Threat of water running out

That certainly was the week that was. It ended with a political bang even if the powder making it had been visible for some time. It consists of one in, another probably out, as reported by The Sunday Times.

The newspaper speculated that former Labour leader and Prime Minister Alfred Sant will not contest the coming general election.

He did not confirm, saying his decision would be in the interest of the Labour Party.

That was an atypically loose way of putting it. It implies that it would be in the interest of the PL if Dr Sant did not contest.

I do not agree. He is an excellent MP whose rather rare incursions into the public debate are always incisive.

And he has scrupulously avoided Dom Mintoff’s mistake of getting in the current leader’s hair.

The opposite news came as a definite from Nationalist MEP Simon Busuttil. In an interview he confirmed that he would be contesting the general election after all. His leader had persuaded him in a recent meeting.

Busuttil’s self-confidence tends to make him seem big-headed. When his interviewer pointed out that he was moving in when the polls were showing a near certain defeat for the PN, he jauntily replied: “I hope I’ll be able to reverse that.”

Not the best way to put it, but the man is good, well-rounded and popular, so why bother to be too modest.

The outlook already is for a changed House of Representatives with a number of new faces on either side of the divide. Each passing week will confirm that.

Yet, for me, the most important news last week concerned plans to appoint two important overseers.

Leader of the House Tonio Borg put forward a White Paper to shake up the House of Representatives, making it more autonomous, accountable and respectable.

In addition to new powers to for the Speaker, the White Paper proposes a commissioner for standards with the power to investigate cases of alleged misbehaviour, unethical behaviour and abuse of parliamentary privilege by MPs.

The commissioner, subject to election and removal by a two-thirds majority, would also be empowered to propose penalties, leaving the decision to the House itself. Irrespective of whether the details may be changed, the proposal is good. It is unlikely to clear House approval in this legislature, but it should certainly be early work for the next one.

A proposal of a different kind but, to me, even more important than the White Paper, was made by hydrologist Marco Cremona during a conference organised by the GWU and the Anti Poverty Forum about the availability of water as a human right.

The hydrologist spoke in the wake of SOS Malta CEO Claudia Taylor East. Her warning, not a new one, was grim. If Malta does not sustain its water resources and runs out of water in 15 years’ time, we’ll end up a least developed country, she said.

Cremona agreed with the 15-year disaster line. Water scarcity was persistent, he said.

Pointing out the irony in the situation, he added that we do not have the necessary infrastructure to collect rainwater and keep it from running to the sea, while at the same time we’re taking water from the sea to convert it into usable water.

Within 15 years Malta may depend completely on the reverse osmosis system.

What, then, to do? Cremona has put forward a number of answers over the years.

This time he called for an autonomous regulator with enough executive and enforcement power to ensure there is enough water to satisfy our obligations to respect the human right to water.

No doubt the political manifestos of the political parties will include a section on water con­servation. The PN will be hard-pressed to explain why it did zilch about the water supply and flooding over all of 25 years. The PL will be critical and bullish.

I suggest to both that, to be credible, they take Cremona’s proposals on board for early action, together with other serious measures, in the new legislature.

Whoever wins, whoever serves us as our MP, water sustainability will remain the first infrastructural priority of the island. We cannot waste more time to get cracking.


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