‘Paradigm shift’ in environmental protection approach to start from next budget

Government says policies will be directed towards achieving equilibrium between environmental protection and economic growth

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna launched the pre-budget document this week
Finance Minister Edward Scicluna launched the pre-budget document this week

The upcoming budget will involve a move towards a green and inclusive economy, in a bid to achieve a balance between protection the environment and expanding the economy, the government said.

For this to happen, and for future development to be socially sustainable, the government said that it would have to “instil and enforce a paradigm shift in its approach.”

This was laid out in a pre-budget 2020 document published on Tuesday, which noted that economic prosperity and sound public finances had enabled the government to increase its investment in “priority sectors” and to address the challenges caused by the growing economy.

With the environment increasingly becoming an area of concern, the government dedicated a section of the document to highlighting that it would be stepping up the drive for sustainable development.

It underlined that in order to achieve the targets of its Sustainable Development Vision for 2050, the support and engagement of all society’s sectors will be needed.

“Ultimately, sustainable development is everyone’s responsibility, be it government at its various levels, private sector, civil society together with all Maltese citizens,” the government said.

“In the coming months and for the near future, the government is committing itself to actively lead in achieving higher and better environmental standards.”

One way this would be done, the government said, was through the undertaking of projects which “will contribute to better environment and open spaces for all the Maltese and Gozitan citizens to make use of and enjoy.”

The projects, it said, would be based and/or incorporated with other eco-incentives, creating “Green Growth”, which would bring about a focus on “change from the old ways of planning and realisation of initiatives, into new sustainable environmentally-friendly methods.”

The government also stressed its commitment to investing in waste management, saying it would be prioritising efforts to install a waste-to-energy plant, and that it would start looking beyond the beverage container recycling scheme - due to start operating in December - and at other materials where similar recycling schemes can be applied.

Moreover, it said that the next budget would bring with it plans for the rehabilitation of valleys and various urban and rural greening projects, which should provide some respite to residents living in traffic congested built-up areas.

From justice system reform to better quality tourism

The year 2020 should see the implementation of the separation of the Attorney General’s functions through the establishment of the position of State Attorney, the government underscored. Apart from this, it said it was “intent on implementing further aspects mentioned in the Venice Commission report on Malta”, particularly those related to an improved system of judicial appointments which requires the support of a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

One-third of the Venice Commission’s proposals would be put in place by the above two measures, the government said. Other priorities in the area would be increasing efficiency in the judicial procedure, the reinforcement of the Asset Recovery Bureau’s powers, and the construction of a secure and specialised premises to host asset tracing labs and adequately preserve seized assets.

The government said it will also continue with its drive to strengthen its regulatory and supervisory institutions, including through the bolstering of the prosecution process for money-laundering and tax evasion cases through the setting up of a specialised Financial Organised Crime Agency.

When it comes to technology, the government would not be limiting itself to investing only in blockchain and artificial intelligence, but will be also looking at outer space. It will be “aiming to create a regulatory framework and incentives which improve Malta’s attractiveness and capability to capitalised upon commercial activities related to outer space”, it said, therefore positioning Malta as a place where companies operating in the space industry can operate from.

In the social sphere, the government said it “fully intended” to ensure that senior citizens who worked all their lives would enjoy a “secure and dignified retirement, free of financial worries”.

In terms of property affordability, it said it would be increasing the supply of social housing, identifying this as “the most effective way of addressing affordability in the long run for people who are on a low income.” This would complement other initiatives, such as equity sharing, housing benefits for those renting private properties, shared ownership with the government, and social bank loans.

Health care investment will continue too, the government said, with the development of a new outpatients block at Mater Dei Hospital being on the cards, and the purchasing process for state-of-the-art equipment for robotic surgery having progressed to an advanced stage.

It also promised that in the coming year there will be a drive to improve primary healthcare facilities to offer a number of specialised services more efficiently and effectively. This will involve the continuation of a regional centre in the south and the refurbishing and upgrading of existing health centres.

New medicine will be added to the national formulary, and there will be a continued focus on prevention policies.

Regarding mental health, the document said there would be the “the continuation to upgrade the facilities at Mount Carmel Hospital”, but did not expand further.

On the subject of Gozo, amongst the most salient plans are the continuation of the “Project Gozo” road network upgrade, the implementation of a second fibre optic cable, the completion and commissioning of Dar San Guzepp for the elderly and the drawing up of a masterplan for Imgarr ix-Xini and Ramla.

The focus on road infrastructure will continue in Malta too, with the government saying in the document that it would be working on increased accessibility and flood relief interventions, enhancing public spaces, introducing more measure to provide accessible and sustainable transport, and putting an “unprecedented emphasis” on road safety.

A National Control Centre will be launched with the aim of “improving traffic management and enforcement in real time” and to house emergency services and the ambulance dispatch.

Regarding the contentious issue of construction, the government said it would be establishing “clearer and updated legislation and frameworks that can guide the building and construction industry, including through the establishment of an authority dedicated specifically to this function.”

Amongst the other sectors mentioned in the document, the government also said that it would be engaging in a concerted effort with all stakeholders to make a significant leap forward in the quality of Malta’s tourism product.

“This will include improving the infrastructure of tourist areas through several ongoing and new projects in a number of localities all over Malta,” it said.

It will also involve providing a better and safer infrastructure in the Grand Harbour for cruise liners, and dedicating more effort and resources to improving general cleanliness and the upkeep of public facilities, such as beaches and promenades.

“The intention is also to look further into the use of technology, IT and artificial intelligence and to work with stakeholders in the industry to improve the product offer and the management of tourism in a sustainable manner,” the government said.

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