Meta Abela u l-PN kienu jħokku dahar xulxin

Robert Abela hu s-suġġett kurrenti tal-billboards tal-PN. Imma, bħal ma jiġri dejjem, il-kampanja tal-PN fuq il-billboards tgħid biċċa waħda żgħira mill-istorja vera. Tiffoka fuq il-ġid li akkumula Abela permezz tal-kuntratti ta’ xogħol professjonali assoċjat mal-Gvern, speċjalment permezz tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.  Il-billboard iwassal il-messaġġ politiku li Robert Abela jiġi jaqa’ u jqum u li huwa insensittiv. Jgħidilna li filwaqt li hu għamel żmien jiffanga bi dħul ta’ €17,000 fix-xahar int tikkrepa b’żieda miżera ta’ €1.75 fil-ġimgħa għall-għoli tal-ħajja.

Il-punt bażiku reali, imma, li l-billboard jinjora kompletament hu kif il-PLPN jimmanipulaw il-finanzi tal-pajjiż u l-proċeduri tax-xiri ta’ servizzi biex iżommu lill-ħbieb kuntenti u lill-għedewwa taħt kontroll.

Il-billboard tal-PN, jgħidilna li l-uffiċċju legali ta’ Robert Abela, xi żmien ilu, kellu dħul ta’ mhux inqas minn €17,000 fix-xahar mis-servizz professjonali legali li kien jagħti lill-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Il-billboard, imma,  ma jgħidilna xejn dwar kif dan kollu oriġina minn sejħa għal espressjoni ta’ interess u sussegwentement direct order lil George Abela li kienet imbierka mill-Gvern immexxi minn Lawrence Gonzi.   Dan seħħ fi żmien meta Abela ma kienx f’relazzjoni tajba la mal-Partit Laburista u inqas u inqas mat-tmexxija tal-istess partit!

F’sezzjoni tal-media kien irrappurtat li dan kollu beda fl-istess żmien meta George Abela aċċetta l-istedina biex jifforma parti mill-core group, parti mill-proċess preparatorju li kellu jwassal biex Malta tissieħeb fl-Unjoni Ewropea. George Abela ipparteċipa f’dan il-core group minkejja li l-Partit Laburista, li tiegħu sa ftit qabel hu kien Deputy Leader, kien jopponi din il-proposta b’qilla kbira.

Meta George Abela kien nominat u sussegwentement ġie appuntat President tar-Republika mill-Gvern ta’ Lawrence Gonzi, ibnu Robert ħa f’idejh it-tmexxija tal-uffiċċju legali ta’ missieru. Huwa u jagħmel dan, avukat ieħor li kien sħab ma’ George Abela spiċċa barra. Jingħad li ma qablux fuq kif ser jaqsmu dak li jdaħħal l-uffiċċju! Ftit wara, dan l-avukat l-ieħor spiċċa CEO tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar. Min hawn il-quddiem il-familja Abela ma kelliex diffikulta biex tgawdi r-rigal sostanzjali tal-Gvern ta’  Lawrence Gonzi. Il-familja Abela setgħet isserraħ rasha għax fil-mument tal-bżonn il-Gvern ta’ Lawrence Gonzi kien hemm għall-għajnuna. Wara kollox, mhux għalhekk qegħdin il-ħbieb?  

Ta’ Abela kienu attentissimi li ħobżhom jieħdu ħsiebu sewwa! Dejjem irnexxielhom!  Biex jaslu iddefendew kull taħwid fl-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art tul is-snin, kemm dak taħt il-Gvern ta’ Gonzi kif ukoll dak taħt is-suċċessur tiegħu Joseph Muscat.

Tul is-snin id-direct order lill-uffiċċju legali tal-familja Abela mhux biss ġie ikkonfermat, talli kiber fl-iskop u fil-ħlas li ġġenera.

Waqt dan kollu kien hemm leħen wieħed kritiku ta’ dak li kien qed jiġri: kien kritiku tad-direct order tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar lill-uffiċċju legali tal-familja Abela. Dan kien Joe Mizzi,  l-Membru Parlamentari Laburista mill-Kalkara. Kien qiesu seqer, jaf x’inhu jiġri, għax hu kien ir-rappresentant tal-Opposizzjoni Laburista fuq il-Bord tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar.

Joe Mizzi dam ftit mhux ħażin biex ħa tweġiba għal dan kollu. Dan seħħ meta tħalla barra minn l-ewwel Kabinett ta’ Robert Abela liema Kabinett tħabbar nhar il-15 ta’ Jannar 2020!  Imma sa dak in-nhar hu kien ilu jappoġġa l-kandidatura ta’ Chris Fearne għat-tmexxija tal-Partit Laburista.

Din hi l-istorja li l-billboard jaħbi. Storja ta’ kemm meta kien meħtieġ il-familja Abela u l-PN kienu  jħokku dar xulxin!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Frar 2022

Abela’s bread: buttered on both sides!

Robert Abela is the current billboard boy of the PN. The PN’s campaign, all over their billboards, however, only emphasises part of the real story: it is focused on Abela’s wealth generated through government contracts, specifically through the Planning Authority. It makes the political point that Robert Abela does not care. He is insensitive, states the billboard: he gluttons through €17,000 per month; you get a miserly €1.75 per week cost of living increase.

The real basic issue however, conveniently avoided by the billboard, is how the PLPN manipulate the country’s finances and procurement procedures to keep friends happy and foes on a leash.

The PN billboard points to the fact that the legal office of Robert Abela, at a recent point in time, had an income of at least €17,000 per month from legal services rendered to the Planning Authority.  The billboard does not, however, in any way indicate, that the contract was originally the result of an expression of interest and subsequently of a direct order. This was carried out with the compliments of the Lawrence Gonzi led PN government to George Abela, Robert’s father, at a time when the Abelas had very sour relations with the Labour Party and its leadership!

Sections of the media have reported that this lucrative relationship commenced at the same time that George Abela accepted the invitation to take part in the EU accession core group, part of the preparatory process leading to Malta’s accession to the European Union. George Abela participated in this core group notwithstanding that, the Labour Party, of which some time previously he had been deputy leader, was an aggressive opponent of the EU accession proposal. I am informed that additional members of the core group were Harry Vassallo, Lino Briguglio, Joe Saliba and Godfrey Baldacchino.

When George Abela was nominated and appointed President of the Republic by the Gonzi Government, his son Robert took over the running of the law firm. In the process the other lawyer who was a partner in the Abela law firm was immediately squeezed out of the firm. It is rumoured that they disagreed on the distribution of the profits of the law firm. As a result, the other lawyer was offered and he eventually assumed the role as CEO of the Planning Authority. The Abelas consequently had no obstacle to retaining full control of the lucrative gifts of the Lawrence Gonzi government. The Abelas had their mind at rest that at times of need Lawrence Gonzi and his government could always be relied upon. After all that is what friends are for!

The Abelas always sought to have their bread buttered on both sides. They were quite successful in this respect throughout the years. In the process they defended tooth and nail many a planning mess, both those created by the Gonzi government as well as also those created by his successor Joseph Muscat.

The PN direct order to the Abela law firm was confirmed throughout the years and widened in scope. The payments made increased accordingly.

I remember one solitary voice at that time denouncing the lucrative direct order of the Planning Authority to the Abela law firm: it was the Kalkara Labour MP Joe Mizzi. Joe Mizzi knew what was going on from day one: he was the representative of the Labour Party Parliamentary Opposition on the Board of the Planning Authority.

Payback for Joe Mizzi took quite some time to arrive. He was left out of the first Robert Abela Cabinet on the 15 January 2020!  But by then he had also endorsed Chris Fearne in the Labour leadership contest.

This is the real background to the billboard boy’s story!

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 February 2022

Saving the little that we have

Almost two years ago, Architect Edward Said submitted a request to the Planning Authority and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage in order that they take steps to protect a Villa along the St Julian’s promenade. The Villa known as Palazzina Vincenti was designed and constructed for his own use by Architect Gustavo Romeo Vincenti. Architect Vincenti died in 1974.

As far as is known, neither the Planning Authority nor the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage have acted upon the submissions received requesting the protection of Palazzina Vincenti. At the time of writing the Superintendence has passed the buck to the Planning Authority! In the meantime, a development application has been submitted for the demolition of Palazzina Vincenti and its substitution with a 17-storey 136 room hotel, including three levels below street level providing garage space for 58 cars.

In a report drawn up by Architect Edward Said, Palazzina Vincenti is described as “a masterpiece of architecture defined by pure geometric volumes”.  It is considered as one of the earliest examples of the use of reinforced concrete in domestic architecture in Malta.  Quoting from a 2018 Masters of Architecture dissertation by David Ellul, Architect Said emphasises that by taking full advantage of the potential of reinforced concrete, Vincenti’s artistic expression was freed from the limitations of traditional materials. The result is this masterpiece which can be lost quite soon!

Even though to the untrained eye Palazzina Vincenti may seem to be an ugly building specimen, ill-fitting in its present-day concrete jungle surroundings, it is still a masterpiece worth preserving for posterity.

I fail to understand why two years after a request for protection has been submitted no action has yet been taken. As a result of such inaction, the message conveyed by the authorities is a very clear one: that the site occupied by Palazzina Vincenti is ripe for development. This is an inevitable conclusion conveyed by those in charge as a result of their failure to act.

At this point in time, as a minimum, it is expected that an emergency conservation order protecting Palazzina Vincenti is issued urgently. This would be a clear sign to those currently benefitting from a prolonged phase of “development greed” that a red line has been drawn around our heritage, thereby protecting it. It would also provide some breathing space which would be of considerable help in order that the Planning Authority may bring its house in order.

Some have the mistaken idea that all our heritage is necessarily old, very old, going back centuries. This is certainly not the case as this specific architectural masterpiece is less than 75 years old. Unfortunately, there have been other worthy examples of our architectural heritage which have been lost through carelessness, insensitivity and institutional ignorance.

I could remind readers of another outstanding example of modern architecture which has gone to the dogs, this time in Gozo, some 15 years ago. Parts of the Qala Primary School in Gozo were demolished to make way for an Institute of Tourism Studies campus in Gozo. The said school was designed and constructed under the supervision of Architect Joseph Huntingford who as the government architect in charge of schools was responsible for most new schools constructed in Gozo between 1950 and 1961.

Way back in 2006 the Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers had described the Qala Primary School as one of the finest examples of modern architecture on the island. Even then the Planning Authority was advised to handle our heritage with care. But it was of no use. The advice was ignored as parts of the school were demolished to make way for the ITS campus.

There is still time to save Palazzina Vincenti from being sacrificed on the altar of “development greed”. We need to be more appreciative of our heritage. We have so little of it. I am not however so sure as to whether the Planning Authority is capable of taking decisive action. It has been desensitised for far too long.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 December 2021

The regeneration of Marsa

The public consultation which commenced earlier this week relative to the regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour along the coastal area of Marsa is most welcome. Marsa has been neglected for far too long.

The Planning Authority has been criticised in the past for its piecemeal reviews of the local plans. It is hoped that this exercise will be a holistic one. It is the whole of Marsa which should be addressed and not one tiny corner! The decay of Marsa as an urban centre needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity. This will not be done through piecemeal local plan reviews but through a comprehensive planning exercise.

The proposed strategic vision, as directed by government, is however not a suitable one. Through the Planning Authority, government is proposing that the area subject of the consultation be transformed into a “prime tourism and leisure harbour destination”.

The primary question to be addressed is whether it is desirable for our economy to further increase its dependence on tourism. The answer to this basic question, in my view, is a clear no. It is thus not on to reserve more prime sites for tourism. Tourism has gobbled up too many prime sites. Too many land use planning policies have been compromised in the exclusive interest of the tourism industry.  

Tourism has also proven itself to be a very weak link in the economic chain. It has been brought down to its knees as a result of Covid19. It is still very weak and will take more time to recover. Understandably a significant part of its labour force has migrated to other sectors and is unwilling to return to work in the tourism sector.

Rather than more tourism we definitely need less of it.

Prior to Covid19 we had reached saturation levels in the tourism sector. The post-Covid19 impact period is a unique opportunity for tourism to be re-dimensioned in order to reduce its impacts on the community. Unfortunately, the Planning Authority is insensitive to all this: it plans to give us more of the same.  

The availability of the former power station site and its surroundings is definitely a unique opportunity which should not be squandered on the tourism industry.

The innermost part of the Grand Harbour has always been dedicated to the maritime sector for which this is a unique opportunity to re-organise, modernise and increase its contribution to the national economy while reducing its environmental impacts. Scaling down the ship-repairing facilities and moving them to outside the area earmarked for regeneration could shift this activity to close proximity of residential areas in localities which are close by. This should therefore be avoided.  Even though I doubt very much whether in practice it is that easy to shift these facilities.

The regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour Area can be achieved without tying down the area to development which is tourism-linked. The consultation strategy itself identifies various other options and activities amongst which new business ventures which improve the overall well-being of the community.

The tourism industry itself, over two years ago, had sounded the alarm that the number of tourists arriving in Malta was too high: beyond that which the country can take sustainably. Research published at the same time had identified the first signs of turismofobia, a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists and tourism. These are the first indications of social discontent with the pressures linked to tourism growth. They need to be addressed but are however being ignored.

There is obviously a need for less tourism, not more of it. Access to public investment has to be made available to other sectors.

The public consultation is in its initial stages, and it is still possible for the discussion to develop along different lines. The discussion required is one which addresses Marsa as a whole and which does not focus on just one tiny corner, even though it may be an important corner.

This is a unique opportunity for all stakeholders who can and should get involved to assist in the identification of a sustainable vision for the regeneration of Marsa as a whole: in the interests of all.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 December 2021

Il-kosta tagħna lkoll: inħarsuha

Għaddej sforz kontinwu biex il-kosta tkun ikkommerċjalizzata. Sforz li ilu għaddej is-snin.

Il-jott marina proposta f’Marsaskala hi biss eżempju wieħed minn bosta li mhux limitati għan-nofsinnhar politiku, iżda li huma mifruxa mal-pajjiż.  Fost l-eżempji hemm it-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles, Manoel Island, il-Bajja tal-Balluta, ix-Xatt u l-jott marina tal-Birgu, il-jott marina fil-Kalkara u x-Xatt tal-Belt.  

Hemm ukoll għaddej il-kummerċjalizzazzjoni tal-ispazji pubbliċi mal-kosta, bil-bankini b’kollox.

L-art pubblika kontinwament qed tkun trasformata f’minjiera ta’ profitti privati, ħafna drabi għall-magħżulin. Il-kwalità tal-ħajja tar-residenti rari jagħtu każ tagħha, jekk mhux fl-aħħar minuta. Meta possibli jevitawha kompletament ukoll.

Għaddew madwar erba’ snin minn meta l-Parlament approva il-leġislazzjoni biex tissaħħah il-protezzjoni tal-kosta permezz tal-liġi dwar id-dimanju pubbliku. Kellna kemm-il Ministru li tkellem b’mod pompuż dwar dan. L-għaqdiet ambjentali ippreżentaw lista ta’ iktar minn għoxrin sit, mifruxa mal-kost,a li kollha kemm huma jikkwalifikaw għall-protezzjoni. Ninsab infurmat li l-għaqdiet ambjentali għamlu riċerka estensiva dwar min hu sid din l-art. Iżda sfortunatament l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet u l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar qed iżommu dan il-proċess milli jitwettaq, anke għal dawk il-każijiet fejn l-art hi kollha kemm hi propjetà pubblika.  

Għalfejn jiġu approvati dawn il-liġijiet jekk ma hemm l-ebda intenzjoni li dawn ikunu implimentati?

Nafu li wieħed mill-impatti ewlenin tat-tibdil fil-klima fuq il-gżejjer, inkluż dawk Maltin, hu bit-tibdil fl-livell tal-baħar. Numru ta’ gżejjer fl-Oċejan Paċifiku li mhumiex wisq il-fuq minn livell il-baħar diġa bdew jisparixxu taħt baħar li l-livell tiegħu qed jogħla. Robert Abela, Prim Ministru, huwa u jindirizza l-laqgħa Internazzjonali fi Glasgow dwar it-tibdil fil-klima (COP26), iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, emfasizza dan il-punt.

L-għoli fil-livell tal-baħar ikollu impatt sostanzjali fuq il-gżejjer Maltin, skond kemm dan ikun kbir. Jeffettwa l-infrastruttura kostali kollha: l-infrastruttura marittima, dik tat-turiżmu, tal-ilma kif ukoll l-infrastruttura tal-enerġija li huma kollha b’xi mod marbuta mal-kosta. Kemm-il darba jogħla l-livell tal-baħar dawn kollha jitħarbtu.  Anke iż-żoni residenzjali viċin tal-kosta jsofru impatti mhux żgħar.  

Ħadd ma jaf eżatt dwar kemm, kif u meta dan ser iseħħ. L-ewwelnett għax il-proċess li bih dan iseħħ għad mhux mifhum biżżejjed. Imma ukoll għax għalkemm ma nistgħux nevitawh nistgħu nnaqqsu l-impatt tiegħu billi nindirzzaw u nnaqqsu l-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju.

Repetutatament fil-laqgħat tal-UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change) li jsiru regolarment tul is-snin, kien hemm emfasi fuq il-ħtieġa li ż-żieda fit-temperatura globali minn kif kienet fl-era pre-industrijali ma tiżdiedx b’iktar minn 1.5 gradi Celsius. Dan sar fuq insistenza tal-istati gżejjer u tal-pajjiżi sottożviluppati, għax għal snin twal il-limitu raġjonevoli kien meqjus li kien ta’ 2 gradi Celsius. Pass ieħor il-quddiem. Imma mhux biżżejjed.

F’Pariġu fl-2015 kien hemm qbil dwar dan kollu. Imma sfortunatament dan ma kienx ikkonvertit f’azzjoni. Huwa dak li issa qed nistennew li jseħħ fi Glasgow.

Huwa essenzjali li nindirizzaw it-tibdil fil-klima bis-serjetà. Anke l-ħarsien tal-kosta jiddependi minn hekk.

ippubblikat fuq Illum :il-Ħadd 7 ta’ Novembru 2021

Claiming back (and protecting) our coast

A continuous effort to commercialise the coast is under way. It has been going on for quite some time.

The proposed Marsaskala yacht marina is just one example. It is possibly the latest of many examples, not just in the political south, but throughout the Maltese islands. The Freeport Terminal, Manoel Island, Balluta Bay, the Birgu Waterfront and yacht marina, the Kalkara yacht marina, Valletta Waterfront are some of the most glaring examples which come to mind.

There is also the ongoing commercialisation of the public spaces adjacent to the coast, including pavements and open spaces.

Public land is continuously being transformed into private profits, many times for the chosen few. In practically all cases,the quality of life of residents is not factored in, until the eleventh hour. Whenever possible, it is avoided completely.

It has been around four years since parliament approved legislation in order to reinforce the protection of the coastline through the public domain legislation. Much was said pompously by many a Minister. Environmental NGOs have submitted a list of over twenty sites along the coast which qualify for protection. I am informed that eNGOs have even carried out extensive research on ownership issues related to these sites. It is indeed unfortunate that the Lands Authority and the Planning Authority have ground the whole process to an unacceptable halt. This applies even in those instances where it is proven beyond any doubt whatsoever that the land in question is public property.

Why approve such laws when there is no intention to implement them?

We are aware that one of the main areas through which climate change will impact islands, including the Maltese islands, is through sea level rise.  A number of low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean are already in the process of disappearing below a rising sea level.  Robert Abela, Prime Minister, addressing the Glasgow Climate Change COP26 earlier this week emphasised this point.

A rise in sea level will have a substantial impact on the Maltese islands, depending on its extent. It will impact the coastal infrastructure: the maritime, tourism, as well as the water and electricity infrastructure are all linked to our coast. A sea level rise will play havoc with all this. It will even impact the residential areas which have been developed close to the coast.

No one is certain as to when, how and the extent of this happening. Primarily this is due to the fact the natural processes in play are not fully understood yet. It is also however possible that mitigation measures planned and in hand to reduce carbon emissions could be quite effective if taken up.

During UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change) meetings it is continuously emphasised that the increase in global mean temperature should not exceed 1.5 degree Celsius over the pre-industrial temperature. This is the result of extensive lobbying by island states and under-developed countries over the years. They have been successful in adjusting the objective from the previous 2 degree Celsius.  This is definitely a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. 

In Paris in 2015 this was already agreed upon. Yet it was all words, none of which was converted into action. At Glasgow we need some decisions which are implemented the soonest.

Taking definite action on climate change is required to protect our coast.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 7 November 2021

Inħarsu l-ODZ

Kważi kulħadd, illum il-ġurnata jaf li l-ittri ODZ ifissru “outside the development zone”, jiġifieri barra miz-zona tal-iżvilupp. Ir-regoli u r-regolamenti tal-ippjanar diġa jħarsu l-ODZ. Hi l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar flimkien mal-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u ir-Riżorsi li għandhom din ir-responsabbilta.

Kull meta jsiru proposti biex jiżdied il-ħarsien tal-ODZ, ifisser biss li l-miżuri attwali ta’ ħarsien  mhux qed jitwettqu sewwa. Fil-prattika jfisser ukoll li l-awtoritajiet maħtura mhux qed jagħmlu xogħolhom u li l-kontrolli fis-seħħ mhux jiffunzjonaw!  

L-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art hu minnu nnifsu kontroversjali għax jinvolvi għażliet, ħafna drabi għażliet diffiċli.  Anke deċiżjonijiet żgħar, ukoll iħallu lil uħud diżappuntati: aħseb u ara deċiżjonijiet maġġuri li jkollhom impatti konsiderevoli fuq bosta.  Li tiddetermina n-natura tal-iżvilupp permissibli u l-limiti tiegħu hu mill-iktar kontroversjali. Dan rajnieh iseħħ quddiem għajnejna huma u jkunu ifformulati l-pjani lokali ħmistax-il sena ilu, u iktar waqt l-implimentazzjoni tagħhom.

Il-pjani lokali jistgħu jkunu wieħed minn żewġ tipi: jistgħu jkunu ċari ħafna u rigidi b’mod li jispeċifikaw eżatt x’għandu jsir bla ebda eċċezzjoni. F’dan il-kaz ikun jeħtieg li dawn ikunu aġġornati regolarment biex jirriflettu l-aspettattivi raġjonevoli tal-komunità.  Minflok, il-pjani lokali jistgħu jkun flessibli, b’mod li jipprovdu soluzzjonijiet differenti għal cirkustanzi differenti. F’dan il-kaz il-proċess ta’ interpretazzjoni hu wieħed kruċjali: jeħtieġ li jkun wieħed konsistenti.

F’kull kaz, dan kollu hu dipendenti fuq li jkollok persuni ta’ integrità li jamministraw l-affarijiet. Tul is-snin id-dibattitu pubbliku żviluppa b’mod li kien hemm qbil li l-politiku għandu joqgħod lura milli jinvolvi ruħu fil-proċess tal-ippjanar. Sfortunatament ma sarx hekk għax il-politiku għażel persuni oħrajn biex jaġixxu f’ismu, imma kontinwament jassigura ruħu li jibqa’ jikkontrolla hu, bir-remote control! 

Dawk li jiffurmaw parti mill-proċess ta’ teħid ta’ deċiżjonijiet kienu “persuni ta’ fiduċja” lesti biex jagħmlu li jgħidulhom u dan sfortunatament xejjen l-iskop kollu tar-riformi li saru tul is-snin.  Dan rajnieh iseħħ quddiem għajnejna. Fost dawn “il-persuni ta’ integrità” li appuntaw fuq il-bordijiet insibu agent tal-propjetà, jirreklama żvilupp li għadu ma sarx u li kien għad irid japprova hu. Dan weħel multa sostanzjali dwar ħasil ta’ flus u bħalissa għaddej bi proċeduri kriminali dwar iktar akkużi ta’ ħasil ta’ flus!

Din hi l-vera problema tal-ippjanar fl-użu tal-art f’Malta u tal-ħarsien tal-ODZ: l-għażla ta’ dawk li ser jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet! Qabel ma din tissolva ser jibqa’ jsir it-tħarbit.

Tul it-tlett snin li għamilt naħdem fl-uffiċċju tal-verifika tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kelli l-opportunità li nifhem dan ferm iktar u dan billi eżaminajt numru mhux żgħir ta’ kazijiet.

Il-lobbying favur jew kontra deċiżjoni speċifika tal-ippjanar hi parti integrali mill-proċess kollu.  Dan jista’ jagħmel il-ġid jekk ikun dokumentat kif imiss u jkun ikkunsidrat bis-serjetà. Imma jekk l-argumenti jsiru bil-ħabi u bis-segretezza jew bit-tfesfis fil-widnejn, jista’ jwassal għal deċiżjonijiet ħżiena u anke għall-korruzzjoni.

Tul is-snin kellna numru ta’ professjonisti tal-ippjanar li ġew imwarrba għax kienu kompetenti iżżejjed!  Ma ġewx imwarrba għal raġunijiet politiċi. Li dawn ġew imwarrba kellu effett doppju:  intilfu professjonisti validi imma bihom ingħatat twissija lill-bqija. Xejn ma hemm allura għax niskantaw li l-bqija jimxu mal-kurrent: għax hekk jaqbel!

F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi hu ċar li ma hemm l-ebda futur għal ippjanar raġjonevoli dwar l-użu tal-art sakemm il-politiku jibqa’ jiġbed l-ispag: fid-deher jew fil-moħbi.  Ir-rwol tal-politika u tal-politiku hu li jistabilixxi direzzjoni politika u li jara li jkunu allokati r-riżorsi meħtieġa. L-implimentazzjoni, iżda, għandha titħalla f’idejn min hu mħarreġ biex jagħmel dan ix-xogħol. Dan sfortunatament  bħalissa jidher li hu holm!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: 19 ta’ Settembru 2021

Protecting the ODZ

Most of us are aware that the letters ODZ stand for the term “outside the development zone”. Planning rules and regulations already protect the ODZ. The protection of the ODZ is the responsibility of both the Planning Authority as well as the Environment and Resources Authority.

Whenever proposals are made to further protect the ODZ, this signifies just one thing: that current measures are not functioning as expected. In practice it also signifies that the appointed authorities are not carrying out their responsibilities adequately. Specifically, the underlying problem is that checks and balances in land use planning and environmental protection are malfunctioning.

Land use planning is by its very nature controversial as it involves choices as to how best to proceed. Even normal day-to-day decisions tend to disappoint some, let alone major decisions having considerable impacts! Determining the nature of the permissible development and its limits is the most controversial of all. We have seen all this unfolding when the local plans were formulated fifteen years ago, and more in the manner in which they have and are being implemented.

Local plans can be one of two types: they can be very rigid, determining exactly what can or cannot be done without any exception. In such a case they would require frequent revision to keep up-to-date with reasonable expectations of the community.  Alternatively, they may be flexible, catering for different situations. The problem in such a case is their interpretation, which has to be carried out in a consistent manner.

In all cases, however, it boils down to having persons of integrity administering the process. Over the years the local public debate has developed in a manner that it was considered adequate to keep the politician out of the planning process as much as possible. In reality this was not done as the politicians at the end of the day selected others to do their bidding, subject to remote controlling. Those forming part of land use planning decision-taking have generally been “persons of trust”, ready to do the politician’s bidding, which unfortunately brings us back to square one.

We have seen the process function unashamedly in this manner over the years. Among the “persons of integrity” appointed as decision-takers one finds an estate agent, advertising the developments which he was yet to approve. He was subject to an administrative fine for money-laundering and is currently undergoing criminal proceedings on more charges of money laundering!

This is the real problem in land use planning and the protection of the ODZ: selecting the decision-taker! Until this is solved, we have to witness much more damage.

During the three years when I worked as part of the land use planning audit office, I had the opportunity to understand the matter by examining in depth a number of specific cases.

Lobbying in favour or against a specific planning decision is an integral part of the land use planning process. It can be healthy if it is well documented and tackled above board. It may however lead to bad decisions and eventually corruption if done secretly or in an underhand manner.

Over the years I have seen a number of very competent professional planners being side-lined as they were too competent! The political persuasion of the planner in such cases was irrelevant. Their side-lining had a double effect: in addition to losing the competent planner this served as a warning shot to the rest. Consequently, it is no surprise that most of the rank-and-file planners choose the path of least resistance: it is to their personal benefit!

There is no future for reasonable land use planning if the politician keeps fiddling around. The role of politics is about setting the political direction and allocating the required resources. Its implementation should be left to those who are trained to carry out the job. Unfortunately, so far, that has proven to be too much to expect!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 19 September 2021

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