Indeed, economic growth is the denominator of all the ratios inter alia the deficit and the public debt.

Nevertheless, what we currently need as a nation is to reorganise ourselves when it comes to planning. Whether it is the Planning Authority or ERA for the permits of road infrastructure, the opening of new green spaces, as well as the importation of additional labour, or for all it takes the removal of trees, planning is critical. In the past, we were less people living on this island. Indeed, traffic flows were less, while our beaches were less crowded. Undoubtedly, life was calmer and one that promotes a Mediterranean lifestyle. Obviously, the opportunities were less, and I remember many of our students engaged in summer jobs in the retail sector to earn a living before autumn arrives and lectures resume. We would have saved for winter, to perhaps enjoy our weekends and the keep up with the expenses. So, it is not that easy to strike a balance unless we use resources efficiently.

Personally, I believe that we expanded our economic model to the point where any additional factors of production, especially labour, are certainly making people frustrated with our lack of planning. Plainly, we are living on an island that its infrastructure turned out to be similar to the modus operandi of a main capital city in Europe. Unless we utilise the circular economy better, as well as the space of our limited territory more efficiently, we are not going to solve the major problems that are currently frustrating people.

Last week, I wrote about the concept of sustainability, as well as the Oxfordian concept of doughnut economics. The concepts are philosophically and academically important for a better standard of living albeit still debatable if not universally applied. For instance, if we fail to create additional green buffer zones and regenerate dilapidated areas, our standard of living might shift to a downward trajectory. And by a downward trajectory I do not mean less economic growth but the lack of a calmer lifestyle. We have a few sectors in Malta that are causing more harm than benefits to our citizens. Some of these sectors are part of the planning problem because such markets failed. When a market fails the government steps in to regulate. However, to regulate markets the government needs an effective implementation. For an effective implementation the government needs additional factors of production. And to acquire additional resources the government must import additional labour due to the lack of it. And to import additional labour we need additional labour to oversee the process of importing additional labour unless we exploit digitalisation. We need to pull the breaks to this vicious circle of neoliberal economics.  

Absurd as it might sound, this is the point that we have reached, and the economic inertia that took over the state of our nation. We can commission as many surveys as possible. However, people will not tell you about the inefficient system. Nonetheless, people will tell you about their concerns of population growth and laissez faire economics. No wonder people feel nostalgic of the eighties and the nineties in Malta.

Clearly, we need to start thinking about creating additional greenbelts, that do not require so much creative thinking. Green spaces are important. However, greenbelts are crucial. Our forefathers managed to create a few without owning any heavy machinery. When the right time comes – as I am still deciding my future – I will be unveiling what I mean by becoming more creative on the way we organise ourselves, especially by using new means of transportation.

One of the low hanging fruit initiatives is primarily to bundle a few administrative offices. Frankly, I never understood why a citizen must visit three different places and towns to apply for a passport and an identity card or to collect a birth certificates. Doesn’t make more sense to bundle all the administrative personnel within the same area and utilise resources efficiently? Less time, less travelling and less CO2 emissions. Clearly, we have more brains and shaper knives in the drawer that must be roped in to help out in reorganising ourselves and start treating our planning disorder.

And lastly, policies mustn’t come from Brussels. Surely, we must avoid mediocre projects.

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