NEWS | Wednesday, 05 March 2008
‘ODZ is ODZ’ – Gonzi pledges to tighten planning laws
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi yesterday said he had reported allegations by Labour leader Alfred Sant, claiming there was exchange of monies in the award of a MEPA permit for the development of a disco on Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando’s land at Mistra, to the Commissioner of Police.
As Labour’s political campaign driven by allegations of corruption intensifies, Gonzi said he would not have any of his ministers “in the shadow of investigations”.
“This goes for all ministers. It must not be politicians to investigate these cases, and this is where I disagree with Sant. Now, after calling the Commissioner of Police a smokescreen, I see he has taken his case to him. The same cannot be said of his ‘investigation’ of Charles Mangion and Karmenu Vella. But for me, if a report comes my way, it is my duty to report it.”
Gonzi also appealed to have faith in the institutions, naming the Public Accounts Committee, the Ombudsman, the Police, the Permanent Commission for Corruption, and the MEPA auditor.
He also defended the appointment of chairmen to boards and commissions, saying that as PM he had effected many changes in personnel on these entities. “When I felt that time had come to introduce new blood, I took that decision, and I changed chairmen. And even if a shadow of doubt was cast on them, then I would have an even greater duty to remove them from their office, and start an investigation… everyone is accountable and must guarantee good governance.”
He defended his candidate and MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando’s presence at a Broadcasting Authority press conference for Opposition leader Alfred Sant. “I expected Alfred Sant, after having fired those accusations, to face Jeffrey here at PBS, eye to eye… eye to eye. It’s a question of integrity. Let’s not hide behind the rules or the BA, let’s be men. If someone is accusing the other, they could at least face him. Now that investigations are taking place, let’s not influence the process. But if there is something irregular, they will have to bear the consequences.”
Gonzi also declared that outside development zones had to be steadfastly considered as outside development zones.
“ODZ is ODZ,” Gonzi said. “The real issue for our country is to find real solutions for our environment. And we have to find the solutions to move forward. We need strict rules to lay down the exception. To me, ODZ is ODZ.”
Asked whether he would revoke the ODZ permit issued for Charles Polidano’s Lidl supermarket, described as “irregular” by MEPA auditor Joe Falzon, Gonzi said he had no power to revoke the permit. “That is why we want the law to be changed… the law was designed to limit the influence of politicians and let the experts decide. I will sit down with the MEPA auditor, experts and NGOs to find the best way to limit politicians’ interference, so that we won’t go back to the socialist government’s scandals.”
Gonzi also dealt a good comeback to a question from azzjoninazzjonali.org, the website for far-rightists Azzjoni Nazzjonali, over accountability and the outstanding dues still to be paid by the political parties in VAT and national insurance.
However he failed to mention AN deputy leader Anglu Xuereb as the “politician and businessman” who should be “considered the same as those political parties with their outstanding dues,” missing out on a chance to hit out at AN.
Gonzi also lauded his efforts at increasing competitiveness, namely through his public holidays measures, and said his first priority was to guarantee jobs. “Measures that cost just one cent more or less can make all the difference for industry… it could mean setting up shop here, or leaving Malta.”
Speaking of the electoral system, Gonzi renewed a vague intention to start electoral talks again in the next legislature over the establishment of a national threshold.
Again, he reiterated his call that public healthcare would be free. “I wouldn’t dream of introducing a tax as Sant did… I didn’t in four years, Sant introduced 33 taxes in 22 months. I’ve had dozens of reports even telling me to remove stipends… I won’t let anyone charge fees on health.”
On rent reform, Gonzi said he would consider both the injustice suffered by landlords due to the pre-1995 laws on protected tenants, but also to safeguard the interests of those who live in these houses. He said the process would be gradual, but eventually he would remove the right to inherit rent-controlled properties.
He even claimed he did not publish the white paper on rent reform ahead of the election, because he didn’t believe in “electoral gimmicks”. The white paper has been ready since December 2007.
Gonzi said the country’s ambitious target for a balance budget was now a goal that had to be attained through a stable government. He said foreign investment had poured in to Malta because of the stable economy that had been ushered in, and that would mean more jobs.
He warned however that the rising price of oil, yesterday standing at $103 a barrel, and the rising price of cereals was “an impending storm”.
“And the rising price of oil means that since Sant first proposed to halve the energy surcharge, when the price of oil was half it is today, his proposal now will cost him millions more.”