[WATCH] Comino developers should stick to existing footprint - Prime Minister

Robert Abela interviewed | Talks seek compromise on Gzira fuel station controversy • Admits abortion amendment should have been put to consultation • Only saw Steward €100m side agreement after it was signed

Prime Minister Robert Abela
Prime Minister Robert Abela

Robert Abela has weighed in on the controversy concerning the proposed luxury development on Comino, insisting it should not be bigger than the existing hotel footprint.

The Prime Minister said good sense should prevail and has urged the developers to take note of the public outcry.

Good sense tells you that the sensitivity of the location dictates that the footprint of the project should not be bigger,” Abela said in a wide-ranging interview with MaltaToday. “This is the message I sent to the Planning Authority and the message I want to send the developers from here.”

This is the first time Abela has pronounced himself of the Comino development, which is being proposed by HV Hospitality, a subsidiary of Hili Ventures.

The company is proposing a €120 million investment in a new Comino hotel and villas on the island between Malta and Gozo. The original hotel and bungalows were built in the 1960s and are today in a derelict state.

Comino is a Natura 2000 site and earlier this month activists protested outside the company’s headquarters against the development. The Planning Authority has received almost 14,000 objections.

Gzira fuel station controversy: ‘I admire Conrad Borg Manché’

In the interview, Abela also reached out to Gżira Mayor Conrad Borg Manché over the ongoing controversy involving the relocation of a fuel station to a nearby garden.

The Labour mayor is opposing the relocation to a section of the Council of Europe Garden, even criticising his own party for being complacent on the matter. He even told MaltaToday earlier this month that he could consider an independent bid for the local elections next year.

The station has to be moved from its current location because of plans to widen the road that date back more than two decades.

Abela said he has sent a message to the authorities to explore an alternative solution but remained non-committal on whether the station will be relocated elsewhere. He said preliminary talks had started.

“I understand the priorities and concerns of Conrad Borg Manché, who is sending a strong message and believes in his cause and I admire him for that, but there are also the rights of the fuel station owners, and I believe we can sit down around the table and with good will and common sense bring together the conflicting interests,” Abela said.

Steward’s €100m agreement: ‘I only saw it after it was signed’

Asked about the Steward Health Care hospitals concession and the infamous August 2019 side agreement that obliged government to pay the company €100 million if the contract was terminated by the courts, Abela insisted he only saw the agreement after it was signed.

Pressed to say whether the side agreement signed by then minister Konrad Mizzi was the one discussed at Cabinet level, the Prime Minister implied it was not.

“I reiterate that I only saw that contract for the first time after it was signed… My reply is clear enough,” he insisted.

Abela defended his government’s tough action now to take back Gozo General, Karin Grech and St Luke’s hospitals, insisting this was the right time to do it after the court’s ruling.

Abortion amendment: ‘I’ve understood the importance of consultation’

The Prime Minister admitted that his government should have carried out public consultation before proposing the legal amendments to allow an abortion if a woman’s life or health is in danger.

“If you were to ask me what I would have done differently is that the amendment, which was motivated by good intentions, should have been issued for public consultation. From this legislature, I’ve understood the importance of public consultation before taking major decisions,” he said.

Abela reiterated the government’s commitment to change the law but said the present hiatus in the process was a result of consultations with stakeholders in the medical field. He said the talks have resulted in convergence on key principles. “Everyone agrees that the mother’s life should not be put in danger; there is agreement that where a foetus can be born it should be birthed; there is also agreement that the mother’s health should be protected.”

He said the discussion on legalisation of abortion, which he insisted had nothing to do with the proposed amendment, was alive and kicking in society and the Labour Party will be a part of the discussion.

Roberta Metsola: ‘Choice would fall on person who enjoys Maltese government’s trust’

The Prime Minister was non-committal whether he would nominate Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola for European Commission president if she is the European People’s Party’s choice for the post.

In Brussels’ corridors, Metsola has been name-dropped as the EPP’s possible choice for spitzenkandidat, which would put her in the running to take over from Ursula von der Leyen in 2024 if the EPP emerges as the largest party in the parliament.

However, any such eventuality will depend also on Abela’s decision since it is the heads of government in the Council that choose the commission president.

“In 2019, and on the basis of the EU Treaties, the choice of Ursula von der Leyen was made by the heads of government [ignoring the Spitzenkandidat model]… if in a hypothetical scenario one had to arrive at that eventuality, the Maltese government’s choice would fall upon someone who enjoys the trust of the Maltese government,” Abela replied cryptically.

He said that the PL’s focus in next year’s EP election will be on solutions for the challenges people face in their daily lives, such as inflation.