Notwithstanding the reversal of the decision, I will not forgive the Labour government for giving away a large area of countryside at Żonqor for development in May 2015. Labour and its then-leader Joseph Muscat gave away an area of 90,000 square metres (equivalent to 18 football pitches) of Outside Development Zone land to the American University of Malta belonging to investors with no experience in tertiary education. The ODZ area given away was later reduced to 31,000 square metres following strong opposition from the public and civil society.

I will not forgive Labour and Joseph Muscat for treating us like imbeciles when they expected us to believe that the ODZ land at Żonqor would be used for ‘student dormitories’ for AUM. It was so obvious that the intended use of that land was for hotels and real estate. The profit from those developments would have gone into the pockets of the Jordanian investor and his unknown backers.

I will not forgive Labour and Joseph Muscat for having, without consultation with any public officer or public agency, the arrogance and the pretension to determine the location and extent of the area to be given away, the social implications for Marsascala, the environmental impacts, the trustworthiness of the investor and the feasibility of setting up a new university. Muscat assessed all this in a mere five-minute meeting. And incredibly he bragged about it.

I will not forgive Labour and Joseph Muscat for ignoring the golden rule that the allocation of public resources to the private sector should be done through a competitive process. Muscat ignored the possibility that the then-Lands Department might have other ideas on how the land could be made use of. He also ignored all government procedures. The way Muscat took the decision (and subsequently defended it) was tantamount to him giving the middle finger to good governance.

I will not forgive Labour for giving away public land to private speculators to make mega-profits from it. Unfortunately,with the Labour government there are many instances where this happened, and not just at Żonqor. Public land should be used for the social and cultural benefit of the wider public. If and where financial profit is made from public land, the funds should go in the public purse to be used for socially beneficial projects and initiatives – and definitely not in the pockets of private speculators. Public land is a vital resource that belongs to us, all Maltese, and which we can ill afford to squander.

I will not forgive Labour for bypassing strict land use policies that prohibit development Outside Development Zone, other than minor exceptions. In making the commitment, Joseph Muscat ignored planning and other processes that are set in legislation. He ignored the need for an Environmental Impact Assessment and other studies. He ignored the need for a development permit from the Planning Authority and brushed away the possibility that the PA and the Environment Resource Authority would have serious reservations on the urbanisation of such a large piece of our countryside.

Of course, the announcement that the ODZ land will revert back to public ownership is good news. It is long overdue. It is a pity that the Labour government under Muscat spent so much time and effort defending that decision, causing anxiety to people who value our countryside.

Incidentally the Żonqor pool site should also be reverted back to public ownership and its use as a public swimming pool should be restored. That way government will save millions of euro required to construct expensive marine structures for a new public swimming pool in Marsascala Bay. It would also ease the anxiety of many Marsascala residents who are opposed to the construction of a pool in the bay.

The reversal of the decision does not ease my anger at the way Labour tried to deprive us, the Maltese public, from a large stretch of countryside in the south – this in a country where untouched countryside is so scarce. By the way, I am also angered by the hypocrisy of certain Labour politicians who are now welcoming this decision and describing it as good news. If it is such an ‘aħbar pożittiva immens’, as claimed by Minister Owen Bonnici on social media, why did he not publicly declare his opposition to the giving away of the Żonqor ODZ land?

The 2015 Labour government decision on the Żonqor ODZ land was a very bad decision for so many reasons. It will require much more than a reversal of that decision for me to forgive Labour for it.

Dr John Ebejer is an urban planner and academic.