Public land in one of Malta’s most pristine areas – il-Fawwara in Siġġiewi – given for agricultural use a century ago continues to be used as a quarry because the Lands Authority has been unable to resolve the issue.
The land, the size of some seven football grounds, in the area known as Tal-Għolja and Tal-Ġibjun, has been turned, illegally, into a massive environmental scar.
The quarry is still used to this day, now in the hands of the Polidano brothers (Ċaqnu) and Schembri Barbros, despite the court ordering an eviction in 2018.
Despite a century of abuse of the concession given, the Lands Authority has still not resolved the issue, which came to light after the current operators filed an appeal in court.
Research conducted by The Shift shows that according to a contract signed in 1933, a certain Antonio Camilleri was given the 41 tumuli of public land on a 150-year temporary emphyteusis against the payment of £1 a year.
The contract specified that the land would only be used for agriculture.
It took 24 years, until 1957, for the Lands Department (today’s Authority) to discover the land had been turned into a hardstone quarry and took legal action to terminate the contract and take back the land.
Still, no one really took any notice or action, with the land being transferred and changing hands, either by inheritance or illegal transfers, until it was acquired by the Polidanos and Schembris in 1995.
While the new operators continued to extract the public land’s resources, they ignored all legal letters related to the annulment of the original contract.
It was only in 2011 that the Lands Authority filed a court case to take back the public land.
Seven years later, in 2018, with operations still ongoing, the court finally decided that the quarry’s operations were illegal and ordered the operators’ eviction, ruling the original 1933 contract null and void, saying the land was to be returned to its owners – the public.
Yet the operators filed an appeal, irrespective of the questions surrounding the land transfer. The court case is still ongoing, and the operators continue to use the time to profit from the site.
A story that dates back a century
Several people have benefitted personally from the illegal quarrying on the land intended for agricultural purposes.
Antonio Camilleri was the first signatory on the deal in the 1933 contract. He passed away in 1959, and the land was inherited by his son Matteo.
In 1977, Matteo sold the public land to his three children, Luigi, Carmelo and Alfred, for LM10,000 (€23,000).
Despite an order to rescind the original contract, in 1992, the Camilleri brothers transferred the public land to F&A Quarries Ltd for LM35,000 (€80,500) and later to Falzon & Schembri Ltd, today Polidano and Schembri Quarries Ltd.
Money changed hands with every transfer, regardless of the illegalities involved and the profits derived from the business.
Its current operators, Caqnu and Barbros, have no title to the land as public records still list the Camilleri brothers as the original holders of the title to the land.