Friday, September 23, 2016

Townsquare Tower: Sliema Local Council files appeal

Sliema Local Council has officially filed an appeal before the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT) in relation to the Planning Authority’s recent granting of the permit for Townsquare development. This development includes a 38-storey tower.
Sliema Local Council is basing its appeal on the objections it has already raised during the initial submissions and hearings at the Planning Authority prior to its permit approval.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Sliema-Gzira Bus Lane Suspended - Record decision by TM to retain dangerous Amber Traffic Lights

Yesterday Transport Malta CEO James Piscopo replied to Sliema Local Council's query on amber traffic lights at the Strand, in view of the concern on lack of safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

Piscopo said that the Traffic Management Committee will be debating the traffic lights case in its next session and shall be able to communicate accordingly. 

He also confirmed that the bus lane at the Strand is suspended.

Sliema Local Council is following the matter closely.

UPDATE: News Flash! The Traffic Management Committee must be the fastest committee in the world. In one sitting, one day after TM replied to SLC, the TM committee quickly decided to retain the amber-lights system at the Strand, despite concern on its danger.  

As Sliema Local Councillor, I have asked TM CEO James Piscopo, copied to Minister Joe Mizzi for minutes of the meeting. I also asked him to inform us on the evidence used by the committee for its decision.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Danger at the Strand: When will Transport Malta take action to stop this?

Michael Briguglio
- Appears in Malta Today as 'The Sliema Strand has become a cowboy's paradise'-

Yet another terrible accident at the Sliema/Gzira Strand has taken place. 

A 50-year old woman has been run over by a car and is in critical condition. Just a few weeks ago a 26-year old man died after being run over by another car on the same road. 

Such accidents have their own individual merits, and I will not go into this. 

But I want to remind everyone that Transport Malta recently decided to keep traffic lights permanently flashing on amber. The Strand is now a dangerous free-for-all devoid of responsible traffic management.

The official reason for this, and I am quoting  correspondence during this Summer between TM officials and myself as Sliema Local Councillor, was that "The pedestrian crossings along The Strand where switched to flashing amber by order of the Roads Department due to the works at Kappara junction. This was done in order to relieve traffic At the moment we are looking into the option of activating the crossings in the evenings, to at least be able to provide a safe crossing during that time". 

As everyone knows, this was not followed up by TM. So don't hold your breath to wait till the traffic lights are turned to their normal function so as to safeguard pedestrians and cyclists' safety.

TM are also aware of the dangerous situation on the bus lane at the Strand, where cowboys frequently zigzag and accelerate into it at all times of the day so as to avoid traffic. Again, I have been raising this issue with Transport Malta and the press for quite some time, yet TM stubbornly refuses to take action. 

Like many other Sliema residents, I pass from this road every day, and I have never seen wardens or TM officials stop drivers irregularly using the bus lane. Many moons after the authorities were asked by Sliema Local Council on how many tickets were given on this matter in preceding months, we finally received a reply. The grand total number of tickets given was 12. Yes, 12. 

Anyone who frequents the strand that 12 cars abuse the bus lane every five minutes. 

TM's crass irresponsibility has rendered the Strand to a highway of permanent danger.  And let us keep in mind that the Strand is full of other irregularities: ticketing booths, tables and chairs irregularly occupying walking space. Vendors permanently usurping parking spaces. A public car park characterized by private revenue for parkers. 

In short, the Strand is a cowboy's paradise. 

Who will take political responsibility for this?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Workers in the community

Michael Briguglio
“For the first time in history, the unemployment rate in Malta dropped to under four per cent”. This triumphant statement was made by the Department of Information last month. Technically speaking, the statement is correct. At 3.9 per cent, Malta’s unemployment rate also happens to be the lowest in the European Union.
Just as the government was busy promoting this achievement, the Times of Malta published some facts that shed further light on the matter.
Basically, it transpired that the newly-launched Community Work Scheme Enterprise Foundation absorbed 567 long-term unemployed individuals from the 4,033 registered unemployed, thus resulting in a downward revision of Malta’s official unemployment rate.
This move was carried out by the Jobs Plus agency (the former Employment and Training Corporation) and these people are now being paid the minimum wage, courtesy of the taxpayer.
They are full-time employees - “so far, for five years” - with the public service in a scheme run by the General Workers’ Union. They are said to perform tasks with local councils, carry out maintenance work at schools and other public entities and assist NGOs.
The Ministry for Education and Employment has hailed this initiative as one which provides “experience and skill-building rather than fixed employment, while individuals are helped in the process of finding work in the private sector”.
Is this initiative justified or not?
The Community Work Scheme requires visibility, transparency, accountability and auditing
I think there are different ways at looking at this issue and these are not necessarily exclusive of each other.
One interpretation would welcome this initiative as one that gives dignity to people who were otherwise unemployable and who are now being productive instead of welfare dependent.
This would be in synch with the social policy perspective known as welfare-to-work. Here, people are incentivised towards employment. Other schemes along these lines include the tapering of benefits for persons who enter employment, the provision of universal childcare facilities for working parents and investment in training for unemployed workers.
This interpretation is being put forward by the government but can easily be supported by those – myself included - who believe in a progressive social policy that aims to empower people.
Yet, another interpretation would suggest investigating what is actually being carried out by these workers. Are they really being productive and is their work being audited?
In this regard, some local councils have complained that workers are giving less output than what is expected from full-timers. This is quite common in similar schemes, which have been in place under different administrations.
Whether such workers are productive or not depends on various factors, ranging from their attitude to the type of jobs they are being assigned.
Local councils rely on goodwill and the power of persuasion because ultimate authority over such workers lies elsewhere.
A more cynical interpretation of such schemes would enquire whether the jobs and conditions given to the workers are in any way related to constituency requirements of respective ministers and other politicians in government.
And, sometimes, ministers might feel jealous when rising star candidates from local councils are performing well, especially if they are deemed to be competitors in general elections.
Finally, another interpretation of this initiative would be that the government is carrying out an exercise of creative accounting, which conveniently lowers the official unemployment rate.
This interpretation has its strengths but one should also keep in mind that Malta’s private sector keeps creating thousands of new jobs, to the benefit of Malta’s economy. Yet, paradoxically, there are also many workers who are experiencing increased hardships due to low wages.
In my view, the Community Work Scheme is in itself a good idea. But it requires visibility, transparency, accountability and auditing, especially since it is financed through public expenditure. Entities using the service of its workers should also have a greater say in its operations and implementation.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Skyscrapers - Stop the Greed Campaign - Do your part

Environmental NGO Din l-Art Helwa will be appealing against the decisions by the Planning Authority to grant permission to the highrise development projects at Townsquare, Sliema and Mriehel respectively.

You can do your part by giving a donation to Din l-Art Helwa

Din l-Art Helwa is seeking to raise at least €8,000 to cover costs related to the appeal process and other legal steps to challenge the decisions that are to alter Malta forever. All expenses will be accounted for.

For more information, and to give a donation, click here .

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Construction malpractices

Lino Briguglio
Reference is made to the video carried online in the Times of Malta of July 19, showing a truck being driven in Attard and leaving behind a cloud of dust. This is just one of the many common malpractices of building contractors and their workers in Malta and Gozo.
Many contractors blatantly disregard the law by blocking pavements, occupy parking spaces without proper permits, fail to use vacuuming tools and as a result unnecessarily emit dust from the building site, do not clean the tyres of their vehicles before these exit the site, thus dirtying nearby streets... the list is endless.
Often adherence to the law is tongue-in-cheek and cynical, as is the case when used and re-used ragged pieces of green material cover building sites, supposedly to contain emissions of dust, or when loads of building debris carried on construction trucks are covered with old flimsy rags.
The Facebook community, which I administer, titled ‘Against Building Regulations Abuse’ (acronym ABRA) often carries pictures, sent by members of this community, of malpractices and sub-standard construction site management. Apart from the abuses mentioned above, these pictures show dangerous excavations, use of old rusty scaffolding with protruding edges, and use of concrete wire mesh, often left untrimmed, preciously fitted to cover excavated ground.
Health and safety practices on building sites are abysmal, and many deaths and accidents suffered by construction workers could be avoided
Members of the ABRA community often complain about excessive noise on building sites, and about the commencement of work very early in the morning, against the regulations.
A frequent occurrence near building sites, pictures of which are also carried on the ABRA site, is the use of bricks or stone slabs as no-parking signs.
Often these bricks or stone slabs are left lying on the pavements ready to be used again whenever the contractor or his workers want to occupy parking spaces.
Apart from the uglifying impact of badly managed building sites and discomfort caused to nearby residents, there are also problems relating to health and safety. One often hears of accidents on building sites, at times the result of bad management and disregard of safety regulations.
Health and safety practices on building sites in Malta and Gozo are abysmal, and many deaths and accidents suffered by construction workers could be avoidedif contractors do not penny pinch on safety measures.
It is difficult to understand why on a construction worth many thousands of euros, if not millions, contractors often use scrap materials, totally disregarding their uglifying effects.
One often sees leftover pieces of wood or rusty iron mesh used instead of temporary doors, important building-site notices shoddily fixed to the wall with left-over pieces of wood, and ad hoc notices roughly painted on pieces of old cardboard.
The old polluting vehicles used by many contractors, many of which should be scrapped, the unsightly hoardings and use of scrap materials and the flimsy cover on transported building debris, also serve as evidence of the scrimping habits of many contractors.
This culture of malpractices on building sites obviously needs to be controlled.
There are three major negative effects, namely uglification of the neighbourhood, discomfort to residents living nearby mostly through air and noise pollution, and safety risks to the workers and to passers-by.
Unfortunately, during these last three years, with the rapid growth of the construction industry, enforcement against building abuse and malpractices seems to be weakening and atrocious and disgraceful building site practices seem to be increasing as a result.
All this calls for stronger and stricter enforcement and harsher penalties aimed at controlling abuse and malpractices on building sites. The current enforcement arrangements are largely ineffective, as can be seen from the frequent occurrence of shoddy and sub-standard site management.
Regulatory bodies such as the Building Regulations Office and the Health and Safety Authorities should be properly manned - the human resources available to these bodies do not seem to be enough to oversee the hundreds of building sites spread over Malta and Gozo.
These inspectors should visit sites frequently, from the very start of the project, and on a routine basis thereafter, and not (mostly) in response to calls by exasperated residents. Also, inspectors should have police support when the contractors blatantly disregard the regulations.
The government should, through an appropriate agency, draw up, publish and publicise a manual of good practice on building sites, which contractors would be expected to abide with.
This manual should complement the Environmental Management Construction Site Regulations (L.N. 295 of 2007), and would go into more detail as to how the building site should be managed.
It should include guidelines as to how contractors should provide information to nearby residents well in advance to the commencement of the construction, the likely date of completion of the building and methods of fostering good relations between the contractor/s and the residents living near the buidling sites.
Licences for contractors should then be contingent on the applicants’ knowledge of the rules of good practice as explained in the manual.
Lino Briguglio writes on behalf of 20 others.
Lino Briguglio is professor of economics and director, Islands and Small States Institute.
Facebook page: Against Building Regulations Abuse - click here