NGOs demand Prime Minister rein in ‘lawless’ Infrastructure Malta

Infrastructure Malta's recent abuses on the Central Link project, including the illegal removal of almond trees, were not a reflection of good governance, NGOs say

Excavators moved in to start excavations for the Central Link Project before a court of appeal decision was passed
Excavators moved in to start excavations for the Central Link Project before a court of appeal decision was passed

Environmental NGOs have demanded that Prime Minister Robert Abela rein in Infrastructure Malta, the public infrastructure government agency, for its continued "lawlessness" operations.

The agency was mired in controversy in recent weeks over the Central Link project, when works to widen the road infrastructure started before a final decision of the court of appeal on the project is made.

MaltaToday also revealed how almond trees were chopped illegally to make way for the project that should take over 48,466sq.m of good quality agricultural land.

In response, the agency's CEO, Fredrick Azzopardi, said on Friday that the almond trees that were removed were sick. The cluster of mature almond trees along the route in the vicinity of the Attard traffic lights had to be transplanted according to the environment permit issued by the Environment and Resource Authority (ERA). However, when works on the project started, the trees were simply chopped down.

"Given the recent developments arising from the Central Link Project, eNGOs Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Ramblers Association, Graffitti, Attard Residents Environmental Network (AREN) and Bicycle Advocacy Group are asking the Prime Minister to rein in the repeated planning and environmental abuses which have become synonymous with Infrastructure Malta," the NGOs said in a statement on Saturday.

"Infrastructure Malta is a public entity and thus good governance demands that it respect all stakeholders and set a good example for others to follow.

"It is thus extremely serious that Infrastructure Malta opted to start works on the Central Link Project despite the fact that the final decision of the Court of Appeal on the project was due in just a few weeks," they said.

They added that such "disrespect" shown to stakeholders does not befit a public entity and is reminiscent of tactics employed by rogue developers. They said that such behaviour was even more "scandalous" given that EU funds were intended to be used for the project.

"In addition to this, the flouting of environmental regulations related to the recent destruction of protected trees in Attard continues the trend of undermining Malta's regulatory supervision and sets the expectation that others in the private sector can also act with impunity. 

"It needs to be stated that Infrastructure Malta has repeatedly broken the law; In February 2019 it was fined €20,107 for widening a traffic junction in Ħal Farruġ, limits of Luqa without a permit; While in August 2018, it was slapped with a €42,454 fine over the controversial Tal-Balal road-widening project, which started even before a permit was issued."