Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg does not believe Planning Authority Board members should resign over the Qala development controversy, as they interpreted the policy correctly. The minister did however concede that the policy needs to change.
The Planning Authority, which falls under Borg, had controversially approved the construction of a countryside villa in Qala. The PA decision was to allow dilapidated rooms in a pristine area to be turned into a villa with a swimming pool. According to Planning Authority policies established, in such situations the applicant would need to provide evidence that the area to be developed was once used as a home. The applicant provided the authority with the death certificate of an 84-year-old farmer, Grazia Mifsud, who was found dead in the area in 1921.
This decision had led to criticism from NGOs, Opposition and Labour exponents including former Prime Minister Alfred Sant, ONE chairman Jason Micallef and MEP candidate Cyrus Engerer. However, Gozitan businessman Joseph Portelli said he was withdrawing plans to build the villa.
Indeed Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had also weighed in, and said that the Planning Authority (PA) regulations governing the controversial Qala permit decision are wrong, or not clear. He continued to add that he did not understand why such a decision was taken, not because it was technically incorrect, since the way the permit was issued was according to the regulations, but that the regulations are wrong or not clear.
Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg was asked about the situation today, and whether the members of the board that took the decision should resign. “As the Prime Minister had said, you here had the interpretation according to policy. I don’t see how you can ask someone to resign when the policy permitted tens if not hundreds of housing developments. This was well exposed in the media, and there were tens if not hundreds identical developments.” Borg did however, say that the policy needs to change.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had also previously noted that Borg had already asked for the policy to be changed, and internal discussions, including the Opposition and NGOs, had been ongoing for a year and a half. The Minister also sent a formal request, according to the law, about a month ago, to change the policy, Muscat had said.
Asked whether he is worried that the process is taking so long, Borg said that the committee included members of the government and the opposition (MPs Clayton Bartolo and Marthese Portelli respectively), representatives from the PA and ERA, representatives from eNGOs and developers, as well as other people. In a year, the committee met around 6 or 7 times, Borg said. “When I want to do something if need to I would meet six times in a week,” he said, in what was a clear slap on the wrist to the committee for taking so long.
Minister Borg was also asked about the progress and final completion of the Marsa flyover. “Many use the flyover daily, which it has helped those residents in the South especially. The whole flyover should be ready before the original set date and by the end of this week we should be seeing more progress in the works,” explained Borg.