‘Magħtab mountains’ in Attard
I’m convinced that the most effective tactic this government uses is to ignore people, making them give up trying to put things right. The latest damning EU report about the state of waste management in Malta brought to mind the neglected issue of construction waste. I’m sure that what holds for the case I’m writing about in Attard holds for other places around Malta and Gozo.
Having been involved in local politics since 1994, when I was elected councillor on Alternattiva Demokratika’s ticket in Attard for the first time, and having worked with others on the issue of illegalities and the impotence of the authorities to deal with the owners of quarries in Wied Inċita, I know only too well how frustrating it is to ask for one simple thing: law enforcement. It is a call that went unheeded for the past 18 years.
In 1996, Francis Zammit Dimech’s ministry had allowed the dumping of excavation and construction waste in the quarries but without any monitoring whatsoever. From that day onwards we have our own “Magħtab mountains” in Attard. The waste was not used to rehabilitate and restore parts of the spent quarry but is constantly moved around and processed into building material and piled high into huge heaps of rubble.
The sides of the quarries will one day erode and collapse ruining what’s left of the valley, once one of the most beautiful natural areas in Malta.
Among the list of illegalities or irregularities in the Wied Inċita quarries are an illegal brick plant, excavation of public land when no permits for such excavation were issued, excavation going beyond established depths and ever-increasing heights of mounds of dust and debris.
The Water Services Corporation, with an interest in protecting the water table, had reported that, in some parts, the permissible depth of excavation of 25 metres had been exceeded. The concept of ‘best practice’ seems to be completely alien in this ‘cowboy’ industry.
Seven enforcement notices issued by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority were never applied. Site visits by the Mepa board, accompanied by local councillors and led by the present chairman, Austin Walker, who happens to live close by, led to nothing. Clear instructions in November 2008 issued by Mepa, ordering the operator to present a ‘full restoration plan’ and a ‘phased plan’ to restore the quarry to its natural state were completely ignored.
Judicial letters filed by the Attard council against Mepa, the Land Commissioner and the quarry operator, again, were completely ignored. The Land Commissioner and the minister responsible for land do not seem to give two hoots about the misuse of public land and the failure of lease holders to abide by conditions that go back to 1967. The conditions stipulate that areas where rock excavation is exhausted has to be rehabilitated within 12 months. There is not one square metre of land that has been rehabilitated since 1967.
The truth of the matter is that conditions and laws were never enforced and, for over 18 years, the Nationalist government has also allowed the quarries to become another ‘Magħtab’.
Like in many other areas, law enforcement is non-existent. Ministers in charge of the environment and Mepa have changed – from Zammit Dimech, to George Pullicino, to Lawrence Gonzi and now to Mario de Marco – but the free-for-all continues.
The status quo in Maltese politics has led to this: some are more equal than others; they are above the law.
The author is secretary general of Alternattiva Demokratika and local councillor in Attard.