Julian Zarb | Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Tourism and the Environment – in the national interest

Up to a few years ago, any reference to tourism was limited to hotels, restaurants and the attractiveness of the blue Mediterranean and the golden sands of our limited beaches with, perhaps, a passing reference to the history and culture of these islands. This was a time when we were looking for quantity, when we paid little attention to the damage that the industry was doing to the infrastructure and to the environment. We had to pay dearly for this error of judgement, but it was an investment worth every penny. In the end – we developed a new power station, a new communications network and a state-of-the-art IT infrastructure that has helped develop a better quality of life for all of us who live here and for those who choose to visit the islands. But if we want to maintain an attractive destination as well as the quality of life we have enjoyed over the past twenty years, we must ensure that our environment is protected by sustainable planning policies and strategies. The attractiveness of these islands as destinations of excellence certainly depends on these sustainable environmental policies and strategies.
The recent reforms being proposed by the Prime Minister are certainly a step in the right direction for the enhancement of our tourism product and general attractiveness; certainly a far cry from the time when planning issues were in the hands of one, often political person, who obviously had hidden agendas. The reform plan for MEPA focuses on four basic factors: Consistency, Efficiency, Accountability and Enforcement - and the fact that the control of this entity will remain the responsibility of the Office of the Prime Minister shows that there is the commitment to make this work for the benefit of both the local resident as well as the business community. The harmonisation of the Development Planning Act and the Environment Protection Act should reduce the unnecessary bureaucratic red tape that has plagued this entity for some years now; accountability is an important issue for any authority or public entity and the fact that this will be specific means that this grey area which causes so much frustration for many people could be solved. Another frustration was the excessive time frames and we all know how this could dissuade people from investing in such areas as the tourism industry.
Making people accountable, being transparent and focussing on the environmental issues are the basic requirements for ensuring that these islands build a strong sense of civic awareness. The days of totalitarianism and autocracy, when the central government planned our lives from cradle to grave came to an end after 1989. Today we have more control over our destinies and we need to make sure we use that control responsibly for the good of present and future generations.
Our civic behaviour today is affecting such issues as Climate Change (which is a reality, by the way); it is affecting the rural and urban sprawl and it is affecting the biodiversity of these islands. Since we are an island, many of these problems, which tend to be diffused in larger countries, have a greater impact on the quality of life for local residents as well as on the general attractiveness for tourism.
The MEPA reform can work if we all cooperate, if we all understand that those four basic issues of Consistency, Efficiency, Accountability and Enforcement have a two-sided approach – an administration and an implementation approach – we have a very important role in the implementation of this reform. If we really want these islands to be competitive and attractive we have to make this reform work – it is in the national interest, after all.


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15 July 2009


Malta Today


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