Letters: 5 July 2015

Valuation of expropriated land

I refer to the article in MaltaToday of Sunday, 28 June 2015 entitled “Lands dished out €400,000 compensation for €60,000 land in 2011” which distorts the truth and puts me in a bad light.

The facts are the following:

1. In 1974, a substantial parcel of agricultural land/wasteland (i.e. non-building) in Mtahleb was expropriated by a Governor’s declaration, involving 8,569 square metres (7.62 tumoli) of land I owned – rather more than a small “countryside passage” as described in your article.

2. Up until early 2010, I never heard anything from the Lands Department and no ‘notice to treat’ was ever served on me by such date. Art. 18A of Chap. 88 (Land Acquisition (Public Purposes) Act) stipulates that: “The value of any land (a) still in the course of acquisition on the 1st January 2005; (b) in respect of which a declaration under Art. 3 was issued before the 5th March 2003, and (c) in respect of which a notice to treat was not issued before the 1st January 2005 shall, saving any interests due until payment is made under art. 12 (3), be its value as on the 1st January 2005”; interests stipulated under Art. 12 (3) shall be 5% from fifteen days after the date of the Governor’s declaration of expropriation to date of contract. It was at this stage that I communicated with the Lands Department to enquire why no communication was ever made over land expropriated 36 years previously.

Since I received no reply, I sent several emails to the then Prime Minister, Lawrence Gonzi reporting this injustice, asking him to redress this injustice; it seems that the Prime Minister referred the matter to Minister Jason Azzopardi, who at the time was minister responsible for the Lands Department.

When at a later stage, I again wrote (by email) to the Prime Minister, his reply was that “As Prime Minister responsible inter alia for the administration of public funds, I have the duty to follow rigorously what is stipulated by the law of this country. In this context I have also the duty to ask for the advice and guidance of the Attorney General”; and again: “Allow me to emphasise that the valuation of any piece of land is not and can never be a political decision. This is why it is a matter left in the hands of the architects. Of course, you are not obliged to accept it and you have every right to contest it in accordance with the established procedure”; and finally: “I will continue to insist that you are given what is due to you by right. This must be done in accordance with the correct procedures and for no other reason” – this, I believe, is not political interference as you insinuate in your publication.

3. Some weeks later, I received a letter from the Lands Department, dated 11th June, 2010 informing me of a valuation of my and third parties’ land; I informed the Lands Department that the valuation included land belonging to third parties and I required a valuation of MY land, i.e. the 8,569 square metres of the expropriated land. The first time I was informed of the valuation of MY land was received on 10 January, 2012 which stated that “the amount of compensation due to be paid, including interests, is approximately €118,000” made up of €59,130 being the price of the land and €58,946 as interests (I fail to understand from where the valuation of €60,000 came from since I was never shown any such valuation by any architect; furthermore, any Tom, Dick and Harry will realise that €7,760 per tumolo is ridiculous and far from reality.

May I just point out that some weeks ago, relative to the Zonqor project, the government offered the private owners €50 per square metre which is equivalent to €56,000 per tumolo or rather more than seven times what was offered to me). 

In the same letter, the Asst. Director Contracts added that: “interests are calculated as per schedule attached to the Land Acquisition Ordinance (Chapter 88) i.e. at 5% p.a. on the average of the current value from when it was occupied. Interests are calculated up to the date of acquisition by Government”. In this particular case, interests would add up to 170% on the value of the expropriated land.

4. It was some time in 2011 that the Lands Department offered to pay me in kind by offering a plot at Attard; I did not accept this offer as I needed the cash at the time and the plot was not saleable since there existed no road formation leading to such plot; furthermore Chap. 88 of the Laws of Malta does not contemplate barter but only payment in cash for any expropriated land.

5. I engaged an architect (Mr Dennis Camilleri A&CE) who valued the expropriated land at €307,775 (some €40,000 per tumolo); architect Camilleri’s report and valuation were supported by documented evidence which showed the real market value of the expropriated land, which contracts were shown to the Lands Department.

Some time later, I was informed that a fresh valuation was made and the new price offered was €140,000 but a few days later, I was informed by the Lands Department that this valuation was dropped and proposed that a panel of architects (which the Lands Department called Arbitration Committee) be engaged, one of whom would be appointed by me, to establish the market value of the expropriated land. I agreed to this proposal made by the Lands Department and this panel valued the property at €206,000 i.e. €27,034 per Tumolo. Adding 170% as interests for the 38-year period, the total amount I would be receiving would be €556,200.

6. The contract was signed on the 16th May 2012, when I was paid the sum of €206,000 as the price of the expropriated land and €198, 020 as interests – a total of €404,020. Please note that interests were paid at the rate of 2.5% per annum (instead of the 5% established by Law) and that a clause in the contract was inserted that I could not institute any judicial proceedings against the government relative to the forced expropriation and the relative compensation received.

7. From the above facts, it is obvious that I am the one who was wronged when I had to accept a sum inferior to what I was entitled at law; I and my lawyer at the time, Prof. Ian Refalo, protested vehemently, but my protest proved in vain as I was faced with a situation that I either fared or wait for it for an undefined period.

Emanuel Peresso


Editorial note

MaltaToday carried this statement’s explanation of facts in an online report that also included Jason Azzopardi’s comments on the case. MaltaToday’s original report on Sunday carried emails by the former Commissioner for Lands specifically referring to the land as a “countryside passage” valued at €60,000.

Denied access to Sliema beach

Summer is truly back with us and like everyone knows, the joy of the Maltese is the sea. Be that as it may, some six to eight geriatrics, all over the age of 80, living at The Strand in Sliema, will not be enjoying the sea this summer and in the future. I had all been looking forward to the routine summer sea activity this year. Theirs is a daily early swim followed by a long conversation.

My friend is a 93 year old whose only recreation during the summer is her daily early swim opposite her flat. She and a small group of others join each other and after their swim, they have a longish morning conversation. Her other recreation is to meet in the evenings and chat with her friends about this and that. Some of them carry their light chairs to the area to make sure that they stay within the group and it’s incredibly pleasant to watch them being so full of life even at this tender age.

Recently and unfortunately, someone decided that the iron ladder which this group uses to go down (and up) to swim hasn’t as yet been placed. This old lady whom I had been looking after (i.e. when she encounters a difficult problem) for some 20 years (and to whom I’m obliged to write this letter) was informed by the Sliema Council and by one prominent Member of Parliament that they won’t be putting the iron ladder any longer. Someone decided on this group’s fate by NOT replacing it at the very beginning of the summer season. 

Thus I ask, for whatever reason this unknown and irresponsible person, decided not to replace the iron ladder:-

Is this a new ethic or responsibility towards the old generation? 

Is this a new crisis of modernity and not being able to identify a compromise?

What is the underpinning reason for such a harsh decision toward this group of older people?

If we start treating the older generation as such at present, how will we be treating them in the near and distant future?

To conclude, my friend made one simple statement and said: “I’ve been living here all these years, now they’ve taken OUR SEA!!!”

May I draw the attention of MP Justyne Caruana to this letter, to act on this grand injustice.

Leonard Schembri