[WATCH] Government whip, Labour MP join Front Harsien ODZ

Godfrey Farrugia says it is 'too early to tell' how he will vote in Parliament on a compromised version of the American University of Malta project.

Labour MPs have joined the new environmental collective against development outside the building zones. Photo: Ray Attard
Labour MPs have joined the new environmental collective against development outside the building zones. Photo: Ray Attard

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The launch of a new front calling for the protection of outside development zones (ODZ) was attended by government whip Godfrey Farrugia and his partner and fellow Labour MP Marlene Farrugia.

Front Harsien ODZ, led by sociologist and former Alternattiva Demokratika chairperson Michael Briguglio and academic Shaun Grech, was launched outside the new parliament building in front of around 40 people.

The front was set up in retaliation to the proposed development of a private university at Zonqor Point, taking over 90,000 square metres of pristine land. Its goal is thus to safeguard ODZ sites such as the one located at Żonqor Point.

But today’s frontline was made all the more colourful with the inclusion of government whip Godfrey Farrugia and Labour MP Marlene Farrugia, his partner.

When asked how he would vote if the university proposal culminated in a parliamentary vote, Godfrey Farrugia said that he was confident that the government would find a compromise before it even reaches that stage.

“After a period of reflection, I believe that the government will reach a just compromise that reflects both the need to keep developing economically and the need to sustain the environment, particularly agricultural land,” Farrugia told MaltaToday. “We need to take it step by step, but the Prime Minister would not have asked the public to suggest alternative sites for the university if he was not truly ready to seek a compromise.”

Joseph Muscat’s attempt at soliciting public opinion online was only made after the outrage that following a heads of agreement with Jordanian construction firm Sadeen Group to build the university at Zonqor Point. He has faced opposition from all environmental NGOs, the Maltese archdiocese, and the Nationalist Party.

On his part Farrugia said that the compromise would probably involve splitting the university across more than one site. When asked how he will vote if the final proposal involves the construction of part of the American University of Malta on Zonqor Point, Farrugia said that it’s “too early to tell” and that he will make a decision based on the final proposal. 

While this is Godfrey Farrugia’s first foray into the public against the development of Zonqor Point, his partner Marlene Farrugia has been vociferous about it from the start.

Invoking former Prime Minister Dom Mintoff’s battlecry of ‘Malta l-ewwel u qabel kollox’ (Malta first and foremost), Marlene Farrugia warned that the entire country stood to lose if the university is constructed on virgin land at Zonqor Point.

She again lashed out at her the Labour Party, warning that their “extremely strong publicity machine” was not showing the people the full truth.  

“Labour are claiming that they will give the people a natural park, when in reality Zonqor’s natural beauty has always been the people’s to enjoy,” Farrugia said. “If something gets built on Zonqor, then the people will be losing out.”

She called for the American University of Malta to be sited inside historic forts. “That way, people will also get to enjoy the heritage of restored forts,” she said. “We can have the best of both worlds.”

“If this project goes ahead, we will condemn the people to an irreversible environmental poverty. We have defeated financial and literacy poverty, but once a zone is lost from the environment, it is lost for good.”

‘Strongest-ever environmental backlash to a project’

On his part, former Alternattiva Demokratika chairperson Michael Briguglio hailed the public backlash to the university project as the “strongest and most widespread opposition to a proposed project in Malta that he has ever seen”.

“Environmental awareness has definitely increased in Malta and I am confident that we can stop this development,” Briguglio said, harking back to the success of the civil opposition against the development of a golf course in Rabat.

He praised the “bravery” of MPs Godfrey and Marlene Farrugia for speaking out and ensuring that Malta and its natural environment is truly “taghna lkoll”, reiterating Labour’s now notorious electoral slogan, and not simply for a few people.

He insisted that Front Harsien ODZ will not accept any alternative to the current university proposal that includes construction on ODZ land. “33% of Malta’s buildings are unused, so an alternative solution can definitely be found,” Briguglio argued.
While he plans for the front to outlive the university proposal, Briguglio insisted that it will place all its focus on opposing the Zonqor development and not “deviate as some would have us do”.

For more information the public is invited to send an email on [email protected] and to like and follow the Facebook Page, Front Ħarsien ODZ.