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Adding salt to the pans

Over the past few days, the Salini restoration project was approved by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority. This site offers immense potential as a tourist attraction at the threshold of the Qawra/Buġibba/St Paul’s Bay area. Works began two years ago with the removal of sludge that had accumulated in the canals after being abandoned for so long. No less than 10,000 tons of material was collected from some 900 metres of canal. This clean up allowed us to revive the circulation of seawater around the salt pans and remove the stench that had settled on the area.

Works will now begin on the restoration of the salt pans themselves, which are effectively situated on an 18,000 square metre island built by the knights. The works will also include the restoration of the huts where salt was processed and stored. These huts, built during the British period, had eroded over time and were restored with materials that did not complement the original designs. The huts will now be rebuilt according to the original plans, whereby one will serve as a visitors’ centre, which will house exhibits and video presentations on salt production. The fleur del sel, which is a high quality salt, will also be explained. The visitors’ centre will also house a small cafeteria.

A total of €7 million in EU funds will be spent on this project, which includes the restoration of the Ximenes redoubt, built by Grand Master Ximenes in 1715. Originally, there was another redoubt on the other side of the bay but this was demolished. The redoubt will be restored to serve as an interpretation centre. In this way, one may appreciate the historical and ecological value of the whole area. The marshland, which serves as an important sanctuary for birds, will also be restored.

The project will continue transforming this area into a leisure site for the Maltese, as is already the case in Salini Park, where hundreds visit the site that is six times larger than Kennedy Grove was. Moreover, such projects continue to improve Malta’s touristic product – February 24.

Guaranteeing animal welfare

In 2004, the EU established that the sizes of cages for egg-laying hens for the farms of countries that had just joined had to be in conformity with European standards by 2011. The EU took this decision not only due to animal welfare but also for quality purposes. It is a fact that overcrowding in such cages leads to more disease among the hens and, thus, lower quality eggs for the consumer.

During a Council of Ministers for Agriculture I attended this week, a request was put forward by the Polish government to have this date extended. Malta has already taken the necessary steps to ensure the sector is in conformity with this directive. This was a result of collective efforts that required investment and reforms in the practices used by producers. We therefore opposed this extension for three reasons: first and foremost, to protect the interests of the consumer; secondly, not to place the local producer at a disadvantage against foreign producers; and thirdly, due to animal welfare.

This change was not easy but, as a result of everybody’s efforts, we now have a sector that is better organised and regulated. This was not the only improvement that took place. The consumer today has a guarantee of traceability on every egg purchased, so much so the producer is obliged to stamp each egg placed on the local market. This mark identifies each egg and provides a quality guarantee for the consumer. Furthermore, improvements have resulted from investments in the management facilities for manure and other structures such as slaughterhouses.

A programme is underway to test chickens, eggs and animal cereals for salmonella, where 412 tests were carried out on farms for chickens raised for meat and 670 tests on farms for egg-laying hens. Food quality is intrinsically linked with animal welfare. This is clear in all sectors, including pork and beef. Healthy animals guarantee higher produce and a better product – February 23.

Secrets and lies

Yesterday, I participated in the parliamentary debate on the motion on the price of gas presented by the opposition. It is the opposition’s right to request such debates. Yet, it is unacceptable that such motions ignore the international context we form part of. The reality today is that a liberalised LPG gas market is in place in Malta and the price of gas cylinders reflects the prices on the international market. Suffice to say that the price of gas has risen from €241 to €708 per metric ton, thus almost tripling within two years. The opposition claims this should be subsidised. But where should this subsidy come from? Taxpayers’ money?

Furthermore, one cannot ignore the impact the substantial increase in energy prices on the international market is having on our country. The price of gas generally reflects the fluctuations taking place in the price of oil. Malta is a country without natural resources and the Maltese economy is therefore vulnerable to external events. Three things struck me during the debate. Firstly, Joe Mizzi’s misrepresentation of facts. He presented a motion stating that, in the formula used by the Malta Resources Authority to establish the price of gas, the return on capital employed (ROCE) is higher than that in other countries. If he had taken the time to have a look at the explanation of this mechanism on the MRA website, he would have realised that, not only is it not higher than other countries’ but it isn’t even included in the formula!

The opposition clearly has no qualms about misleading the public!

Secondly, the Leader of the Opposition boasts he is in favour of transparency but he concealed the fact that, over a month ago, the MRA invited him to a presentation on the way this mechanism works. He took offence that Tonio Fenech and I referred to this fact, stating that “once MRA is independent you should not have known about this invitation”. Our reply was simple: we expected him to tell the public not try to cover it up. This is the transparency he believes in!

Thirdly, during his speech, the Leader of the Opposition enquired about the installation of wind farms in Malta. Joseph Muscat has forgotten that, as soon as we announced that Baħrija would be studied as a possible site for wind farms, he immediately went on site scaring the farmers telling them the installation of turbines would damage the water table! After putting spokes in the wheels, he enquires about progress. It hasn’t even been two weeks since I announced the progress we have made and the Leader of the Opposition feigns ignorance or perhaps is really unaware! I wouldn’t be surprised if the Leader of the Opposition and his Whip were to star in a remake of Mike Leigh’s film Secrets and Lies! – February 17

http://georgepullicino.blogspot.com

The author is Minister of Resources and Rural Affairs.

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