Simone Mizzi was elected the new Executive President designate of Din l-Art Helwa at the 2011 Annual General Meeting of the organization, taking up the role following Dr Petra Bianchi who moves to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority as Director of Environment Protection.

Simone Mizzi has served under five Executive Presidents of Din l-Art Helwa, including her own father, Judge Maurice Caruana Curran who remains on the DLH Council today as Founder President of the organization. Ms Mizzi also served as Deputy Chairperson of Heritage Malta for seven years helping to establish the National Stage Agency at its inception and was also a director of the Product Board at the Malta Tourism Authority for three years.

In her opening address to members, Simone Mizzi said that to follow in the steps of five brilliant Executive Presidents; her own father, Judge Maurice Caruana Curran, Professor Anthony Bonanno, Martin Scicluna, Martin Galea and Dr Petra Bianchi was indeed a challenge. ‘Each of these inspired leaders of the voluntary organization,’ said Ms Mizzi, ‘had brought much to Malta and have shaped the country’s thinking on the importance of cultural heritage and the natural environment.’ She would work to bring commitment and continuity to the mission of the organisation to save ‘what is uniquely our own’ adding that it is a matter of national pride if the island is to differentiate its offer from the rest of the world, to provide citizens and visitors alike a better quality of life and also because the heritage sector has already proved it can be a buttress of our tourism sector whilst continuing to provide employment through restoration. ‘There is enough restoration of our built treasures,’ continued Ms Mizzi, ‘to last the country a hundred years. Even if it does not provide overnight the profit brought about by speculation and construction it can bestow long term sustainability that will be enjoyed for generations’.

Ms Mizzi said it was indeed a privilege for her to be taking up the role at a time when so much investment in the heritage and environmental sectors was happening, giving us a glimmer of hope that appreciation of their worth to the island had indeed crept into the minds of our administrators. The marvelous restorations of the bastions and on many parts of Valletta gave her a real sense of pride especially with the deadline to have the city ready for its 2018 destination as European Capital of Culture was fast approaching.

She expressed concerns that while each day there were announcements of grand scale projects and promises of investments to save vital heritage icons such as St. Elmo, were these promises going to be brought to fruition or were they to prove to be the traditional pre-election flashes in the national pan? With so many outstanding projects would St Angelo, Ricasoli, and the British Forts be saved when European funding dries out? Ms Mizzi suggested that government should recognize that NGOs such as Din l-Art Helwa could provide a reliable channel for alternative funding from the private sector if further tax incentives could be offered to companies and the private citizen especially as there is such a growing consciousness of the role social responsibility programmes can play to assist the community. Without adequate recognition, sponsors and benefactors would remain reticent to come forward.

With regard to the project for St Elmo, Ms Mizzi reiterated the organization’s concern that it should holistically encompass the whole area of lower Valletta and that the many activities necessary to make it sustainable should not end up making a travesty of the fort’s military nature. She was certain that the insensitive days when a swimming pool was sunk into St Angelo were over. She applauded the idea of further space being given to Heritage Malta for its popular War Museum and suggested that if given the necessary resources this could be enlarged into a true ‘War Museum of the Mediterranean’ together with a centre for war studies. These alone would go a long way into ensuring the fort’s intrinsic military character would not be threatened. She did express concern however about the proposal to extend cruise liner berthing to the area in front of the Old Custom House in Grand Harbour ‘saying that the inevitable obstructive clutter brought about by cruise ships would mar the unique sightline across to the three cities and would compromise what essentially remains part of the original bastion shore line. She was also concerned about plans to build a modern boutique hotel in the area known as Il Barriera, when there were early buildings there that could be restored such as the Perellos Stores and the Quarantine hospital which could be put to similar use.

Speaking about the environment, Ms Mizzi stated there was much work to be done to correct years of abuse and neglect. ‘Our natural environment has suffered so many decades of bad housekeeping from several administrations. It is going to take political will and good professional management to put it right.’ She welcomed the news that over three million euros are to be invested in management policies for the 34 Natura Sites already established. It was hoped that these policies would transmute into concerted action but expressed concerns as to the methodology to be adopted to ‘farm out’ these sites of natural importance. Ms Mizzi added that with the three portfolios of culture, tourism and the environment on the shoulders of Parliamentary Secretary Dr Mario de Marco, it was clear that a new cultural mindset was being imbued into Mepa ‘and she had no doubt that these promises would be kept and well executed.

She added that Din l-Art Helwa looked forward to the establishment of Mepa’s long awaited enforcement division which if working in tandem with the environmental directorate would ensure that corrective measures for the better enjoyment and protection of the countryside would be put into place. ‘We need to establish defined recreation areas,’ said Ms Mizzi, ‘eradicate the habit of dumping refuse in the open, protect free access to footpaths and country lanes so the public can enjoy them without harassment.’ Without such measures, said Ms Mizzi, ‘we remain first class citizens in a third world environment’. She also spoke of her hopes that Parliamentary protection would be granted to much more of the unbuilt part of Malta. ‘The vision of a National Park that stretches from Cirkewwa to Buskett and down to Wied iz Zurrieq, is possible, but only with the political will of our leaders. It happened just days before the last election that legislation was passed to create the Majistral Park, it should now be extended. Currently progress in the North West Nature and History Park managed together by Din l-Art Helwa, Gaia Foundation and Nature Trust was slow, hindered by bureaucratic inability to commit to restrict hunting and vehicular access.

Ms Mizzi underlined that a national marine strategy was still sadly lacking and this had to be drawn up by government in order for Malta’s fragile marine ecosystem to be protected. This would also lay down firm policies for the fishing industry. She said she it was shameful that Malta took a leading role in the European lobby in favour of tuna harvesting and ranching with a few other governments. ‘Scientific evidence is there’, she said, ‘though interpreted in favour of the powerful, that showed these magnificent marine animals would be extinct in a few years if drastic measures were not taken now to revert to traditional fishing methods.’ She looked forward to the Din l-Art Helwa Fisheries conference planned for next month which would offer healthy debate and possibly some solutions from experts, concluding that she hoped her foreboding of extinction ‘would be proved wrong’.

Ms Mizzi thanked the numerous sponsors of Din l-Art Helwa, always ready to lend financial support for the several projects undertaken by the organization and for the maintenance and upkeep of the several sites it already holds in guardianship. This year important restorations such as those of the Great Siege Monument and of the statue to Queen Victoria in Valletta were two of many others completed by Din l-Art Helwa. Plans were in hand for work to start on buildings of huge national importance such as the Church of Our Lady of Victory in Valletta, the Roman Cistern at Tal Kaccatura and Mistra Battery, while projects at Delimara Lighthouse, St Anthony’s Battery in Qala Gozo and Xlendi Tower were well underway.

2011, concluded Ms Mizzi, is the European Year for volunteerism. She wished to extend recognition and thanks for the steadfast commitment shown by all Din l-Art Helwa’s volunteers whose dedication goes beyond the call of duty. She intended spending as much time out in the field as possible with the volunteers on Din l-Art Helwa’s sites and to further the organisation’s objectives to enhance selected properties and their visitor experience.