Lands Minister Silvio Schembri did not obtain the unanimous parliamentary approval for a resolution that would give the owners of the Fortina Hotel a 65-year temporary emphyteusis on an illegal extension to their hotel lido and an 18,000 square metre sea to be turned into a yacht marina.
Opposition members of the National Audit Office Accounts Committee voted against Schembri’s resolution, labelling the vote a clear sign that, unlike the government, the opposition does not condone an attitude where works are carried out and completed before Parliament’s assent.
“It is not on that you come here, and present Parliament with a resolution to give anyone public land when you know the project has already been completed, without a legal title, and operating as a full-blown business,” MP Darren Carabott told a vividly frustrated Lands Minister.
Presenting the minister with pictures of the completed lido and restaurant in full swing, Carabott told Schembri such arrogance was disrespectful to Parliament and that the Opposition would not dance to the government’s tune.
Admitting that the owners of Fortina had already completed the work without first obtaining parliamentary consent as required, Schembri tried to justify Fortina’s actions by referring to a €70,000 fine for the illegalities.
Arguing that “this will save them a summer of business”, the minister insisted that he did not know the lido was already fully operational.
“I wasn’t invited to the opening,” the minister said sarcastically.
Called to testify before the Committee, Lands Authority CEO Robert Vella confirmed that Fortina had carried out the development without a title and illegally occupied public land.
He also admitted that the Lands Authority, which falls under Schembri’s remit, had not carried out any enforcement while work was underway and that, according to him, his Authority has no power to stop any such illegal work.
“The only option we had was to take them to court. Once we knew that a parliamentary resolution was to be presented, we did not take any action,” Vella said.
The resolution, now blocked by the Opposition, will have to be re-presented to the plenary session, where a simple majority will be enough to approve it.
In addition to Schembri, Ministers Chris Fearne and Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi voted in favour of the resolution.