A disgraced Lands Authority official, forced to resign last month after being accused of potentially criminal irregularities in his handling of government property, had previously been appointed director of a state agency responsible for social housing by Family Affairs Minister Michael Falzon.
Matthew Zammit, also known as ‘Funk’ – a 33-year-old Labour party activist from Gzira with close connections to Falzon – was earlier this year appointed to the board of directors of Social Innovative Projects Management Limited, a government agency based at Falzon’s Ministry, an investigation by The Shift has found.
Zammit, who is also involved in many other activities, including a private company and the San Giljan waterpolo club, resigned his directorship shortly after the story on his possible criminal abuse at the Lands Authority was published in the media.
Asked to declare his connections with Zammit, the minister – already embroiled in the Gaffarena Old Mint Street government property scandal– refused to divulge any information to The Shift.
Sources close to Minister Falzon said that Zammit is known among the tenth electoral district community as the minister’s right hand man and the person to go to if they need anything from Falzon’s ministry.
Alongside Clint Scerri – nicknamed ‘il-king tal-Lands’ and considered the key go-between with Minister Falzon in the Gaffarena affair, Zammit is considered Falzon’s leading political canvasser.
Zammit’s wife, Troika, is also very much involved in the Labour Party and served as Minister Miriam Dalli’s personal assistant when she was an MEP.
Zammit and Il-Pirata restaurant in Senglea
Zammit was originally put on the payroll of Transport Malta soon after James Piscopo – the former CEO of the Labour Party – took the helm of the authority.
However, after Piscopo was relegated to the Lands Authority, amidst allegations of corruption and bribes related to road projects, Zammit was hired as a senior manager at the Lands Authority.
Piscopo left the Lands Authority at the beginning of this year.
Shortly after Piscopo’s departure, the new Lands Authority management discovered that Zammit, then still working there, had applied for and secured the ground rent on a prime piece of public land on the Senglea waterfront, now being used by Il-Pirata restaurant. According to reports, Zammit is involved in this restaurant.
The ground rent on the property was granted to Zammit at a suspiciously low rate of some €20 a day – for a commercial outlet which caters for hundreds of diners every day.
So far, the Lands Authority has refused to say whether the case has been passed on to the police for further investigation on possible corrupt practices and other offences. The police have not yet charged Zammit.
Also, the LA is refusing to disclose whether the public land for the Senglea restaurant was handed over via the normal tender process, or any other salient details on the procedures followed in the award.
The owners of Il-Pirata are also refusing to reply to any questions.
Officially, the catering establishment, which has already taken over the public promenade without a planning permit permit, is owned by brothers Claudio and Alfred Spiteri Debarro, who also own restaurants in Paceville and Mellieha.
Asked to state what are their connections to Minister Falzon’s canvasser, Alfred Spiteri Debarro did not reply. He also declined to state why he is still operating the restaurant despite holding no valid PA permit for taking up the public waterfront with chairs, tables, and umbrellas.
Zammit’s web of connections
Further investigations by The Shift points towards a web of connections between Zammit, the owners of il-Pirata and others.
As well as serving as a government official, Zammit is a shareholder in a commercial company named GOG Malta Ltd, in partnership with Matthew Camilleri.
The latter, who is officially unconnected with the Senglea restaurant, applied for a PA permit to place of chairs and tables on the Senglea promenade for il-Pirata restaurant.
The PA did not issue the permit, and both Transport Malta and the Malta Tourism Authority are objecting to it due to the “hazard and high risks” it could cause. However, the restaurant is already in full operation, and its tables and chairs illegally block the promenade on a daily basis.
To add a further twist, the notice of the planning permit application displayed on site by Il Pirata restaurant, as per law, (PA03714/21), does not refer to il-Pirata, but instead bears the name of “Senglea Gunners Restaurant”, a separate establishment located several meters up the road from il-Pirata.
The possibly ‘false’ application by Zammit’s partner in GOG Malta Ltd, has now been suspended on the request of Camilleri’s architect, Daniel Portelli.
In the meantime, the PA has failed thus far to issue an enforcement order against il-Pirata’s illegal occupation of a significant part of the Senglea waterfront.
Interestingly, Alfred Spiteri Debarro, one of the owners of il-Pirata, also sits on the board of San Giljan waterpolo club, together with Matthew Zammit.
His brother Claudio is a shareholder of C.J.M & Company, which is involved in the running of the San Giljan waterpolo pitch and its restaurant.
Matthew Camilleri’s VAT number – the applicant for the Senglea restaurant permit – is listed at C.J.M. & Company, Da Giuliano Bar, St Julian’s pitch, St Julian’s.