The magic of making the illegal legal

Well that wasn’t much of a surprise, was it?

Gozo’s scourge of silence and space wants legal sanction for the giant hole he dug in the ground.

Joseph Portelli knew it wasn’t legal when he set his siege machinery to work on a nice juicy patch of Outside Development Zone (ODZ) land in Qala. But he wants the Planning Authority to approve it anyway — with a couple of pools thrown in — so he can get on with doing whatever the fork he wants to do, and to hell with everyone else.

This wasn’t an innocent mistake. The developer publicly admitted he knew he was breaking the law, but mela, he only started digging — illegally — without a permit because he expected he’d get permission eventually.

He didn’t clarify whether he meant that he fervently believed the permit he applied for would go through because it was valid, or whether he figured it’d just be ‘regularised’ later because no one’s ever held accountable for anything around here.

As far as gambles go, the odds are on Joseph Portelli’s side.

What an annoyance planning permissions must be to the self-important little man who said, “Malta needs 100 more years of construction.”

In justifying his Mercury Tower project in Paceville, Portelli insisted that rather than block the views of other residents, casting them into the eternal shade of the canyons his buildings created, he has instead given those same light-deprived people a view… of his tower.

In other words, his frantic efforts to turn Malta and Gozo into very lucrative apartments for sale is a social good.

In that same interview, Portelli insisted towers are the only possible answer for overcrowded Malta because the only alternative would be to build “on ODZ land, and that wouldn’t be right. We cannot afford to lose the little green land we have left.”

When asked “Have you ever built on ODZ land?” he replied, “No, never.”

How ironic that the latest illegality he wants the PA to make legal is connected to the 164-apartment monstrosity that will cover an area the size of three football pitches… on ODZ land.

Portelli already played fast and loose with the truth by using false declarations of sole ownership — and filing four separate development applications for the plots that make up the massive site — in order to evade the required environmental impact assessment and extensive public consultation.

Sure enough, police didn’t find any “wrongdoing of a criminal matter” despite such practices falling foul of both the Criminal Code and the Development Planning Act, leading legal experts to describe it as “institutionalized corruption”.

Given this tacit encouragement, Portelli is using the same underhanded methods again on the edge of Sannat to throw up blocks of flats in an internationally Important Bird Area. He’s so confident it’ll work that the flats are being marketed online before he even has a permit to build them.

Does anyone doubt the property magnate will get his way in Qala, too?

Portelli’s illegal concrete batching plant already supplies government projects, despite being, well… illegal, as the description implies.

He said himself — again in that bizarre Times of Malta interview — that he regularly meets with politicians “to speed up the process”. In normal countries this would prompt investigation, but in Malta such statements are met with a shrug.

As if giving prime public land away at bargain basement prices — and paving the way for out of control paving by waving a magic wand to make the illegal legal — wasn’t bad enough, the government is also handing these guys money so they can ‘make hay’ with more environmentally-friendly engines of mass destruction.

Malta Enterprise refuses to say who benefitted from the scheme, which saw them give €4 million in grants to 40 developers and construction companies, pissing off the other 50 who applied and were turned down. No reasons were given for the selection and rejection of certain candidates, either.

The usual utter lack of transparency raises the usual blizzard of questions.

Are any of the beneficiaries of this scheme currently under sanction? Do any have outstanding tax arrears? How many are currently working on illegal building sites right now?

I wouldn’t expect any answers, if I were you. The politicians and developers have their hands so deep in each other’s pockets that they’ve completely forgotten whose wearing the trousers.

At some point construction magnates have to clash with tourism industry magnates — a group with its own government connections — over declining visitor numbers once it becomes obvious that the pandemic alone isn’t killing the goose that used to lay the golden egg. Turns out no one wants to spend their hard earned savings taking their annual vacation in a building site.

Is it any wonder so many young people have completely given up on this benighted country? Some 60% want to leave, according to the recent EY Generate Youth Survey. And it’s probably the best thing they could do for themselves and their future. Malta has already been sold out.

I guess those who stay behind could always work in a government-built drug operation.

‘Wait a minute’, you might say, ‘That was Foreign Direct Investment in Europe’s most envied economy!’

It turns out the weed company didn’t quite ‘invest in’ Malta after all.

I have two questions for Malta Enterprise. First, whose genius idea was this?: ‘We’ll give you €3.1 million, then you give it back to us and we’ll say you invested €4 million.’ Second, did the government fund a marijuana growing facility for a private company using illegal state aid?

This massive cash injection of public money into a private company is expected to create “12 to 20 new jobs for the industry”.

Calling it ‘Foreign Direct Investment’ makes it sound like businesses are flocking to Malta because it’s such an attractive jurisdiction to run a company in. This is an illusion, like everything else this government touches. The only thing likely to be true is that someone’s palm was greased along the way.

Don’t hold your breath for a quick exit from the FATF grey list. It’s business as usual in the land of Kickbackistan, where deals are done on the shady side of the street, and the financial outlook for the common taxpayer has just been downgraded from ‘Dire’ to ‘Hopeless’.

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8 months ago

Another excellently “” constructed “” piece from Ryan.

Yet again he succinctly demonstrates everything which is so wrong with the country and how the “ untouchables “ know they will remain just that as long as the status quo remains.

saviour mamo
saviour mamo
8 months ago

The general election is coming soon and so it’s time for promises.

Iain Morrison
Iain Morrison
8 months ago

Sadly, when the chips fall as they must and the apartments recently built become slums and ghettoes, only the poor and the old Maltese will still be in Malta to witness it. The corrupt fat cats will be off to far nicer places having destroyed their own nest.

joe tedesco
joe tedesco
8 months ago


7 months ago

Thankyou for this deeply informative article. Through friends, family, and business acquaintances; I had heard of corruption in Malta, including the construction and tourism industries. The tales seemed more at home in Berlusconi era Italy. Lobbyists and kickbacks the world over are destroying our homes and homelands. In Malta and Gozo, I have been shocked and saddened to see such ancient and beautiful seaside villages and towns; begin to resemble southern Spain. Is there no private or public will to stop this? Kickbackistan is found on many maps, it sickens me.

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