How they do it INDIS country

The people want to know the way they do things INDIS country!

A large area of public land in Hal Far industrial estate was allocated by INDIS to a property developer so that it could be turned into a small industrial park on its own
A large area of public land in Hal Far industrial estate was allocated by INDIS to a property developer so that it could be turned into a small industrial park on its own

The Prime Minister’s U-turn on holding an in inquiry on the circumstances that led to the death of Jean Paul Sofia has - at the time of writing - provoked many questions as to what the terms of reference of this inquiry will be.

Last Tuesday Times of Malta claimed that: ‘The three key principles of the inquiry will be complete transparency throughout, scrutiny of all the authorities involved in the allocation of public land and a thorough investigation of all health and safety rules on construction sites’.

The allocation of public land is certainly an interesting issue in this case and is obviously beyond the scrutiny of the ongoing magisterial inquiry on the death of Jean Paul Sofia. Government-owned land is normally sold or leased after a public call for bids. But there is an exception. Public land in areas earmarked for industrial use is just allocated by INDIS Malta Ltd - a State-owned entity despite it being a limited liability company - to applicants who ask the State for help in setting up some industrial venture.

INDIS is the legal arm of the State that does the job, practically without any monitoring from other authorities. Moreover, building factories in these State-owned industrial estates - earmarked as such in the local plans - does not need a full PA permit. A DNO (Development Notification Order) will suffice.

According to its website, INDIS Malta Ltd is responsible for the administration of the government-owned industrial parks and related facilities around Malta and Gozo, as well as supporting and promoting their further development. This is no private venture but a government company under the responsibility of the Ministry for the Economy, European Funds and Lands headed by Silvio Schembri.

Incidentally the grouping of Lands with the Economy portfolio is a first in Malta’s political history. Obviously, this made the transfer of public lands to private individuals or companies for industrial - aka economic - use less cumbersome than in the past.

Today undertakings eligible in terms of Article 3 of the Business Promotion Act can apply for any of the following types of assistance: (i) Allocation of industrial space (ii) Soft loan (iii) Interest rate subsidy and (iv) Loan guarantee.

Through INDIS, government allocates public land in industrial estates ‘strictly’ for manufacturing purposes. The allocation is usually tied to a number of conditions including the number of new employment opportunities that will be generated by the approved project.

In November 2020, Malta Enterprise issued a scheme named Allocation Of Industrial Space For Small Business Activities, where qualifying businesses are eligible to receive possession and title over industrial space of up to 300sq.m. In the case of a piece of industrial property or land that requires considerable capital investment for it to become suitable for the applicant’s purpose, the rent may be waived entirely. The land or property will be transferred to the successful applicant for 100 years and all expenses will be at the charge of the successful applicant.

Recently the The Shift News reported that a large area of public land in Hal Far industrial estate was allocated by INDIS to a property developer so that it could be turned into a small industrial park on its own with substantial parts to be sub-leased - something that is not normally allowed.

This report was never denied by INDIS.

In all this plethora of schemes to help small businesses it would be interesting to find out how does the allocation of land in Kordin, to be used for a ‘furniture factory’, figure in Silvio Schembri’s economic vision for Malta.

Let’s face it. How many Maltese workers are seeking jobs in furniture factories? Would this be a factory employing just third country nationals? When long established furniture manufacturers are facing stiff competition from sources outside Malta, does helping the creation of yet another furniture factory make economic sense? How can a furniture factory attract people to join its workforce? How can Malta compete with furniture manufacturers in Europe, particularly in Sicily? What experience did the two beneficial owners of the project have in the furniture business? Was INDIS helping a lost cause?

How are such applications - such as the one seeking to be given the land to be developed by the ill-fated factory in Corradino - processed? Who decides to give, or to refuse to give, public land and on what basis? What are the conditions tied to such allocation of public land. What were the actual conditions in the case of the Corradino furniture factory that literally evaporated into thin air?

The lack of transparency in the process leading to the allocation of public land in industrial estates to private individuals or companies is incredible. This is one aspect of what the public inquiry should delve into.

The people want to know the way they do things INDIS country!

Yet another u-turn

The decision to launch a public inquiry in the case of the accidental death of Jean Paul Sofia was yet another prime ministerial U-turn.

Every politician does U-turns, but few politicians can afford to do so frequently. Robert Abela may have his good reasons but people expect their politicians to justify their actions.

I remember the U-turn that the PN had to do to embrace the concept of Malta’s neutrality - a decision that, in fact, changed the course of Maltese history. It was not easy and it could have been misunderstood by its own supporters.

Robert Abela’s U-turns cannot be looked upon on these terms. He seems to be continually miscalculating the people’s mood as well as having to retract from his position in the face of popular pressure. The problem is that he cannot explain the raison d’etre of his decision to make a U-turn and the excuses he comes up with to justify his U-turns are not credible.

This makes it worse for his image.

The people’s trust in the Prime Minister has therefore waned. Today Labour supporters openly criticise his way of doing things, although at this point in time no one from his party is prepared to challenge him directly. They all seem to be happy with moaning privately about him.

Wait until the results of the local elections and the European Parliament next year.

If things go wrong for Labour, the fireworks will certainly begin.