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

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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-appell dwar il-permess tad-dB f’Pembroke

 

L-appell kontra l-permess tad-dB biex iħarbat is-sit tal-ITS ġie sottomess.
Ir-raġunijiet għall-appell, fil-qosor huma s-segwenti:

1) Il-kunflitt ta’ interess ta’ Matthew Pace, membru tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar u fl-istess ħin b’interess f’aġenzija tal-propjetá,
2) Il-kunflitt ta’ interess tal-Membru Parlamentari Clayton Bartolo, membru tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar,
3) In-nuqqas ta’ skrutinju tal-presentazzjoni sħiħa minn Jacqueline Gili li twasslet għal-laqgħa tal-Bord bil-jet,
4) Nuqqas ta’ konformitá tal-proposta ta’ żvilupp mal-Height Limitation Adjustment Policy for Hotels,
5) Nuqqas ta’ konformitá tal-proposta ta’ żvilupp mal-Planning Policy Guide on the use and applicability of the Floor Area Ratio (FAR), artiklu 5.9 dwar l-ispejjes konnessi mal-iżvilupp tal-infrastruttura,
6) Nuqqas ta’ konformitá tal-proposta ta’ żvilupp mal-Planning Policy Guide on the use and applicability of the Floor Area Ratio (FAR), u dan dwar diversi dettalji tal-policy kif imfissra dettaljatament fid-dokument tal-appell,
7) Nuqqas ta’ konformitá dwar policies li jikkonċernaw l-impatt viżiv,
8) Hemm appartamenti li huma inqas fid-daqs minn dak stabilit mill-policies tal-ippjanar,
9) is-Social Impact Assessment ma sarx sewwa,
10) L-iżvilupp propost ma jikkonformax ma policies, liġijiet u obbligi internazzjonali dwar il-ħarsien tal-wirt storiku,
11) L-iżvilupp propost jikser diversi policies u liġijiet dwar il-ħarsien tal-kosta,
12) L-iżvilupp propost ma jsegwix policies intenzjonati biex iħarsu l-ispazji miftuħa,
13) L-impatt tat-traffiku mhux ikkunsidrat b’mod adegwat; ma sarux studji neċessarji u kien hemm nuqqas ta’ konsultazzjoni bi ksur tal-Konvenzjoni ta’ Aarhus,
14) Ma ġietx osservata l-liġi tad-Dimanju Pubbliku u dan dwar il-ħarsien tal-kosta,
15) Nuqqas ta’ konsiderazzjoni u piz mogħti lil materji diversi relevanti dwar ambjent, estetika u sanitá,
16) Nuqqas ta’ development brief u Master Plan,
17) Nuqqas ta’ ħarsien ambjentali dwar protezzjoni ta’ bijodiversitá, flora u fawna fuq l-art u fil-baħar, siti Natura 2000 u Għarq Ħammiem
18) Nuqqas ta’ osservanza ta’ liġijiet diversi dwar tniġġiż u emmissjonijiet kif ukoll dwar skart riżultanti mill-proġett.

L-idjoti (bla sens ta’ etika) fit-tmexxija tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar

L-aħbar fil-media li Jacqueline Gili, Direttur tal-Kuntratti fil-Ministeru tal-Finanzi, persuna nnominata mill-Gvern fuq il-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar, inġiebet minn Catania bil-jet għal-laqgħa tal-Bord kienet aħbar xokkanti. Fatt li jistabilixxi standards ġodda ta’ governanza ħażina għal din l-amministrazzjoni.

Id-dikjarazzjoni taċ-Chairman Eżekuttiv tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar Johann Buttigieg, li jkun idjota kieku kellu jerġa’ jikri jet privat darba oħra meta jaf li m’għandux appoġġ politiku għal deċiżjoni bħal din, turina b’mod ċar daqs il-kristall in-natura tal-problema reali tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar. Id-deċiżjonijiet ma jittieħdux fuq bażi ta’ prinċipji etiċi ta’ tmexxija imma biss jekk ikunx hemm appoġġ politiku għalihom. L-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għandha tmexxija amorali li tippermetti kollox, sakemm ikun hemm l-appoġġ politiku neċessarju.

Hemm mod sistematiku kif jivvutaw il-parti l-kbira tal-membri tal-Bord tal-Ippjanar. M’hemmx bżonn wisq għerf biex tbassar min minnhom jista’ jivvota favur jew kontra applikazzjonijiet kontroversjali. Xi kultant ivarjaw ftit imma ġeneralment tista’ tipprevedi bi kważi preċiżjoni kif ser tmur il-votazzjoni.

Dan ifisser li d-deċiżjoni li jinkera l-jet kien eżerċizzju sempliċi biex ikun assigurat li l-voti favur l-applikazzjoni jkunu kollha preżenti madwar il-mejda. Meta wieħed iqis li Jacqueline Gili m’attendietx 29 minn l-aħħar 75 laqgħa tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar dan kollu jassumi sinifikat ikbar.

Dan kollu, minkejja Ii hu importanti hu huwa kważi insinifikanti f’kuntrast mal-problemi kkawżati mill-konflitt ta’ interess eżistenti fil-laqgħat tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar.

Intqal li żewġ membri tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għandhom kunflitt ta’ interess li minħabba fih ma kellhomx jipparteċipaw fil-laqgħa li kkunsidrat u approvat l-applikazzjoni tad-dB għal żvilupp f’Pembroke.

Iż-żewġ każi huma ta’ natura kompletament differenti.

L-ewwel każ ta’ kunflitt ta’ interess hu dak tal-membru parlamentari Laburista Mellieħi Clayton Bartolo. Meta kien mistoqsi dwar il-każ wara d-deċiżjoni, l-Onor. Clayton Bartolo spjega li missieru u zijuh jikru fond kummerċjali mingħand id-dB Group: huma sidien ta’ kumpanija fil-qasam tal-isports tal-baħar li topera mit-Tunny Net, propjetá ta’ Silvio Debono. Il-fatt enfasizzat mill-Onor. Bartolo li l-qraba tiegħu ma jirċievu l-ebda ħlas mingħand id-dB Group hu rrelevanti. Dak li hu relevanti hu li Clayton Bartolo qatt ma seta biss jikkunsidra li jivvota kontra l-proġett tad-dB f’Pembroke għax li kieku għamel dan kien ikun qed jipperikola l-interessi kummerċjali ta’ qrabatu. Dan hu l-kunflitt ta’ interess ta’ Clayton Bartolo. Huwa kellu jiddikjara dan l-interess tiegħu immedjatament fil-bidu tal-laqgħa u sussegwentement kellu jwarrab u ma jipparteċipax fid-diskussjoni u d-deċiżjoni dwar il-proġett propost minn dB f’Pembroke.

It-tieni kunflitt ta’ interess hu ferm iktar serju minn hekk. Jinvolvi lil Matthew Pace membru tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar u l-ishma li għandu fl-aġenzija tal-propjetá Remax. Dan l-interess ta’ Matthew Pace fin-negozju tal-propjetá huwa f’kunflitt dirett mad-doveri tiegħu ta’ membru tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar. Bħala sid ta’ ishma f’Remax hu perfettament naturali li Matthew Pace jieħu interess attiv fil-permessi ta’ żvilupp li jistgħu jwasslu għal iktar negozju għall-aġenzija li fiha għandu sehem. Imma bħala membru tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar m’għandu jkollu l-ebda interess ta’ din ix-xorta għax dan inevitabilment iċajpar il-ġudizzju tiegħu huwa u jikkonsidra u jiddeċiedi l-applikazzjonijiet li jkollu quddiemu. Hu ċar li qatt ma messu kien appuntat. Il-fatt li ġie appuntat juri l-importanza li jagħti l-Gvern preżenti lill-imġieba korretta ta’ dawk li jiġu maħtura.

Hu floku ukoll li niġbed l-attenzjoni li Matthew Pace hu direttur eżekuttiv tal-kumpanija MFSP Financial Management Limited li f’Ġunju li għadda kienet immultata €38,750 mill-FIAU (Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit) talli ma osservatx numru tal-liġijiet kontra l-ħasil tal-flus. Ir-rapporti fl-istampa f’Ġunju li għadda jindikaw li l-kontijiet inkwistjioni kienu ta’ Keith Schembri, Kap Amministrattiv tal-Uffiċju tal-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat, u ta’ Adrian Hillman li kien Direttur Maniġerjali tal-Allied Newspapers.

Dan jgħinna mhux ftit biex nifhmu ħafna iktar dak li qiegħed jiġri. It-taħwid li għaddej fl-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar għandu l-barka diretta minn Kastilja, u allura huwa l-Prim Ministru li jeħtieġ li jerfa’ r-responsabbiltá diretta għal dan kollu.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 30 ta’ Settembru 2018

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