Archive for July, 2011

Take stock and make the system work

July 22, 2011

The Times, 22/07/2011, Ralph Cassar

Granted, new systems, including a public transport system, will take time to get used to. Yes, more involvement by local councils might have led to some improvements here and there and, indeed, some mayors did not even bother to put the issue of public transport on the agenda.

Transport Malta, however, is notorious for its cavalier attitude towards consultation and its chronic failures in traffic management together with its arrogant attitude towards local councils.

We must not fall into the trap that the Transport Ministry hopes we will fall into: shifting the blame on others when it is only the ministry that had full control and a supposedly holistic view of the new transport system. Nobody else could and should have done the ministry’s work other than highlighting relatively minor issues such as proposing that a certain bus passes through a certain area. Then again, already long and never-ending routes might have ended up even longer.

The crux of the matter is what the Transport Minister and the government wanted to achieve when they engaged the services of foreign consultants to draw up the new routes. It is blatantly obvious now that the terms of reference were to cut the number of routes to reduce the subsidies that every public transport system needs to be viable. Indeed, on more than one occasion, Transport Minister Austin Gatt spoke of the new system costing the government less. In the process, whole areas in Malta have found themselves with routes that are long, time-consuming and inefficient.

The people who have contacted me and other Alternattiva Demo­kratika officials come from all over the island: from Żabbar, Żejtun, Marsascala, the three cities, Swieqi, Attard and Żebbuġ, just to mention a few. It is taking ages to get from Swieqi to the University. The 106 bus from Attard takes an hour to get to Birkirkara from where people are supposed to change buses to Valletta. People from the southern part of Malta who used to get a direct bus to Mater Dei Hospital are finding themselves on never-ending journeys to get to their destination. Popular links from Cottonera to car-magnet Marsascala have been discontinued.

We have held back from commenting too quickly. Of course, there were and are teething troubles and maybe sabotage from some quarters. Yes, some direct routes are as efficient and as fast as anything, with courteous drivers and comfortable buses. The fact that hundreds upon hundreds of old, polluting and downright dangerous vehicles have been taken off the road is very positive.

Now Dr Gatt has to be humble enough to tackle the routes issue, unless he wants to risk this reform meaning more cars on the road instead of less. Dr Gatt has said that a new transport system will cost less but offer a better service. Of course, it was hard to contradict him. Now, however, it looks like less public investment means longer routes, which, maybe on paper, look good but have now been proven to be unwieldy.

There was no way to check the routes beforehand except through trial runs, which, it seems, were not done. Car-clogged areas, such as near the University and Mater Dei, need fast direct links to as many places as possible if the aim is to reduce cars and the waste of land being used just for parking at the University. The same applies for Sliema and Marsascala; the fewer the cars the more space for pedes­trians and the less congestion and pollution.

On Arriva’s part, the ticketing system must be rethought. Why are drivers still burdened with selling tickets and giving out change? This is also meaning longer travelling times.

Public transport is an investment, which pays back in less traffic, an improvement in public spaces and less pollution. I hope that no stone is left unturned to do what needs to be done to meet the high expectations of the public. Swallowing one’s pride and changing things for the better is not dishonourable. Persisting and insisting that all is right is not on.

The author is Alternattiva Demokratika’s secretary general and spokesman on energy, industry and transport.

Poor banks! – Tonio Fenech

July 19, 2011

Tonio Fenech in Parliament as reported by The Times, about Euro, the financial crisis and Greek bailout: One of the reported proposals was for a financial tax (on the banks) to raise funds for the emergency mechanism. The Maltese government had objected to this proposal and viewed it as detrimental to the eurozone. It was not fair that banks who had nothing to do with the crisis were made to shoulder the cost like this.

My comment:

… ok but if banks which make huge profits in the speculative financial markets are not taxed then by elimination it is the employee and others such as SMEs who will carry the burden through their taxes… Cannot understand government’s heartache because banks are asked to pay additional taxes on their huge profits… surely they will still have plenty left.

Lilliput and Chris Said’s tunnel…

July 8, 2011

It seems that we have entered a new phase in politics. Some are so desperate that they are resorting to promoting silly, ridiculous and Lilliputian ideas. Of course some will swallow empty promises line, hook and sinker.

We have moved one step further in the latest and silliest of ideas, the Malta-Gozo tunnel. The government, through Transport Malta, an authority which cannot even draw up traffic plans for our towns and villages, has issued a tender for a study of this tunnel.

Chris Said, probably bending over backwards to unseat the current reigning monarch, Giovanna the first, queen of Gozo, some months ago had even put a price to the fantastic project, 150 million Euros. People in the know mention a billion Euros as a more likely price tag. Joseph Muscat, eager not to be outdone by the Nationalists reminded us that Labour was the first to propose such a silly idea. He even resorts to Lilliputian nationalism, saying that ‘Gozitans will decide’. I had thought Malta and Gozo are one country, electing one parliament, with citizens paying taxes to one republic. Maybe KMB’s independence proposal has gone through without me realizing it.

Comparisons to the Copenhagen-Malmo tunnel and bridge made by some are ridiculous given the millions of people and the fact that it is two countries which are connected, not to mention the vast distances of travel. A 25 minute ferry crossing does not justify the waste of money being proposed.

What is even more ridiculous in the proposal is that over the years the Nationalist government has failed to deliver on more realistic options for an improvement in Malta-Gozo links. Fast ferry services from Gozo to Sa Maison, just minutes away from Valletta, were discontinued; for years on end we have had no adequate bus service from Cirkewwa to Valletta, the airport and other places, with passengers scrambling for buses at the rush hours. What about combined bus-ferry services, with buses picking up people from Gozo, boarding the ferry and continuing the journey on the same bus to various localities in Malta and vice-versa? No, of course not, a tunnel is more feasible isn’t it?

I will share some down to earth proposals, which AD has been making time and again over the years. They are not glitzy ideas, but they are serious and doable. Gozo can get a significant percentage of its energy needs from renewable sources, with the added bonus of technical jobs such an investment would mean. What about developing the agro-tourism industry? Well, not sexy enough for PNPL, I suppose. The need for a proper public transport link – linking Gozitan villages and linking Gozo to commercial, industrial and office centres in Malta goes without saying. IT services would be another good option for providing jobs in Gozo. A food manufacturing company which seems to know how to run its business prides itself on the quality of its products and is now even marketing products as specifically ‘Gozitan’. The couple of kilometres of sea between the islands have not hampered its success.

It is useless wasting time on the tunnel proposal. The project will never happen. Chris Said knows this. All we are witnessing is jockeying for popularity to please the gullible. It is indeed sad to see people who should know better teaming up to sell pie-in-the-sky projects to people rather than come up with doable, realistic and simple proposals which would really and truly serve the population of Malta and Gozo, and the taxpayer better. The Giovanna-Chris popularity contest and Joseph Muscat and his Gozo MPs rush not to be left behind in the rush to champion the silliest proposal of the year just shows the sorry state our political system is in. You can have no part in all this – if you want change, vote for it. The message is in your vote.

L-Airmalta u l-idejn sodi

July 5, 2011

Par idejn sodi ma jħallux kumpanija bħall-Airmalta tintuża bħala aġenzija ta’ ‘xogħol għall-voti’ – imma dal-vizzju qabad sew Malta.

Par idejn sodi ma jonfqux flejjes kbar f’taħriġ speċjalizzat għall-piloti biex imbagħad dan l-investiment jisfuma fix-xejn.

Par idejn sodi ma jibgħatux ittri b’wegħdi li ma jistgħux jinżammu qabel l-elezzjoni – mill-banda l-oħra min jemmen li xi ħadd qatt jista’ jagħti garanziji li kumpanija qatt m’hi se jkollha problemi mazzun.

Lawrence Gonzi u Tonio Fenech. Par idejn sodi?