The government’s nominee for Planning Authority Board chairman, Emanuel Camilleri, has been formally approved by the Public Appointments Committee despite his unwillingness to state his opinion on basic planning matters.
All three government MPs on the committee voted in favour of Camilleri’s nomination, and all three opposition MPs voted against. The committee chair, Labour MP Chris Agius, also voted in favour, closing the final vote at four in favour and three against.
Camilleri headed the OPM’s privatisation unit for the last nine years and will now be voting on planning applications as part of the Planning Authority’s board, though the committee’s questioning revealed his lack of basic knowledge about policies that are currently in place.
After listing his credentials, Camilleri briefly said there is a general need for a balance between development and the environment, adding that Malta needs more green, open spaces.
He refused to express an opinion on whether such a balance has been achieved at present, saying he doesn’t know whether this is the case and that he could not respond to the question. He also added that any development cases he would be assessing would be examined on an ad-hoc basis.
Asked whether he would commit to an in-depth policy review of the 2015 urban development design guidelines, and whether he believes Malta’s overall planning should continue to feature high-rise buildings, he also declined to respond.
The new chair of the Planning Authority was also unaware of what the Rural Policy Design Guidelines consist of, justifying his lack of knowledge by saying he wasn’t obliged to know of such matters since he had not yet taken up the role.
When asked for his opinion of the authority, Camilleri said his overall impression is positive, and he does not see any issues at present, adding that media reports about issues at the authority may be unreliable.
When asked whether he believes the PA should be given more policy setting and executive powers, he referred to the minister for planning, repeatedly stating that as chair he would not be responsible for policy.
While claiming he would be willing to submit a declaration of assets for the scrutiny of the committee, Camilleri said he did not wish to make such a declaration public, stating only that he does not own shares in any business interests and he would recuse himself should he become aware of a conflict of interest in relation to a specific planning application.
Questions about Camilleri’s tenure as head of the OPM’s privatisation unit did not elicit many answers, either.
After initially saying “no minister ever intervened” in the privatisation unit’s processes, Camilleri was asked whether he had received an order from then-Economy Minister Chris Cardona in 2014 to suspend proceedings of a sub-committee under his authority. At first he claimed not to not remember, only later recalling that the sub-committee which was meant to adjudicate bids relating to the concession of a new casino licence had been suspended over conflict of interest.
All four members of the committee had signed waivers declaring they had no conflict of interest in relation to the decision at hand. The case landed Camilleri in court as a witness.