Amoral idiots at the Planning Authority

The revelation that Jacqueline Gili, Director of Contracts at the Ministry of Finance and government appointee on the Planning Authority Board, was brought over for a meeting by a jet plane from Catania is shocking. It takes bad governance under this administration to a new level.

The declaration by PA Executive Chairman, Johann Buttigieg, that he would be an idiot to hire an executive jet next time in view of his not having any “political backing” for his decision to do so on this occasion identifies the real problem. Governance at the PA is dependent on political backing and not upon solid ethical behaviour. The authority has an amoral leadership and anything is permissible, as long as there is political backing.

The voting patterns of the Planning Authority Board members are clear enough. It is not rocket science to identify a priori which members of the Planning Authority Board are in favour and which are against controversial applications. They vary at times, but generally one can be 75 per cent spot-on in identifying who will vote “yes” and who will vote “no” on most applications.

This signifies that the jet plane decision was simply an exercise in ensuring that the potential yes votes were all on board. This in view of the large number of absences of Jacqueline Gili at Planning Board meetings in the recent past: she has not been present at  29 of the last 75.

I submit, however, that the jet plane issue almost pales into insignificance compared with the issue of conflict of interest at Planning Authority Board meetings. It has been said that two members of the Board had a conflict of interest in view of which they should not have participated in the meeting that considered and approved the dB Pembroke development proposal.

The two cases are however of a completely different nature.

The first conflict of interest is of Mellieħa Labour MP Clayton Bartolo. When prodded, after the decision was taken, the Hon Clayton Bartolo explained that his father and uncle are tenants of commercial premises owned by the dB Group: they are shareholders of a water sports company that operates from Silvio Debono’s Tunny Net Complex. The fact underlined by Hon Bartolo that the Bartolo relatives do not receive any payments from the dB Group is irrelevant. What is relevant is that, had Clayton Bartolo decided to vote against the dB Pembroke proposal, the existing commercial relationship between his immediate relatives and the dB Group would have been at considerable risk. This is what gives rise to Clayton Bartolo’s conflict of interest. He should have declared his interest before the PA Board meeting and not participated in the discussion and decision on the dB Pembroke project.

The second conflict of interest is much more serious. It involves PA Board member Matthew Pace and his shareholding in the Remax Estate Agency. Mr Pace’s interests in an estate agency is in direct conflict with his duties as a member of the Planning Authority Board. As a shareholder in Remax, it is natural for him to have an active interest in development permits as this would inevitably lead to more business for his agency. As a PA Board member, he should not have such an interest in any potential development permit as it would inevitably cloud his judgement in accessing and deciding on the applications for his consideration.

It is clear that Matthew Pace should have never been appointed in the first place and the fact that he was signifies the importance that the present government attaches to the ethical behaviour of its appointees.

It would be pertinent to also point out that Mr Pace is also Executive Director of MFSP Financial Management Ltd, an investment company which, last June, was fined €38,750 by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit for breaching a number of anti-money laundering laws. Reports in the press at the time indicated that the accounts in question belonged to Keith Schembri, Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and Adrian Hillman former Managing Director of Allied Newspapers.

This makes matters substantially easier to decipher: the useful idiots at the Planning Authority are in the good books of the powers that be at Castille. The buck therefore stops on Joseph Muscat’s desk: it is he who has to shoulder political responsibility for this mess.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 September 2018

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