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26 July 2021
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GRTU Proposals for MEPA Reform
The overall consensus of the Maltese public is that MEPA needs some form of reform. Most articles in the media dwell on the fact that MEPA is insensitive to the needs of the "joe public" but lays out a red carpet treatment to the big boys who run roughshod over genuine objections by third party. There is a general concern regarding the amount of development that has taken place over the last 20 odd years primarily fuelled by the rise in land prices and partially compensated by the designation of the penthouse level (a Government sponsored proposal) which in turn fuelled more price hikes and further housing supply. The first time buyer market is now virtually at a standstill with the sale of quality apartments remaining buoyant.
This situation has produced a fertile environment for budding NGOs to become more vocal against indiscriminate and insensitive overdevelopment ironically sponsored by Government itself (e.g Pender Place, Fort Cambridge Fort Chambray, Vittoriosa Waterfront, Tigne and Manoel Island redevelopment) signifying a major failure by MEPA to strike the proverbial balance between development and the environment. This was primarily due to the infant MEPA buckling under pro-development political pressure in a desperate bid to survive as one of the more important government agencies.
The pro-development lobby and construction industry has consistently leveled its attacks against MEPA at its bureaucratic practices which lead to lengthy processing times for development permits especially in major projects but is also apparent in the "normal applications".
The transition into local plans was a lengthy one (more than 10 years) however conflicting interpretation of policies is still rife and not consistent. The Structure Plan is in a dire need of revision as a strategy document and the Commission for Sustainable Development is to our knowledge non-functional.
Against this background the internal structure of MEPA struggles to keep up with its responsibilities and actions. (Quote: MEPA Chairman- We do not have the luxury to be logical !!!). Of recent (and prior to each General Election) accusations of corrupt practices have been exchanged both internally and externally leaving by definition a negative collateral effect on the morale and job effectiveness of the staff.
One of the critical issues is whether the environment sector should continue to form an integral part of the planning process or not. Talk to the employees of both directorates first and they will express a resounding NO. Their opinion stems from the very real problem of dealing on a daily basis with two, often conflicting, legislations namely the Development Planning Act and the Environmental Act. It is pertinent to point to out that the previous Environment Protection Department and the Planning Authority empires have always been to a greater or lesser extent in continual turf wars with each other. This situation that still persists within MEPA is to me, one of the great demotivators in sustaining healthy working relationships between the two directorates.
The decision to house the Environment Directorate away from the main MEPA building is the nail in the coffin, a conscious decision to split the two directorates without actually admitting that the two directorates have communication issues and cannot work together within the present set up. This flies against the notion of integrated planning underpinning the so called sustainable approach the Authority should be looking at in its land use and environmental responsibilities. This decision should be critically reviewed and the possibility of expanding the current premises at St.Francis Ravelin should be taken up once again not least because the nearby park and ride zones better serve these existing premises.
What are the perceived and real problems in MEPA?
A cause and effect analysis was used to identify the problems which currently afflict MEPA. A Cause-and-Effect Diagram (also known as a "Fishbone Diagram") is a graphical technique for grouping people's ideas about the causes of a problem. The identification of problems were analysed by asking:
An overview of the internal staff dynamics reveals a number of problems:
These can probably be grouped under the title of mismanagement which is the largest contributor for staff demotivation.
MAIN IDENTIFIED PROBLEM IS LACK OF LEADERSHP AND MANAGEMENT
What do we expect from MEPA as its users and its customers?
The Maltese population are all potential users and customers of MEPA. MEPA can never please all its users and customers at the same time by definition however transparency in its proceedings and explanation of its decisions are crucial to mitigate this situation.
What are the possible solutions?
It is GRTU's opinion that incremental change is much better than the grand solution approach to MEPA woes.
Areas that need special and immediate attention however are:
To be able to carry out these changes the setting up of a Change Team under the auspices of OPM is set up. Representatives on this change team should include a key person which would be the right person to step in the Chairman's/ CEO role, a member of a revamped Users Committee, NGO member, Operations Manager, legal representative and PR office as key members.
Improving the decision process at all levels with related accountability timeliness and consistency
How does one put the reform into practice?
GRTU believes there is a lot of talent within the organisation which needs to be tapped so that the reform is owned by the individual employee and not just by management and /or Government. Too many reports have been written which advocated change most of which were top down impositions.
The process of the reform is perhaps more crucial than the actual content. Speak to all the staff. Let them come up with their own suggestions. Give them back their pride to be part of an important organisation. Motivating the staff will tease out those logical and in most cases simple suggestions that can make the whole difference. However, this change process must assume strong central leadership with the critical stakeholders on board perhaps in the form of a think tank groups made up of both technical and non-technical experts.
GRTU wants to be involved in the reform process as we believe we can give a valid contribution to the aim of meeting a balance between the environment and sustainable development. This should be so also for the revision of the local plans and structure plans.
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