Planning illegalities: Big fish 'use jobs' as leverage against state action

A government clampdown on illegal boathouses would enjoy PN’s support, Busuttil promises • Sandro Chetcuti says developers ‘lost big money' with new policy 

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Opposition leader Simon Busuttil
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Opposition leader Simon Busuttil
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (Photo: Curia Communications Office)
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (Photo: Curia Communications Office)
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil taking part in the debate (Curia Communications Office)
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil taking part in the debate (Curia Communications Office)
Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (Photo: Curia Communications Office)
Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (Photo: Curia Communications Office)
Muscat, Busuttil attend environment debate organised by the Church

The government is committed to fight planning illegalities and abuse but the situation needs to be addressed by tackling the big fish “who use people’s jobs” as leverage, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said. 

“Yes of course I want to address illegalities but I want to start with the millionaires. The small one may threaten you with his vote but the big one will use people’s jobs,” he said.

Taking part in a debate organised by the Church’s Environment Commission, Muscat was responding to a call by Opposition leader Simon Busuttil to clamp down on illegal boathouses. 

“I’m declaring my full support if you’re ready to take action against these blatant illegalities. Let’s remove it from the political books and for once do something that respects future generations,” Busuttil urged his rival. 

Recounting that the previous administration had started drafting out a plan to relocate illegal boathouses, Muscat said he didn’t want to start “by dragging out people on minimum wage”. 

Whilst trying to seek a solution for illegalities carried out without endangering places of work, Muscat said splitting the Planning and Environment Authority was one way of making things more clear-cut whilst giving the environment arm – changing it from a directorate to an authority – more strength. 

Chaired by academic Marie Briguglio, the two leaders were pressed hard on their environmental credentials and the hypocrisy of organising or attending events held at illegal sites. 

“It is a valid argument,” Muscat said, adding that the Montekristo Estates was the elephant in the room.  “It is an issue that hurts.” 

He went on to explain how the MEPA had objected to the issuance of a police licence for the holding of the Fiera l-Kbira trade fair at Montekristo Estates, 

because of enforcement orders on the site at Hal-Farrug. The permit was still issued by the Police Licenses Appeals Board “because of a technicality”. 

“It remains a point of huge responsibility on us politicians and it our job to ensure that the law is equal for everyone. Things have to be clear-cut and things will be clearer with the MEPA demerger.” 

The Opposition leader, whose opening comment on the subject was “mea culpa” for the illegalities carried out under the PN administrations, admitted that kicking someone out was easier said than done. 

“You end up facing businessmen threatening to sack their workers. It is a problem which both parties face,” he said. 

Busuttil also said that politicians face “enormous pressure” in the run-up to an election and it’s a struggle between gaining votes and doing what’s right. 

“I haven’t yet experienced it because getting elected to the European Parliament is different. However, it is a test that I will eventually face and I hope to pass,” he said. 

Turning to Muscat, he went on to add that it was “evident that you made promises that go beyond your electoral programme”. 

“It’s Marlene Farrugia who’s saying it … and your mistake was agreeing to pre-electoral deals. Everyone does it and it’s wrong. My test has yet to come, but you’ve already failed,” Busuttil told Muscat, who in turn could be heard replying “blatant lies”. 

Relaying his own views on Pope Francis’s Environmental Encyclical and the document presented by the Church’s environment commission, Muscat said more focus should be given to water scarcity on the island. 

“We can build lands and tear them down but we can never recuperate the water lost. No one is talking on the real issue and how we’re risking water scarcity.” 

During his intervention, Malta Developers Association Sandro Chetcuti also commented that some developers had "lost big money"following a new policy issued by the government which limited land that could be developed, previously permissible.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna invited both the political class and the Church to adopt a strong sense of responsibility. 

“Every piece of land is precious and Malta’s limited resources dictate special attention. We inherited a big patrimony and our commitment should be to protect what our forefathers left us, for our future generations to enjoy,” the Archbishop said. 

“The rule of law must be a principle applicable for everyone. We’ve suffered enough because of blatant abuses and I hope the political class now plucks up courage to take the necessary decisions to be taken. We can’t allow people to break the law as if it were nothing.”

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