"It's Not Easy To Tell People That They're Breaking The Law, But It Has To Be Done"

Jo Caruana - 4th February 2019

Lt. Col. Mario Schembri, the Director for Compliance and Enforcement within the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) says the Authority needs “eyes everywhere and the people to act.”

Lieutenant Colonel Mario Schembri is a man with a plan. As the recently-appointed Director for Compliance and Enforcement within the Environment and Resources Authority, he knows only too well that something needs to be done to improve many aspects of Malta’s environmental approach – and he believes much of this can be done through enforcement.

“The idea of enforcement is fine on paper,” Lt Col Schembri tells me. “But actually achieving it out there in the field is a different kettle of fish, because it’s extremely dependant on the number of people you have on the ground making sure that the rules are adhered to. That’s what’s needed. There’s no point trying to enforce things from an office; you need to have eyes everywhere and the people to act.”

And while Lt Col Schembri may be new to ERA, he knows a thing or two about successful enforcement. He is specialised in enforcement and security matters, and carried out his academic and career training at local and international civil and military institutions.

In 1979 he began his career in enforcement as a Police Officer and reached the rank of Police Inspector a year later. In 1985, he moved to the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) where, during his 27 years of service, he actively took part and led several enforcement operations at sea and on land.

Lieutenant Colonel Mario Schembri, Director for Compliance and Enforcement, ERA. Photos - Alan Carville.

During his years at the Maritime Squadron, he was also actively involved in combatting oil pollution at sea. Among other duties, he represented the AFM before the Courts of Law and in media matters. He retired from the AFM in 2011 after being awarded the Long and Efficient Service Medal for sterling service rendered.

“As the main environment regulator, ERA protects the environment through various national and international laws and regulations,” Lt Col Schembri continues. “Bridging the gap between legislation and practice is the end goal of compliance and enforcement actions, and the main challenge for the new Compliance and Enforcement Directorate.”

Thus, in his new role, Lt Col Schembri is responsible for monitoring aspects that are regulated by ERA, promoting compliance with requirements, and subsequently even resorting to enforcement where this becomes necessary. “The remit of the Compliance and Enforcement Directorate spans a number of environmental sectors, such as securing compliance with nature and biodiversity regulations, trade in endangered species, and the monitoring of adherence with ERA environmental permits and conditions governing operational activities that have an impact on the environment,” he continues.

“Now we are putting an enforcement team in place that will be prolific on the ground. They will know the law inside out, and will be assertive enough to be able to act on the law and ensure it is followed through. Of course, it’s not easy to tell people that what they’re doing is wrong and that they’re breaking the law, but it has to be done – and the fines they receive could be of up to €2.5 million.”

And Lt Col Schembri says that enforcement is already being taken more seriously – with stepped up operations, even though the number of enforcement personnel is still low. “Plans are in place to increase that number this year and again after that, to the point that they will be increased substantially.”

Lieutenant Colonel Mario Schembri, Director for Compliance and Enforcement, ERA. Photos - Alan Carville.

“That said, I have already witnessed an improvement so far – not just with regards to the amount of fines handed out, but how the Directorate is working and the commitment from our people. Our staff feel that, finally, we are achieving something and being effective – even in small ways. So everyone is looking forward to 2019, when we will have more logistical support, along with vehicles and other much-needed equipment. That in itself is a good step forward because, unless we are confident from within that we can affect change, then change will not come.”

Feeling optimistic about what is to come, Lt Col Schembri says he knows there are currently big issues to tackle and that they cannot be dealt with all at once – but that his team will get there. “It will take some time of course,” he says. “And it will need the commitment of not just ERA but all sides of the political sphere, as well as the general public. It’s no use crying about what’s happening and why rules aren’t being enforced. If we all do our part, we can work wonders. We all have a direct effect on the environment – from throwing cigarettes on the floor to not recycling properly – and it’s important for everyone to step up and take responsibility.”

Finally, Lt Col Schembri stresses that enforcement is needed at public level too, and that everyone has a role to play with that as well. “Our officers will be out there hunting down illegalities but so should everyone else. I encourage everyone to keep an eye out and to know when something is being done that isn’t according to the law – and to report it. We even have an on-call system in use during silent hours, so there is always someone you can speak to and we are ready to listen and act. If we want to improve our environment, this is something we must work on together. We will then see the results we are hoping for.”

For a full list of enforcement regulations or to contact ERA, email info@era.org.mt

This interview originally appeared in The Commercial Courier


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