PAC continues Australia Hall investigation

On Opposition’s request, the Public Accounts Committee starts analysing the Lands Commissioner’s decision to drop a case against the Labour Party.

The PN has insisted that the government has gifted the Labour Party a property valued at €10 million.
The PN has insisted that the government has gifted the Labour Party a property valued at €10 million.

The Public Accounts Committee held the second meeting over the controversial Attorney General and Lands Commissioner's decision to drop the case against the Labour Party over a number of properties in Pembroke.

Appearing before the parliamentary select committee, chaired by Nationalist MP Tonio Fenech, Albert Mamo, the former commissioner of lands between 2000 and 2012 said that when the department initiated legal proceedings against the Labour Party in 2010, this was on the order of the director-general who was acting upon the policy set by former lands minister Jason Azzopardi.

He explained that in 1979 three properties had been transferred to the Labour Party in exchange for Freedom Press in Marsa, which was annexed to the  Malta Shipbuilding. Mamo added that the contract stipulated that these properties must be kept in a good state and an annual ground rent is paid.

However, Mamo said that in 2010, experts had confirmed that the three properties were in a derelict state. Asked whether the lands department had sought legal advice before the Lands Commissioner initiated a case against the Labour Party to reclaim ownership, Mamo said that his department did not deal with the legal aspect "but only looked at the contractual obligations and whether these were upheld."

The department had filed the case after claiming that Labour left the properties, including the historical building Australia Hall, to deteriorate, breaching the contractual conditions stipulated when the land was transferred to the party in 1979.

This year however, the AG and the Commissioner for Land informed court that the case against Labour leader Joseph Muscat, to reclaim ownership of properties following breach of contract, would be dropped.

PAC chairman Tonio Fenech said that the original contract showed that the Labour Party was given three properties covering 14,000 square metres in Pembroke and a property  in Marsa, currently housing the party's television station in exchange for properties covering 8,000 square metres.

Asked whether the properties transferred to the Labour Party can be re-developed, Mamo said that from his limited knowledge, the scheduled properties cannot be developed, however he did not exclude the possibility of these properties being re-developed.

Confirming that the lands department was acting upon the legal advice of the Attorney General, Mamo said "The Attorney General explored all legal avenues before advising the lands department to initiate legal proceedings against the Labour Party."

He explained that the department attempted to repossess six or seven properties, including Australia Hall  in Pembroke and St Thomas Tower in Marsascala.

He also confirmed that while the lands department was instructed to repossess all properties previously owned by government which were in a derelict state, the department only initiated legal proceedings against the Labour Party.

Asked to confirm whether the lands department was owed Lm250,000 (€582,000) by the Labour Party in unpaid ground rents, Mamo said that he was not aware whether this was true.