President hits back at social media backlash on Zejtun uglification post

Rare statement from Office of the President says George Vella has been ‘pioneer of environmental awareness’

President George Vella
President George Vella

The Office of the President has issued a rare statement defending a social media post in which George Vella voiced his concern at the construction of a four-storey tenement just a few metres away from a scheduled building close to his hometown street in Żejtun.

Vella, a former Labour minister for the environment and later foreign affairs, defended himself from criticism that he had only woke up to the reality of urban destruction now that it struck close to where he lives.

In a statement, his Office pointed out that Vella was actually a pioneer of “talking and writing about environmental awareness” in te 1970s and 1980s.

“Between 1996 and 1998, during his tenure as Minister in charge of the environment, several actions were taken to make the then-Planning Authority more respectable and authoritative.

“Those who follow this dossier with interest would know of the many instances in President Vella’s political career in which he spoke in Parliament on the need to protect the environment and to achieve sustainability.”

The Office said that while being criticised comes with any public office, the criticism had been laced “with insults, accusations, innuendos and outright name calling”.

The Office even said Vella was probably “among the very first to use the word ‘uglification’ of Malta” when referring to “distasteful” buildings mushrooming over the islands and “wreaking havoc on the much-cherished texture of our urban centres.”

“The appeal was never to stop the urban development, which one realises that unfortunately has to happen to provide for population growth, the necessary infrastructure, and social needs. The appeal was always directed at finding that delicate point, where there is balance between the built-up environment and the natural environment, in these small islands of ours.”

Upon his appointment in 2019, Vella was categorical in his inaugural address about the need for better controls by the authorities to abide scrupulously to rules and legislation.

“This call, he repeated on each and every occasion he had, both in his public speeches and declarations, as well as during the innumerable occasions he had in meeting groups and organisations that paid courtesy calls to his office,” the Office said.

Over the last months, the Office said that the President’s calls had become more strident when addressing professionals in the field, as he did when addressing the winners of the Malta Spatial Planning Award.

Vella said his appeal was for the responsible authorities to have “a good critical look at the end results” of their planning and permit policies.

“However good and academically justified such rules and regulations appear on the statute book, the end result is dreadful for anyone, even the common man in the street, to see.”

President Vella said he will join all well-intentioned citizens in launching a sincere, heartfelt appeal to the authorities that be to have a serious review of existing planning and building regulations, in order to avoid allowing more unsightly and obtrusive structures to rise all over Malta and Gozo.

“It is fitting to ensure that the general public is duly informed about the countless occasions where President Vella spoke against this outrage in urban development.”

The Office attached a document carrying links to public speeches in which President Vella delivered during his Presidency.