Tad-daħq ……. jew tal-biki?

George Pullicino 13

Qiegħed nisma’ lill-Onorevoli George Pullicino jitkellem fil-Parlament bħalissa (It-Tlieta 25 ta’ Frar 2014 ftit wara is-7 pm).

Qiegħed jistaqsi sensiela ta’ mistoqsijijiet lil Konrad Mizzi Ministru tal-Enerġija u l-Konservazzjoni tal-Ilma wara li dan għamel stqarrija Parlamentari dwar madwar 650 file dwar serq ta’ elettriku qabel Marzu 2013 li instabu msakkrin f’kamra bla ma ttieħdet azzjoni dwarhom.

Qiegħed jinsisti li kulħadd għandu jerfa’ r-responsabbiltajiet tiegħu fl-Enemalta u dan fil-kuntest ta’ diversi każijiet ta’ serq tal-elettriku.

Sewwa qiegħed jgħid l-Onorevoli Pullicino.

Imma meta niftakar kif kienet taħdem il-MEPA fiż-żmien li jiena kont fl-Uffiċċju tal-Uffiċjal tal-Verifika (Audit Officer) nitbissem. Anzi kważi ninfaqa’ nidħaq.

Ma niftakarx li qatt smajt lill-Onorevoli Pullicino jitkellem b’dan il-mod dwar il-MEPA meta kien il-Ministru responsabbli għall-MEPA. Kieku, forsi l-affarijiet kienu jkunu ħafna aħjar fil-MEPA.

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Il-MEPA bil-PN fil-Gvern

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Is-sommarju tar-rapport tat-telfa tal-PN jitkellem dwar il-MEPA li,  jgħidu li tellifithom il-voti.

F’paġna 5 tar-rapport taħt it-titlu Burokrazija żejda u sabutaġġi jgħidu “Madankollu kien hemm uffiċjali li bl-iskuża tal-burokrazija jew saħansitra bħala att ta’ sabutaġġ għamluha diffiċli ħafna biex dawn jinqdew. Fuq quddiem nett kien hemm l-Awtorità ta’ Malta dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar – il-MEPA – li saret “nightmare” mhux biss għall-kuntratturi iżda wkoll għall-familji.”

F’paġna 7 taħt it-titlu L-Awtorita’ ta’ Malta dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar jgħidu “Il-perċezzjoni in ġenerali tan-nies kienet li r-riforma fl-Awtorità ta’ Malta dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar – il-MEPA – mhux biss ma waslitx għar-riżultati mixtieqa iżda saħħet il-perċezzjoni pubblika li din l-awtorità hija mostru burokratiku li ħadd m’għandu kontroll fuqu.”

Ir-realta’ dwar il-MEPA hi li l-PN fil-Gvern ipprova jaġixxi b’mod li la jfuħ u l-anqas jinten. Ried jidher li qed jipprova jikkontrolla l-eċċessi imma fl-istess ħin ried iħalli tieqa minfejn ikun hemm min “jinqeda”.

Il-MEPA fl-aħħar mill-aħħar, minkejja li għamlet ħafna xogħol utli, naqset milli tinforza l-liġi b’mod adegwat. Il-lista twila ta’ każijet li nħarġilhom enforcement order u ma sar xejn iktar dwarhom hi xhieda biżżejjed ta’ dan. X’jibqa’ fik meta lilek joħorġulek ordni biex twaqqa’ imma lil xi żviluppatur tal-qalba jisbulu soluzzjoni. Mhux qed nitkellem fl-ajru u allura ser insemmi eżempju. Tiftakru il-każ ta’ lukanda fil-Marfa?  Meta din twaqqgħet u nbdiet lukanda oħra flokha din il-lukanda l-ġdida ma nbietx biss fuq l-art tal-lukanda l-qadima. Ħadet ukoll art oħra madwarha! Art tal-Gvern.

Il-mod loġiku dwar kif kellhom isiru l-affarijiet kien li kellha tinħareġ u tkun eżegwita ordni ta’ twaqqiegħ tal-lukanda mibnija (in parti) bla permess u fuq art tal-Gvern. Il-Gvern immexxi mill-PN flok ma għamel hekk ħareġ sejħa bl-offerti biex l-art li ittieħdet illegalment isir ħlas għaliha. Wara li ġara hekk, ġie emendat il-permess u lukanda li parti minnha inbniet bla permess u fuq art tal-Gvern issa giet legalizzata! Dakinnhar il-Gvern immexxi mill-PN tilef opportunita’ tad-deheb biex ifisser lil kulħadd l-utilita’ tal-MEPA bħala tarka taċ-ċittadin li iżżomm l-abbużi milli jsiru. Minflok ingħata messaġġ kompletament differenti. Il-messaġġ kien “ħawwad kemm trid, għax tista’ issib mod kif tirranġa.” Wara dan il-każ, il-MEPA kellha saqajha maqtugħin.

Wara każ bħal dan bil-fors li l-perċezzjoni pubblika tkun ħażina. Għax iż-żgħir ġustament jippretendi li la l-MEPA kienet bla snien mal-kbir għandha tkun bla snien miegħu ukoll. Dawn affarijiet li min kiteb ir-rapport tat-telfa l-anqas għandu idea tagħhom! Għax flok fuq ir-realta’ t-team ta’ Ann Fenech ipprefera jillimita ruhu għall-perċezzjoni.

Il-MEPA falliet mhux għax ma ħarġitx il-permessi iżda għax ħarġet wisq minnhom! Mhux għax ma “qdietx” iżda għax qdiet lil min ma kellux dritt li jinqeda!

Tajjeb ukoll li tiftakru li l-MEPA tmexxiet minn Bord li l-membri tiegħu dejjem intagħżlu mill-Gvern. Kollha ħlief wieħed, ir-rapprezentant tal-Opposizzjoni!

Dan il-mostru li ħoloq il-PN. MEPA li ma tħallietx taħdem. Affarijiet li tkellimt u ktibt dwarhom diversi drabi. Missejthom ukoll b’idejja fiż-żmien li kont naħdem fl-uffiċċju tal-Awditur fil-MEPA.

Jidher ċar li t-team ta’ Ann Fenech l-anqas idea ta’ dan ma għandu! Imbasta jitkellmu fuq sabutaġġ u fuq nies li ma inqdewx.

Dan hu kapitlu li l-PN jixtiequ magħluq. Imma ser jibqa’ miftuħ beraħ!

Ħalluna naħdmu ………ħalluna ngħixu

Ħalluna naħdmu.

Hekk qal l-iżviluppatur Sandro Chetcuti waqt laqgħa organizzata man-nies tan-negozju mill-Partit Laburista. Dan hu slogan li qed jintuża issa biex ifisser ġlieda kontra l-burokrazija. Fost oħrajn kontra l-hekk imsejħa burokrazija fil-MEPA.

Qalulna li fil-Ġermanja permess ta’ żvilupp joħroġ fi tlett xhur iżda f’Malta jieħu ta’ l-inqas tmien xhur.

Li ma qalulniex li f’Malta l-industrija tal-bini tħalliet għal snin sħah tagħmel prattikament dak li trid. Bil-konsegwenza li presentement hawn iktar minn 70,000 post residenzjali vojt. Dawn il-postijiet vojta huma ekwivalenti għal 9 darbiet daqs iż-żona residenzjali ta’ B’kara.

Ma qalulniex li minkejja l-attaparsi kontrolli l-MEPA ħarġet permessi li qatt ma kellhom joħorġu.

Il-Lidl ta’ Ħal Safi inbena bħala riżultat ta’ permess ta’ żvilupp li qatt ma kellu joħroġ. Tant li wara li l-Uffiċjal tal-Verifika (Audit Officer) tal-MEPA fi Frar 2008 ikkonkluda l-investigazzjoni tiegħu kienet irreżenjat il-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll ta’ l-Iżvilupp.

Il-Lidl ta’ Ħal-Luqa mhux biss nbena f’żona li ma kienx permess li jsir dan il-bini talli l-parkeġġ tiegħu qiegħed sitwat taħt l-aħħar parti tal-flight path għall-mitjar internazzjonali ta’ Malta. Jiena infurmat li waqt li kien għaddej ix-xogħol ta’ kostruzzjoni fis-sit tal-Lidl f’Ħal-Luqa minħabba l-jib tal-krejnijiet li kien hemm fil-parking area l-aċċess għall-mitjar ingħalaq għal xi ħin. Huma u neżlin l-ajruplani tant ikunu fil-baxx meta jkunu fuq il-parkeġġ tal-Lidl ta’ Ħal-Luqa li kien hemm periklu serju ta’ inċident minħabba dawn il-krejnijiet.

Il-problemi konnessi mal-MEPA huma is-swaba politiċi li hemm fiha l-ħin kollu. Ir-riforma tal-MEPA ma indirizzatx l-iżjed element essenzjali u ċjoe kif jinħatru dawk li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Dwar dan Alternattiva Demokratika fil-manifest elettorali li ser tippreżenta għall-elezzjoni ġenerali li għandna wara l-bieb ser terġa’ tipproponi soluzzjoni li lill-politiku toħorġu l-barra mill-proċess li permezz tiegħu preżentement qiegħed involut direttament fid-deċiżjonijiet u minflok issaħħaħ ir-rwol tiegħu (tal-politiku) fejn tidħol is-sorveljanza.

Il-MEPA għandha rwol importanti. Sfortunatament m’hiex titħalla taqdi dan ir-rwol. Tkun tista’ taqdi dan ir-rwol meta jinħatru persuni kapaċi fit-tmexxija tal-MEPA. Dawn il-persuni jeħtieġ li jkunu disponibbli biex kontinwament jagħtu kont ta’ egħmilhom. Ir-rwol tal-MEPA mhux biss li toħroġ jew iżżomm il-permessi tal-iżvilupp. Fuq kollox għandha l-obbligu li fid-deċiżjonijiet tagħha u permezz tagħhom tassigura li l-kwalita’ ta’ ħajja li ngħixu lkoll kemm aħna titjieb.

Biex dan ikun jista’ jsir il-MEPA trid trabbi is-snien mal-Gvern u l-awtoritajiet pubbliċi. (Għax fost l-agħar deċiżjonijiet tal-MEPA hemm dawk fejn huwa involut il-Gvern: il-power station f’Delimara, il-Freeport f’Birzebbuga, l-impjant tal-iskart ta’ Sant’ Antnin f’Marsaskala……) Meta dan ikun jista’ jsir, imbagħad  ikun possibli li jingħad li l-MEPA qed taqdi l-missjoni tagħha.

Ħalluna ngħixu!

My watch at the Audit Office

My watch at the Audit Office of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority came to an abrupt end some five years ago in circumstances which were then described as being a direct threat from Mepa to the independence of its Audit Officer.

The resulting public controversy saw the Ombudsman’s intervention in the summer of 2007 with his well-articulated solution to develop his office as the base for functions such as those of the Mepa Audit Office. As a result of their being based at the Ombudsman’s Office, these functions would be guaranteed the protection of that office: the best way of ensuring the office holder’s independence.

It was a bold step which unfortunately took five years to implement. It is only now that the first steps leading to the migration of the Mepa Audit Office functions to the Ombudsman’s Office have been initiated.

At this point it is pertinent to highlight some of the achievements of the Mepa Audit Office, which notwithstanding its independence being constantly threatened in its first four years of existence, still managed to deliver.

I state that the Audit Office’s independence was threatened during the first four years of its existence purposely, as when Minister George Pullicino and his sidekick, then Mepa chairman Andrew Calleja, relinquished their hold on Mepa in 2008, in this respect matters slowly drifted back to normality.

The Mepa Audit Office faced an uphill battle. During the period 2004-8, Mepa opposed the basic rules of decent governance. It continuously objected to informing complainants of the conclusions of investigations, which conclusions were based on facts unearthed generally from the authority’s files but at times also as a result of interviewing Mepa staff.

The Audit Officer considered that communicating the conclusions of investigations to complainants was essential in order that they would be in a position to understand the reasons justifying or otherwise the complaints submitted.

On my watch the Mepa Audit Office carried out a large number of investigations. Some concerned hot topics of the day and made it to the front pages of various newspapers and at times headline news on local TV stations.

I single out one very important investigation which illustrates the manner of operation of Mepa.

The investigation took a cue from a report in The Times entitled Tensioned Structure Raises Winemaker’s Ire, published on January 27, 2006. This investigation was in effect an inquiry focusing on the chairman, Mr Calleja, and his method of operation.

It resulted that on a specific site a number of notifications in terms of the Development Notification Order were refused for reasons which were detailed in the respective files. Subsequently other notifications were submitted on the same site, these being approved!

The investigation revealed that the case officer had been given specific instructions on how to deal with the notifications under consideration after the prospective developer had a meeting with the Mepa chairman accompanied by other Mepa officials (report 2006-031 dated March 13, 2006). Mr Calleja lost his cool and considered the report of the Audit Office as an “unwarranted intrusion in administrative measures adopted by Mepa”.

In addition, 25 days after the report was issued, on April 7, 2006, the Environment Minister had a meeting with the Audit Officer. During this meeting the minister informed the Audit Officer that he had instructed Mepa that my contract of employment, which was to expire later in the month, was not to be renewed.

In a letter dated April 11, 2006, the Audit Officer explained to the minister in writing how his action was a direct threat to the independence of the Audit Office:

“Your action would seriously undermine the independence of the Audit Office… Unfortunately since its inception the Audit Office has met with, at best, lukewarm support from the chairman and in certain cases outright hostility. If the post of audit officer was to depend on the goodwill of the chairman or the minister, than its role would be superfluous and its work can effectively be carried out by the personal staff of the minister.”

The audit officer concluded his letter by tendering his resignation.

The minister’s instructions were later withdrawn, as late in April 2006 my contract of employment was renewed for one year.

Twelve months later more drastic action was taken.

In 2007 the renewal of the Audit Officer’s appointment, which required approval by Parliament’s Select Committee, was delayed until such time that my contract had expired.

As no audit officer was then in office no request could be submitted for my contract’s renewal. He could only request my reinstatement when his appointment was renewed.But this was ignored.

This is the sequence of events which led to the migration of the Audit Office function from Mepa to the Ombudsman’s Office.

It was essential to ensure the independence of the office-holder at all times.

Published in The Times of Malta Saturday August 18, 2012 

Il-Ġulġlien ta’ Lawrence Gonzi

 

Il-lejla smajt lill-Prim Ministru jgħid li persuna akkużat bl-agħar delitti kellu iktar possibilita li jiddefendi ruħu milli kellu Richard Cachia Caruana in konnessjoni mal-mozzjoni ppreżentata fil-Parlament kontra tiegħu.

Interessanti ħafna x’sentimenti għandu l-Onorevoli Lawrence Gonzi.

Taf li jiena hekk ukoll ħsibt meta fi tmiem April 2007 il-MEPA, responsabbilta politika ta’ Ministru fil-Kabinett tiegħu, iddeċidiet li ma tħallinix nibqa’ naħdem bħala uffiċjal investigattiv fl-uffiċċju tal-Uffiċjal tal-Verifika tal-MEPA.

Ħasra li dakinnhar Lawrence Gonzi ma kellux dawn is-sentimenti.

Taf li ġiebli qalbi ġulġliena?

Ir-Riżenja tiegħi mill-PN

Ftit iktar minn 4 snin ilu, wara 32 sena jiena irreżenjajt minn membru tal-Partit Nazzjonalista. 

L-ittra tiegħi ta’ riżenja wassalta jiena bl-idejn fl-uffiċċju tas-Segretarju Ġenerali tal-PN ta’ dak iż-żmien Joe Saliba nhar is-16 ta’ Jannar 2008. Għaddew 49 xahar u s’issa ħadd għadu ma wieġeb l-ittra ta’ riżenja.

L-uniku kumment kien għamlu Lawrence Gonzi waqt konferenza stampa. Ara 1 u 2.

Jiġifieri Franco Debono m’għandux għalfejn jistagħġeb li l-ittra tiegħu ta’ riżenja minn membru tal-PN baqgħu ma wieġbuhiex.

Forsi wieħed jifhem li għalkemm ir-riżenja tiegħi u r-riżenja ta’ Franco Debono minn membri tal-PN saru f’ċirkustanzi differenti l-motiv bażiku hu l-istess: il-PN immexxi minn Lawrence Gonzi mhux biss jiddefendi lil min jiżbalja, talli jippremjah. Imbagħad ma min jagħmel xogħolu jimxi bil-gambetti.

49 xahar ilu lil Joe Saliba jiena kont għidtlu dan li ġej:

“Meta sseħibt fil-Partit Nazzjonalista kont nidentifika ruħi bla diffikulta miegħu.  Iżda illum ilni żmien nagħmel sforz nistaqsi lili nnifsi jekk il-PN għadux l-istess Partit li jiena sseħibt fih fis-snin 70. Qiegħed nasal għall-konkluzjoni illi kieku kelli nagħmel l-għażla illum ma kontx nagħżel li nissieħeb.    

Għal dan hemm bosta raġunijiet. Prinċipalment (iżda mhux biss) l-attitudni leġġera li bih il-Gvern immexxi mill-PN (kif ukoll il-PN innifsu) ħares lejn w aġixxa fil-konfront ta’ min mexa ħażin fil-ħajja pubblika.

Fil-konfront ta’ min mexa ħażin kontinwament isir attentat biex jinsatru u jitmewwtu l-affarijiet. Iżda imbagħad fil-konfront tal-ħidma tiegħi fil-MEPA jiena ġejt ostakolat milli nkompli l-ħidma li kont qed inwettaq fl-Uffiċċju tal-Verifika (Audit Office) b’elf skuża. Ir-raġuni vera ma tissemma qatt : li nibtet intolleranza għall-kritika u għal min kapaċi jaħseb b’moħħu. Min ma jittollerax il-ġbid tal-ispag qiegħed kontinwament jiġi imwarrab.”

X’inbidel mill-2008 lil hawn? Minn dak li qiegħed jgħid Franco Debono is-sitwazzjoni marret għall-agħar. 

Il-PN ma jridx jitgħallem u ma jinbidel qatt. Qabad it-triq tan-niżla.

Mental Gymnastics at MEPA

Over the past two years, three special areas of conservation were in the news: Mistra (Spin Valley disco), Baħrija Valley and, now, Dwejra. Next in the news will be the White Rocks sports development, bordering Pembroke.

The Director for Environment Protection at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority is on record as saying that an SAC should not be “a keep-out zone”. To my knowledge, no one has made such an assertion. It is, however, to be underlined that permissible activities in and around SACs are limited in terms of the EU Habitats Directive.

Decisions of the Environment Protection Directorate relative to SACs need to be adequately motivated. This is unfortunately not always apparent. What is also very clear at this stage is that the Environment Protection Directorate seems to have been kept out of the process leading to the original decision on the use of the Dwejra site, only to be pushed onto the frontline at the eleventh hour when a damage limitation exercise was embarked upon.

The Habitats Directive is very clear. As a rule, it permits activities on and in the vicinity of SACs only if these activities are required for the purpose of managing the site. Other activities may also be permitted but when this is the case they are subject to stringent procedures and conditions.

The Habitats Directive (transposed into Maltese legislation by Legal Notice 311 of 2006) may permit an activity in or in the vicinity of an SAC provided the Environment Protection Directorate determines it is not detrimental to the site either on its own or cumulatively with other activities.

However, in so determining, the Environment Protection Directorate has to carefully consider the proposed activity and correlate it to all the characteristics of the SAC. In particular, it should also consider what is known as the “corridor effect”. That is, whether an activity in or outside an SAC is likely to have an impact on any area of the SAC or another protected area in the vicinity, say a marine conservation area as is the case in Dwejra.

An SAC should be considered as a whole and should not be parcelled into areas where activity is permissible and others where it is not, as Mepa seems to be suggesting. Malta cannot go on with declaring areas to be SACs only to subsequently commence mental gymnastics in order to invent exceptions whenever the need to justify something crops up.

Analysing statements made after the Dwejra saga, it is clear Mepa failed to do the above. By stating the site was “bare rock”, worse still, by stating there is no eco-system to protect (even if this absurd statement was later retracted), Mepa in my view abdicated its responsibilities as the competent authority entrusted by the EU to act on its behalf to manage SACs, which are today part of an EU Natura 2000 network.

At least two parallel investigations are under way. One by the Mepa audit officer, the other by independent experts to scientifically examine and report on any impacts on the site as a result of the permit issued by Mepa.

So far, the applicant (Fire and Blood Productions) and the sub-contractor have been censured for not observing the permit conditions imposed by Mepa. However, no official comment as to whether Mepa overstepped its brief in issuing the Dwejra permit has yet been made. This I submit is the primary pending matter as, in my view, Mepa should never have authorised the placing of sand at Dwejra.

Earlier this year, in an article entitled Land Speculation At White Rocks (July 7) I had written about another SAC, that at Pembroke. The proposal there does not involve the temporary placing of sand but the development of a sports complex in an area which is very close to the Pembroke SAC. In view of conflicting information it is not yet clear how and to what extent this proposal impacts the Pembroke SAC.

After considering the manner in which SACs have been mismanaged by Mepa in Mistra, Baħrija, Dwejra and, now, possibly Pembroke it is legitimate to ask why the government has bothered to declare them as areas worthy of protection.

It is clear so far the government is only interested in paying lip service to such issues and, subsequently, to engage in mental gymnastics to justify anything.

As stated by Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco (The Cost Of Decisions That Count, The Times, November 27) one should not use this serious incident to discount the validity of a number of environmental initiatives. However, if the government wants to be taken seriously on environmental issues it must put its house in order. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be a priority.

 

Published in The Times of Malta, Saturday December 4, 2010

Meetings Behind Closed Doors

published on November 28, 2009

by Carmel Cacopardo

________________________________________________________

 

The debate on the functioning of the Mepa audit office has identified a number of contentious issues. Foremost among them is whether land use planning decision-makers are entitled to meet behind closed doors with applicants/objectors as part of the process leading to a decision.

Those who insist that Mepa decision-makers are so entitled have clutched to Magistrate Edwina Grima’s decision of October 28, as if it were the proverbial straw. They conveniently ignore however that Magistrate Grima qualified her decision by stating that it is not an examination as to whether the Development Planning Act was observed or not but one as to whether the criminal charges brought forward by the police were proven.

Land use planning is not just about the issuing of development permits. It is an exercise whereby the community decides the manner in which development is permissible, if at all. This signifies that the decision-makers, in arriving at a conclusion, must not only consider the interests of the applicant for a development permit.

The community has the right to be heard at all stages of the decision-making process irrespective of whether it formally submits an objection to a proposal for development. It also has the right to monitor proceedings, in particular as to the information fed into the decision-taking process.

The Development Planning Act (DPA) of 1992 accepts the important role of the community in the decision-making process. Amendments throughout the years have sought to reinforce the procedures through which the community can ensure that the decision-making process is fair and reasonable.

One such procedure is that provided for in sub-section five of section 13 of the DPA. The crucial first words of the said sub-section are fundamental: “The meetings of the commission shall be open to the public.” This important statement is qualified later in the said sub-section by the authorisation to hold deliberations “in private”, that is no one except members of the Development Control Commission (DCC) and its staff can be present.

The members of the DCC have just one function: to sit as members of the commission and decide on applications in respect of which the Director of Planning, through his staff, has submitted recommendations. The DCC members have no role outside the meetings of the DCC in the same manner that a judge or a magistrate has no role outside the courtroom.

The point has been raised by Mepa chairman Austin Walker in an article titled (To Meet Or Not To Meet? (November 10) that it is perfectly legitimate for the decision-maker to seek additional information, which assists him/her in understanding the matter under consideration and, thereby, leading to a decision based on better or more accurate information.

Mr Walker knows that the ends do not justify the means. While I do not quarrel with the objective of seeking additional information where it is considered necessary, this must be carried out in a manner that is consistent with the provisions of both the letter and the spirit of the DPA. That meetings of the DCC must be held in public is fundamental in identifying the correct methods to employ in receiving information. This, to my mind, means that the decision-maker must at all times ensure that there is no direct contact with an interested party outside the formal DCC meetings open to the public. The decision-maker must be aware of the quasi-judicial role he/she is carrying out. Meeting behind closed doors with one of the parties does not contribute to ensuring that impartiality is the order of the day. It encourages the perception of both partiality and the existence of sinister motives irrespective of whether these exist or not.

How can the decision-maker ensure that the information received does not prejudice the interests of the community in general or specific objectors in particular when these are generally not aware of what went on behind closed doors? On the other hand, receipt of additional information during a public session would ensure that the information submitted is subject to public scrutiny. The community has the right to communicate its version, thereby countering, if necessary, the additional information submitted.

In a legal system based on the rule of law this is a principle of natural justice, which, in legal jargon, is referred to as audi alteram partem – listen to the other party. The practice of Mepa decision-makers meeting behind closed doors ignores this basic legal principle enshrined in the provisions of the DPA when it provides that the meetings of the commission have to be held in public.

It was on this basis that reports issued by the Mepa audit office of which I formed part during 2004-7 has continuously emphasised that meetings of Mepa decision-makers with interested parties behind closed doors are illegal.

MEPA’s Audit Officer, Joe Falzon, says his office is swamped by complaints and he is finding it difficult to cope.

“At the moment, frankly, I am swamped. After the Mistra case, particularly, and the media exposure it was given, I was inundated with complaints and I’m not coping,” he said.

After his investigating officer, Carmel Cacopardo, was not reappointed, the audit office never really picked up the pace, Mr Falzon added.

Mr Cacopardo’s reappointment had become the centre of a bitter tug-of-war between Mepa chairman Andrew Calleja, Mr Falzon and Mr Cacopardo, which eventually led to repeated resignation threats by the auditor.

Mepa insisted that Mr Cacopardo’s position was untenable, particularly in view of a conflict of interest stemming from the fact that he publicly questioned the credentials of the man appointed director for environment protection, a post for which Mr Cacopardo himself had applied.

Both the auditor and Mr Cacopardo rebutted the claims publicly, with Mr Falzon insisting that the choice of the investigating officer was ultimately his and not Mepa’s.

The Mepa chairman at one point had asked Ombudsman Joseph Said Pullicino to intervene. While turning down the request to step in as arbiter, the Ombudsman proposed that his office services the audit office’s administrative needs to compensate for the loss of the investigating officer.

At one point the talks between the Ombudsman and Mr Falzon on the proposal appeared as though they might stall but an agreement was eventually reached and the audit officer accepted the offer.

When asked about this new arrangement, Mr Falzon said that, so far, the two offices were still trying to link up through IT. “We’ll install that and see how it works… Unfortunately it took us a long time,” he said, adding that the previous arrangement with a part-time investigating officer attached to his office was the ideal set up.

It is clear Mr Falzon remains sore about the matter. In fact, at a business breakfast on Mepa reform yesterday, he insisted, as he had done on previous occasions, that Mr Cacopardo’s effective dismissal was an example of why the planning authority ended up in the bad situation it is now.

“It’s a question of political will at the end of the day… He (Mr Cacopardo) was doing a good job, efficiently, but he was removed simply because he dared criticise the chairman, that is the minister,” Mr Falzon said.

L-Audit Officer tal-MEPA jagħti raġun lill-Alternattiva Demokratika

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L-Audit Officer tal-MEPA f’’rapport maħruġ il-bieraħ wara nofsinnhar ta’ raġun lill-Alternattiva Demokratika li talbet li jiġi investigat il-ħruġ tal-permess PA 0554/06 mill-Kummissjoni ghall-Kontroll ta’ l-Iżvilupp (Diviżjoni A) tal-MEPA.

L-applikazzjoni saret minn Charles Polidano (iċ-Ċaqnu) biex jinbena Supermarket barra miż-żona ta’ l-iżvilupp (ODZ) fi Triq San Ġwann Ħal-Safi.

L-Audit Officer tal-MEPA ikkonkluda li :

1. Il-Kummissjoni ghall-Kontroll ta’ l-Iżvilupp ma mxietx mal-policies tal-MEPA meta ħarġet dan il-permess, u li l-istess Kummissjoni kienet unikament responsabbli ghall-irregolarita tal-ħruġ ta’ dan il-permess.
2. Il-Kummissjoni ghall-Kontroll ta’ l-Iżvilupp għandha tkun iċċensurata talli :
(a) bidlet ir-rakkomandazzjoni ta’ rifjut tad-Direttorat ta’ l-Ippjanar mingħajr ma ġiebet raġunijiet validi ghal dan;

(b) ippermettiet il-ħruġ ta’ permess li jmur kontra l-policies stabbiliti mill-MEPA u approvati mill-Ministru;

(c) ħolqot preċedent li jippermetti żvilupp barra miż-żoni ta’ żvilupp kontra l-policy stabilita u in partikolari kontra l-pjan ta’ struttura u l-pjan lokali;

(d) injorat li dan l-iżvilupp kien jirrikjedi studju dwar l-impatt ambjentali.

3. Il-MEPA għandha tipproponi emenda għal-ligi li tagħmilha possibbli li permess ta’  żvilupp li joħrog bi ksur tal-policies fis-seħħ ikun irtirat.

Waqt Konferenza tal-aħbarijiet iI-bieraħ, jiena bħala l-kelliemi tal-AD dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli tlabt ir-riżenja immedjata tal-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll tal-Iżvilupp (Diviżjoni A). Ir-riżenja fil-fatt seħħet waqt li kienet qed issir il-Konferenza  Stampa stess. B’hekk refgħu r-responsabbilta ta’ egħmilhom.  

F’isem l-AD għamilt stedina lill-Ministru ta’ l-Ambjent George Pullicino, biex fil-ftit jiem li baqgħalu fil-kariga jieħu passi biex tissewwa l-ħsara li saret.

Ic-Chairperson ta’ AD Dr. Harry Vassallo qal li permess maħruġ illegalment bħal f’dan il-każ huwa invalidu u l-MEPA ghandha d-dmir li tieħu passi biex jieqaf ix-xogħol minnufih u tissewwa l-ħsara li saret. Alternattiva Demokratika hija lesta li tieħu l-passi legali kollha meħtieġa biex il-liġi tiġi rispettata. Dr. Gonzi irid jieħu passi immedjati biex ikun jista’ jikkonvinċi lil xi ħadd li jekk jieħu responsabbilta diretta għall-ippjanar wara l-elezzjoni ma jibqgħux iseħħu każijiet skandalużi bħal ma dan. Huwa ukoll għandu responsabbilta’ politika xi jġorr ghall-ħruġ ta’ dan il-permess irregolari liċ-Ċaqnu.