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Sunday, July 18, 2004

Making polluters pay

As I flew over the Atlantic Ocean back to New York last Wednesday, the Malta Government introduced the Eco-contribution bill. My friend Silvio De Bono commented about this before the ink had dried on newspaper reports about it.

I'm still trying to figure out what this is all about. I'm slightly confused by the fact that the government is moving forward with what may be considered a "green tax" after the Nationalist Party attacked Alternattiva Demokratika (Malta' Green Party) about its proposal for such legislation before the recent MEP election. I'm also a little unsettled by the idea that both the Malta Federation of Industry (FOI) and the General Retailers and Traders Union (GRTU) as well as Friends of the Earth (FoE) have issued statements against the Eco Contribution. As expected, the government released a counter-statement stating that this move is in favour of the Maltese environment. They all make a strong case; each in their own way.

As I understand it, the idea is supposed to make people buy and use environmentally friendly products. But because there are so few green alternatives in the Maltese market this bill is little more than a revenue-raiser: it will bring in about Lm4 million per year, according to official estimates!

However, as environmentalists and others have pointed out it is not the polluters who are paying but the consumers. The first impression will be that things are just more expensive because the government some of the funds it needs to upgrade its waste management programmes. This will give taxation in favour of environment-friendly products and practices a bad name.

The long-term intention is just right, but unless something is done about the immediate impact of the Eco Contribution, this so called green tax will be seen by most citizens as a worse burden than a polluted environment.

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