MEPA executive chairman at government’s mercy

The executive chairman, which replaces the CEO, can be dismissed for  “not achieving the targets and objectives set for him by the minister”

Masters and servants: Ministers Leo Brincat and Michael Falzon (environment and planning) with MEPA chairman Vince Cassar and CEO Johann Buttigieg
Masters and servants: Ministers Leo Brincat and Michael Falzon (environment and planning) with MEPA chairman Vince Cassar and CEO Johann Buttigieg

Parliamentary Secretary Michael Falzon will have the power to fire the Planning Authority’s executive chairman should he fail to achieve the objectives set by the government.

The present law approved in 2010 states that the authority’s chief executive officer – a post currently occupied by Johann Buttigieg – may be dismissed by the authority if he does not achieve the “targets and objectives” set for him by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority. 

But the proposed planning laws place the authority’s executive chairperson, who has been granted wider powers than the existing CEO, at the complete mercy of the minister or parliamentary secretary responsible for planning.

It states that the executive chairman – a post which replaces that of CEO – can be dismissed for  “not achieving the targets and objectives set for him by the minister”. 

Moreover, while the present law also states that the chief executive officer is appointed by the authority “with the approval of the minister,” the new law simply states that the minister shall appoint an executive chairperson. 

In its submissions on the new law, environmental NGO Din l-Art Helwa has proposed that the appointment and dismissal of the Planning Authority’s executive chairman should be approved by parliament’s Committee on the Environment and Development and not be decided by the minister alone.

The new law will give the new executive chairperson generic powers including that of carrying out “such other functions and duties as the minister may assign to him from time to time.”

He will also chair the meetings of the Planning Authority’s new executive council, composed entirely of government appointees, and will be responsible for policy making and the day-to-day running of the authority. 

Presently the MEPA board is responsible for both policymaking and for the issue of permits, meaning that presently the opposition’s representative, independent board members and the NGO representative also have a say when policies are discussed.

Under the new structure decisions on permits will be taken by a separate new planning board which will have its own chairman who will be chosen by the government as is the case today.

Environmental NGOs and the opposition will have a representative on this board. On the other hand Din l-Art Helwa is proposing a change in the composition of the executive council, insisting that this should include five independent board members and one NGO representative.

The law is expected to be approved after the summer recess. Although parliament has already discussed the demerger bills, NGOs were invited to send their submissions to be considered by the government before the final approval of the laws.

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