While the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage (SCH) is supposed to act as a watchdog for the Planning Authority, it has come to light that a number of key officials from the superintendence have been seconded to the authority or were previously employed there.
The role of the SCH is to safeguard Malta’s national and cultural heritage in the context of Planning Authority decisions on development applications, but it has been criticised in the past for an inconsistent approach.
Information on the officials was tabled in parliament last week by Culture Minister Owen Bonnici in response to questions by Nationalist Party MP Julie Zahra. It showed that five senior executives or unit heads from the SCH are ‘loaned’ and retain roles at the Planning Authority.
The ‘loan’ agreements, presented by Bonnici show that officials on secondment retained their salary from the authority while receiving a 15% allowance from SCH.
The loaning of employees raises questions about the effectiveness of the superintendence, given possible conflicts of interest.
The tabled data shows that Kurt Farrugia, the current Superintendent for Cultural Heritage since November 2020, was previously in an executive role at the Planning Authority while employed with the SCH’s Planning Consultations Unit in 2018.
In an interview with The Times of Malta upon his appointment, he played down concerns about his suitability for the role. He resigned from the authority upon being made superintendent.
Jonathan Borg and Kevin Borda, employed as unit heads at the SCH’s Heritage Planning, Consultation and Restoration Monitoring Unit since May 2018, are still employed at the Planning Authority as an executive and a senior planning officer, respectively.
Kenneth Cauchi and Mark Cassar, senior executives at the same unit, are concurrently employed as Planning Authority officers. Audrey Camilleri, an executive at the superintendent’s office, is also an assistant administrative officer at the Planning Authority.
The officials’ dual positions are facilitated through special agreements, all of which, barring Camilleri, entered into force in May 2018.
Camilleri was ‘loaned’ from the authority to the superintendent’s office a few weeks after Farrugia’s appointment in November 2020.
The Planning Authority, which falls under the remit of Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi, has been under wide public scrutiny for its lack of enforcement and the approval of planning applications, many later revoked by the courts.