[WATCH] Gzira mayor not excluding independent bid for re-election

Labour mayor Conrad Borg Manché says he will stay loyal to his oath of office and his party’s socialist principles in opposing a Land Authority relocation of a fuel pump over 900sq.m of Gżira’s Council of Europe gardens

Gzira mayor Conrad Borg Manché
Gzira mayor Conrad Borg Manché

Popular Gżira mayor Conrad Borg Manché is not excluding contesting the next round of local elections in 2024 as an independent, strongly hinting he wants to continue serving his locality as its mayor.

Borg Manché has fallen out with Labour over the Lands Authority’s plans to take back 900sq.m of garden space to relocate a 300sq.m petrol station just 100m away. The Gżira mayor, whose campaign against the relocation of the petrol station is backed by an 8,000-strong petition, has said he is flabbergasted by the fact that Labour’s party president Ramona Attard, a lawyer by profession, is representing the Authority in in the appeal against the tribunal decision which revoked the relocation. “I do not exclude anything because even a week in politics is a long time,” Borg Manché.

Asked whether he will be recontesting with the Labour Party, Manché replied that he cannot answer this question.

“This does not depend solely on me but on them...the party does not belong to me but belongs to its members and it should be up to them to decide whether I should represent the party.... what am sure is that as regards principles I am in the right place....”

But he makes it clear that he would like to continue serving the locality as its mayor. “Honestly I cannot imagine myself doing something else.”

Borg Manché has also confirmed that he was not even contacted by Prime Minister Robert Abela following his strong comments accusing Attard of being “anti-socialist” and after expressing misgivings on the lack of support from the party in his defence of a public open space.

He also expressed concern on the ideological direction taken by the party. “I joined the Labour Party because I am a socialist. I hail from a PN-leaning family but could never join the PN because I am a socialist. Unfortunately, these principles are being lost,” he said. “My mission is to represent the small fry, those who do not have a swimming pool or a boat... those who only have the public foreshore to enjoy.”

The straw that broke the camel’s back revolves around the relocation of a 300sq.m petrol pump in the vicinity of the Manoel Island bridge, to a 900sq.m site within the Council of Europe Garden. Originally the petrol pump and an adjacent kiosk had to be relocated because of a proposed road project linking the Strand to Regional Road, but the controversial project, which would have bisected the locality, was aborted.

Yet the application to relocate the petrol station presented in 1999 was surprisingly approved 20 years later during a PA planning commission meeting in which Borg Manché had attended by sheer coincidence while following another unrelated permit, which happened to take place on the same day. Borg Manché points out that the meeting was held on the same day as his investiture as mayor, something which raised his suspicions that even the date of the meeting was pre-arranged to make sure that he would not be present. “I was lucky enough to be there at the right time and at the right moment. I thank God for that.”

Borg Manché expressed his suspicions that he was being set up. “Just imagine how my credibility would have been obliterated had I not attended that meeting and the relocation approved without my knowledge... It would have meant that all the credibility I gained while campaigning on Manoel Island would have been lost.”

Moreover, while other applications for fuel stations were taken by the Planning Board in which the Gżira council would not only have been informed but would have had a vote, the decision was taken by the three-member Planning Commission.

Although the project was approved, Borg Manché immediately reacted by appealing the decision in front of the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal and starting a petition signed by over 8,000 residents. The decision was still confirmed on appeal, but since the whole garden was devolved to the council in 2000, the Lands Authority had to commence procedures to take away a chunk of the garden from the council, to give it to the owner of the petrol pump. The council fought tooth and nail and emerged victorious when a tribunal revoked the Lands Authority’s decision. The Lands Authority is now appealing the decision.

“Ramona Attard has the right to work as a lawyer, but this is also a matter of principle... she is also the president of a socialist party. How can you fight against a socialist mayor to take land from the public to give it to private interests?”

Borg Manché makes it clear that he is not against the relocation of the petrol station, acknowledging that this is an eye-sore, but insists this should never be relocated in a public garden, not just because of the take-up of garden space but also because of the carcinogenic fumes emitted from it and the impact on the children and families who frequent the garden. “Gżira is one of the most densely populated localities in Malta. How can it even cross their mind to put a petrol station in one of the few lungs of the locality?”