The Planning Authority and its “reputation”

It is quite hilarious to discover that the Planning Authority is worried about possible damage to its reputation! This is news, because, to date the general impression that most of us have is that the Planning Authority does not give a f..k about its reputation.

In a spate of protests and counter-protests presented in Court over the past days, Pembroke residents have requested the payment of damages from the Planning Authority over its handling of the dB project. The dB Group, on the other hand, has sanctimoniously accused the Planning Authority of not acting on the obvious conflict of interest of one of its Board Members – the estate agent – thereby causing it damage as a result of the annulment by the Court of the development permit for the St. George’s Bay City Centre project.

Not to be outdone, in its reply the Planning Authority has accused the dB Group of giving rise to the very conflict-of-interest subject of its complaint. This, it argued, was carried out by making use of the services of an estate agent who was simultaneously a member of the Planning Authority Board. The PA further emphasised that it was not aware that the dB property was on the market even before the matter was decided upon with the estate agent PA Board member voting in favour: obviously!

The Planning Authority also pointed out that, as a result of the way it acted throughout, the dB Group has caused considerable damage to its reputation.

Really? I was not aware that the Planning Authority had any reputation worth preserving!

Now the Planning Authority is aware that each and every member of its Board would, upon being appointed, have submitted a detailed form listing his/her interests. The member in question, the estate agent Matthew Pace, has already declared in public that he has followed all applicable procedures which means that, among other things, he has declared an interest in an estate agency.

If this is correct, what did the Planning Authority do when it realised that one of its new members had an interest in an estate agency? Having an honest answer to this query would throw considerable light as to how the Planning Authority guarded its “reputation”. To my knowledge it did nothing, either because it has no reputation to protect or else because it was not bothered!

In addition, during meetings of the Planning Authority Board, every member of the Board is duty bound to point out instances where his/her private interests conflict with his/her responsibilities as a Board Member. After making a full disclosure of his/her interest the Board Member is obliged – in terms of article 13 of the Development Planning Act – to refrain from participating in the meeting or meetings which could have a bearing on his/her interest. From what is known, such disclosures are a very rare occurrence at PA Board meetings.

The estate agent’s interest in the dB project is now well-known. It would be interesting to know how many other properties on the estate agent’s books were also items on the agenda he had a role in deciding. This is a question that the PA has not answered yet. Maybe an answer could give a significant boost to its reputation!

In my books the Planning Authority is an amoral authority, where principles are irrelevant. At the end of the day, what counts is not being an obstacle to making hay, while the sun shines!

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 4 August 2019

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