No stomach to name and shame after MDA boss claims NGOs backed by business

Michael Stivala was participating in a heated discussion on 103 FM’s chat show hosted by Andrew Azzopardi, with Moviment Graffiti activist Andre Callus, the president of Din l-Art Ħelwa Alex Torpiano, and architect Robert Musumeci

MDA President Michael Stivala (Photo: James Bianchi/Maltatoday)
MDA President Michael Stivala (Photo: James Bianchi/Maltatoday)

The head of the Malta Developers Association, developer Michael Stivala, has alleged that environmental NGOs opposing excessive construction in Malta are “backed by businesses” but he fell short of naming any specific cases.

Stivala was participating in a heated discussion on 103 FM’s chat show hosted by Andrew Azzopardi, with Moviment Graffiti activist Andre Callus, the president of Din l-Art Ħelwa Alex Torpiano, and architect Robert Musumeci.

Several times, Stivala pushed back against accusations that Malta’s planning policies directly favoured the island’s mega-developers and the construction industry.

He was challenged about former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s consultancy work with the Stivala Group, to which the MDA president said he had filed for defamation against independent politician Arnold Cassola’s allegations that he was “gifted various illegalities” under the Muscat premiership. Instead, the MDA boss said his Stivala Group “feeds 300 families”, taking umbrage at the allegation.

Stivala said Muscat’s 100-hour contract with the group was one of several consultants he engaged, and even said – without naming them – that he had employed other former leaders or politicians as lawyers after they resigned from public office.

Stivala then pushed back against claims that he was behind the illegal operations of Gourmet Cocktail Bar and Grill restaurant in Sliema, which forms part of Stivala’s Sliema Hotel. “I have just purchased the hotel and when I did, I immediately handed in an application to regularise my position. The claims were misleading.”

Graffitti’s Andre Callus immediately pushed back and called him out. “Don’t play the victim. If there are victims in this whole matter, it’s definitely not you but the residents.”

Stivala insisted the hotel was not his at the time of the restaurant’s illegal operations. “Whoever wrote the article wanted to damage me personally, as I became the MDA president recently. Many choose to attack me and others personally.”

Callus did not back down: “We always name names and we will keep doing so, so that our children are aware of who’s responsible for the destruction of our country.”

Callus emphasised that the public’s mood had shifted from one of concern to anger, saying that many were angry about the heritage of future generations. He the concession of a part of the Gzira promenade for the development of a lido serving Stivala’s hotels, was theft of public land. “Under Joseph Muscat, policies were amended to give prominence to certain developers. Muscat gave Stivala Group the Gzira promenade to build a private lido. The promenade used to belong to the public and Muscat handed it over to them.”

Callus turned to Stivala: “I have nothing against you personally but when I witness the extent of the damage being done, I get angry. This is a great injustice and we will mention names, as the responsibility of this destruction should be assumed.”

Stivala denied being in cahoots with the disgraced former PM and said that the MDA had its own disagreements with him in the past over public land grants.

“There are certain NGOs that pretend to be NGOs so that they could make money. There are big businesses behind certain NGOs,” Stivala suddenly alleged, falling short of substantiating his claims and naming any individuals.

Architect Alex Torpiano argued that Malta’s planning system was the culprit behind the current state of affairs. He said developers could first build illegally outside development zones, to then “lobby with politicians and ask them to change the rules for them.”

He said that although people vote for the politicians that legislate development policies, many were not aware of the consequences of certain policies. “How many of those who voted for Muscat were aware that the population was increasing by a 100,000 in 10 years? How many were aware that thanks to Annex 2 of DC15, this would double Gozo’s population?”

He said there was no economic vision and a clear sense of direction, and that an economic model based on a population increase did not make sense.

Architect Robert Musumeci, who has been contracted by Stivala on some of his projects, on the other hand denied having been the brains behind the Development Control Design Policy, Guidance and Standards 2015 (known as DC15). He argued that politicians were the ones who ultimately penned the policies. “Let’s leave it up to the politicians to legislate and then let the people decide who to vote for.”