Moviment Graffitti has today called for an investigation of the “worthless” deals for land expropriation that state agency Infrastructure Malta (IM) has been offering landowners and accused the police of failing to protect citizens from bullying when they were called to intervene.
The left-leaning organisation said news reports yesterday of a Zabbar farmer whose fields were bulldozed overnight by IM without permission confirmed suspicions that IM may be using illegal practices that expedite works but fail to compensate landowners adequately.
Graffitti also called for an immediate investigation into IM CEO Frederick Azzopardi, infrastructure minister Ian Borg’s right-hand man, for his role in various ad-hoc negotiations held with landowners who demanded proper procedure be followed.
The group’s statement earlier this morning follows news reports detailing how IM steamrolled over landowners by sending workers to clear soil as well as remove rubble walls and trees, without having reached any agreement with the owners or obtaining Lands Authority permission.
The landowners confirmed on-record that the Lands Authority had told them that the valuation of their property was still being carried out, meaning that the roads agency began destruction of the fields and clearance of the land before the official value of the land in question was even established.
Graffitti said the only way landowners affected by expropriation of their land for roadworks can ensure they will be compensated is through the Lands Authority.
“Infrastructure Malta is bound to follow Lands Authority expropriation procedures, and valuations were to be made and decided upon by the latter,” the group’s statement reads.
“However, it emerges that in some cases, IM never sent expropriation requests to the Lands Authority, leaving landowners without some compensation,” it says.
IM has been repeatedly called out for its multiple attempts at convincing landowners to sign waivers which carry no weight in terms of ensuring expropriation fees would be paid out – something that is solely the responsibility of the Lands Authority.
“This piece of paper is worthless, since the law establishes that the land will be valued by the Lands Authority and its architects, not by Infrastructure Malta,” Graffitti said.
“Anyone signing this paper is giving Infrastructure Malta access to their land, but there is no guarantee this agency can honour the agreed valuations, because those fall under the Lands’ Authority remit,” the statement continues. The organisation has repeatedly advised landowners against meeting Azzopardi or any representatives from IM without a lawyer being present.
In March this year Movement Graffitti staged a three-week standoff with IM contractors seeking to build a road through agricultural land in Dingli. The contractors claimed to have the required paperwork in hand, but the NGO found that IM had failed to follow correct expropriation procedures with several landowners on the affected site.
Law enforcement officers called to the scene had failed to take any action, despite the IM contractors being unable to provide the necessary paperwork, and instead allowed the “bullying” by IM to continue, the group said.
The road was finished on 17 July, despite residents’ objections to the loss of agricultural land and the destruction of several large, mature carob trees, for a road which was widely perceived as unnecessary.
IM had also failed to procure permits for the road, arguing that it had been schemed in previous local plans and that it was necessary to allow access for emergency vehicles in the quiet, residential area situated near Sqaq il-Museum.
In Żabbar, as in Dingli, residents and landowners have vociferously resisted IM’s practices, with similar issues being flagged in Luqa and other localities.
IM claims that for it to expropriate land, the Lands Authority first issues permission and then a valuation, following which owners should get their compensation.
However, correct procedure requires first that there’s a notification in the government gazette, followed by a formal request from the roads agency to the Lands Authority. These rules are consistently being broken, the group said. It called for any landowners with issues around unpaid compensation to contact it and share their story.