Robert Abela must act now

There is an orgy of development today that is unacceptable and simply geared to make more people richer to the extent that their riches are simply unjustifiable

As news of a coronavirus case in Malta takes over our lives, life goes on for many others, including those who are the centre of news stories.

The first news item that dominated the week was the killing of Miriam Pace in a construction incident. Everyone has engaged in the blame game – architects versus builders, builders versus architects, policy-makers versus politicians, and so on.

The other day a young budding politician with a Nationalist pedigree walked into my office to cry ‘wolf’ over the collapse of the institutions – citing the Pace tragedy. I walked to my bookshelf to pull out my bound copies of the Alternattiva newspaper published between 1989 and 1996; I took him through reportage of the tragedies of falling buildings in the late 1980s and 1990s when Malta went through this tiger economy based on construction.

Beyond the shoddy enforcement and half-baked resolve of politicians to act fast, the real reason for these incidents is one – the policies and the political direction that give the green light to rampant, unsustainable development. The Labourites blame George Pullicino’s local plan revolution in 2006, a revolution that made countless speculators millionaires, and millionaires even richer.

Yet these local plans were not rescinded by the Labour administration. Far from it, they were fine-tuned to make development even far more extensive.

There is an orgy of development today that is unacceptable and simply geared to make more people richer to the extent that their riches are simply unjustifiable, in the sense that we have not only sacrificed our footprint, our inner village cores and the peace of our communities but also the lives of people.

And since I referred to the news stories from the Alternattiva newspaper, it would be timely to say that the first time the scandal that saw vast tracts of Gozitan land ending up in the hands of speculators goes back to the 1990s when the newspaper Alternattiva first carried out this investigation.

The Gozitan drama has its origins in 1989 with a priest, Fr Saverin Bianco, who has since passed away. He was the ‘rector’ of the benefice that administered vast tracts of Gozitan land. Then a certain Richard Stagno Navarra of St Julian’s came forward – claiming to be the rightful owner as laid down in the Cumbo Navarra lineage – demanding Archbishop Joseph Mercieca appoint him ‘rector’ of the foundation that administered the lands.

Mercieca denied the request according to the foundation’s own strict rules.

Stagno Navarra ignored the Archbishop’s decree, and in 1992 signed off a tract of land of 126,000sq.m, known as ‘tal-Vardati’, to Berracimp Properties and its shareholder Jimp Ltd, on a 150-year emphyteusis for Lm500 a year. Berracimp, at the time, had three owners: the late Joseph Vella, lawyer Carmelo Galea, then legal advisor to the Gozo bishop and who is still active in the current lands saga, and magistrate Dennis Montebello (now retired). Montebello is still a company shareholder. The story goes on, and though it appears complicated read the chronology in MaltaToday and see where the twist lies.

The twist is that in 2013 the Curia won a court case to retain control of the giuspatronato. But even so Archbishop Scicluna agreed to appoint as rector of the Abbazzia dell Navarra giuspatronato the lawyer Patrick Valentino who turns out to be the partner of the daughter of magistrate Dennis Montebello.

Hang on: the story goes on, as the Curia’s finance committee then agreed to relinquish the land for only €200,000 paid by the Stagno Navarra heirs, Carmelo Galea and Dennis Montebello. The Stagno Navarras, Montebello and Galea formed the Carravan Company Ltd. Carravan is owned by the Stagno Navarra family (Dei Conti Holdings, 60%), Carmelo Galea (20%), and Carrac (20%), whose main shareholders are Dennis Montebello’s daughters, Rachel (a magistrate) and Carol.

The long and short of this story is that hovering close to these deals is Joe Portelli, the super construction magnate, who fronts many big investors foreign and local alike and financially supports prominent politicians such as the Labour MEP Josianne Cutajar. He is keenly involved in developing the land at Qala.

Now that the proverbial shit has the hit the fan, dozens of Nadur residents have also learnt that they have no title to their homes and land.

The Prime Minister Robert Abela this week rushed off to Gozo, extending his moral support.

But what is needed now is decisive action. Introduce laws that do away with this kind of feudal legacy.

This story dates back to papers from 1675, when the nobility were a bunch of privileged lackeys who owned property on the basis of their corrupt ways and ability to jostle with the patronage of the conquerors of this Island.

Those who claim ownership are no different to the vultures who feed off the ignorance of others. Abela must act, as he should act to address yet another stickler – the Vitals/Steward legacy.

Surely there is now enough evidence to show that the Vitals Global Healthcare concession was not devised as a serious strategy to invest money in the Maltese healthcare system, and that investors old and new used this ‘test case’ as a way of promoting their international business.

And it is clear enough that Steward, now that they are the new concessionaires, are only motivated in receiving more of our money, to feed US shareholders who are driven by profits and not quality health delivered to communities as part of a social package as we know it in Europe. This to them, this would be just anathema.

Which means that Robert Abela needs to take a more determined stand, that will see them abandon their project. He also needs to ensure that a proper investigation, this time from the police, is kick-started into the Vitals agreement. One that will show the extent of this daylight robbery from the Tumuluris and Pawleys of this world. One that may get us closer in understanding the offshore structures created around this time and that may involve the highest elements in our political hierarchy.

Abela must start seeing this bigger picture. He must act.