Paceville: protecting the underdogs

paceville-mp-land-use

As the short time allotted for public consultation on the proposed first draft of the Paceville Masterplan approaches its conclusion, it is time for some commonsense to prevail at the Planning Authority.

On TV, last Thursday, we heard the Authority’s Executive Chairman Johann Buttigieg plotting the first steps of a U-turn on a number of contentious issues contained in the draft. This U-turn is welcome, as it is clearly being planned on the basis of the reactions of the public and the environmental NGOs to the proposed Paceville Masterplan.

The most serious point at issue is the extent to which the nine projects around which the Masterplan is woven will engulf properties belonging to residents and small scale business people. It will hopefully now be clear, once and for all, that no one will be coerced through threats of compulsory purchase (veiled or otherwise) to make way for any one of the nine projects.

Mr Buttigieg declared that “no-one would be forced to sell”. While this declaration is welcome, it is certainly not sufficient. Everyone is aware that there are many ways through which pressure may be brought to bear on residents and business people. It is certainly time for all stakeholders to be vigilant and present a common front.  Being constantly on the look-out may help  identify those triggering incidents such as that of the car which was recently set ablaze in St George’s Park at Paceville at the same time as residents were meeting elsewhere to discuss their reactions to the proposed Paceville Masterplan.

The Planning Authority should be proactive. It should be at the forefront when it comes to taking initiatives that make sense. A case in point is the need to implement the public domain legislation recently enacted by Parliament  in order to better protect both the coastline and the foreshore to a minimum distance of fifteen metres from the shoreline.

It is well known that there is just one stretch of coastline within the draft Paceville Masterplan boundaries that is not intensively developed: the Cresta Quay site, also referred to as the Villa Rosa site 3. This site is crying out for protection and it can be protected, yet the draft masterplan – ignoring public domain legislation  – earmarks this site for a number of high rise blocks.

This proposal, in addition to reducing the recently approved public domain legislation to hot air, runs counter to the draft masterplan philosophy of siting high-rise developments away from the coast. It seems that someone may have been pressured into having second thoughts when the Masterplan was being drafted. There is no other reasonable explanation for this contradiction.

The public consultation has revealed that the drafting of the Paceville Masterplan was flawed, as it ignored issues of fundamental importance.  However, there is till time for the Planning Authority to align the Masterplan to the expectations of stakeholders. The belated declaration by Johann Buttigieg that (after all) he too has reservations on some aspects of the Masterplan is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, this will be reflected in an overhaul of the draft and in the production of a new one which respects the stakeholders who have invested in Paceville over the years.

The investors promoting the nine projects which the Planning Authority identified may contribute to the regeneration of Paceville only if they tread carefully in full respect of residents and small-scale business people who have shaped the present-day Paceville, warts and all.

So far, this has not happened, as some of the developers think that they have some God-given right to ride roughshod over one and all. Unfortunately, the Planning Authority has generally obliged, as it has rarely been on the side of the those bearing the brunt of the bulldozer culture that has to date reigned supreme in land-use planning issues.

We await the second draft of the Paceville Masterplan, in the hope that the Planning Authority will turn a new page and assume its rightful place in protecting the underdogs.     

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 20 November 2016

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Bejn il-Berġa ta’ Kastilja u l-Berġa tal-Baviera

auberge_de_castille_fullsizeAuberge de Baviere 2

Il-liġi tal-esproprijazzjoni tagħti l-poter lill-Gvern biex fejn ikun hemm interess pubbliku jieħu art jew propjetà u jagħti kumpens għalihom.

L-Awditur Ġenerali fir-rapport tiegħu dwar il-binja f’36 Triq iz-Zekka l-Qadima l-Belt Valletta jenfasizza li ma kien hemm l-ebda interess pubbliku fil-kaz. Allura l-Gvern ma kellu l-ebda awtorità li jixtri ż-żewġ ishma li xtara.

Il-fatt li xtara meta ma kellu l-ebda awtorità jfisser li abbuża mill-poter li tagħtih il-liġi. Għalhekk il-proċess kollu, mill-bidu sal-aħħar, li permezz tiegħu il-Gvern xtara total ta’ nofs il-binja 36 fi Triq iz-Zekka l-Qadima hu abbuż ta’ poter.

Min gawda minn dan l-abbuż?

Kien ikun għaldaqstant ferm iktar korrett kieku Joseph Muscat il-membru parlamentari ħarrek lil Joseph Muscat il-Ministru responsabbli mill-artijiet u jakkużah li l-Gvern tiegħu wettaq abbuż ta’ poter. Abbuż ta’ poter li seħħ bejn il-Berġa ta’ Kastilja, l-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru u l-Berġa tal-Baviera fejn hi amministrata l-propjetà tal-Gvern.

Michael Falzon vittma?

Michael Falzon 5

Qed jingħad li Michael Falzon hu vittma, għax kellu jirriżenja minkejja li ma għamel xejn ħażin. Huwa stess emfasizza li fl-ebda ħin ma ndaħal, la biex saru l-istimi u fl-ebda materja oħra konnessa mal-esproprijazzjoni.

Kull persuna politika f’kariga eżekuttiva trid iġġorr ir-responsabbiltà politika għall-ħidma tad-dipartimenti li jkunu responsabbli għalihom. Spiss insegwu politiċi jiftaħru bil-ħidma tad-dipartimenti differenti. Konferenzi stampa ma jispiċċaw qatt, artikli fl-ewwel paġna tal-gazzetti u xandir ta’ aħbarijiet fuq ir-radju u it-TV. Anke meta l-politiku ma jkun għamel xejn, jippretendi li jieħu l-mertu.

Bl-istess mod li l-politiku jieħu l-mertu meta l-ħidma tagħti riżultati tajbin irid jieħu t-tort meta l-effetti jkunu negattivi.

Il-politiku f’kariga eżekuttiva jkollu l-għajnuna fil-ħidma tiegħu. Din hi l-funzjoni tas-segretarjat privat tal-Ministri u s-Segretarji Parlamentari. Smajna tul il-ġimgħat li għaddew kif il-Ministri u s-Segretarji Parlamentari għandhom id-dritt li dawk ta’ madwarhom ikunu persuni li huma jkollhom fiduċja fihom. Il-ħatriet ta’ dawn il-persuni qrib il-politiċi spiss jirreferu għalihom bħala trusted persons li jokkupaw positions of trust. Il-Ministri u s-Segretarji Parlamentari għandhom bżonn madwarhom lil dawn il-persuni li fihom ikollhom fiduċja, biex ikollhom min jassistihom fit-twettiq tal-missjoni politika tagħhom. Dan jagħmluh billi jgħinu lill-Ministri u lis-Segretarji Parlamentari fit-twettiq tal-politika tal-Gvern, iżommuhom infurmati dwar x’ikun qed jiġri fid-Dipartimenti u Awtoritiajiet differenti u jagħtuhom il-pariri meħtieġa dwar dak li jinqala’ minn żmien għal żmien.

Allura l-mistoqsija li teħtieġ tweġiba mhiex jekk Michael Falzon kienx vittma, imma ta’ min kien vittma.

X’għamlu l-persuni ta’ fiduċja madwar Michael Falzon biex jassiguraw ruħhom li kien infurmat sewwa dwar id-deċiżjonijiet li kien mitlub jieħu dwar l-esproprijazzjoni ta’ 36 Triq iz-Zekka l-Qadima l-Belt Valletta? It-tweġiba issibuha fir-rapport tal-Awditur Ġenerali.

Insibu, per eżempju, fir-rapport tal-Awditur Ġenerali, li wieħed mill-impjegati fis-segretarjat privat ta’ Michael Falzon [li minn sorsi oħra jidher li kien magħruf bħala l-King tal-Lands, żagħżugħ ta’ 23 sena] akkumpanja lil Marco Gaffarena f’laqgħat fid-Dipartiment ma’ Direttur Ġenerali u Direttur li issa irriżenjaw. Imkien ma jidher li nżammu minuti ta’ dawn il-laqgħat. Għalhekk mhux magħruf x’intqal u x’ġie diskuss f’dawn il-laqgħat.

Il-persuni ta’ madwarek jistgħu jagħmlulek ġid kbir. Imma jistgħu ukoll ifarrkuk. Skond kemm ikunu kapaċi.

Ikun tajjeb kieku l-Ministri u s-Segretarji Parlamentari jifhmu li filwaqt li huwa sewwa li jkollhom il-persuni tal-fiduċja tagħhom madwarhom dawn għandhom ikunu kapaċi għal xogħolhom. Għax fl-aħħar dak li tiżra’ taħsad.

Imbagħad inutli toqgħod teqred li inti vittma.

Political responsibility

 

Mallia inquiry

Good governance is clearly going to the dogs. It is not just a case of matters that could have been handled better, as Prime Minister Joseph Muscat stated in the aftermath of the Cafè Premier scandal.

In February 2015 the National Audit Office had underlined notable shortcomings in terms of governance with respect to Joseph Muscat’s government’s failure to involve the Government Property Division in the negotiations to re-acquire Cafè Premier in Valletta.

The purpose of holding inquires, irrespective of their format, is not just to identify those responsible for shortcomings relative to matters under investigation. High on the list of objectives of inquires is the identification and subsequent doing away with administrative practices which are liable to be abused.

The Manwel Mallia inquiry, which was commissioned by the Prime Minister in terms of the Inquires Act, was handled by three former judges and focused on the behaviour of the then Honourable Minister Manwel Mallia. It is pertinent to point out that in their report dated 8 December 2014, the three judges had emphasised that Manwel Mallia had to shoulder ministerial or political responsibility in respect of the behaviour of those persons who he had nominated to a position of trust. Tongue-in-cheek, the panel of judges carrying out the Mallia inquiry had commented that Maltese politicians, when in Opposition, emphasise the need to shoulder political responsibility only to forget all about it when they make it to government.

In fact, in view of the conclusions of that inquiry, former Minister Manwel Mallia, in defiance of the basic rules of good governance, refused to resign from office and was subsequently fired by the Prime Minister – who had no other option at his disposal.

The current Gaffarena scandal may lead to similar considerations. Two politicians are under the spotlight: Joseph Muscat, who, in addition to being Prime Minister is also Minister for Lands, and Michael Falzon, who is the Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Lands. Both have to shoulder political responsibility for the operation of the Government Property Division for which they are jointly politically responsible. Twenty seven months into Labour’s mandate it is not justifiable that they shift the blame onto their predecessors. Labour in government has had sufficient time to carry out basic operational changes, if they considered that these were necessary.

Two inquires are under way. One has been requested by the Opposition and is being carried out by the National Audit Office. The other has been requested by the government and is being carried out by the Internal Audit and Investigation Department.

The two inquires will necessarily overlap but, due to differing terms of reference they should be complimenting each other.

There are too many coincidences in this latest Gaffarena scandal and consequently various issues need to be explained. The Government Property Division seems to have preferred Marco Gaffarena, giving him time to purchase a second portion of the Valletta property before expropriating it, when it could have easily expropriated it directly from the then owners! Likewise, it is clear that someone took the decision to pay Marco Gaffarena partly in kind, by allowing him to select amongst government property that land which suited him most. Who took this decision?  The civil service does not normally take such decisions. This particular decision, in my view, has political fingerprints.

The values attributed to both the expropriated property and to the government properties used to facilitate payment have raised eyebrows. Detailed explanation is required to establish whether there is some computational error or whether there is some other explanation.

Throughout the past week, the press has pointed at a particular member of the private secretariat of Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon who, too often, was observed accompanying Marco Gaffarena at the Government Property Division. This person, appointed in a position of trust by the Honourable Michael Falzon, did not reply to questions from the press intended to clarify whether – and to what extent – he opened doors for Gaffarena. In particular, the queries sought to clarify whether he facilitated the pick and choose land deal between the Government Property Division and Marco Gaffarena.

The conclusions of the two investigations should undoubtedly shed light on the decisions taken, as well as on those who facilitated them. The fact that this is the second case concerning the Government Property Division being investigated by the National Audit Office in the space of a few months should ring the alarm bells because, essentially, it signifies that no lessons were learnt from the Cafè Premier debacle.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 June 2015