The validity of the Planning Authority’s approval of the db Group project in St George’s Bay was put into doubt over the clear conflict of interest of one of the 10 PA board members who voted for the project, former opposition leader Simon Busuttil said.
On Wednesday, The Shift News revealed that PA board member Matthew Pace is also a franchise owner of Remax Alliance Group, which was selling the apartments when the land was still government-owned.
In a tweet, Busuttil said “this shocking revelation should, on its own, put in doubt the validity of the PA decision on this project. When someone has a conflict of interest the decision he takes is, by definition, vitiated”.
Last week, Pace voted in favour of the 38-storey tower and 17-storey hotel located a few metres from Pembroke’s residential area.
Pace is also a franchise owner of Remax Alliance Group – the agency that was selling the project’s apartments at a time when there was no planning permit and the land still belonged to the public in 2016.
The project’s approval created a huge public outcry – especially after online news portal Newsbook revealed that a private jet was chartered to fly in board member Jacqueline Gili on the day to vote in favour of the development. Gili was on a family holiday in Sicily and was flown back the same evening of the vote.
PA chairman Vince Cassar told MaltaToday that he disagreed with the decision, saying that it was unprecedented and could have been avoided. Opposition Leader Adrian Delia called for an independent inquiry into the matter and a government spokesman told Lovin Malta “the government disagrees with the line of action”.
However, the PA issued a statement saying that the cost to hire the private jet amounted to €8,750 and was endorsed by PA executive chairman Johann Buttigieg. The amount was “within the limit that can be authorised by the executive chairperson” and that “no further endorsements were required by the government”.
Last year, government concluded a €60 million deal for the transfer of the 35,000 square metre site formally occupied by the Institute of Tourism Studies, to hotelier Silvio Debono of db Group.
The land was given to db Group on a 99-year emphyteusis, with the condition that the project be completed within five years of the planning permits being issued.
The project, which includes a 140-metre tower has been described as being “out of scale” by the PA’s Design Advisory Committee and the PA received more than 4,500 objections, the largest number for any planning application ever.
The plans include a €300 million project for a 315-room hotel under the Hard Rock franchise, as well as 209 residences.