Three local councils, 10 NGOs and thousands of individuals are giving reasons to the Planning Authority why the ‘revised’ dB tower Pembroke plans ought to be rejected. Those objections are about height, density, waste, congestion, pollution, noise, light, land use: a huge range of planning reasons why the project should not be allowed.
But there are then considerations beyond the competence of the planning authority because they’re not about planning.
If the dB project jumps through all the hoops of planning restrictions – a suspicious miracle that would be – we would be ignoring the fact that there is a governance hurdle that the dB group should have never gone over.
The Pembroke site is proposed on land that rightly does not belong to the dB group. It rightly belongs to the public and was handed over to Silvio Debono’s dB not only for a price that has no relationship to its value but also through irregular processes.
There’s a very basic principle here. If the manner in which the site was granted to the dB was wrong, that fact cannot be made right simply with a planning permit. This should not be hard to understand. If I apply for a perfectly compliant and modest development to build a house on my neighbour’s plot, just because the application is compliant with planning laws does not mean I can get to steal my neighbour’s land.
The national auditor has already looked into the way the Pembroke site was given to Silvio Debono. Konrad Mizzi and Joseph Muscat’s grubby hands were found tampering with the process. And what is of “grave concern” (that’s a phrase the Auditor chooses, not me) is that the government refused to cooperate with the NAO’s investigation. Konrad Mizzi even failed to attend meetings to answer questions about his conduct.
Let’s take a look.
On page 7 of his abridged report (ITSMarch2020abridged) the auditor complains about “gaps in information” which could only be addressed and clarified “through interviews held with the various stakeholders, including representatives of the Seabank Consortium. Of grave concern to this Office was that the Hon. Dr Konrad Mizzi, the Minister for Tourism at the time of the audit, failed to attend a meeting despite numerous attempts made.”
This is the behaviour of someone who has no answers, it is someone who has much to hide. And we can get a glimpse of that from the NAO’s full report.
Page 11: “The first element considered by the NAO was whether the process leading to the transfer of the site was based on the principles of good governance.” The Auditor finds it wasn’t: “No information supporting the decision to dispose of the site was provided. The NAO was unable to establish who was involved in this decision, with conflicting accounts provided by the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Tourism, each assigning responsibility to the other.”
Page 13: Were negotiations properly conducted? “No records of negotiations undertaken were made available. This grossly detracted from the expected level of governance that was to regulate such a process. This concern extends to meetings held with various Ministers of Government.”
Page 99: The Auditor saw correspondence submitted to Konrad Mizzi: “Of note was that the correspondence was addressed to the Minister’s personal email account.” The question is left hanging: what other correspondence was sent to Konrad Mizzi’s personal email that the Auditor was not shown?
Page 230: “No minutes of meetings held by the Negotiation Committee, whether internal, with the Seabank Consortium, or with other stakeholders, were retained.” That’s bad enough but they also did not keep minutes in meetings where Joseph Muscat, Louis Grech, Konrad Mizzi, Edward Scicluna and other grandees were present. “Despite requests,” the Auditor says he “was not provided with any records of the discussions that ultimately led to the valuation of the site or negotiations related thereto.”
The National Auditor described a deal struck between politicians and a property developer behind closed doors without record, due process or accountability. The government’s delegation in those talks was led by the disgraced Joseph Muscat. Day to day operational decisions were taken by Konrad Mizzi, a man so corrupt even his own party kicked him out.
The planning authority should not be allowed to even consider dB’s development application. If Robert Abela is serious about Konrad Mizzi’s corruption, and intends to do more than the purely symbolic and entirely immaterial withdrawal of the parliamentary whip, he should stop this process immediately in its tracks.
Cancel the dB deal. Take the land back to the public. If it must be commercialised, initiate a fresh process which is fair and rules out the greedy over-exploitation of the site at the expense of neighbours and the environment in the area. Or better still, get someone to use what’s left of the existing building and allow the public to enjoy the space.
If not, it will be clear to us all – not that we had any doubt – that the same corrupt forces that got this corrupt land grab to happen in the first place, are still very much in place.