MEPA amnesty puts into question its reason for existence – eNGOs

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MEPA amnesty puts into question its reason for existence - eNGOsA joint eNGO press conference was held this morning, on what they described as “one voice on the burning issue of MEPA’s proposed amnesty regarding building abuse.”

In addition to the NGOs there was also Lino Bugeja, Alfred Baldacchino, Carmel Cacopardo and Marco Cremona, as well as representatives from Kummissjoni Ambjent tal-Knisja

The eNGOs were: Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA), Friends of the Earth, Malta Ramblers’ Association, Malta Organic Agriculture Movement (MOAM), Zminietna, Noise Abatement Society of Malta (NASoM) and Din il-Helwa.

They said that the press conference was called in reference to the “announcement of the mother of all building abuse amnesties. MEPA is finally relinquishing all pretence of its role as a regulatory authority, and putting into question its very reason for existence.”

The NGOs argued that the amnesties held in 2012 and 2013 already dealt with the abuse that could reasonably be absolved, “using the excuse of homeowners and developers who could not sell their properties due to ‘minor’ infringements of sanitary regulations and suchlike.”

“Indeed, Malta’s sanitary laws already incorporate provisions for justified deviations, therefore a further amnesty can only be intended to absolve gross and unacceptable violations, even, potentially, to have entire illegal floors approved,”

“This makes a mockery of Local Plan height limitations, and indeed, all of MEPA’s regulations, especially those concerning urban development. Over-development is reaching new heights, as this government seeks to stimulate growth in an industry that has already stifled urban areas,” stated FAA’s coordinator Astrid Vella.

“Data and conferences such as the one recently held highlighting how environmental problems are contributing to the rise of cancer in Malta mean nothing to this Government,” Astrid Vella claimed. “The Sanitary Law which was drawn up in the 1890s order to ensure minimum healthy living conditions. Urban residents need light and fresh air as much as they did a century ago, and yet our regulators put money and votes first, eroding residents’ living conditions and undermine residents’ physical and mental health.”

She continued, “at the time of the last amnesty, Vince Cassar, then president of the Chamber of Architects had rightly lambasted the proposal, saying: “It’s just a repeat of what we’ve seen in other spheres. Rules aren’t properly enforced, so then there’s an amnesty to straighten things out.” “There should be regular enforcement to ensure things don’t get to this stage. Those who break the law should not end up on an even footing with those who adhere to it.”

“Such amnesties foster a culture of abuse, encouraging others to break the law in the almost surety that one day they too will be granted an amnesty. We have seen this from past experience in Malta, and also from the Italian experience which saw an increase of 30% of building abuse when the last amnesty was announced,” said Ms Vella.

She commented that, the fact that the MEPA CEO said “he did not feel it was right to discuss details before the proposal was vetted and approved at board and political level indicates yet again a bypassing of laws on public consultation.”

“Although the announcement of this amnesty was timed to catch the NGOs at a point when they are already swamped by the hunting referendum we are here today to say that we are not ready to accept that MEPA has swapped its role from regulator to facilitator – of abuse,”stated Astrid Vella.

“Instead of strengthening MEPA’s enforcement directorate, this is just another action for MEPA to NOT do its job, rendering the very existence of MEPA questionable, debasing Parliament and making a mockery of the judiciary and respect for law in Malta,” said Ms Vella.

E.A. Mallia of Friends of the Earth Malta said, “he MEPA Amnesty seems to be the latest case of an amnesty virus attack on Government. There is another impending Amnesty, enshrined, improbable though it may sound, in the draft Policy for Solar Farms, just issued for public consultation.”

“Solar farm development on suitable quarries could serve as an opportunity for the operators to regularise their position and bring their operation in line with current policies and legislation.”

“You cannot have a clearer admission of MEPA failure than that. The incompetence of MEPA to enforce regulations is glossed over by an offer of reward if the quarry owner is willing to help Government to achieve our EU Renewable Energy quotas by closing down operations for 30 years and setting up a PV farm in the quarry,” stated Mallia.

MOAM and Ramblers said, “the functions of MEPA are very well defined and regulated by law. But something went wrong along the way!

“Identifying what caused this malfunction is the responsibility of the authorities and they are also responsible to fix this malfunction. This breakdown is not fixed by simply pardoning all the wrong doings, but by holding those responsible of the wrongdoing accountable for their deed.

“An amnesty will definitely send the wrong message to society. It will be interpreted that your doing and abuse has paid off and now you will be rewarded for it by giving you what legally you could not achieve.”

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