[WATCH] MEPA amnesty a clear failure of planning regulator

Environmental NGOs out in force against MEPA amnesty for buildling violations

Environmental NGOs
Environmental NGOs
Environmental NGOs out in force against MEPA amnesty for building violations • Video by Ray Attard

Malta’s environment NGOs have come out in force against plans for a general amnesty on building illegalities which the planning regulator, MEPA, wants to use to reap €20 million in fines and wipe its enforcement slate clean.

“MEPA is finally relinquishing all pretence of its role as a regulatory authority, and putting into question its very reason for existence,” Astrid Vella, coordinator of Flimkien ghal-Ambjent Ahjar said. “We have raised the point to government that developers have MEPA 'by the short and curlys'”. 

In 2012 and 2013, amnesties were introduced to resolve minor infringements of sanitary regulations and suchlike. But Vella said a further amnesty now can only be intended to absolve gross and unacceptable violations “even potentially to have entire illegal floors approved.”

She said this made a mockery of Local Plan height limitations. “Over-development is reaching new heights, as this government seeks to stimulate growth in an industry that has already stifled urban areas.”

She added that the amnesty would foster a culture of abuse. “This is another action for MEPA to not do its job, rendering the very existence of MEPA questionable, debasing Parliament and making a mockery of the judiciary and respect for law in Malta.”

The Ramblers and the Malta Organic Agriculture Movement said the amnesty would send the wrong message to society.

The association's former chariman, Lino Bugejacriticised what he described as pandering to the wrongdoers. "While we are deliberating, Rome is burning. We cannot allow this constant nibbling of the countryside and coastal zone while discussions drag on".

“It will be interpreted that your abuse has paid off and now you will be rewarded for it by giving you what legally you could not achieve. The authorities should also be investigating who was responsible for this breakdown of the system. The 10,000 illegalities figure is very misleading. This is only the number of infringements that were actually served with an enforcement notice. A quick look at the MEPA website will reveal cases dating back as far as 1993, but no other information is displayed on these cases.”

“Government can’t make laws and then say it doesn’t have the resources to enforce it” said Ramblers Association member Joe Agius. “ If buildings are in the ODZ they should be demolished – its in the law. Our position is “go by the law”. “MEPA is engaging in this exercise to rid itself of the substantial number of enforcement notices, which now amount to around 10,000” said Agius,  describing this as an indication that MEPA does not have the resources to proceed.

Prof. Edward Mallia, representing Friends of the Earth Malta, said that the proposed bill for the amnesty was not yet available, and criticised claims by MEPA CEO Johann Buttigieg that there were thousands of cases that cannot reasonably be enforced.

“Staff shortage is used to cover a continuous dereliction of duty by MEPA. There have always been the incompetent and corrupt case officers and the MEPA officials in cahoots with developers, much mentioned in the Auditor’s reports, to make sure matters never speeded up.

“Any suggestion that an amnesty – for despite the CEO’s objection to the term that is what is being proposed – may not be in the best public interest,  ‘hard cases’ are trotted out, to make quite sure that any suggestion of good law enforcement is painted in the darkest, preferably political, colours.”

He described the argument that the building sector is important to the economy as a "myth pushed by developers". "Tourism employs 30,000 people, construction employs maybe 11,000, who are now mostly foreigners," said Mallia pointing out that  “the Government is already close to being guilty of complicity in a crime, by allowing an amnesty on the Armier electricity theft, while law abiding citizens are hauled to court for late payment of bills.”

Mallia pointed out that even a solar farm policy will allow illegal quarries to regularise themselves through the back door. “You cannot have a clearer admission of MEPA failure than that."