Kastilja's scandalous intervention raises suspicion - www.maltastar.com
maltastar.com analysis: RAMLA L-HAMRA DEVELOPMENT
Is it a case of glaring political intervention or a serious case of corruption?
Kurt Farrugia Sat, 29 September 2007

The Office of the Prime Minister had directly intervened to help the Ramla l-Hamra developers after they encountered "anomalies and problems" with having their permit legally issued by Mepa.

Now, after the heavy political backlash and the NGOs' insistence in extracting the truth into how Mepa issued a permit for the development of 23 villas and pools at the picturesque site, the developer’s links in Kastilja clearly pulled the plug on them. With the consequence that the developer is now back to square one, facing the same problems which they had before the OPM’s involvement.

Kastilja’s involvement in helping the developers could easily be considered, at best, one of the most glaring cases of political intervention, at worst, a serious case of corruption.

Enter Gonzi's top aide and Mepa board member

In a report by the Mepa Audit Office, it was revealed that the Ramla l-Hamra developers had sought “help” directly from the Office of the Prime Minister after they were made aware that it was going to be difficult to obtain a permit to develop their land.

The involvement of one of Lawrence Gonzi’s top aides and confidant, Leonard Callus (also a Mepa board member) proved to be crucial to solve the developers’ problems.

In March 2005 Callus had arranged a meeting between the Ulysses Lodge developer, Mario Grech, and Mepa’s case officers. The prime minister’s right-hand man was present throughout the meeting.

“The developers had problems with their permit, so, you know how it is in Malta, they used their links in Kastilja,” said one source in Mepa’s top ranks.

To date, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi never commented on the serious case which involves his confidante.

Public's rejection

A few months later, the Mepa board – including Gonzi’s aide – voted in favour of the project, except for Labour Party’s appointed member Joe Brincat. The permit allowed the developer to erect 23 villas with pools in the slope leading to the beach.

The public opinion completely rejected Mepa’s decision so much so that a protest organised by environmental NGO’s had attracted thousands of Maltese and Gozitans.

On Friday, The Times triumphantly splashed on its front page a decision by the Mepa board to reassess the permit issued for Ramla l-Hamra’s development.

Basing their reconsideration on Perit Lino Bianco’s report, acting as a consultant to Labour Xaghra local councillor Carmen Bajada, the Mepa legal office said that there is indeed a case where the developer provided Mepa with fraudulent information.

Perit Bianco had found that a tract of land on which the Mepa board had issued a permit for the development of the villas was owned by government.

Pertinent questions

Mepa’s rethinking of its decision leads to a series of questions that need an explanation.

What was the role of the Office of the Prime Minister in the issuing of the permit?

Was the Office of the Prime Minister aware that the developer provided fraudulent information?

Was the Office of the Prime Minister involved in the developer’s ‘cover up’ of certain facts which are now sufficient proof to revoke the permit?

Has Leonard Callus ever been involved in other cases where he directly served as a link between developers and Mepa?

Calls for Mepa board members to resign

Meanwhile, the Labour Party in a statement signed by Labour environment spokespersons Joe Brincat and Roderick Galdes, referred to the OPM’s intervention in helping the developer obtain permits to develop Ramla l-Hamra.

Labour deemed this case as “abusive political intervention, if not a clear case of corruption”.

Brincat and Galdes called on the resignation of all the Mepa board members because of the permissiveness and incompetence with which they worked in the Ramla l-Hamra permit.

They also called on the Prime Minister, Gozo Minister and Environment Minister, who endorsed the project, to apologise with the Maltese and Gozitans for this scandalous case.

The environmental NGO’s Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, NatureTrust Malta, Friends of the Earth (Malta) and Ramblers Association of Malta welcomed the decision that a MEPA hearing is to be held to discuss the withdrawal of the permit to build 23 villas with pools overlooking Ramla l-Hamra, Gozo.

“The verdict to stop any project in the area will be considered a mature decision as only in this way can environmental responsibility be shown and development-free zones maintained for future generations to enjoy,” they commented.
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29 Sep 2007 by Saveramla.com