Axiak on NGOs’ call for his removal: ‘I always voted according to my conscience and ERA reports’

NGOs accused Victor Axiak of ‘unashamedly acting and voting against environmental wellbeing of the country’ 

ERA chairman Prof. Victor Axiak
ERA chairman Prof. Victor Axiak

A group of environmental and civic action NGOs have written to environment minister Aaron Farrugia, calling for the removal of Prof. Victor Axiak from his post as head of the Environment and Resources Authority. 

The NGOs accused Axiak  of “repeatedly and unashamedly during the last few years, acted and voted against the environmental wellbeing of this country.” 

“Instead of acting as a guardian for our limited environmental resources, and duly guiding ERA to behave as an authority and regulator, Axiak has consistently chosen to ally himself with developers and roadbuilders, thus ignoring objections and concerns about conservation, but also public wellbeing,” the NGOs said in their strongly-worded letter signed by  Extinction Rebellion Malta,  Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth, Malta Youth in Agriculture (MaYA) Foundation, Moviment Graffitti, Nature Trust, Ramblers’ Association, Rota, and The Archaeological Society. 

They said Axiak had used his vote on the PA board to “justify the destruction of huge swathes of arable land” by giving ERA’s blessing to the Central Link project. 

“This is deeply ironic, because arable land can be considered to be an environmental resource, but the roadbuilding spree is working in the opposite direction at breakneck speed. We cannot count on a fair and just representation of facts if the ERA and its head are unable to understand, let alone mitigate the damage roadbuilding is doing to our green spaces.” 

The ERA also gave the green light to the destruction of mature carob trees in Dingli, appeasing the plans for roadworks the Transport Ministry and its road-building agency. “This, too, is in direct contradiction of ERA’s mission statement.” 

They lobbed similar accusations on the lack of objection to the building of a roundabout in Burmarrad, which is expected to service a proposed ODZ supermarket and will take up private agricultural land as well as potentially damage the water supply all the way to Salina. Over 6,000 citizens and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage have objected to this development, but the environmental regulator is nowhere to be seen. 

“It is only natural for us to wonder aloud whether ERA has been secretly taken over by the above-mentioned ministry. In fact, we were less than surprised to read that your regulator has found no objection to the redevelopment of the Pulvich fireworks factory in Dingli, despite objections back in 2017. Now that Infrastructure Malta has laid out electricity and water services leading to the factory’s site – without any permits whatsoever, as is now customary – ERA has also dropped its concerns about this project,” the NGOs said. 

The NGOs accused Axiak of “repeated, dishonest behaviour” and demanded his substitution with a “dedicated, motivated and independent individual, who has no current or previous links with developers, business groups and other lobbies, and who can truly guide the ERA into becoming a respectable regulator, instead of a rubber-stamping entity that follows the whims of other authorities or key government personnel.” 

Contacted for comment, Axiaq insisted the examples mentoind by the NGOs were “not objective at all”. 

“I always, together with my colleagues on the board, took the advice of our technical people when necessary, which were always justified,” he said, saying there times when changes to projects were necessary and were made.

“For example on the DB project, the Marsascala pitch, where is the objective outlook? I absolutely think that is not right at all. At the same time I understand that may be objections… but if you end up saying that I always facilitated developers it is pitiful to say so,” Axiak said,

“Persons who follow the meeting of the PA board will know if the statement is objective or not. I never let myself be placed in the pocket of the developer or the politician or any lobby or NGO. I always voted according to my conscience and reports I had.”

The NGOs also asked that ERA board meetings be open to the public, allowing citizens to make their representation, and that any votes taken during these meetings no longer be kept secret, but every board member’s vote logged and published. 

The NGOs reiterated their call for a legal amendments to allow NGOs to have an automatic judicial interest in any appeals presented to the EPRT. “In 2019, a budget measure had capped the fees for EPRT appeals to a maximum of €1000 for eNGOs. Therefore, we think it’s a contradiction – as well as a waste of time and resources for both parties involved – that an eNGO is told that it has no legal standing in a matter after three sittings, including submissions, paperwork, and the payment of fees.”