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Dangerous waste treating facility to be built next year

Vet services close down 17 milk farms

Resources and Rural Affairs Minister George Pullicino announced in Parliament yesterday that by the end of the year, WasteServ would have submitted an application with Mepa for a facility to treat dangerous waste. The €5-million EU-financed project was expected to start in the middle of next year.

Winding up the debate on his ministry's estimates, Mr Pullicino said that in less than two years, WasteServ had collected some 22,000 tonnes of recyclable waste from the Sant'Antnin plant. The rest would be treated at another plant in the north, a €45-million development financed by the EU.

By the end of 2009 120,000 vehicles would have deposited 20,000 tonnes of bulk waste in five centres. Domestic separated waste totalled 7,100 tons. The government had invested €8.4 million for the rehabilitation of four waste centres.

By the end of the year, the incinerator would have treated more than 7,100 tonnes of slaughterhouse, clinical and pharmaceutical waste.

The minister said a development permit for an €8-million waste transfer station in Gozo had already been issued. Another bio-digester would be needed for animal manure in Gozo.

A technical committee had drawn up a mitigation strategy of climate change incorporating 96 recommendations.

Last April, applications for outline development permits had been submitted to Mepa to build three wind farms - two onshore and one offshore.

Mr Pullicino said that the exercise on the extraction of water had been carried out to protect the water table and ensure good-quality water. The aim was to double water storage. It was not the government's intention to charge any tariffs to farmers on this water extraction, but abuses had to be curbed.

He denied that Malta produced 20,000 million litres of treated water, as claimed by the Leader of the Opposition. It produced only 4,000 million litres.

He referred to the refurbishment works at St George's Square in Valletta, adding that the design had been criticised but designs were subjective. He was sure people would appreciate the new look of this square. Embellishment works had been carried out in different areas, and an adventure park at Ta' Qali would be inaugurated next month.

The government had embarked on extensive restoration projects in the Presidential Palace and in the Collachio in Vittoriosa. Restoration on bastions costing €36 million from EU funds would be completed by 2013, while €7 million from EU rural funds would be spent on the regeneration of the historic Salini area.

Minister Pullicino criticised the opposition for failing to mention investment in science and technology. MCST had been financing 29 projects over a four-year period.

He claimed that that there was an investment revolution in agriculture; 14 out of the 18 measures with an investment of €60 million under the rural development funds had been launched. €2.6 million in subsidies would be given.

He called on farmers to form producers' associations so that they could sell their produce directly in the vegetable market and put an end to the current antiquated system.

Mr Pullicino said that only 15 per cent of products at the vegetable market were sold through farmers' associations. The situation regarding prices of fruits and vegetables for the consumer was untenable. The system must be changed to a more transparent one.

Change at the vegetable market alone would not solve the issue of prices. Some 35 per cent of consumption was imported and did not go through there, so both fronts had to be tackled.

The Għammieri farm had seen a reorganisation in management, human resources and operational strategy from productive to research. There were already up to 20 research projects for 2010.

Mr Pullicino said Malta had lots of prime quality produce, but they had not yet been passed through the Doc process.

Over past years the ministry had invested up to €2m on structural works at the slaughterhouse. Last week's incident had been due to both infrastructural and operational shortcomings and would not be repeated. These were being investigated.

Great success had also been achieved with the incinerator near the slaughterhouse.

In the veterinary sector, inspections had been made on farms and animals for slaughter, with 17 milk farms closed indefinitely after inspections showed there was no progress. Malta Dairy Products had now been given Oval Mark certification, one of the highest objectives in the EU.

The main emphasis in 2009 at the fisheries had been on recruitment of control officials, including fish-farming. Control was the only way to sustainability.

Concluding, Minister Pullicino said this was a budget that factually proved the government's trust in the people.

Introducing the debate, Opposition Whip Joe Mizzi moved that the minister's personal emoluments be nullified completely because, he said, there was no other authority which worked against the people as the Malta Resources Authority, which fell under his responsibility.

There was lack of investment in the energy sector. No steps had been taken to increase the oil reserves storage facilities.

Malta did not have any plan for alternative sources of energy. Neither did it have a national energy plan.

He said data proved that Malta did not have more than 30 days of wind a year strong enough to power the proposed wind-farms.

Mr Mizzi asked what had happened to the talks with Tunisia for joint oil exploration. No investment had been made to attract oil companies to explore for oil in Maltese waters. Concluding, he reiterated that the Malta Resources Authority was doing whatever the government wanted at the expense of consumers.

Leo Brincat (PL) said the inconsistency of the government in the environment field showed confusion and lack of progress.

In 2005 the ministry had commissioned a report which said that wind farms would have produced just 1.06 per cent of Malta's electrical demands, and were therefore not justified. But if implemented the project would have led to five per cent of alternative energy by 2010. The time for data collection had just been wasted.

The government seemed to have no clear strategy on green jobs except for setting up a working group.

What had been the aim of launching so many incentive schemes if not enough families benefited from them? The MRA's bureaucracy was holding up 1,850 applications for incentives even though they had already been approved.

Mr Brincat said that climate change was linked even to health.

Rays of hope were still expected from the Copenhagen summit on climate change. How much was Malta ready to contribute to climate action on a global level, and where would the funds be coming from? What were the government's plans?

Malta still had the highest levels of waste in the EU, and they were outpacing economic growth. Just how much construction waste was being dumped in private quarries, at Magħtab and in the sea? Why had the amount of waste at Għallis exploded? Was waste being sorted as it was supposed to?

On the storm water master plan, the aim should be not just to avoid flooding but also to avoid rainwater flowing into the sea. The worst price the country could pay on this would be not to do anything.

Concluding, Mr Brincat said the government should involve the private sector with appropriate direction, rather than with wishlists.

Charles Buhagiar (PL) said the property market and the construction industry were passing through difficult times. The construction industry faced an uncertain future, and this would be exacerbated by the government's withholding of its €6 million subvention to Mepa, which meant this sum would have to be covered by applicants.

Talk of regulating the construction industry had not translated into action, and nothing had been done to reduce health risks of workers.

Last year Minister Pullicino had promised new building regulations to safeguard third-party rights. The draft had been published in May, but nobody agreed with these proposals.

Energy efficiency in buildings, currently covering residential properties only, could not be adopted because assessors did not have the necessary software.

Mr Buhagiar said more should be done in the restoration of fortifications.

The St George's Square project in Valletta had been criticised by Maltese experts in the architectural field, including Architect André Zammit who had suggested that the Main Guard should house the new Parliament building. The new electricity pylons did not fit with the urban surroundings.

Concluding, Mr Buhagair appealed for action on the storm water master plan, first mentioned 1992. The minister had said that €50 million from EU funds were available and a tender would be issued for an environmental impact assessment and a cost-benefit analysis.

Joe Sammut (PL) said agricultural and fisheries operators faced increases in production costs, foreign competition and lower consumption of locally-produced products.

They faced government-induced costs such as the exaggerated utility tariffs. Breeders and the agro industry were also negatively affected. The government must fix and stabilise utility rates so that producers could plan their investments.

He called for investment in technology to have products which needed less water and possibly no use of electricity.

Dr Sammut criticised the government for allowing the importation of vegetable produce of inferior quality which was not sold through the vegetable market.

He called on the authorities to build a plant which treated surplus manure and slurry from farms to produce bio-fuel sold at preferential rates to agricultural operators. Untreated slurry was currently being thrown into the sea.

It was rumoured that rates for the extraction of water would also be increased for farmers and breeders. Dr Sammut called for an investigation on the destruction of water catchments at Wied Fulija in Żurrieq, and questioned whether this had been done with Mepa's blessing.

Farmers and fishermen needed price protection. Certain medicinal substances bought from Sicily and used in agriculture cost a third of the prices in Malta.

He said it was wrong to consider building a fish market near the Marsa slaughterhouse. It would be better to build two small fish markets, one in the south of Malta near Marsascala and another in Gozo.

Concluding, Dr Sammut said there was a need to introduce accountability and transparency in the vegetable market to guarantee fair prices to farmers and consumers.

Also contributing to the debate were government MPs Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Beppe Fenech Adami, Michael Gonzi and Philip Mifsud.

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