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Letters: 11 October 2015

12 October 2015, 8:59am
St Julian’s development on public foreshore

Reference is made to the article ‘Abusive building on public foreshore? €425 discount!’ on Sunday, 4 October.

In 1998, my clients acquired from third parties a number of properties, some under a title of perpetual emphyteusis and one under a title of temporary emphyteusis, for 150 years commencing from 1895.

This property and all the surrounding area in St Julian’s was originally owned by the ecclesiastical authorities and was only transferred to government as a result of the 1993 Church-State agreement.

My clients proceeded, as bound by the said contract, to pay the laudemium due over the properties to the Government Property Department. This payment was accepted by the department, as was in the following the year, the ground rent due to the government for that year for which the relative receipt was duly provided.

With the ground rent regularised, my clients commenced preparations to develop the properties, including obtaining all necessary permits from MEPA. No building or development took place without the relative MEPA permit and/or which was not covered by a MEPA permit.

When the development was completed, my clients applied to the GPD to redeem the ground rent under a scheme which was in place at the time. It was only at this time, during the processing of the request, that the GPD raised an issue regarding a small portion of land which by then had already been developed.

According to the GPD this portion of land was government land as a result of a mistake in a contract, which land should never have been sold to my clients back in 1998. It contended that the contract of emphyteusis was for 99, not 150 years, and had actually lapsed before my clients purchased this portion of land and that basically, a portion of land was sold to my clients by a person who had not title to it.

The interpretation of the root of title was contested by my clients and following disagreement and the lack of a solution, the GPD instituted proceedings against my clients which were eventually decided on appeal, with the result that the parcel of land forming part of this development upon which a small portion of the block of apartments was build was declared government property.

Had the GPD properly carried out its responsibilities back in 1998, it would raised the issue that part of this land was government-owned by ownership and not under a title of emphyteusis; it should never have accepted the payment of the ground rent by my clients and the latter would not have built the development in the way this was subsequently built.

Subsequently, the GPD issued a public call for the sale of this portion of land. My clients submitted an offer on the basis of a valuation they obtained for €192,000, which offer far surpassed market value per square metre of land in the vicinity at the time. The GPD declined and informed the company that it had a valuation in hand for €950,000.

My clients immediately contest this as an unrealistic valuation of the portion of land, as it was evident that there was some mistake in the calculations made, since the portion of land had been considered as land which could be developed up to nine storeys high, when in reality the land could only be developed up to one storey above ground level, as the property had to be built in a receding manner as a result of planning policies in force.

Moreover, the portion of land in question could never have been developed on its own as a result of its size and location, it only faced the sea in part and its value had accrued solely as a result of the fact that it formed part of my clients’ developed property.

After a number of discussions with the GPD, it was agreed as was the practice to set up a verification board of three experts to consider whether the previous valuation was a correct and realistic valuation of the portion of land and whatever its conclusion, it was agreed that my clients would then be bound to pay the amount established.

The GPD nominated two members of this three-person board, which included the same architect who issued the original €950,000 valuation. The board subsequently established the value of the land at €525,000 which amount the company committed itself to pay, despite the fact that the valuation was still clearly inflated when compared to the price of property per square metre in the vicinity.

It is thus evident that my clients did not carry out any illegal development, did not abuse of any situation and more importantly, were not given any favours or reductions in the price for this portion of land. This issue concerns a mistake on the part of the GPD, as a result of which my clients commenced development and the consequences of which they paid for dearly.

Dr Peter Fenech

obo Eighty Two Co. Ltd

Editorial Note: At no point in the report was there any suggestion, direct or indirect, that the development was not covered by a MEPA permit. It was the courts of law that said the developers had to ‘re-pristine’ the public land that had been encroached upon. All other facts in this letter were contained in the original report, save for the root of the misunderstanding over the title of land.

The Appeals Court decision ordering the developers to remove the offending development from the public foreshore
The Appeals Court decision ordering the developers to remove the offending development from the public foreshore
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I refer to the item ”St Julian’s foreshore ‘deal’ to be probed by Auditor General” published in MaltaToday in the printed and the online versions of Wednesday, 4 October 2015.

I firmly believe the publication of this item should have been preceded by an unbiased and impartial verification of all the facts in issue, including, but not only, with the undersigned. The story left out salient facts which any reader ought to know.

The case has already been referred by the government members on the Public Accounts Committee to the Auditor General on the 23 June 2015, bang in the middle of the wall-to-wall media coverage of the Old Mint Street multi-million euro land scandal. This was nowhere stated in your story, besides other facts in issue, and proves what a red herring to deviate attention this was meant to be by government.

Since I was not contacted by your journalist to give my side of the coin, I reiterate what I had said in June last, that I relish the opportunity to meet the Auditor General to give his office all the facts, documents and information in my possession on this case and which will show the difference between the two parties-in-government in the administration of public land.

For now, I will limit myself to state that neither myself nor my then minister ever, even remotely, including in this case, attempted to interfere, let alone interfered, in the valuations of the land or decide the sums payable by the Lands Department.

Unlike the present Prime Minister, both Tonio Fenech and myself never met the individuals concerned to negotiate and discuss the millions in taxpayer money to be paid to bail out anyone, as happened when Joseph Muscat wasted €4.2 million to pay the debts of Cafe Premier.

Two and a half years later, enough time for a court case (if this government had filed it in 2013) to rescind the Café Premier emphyteutical deed and save €4.2 million of our money, those premises are still vacant. 

In this St Julian’s case, my input in 2012 was limited to approve, in line with previous similar cases dealt with by the Land Department, the Director General’s advice to go for arbitration in view of the huge discrepancy between the valuations done by the Lands Dept and by the tenant.

I never met, even to date, the individual concerned. The tenant of this public land ended up paying the Lands Department almost three times (€525,000) what he believed to be the fair value of the building in question (€192,000), all of which was covered by a MEPA permit.

This latter fact was also omitted in your story. I very much doubt if “usurpation” of public land, as your journalist termed it, takes place by a MEPA permit. I also point out to your readers that contrary to what your journalist wrote, the land in dispute was around 90 square metres, and not 165 sq. metres as stated.

I fail to see in what way were your readers done justice by doubling the area which had been in dispute nor by not telling them also, for instance, that the Land Department always and annually, even well before before 2008, accepted the ground rent by the individual concerned for all the land on which the building was built, with all the relevant legal implications of this acceptance.

I look forward to meet soon the Auditor General to give him much more facts and information, not just on this case. I’m quite sure he will find them very useful.

Jason Azzopardi MP

Tarxien

Editorial Note: Dr Azzopardi is misreading and misinterpreting what was reported. (1) At no point in the report was there any sort of suggestion of ministerial interference by either himself, or the finance minister. (2) The report dealt entirely with the Government Property Department and its negotiations with the owners of the apartment block, an eyesore that thousands walking along the St Julian’s seafront find hard not to notice. (3) At no point did MaltaToday mention that Azzopardi met with the individual concerned, or that he used his influence on the outcome of the ‘ad hoc’ arbitration committee. (4) The crux of the report lies in the fact that although the law courts ordered the removal of the offending construction from public land, the original €950,000 price tag on the sale of this land to the developers was whittled down to €500,000. Was this a fair way of dealing with developers who encroach upon public land?

Meritocracy revisited at Identity Malta

Reference is made to your editorial published in MaltaToday on the 4 October titled ‘Meritocracy: a blatantly forgotten promise’.

I served as Director and Land Registrar within the Land and Public Registry Division between September 2010 and December 2013.

As in many headship positions my contract was for a three-year period and therefore expired in September 2013.

In that period, I applied for another headship position – that of Chief Notary to government which is one of the most important roles within the public service.

This particular position requires that the person chosen has to be a notary with managerial experience. In my case I fully satisfied these requisites. Moreover, besides my law qualifications I also possess a Master’s Degree in Public Policy and Magister Iuris in International Law. I also followed several courses in management, training and assessment.

I was appointed to the post of Chief Notary to government in 2014 and immediately embarked on a number of reforms, not least the implementation of new IT solutions and the upgrading of the Notarial Archives (with the evergreen assistance of Dr Joan Abela and her volunteers) which for years has been left crying for investment.

I have found the full, unfettering support of the Ministry for Justice since I took this highly sensitive and important post.

In view of the above I strongly believe that your article is unjustified as in my case it can be clearly seen that meritocracy was the reason for me to be chosen for this prestigious post.

Dr Keith Francis German

Chief Notary and Keeper of Notarial Archives

Editorial note: Dr German has misunderstood our editorial. It was the replacements of registry directors (Lands, public, and other identity management posts) that were not subject to a meritocratic appointment. MaltaToday has shown in a previous report that the departures of experienced civil servants from identity management offices, like Dr German’s, were replaced by politically appointed ‘persons-of-trust’ who did not have the necessary skills of public sector managers like Dr German. 

LSA support remains crucial in education 

With reference to your article of 7 October 2015, ‘MUT boss calls for end to parental veto on special needs education’, it is important to clarify that the implication made by MUT president Kevin Bonello that not all children with impairments can be included in mainstream education is not one which the National Commission for People with a Disability (KNPD) supports.

Whilst it is not the easiest route, KNPD believes that the inclusion of all children with diverse impairments is a goal that must be achieved. 

The inclusion of these children has been in place in the Maltese education system from the 1990s. There is however a concern that these children are being physically integrated into mainstream classrooms without inclusion taking place. The inclusion of these children with differing attainment levels means that it is not possible to measure all children with the same yardstick.

One of the problems seems to be with the assessment of children who may require a Learning Support Assistant. This results in many children being given a one-to-one LSA when they do not need one, whilst other children who do require the services of a one-to-one LSA, to be fully included in the classroom setting, are not being awarded an LSA.

The rise in statemented children may be a result of parents feeling that their children are not achieving the expected levels of attainment in comparison to their peers, and therefore looking for an explanation through medical assessment.

It could be the case that the child simply finds the work harder to comprehend than their peers, a situation which may reverse itself given more time. The fact that all children, whether they have an impairment or not, learn at different rates is something that must be considered more carefully when assessing whether a child needs an LSA to assist them in the educational setting.

An LSA is required to support and assist the child in following the curriculum which is being taught in the classroom, in line with their attainment abilities. It is important that the child is not over-reliant on the LSA to a degree which reduces their ability to learn independently, but is instead supported to achieve the maximum educational level they are able to achieve.

It is also important that teachers are given the support to use different methods of teaching which are accessible to children with all levels of ability. The classroom needs to be a flexible environment which caters for the educational requirements of all children.

It is the correct level of support offered by the LSA and the teacher, which will allow the child to be fully included in the classroom; too little support will lead to frustration and too much support will lead to over dependency. A fine balance that is unique to each child must be found in order to secure inclusion in the classroom.

Each child must be given the opportunity to learn the same curriculum to the best of their ability to ensure that these children are fully included and not just physically integrated into the same classroom as their non disabled peers.

Christian Camilleri

Assistant Manager (awareness raising)

KNPD

DealToday
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