A pumping station too many

Does this venture into competition with private enterprise – by providing the consumer with commercial catering facilities in WSC premises – have the approval of the Minister responsible for the Corporation?

The Għajnsielem local council and the NGO Wirt Ghawdex are appealing against the issue of a PA permit to change the disused old Mgarr pumping station into a cafeteria. The two entities claim the pumping station is an iconic and historic structure that is part of our national heritage and should be protected.

The application was made by the Water Services Corporation that owns the pumping station. Besides the change of use, the application includes the construction of a lightweight structure to form a mezzanine floor plus other internal and external alterations.

I believe that old structures such as this pumping station should be put in some good use as otherwise the abandoned structure would continue to deteriorate. Whether converting this pumping station into a cafeteria is the best way to preserve the station itself, is a moot point and I am sure that there are many strong arguments that militate against this proposed use.

The Water Services Corporation (WSC) has attempted to justify its decision to apply for such a change of use by issuing a statement to ‘explain’ its position. The building is essentially unused and it is, in fact, currently a dilapidated structure. The Corporation claims that it is endeavouring to put the building to good use, while maintaining its general outer structure as is.

Moreover, the WSC insists that the cafeteria in question is only part of what the building will be used for. It claims the building, once renovated, is envisaged to feature small-scale educational facilities, assembly and leisure areas (including possibly a library and a multipurpose hall), as well as catering areas. Moreover, the top floors of the building are planned to house office space, amongst other possible uses.

The cafeteria, according to the WSC, is only one of the elements that will form part of an innovative concept to dedicate a small footprint of the building as a multi-use space which can be utilised for various purposes, including educational and social ones. The Corporation assured the suspecting public that it will be issuing a public call for tenders for the lease of the building, which will see all eligible bidders evaluated according to the applicable legal provisions.

This is where the WSC stumbles in a mess of its own making. Instead of applying for a comprehensive permit so that the building could be assigned some new purpose in line with its legal remit, its very development application just centres on the use of the building as a cafeteria. It is clearly not a case of the building being put to some new public use connected with the WSC’s remit and having, as an ancillary facility, a cafeteria available for visitors. Obviously, the corporation has ignored the metaphorical bull’s horns and is just pulling its tail!

The WSC is a corporation set up by law for the exercise and performance by – or on behalf of the Corporation – of ‘functions related to the acquisition, transformation, manufacture, distribution and sale of potable and non-potable water, and, as appropriate, to the treatment and disposal or re-use of sewage and waste water, and re-use of stormwater run-off.’

In other words, the legal remit of the Corporation does not include using its premises as a public cafeteria in competion with private enterprise. Strangely enough, the organisations representing private enterprise are all oblivious to this. Perhaps they are already resigned to the usual story of some ‘well-connected individual’ who will be eventually running the cafeteria as his own profit-making venture...

Legally, the Water Services Corporation Act limits its property rights for the purposes of its functions and no expenditure shall be made or incurred by the Corporation that has not been approved by the House of Representatives. Does this commercial venture appear in the WSC’s budget as approved by the House?

Moreover, according to the Water Services Corporation Act, the Corporation needs the written authority of the Prime Minister, to alienate or hypothecate any lands or other immovable property and it also needs the consent of the Minister to grant a lease of lands or property for any period.

So does this venture into competition with private enterprise – by providing the consumer with commercial catering facilities in WSC premises – have the approval of the Minister responsible for the Corporation?

And where will such WSC commercial activities stop?

PN gone nuts?

This piece will be published on the same day that the Nationalist Party is holding a national protest in Valletta against “the deteriorating quality of life” in Malta; apparently an afterthought after the PN missed the bus on its most important anniversary – Independence Day.

Ten days ago, the PN thought it could not muster a decent crowd and had to organise a ‘sitting’ event in a relatively small public space. Now they think that they are in a position to organise a national protest!

Moreover, the PN’s publicity for this event strikes me as very odd.

It is described by the PN itself as “a national protest against the theft of the quality of our life” (Protesta nazzjonali kontra s-serqa tal-kwalità ta’ ħajjitna). If anyone in the PN thinks that the chosen phrase is a good rallying cry, then the PN has gone nuts.

Compare this slogan with the GWU’s ‘Issa Daqshekk’ when protesting on the ever-increasing cost of living under the Gonzi-led PN administration – an increase that vanishes into thin air when compared with the current rise in the cost of living.

Imagine the protestors chanting the chosen phrase while marching down Republic Street!

The PN cannot even devise a good rallying cry, let alone persuade people to follow it. And to make matters even crazier, the ‘slogan’ is accompanied by a raised clenched fist that one normally associates with Marxist organisations. No surprise that someone speculated that it was stolen from some Graffitti design.

I wonder whether this combination was concocted by some highbrow left-winger that is hiding under some carpet at Pietà, or whether it was thought out by some idiot who has no inkling of the language of political images.

I know that the PN has undergone changes from the bad to the worse, but I never thought their opting for such a mess in their political messages was possible.