Secrecy on why Planning Authority waives enforcement fines on illegalities

The Planning Authority waived enforcement fines in 24 cases since 2015 but refuses to divulge amounts waived. It will not say why

The Planning Authority upheld or partly accepted 24 petitions to reduce fines related to illegal development, but the decisions on these requests are being kept under wraps unlike all other decisions taken by the Authority.

MaltaToday has now filed a freedom of information request for the authority to provide the full information.

In 2015, a legal notice permitted the PA to consider written requests from persons served with daily fines to pay a “compromise fine” instead.

The petition system introduced in 2015 complemented another one introduced in 2012 through which those hit by daily fines can appeal directly to the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal. In Marchk, the EPRT slashed €169,000 in 25 different daily fines imposed by the PA.

But while the EPRT’s decisions are public, with the tribunal providing a case-by-case justification for accepting, partly accepting or rejecting these petitions, decisions by the PA remain shrouded in secrecy.

A spokesperson for the PA confirmed that in the past six years the Planning Authority had received 56 requests to reduce daily fines imposed on illegal developments.

Of these 27 were dismissed, while 18 resulted in the fines being reduced. In six cases the fine was written off mainly due to the fact that “a sanctioning fee was paid”. Three are still pending a decision.

No reply was given to MaltaToday’s question on the amount of money forfeited each year since the compromise fine mechanism came in place. The PA’s spokesperson confirmed that “to date the requests and decisions related to ‘compromised fines’ are not published”.


How compromise fine

mechanism works

The PA has the power to accept or refuse requests by owners of illegal buildings to pay a “compromise penalty”, instead of the daily fines which under the law can reach up to €50 a day.

The legal notice itself was introduced in the absence of any public consultation, since the minister responsible for planning was exempted from such consultation as happens in other instances involving changes to planning rules.

According to the legal notice any request for a compromise fine must specify “the impelling reason” why the penalty established by law is not to be paid, as well as “the manner in which the fine” is to be changed.

The new legal notice also foresaw the creation of a new committee composed of three board members, one of whom is the chairman of the PA or a chairperson of the two environment and planning commissions.

In 2015 the PA allowed those who feel that fines are unjust to appeal to the EPRT, the PA’s appeals tribunal. In fact those who ask for a “compromise penalty” also renounce their right to appeal against the fine imposed on them before the EPRT.

But the PA claimed that appealing to the EPRT resulted to “an additional financial burden” which “further protracts the time taken for a final solution to be sought”.

So the legal notice allowed “for a swifter and more streamlined process” with decisions taken by a sub-committee made up of board members who were already “aware of the circumstances of the original decision”.