Government refuses to investigate Ramla l-Hamra permit - team 20 June 2007

Despite the revelation that one of Prime Minister’s top aides was “involved” in the adjudication stage of the application for 23 villas at Ramla l-Hamra, on Wednesday evening government announced that it will not be investigating the application process.

A Mepa auditor report penned in 2005, which Mepa had insisted on keeping under wraps until it was disclosed to the media on Wednesday, states that the authority had no “formal justification” to grant the developers proposing the villas at Ramla l-Hamra an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) waiver.

The report effectively confirms the environmentalists’ claims that the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s waiver was irregular.

At the same time, the auditor’s investigations, which were launched upon his own initiative, found out that Leonard Callus, a top aide of Prime Minister Dr Lawrence Gonzi, and who is also one of the 11 Mepa board members, was present during a meeting between the developers and Mepa officials during the “planning application stage”. This means that Callus was involved in the process, but still participated in the Mepa board meeting that approved the developers’ outline application. He was even one of the 10 board members that voted in favour of the Ramla l-Hamra villas, a vote which led to the issue of the final permit for the developers’ project.

When local newspapers asked Callus to justify his position, on Wednesday morning Callus revealed even that the developers had contacted the Office of the Prime Minister for help. He said that he got involved after the developers filed a complaint to the Prime Minister’s office, apparently because Mepa was not being clear about what it required from the developer. It was here that Callus called for a meeting between Mepa officials involved in the processing of the Ramla application, and the developers. He was present for this meeting.

The auditor’s report notes that even if this involvement might have been passive, a Mepa board member should ensure its members do not get involved in the processing stage of a development application. It even said that when “member’s commitments conflict or appear to conflict with his/her duties as a board member he/she should reconsider his/her duties as a board member”.

But Callus defended himself by stating that “his actions were aimed at facilitating the process, wherever it might have led”.

On Wednesday evening, government said that “it does not feel it has to interfere in the process at this stage. Yet, it will maintain the right to decide, at a later stage, whether or not to call for an inquiry on this decision”.

Interestingly, just two days before, while environmentalists were announcing a national protest against the building of villas at Ramla l-Hamra, to be held on Monday 25 June, at 1830hrs, in Valletta, a spokesperson for one organisation said that “government is ultimately responsible” of Malta’s environment. This is a clear sign that they are expecting government to intervene and overturn Mepa’s approval of the Ramla l-Hamra project.
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20 Jun 2007 by