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In the Media

The Times
14th June, 2007

Mepa under fire for boycott of FAA
by Rosanne Zammit

A number of environmental organisations, including the Church Environment Commission, have criticised the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa) for its decision to boycott the environmental organisation Flimkien ghall-Ambjent Ahjar (FAA).

The boycott, under which Mepa will not hold meetings with the FAA, follows the organisation's call on the Mepa board to resign over the decision to grant development permission at the Ulysses Lodge in Ramla Bay, Gozo.

The Church commission pointed out that as its responsibility was specifically to work in the Archdiocese of Malta, it was not its duty to express itself on the proposed development.

However, it noted how public debate on this project had developed. It said that public contribution in any public discussion on the environment was an essential element to ensure sustainable development which respected the common good.

So while the authority had every right to request that criticism aimed at decisions taken should be substantiated, it was not acceptable for it to declare any form of boycott on an organisation or individual for any reason.

The commission said it understood that criticism addressed at public entities or officials should be justified but it did not understand the authority's reaction on this case as reported in the local media and on the authority's website.

The commission said that the authority's work was essential and critical in the process of sustainable development and so it was regularly under public scrutiny. This was how it should be. And it was the right of every citizen to be a part of this process in a responsible way and without fearing sanctions because of their beliefs.

The authority was one of the first entities that gave space to and promoted public participation on environmental issues. So the commission could not understand or accept this change in attitude towards those who criticised its operations.

Such public participation, even through individual meetings, should not be considered a waste of time or preferential treatment. The authority had means permissible by law to protect itself from criticism which it believed was injurious.

The commission appealed to all involved in the issue to seek dialogue rather than confrontation as the preferred strategy towards reaching a solution acceptable to all, achieving a win-win situation.

A dialogue built on truth was the best way to reach an agreement avoiding a waste of time and resources. These would then be addressed towards more productive matters.

In a joint statement, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Gaia Foundation, Nature Trust, the Ramblers Association and BirdLife Malta stated that the boycott, which was unacceptable, should be lifted immediately.

They said that while the FAA had every right to express its opinion on Mepa's procedures, Mepa had no right to exclude its critics from access to any information, including informative meetings with Mepa officials. This attempt to censor criticism was completely reprehensible in a democratic society that respected freedom of speech.

The NGOs also deplored Mepa's criticism of the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage, whose attempts to alert the Mepa board to the value of the archaeological heritage of this sensitive area were ignored.

Instead, the Mepa board members chose to base their evaluation on a preliminary study not carried out with the intention of assessing the project's impact.

The unsuitability of this study for impact assessment purposes had since been confirmed by the archaeologists who conducted it.

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