[WATCH] Government gifting ‘stolen’ public property to Labour Party – PN

PN says government gifted public property in Siggiewi to Labour Party from behind council's back

Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi.(Photo: Ray Attard)
Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi.(Photo: Ray Attard)
Jason Azzopardi says government has no right extending Siggiewi Labour club lease • Video by Ray Attard

Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi today said government should not extend the lease of the Siggiewi Labour Party club which he had originally signed in 2009 when he was in government.

"The encroachment permit was approved in secret, behind the local council and people's backs," Azzopardi said, insisting that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was putting his party's interests before the interests of residents.

Stressing that the local council needs the site currently occupied by the Labour club to finalise the second phase of the adjacent civic centre, Azzopardi said that Muscat has a conflict of interest because "he is gifting public property to the party he leads."

Speaking at today's press conference in Siggiewi, Nationalist mayor Karol Aquilina said that the agreement signed in 2009 did not preclude the extension of the encroachment permit but insisted government could not extend the lease without the council's go ahead since the whole premises is leased to the council for 15 years.

In 2009, Azzopardi who was then Parliamentary Secretary responsible for lands, had decided to reclaim the controversial Labour Party club in Siggiewi, and hand it to the local council.

Azzopardi had said that government had accepted the council's request to move into the building, but strongly denied the decision was prompted by any partisan motives.

A year later, the council moved in and the Labour Party moved to a smaller site within the same building.

But this week, the Siggiewi local council agreed to pursue legal recourse over the ownership of the locality’s civic centre and recoup the building from the Labour Party after government extended the lease.

The property in question is rented by the council, from the government, and includes No. 20, a building used by the Labour Party as a party club for the past five years.

Aquilina denounced the govenrment’s ‘secretive and abusive’ issuance of an encroachment permit, which allows Labour to continue using the property.

Yesterday, Prime Minister and Labour leader Joseph Muscat said the PN led council was acting "vindictively."

“As a government, we simply extended the contract signed by the previous government and increased the lease being paid to reflect the COLA,” he said, adding that Labour had “settled for a much smaller place” and the PN now wanted to evict Laboureven though the locality already had its civic centre.

The civic centre is currently in the second phase of a renovation project, which will eventually include a public library, a teaching space, a resource centre and a night shelter for the elderly.

The property, located in one of the grand buildings in the heart of St Nicholas Square, was originally rented to Labour in 1981- by the Labour government – for €465 a year with the contract expiring in 2009.

In February 1987, three months before another general election, the then Labour government accepted a Labour Party request and extended the lease for 24 years, backdated to July 1986.

The property, formerly known as Villa Siggiewi, used to belong to Mabel Strickland, leader of the Progressive Constitutional Party and owner of The Times.

It was then bought by the government in the 1960s and used as a primary school for several years. In 1969, it became a civic centre used by a number of local organisations.