Developers' interest overruled the public at Ramla -
15 June 2007

Where developers’ interests are at stake, public consultation is reduced to a sham.

This was confirmed when Mepa ignored the request of Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) and other NGOs, as well as that of the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage to simply postpone the decision of the building of villas at Ramla l-Hamra, pending further investigation.

In a press release issued on Friday evening, FAA insisted that Mepa’s claim that the information about the application to build villas at Ramla l-Hamra Bay was available since 2005 “has no bearing on the case”.

The environmental organisation said that just because an application is "freely available" doesn't necessarily mean that the public, or a non-governmental organisation, will automatically know about a project report unless alerted to it in some way or another. Moreover facts can emerge at the last moment, often after the application has been approved or when a public consultation takes place at very short notice so that only few people can attend. It was not widely known that an application had been made for the tourist complex at Ramla l-Hamra, and most learnt of the application only at a late stage in the proceedings.

This is why the waiving of an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is so serious, FAA insisted. Not only does an EIA ensure a professional study of the effects that a development is going to have on the heritage, ecology and human community, but it also ensures that the project reports reach the public through consultation. But in this case, Mepa waived the EIA requirement.

“According to the terms of the Aarhus Convention on public freedom of access to environmental information, it is MEPA’s duty to disseminate such information, however we have often observed that a great deal of the information is not available for consultation, as is the case with the auditor’s reports.”

Referring to the auditor’s report on the Ramla l-Hamra application, FAA said, “indeed if, as asserted by Andrew Calleja, the Mepa chairman, information is so readily available from MEPA, the first step in the right direction for Mepa to make would be to make the Auditor’s report available or does this report cast further doubts on the processing of this application?”

FAA also commented on MEPA’s claim that FAA showed no interest to view the project description statement of the Ramla l-Hamra application. “The moment we became aware of the serious issues at stake we spoke to the Ministry of Rural Affairs and the Environment and a meeting with MEPA Major Projects was kindly set for late afternoon to allow the Gozitan parties to participate. When we asked to examine the papers in the file, we were informed that we could only see the Case Officer’s report. Had we been allowed to see the Project Description Statement (PDS) would it not have been listed together with that of the Case Officer’s report? This may have been a genuine oversight on the Official’s part, but it was certainly not due to lack of interest on our part. We did however see the plans which did not conform to MEPA regulations which stipulate that the developer is obliged to submit originals, not photocopies of plans in a different scale to the ones previously submitted. The MEPA Chairman’s claim is therefore not correct”.

The organisation’s press release concluded by asking: “Is Mr. Calleja implying that if objectors are unaware of a project which could have massive negative effects on the environment and heritage, that MEPA will go ahead and approve such a project, because there are no objectors?”
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15 Jun 2007 by