Yacht Club fighting Ta’ Xbiex eviction

Illegal expropriation of Playing Fields Association from land being contested by Royal Malta Yacht Club

The land was originally leased for 49 years to the MPFA in 2002, but six years later was expropriated for the RYMC’s benefit
The land was originally leased for 49 years to the MPFA in 2002, but six years later was expropriated for the RYMC’s benefit

The Royal Malta Yacht Club (RMYC) is refusing to hand over the land it uses for a sailing school to the Malta Playing Fields Association (MPFA), despite two court decisions which decreed the expropriation of the Ta’ Xbiex land illegal.

It has been two years since the Constitutional Court decreed that the government expropriation of the land from the PFA back in 2008, for the RYMC’s school was in breach of the right to enjoy private property.

The land was originally leased for 49 years to the MPFA in 2002, but six years later was expropriated for the RYMC’s benefit when the sailing club had to move out from Manoel Island, when MIDI took ownership of the land.

The court decision actually concerns just the part of the RYMC premises that is used for the sailing school, and not the rest of the premises used by the club. The school is run by the Sail Coach Foundation.

But Commodore Godwin Zammit insists that the Constitutional court’s decision has not revoked the RYMC’s title on the land.

Acknowledging that the Constitutional Court annulled the expropriation, Zammit insists that the RMYC was not asked to vacate the premises by the Court or the government, which is the direct owner. “This matter is still subject to pending court proceedings,” he said.

The RYMC took possession of the land under title of emphyteusis from the government and Sport Malta (formerly KMS), and the title was never revoked. “The RYMC has developed the area in good faith, at great cost and after obtaining the necessary planning permission,” Zammit said.

“It was previously abandoned and completely derelict and is now continuously used by the sailing school which trains countless youngsters as well as older students in the sport of sailing who also enjoy the other facilities of the club and also supports the various local and international regattas held by the Club, notably the Rolex Middle Sea Race. The loss of this area would clearly have a very negative impact on sporting activity at the club,” Zammit added.

Unfazed, the MPFA’s chairman Charles Cilia is demanding that RYMC vacate the property and hand it over to his association.

Cilia said that the MPFA’s original plans for its own sailing school, approved by the Planning Authority back in 2006, “were illegally halted when the place was illegally given to RMYC in 2007”.

He also chastised the RYMC for its “blatant disregard” of the court decisions, saying he expected it would make good for the damages suffered by the MPFA by the club’s “illegal and arrogant behaviour”.

“We also expect that the Lands Department, which was also implicated in the Constitutional Court case and subsequent appeal, makes good for the years of use which were denied to the Malta Playing Fields Association as a result of the abuse,” Cilia added.

Expropriation deemed illegal

The RMYC was relocated from Fort Manoel, where it had had its headquarters for the previous 40 years, after its land was granted to the MIDI consortium.

The part of the new RYMC club, located at the Ta’ Xbiex lido, that hosts the sailing school had already been leased by the government to the MPFA for exclusive use for sports facilities.

The land actually had been run by the MPFA since the 1950s but in 2002 the Maltese parliament approved a deed envisioning the development of unspecified sports facilities run by the association.

But the expropriation order in 2008 was given by the National Sports Council (KMS), claiming the MPFA was not honouring its contractual obligations, adding that a sailing school was not included in the land transfer contract and that the land had not been used for years.

After expropriation, this part of the land – together with a restaurant and the former Malta Maritime Authority’s office – was granted by temporary emphyteusis to the RMYC for 49 years.

The Lands Department testified in Court that in its expropriation request, the KMS felt that the RYMC would put the land to better use. On its part, the MPFA refused a €12,000 compensation payment, opting instead for court action.

But a first court declared that it felt the alleged breach in contract conditions was just a pretext for the KMS’s expropriation. “If the breach of contract was so serious, the council should have simply terminated the emphyteusis,” the court said. “Instead it erroneously chose the easier way; that of expropriating the land.”

The court said no public interest had justified the expropriation, and that the MPFA’s intention was to use the land for a sailing club – the very same use made of the land by the RYMC – making this a case of “two weights and two measures”.

Court evidence also points at the direct involvement of former transport minister Austin Gatt, then responsible for the Malta Maritime Authority, who summoned the MPFA’s officials for a meeting to inform them that the government intended to take the land back. Former MPFA chairman Anthony Bonello testified in court that Gatt had told him: “In the same way that it was we who have given you the land, we can take it back.”