Naxxar council reiterates opposition to trade fair

After a six-month legal battle, the Malta International Trade Fair will return to Naxxar after the First Hall of the Civil Court cleared the re-activation of a permit with immediate effect, but the Naxxar Local Council has reiterated its opposition to the re-activation of the trade fair permit.

This means that after an absence of a three-year period of absence, the Malta International Trade Fair will be organised in Naxxar by the group Trade Fair Exhibitors Association (TFEA) Limited between 16 July and 25 July 2010.

Addressing a one-hour press conference at the Marquis Scicluna Hall, TFEA Limited Chairman Paul Abela explained how the last Court judgement had been the last chapter in a tug-of-war between the Trade Department, MFCC, and the former exhibitors at Naxxar.

When TFEA had originally announced on January 4 this year that it had the intention to re-organise the International Trade Fair at Naxxar between 24 June 2010 and 4 July 2010, little did they anticipate the bureaucratic hassle that the authorities would pose before allowing the fair to be held there.

Abela explained that a series of meetings was held with the Director-General of the Department of Trade starting with the first meeting held on 23 Jan 2010.

During the meetings, TFEA called for the re-activation of the operating licence that was held by MFCC after reaching an agreement with the heirs for the Markiz Scicluna, who owned the land.

However, the Trade Department at first said that a MEPA permit was needed for holding the fair, but then it changed its tack and was now insisting on issuing a new permit rather than a re-activation of the original permit.

Despite various exchanges of legal correspondence between the Trade Department and TFEA, the Trade Department would not budge and invited them to pursue legal means to challenge the Director-General’s ruling.

In fact, on 20 May 2010 TFEA Limited filed its Court case against the Trade Director-General calling on him to re-issue the operating licence for the Naxxar trade fair.

On 26 May, TFEA called for the court case to be heard with urgency on 1 June 2010. Eventually, the First Hall of the Civil Court presided over by Judge Giannino-Caruana Demajo heard the case over a two-day marathon on 15 and 16 June.

The court judgement calling on the Trade Department Director-General to re-issue the operating permit for the Naxxar Trade Fair within seven days.

However, Abela explained that the wording of the operating permit issued to TFEA Limited by the Trade Department was different from that of the original permit issued in 1975 and speaks only of an operating permit rather than a re-actived permit.

This led TFEA to file the application in front of the First Hall of the Civil Court for the execution of the judgement.

For this edition of the Trade Fair, only half of the total space at the Naxxar Trade Fair Grounds will be used – the inside halls, the former Italian pavilion and part of the outside grounds.

The inside halls were ready for use, while the outside grounds that will be used for the fair will be embellished during the next two weeks in order to enable exhibitors to use them effectively.

Abela explained that the unusual date for the Naxxar trade fair, after the World Cup could be retained next year following consultation with exhibitors.

Abela said that TFEA would be holding a meeting with the Naxxar Local Council to discuss the matter. “We want to start a clear slate with everyone, even those who have criticised us in the past,” he insisted.

He lamented that from past experience, attendance for Trade Fairs held during World Cup years was poor, with “people stuck in front of TV screens rather than visiting stands”.

The court ruling
The First Hall of the Civil Court, presided over by Judge Giannino Caruana-Demajo, rejected the submissions made by Deputy Attorney General Peter Grech, legal counsel for the Government, that since the Trade Department Director-General had appealed the judgement, then the First Hall of the Civil Court had no jurisdiction on the proceedings but was the Appeals’ Court which had to decide on the matter.

In its ruling, the First Hall of the Civil Court said that since the proceedings of the Appeals’ case had not been presented at the Appeals’ Court, then the First Hall of the Civil Court was going to hear the application submitted by TFEA Limited for the execution of the judgement.

Turning to the actual merits of the case, the First Hall of the Civil Court ruled that if the sentence was executed provisionally, then the Trade Department Director-General would not be prejudiced since its power of discretion had not been reduced by the sentence.

“On the other hand, if the judgement is not executed even provisionally, then the interests of the plaintiffs (TFEA Limited) protected by it would end up in smoke, and therefore the whole process would have taken place for nothing,” the First Hall of the Civil Court insisted.

Council opposition
On its part, the Naxxar Local Council, in a statement issued this afternoon, reiterated its position against the issuing of the permit for the Naxxar trade fair that this use “violates completely the local plan”.

Moreover, the Naxxar Local Council insisted that it had not received any official Government correspondence stating that the Government had issued a permit. The Naxxar Local Council explained that the Government had appealed the Court, but was completely unaware of the provision execution decree issued by the Courts yesterday.

It also insisted that the organisers had held “no consultation whatsoever with it” and would be insisting that the residents’ interests were protected.

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