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Vince Farrugia*

Director-General GRTU, Chairman GreenMt

I stated last week that the Government must decide on Waste Management Compliance Schemes. I explained what unacceptable levels of tension and frustration exist in the private sector. This, I addition to the terrible high cost traders and manufacturers are suffering through eco-contribution at a time when things are far from bright for enterprise. I pointed my fingers at the bureaucrats in the central Government who continue to give more value to immediate loss of revenue, once the Exemption Mechanism under the Eco-Contribution act is put in place, than to the importance that enterprise is given a clear signal that on waste management compliance schemes Government really means business.

Today, I point my finger at MEPA. This Authority is at Law the guardian of the environment, the Public Regulator that approves Waste Management Compliance Schemes and provides the necessary and effective framework within which the Schemes can work. MEPA like all other public authorities falls under the operational systems applicable to all public bodies, especially that of ensuring that the country is managed with the least bureaucracy and with an effective decision making process. This organization falls directly under the responsibility of the Prime Minister. Dr Gonzi won another government mandate only a year ago on a program that highlighted the importance of private sector collaboration to ensure a better environment for future generations. Yet MEPA today is blocking the enthusiasm of private business operators lead by GRTU. MEPA's system of excessive demands, delays and bureaucratic practices make a sham of the Prime Minister's public commitments and beliefs. Where Waste Management Compliance Schemes are concerned, MEPA is cruelly a killing field.

I hate to say this as I really have a great personal respect for the MEPA Chairman, but what we know is on what we judge. I start with one bothering fact as it shows how the methods used by the persons responsible for administering the Schemes are really suspect. An existing Scheme, operating in the market had officially reported to MEPA that it represented just over 93 members registered by end 2007 stating that they place 2,808 tonnes of waste packaging in the market. The same Scheme stated that in 2008, its members grew to over 170 by end September but these together now placed 2457 tones of packaging waste in the market. Has MEPA assessed how come that firms in Malta suddenly go through a mentality change when it comes to packing their products? How is it that 77 more enterprises participating in the Scheme now produce less tonnage of waste packaging in the market?!

Green Mt has over 300 members who have signed a letter of intent stating that they will be Scheme members once they are exempt from Eco-Contribution. Together they state that they place 10,500 tonnes of Packaging on the market. We are still in the early stages of taking companies and traders on board.  Up to end May 2008, 1646 producers of Packaging waste had registered with MEPA, the competent Authority responsible for implementing Legal Notice 277 of 2007, which transposes the European Directive that imposes on business owners considered as responsible for placing packaging materials on the market to be registered by the competent authority. Together they place 60,000 tonnes of packaging waste on the market.

GRTU has been pushing MEPA for a whole year to ensure that the Register is updated and that figures are evaluated and proper inspections are carried out so that official figures are what they are supposed to be, official and therefore, correct. We expect a competent authority to be just that, competent. In itself this lack of interest by MEPA has not been a help to Schemes. Traders and industry operators peep into these registers from time to time and continue to see the same number of registrations so they think that no one is actually registering. It is truly a shame. Hopefully the Reform at MEPA would include the provision of a Data inputting clerk even if the expense is paid by Schemes through their registration fees, to be established by MEPA.

At GRTU we are doers. I may have many defects but failing to drive my people to ensure that we deliver and deliver competently and in time, is surely not one of them. If only other Government Authorities like MEPA had the same will power and drive!

The CEO of Green MT Joseph Attard who spends so much time and energy chasing MEPA and all other bureaucrats responsible for waste management rather than doing what he loves best and who's task it is, to really manage our waste management compliance scheme and not waste time chasing public officers to do their job, would if I were to give him the power do it, kick some asses to the gutters. The point is that MEPA needs people who perform and are optimistic towards a better future for our generations to come. There are people at MEPA who arrogantly believe they know it all, the truth is, however, that these people should not be responsible for our future since they do not carry these attributes.

It is time to move on. Schemes need to be allowed to work. Schemes need to obtain finance from their members whilst their members are exempted from Eco-Contribution. Businesses cannot be expected to carry their responsibilities according to the polluter-pays principle, banded about by environmentalists, if the authorities do not give them an efficient mechanism to make it all happen.

Businessmen on their part are willing to do their part. They love their country as much as anyone else. But they cannot act when we have an eco-tax regime that discriminates among products and among enterprises. Some businesses pay through their noses while others pay nothing. 

The state gets moneys above what they budget and cares not about the illicit trading and evasion of eco-taxation that goes on creating a grossly unfair competitive market. They expect those who meet their fiscal obligations not only to keep carrying the burden but to pay twice, one direct the taxmen and the other to the Scheme to which they belong. Then they expect business to beg for a refund. 

Some sectors are bleeding through excessive payments of Eco-Contribution.  Yet MEPA adds insult to injury by permitting those who conjure ways to further avoid tax to enjoy additional competitive edge within the unleveled playing field so grossly created by eco-tax. Business in Malta cannot be treated like this anymore. We deserve better. 

All the Cabinet of Ministers know that I'll do all I can to ensure that the business community gives it's full share and guarantee a better environment for all of us. But this country needs to be fair. They want to help the environment but not an expense to their business that would send their enterprise to the receiver.

One final point. The press reports that Malta has been ranked No1 by transposing 1611 EU Directives out of 1616 EU Directives. A good score. Two of these Directives are the Waste Packaging and the Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directives. (LN 277 of 2006 and LN 63 of 2007).

It is time for someone up there to get everyone responsible to stand up and be counted. Government cannot allow incompetents to continue to take it for a ride. People complain because they see wrong things happening or inaction that frightens and those on top appear powerless. We need to implement these Directives. Our country demands it. Our membership in the EU ensures it.

This is the second wake up call I'm sounding in less than a week for those who in joining the European Community believed that it's now easy for them and tough on others. We need to face realities, one after the other, a no to plastic bags, a yes to Waste Management Compliance Schemes...we need to start.

LETS GET MOVING.  

*Vincent Farrugia is a candidate for the European Parliament Elections on June 6, 2009 for the PN/EEP-DP

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