Insensitive and irresponsible authorities

The head of the Planning Authority, Martin Saliba, has a lot to answer. Installed by former Planning Minister Ian Borg after relations with the current head of the Malta Tourism Authority, Johann Buttigieg, deteriorated, the PA executive chairman remained under the minister’s tenure Aaron Farrugia. This can be understood as a sign of the much-vaunted continuity even in the chaotic world of Maltese planning.

In a recent interview with this newspaper, Saliba made headlines for his blunt statement that Malta and its people must “accept that they are entering a modern era”. That in itself shouldn’t shock anyone, until it is remembered that Saliba is in charge of running a regulatory authority, not an investment vehicle.

And while the Palestinian Authority has, effectively and perhaps conveniently, used this argument to justify the destruction of much of our built and unbuilt heritage, its mindset is no different from that of its predecessor, who spoke with pride of the profits made by his PAs at the end of each fiscal year.

Saliba also uses a mercantilist view of planning in Malta. His statement that “the property is valued for its development potential” ignores the existence, and indeed the value, of communities, open spaces, clean air and sunlight.

Interestingly, the PA’s annual reports written with both Buttigieg and Saliba at the helm will include fierce criticism of the PA’s own disregard for planning policies and internal procedures. This criticism comes from the otherwise helpless Town Planning Ombudsman’s office, a role occupied in the following years by honest investigators who, however, have no power to penalize the authority or its staff.

Saliba claims that “development is controlled”. However, the PA has never excelled in control, especially when it comes to big developers. It is hard to guess which side Saliba is on when it comes to choosing between regulating development for quality of life or endorsing it for economic growth. For him, citizens who oppose massive developments are a form of nuisance; at the same time, his PA cuts thousands of dollars in fees owed to him by stray developers.

Saliba’s behavior is reminiscent of another president, Victor Axiak, who heads the Environment and Resources Authority. Axiak was recently attacked by a group of NGOs after a series of questionable decisions taken by ERA. Today, one of the members of its board of directors has just resigned.

However, Axiak not only vigorously defended his position, but doubled his position. Since the NGOs call for his resignation, ERA has given its blessing to the development of db City Center in Pembroke, an ODZ boutique hotel in Dingli (ERA had already opposed its development in 2017), a round -point intended to destroy arable land in Burmarrad. , and the stealth change of conditions given to the Fortina Group, which intended to build a jetty in Balluta while the appeal is still pending.

But much of what has been said in this editorial concerns a whole range of institutions, authorities and councils, which seem to take advantage of the general atmosphere of deregulation afforded to the private sector. In the light of recent news, a reform of the Lands Authority would be desirable, as would a strict control of the activities of Infrastructure Malta.

On the strength of generous investigations, the government insists on sweeping scandals and incompetence under the carpet. Citizens have little strength or means to seek redress, especially considering that the ombudsman (like the town planning ombudsman) has no mandate to enforce.

In the absence of laws holding senior officials legally responsible for their misdeeds, the responsibility of the authorities and their presidents will ultimately fall on the minister concerned.

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