Marsaskala mayor defends U-turn on Zonqor protection

Defends private university project despite council’s insistence in January to protect Zonqor area

Mayor Mario Calleja – confident in the PM’s ability
Mayor Mario Calleja – confident in the PM’s ability

The Zonqor and Munxar areas in Marsaskala should remain open areas and be enjoyed by the public. This statement was not issued by the Front Harsien ODZ who are objecting to the construction of a private university in Zonqor, but by the Marsaskala local council.

Despite previously informing the department of local government that Zonqor and other open spaces “should be preserved in their current state,” Marsaskala mayor Mario Calleja is now vociferously championing the project proposed by Jordanian construction group, Sadeen.

Last year, the department for local government sent a memo to all councils asking for information on public and open spaces and how these could be improved.

On 7 January, 2015, Marsaskala council secretary Josef Grech submitted the council’s feedback in which it clearly stated that its only plans for Zonqor and nearby Munxar were for “central government to protect these zones.”

But in a filmed interview with blogger Wayne Flask, the author of theatrical satire Sibna z-Zejt, the mayor defended this U-turn by insisting that “MEPA has a right” to sanction developments in ODZ areas.

“We did not change direction, you must keep in mind that MEPA can change when it comes to health and educational projects.”

Calleja said that the council would have been guilty of performing a U-turn had it been in favour of the construction of villas, adding that the council would object to any other development in the area, including apartments and hotels which would encroach on the coast.  

Despite the council’s demands to have Zonqor protected and kept in its current state, the council narrowly voted in favour of the proposed university project with Labour deputy mayor Desiree Attard voting against.  

The mayor added that the Jordanian developers had given him their word that no bars, restaurants and nightclubs would be opened on campus and insisted that no further development would take place on what MEPA earmarked as a natural park in 2006. 

In the interview, Calleja insisted that he had no personal interest in the project and only favoured the project because of the private university’s knock-on effect on the locality’s business community and residents. 

This week, the Prime Minister confirmed that the Jordanian private university – originally planned to cover 90,000 square metres – would be split between Zonqor and another yet unnamed site.

However, Calleja said that the council “cannot propose any alternative sites” because of the project’s magnitude but at the same time he expressed full confidence in Joseph Muscat’s ability to reach a compromise.

“I believe him (Muscat) because I believe in him and if he has said that he’ll reach a compromise he’ll do it and we’ll have the university split in different areas.”

On 20 June, thousands marched in Valletta to voice opposition to the construction of the private university on virgin land and further loss of ODZ lands. 

The interview took place in the wake of the mayor’s threats to sue the blogger after Flask asked whether Calleja had a personal interest in the project, seeing that the mayor urged people to attend a counter-protest at Zonqor in support of the private university and the government. 

In the interview, Calleja explained that though Muscat “allows people to protest freely” he had received a call from the Prime Minister to cancel the counter-protest.

“He called me or sent me an email and told me that he disagreed with it because he did not want to create further controversy,” Calleja said, noting that the following day Muscat publicly said that the protest should be called off because it was not appropriate.