Planning Authority board members are being blamed for ignoring the long-term negative impact Silvio Debono’s tower of greed will have on Pembroke residents and their quality of life.
Unlike those who voted against, the 10 board members who voted in favour did not need to justify their stand. They came, voted and left the building in silence while Debono celebrated with his lucky charm Lou Bondi.
Those opposing the mega-bucks project rightfully vented their anger and frustration and singled out the 10 board members for betraying the interests of the many in favour of one already rich and powerful man.
The 10 board members went about their dastardly business as if it is their duty to do so. And in a way it is, for they are only the intermediaries who hit the final nail in a coffin designed and built by government.
They could have easily looked at the bigger picture and voted against Debono’s towers but hiding behind the piles of scientific studies and expert reports they rubber-stamped a decision which was taken elsewhere a long time ago.
Months ago, behind Castille’s closed doors government lawyers ironed out a deal with Debono’s own vassals which gave the Mellieha feudal lord 35,000 square metres of public land for peanuts.
Long before the PA board met to discuss the project, government signed a deal to give Debono the prime public land for €15 million. Joseph Muscat did an inverse Robin Hood and stole the land from a country where land is the scarcest and most valuable resource to give it to a rich man who will only become richer.
The land was given to Debono on a 99-year emphyteusis, who will be paying a miserable €15 million premium payable over seven years, and €23.4 million for the redemption of ground rent on individual residences included in the project.
The very same luxury apartments in the 37-storey residential tower from which Debono will at the least rake in €123 million according to audit firm KPMG.
Over and above this, Debono will make hundreds of millions from the five-star Hard Rock Hotel, a casino, shopping malls and lido facilities incorporated in the massive project.
Months before the PA’s approval, the poor Debono paid €5 million on the signing of the deed (rendering the planning process to an afterthought) and his legal minions negotiated payment terms with the government to stagger the rest of the payments for the acquired land in several instalments over seven years starting from last year.
Moreover, government also exempted Debono from paying the full €1.5 million in annual ground rent, accepting instead to discount the sum due to just €1,000 until the completion of the project.
Now Debono – a former PN militant – not only owns a hotel business but he also owns the Hard Rock Café franchise in Malta alongside vast business interests in construction, healthcare and catering that have been awarded millions in contracts and deals by successive governments.
In a country where land is hard currency, Debono belongs to an elite group of entrepreneurs who hold the country by the balls. They donate millions to the two major political parties and in return they get to control the only resource which can earn them millions.
People vote for Joseph Muscat but in reality neither he or his ministers are in control. The people in control are the few who own and control land and who keep Labour and the PN on a leash. Many were surprised when a few weeks before the 2017 election, former PN leader Simon Busuttil outed Debono’s blackmail.
Many questioned Busuttil’s wisdom in going on TV and read an SMS in which Debono’s company asked for the donations it gave to the party back after the opposition asked the auditor general to investigate the deed. It might have been a knee-jerk reaction which exposed the hold big business have on both mainstream parties.
It might have also unveiled Busuttil’s award position at the helm of a party which put itself in a position to be blackmailed. But at least Busuttil did the right thing and broke ranks with the powerful elite who run the show from behind the curtains of democracy.
As soon as Busuttil was gone, his successor Adrian Delia was quick to make up for Busuttil’s rapture by cosying up to Debono.
Although the PN representative Marthese Portelli was one of the four PA board members to vote against the mega-project, make no mistake about where the PN stands today.
As PN secretary general Clyde Puli said recently, the party’s decision to distance itself from Debono and his ilk was a mistake. “Business people are those who create wealth, employ people and help generate the economy and we want to work with them,” Puli said on TV.
And that places the PN in the only place from which it can regain power. In the back pocket of big business, together with Labour. But unlike Labour and the PN, Debono need not wait for his turn to rule the country.