A company belonging to one of the board members of the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) has been allowed to continue with its demolition and excavation works on a site in Paceville despite a law preventing such works during the tourism period.
The exemption given to Kevin De Cesare, co-owner of the Eden Leisure Group and a long-time board member of the MTA, was issued by the MTA itself and signed by Chairman Gavin Gulia.
The law states that all demolition and excavations work in touristic areas has to come to a complete halt between 15 June and 30 September. The MTA is the entity authorised to uphold this law.
Neighbours sent The Shift evidence of heavy machinery on site cutting rock and transporting it on loaded trucks, passing from narrow streets in the middle of one of the busiest touristic areas.
The works were ongoing until last Friday at least when The Shift visited the area.
Multiple sources also told The Shift that despite their complaints to the Building and Construction Agency (BCA) and the MTA, excavation work continued unabated, accompanied by road closures so that trucks could come out of the site to dump their material with tourists forced to witness the mayhem.
Asked why works were allowed to continue despite the law, a spokesman for the Planning Authority passed the buck onto the BCA. On its part, the BCA confirmed that the De Cesares were given an exemption by the MTA “in order to finish off the required excavations”.
Pressed on the legal provision justifying such a decision, the BCA spokesman did not reply, instead referring The Shift to the MTA.
The MTA refused to reply to questions. Former Labour Minister and MTA Chairman Gavin Gulia failed to provide an explanation on whether granting such an exemption to a board member amounted to an abuse of power.
According to the law, the only exception allowed is when excavations need to continue in order to secure the site and make it safer.
The ongoing project by the Eden Leisure Group, taking place in the area previously occupied by cinemas and a bowling centre, had already made headlines a few months ago when the PA and the MTA thwarted existing policy to accommodate the De Cesares.
According to the Height Limitation Policy of the PA, hotel projects are allowed to have two additional floors over the maximum allowed in the area if the project is to be used as hotel accommodation. Yet the two floors planned for this project are for office space, not tourism accommodation.
PA officials working on this development application had originally refused to give in, stating that the project was against policy.
A permit was still issued as the owners obtained the approval of the MTA which stated that the office floors included in the project were going to be used as part of the hotel for the management of its operations.
Plans revealed by The Shift show that while the Eden Group employs some 50 office workers, they will be building a place to host over 250.
The area already hosts several companies that offer office space for rent.
Kevin De Cesare, one of the main shareholders, was appointed to various boards and entities by disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat.
The Shift had also reported that Prime Minister Robert Abela used to give legal services to companies associated with the De Cesares prior to becoming prime minister.