Saying no to greed

It was evident that the administration informed the PA members what to do, therefore it follows that Portelli's intentions were sanctioned by the government

Gozitan developer Joseph Portelli
Gozitan developer Joseph Portelli

You may have woken up to the good news that a particular Gozitan developer has renounced his freshly-won permit on a Qala villa outside development zones. But what happened at the Planning Authority this week is not only about the greed of one developer, who is really a broker for many other investors, but also about the divide between the policymakers and the people.

And when I mean people, let us for a moment forget those who intrinsically do not see eye to eye with this government.

The vast majority of Labourites are disgusted by the plans of Joseph Portelli, who has now shown that at the very end of the day his ethos is very simple: develop, speculate and grow exponentially, irrespective of the consequences.

The decision to give the green light for this ODZ development was only made possible because the government-appointed members on the Planning Authority’s board said ‘yes’, including the Labour MP on the board. So it was evident that the administration informed these members what to do. Therefore, it follows that Portelli’s intentions were sanctioned by government.

On the ground, the Labour mayor of Qala and many prominent Labourites such as former Labour Prime Minister Alfred Sant, have expressed dismay. Illum quotes the Labour parliamentary secretary Clint Camilleri, a former mayor in Qala, saying that the 2014 rural policy guidelines must be reviewed to remove anomalies.

It goes without saying that Labour’s expansionist policies on planning have opened the floodgates to development of the worst kind. It sounds futile praising the little concessions one gets when the outrage becomes too loud to ignore… something must give.

Joe Portelli is a loquacious person who thinks that he can influence everyone with his financial clout. He talks of his influence with power and government, not discreetly, but openly. He operates from the office that used to be John Dalli’s at Portomaso, and his financial matters are run by Dalli’s daughter; his speciality is eyeing big projects and getting investors to back him. It is not small money, but very big money with immense influence.

He is everywhere, from Mercury House to Jerma Palace Hotel, and he thinks he is invincible.

The point is very simple, the Qala development is a no-go and Joseph Muscat has an obligation to act. He needs to sense the moment and signal what he thinks. If he does not, it will mean a lot to many people.

Gozitans are already in their droves questioning the idea of a Gozo tunnel and surveys have shown that the support for the tunnel is waning fast. The same goes for Portelli’s hunger for land: even there, people are saying this cannot go on.

But the problem is that individuals like Portelli have influence because they represent a strong lobby of big investors who truly drive the economy. He has managed to fashion his property contracts in such as a way as to pay as little tax as possible, and now gives the impression of being in bed with some top politicians. I hope not, but if it is the case, then it is truly worrying.

The Qala saga is not only about stopping Gozo from having another Santa Maria Estate. It is also about getting out of our comfort zone and shaking the system – the Planning Authority system itself. We don’t need to shaft the chicken that lays the golden egg to have a strong economy and vibrant society. But we need to change the PA system that seems to be doing its utmost to kill our way of life. Qala is all about that.

***

I was not surprised at the reaction of Ivan Camilleri to my story on shoplifting at Valyou Supermarket in Naxxar. Both of his reactions were predictable as were the subsequent altered versions of the owners. I knew this would happen so I took precautions.

Camilleri is not only arrogant but is probably in serious denial. When I confronted him months ago about the fact that he drove a BMW that had not had its licence paid up since 2015 and had pending contraventions of precisely €5,756.77 in licence fees, and CVA fees of €401.16, he went into a frenzy, calling me all sort of names. Denying everything, of course. 

No one followed the story but just imagine, for a second, if it had been Saviour Balzan who was driving around in a BMW without a licence for four years…

I have ignored Camilleri throughout two decades of his sloppy reporting; even despite his abusive manner, I never prodded him about his termination as a steward at Air Malta back on 31 October 1990 – an interesting story there, but let’s move on. Camilleri’s perfidious character has meant that he has clashed repeatedly with colleagues at the Times, in ways that would normally constitute abuse and harassment. Those in the newsroom are aware how Camilleri has been sheltered by the company irrespective of what he does or does not. Yet management has chosen to do nothing and instead protect him. Camilleri picks and chooses his targets – Labour of course – with myopic reporting that often leaves much to be desired.

Loyal readers know this, but it has to be said that other readers seem to think that MaltaToday’s journalists do the same. As in everything, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

What struck me as unbelievable was that Allied’s managing director Michel Rizzo stuck by Camilleri. In my long relationship with the printing arm of the Times (going back to 1989) others, and particularly Michel Rizzo, have always argued that they do not interfere in editorial matters. That, of course, changed this week.

It was Daphne Caruana Galizia who, for all her visceral dislike of anyone who aided and abetted Labour, captured Camilleri in a pithy exchange over his voting intentions in 2013. ‘Yesterday I had an argument with Ivan Camilleri, the reporter at The Times, when I found out that both he and his wife didn’t vote because his wife didn’t get the job she wanted (she got a better one instead but that was never going to stand in the way of a nice bout of irrational thinking). He thinks this is perfectly normal behaviour and boasted about it, “What, do you mean to say, that you would have voted for them if that had happened to you?” he asked, in genuine amazement.

‘“Yes,” I said, because apart from the fact that I don’t feel entitled to anything, I draw a clear distinction between my personal issues and choosing the government. If I am going to get a government anyway, which is the case, then I want to choose it.”

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