The Planning Authority’s decision to allow Silvio Debono’s DB Group to build its obscene monstrosity of a project at Pembroke in St George’s Bay must be challenged, in all and any ways possible.
Hell-bent on imposing his hideous “City Centre” on the horrified residents of the area, Debono has allowed his naked, viscously dripping greed to compromise himself, the government and the Planning Authority once too many times.
This loathsome hotelier, fast becoming one of Malta’s most despised characters, is known to make regular, significant donations to both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party. The laws of cause and effect come into sharp focus when you consider how many scandalous, suspect deals he’s been involved with, including the shameful, illegal €274 million St Vincent de Paul contract.
But Pembroke is up there with the worst of them; perhaps the worst of all, because besides stealing the nation’s money, he’s also robbing 50,000 residents of their very environment, their very lives. The hideousness of the giant squatting erection he’s planning to build will overshadow every aspect of their days, looming over them like an evil tyrant dictating how much light they get, how much air, how much liberty.
He’s also stripping them, and everyone else of an entire peninsula, stealing the land itself from the people via the inexplicable deal disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi arranged to grant him the land at a peppercorn price – €15 million – in the first place, and turfing the ideally-located Institute of Tourism Studies out of the elegant former barracks it occupied to send it into limbo.
Heavily criticised on practically every level in a scathing March 2020 report by the National Audit Office that took three years to complete, the highly irregular deal will see this crucial training centre eventually move to Smart City at a cost to the nation of around €80 million. In the interim, however, it’s been shunted into the shabby, landlocked former offices of Air Malta – at a further cost to the taxpayer of €2 million – far from any tourist resort, exiled from its natural home in the heart of Malta’s most popular visitor destinations.
The Planning Authority has, over the past eight years, completely lost any credibility it may have had before 2013. It’s now almost entirely staffed by degenerates, philistines and incompetents. The relentless arrogance with which it ignores environmental, aesthetic and social imperatives in order to grant permits to any Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to tear down his grandmother’s house to build cheap, tawdry concrete apartments instead, has ravaged every single town, village and hamlet in Malta and Gozo.
But the brazen manner in which it favours big developers and contractors, approving projects to be built on property belonging to the nation, granted to them under suspicious and fiercely disputed conditions, is truly beyond the pale.
So determined was the Planning Authority that Debono would get his controversial permit that in its first vote in September 2018, it allowed a vote to PL-appointed board member Matthew Pace (the same one now facing money laundering charges in the Keith Schembri / Allied Newspapers case) – a franchise owner of the Remax Alliance Group that was already selling the project’s apartments in 2016, despite there being no planning permit and no title to the land. The Authority also spent €9,000 on flying a further board member, Jacqueline Gili, from a family holiday in Sicily to Malta and back immediately after the meeting.
This permit was revoked after The Shift exposed Pace’s obvious conflict of interest, and NGOs, residents and local councils took up the cause, but of course, the saga didn’t end there. Debono was even more determined to get his pounds of flesh, no matter what it took.
In July last year, The Shift reported that real estate industry operators, lawyers, environmentalists and other professionals were flabbergasted at the details of the 2017 concession contract between the government and DB Group, which they described as putting the PL administration into “legal servitude” to DB.
The machinations and mendaciousness behind this foul-smelling deal are almost beyond the realm of comprehension. After the initial outcry forced some reaction from the rapacious developers, DB Group announced in February this year that they’d “listened” to the concerns of the public and redesigned the project to halve the project and make it more acceptable to residents.
This was a blatant lie. The Shift analysed the newly submitted plans to discover that rather than shrinking the project, the devious, dishonest developer had actually increased the number of apartments to be built – from 162 to 179 – and slashed the number of parking spaces by 500.
But while corrupt government MPs and officials may collude with big business to whom they are beholden for donations and other gifts, there is supposed to be a whole system of checks and balances, of public authorities whose raison d’etre is purely to protect the public from exploitation and preserve the integrity of the nation’s finances, assets, environment and wellbeing.
The Planning Authority is one such body, yet under its current constitution, it’s done the opposite, time and time again. With this project, however, it’s surpassed even itself. The reality is that on Thursday, four people – just four people – were given the power to vote to destroy an entire community, to desecrate thousands of homes and to turn 50,000 lives into a sunless, airless hell.
Four people, all Labour yes-men: Sean Mangion, ex-chief of staff to Anthony Aguis Decelis who awarded the scandalous €274 million euro direct order to DB group and James Caterers; Martin Camilleri,a former MEPA case officer and mate of Minister Roderick Galdes; Duncan Mifsud, an architect for crying out loud, but critically, also a former Labour Party candidate; Saviour Debono Grech, son of former Labour MP Joe Debono Grech.
These four people, four people who somehow in this dystopian nightmare of a PL-administered country, are given the power to make a decision that will scar the island forever, ravage one of the prettiest and most popular tourist areas we have and blight the lives of tens of thousands of residents in the three towns most deeply affected.
Four people who voted to ignore the pleas of thousands of objections from the public, for the third time, and the ever-more urgent protestations from three local councils: Pembroke, Swieqi and St Julians.
Four people who voted in favour, while three voted against. Five were obliged to “recuse” themselves just before the vote: according to Moviment Graffitti, four of these recusals, including the NGO representative Annick Bonello, were forced to disqualify themselves because of a court ruling that those who voted on the 2018 decision should not vote again on the same permit.
In the Bible story, David beats the Philistine giant Goliath with the simplest of weapons, but an abundance of bravery. Most of us grew up understanding this to mean that courage is really all you need to stand up to your oppressors and defeat them.
This week, Malta learned yet again that it’s caught in the grip of people so corrupt and venal that they’ve turned that well-loved Bible story inside out. In PL-blighted Malta, Goliath triumphs every time. And not only does he triumph, but, together with his army of degenerate money-grubbers, he grinds down those who oppose him like so many insignificant ants beneath his shoe. We can’t let this keep happening.