Architect Simon Saliba, chairman of the Planning Authority board (Planning Commission) until last November, has filed a lawsuit against the government challenging his ‘illegal’ removal.
The lawsuit was filed after Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia failed to reply to a judicial protest filed last February contesting the minister’s ‘unilateral’ decision to remove Saliba from chairing the commission and relegating him to a substitute member in a less important commission.
In his lawsuit, Saliba is arguing that the Minister’s decision, which he claims was communicated to the media before he knew anything about it, was illegal since his appointment as an independent member of the Planning Commission could only be terminated either through his voluntary resignation or through a parliamentary resolution.
Saliba is asking the court to declare his removal as chairperson of the Planning Commission as illegal and to reverse the ministerial decision, court documents show.
In his lawsuit, signed by lawyer Louise Anne Pulis, Saliba also argues that his right to defend himself by contesting the administrative decision has also been breached.
The Development Planning Act, regulating the appointment of members of the Planning Commission, states that “the independent members and the member representing the interests of environmental NGOs may resign by letter addressed to the minister, but may not be removed from office except by a resolution of the House of Representatives on the ground of misconduct or inability to perform the duties of their office”.
Saliba was appointed Chair of the Planning Commission in January 2019 by Minister Ian Borg who was responsible for the Planning Authority at the time.
The appointment was for four years and was reconfirmed by Minister Aaron Farrugia a few months later following the cabinet reshuffle that occurred when Robert Abela was appointed prime minister.
Soon after, 11 environmental NGOs started applying pressure on the new minister to remove Saliba. They accused him of “siding with developers” and “obstructing the right to a fair planning process”.
Citing as an example an application in Balluta filed by the owners of Captain Morgan to install a pontoon in the bay for their hop-on-hop-off boat service, the NGOs claimed that after declaring that he would refuse the permit Saliba changed his position.
They accused him of “acting as the lawyer for the developers”. Saliba denies these claims.
In a statement after the NGOs’ call, the Planning Authority had defended Saliba’s decision and his conduct. Yet a few weeks later Farrugia removed Saliba from his post and gave him a junior role in the regularisation permits commission.