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LETTERS | Wednesday, 22 August 2007

MEPA: protecting developers?

With regard to the letter in ‘MEPA says Astrid Vella still in Gozo planning breach’ I would like to ask a question of MEPA. Is it normal when someone for whatever reason is in breach of planning regulations, for their name to be published in the newspapers and for MEPA to discuss their case in public? Or could it be possible that Andrew Calleja, through his spokesperson Sylvana Debono, is trying to belittle someone he sees as a threat?
As Ms Vella has already pointed out these errors were due to a mistake by her architect and a decision taken by her contractor. MEPA’s attempt to smear Ms Vella’s name through the press regarding this is not only unprofessional but also downright childish. However, what makes it even worse is that the information given by MEPA is totally wrong as is plain to see from MEPA’s own website. Sylvana Debono states that to date, the date in question being last Wednesday 25 July, no action had been taken by Ms Vella. However one has only to check the Xewkija Planning Applications for the application in question to see that Ms Vella deposited her documents on Tuesday 17 July, a full week before Sylvana Debono declared on the 25 July that she had done nothing.
That this is no more than harassment of an environmental activist is proven by the fact that MEPA has never taken the initiative to highlight really shameful abuse, like the building of the Riviera Hotel at Marfa or the ever-growing De Bono (Tunny Net) lido built on the public foreshore at Mellieha. What is a keyhole window next to these? And yet, any queries addressed to Ms Debono on the subject of truly outrageous abuses are met with a stony silence. This just confirms what we’ve always known: that MEPA is no longer there to protect the environment but to protect the developers and attack anyone who dares get in their way by doing what MEPA is supposed to do, protect the environment.
I’m assuming that MEPA through their spokesperson Sylvana Debono will be issuing a public apology to Ms Vella in the very near future.

James A. Tyrrell,
Larne, County Antrim,
N. Ireland

Decency and respectability first and foremost

I stick to my guns when reacting or commenting on what I hear or read: evaluate and maybe criticise the song, but not the singer.
We are all human, we all have out faults, and so we can easily fall prey to our urge of vilifying anybody with whom we might not agree.
It is a pity, for a nation of just over a third of a million population, that we waste so much energy on such tactics, mudslinging and outbursts of bad taste.
If we love our country, we should say “give me five” to anybody who endeavours to lead us into the European Union scenario. There should be no colours in this, no partisan politics. Loyal to our Christian faith, we should be forthcoming in giving credit to whom it is due.
Come on, let us grow up and not let politics put us asunder. Just one final word to my friend Joseph Muscat: carry on with the good job you are doing. To Mario Debono, I just say, watch it mate, carry on with the good job that is earning you the full confidence of the GRTU members, but please limit yourself to decent and respectable remarks and observations.
Certain remarks, even about George Vella, were stupid and outrageous. Mario, even if I do not know you, I bet you should know better.

Saviour Cachia

Bathing water quality

I refer to the letter by Emmanuel Abela, Director of Information, about the cleanliness of Malta’s beaches, which appeared in MaltaToday of 15 August. This was in reply to a report on same subject published on 8 August. I would be obliged if you may bring the following clarifications to the attention of your readers:
The report Mr Abela was referring to was based on an interview I had given to Raphael Vassallo, and which was reported in your MT on Sunday of 5 August. This interview dealt with a number of issues including bathing water quality. Prior to the interview, Mr Vassallo had sent me a couple of questions on this matter and in preparation I had quickly reviewed the weekly bathing water quality reports which are issued by the Environmental Health Unit of the Department of Public Health. I had then made it clear that:
Such weekly reports did not provide actual counts of levels of bacteria (faecal coliforms) at the various bathing areas but only the classification of the quality of the waters at each locality for each week. I was able to give a score to such classifications, and my ranking of locations is based on such scores. Therefore we cannot distinguish very accurately between the level of water quality at the different localities.
Only the highest scores would represent any danger to human health.
In these weekly reports the classification of each site is based on the total number of samples collected from each individual site during the monitoring programme from the start of the bathing season until that week and not only on the sample results collected for that particular week. This essentially means that my scoring method reflected both the relative levels of pollution (faecal coliforms) in a particular week as well as the time factor over which a locality would be classified as polluted or unpolluted according to the water quality criteria being used. I see no problem with this approach.
I now had the chance of adopting the analysis which was proposed by Mr Abela (or rather which was suggested to him by his colleagues at the Department of Public Health). This involved making use of the “smiley reports” published by the same department. In this case, the scoring method is indicative of the actual weekly levels of FC and does not take into account the time factor. Mr Abela would be interested to know that the relative ranking of the localities as based on this scoring method did not change significantly from that produced originally. The worst bathing localities turned out to be those of Xghajra, Balluta Bay, Bahar ic-Caghaq, Xlendi, and Qawra. The localities of Golden Bay, Salini and Mistra had somewhat improved ratings, though they still featured high in the resultant ranking list.
The same group of 24-25 localities had extremely good ranking (water quality) as scored by the two different methods.
Again using both scoring methods, there are indications that for the first nine weeks of bathing water quality monitoring for 2006 and 2007, there is an evident and overall trend of deterioration. Ironically, this trend is more pronounced by the scoring based on the ‘smiley reports’ as suggested by Mr Abela.
Mr Abela also refers to the test used for lasting foam (by shaking a sample of seawater in a test-tube). He should note that this test was never used for bacteriological analysis but rather for the presence of detergents (or surface-active substances, natural or otherwise). I had made this point clear in my interview with Mr Vassallo (Note: A clarification to this effect appeared in MaltaToday on 8 August).
I have no doubt that the monitoring programme being undertaken by the Department of Public Health, and the subsequent data analysis are being carried out ‘in accordance with the required criteria for classification’. Again I made this clear to Mr Vassallo in my interview. My preoccupation is that in our efforts to conform with required criteria, we may be “lulling ourselves into a false sense of security. After all, if the EU has given you a seal of approval, why take any measures to improve the situation?” This quote from my interview, as reported in MaltaToday, was completely ignored by Mr Abela. Let us hope that it will not be similarly ignored by the Department of Public Health. In my interview I had strongly advocated the testing of local waters for noxious algae which are known to seriously effects human health in other Mediterranean regions. I had made the same appeal to the local authorities in a similar interview reported by MT in summer of 2006. According to my knowledge, such appeals have gone unheeded. Presumably this is because such tests are not required by the EU and are therefore not necessary to conform with “the required criteria for classification”.

Victor Axiak

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