Labour calls for resignations over Ramla l-Hamra -
Sun, Sep 30, 2007

Mark Micallef

The Labour Party yesterday called for the resignation of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority board, claiming the authority's move to revoke the controversial permit granted by MEPA for a development at Ramla l-Hamra in Gozo was nothing but a panic-stricken electoral stunt.

Reacting to the report in The Times on Friday that the authority would be reconsidering the controversial development, Labour environment spokesmen Joe Brincat and Roderick Galdes said the project should not have been given the go-ahead in the first place.

The sudden rethink was the result of government pressure, they said, which was sensing popular support slipping away.

The Environment Ministry denied these allegations, accusing the Opposition of trying to gain political mileage.

If anything, the ministry said in its counter-statement, MEPA's advice proved the strength of the authority's checks and balance structure.

Environment Minister George Pullicino pointed out that MEPA's decision hinged on a permit condition imposed last June, well before the permit was issued and clear of any election campaign.

MEPA, in fact, had been advised by its lawyers to revoke the permit on the grounds that a tract of land on which the developer was proposing to build the villas was government property.

The authority does not usually go into the merits of third party rights but, in this case one of the conditions tied to the permit was that the developer enters into a public deed with MEPA, binding himself not to sell the villas as separate units but to retain the project as a whole.

In light of this fact, MEPA's lawyers are arguing that the authority cannot execute the public deed with someone who does not possess the entire property rights over the land earmarked for development.

Moreover, having presented it as his property in the planning application, the developer provided "fraudulent information," which according to the lawyers, warrants the revocation of the permit.

However, Labour is claiming that the whole process was rigged from the start.

The party said the authority failed to request an Environmental Impact Assessment despite the site's natural and heritage value as well as the fact that a member of the Prime Minister's secretariat had intervened in the case.

"Now that the election is close," the party said, "the government is in a state of panic because it knows it is going to lose popular support. It is clear pressure is being put on the MEPA board to revoke this permit...

"In light of all this, we insist that all of MEPA's board members should resign," the statement said. It also called on Gozo Minister Giovanna Debono, the Prime Minister and Mr Pullicino to make a public apology.
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01 Oct 2007 by