Government laundering planning illegalities with simple fines – Ombudsman

Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud scolds government for disregarding development regulations and behaving illegally, only to be fined by the courts with no regard for true accountability

Former IM boss Fredrick Azzopardi and former roads minister Ian Borg
Former IM boss Fredrick Azzopardi and former roads minister Ian Borg

Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud has scolded government for disregarding planning development rules, by carrying out illegal developments before obtaining the appropriate authorisations.

Mifsud drew the Planning Authority’s attention to rules that sanction illegal buildings built on land outside the development zone (ODZ).

“We have reached the ridiculous stage where a public authority is sentenced to pay a penalty to another public authority in order to normalise this behaviour. Money is moving from one government pocket to another with people bearing the true price of the abuse,” expressed Mifsud.

Despite not being mentioned by the ombudsman, a clear case in point is Infrastructure Malta’s fine of €50,000. Back in July, the court ruled that IM’s CEO – at the time – Fredrick Azzopardi, carried out roadworks at Wied Qirda, ignoring a stop order issued by the Environment and Resources Authority over a breach of environmental regulations.

In such situations, it would perhaps be more appropriate that at least the penalty be taken by those who consciously and voluntarily abuse their power and arrogantly break the law, the Ombudsman said.

“That would be an effective measure of accountability... In such cases, the penalty should be paid by the individuals who intentionally and willingly misuse their authority and disobey the law,” suggested Mifsud.

The Ombudsman believes that “this culture of sanctioning” should be prioritised on the political agenda.

Mifsud suggested the government start with an in-depth study of the negative effects it has on proper public administration, and how it is applied and abused in practice in favour of those who intend to voluntarily and consciously break the law or ignore the regulations in a blatant way.

While recalling that the law is the same for everyone and no one is above the law, Anthony Mifsud concluded by saying “even in these sectors, good governance is hindered by weak legislation that can give rise to abuse.”