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Network News • 19-01-2023

A country rich in serenity and wellness

Author: George Mangion - Senior Partner PKF Malta
Published on Business Today: 19th January 2023

On the occasion of the papal visit last year, President George Vella made a heartfelt plea for all Maltese to protect the environment.  In his erudite words, he exclaimed that our planet is sick, angry and tired. “Yet we keep ignoring its manifest signs of environmental degradation, climate change and exploitation of its resources”. In turn, Pope Francis advised the ruling party to never cede in its vigil to fight corruption, foster honesty in politics and stop unbridled construction and land speculation.

Did we heed his words? Not exactly as more highrise and upmarket hotels /residences have been sanctioned and the race to build higher and wider continues unabated. His Holiness did not mince words… the windswept islands of St Paul must rekindle their conscience to protect the civil society inculcating honesty, justice, a sense of duty and transparency.

Is it a pie in the sky for this tiny island to eliminate illegality and corruption? He reminded President Vella, that the proverbial north winds that sweep the coast can be quoted as a reminder of our integral resolve to achieve a serene existence.  He invoked a message of legality and transparency to the people when he visited the Grandmaster Palace at the invitation of President Vella. Tales of rapacious greed and avarice revealed by independent press serve as a warning that the tolerance of honest people has its limits.

In other countries protestors took to the streets.  His message to a young generation is to continue protecting the environment and fight for the promotion of social justice.  A persistent level of impunity paves the way for unhealthy politics ushering a feeling of nonchalance in an unhealthy cocktail particularly among the Millennias.  The protection of our heritage especially land believed to have been inhabited by Bronze Age ancestors seem very lax.

Let us quote an example.  Din l-Art Helwa has called for the intervention of the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage and for the Planning Authority concerning an application by a developer to remove the top soil on a three tumoli site in Tal Wej, Mosta - a hallowed ground hosting bronze age remains.  The site is located outside the development zone in the outskirts of San Pawl Tat-Targa and the archaeological investigation is being proposed by the owner of the land.

In the past, Mosta residents breathed a sigh of relief after many years of protest when the tomb area at Tal Wej currently lying in ruins was finally scheduled by PA.  Thanks for the environmentalists who lobbied unsung and unaided for years they succeeded (so far) to protect this sacred burial ground in Mosta from the ravages of demolition and building works.

However, a development permit was issued by PA for a massive building project of showrooms, flats and basement garages in an area known as il-Wesgha tal-Gganti, in the road next to the Lidl supermarket, and just opposite the entrance to MCAST.  The Superintendent of Cultural Heritage proclaimed that the site itself had low archaeological value saying that he cannot afford to protect all areas within the approved development plan as this will be tantamount to classifying the entire spatial plan as “fossil” Malta.  But residents disagree saying that if we ignore precautions and send in excavators to dig up ancestor tombs, crush dolmens and catacombs, in the end we destroy our heritage and all this will eventually turn the island into a jungle of glass and concrete structures - a soul less island.

This saga begs the question - what is the cost of protecting of our heritage from overzealous developers and can the benefits of commercial exploitation of such land ever outweigh the loss of our patrimony?

In his New Year’s Eve public message, Prime Minister Robert Abela proclaimed that his government’s primary objective has been to guarantee “peace of mind that our country is moving in the right direction”.  He has repeatedly described life in Malta as “serene”, with people who live here enjoying “peace of mind”, describing a utopia in the Med.

Enthusiastically, he spoke of the healthy economy and positive forecasts by the international rating agencies. Listening to him warms your heart. He is full of positive posturing and augurs that Malta is harnessing its economic growth to ensure every citizen will be able to live a better life, in a caring society, and a more beautiful country that offers the very best quality of life.

Rightly so, the Pope cautions us to slow unbridled construction and land speculation yet on the contrary, both the construction and hotel lobbies ask for more heritage land to face the steel blades of bulldozers and diggers. Derelict land in ODZ does not pay taxes or stamp duty but when developed into luxury hotel towers or offices, it yields a windfall of state taxes while developers stoke millions in hideaway escrows in the Gulf states.

Yet, we cannot complain. There is a general consensus that Maltese households and businesses fared relatively well in 2022 when compared to the two-year deprivations suffered by many others during the pandemic. There is a healthy prognosis that Malta is expected to start growing economically and the GDP to advance and reach 3.4 per cent at constant prices in 2027.

Naturally, no commentary into the present market conditions can avoid discussing energy prices. Malta's energy prices have stayed stable since the crisis began, shielding local businesses and households from the bloc's inflationary pressures. Still, allow me to identify some uncomfortable realities that need to be addressed. The fly in the ointment is the blanket subsidy for energy and grain imports.  This does not encourage cutting waste on the contrary, it increases levels of inequality since the rich benefit at the same rate as the low-income cohorts.

I will end this article by again quoting Pope Francis’ words during his short visit last year. “Malta must therefore be kept safe from rapacious greed, from avarice and from construction speculation, which compromises not only the landscape but the very future.  Instead, the protection of the environment and the promotion of social justice must prepare us for the future, and find optimal ways to instil in young people a passion for a healthy politics. In the end, pray to God that it shields them from the temptation to indifference and lack of commitment”. Amen.

Author: George Mangion - Senior Partner PKF Malta
Published on Business Today: 19th January 2023
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