No conflict of interest for MEPA board member who offers advice to developers -
News • 20 November 2005

No conflict of interest for MEPA board member who offers advice to developers

James Debono

A board member at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, Louis Cassar, is claiming he sees no conflict of interest by acting as a consultant to developers whose projects have to be approved by the board he sits on.
Environment Minister George Pullicino, is also saying Cassar has no conflict of interest.

Cassar is in fact a consultant to developers of three major development projects, namely Tigné’s MIDI project, Ramla Bay’s Ulysses Lodge, and the Xaghra l-Hamra golf course.

It will be the MEPA board that will grant or refuse permission for these development applications.

The development of a commercial centre on a derelict site in the pristine Ramla Bay has already been granted an outline development permission by MEPA.

Cassar is claiming he notified MEPA upon his appointment to the board that his professional work includes the preparation of ecological studies for developers applying for development permits.

Whenever an application in which he has had involvement is presented to the board, he sits out the board discussion and does not vote on the application: “in such cases, I always declare my professional interest beforehand and I abstain from any discussion or votes on these applications.”

Cassar rebutted criticism that his position on the board makes him more attractive to developers: “I have been asked to conduct ecological studies before my appointment and I have been consulted on a number of applications since my appointment. But I have always refrained from participating in any decision related to these applications.”
Prior to becoming a MEPA board member, Cassar had been engaged by Azzopardi Fisheries to conduct a study on the ecological impact of a proposed tuna farm nest to Ta’ Cenc cliffs, in Gozo.

The impact study prepared by Cassar made no reference to the huge bird colonies which would have been threatened by this project. In fact the study failed to mention the fact that Ta’ Cenc cliffs support the largest colony of Cory’s Shearwater in the island and that it was the last breeding area for the Peregrine Falcon.

Cassar has also conducted the ecological baseline studies in the environmental impact assessment for the Xaghra l-Hamra golf course. He will also not be participating in the eventual board discussions or vote on this issue.

A spokesperson for the minister said Cassar’s position is completely tenable as all members of the MEPA board may retain their professional interests as their appointment is not a full-time one: “when an application is being decided and a board member has a professional interest, this is declared prior to the discussion and the member withdraws from the discussion.”
MEPA board members are governed by a code of ethics for public sector board directors, which was issued in 1994 by the Cabinet office. “Cassar is fully abiding to this code,” the ministry said.

Earlier this year, MaltaToday revealed that a Planning Authority board member was owed thousands of liri in dues and faced court litigation on the matter. The board member also turned out to be a victim of a much publicised shooting incident linked to an alleged disagreement over ‘money.’.

Once again Minister George Pullicino had argued that he did not see a conflict of interest and stood by the board member. Later the board member resigned from the MEPA board.
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