It-taħwid fl-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar

Qatt ħsibt ftit dwar kif inhu possibli li r-regolatur tal-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art f’Malta jinsab fl-istat ta’ taħwid li qiegħed? Ħarsu ftit lejn il-proċeduri kriminali li għaddejjin bħalissa dwar il-ħasil tal-flus. Wieħed mill-akkużati hu Matthew Pace li sa ftit ilu kien membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Spettur tal-Pulizija li kien qed jixhed fil-każ iddeskrivieh bħala professjonist tal-ħasil tal-flus:  a professional money launderer.

Ftit jiftakru li f’Ġunju 2018 kellna aħbar li l-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) kienet immultat lil  Matthew Pace is-somma ta’ €38,750 minħabba li ma segwiex il-liġijiet kontra l-ħasil tal-flus meta kien qed jieħu ħsieb l-investimenti tal-klijent tiegħu Keith Schembri. Dan kien fatt magħruf. Mid-dehra l-Gvern kien kuntent bih, għax ma għamel xejn dwaru. Qiesu ma ġara xejn.

Ikun interessanti nkunu nafu jekk il-konsulent legali tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, ċertu Dr Robert Abela, ġibitx l-attenzjoni tal-Awtorità dwar il-ħtieġa li taġixxi dwar dan. Jekk le, forsi l-istess Dr Robert Abela bħala l-konsulent legali ta’ Joseph Muscat ġibidlu l-attenzjoni dwar dan? Ma smajna xejn dwar dan kollu.  ilkoll kompromessi. Governanza tajba? U mhux hekk tgħid.

Matthew Pace għamel snin membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Kien biss wara l-każ ċar ta’ kunflitt ta’interess tiegħu  fil-każ tal-applikazzjoni ta’żvilupp mill-Grupp dB f’Pembroke li kien sfurzat jirreżenja u dan wara pressjoni pubblika minn ambjentalisti. Ngħid li kien “sfurzat” għax wara li l-Qorti annullat il-permess mogħti lill-Grupp dB fuq il-kunflitt ta’ interess ta’ Matthew Pace hu kien għall-ewwel irrifjuta li jwarrab. Kien ippruvat li huwa ħa sehem fil-laqgħat li wasslu għal deċiżjoni dwar il-permess tad-dB f’Pembroke, u ivvota favur din l-applikazzjoni.  Fl-istess ħin kellu interess f’aġenzija tal-propjetà li kienet qed tbiegħ  partijiet minn dan l-iżvilupp sa minn qabel mal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, bil-vot tiegħu stess favur, approva din l-applikazzjoni! Dik governanza tajba. Dik imġieba korretta!

Din hi l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Sfortunatament il-membri l-oħra tal-Bord huma ukoll effettwati minħabba l-assoċjazzjoni tagħhom miegħu.  Iridu jgħaddu snin kbar qabel mar-regulatur jirkupra minn dan.

Imma hemm iktar minn hekk.

Ambjentalisti skoprew, kważi b’kumbinazzjoni, li c-Chairman attwali tat-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar  (EPRT) li jisma’ appelli dwar każijiet ta’ ippjanar tal-użu tal-art u oħrajn dwar l-ambjent huwa ukoll impjegat tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.  Presentement qiegħed b’leave bla ħlas mill-impjieg normali tiegħu mal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar bid-dritt li jmur lura għall-impieg normali tiegħu hekk kif tintemm il-ħatra tiegħu bħala Chairperson tat-Tribunal.  

Kif jista’ impjegat tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jikkunsidra appelli minn deċiżjonijiet li jieħu min jimpjegah? Dan imma hu dak li jagħmel kuljum ic-Chairman tal-EPRT.  L-anqas jekk jipprova ma qatt jista’ jkun imparzjali. Imma meta inġibditlu l-attenzjoni dwar dan ma qabilx li s-sitwazzjoni partikolari tiegħu titfa dell fuq l-imparzjalità tiegħu meta jiddeċiedi dwar kazijiet tal-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art. Fl-aħħar ser tkun il-Qorti li jkollha tiddeċiedi u l-ħsara li tkun saret sadanittant ser tkun waħda kbira.

It-taħwid, kif qed taraw, hu kbir. B’dawn in-nuqqasijiet etiċi ħadd m’għandu jiskanta li l-proċess dwar l-użu ta’ l-art tilef kull kredibilità.  

A mess by design

Did you ever wonder why it is possible for the land use planning regulator in Malta to be in such a mess? Just take a look at the criminal proceedings currently under way on money laundering. A former Planning Authority Board member, Matthew Pace, is one of the accused. A police inspector, explaining the investigation results has described him as a professional money launderer.

Few may remember that, way back in June 2018, an item in the news had announced that the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) had fined Matthew Pace the sum of €38,750 for breaching a number of anti-money laundering laws when dealing with investments held by a client of his named Keith Schembri. It was public knowledge and government was apparently happy as it did not act about it.

It would be interesting to know if the then legal advisor of the Planning Authority, a certain Dr Robert Abela, had flagged the issue and drawn the attention of the Authority on the need to take action. If not, could the legal advisor to Joseph Muscat, the same Dr Robert Abela, have drawn attention of his then boss to the matter? We have heard nothing about it. As we are by now aware, they are all compromised. Good governance my foot!

Mr Matthew Pace spent years as a member of the Planning Authority Board and it was only after his blatant case of conflict of interest in the dB Pembroke case that he was forced to resign as a result of public pressures by environmentalists. I say he was “forced to resign” as, when the Court annulled the dB Pembroke permit on the basis of Matthew Pace’s conflict of interest, he initially refused to make way. It was proven that he sat in judgement and participated in the decision on the dB Pembroke permit, voting in favour of its approval. Simultaneously he had an interest in an estate agency which was already “selling” units forming part of the dB Pembroke development even before the development permit was approved by the Planning Board with Matthew Pace’s vote in favour! Governance at its best!

This is the Planning Authority. Unfortunately, the other members of the Board are impacted by association. It will be many years before this regulator recovers.

There is more.

Environmentalists have discovered, almost by accident, that the current Chairman of the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT) while sitting in judgement on appeal cases concerning planning and environmental issues is still an employee of the Planning Authority. He is currently on leave without pay having the right to return to his employment with the Planning Authority when his current term as Chairman of the EPRT expires.

How can an employee of the Planning Authority sit in judgement on the decisions of his employer? Yet this is what the Chairman of the EPRT does every day. He cannot by any stretch of the imagination be impartial even if he tries his very best. Yet whenever he was challenged, he has refused to accept that his specific circumstances render him unsuitable to Chair the EPRT in all cases concerning the Planning Authority. This matter will eventually have to be decided by the Courts with possible considerable consequences.

The mess gets worse every day.

With these ethical failures it is no wonder that the credibility of the land use planning process has gone to the dogs.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 28 March 2021

Keith Schembri u l-kaxxi vojta: frodi, korruzzjoni u ħasil ta’ flus

Mela Keith Schembri u 10 persuni oħra, kif ukoll għoxrin kumpanija ittellgħu l-Qorti ftit tal- ħin ilu. Huma akkużati bi frodi, korruzzjoni, ħasil ta’ flus u iktar.

Dan li qed iseħħ illum huwa prova li l-istituzzjonijiet ma ħadmux kif kellhom jaħdmu. Għax kellom ikunu l-kaxxi “vojta” ta’ Simon Busuttil, li wara li saret investigazzjoni dwarhom mill-Maġistrat wasslu għall-passi tal-lum.

Illum hu jum ta’ niket. Jum ta’ għajb.

Dak li kien “in-number one” ta’ Malta hu akkużat li hu maħmuġ. Miegħu hemm oħrajn fosthom persuna li l-Gvern kien appuntah bħala membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar (Matthew Pace) li kellu jirreżenja għax inqabad b’kunflitt ta’interess: waqt li kien qed jivvuta favur il-permess tal-proġett tad-dB f’Pembroke kien diġa qed ibiegħ l-appartamenti permezz tal-aġenzija tal-propjetà li kellu sehem fiha.

Jum tal-mistħija għax tal-lum hi biċċa prova li l-Gvern ta’ Malta kien immexxi mill-ħmieġ.

X’serjiġri minn issa l-quddiem diffiċli tgħid. Li l-affarijiet waslu sa hawn hu pass importanti għas saltna tad-dritt.

Min imiss?

Il-Korruzzjoni m’għandhiex kulur

Id-dibattitu dwar il-korruzzjoni fil-gżejjer Maltin ma jispiċċa qatt. Il-korruzzjoni m’għandhiex kulur u tiddependi ħafna fuq kultura ta’ klijenteliżmu u fuq istituzzjonijiet dgħajfa jew imdgħajfa. Sfortunatament, ma teżisti l-ebda rieda politika biex dan ikun indirizzat.

Ma tidher l-ebda azzjoni ċara u konkreta li tikkorrispondi mad-diskors pubbliku u ma jaqta’ xejn dwar tolleranza żero għall-korruzzjoni.

Ir-resistenza tal-Ministri Edward Scicluna, Konrad Mizzi u Chris Cardona biex tinfetaħ inkjesta kriminali minn maġistrat dwar l-allegazzjonijiet tal-kompliċità kriminali tagħhom in konnessjoni mal-ftehim tal-Vitals Global Healthcare dwar l-isptarijiet ma tinftiehemx. Prim Ministru b’tolleranza żero għall-korruzzjoni kien jitlob l-inkjesta hu stess. Inkella kien ikun minn ta’ quddiem biex jappoġġja t-talba li saret.

Kieku l-Partit Laburista kellu tolleranza żero għall-korruzzjoni ilu li bagħat lil Konrad Mizzi u lil Keith Schembri jixxejru. Il-fatt li l-mexxej Laburista Joseph Muscat ma aġixxiex b’dan il-mod ifisser li hu dispost li jagħlaq għajnejh għall-irregolaritajiet li jagħmlu ta’ madwaru. F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi, Partit Laburista b’tolleranza żero għall-korruzzjoni kien jiġbed widnejn il-mexxej tiegħu u jwissieh li jiemu magħduda jekk ma jibdilx triqtu. Il-fatt li l-Partit Laburista ma għamel xejn minn dan ifisser ħaġa waħda: li korruzzjoni hi tollerata.

Ikun għaqli jekk niftakru illi fl-istadji inizzjali tal-iskandlu magħruf bħala Panama Papers diversi membri tal-Grupp Parlamentari tal-Partit Laburista irreaġixxew għal dan kollu bil-bibien magħluqa.

F’April u Mejju tal-2016 kienet ħarġet l-istorja li mhux il-Partit Laburista kollu hu illuppjata dwar allegazzjonijiet ta’ korruzzjoni. Id-dibattitu intern, kif irrappurtat fil-medja, kien imqanqal, imma ma wassal għall-ebda azzjoni konkreta.

Il-Partit Nazzjonalista, għalkemm fl-Opposizzjoni, ma jistax ikun alternattiva għal dan għax minkejja li l-kritika tiegħu hi korretta mhuwiex kredibbli.

Il-Partit Nazzjonalista eleġġa mexxej li ftit li xejn jispira fiduċja fost il-pubbliku. Primarjament dan hu minħabba l-informazzjoni li toħroġ minn rapporti investigattivi dwaru ppubblikati minn Daphne Caruana Galizia, informazzjoni li turi kif diversi drabi ma aġixxiex b’mod korrett. Il-politku ma’ għandux il-possibilità li jagħżel meta jixgħel is-switch tal-imġieba etika. L-imġieba tal-politiku meta ma jkunx taħt il-lenti tal-opinjoni pubblika hi l-iktar indikattiva dwar x’isarraf. Il-kaz ta’ klijenti tal-uffiċju legali ta’ Adrian Delia li bbenefikaw minn dħul minn briedel f’Londra huwa eżempju prattiku ta’ dan. Meta l-informazzjoni kienet ippubblikata Delia fetaħ libell imma wara mhux biss irtirah imma ma ħa l-ebda passi alternattivi biex jisganċa ruħu minn dak li ntqal bl-iswed fuq l-abjad dwaru.

L-istess għandu jingħad dwar ix-xhieda ġuramentata tad-Deputat Nazzjonalista Claudio Grech dwar l-iskandlu taż-żejt liema xhieda ngħatat quddiem il-Kumitat Parlamentari għall-Kontijiet Pubbliċi. Dakinnhar Grech qal li ma kienx jiftakar jekk qatt iltaqa’ ma’ George Farrugia, il-moħħ wara l-iskandlu u li wara ngħata l-maħfra biex jikxef kollox. Il-Kap tal-PN ta’ dakinnhar, Simon Busuttil, bl-ebda mod ma rreaġixxa għal din l-imġieba. Ma ttieħdu l-ebda passi kontra Claudio Grech mill-PN f’dan il-kaz li bosta jqisuh bħala li pprova jevita li jikxef informazzjoni ta’ relevanza għal għarfien aħjar ta’ fatti tal-iskandlu.

Fid-dawl ta’ nuqqas ta’ kredibilità, meta l-Opposizzjoni Parlamentari (kif kostitwita illum) titkellem, l-impatt ta’ dak li tgħid bi kritika tal-Gvern ftit hu effetttiv.

Dan nistgħu narawh ukoll fid-dawl ta’ każi ta’ governanza ħażina li jikkomunikaw messaġġ wieħed: il-PL u l-PN huma pezza waħda. Eżempju ċar ta’ dan hu l-kaz tal-involviment ta’ Mario Demarco fin-negozjati kuntrattwali tad-dB fil-kwalità tiegħu ta’ konsulent legali tal-Grupp dB, meta fl-istess ħin kien Viċi Kap tal-Opposizzjoni u kelliemi għall-Finanzi. Għalkemm Mario Demarco għamel apoloġija pubblika dwar dan meta l-qiegħa kienet saħnet, il-ħsara li seħħet kienet sostanzjali. Il-messaġġ ċar li ġie kkomunikat dakinnhar kien li l-aħjar elementi tal-Opposizzjoni Parlamentari ma kinux kapaċi jiddistingwu bejn l-obbligi pubbliċi u l-interessi privati tagħhom.

Ikun opportun ukoll li niftakru fid-diversi rapporti tal-Awditur Ġenerali dwar abbuż minn propjetà pubblika meta din kienet responsabbiltà politika tad-deputat Jason Azzopardi. Il-PN fl-ebda ħin ma esiġa li Azzopardi jerfa’ r-responsabbiltà politika għall-frejjeġ li ħalla warajh.

Il-governanza ħażina u l-korruzzjoni huma kuġini. Waħda twassal għall-oħra. Xi minn daqqiet hemm min jitfixkel waħda mal-oħra.

Alternattiva Demokratika dejjem kienet ċara. Dejjem kellna tolleranza żero kemm għall-korruzzjoni kif ukoll għall-governanza ħażina. Sfortunatament, la l-PN u l-anqas il-PL ma jistgħu jgħidu l-istess.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 17 ta’ Novembru 2019

 

 

 

Corruption is colour-blind

The debate on local corruption is never-ending. Corruption is colour-blind and is heavily dependent upon a clientelist culture, as well as on the existence of weak or weakened institutions. In addition, unfortunately, there is currently no political will to address either.

The never-ending public utterances on zero-tolerance to corruption are not matched with clear-cut action.

The resistance by Cabinet Ministers Edward Scicluna, Konrad Mizzi and Chris Cardona to the initiation of a magisterial criminal inquiry into the allegation concerning their criminal complicity in the Vitals Global Healthcare Hospitals deal is mind-boggling. A Prime Minister with a zero-tolerance to corruption would have requested the inquiry himself. Alternatively, he should have been the first to support the NGO-requested investigation.

A Labour Party which has a zero-tolerance to corruption would have sent Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri packing ages ago. The fact that Labour leader Joseph Muscat did not so act signifies that he is willing to turn a Nelson eye to his colleagues’ misdemeanours. In these circumstances a corruption zero-tolerant Labour Party would have given notice to its leader that his days are numbered if he does not change his ways. The fact that the Labour Party did not so act gives one clear message: it is corruption-tolerant.

It would be pertinent to point out that, in the initial stages of the Panama Papers debate, various members of the Labour Party Parliamentary group reacted behind closed doors. Way back in April and May of 2016, leaks in the media had indicated that not all of the Labour Party is anesthetised in its reactions to allegations of corruption. The internal debate, as then reported, was fierce, but it did not lead to concrete action.

The Nationalist Party, although in opposition, is no alternative to all this, as its criticism, though correct, is not credible.

The Nationalist Party has elected a leader who does not inspire much confidence in the public, primarily as a result of the investigative reports published by Daphne Caruana Galizia which unearthed information that illustrated the various instances in which he acted unethically. Holders of political office have no choice as to when to switch on to an ethical behaviour mode. Their behaviour when they were not under the glaring spotlight of public opinion is most indicative of their ethical worth. A case in point is Adrian Delia’s legal representation of clients benefitting from earnings from London-based brothels in respect of which published information he instituted legal action that he later withdrew. Subsequently he took no action which disproves anything that was published about this brothel business.

Likewise, no action was taken in respect of the sworn testimony of senior PN Member of Parliament Claudio Grech when giving witness in front of the Public Accounts Committee in its inquiry on the oil scandal. Grech had then stated that he did not recollect if he had ever met George Farrugia, the prime mover in the oil scandal, who was eventually pardoned to reveal all. The then PN leader, Simon Busuttil, had not reacted to this behaviour and no action whatsoever was initiated against Claudio Grech by the PN in what most consider a case of avoiding spilling information of relevance.

In view of its lack of credibility, whenever the Parliamentary Opposition – as presently constituted- speaks up, the impact of what has been revealed about Government’s dubious practices is severely diluted.

This could be viewed also with reference to serious issues of bad governance which communicate one clear message: they are cut from the same cloth. A case in point is Mario Demarco’s involvement in the dB contract negotiations as legal advisor to the dB Group, at a time when he was Deputy Leader of the Opposition and its spokesperson on Finance. Though Mario Demarco issued a public apology when the matter made headlines, the damage done was substantial. The clear message conveyed was that the better elements of the Parliamentary Opposition are incapable of drawing a line between their public duties and their private interests.

We may also deem it fit to remember the various reports issued by the Auditor-General on the mis-management of government property. At the time, this was the political responsibility of the Hon Jason Azzopardi but at no time was he asked by his party to shoulder political responsibility for the mess that he left behind.

Bad governance and corruption are cousins; one leads to the other and at times one is easily mistaken for the other.

At Alternattiva Demokratika we have always been clear: we are zero-tolerant in respect of both corruption and bad governance. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the PN and the PL.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 17 November 2019

Ir-reputazzjoni tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar

Hu tad-daħq li iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa skoprejna illi l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hi mħassba dwar li possibilment saret ħafna ħsara lir-reputazzjoni tagħha.

Din kienet aħbar, għax sal-lum, l-impressjoni ġenerali ta’ bosta minna kienet li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tiġi taqa’ u tqum mir-reputazzjoni tagħha.

F’numru ta’ protesti u kontro-protesti ppreżentati l-Qorti f’dawn il-ġranet, residenti ta’ Pembroke talbu d-danni mingħand l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar f’konnessjoni mal-mod kif din imxiet fil-konfront tagħhom dwar il-proġett tad-dB. Il-Grupp dB, min-naħa l-oħra lagħabha tal-vittma meta bi qdusija artifiċjali akkuża lill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li ma għamlet xejn dwar il-kunflitt ta’ interess ovvju ta’ wieħed mill-membri tal-Bord tal-istess Awtorità – l-aġent tal-propjetà. B’riżultat ta’ dan, qalet li sofriet danni sostanzjali meta l-permess ta’ żvilupp dwar l-iżvilupp massiċċ fil–Bajja ta’ San Ġorg tħassar mill-Qorti.

Fit-tweġiba tagħha, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar akkużat lill-Grupp dB li kien hu stess li ħoloq il-kunflitt ta’ interess li dwaru kien qed jilmenta. Dan billi għamel użu mis-servizzi ta’ aġent tal-propjetà li kien ukoll membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. L-Awtorità kompliet temfasizza li hi ma kelliex idea dwar, u ma kienitx taf illi l-propjetà tad-dB kienet diġà fuq is-suq qabel ma biss il-kaz tela’ quddiem il-Bord għall-approvazzjoni, sintendi bil-vot favorevoli tal-aġent tal-propjetà membru tal-Bord.

L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kompliet tgħid li l-Grupp dB, bħala riżultat tal-mod kif opera ikkawża ħafna ħsara lir-reputazzjoni tagħha. Din kienet sorpriża, għax ħafna ma kellhom l-ebda idea li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kella xi reputazzjoni x’tipproteġi!

L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar taf li kull membru tal-Bord tagħha, hekk kif jinħatar, jeħtieġ li jimla formula li fiha jagħti informazzjoni dwar l-interessi tiegħu jew tagħha. Il-membru tal-Bord li qed nitkellmu dwaru, l-aġent tal-propjetà Matthew Pace, diġa iddikjara pubblikament li hu mexa mal-proċeduri stabiliti, li jfisser illi f’din il-formola huwa iddikjara l-interess tiegħu fl-aġenzija tal-propjetà.

Jekk dan hu minnu, x’għamlet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hekk kif irrealizzat li wieħed mill-membri l-ġodda tagħha kellu interess f’aġenzija tal-propjetà? Kieku jkollna tweġiba onesta għal din il-mistoqsija bla ebda dubju jkollna idea tajba dwar kif l- Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tħares “ir-reputazzjoni” tagħha. Imma, safejn naf jien, ma għamlet xejn: jew minħabba li m’għandha l-ebda reputazzjoni x’tipproteġi, inkella minħabba li tiġi taqa’ u tqum!

Apparti dan kollu, waqt il-laqgħat tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, kull membru tal-Bord għandu l-obbligu li kull meta l-interessi tiegħu jew tagħha jkunu f’kunflitt mar-responsabbiltajiet bħala membru tal-Bord jiġbed l-attenzjoni għal dan billi jagħmel dikjarazzjoni f’dan is-sens waqt il-laqgħa. Wara li jkun għamel dikjarazzjoni ta’ din ix-xorta, imbagħad, il-membru tal-Bord għandu l-obbligu li jimxi skond kif jipprovdi l-artiklu 13 tal-Att dwar l-Ippjanar tal-Iżvilupp u ma jipparteċipax fil-laqgħa jew laqgħat li jista’ jkollhom x’jaqsmu mal-interessi tiegħu. Minn dak li hu magħruf, dawn it-tip ta’ ċirkustanzi huma rari waqt il-laqgħat tal-Bord tal- Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.

L-interess ta’ dan l-aġent tal-propjetà fil-proġett tad-dB illum huma magħrufa. Ikun interessanti, imma, dwar kemm kien hemm iktar propjetajiet li kienu fuq il-kotba tal-aġenzija tiegħu li kienu ukoll suġġett tal-aġenda li hu kellu sehem biex jiddeċiedi dwarha! Din hi informazzjoni li s’issa l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar ma għamlitx pubblika, għax li kieku kellha tagħmel dan bis-serjetà, malajr inkunu nafu kif l-Awtorità ndukrat ir-reputazzjoni tagħha tul is-snin!

Fil-fehma tiegħi, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hi awtorità amorali, fejn il-prinċipji huma irrelevanti. Għax fl-aħħar mill-aħħar, l-unika ħaġa importanti għall-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar hu li ma tkunx ostaklu għal min irid idawwar lira!

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 4 t’Awwissu 2019

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

Kunflitt ta’interess fl-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar

Il-validità tal-permess tal-ippjanar dwar il-proġett tad-dB f’Pembroke ġie ikkontestat fuq bażi ta’ tmintax-il raġuni differenti, li jvarjaw minn kunflitt ta’ interess sa miżinterpretazzjoni u/jew applikazzjoni żbaljata tar-regoli dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art.

F’dan l-istadju, l-Qorti hi hu tħassar il-permess dehrilha li ma kienx neċessarju li tidħol fid-dettall dwar kull waħda minn minn dawn it-tminatax-il raġuni: waqfet fl-ewwel waħda, il-kunflitt ta’ interess tal-membru tal-Bord tal-Ippjanar Matthew Pace u l-interess tiegħu f’aġenzija li ġġib il-quddiem il-negozju tal-propjetà. Żewġ interessi li b’mod ovvju, għal kulħadd ħlief għal Pace, l-Awtorità u l-Gvern, ġie meqjus li huma konfliġġenti. L-aġenzija li fiha Matthew Pace għandu interess kienet diġa qed tirreklama l-bejgħ tal-appartamenti sa minn qabel mal-permess tal-ippjanar ġie approvat, bil-vot tiegħu stess favur l-applikazzjoni.

Il-Qorti użat il-frażijiet “kunflitt ta’ interess” u “nuqqas ta’ trasparenza”. Fl-aħħar mill-aħħar, imma, b’Malti sempliċi u li jinftiehem mill-ewwel dan hu kaz ta’ regħba da parti tal-membru tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li hu nvolut kif ukoll inkompetenza grassa da parti ta’ dawk li ħatruh fuq l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar meta l-interessi tiegħu kienu diġà magħrufa.

Ilkoll nafu li l-membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jinħatru direttament mill-Prim Ministru, u allura ma nistgħux inkunu iktar ċari minn hekk: huwa u jaħtar lil Matthew Pace bħala membru tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, il-Prim Ministru naqas milli jifhem il-konsegwenzi tal-ħatra ta’ agent tal-propjetà fuq il-bord li jieħu d-deċiżjonijiet dwar l-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art.

Nhar it-Tlieta, l-Qorti annullat deċiżjoni waħda tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar li fiha ipparteċipa Matthew Pace. Kemm ilu li nħatar fuq il-Bord, sa mill-2013, Matthew Pace, ħa sehem f’numru sostanzjali ta’ deċiżjonijiet oħra li ttieħdu mill-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Il-mistoqsija loġika hi dwar il-każi l-oħra li dwarhom ukoll kellu interess u li anke hawn dan l-interess ma ġiex iddikjarat. In-numru ta’ każi kontroversjali deċiżi mhux żgħir imma din il-mistoqsija qatt ma saret s’issa, ta’ l-inqas fil-pubbliku.

Il-każ, kif emfasizzat il-Qorti, hu wieħed li jiffoka fuq l-imġieba ta’ dawk li jokkupaw ħatra pubblika.

Il-membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar għandhom l-obbligu li jissottomettu dikjarazzjioni annwali dwar l-assi u l-interessi tagħhom. Ikun ferm interessanti kieku l-pubbliku jkollu informazzjoni preċiża dwar x’sar mid-dikjarazzjonijiet tal-membri kurrenti tal-Bord. Is-Segretarju tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, huwa u jixhed quddiem it-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar qal li dawn id-dikjarazzjonijiet ma setgħux jintbagħtu, kif suppost, lill-Awditur Ġenerali, għax dawn ma ġewx aċċettati min-naħa tiegħu. Imma, jirriżulta minn tweġibiet elettroniċi tal-Awditur Ġenerali, li wkoll ġew ippreżentati bħala xhieda, li dan mhux il-kaz: l-Awditur Ġenerali qatt ma irrifjuta li jaċċetta dawn id-dikjarazzjonijiet dwar l-assi u l-interessi tal-membri tal-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.

Minn dan kollu jqum il-punt dwar kemm huma effettivi l-kontrolli stabiliti mil-liġi dwar il-posizzjoni etika ta’ dawk maħtura bħala membri tal-Bord. Id-dikjarazzjoni tal-assi u l-interessi, sal-lum meqjusa bħala għodda importanti qiesha saret ta’ bla ebda siwi u dan minħabba li wara li ġiet sottomessa ma kienitx eżaminata mill-Awditur Ġenerali. Dan iħarbat il-proċess kollu ta’ kontroll, għax hu ovvju li l-Awditur Ġenerali ġie ostakolat milli jeżamina d-dikjarazzjonijiet li saru u għaldaqstant ma setax jiġbed l-attenzjoni għall-konflitti ovvji li jirriżultaw meta taħtar agent tal-propjetà biex jiddeċiedi fuq materji dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art.

Nittama li l-Awditur Ġenerali, anke issa, jipprova jirrimedja billi jeżamina d-dikjarazzjonijiet li saru ħalli l-kontrolli jkunu applikati sakemm u safejn hu umanament possibli.

L-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art hu diġa, minnu innifsu, kontroversjali, għax kważi dejjem jinvolvi numru mhux żgħir ta’ interessi konfliġġenti. Tal-inqas għandna nassiguraw li dawk maħtura biex jiddeċiedu jimxu bir-reqqa.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 23 ta’Ġunju 2019

Managing conflict of interest at the Planning Authority

The validity of the planning permit in respect of the dB project at Pembroke has been contested on the basis of eighteen different reasons, ranging from conflict of interest to misinterpretation and/or wrongful application of land use planning policy.

In its decision, declaring the dB Pembroke permit null and void earlier this week, the Court did not consider it necessary, at this stage, to delve into each and every one of these 18 reasons: it stopped at the first one: the conflict of interest of one member of the Planning Board, Matthew Pace, whose interest in an estate agency was found to be an obvious no-go area. Apparently the conflict is obvious to everyone, except Pace, the Authority and Government. Even before the final planning decision, his estate agency was already advertising the sale of the apartments – the construction of which was yet to be approved –  with the support of his vote.

The legal terms used in the Court decision are “conflict of interest” and “lack of transparency”. In the end, however, it all boils down to greed on the part of the Planning Authority Board Member and consequently gross incompetence on the part of those appointing him as a member of the Planning Authority Board when his interests were well known.

We all know that the PA Board members are appointed directly by the Prime Minister, so I cannot be clearer than this: in the appointment of Matthew Pace as a member of the Planning Authority Board, the Prime Minister failed to understand the implications of appointing an estate agent as a land-use planning decision-taker.

Last Tuesday, the Court annulled one planning decision in which Matthew Pace had participated. Since his appointment as a member of the Planning Authority Board in 2013, Matthew Pace has participated in a large number of planning decisions. The logical question to ask is in what other cases did he have a conflict of interest that was also not declared. There is a countless list of controversial cases decided upon over the years, but this issue has never arisen, at least not in public.

The case, as emphasised by the Court in its decision, is one that puts the focus on the behaviour of those appointed to public office.

The members of the Board of the Planning Authority are duty bound to submit an annual declaration regarding their assets and interests . It would be interesting if reliable information was available regarding what has happened to the declarations submitted by the current Board members. The Secretary of the Planning Authority Board, when giving evidence at the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, stated that these declarations could not be sent – as required – to the Auditor General, as they were not accepted at that end. However, it is known from replies to emails by the Auditor General, also presented as evidence, that this is not the case.

This raises the serious question as to the effectiveness of the checks required by law on the ethical suitability of the Board members. One such tool – the declaration of assets and interests – has been rendered useless as clearly it is not being examined by the Auditor General when submitted. This stultifies the whole process as the Auditor General was obviously impeded from examining the declarations made and, consequently, could not draw attention to the obvious conflicts arising as a result of having an estate agent appointed to make decisions regarding land-use planning applications.

It is hoped that, even at this late stage, the Auditor General will consider it appropriate to examine the matter in order that adequate checks are as effective as is humanly possible. Land-use planning will always be controversial because it involves numerous conflicting interests. The least we can do is to ensure that those entrusted with taking these decisions act correctly.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 June 2019

L-ispekulaturi tal-art mgħejjuna mill-Gvern: ħa jaħtfu l-baħar ukoll

Qieshom mejtin bil-ġuh. Wara li ħarbtu l-art, issa ser iduru għall-baħar. Għalissa qed jillimitaw ruhom mir-Rikasli saż-Żonqor. Imma wara jibqgħu għaddejjin sa Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq.

Hu ċar daqs il-kristall li l-ispekulaturi tal-art lokali dawwru għajnejhom lejn il-kosta tagħna biex jissodisfaw ir-regħba tagħhom bla qies.

L-informazzjoni li l-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA) identifikat il-kosta bejn ir-Rikażli u iż-Żonqor bħala l-iktar parti tal-kosta li hi addattata għar-riklamazzjoni hi ta’ tħassib kbir. L-ERA qed tgħid li għaliex iż-żona hija diġa’ iddegradata (jiġifieri prattikament mejta), allura ma jimpurtax li tkompli issirilha aktar u aktar ħsara, għax daqslikieku ma baqax tama għal din iż-żona. Hekk qed tgħid l-ERA b’ħafna logħob bil-kliem.

Għalkemm għadha ma ttieħdet l-ebda deċiżjoni definittiva, l-identifikazzjoni mill-ERA ta’ din iż-żona hija r-riżultat ta’ pressjoni biex jinstab sit adattat għar-rimi ta’ skart tal-kostruzzjoni li jirriżulta minn proġetti fuq skala kbira bħall-mina proposta bejn Malta u Għawdex, kif ukoll il-proġett dB fis-sit tal-ITS u l-proġett Corinthia fuq il-peniżola ta’ Pembroke. Dawn il-proġetti se jipproduċu madwar miljun u nofs metru kubu ta’ skart tal-kostruzzjoni.

Iż-żona matul il-kosta tax-Xgħajra diġà ntużat bħala sit għar-rimi tal-iskart tal-kostruzzjoni minn proġetti oħra kbar, bħall-proġett mostru tal-MIDI fuq il-peniżola ta’ Tigne. Hi żona li ġiet wkoll effetwat bħala riżultat tal-outfall tad-drenaġġ tul is-snin.

Il-Gvern irċieva madwar għoxrin espressjoni ta’ interess, liema sejħa ħarget mill-Gvern innifsu, għal proġetti li jinvolvu r-riklamazzjoni tal-art f’diversi partijiet tal-kosta. Deċiżjonijiet dwar dawn il-proġetti għadhom pendenti. Huwa magħruf ukoll li fost l-aktar proġetti msemmija huma dawk bejn Portomaso u Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq. Fosthom hemm it-talba riċenti relatata mal-proġett Corinthia fuq il-peniżola ta’ Pembroke kif ukoll iż-żona marbuta ma’ Portomaso li kienet tifforma parti mill-Masterplan ta’ Paceville li illum suppost li ġie skartat.

Sfortunatament il-Gvern huwa favur ir-riklamazzjoni tal-art u għalhekk id-dikjarazzjonijiet minn uffiċjali tal-gvern li jipprovaw jitfgħu l-ballun f’saqajn l-ERA mhux kredibbli.

Alternattiva Demokratika hi kontra l-estensjoni tal-kankru tal-ispekulazzjoni tal-art għal fuq il-baħar tagħna. Tħeġġeġ lill-Gvern biex jieħu miżuri effettivi biex jipproteġi l-kosta u l-aċċess għaliha. Għad hemm diversi talbiet pendenti minn NGOs ambjentali għall-protezzjoni tal-kosta u dan in konnessjoni mal-implimentazzjoni tal-ligi tad-dimanju pubbliku. Kemm se jdumu fuq l-ixkaffa dawn it-talbiet?