“If you have a proposal that’s not in line with planning policies, don’t bother submitting it. Why do developers submit applications with no chance of approval?” Robert Abela asked with a straight face
He should ask Ian Borg, his friend and Foreign Affairs Minister. Borg applied to build a swimming pool in a rural settlement – something completely against policies. But the Planning Authority issued the permit.
In March 2023 Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti ruled that Borg’s permit was illegal and that the permit was issued on an entirely incorrect interpretation of planning rules. The court declared Borg’s permit “null and without effect”.
But Borg’s swimming pool was completed by then. He’s probably frolicking in it this very minute, unbothered by the court’s decree.
It’s been five months since Borg’s permit was declared null. No enforcement notice has been issued. No heavy machinery entered Borg’s property to demolish his pool and return the rural settlement to its previous idyllic state.
Robert Abela knows the answer to his hypocritical hypothetical question. Developers submit applications with no chance of approval because they know they’ll still be approved. They’re so certain of it that they start excavating before the permit’s even issued.
Charles Polidano, ic-Caqnu, proceeded to illegally uproot trees, destroy rubble walls and demolish part of a 300-year-old palazzo in Balzan believed to have been used by Grand Master de Rohan. That was before a permit was even issued to develop 43 dwelling units with underground parking facilities instead of historic Balzan houses.
That palazzo was on the national list of scheduled buildings. The rules are categorical. The PA must refuse a development application if illegalities exist on site. But what did the PA do? It gave ic-Caqnu the permit, completely ignoring the illegalities.
Joseph Portelli, meanwhile, admitted carrying out illegal excavation work on a protected area in Qala. He stated he’d done so because he expected to get a permit to build a swimming pool there “in the near future”. He admitted he was “wrong” but said he would “gladly pay a fine”.
When the Zammit Tabonas hijacked prime seafront land for the Fortina hotel, developed a lido and started operating it illegally, Abela’s party went to parliament to transfer the land to the people who’d committed the illegalities.
Instead of demolishing the illegal development, Labour proposed granting the Fortina the land for the paltry sum of €70,000. Silvio Schembri vociferously defended Fortina’s illegalities.
Abela knows exactly why the Zammit Tabonas, Polidano and Portelli willfully commit illegalities. He knows exactly why they apply for permits that are “non-starters”. Because they always get what they want.
Abela dined with Joseph Portelli on the eve of the general election. One week later Portelli was granted a permit for his Sannat monstrosity that turned untouched land into 125 apartments. Portelli and his partners had split the project into three different applications to avoid an Environment Impact Assessment. The PA’s original refusal was miraculously overturned after Abela’s dinner.
Zammit Tabona regaled Labour with a massive donation and subsequently benefited from government protection in the face of gross illegalities.
Abela had the cheek to inaugurate ic-Caqnu’s Montekristo offices despite his catalogue of illegalities. When ic-Caqnu dropped a massive concrete block, obstructing the entrance to a garage complex belonging to somebody he had a dispute with, the police didn’t intervene. No action was ever taken against him.
When he amassed a multimillion-euro tax bill, Labour conveniently negotiated favourable terms for the development mogul.
Abela knows exactly how the PA works. He was its chief legal advisor for years, besides being a main recipient of its funds. The PA is nothing but a tool in Labour’s hands, ever willing to break the law to advantage some. It suspiciously sanctioned multiple illegalities on a Zejtun property just days before Abela acquired it for peanuts. It issued a permit for development on land Abela ceded to Chris Borg for €45,000.
When the PA allowed the Sea Malta building to be demolished, the court ruled the PA had “disregarded the law”. The PA even ignored the Environment Commissioner at the Ombudsman’s office. It allowed the demolition without bothering to send an architect to inspect the site. The PA argued there was no point pursuing the case since the building had already been demolished.
The court was incensed. It decreed “it could not close the door to justice just because the PA’s illegal decision had already been implemented”. The court recommended “those responsible should shoulder political and administrative responsibility and face disciplinary and criminal proceedings”.
Did Abela care? Did the police or the AG comply with the court’s order? Certainly not.
Abela knows which side his bread is buttered on. He’s on the developers’ side. He’s one of them. He’s earned hundreds of thousands of euros off his Iklin property development business partner Gilbert Bonnici, a Bonnici Brothers director.
Abela shamelessly inaugurated Bonnici’s new Ta’ Zuta quarry, which was partly financed with undisclosed taxpayers’ funds. Malta Enterprise refused to divulge how much Bonnici Brothers received. What we surely know is that the company was awarded €7.7 million in contracts and direct orders in Abela’s first two years alone.
After Miriam Pace was killed beneath the rubble of her home, Abela concealed the Quintano report for months. When forced to publish it, he set up the Building and Construction Agency but then appointed Joseph Portelli’s own architect to head it. She was forced to resign after another tragedy was narrowly averted during reckless demolition work for which she was responsible.
Abela failed to provide the BCA with adequate resources. Inevitably, more tragedies followed.
When Jean Paul Sofia suffered the same fate as Miriam Pace, Abela continued protecting the developers, resisting a public inquiry for months. He relented only after public anger boiled over.
Abela literally supped with the developers. He’s shielded them from the nation’s wrath, as they propped up his party’s finances, and innocent citizens died.
Abela’s suddenly realised the tide is turning. Now he’s calling them “cowboys”. He’s correcting his course. And feigning surprise at development applications being submitted “with no chance of approval”.
Nobody’s taken in.